State championships, Redskins Mania, teams overcoming adversity, teams reaching heights never before seen. Hanover County has experienced a memorable year of sports in 2013. Here’s one person’s pick for the top 10 stories of the year.
10) County Softball Dominance: All four county teams had more than just winning seasons. Atlee won the Capital District, placed runner-up in the Central Region, advancing to the State Group AAA Quarterfinals. Patrick Henry won its fourth straight, and the final, Colonial District crown, Lee-Davis knocked off Atlee to win the final Capital District crown, and Hanover’s youth movement fell just a game short of the Region tourney. The four schools’ combined record was 68-17, with 11 of those losses coming against a county rival.
9) Redskins To RVA: A whirlwind year of negotiating, partnering and constructing resulted in the NFL’s Washington Redskins beginning their 2013 training camp July 25 at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center. Patrick Henry graduate Jay Hugo was head architect on the project, nestled behind the Science Museum of Virginia. It was the first year of an eight-year agreement between the City of Richmond, Bon Secours, and the team. State and local leaders promised economic benefits for the entire region, and Hanover restauranteurs and hotel operators smile at the prospect of fans from out of town wearing RGIII jerseys populating their establishments more come next summer.
8) Players Rise at the Next Level: Hanover athletes quickly made their mark at their new collegiate homes this year. Hanover football standout Sam Rogers opted to walk on at Virginia Tech, rising from the lowest roster level through spring practice and training camp to be named starting fullback for the Hokies’ Aug. 31 opener against defending national champion Alabama. Rogers’ freshman campaign ended Tuesday against UCLA in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
Rogers was not alone, as Atlee volleyball’s Karlie Suber played a significant role in the renaissance of volleyball at the University of Virginia, as the team went from 3-17 in ACC play in 2012 to 11-9 this year. Patrick Henry grads Madison Gilman and Katie Woody impacted Randolph-Macon softball, who went 34-9. Gilman was named First Team All-ODAC. Fellow Patriot grad Katie Anderson was named ODAC Rookie of the Year for Randolph-Macon’s women’s basketball, averaging 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds a year ago. And from Lee-Davis, softball pitcher Kelly Heinz became a consistent number two starter in the Virginia Tech rotation, and could be the ace of the staff come this spring.
7) Randolph-Macon Baseball Wins ODAC: The Jackets entered the postseason tournament as the number five seed, struggling to stay above the .500 mark. But the team caught fire in Salem, advancing to face top-seeded Bridgewater needing to beat the Eagles twice to claim the crown.
After winning 8-7 in the first game, the Jackets ousted Bridgewater 6-2 in the championship game, earning the ODAC bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Atlee graduate Mitch Keeler played a key role, and was named ODAC Rookie of the Year as the tournament began April 26.
6) Individual State Champions: Three county athletes reached the pinnacle of their sport this season. Patrick Henry sprinter Travis Phillips ended his scholastic career with a state title both in indoor track in the 55 Meter Hurdles and outdoors, capturing the 110 Meter Hurdles. Teammate Shania Williams won the Girls Shot Put outdoors in May.
On the wrestling mat, Hanover standout J.D. Gregory won the 2013 State Group AAA Championship at 113 pounds, his teammate Corbin Allen runner-up at 138 pounds.
5) Randolph-Macon to the Sweet 16: After a slow start, the Yellow Jackets finished tied for third in ODAC play. As the fourth seed in the ODAC Tournament in late February, coach Nathan Davis’ team knocked off Guilford, archrival and top seed Hampden-Sydney, and Virginia Wesleyan to win the ODAC Tournament crown and, with it, the automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament, their fourth straight appearance.
The Jackets were given the hardest road to the Final Four in Salem, having to make three consecutive trips to the Northeast over three weekends. After wins over Stevens Institute and Worcester Polytechnic, the season ended at Amherst College. Randolph-Macon finished 21-10.
