By ROB WITHAM
While Mother Nature was the big winner on opening day of high school spring sports season Monday, postponed first games for several county teams, spring will, eventually, arrive for good, and several teams and scenarios will bear watching as action gets underway.
With Atlee teams returning to area competition come playoff time, in Region 5B with Lee-Davis, and Patrick Henry moving down from Class 5 to Class 4, joining Hanover in Region 4B, the Raiders will be happy avoiding long bus trips to start postseason play, as will the Patriots, who will find brand new opponents come tournament time.
We begin with tennis, where the Hanover girls are coming off a 22-0 season, and a Group 4A State Championship sweep of singles, doubles and team. Now in Class 4, Region B, the Hawks return five starters, but none of them are Stephanie Broussard, who won the state singles title and was the #1 player for the team in their historic campaign of 2017.
But head coach Lindsey Hein has three four-year starters to lean on this year in Mattie Moon, Brooke Kazelskis and Morgan Kazelskis. Juniors Madison Moore and Georgia Temple are back, too. Moore was Broussard’s doubles partner in that state title run.
“Mattie, Brooke and Morgan started in state championship matches. Last year, they combined for a 60-0 record in single, and a 19-1 record in doubles,” Hein noted. “The two juniors will also play a big part. We will lean on these five players this season to lead on and off the court.”
It will be interesting to see if any of the Hawks’ five newcomers, all freshmen, will break into the rotation, as Raine Weis, Nina Violi, Sydney Moore, Kylie Williams and Traci Turpin join Hanover varsity.
Sometimes forgotten is the fact that Atlee’s girls tennis team fell one win short of a state tournament appearance a year ago. Head Coach Chuck Wandling returns three starters in senior Emily Dages, junior Allison Wandling and sophomore Katie Sarnowski. Wandling will be #1 in singles, and partners with Sarnowski in doubles.
“Senior Captain Emily Dages is the heart of our team,” Wandling explained. “For the past three seasons, she has inspired and led this team with passion and positive emotion to fight to the last point.
Wandling seeks to fill the back half of his rotation, eyeing returning seniors Peri Ercelebi, Liz Plum and Lauren Beck, plus juniors Olivia Saunders and Grace Baker.
Turning to soccer, another team trying to build on a success in 2017 that didn’t quite satisfy is the Hanover Hawk girls. Falling 3-2 to King’s Fork in the region semifinals last May, Hanover wants one more victory to get to the state tournament.
To do so, they’ll work with a familiar face in a new position, as Manny Tavares takes over as head coach for Hanover. He has a tremendous nucleus to work with, starting with senior goalkeeper Mackenzie Hoang, one of four captains for the Hawks.
Captains are all over the field, as Hoang is joined in the leadership position by forward Lauren Didlake, midfielder Courtney Rosser and defender Allison Baum. Add in Rachel Andrzejewski, and again this year, the Hawks will be in every match they play, and expect to be playing this year, not just in May, but in June.
“I truly believe this team’s depth and character can overcome any obstacle,” Tavares told The Herald Progress. “This is an amazing team which has a ton of tenacity and charisma. I believe in my heart that, together, learning from each other will prepare us for anything that could be thrown our way this season.”
At Patrick Henry, second-year head coach Anna Wright must fill eight holes, but does return five starters, led by senior midfielders Julia LaFortune and Brooke Purcell. Rian Pecci-Young, the football team’s kicker last fall, is also back, as are fellow juniors Katelynn Brown and Brittany Doyle.
“We will be starting pretty fresh this year, so it’s important for us to first bond as a team and find our chemistry,” Wright explained.
In boys soccer, watch Lee-Davis, a team that went down to the wire in the old Conference 11 Tournament last year, and, although suffering large graduation losses, second-year head coach Chris Maimone is excited about his returning players, led by Alberto Macias, Caleb Huber, Aidan Rice and Austin Adt. Only Huber is a senior.
‘The program has worked hard to develop a strong culture, and to maintain a high standard,” Maimone opined. “If we come to training with the proper mindset and train at a high level, we will see the results on match day.”
On the track, Lee-Davis is coming off a strong indoor season, and the boys look to take the final step to another state championship, finishing second in the former Group 5A in 2017. Head Coach Neil Mathews looks for strong seasons from Alex Slinkman at pole vault and the trio of Jack Ikenberry, Lane Johnson and Patrick Sutphin in distance.
“We have to replace one of the best and deepest sprint groups Lee-Davis has ever had,” Mathews explained. “We need to find leadership that we lost as well.”
Tyler Berry and Jack Rice will try to keep sprints at a high level, joining Josh Rice and Adonis Carroll, who also jumps. Adam Soliman qualified for the state tournament as a freshman in discus last year and looks for a breakout season in 2018. On the girls side, watch for junior Lauren Taylor. The standout softball shortstop is also committing to sprints for Mathews this spring.
At Atlee, a successful indoor season came with cost, with some injuries lingering into the outdoor campaign. Tyler Busch looks to a veteran senior class for leadership, and points, this season.
Cason Gardner looks to defend his outdoor state title in high jump, while William Chapman’s pole vault best of 16 feet, five inches is the second best in Virginia high school history. Chapman won the Class 5 state indoor crown last month, and looks to duplicate that outdoors come June.
Also, watch for Kameron Helmlinger in distance events. Busch praises his attention to detail and strong work ethic, coupled with best results in the indoor season in both the 1000 and 1600 meters.