4) VHSL Reclassification Breaks Up The County: The new school year in September ushered in new ways in how high school sports determined playoff teams and state champions. Designed to have schools play other schools with similar enrollment levels to eliminate postseason disparity, Patrick Henry, Lee-Davis and Atlee were assigned to the new “5A” classification, while Hanover was alone in “4A.”
Lee-Davis and Atlee are now in Conference 11 in the 5A South Region, while Patrick Henry petitioned the Virginia High School League to move from Conference 11 to the less-populated Conference 16 in the 5A North Region and was granted the request. Conference 11 is a mixture of four teams each from the old Capital and Colonial Districts, while Patrick Henry’s new rivals are Albemarle, Halifax, and Orange. Most sports are still playing their old district schedules this year due to the speed in which this reclassification was approved by the VHSL.
Hanover is in Conference 20 in the 4A South Region, joined by the likes of Glen Allen, J.R. Tucker, Caroline and Dinwiddie.
3) Hanover Baseball Wins State Title: The Hawks finally put it all together, winning the Capital District, and qualifying for the State Group AAA Tournament as Central Region runner-up to Douglas Freeman.
Behind the pitching of Virginia commit Derek Casey, stellar defense and strong bats from the likes of Andrew Knizner and Keith Searles, the Hawks shut out Kellam in Norfolk 5-0, then won two one-run games to claim the state championship, 9-8 over Oakton and 2-1 over Great Bridge. It was a fitting end for Hanover Athletic Director Robert Stratton, a former long-time baseball coach in his own right, who retired in June after 10 years as the only AD in Hawks history.
2) Atlee Football’s Best Season Ever: The Raiders dethroned Hanover as the county’s top high school football power, going 9-1 in the regular season, including a seven-game winning streak, with victories over all three county rivals, Varina and Highland Springs.
The same 11 players who comprised the 2012 Atlee defense, and gave up an average of 40 points per game, gave up 15.4 this year, led by All-5A South Region selections Tye Burriss and Tramell Carey. Two 1,000-yard rushers in Lamont Stubbs and Loumond Dandridge Jr, and the run and pass ability of quarterback Reid McCoy created a prolific offense, the foundation provided by an offensive line with two FBS college commits in Alec Eberle (Florida State) and Nick Clarke (Old Dominion).
Atlee won two playoff games for the first time, defeating Meadowbrook and Douglas Freeman, but the season came to an end Nov. 29 in the 5A South Region Semifinals as eventual state champion L.C. Bird defeated the Raiders. The 11-2 season, combined with the best Friday night home-game atmosphere in the Central Region led by the Rage Cage student section, was one for the Raider record books.
1) Atlee Girls Volleyball Wins State Title: The only people who believed that Atlee girls volleyball, after losing three seniors to Division I universities, would not only return to state-level competition for the fourth straight year, but would win it all, were those who populated the Atlee gym during August tryouts.
But, led by veterans Kylah Blackmore, Rachel Stanford, Clarke Tyler and libero Melanie Snyder, the Raiders quietly put together another dominating regular season, losing only twice in three-set matches in tournament play. They eliminated rival Lee-Davis to clinch one of two 5A South Region berths in the State 5A Final Four, then went on a “comeback journey.”
The Raiders fell behind 1-0 and 2-1 in the Region final, but won over Princess Anne in five sets. They lost set one to Broad Run in the state semis, then won three straight. In the finals, they faced Stone Bridge, fell behind 1-0 and 2-1, but roared back. And sophomore Molly Jarvis, thrust into the 2012 state finals against Kellam after an injury to Kayleigh Moody and ineffective, slammed home Championship Point to seal the crown in the fifth set tiebreaker. Atlee finished 32-2.
Honorable Mentions: Lee-Davis Field Hockey earns first-ever trip to state semifinals, R-MC hosts first-ever “Big River Rivalry” high school football all-star game, American Legion Post 175 baseball wins District 11 title, eliminated from state tourney by weather, new coaches for football at Hanover and Patrick Henry.
Next week, we’ll look at other 2013 sports accolades, including team of the year, players of the year, upset of the year, and game of the year. We’ll also take a look toward what to expect in 2014.