Sunday, June 10, 2018

An Appreciation: Ladies Dominate End of 2017-18 Season

One team was crowned state champion. Two others fell just short. But, in the end, the ladies in Hanover County left in all on the court, field, and diamond as the 2017-18 season drew to a close this weekend.

At The RVA Sports Network, one of our main tenets is to provide equal coverage, as much as possible, between boys and girls sports at the high school level. The hard work, determination, success, and lessons taught by these three teams this spring, in victory as well as defeat, prove that our policy is a good choice.


Class 4 State Girls Tennis Championship: Hanover 5, John Handley 2

Everyone, including the players from Hanover's unbeaten 2017 state championship team, heard the rumblings.

That was Stephanie's team. What do they do when Stephanie's not there?

Stephanie Broussard, the talented #1 a year ago who won the state singles, doubles and led the team to their first state championship, was in college. So, come February, what did all the returnees do? Whether consciously or not, they set out to prove that the 2017 title was no fluke, that not only a fourth straight trip to the Class 4 State Tournament was possible, so was back-to-back titles.

Then, Madison Moore is paired with freshman Raine Weis for doubles. With the lineups set, the Hawks set off to do exactly what they did a year earlier, ending with a 22-0 team record, culminating with a 5-2 victory over John Handley Saturday at Roanoke College.

When asked about the team's mentality in February as practice began for another climb towards a state trophy, Moore knew one thing that would help.

"We knew Raine was coming up, and we knew Raine was really good," Moore recalled. "We were only losing one of the top six, so we were like if Raine can take Steffi's spot, and we work together. Only losing one, and Steffi was a really big loss, but getting Raine helped."

But it wasn't nearly as simple as "plug in, replace, and play". Weis had to quickly learned the varsity ropes. She and Moore had to gel as a team quickly. Meanwhile, some unsung heroes continued to, in the words of Bill Belichick, "do their job" deeper into the singles rotation.

Seniors Brooke and Morgan Kazelskis each completed 22-0 seasons to go with their 22-0 seasons of a year ago, winning in #5 and #6 singles Saturday, both in straight sets at a time where the balance of the championship match could have gone either way. Moore and Weis had gotten the Hawks an early 2-0 lead with singles wins, but Handley won at #3 and #4 to tie the match at 2-2.

Brooke and Morgan stepped up, as they've done, according to their coach, Lindsey Wyeth Hein, for the past four years, each winning singles in straight sets, both winning set two 6-0. Then, it was time for Moore and Weis, who had won the 2018 Class 4 Doubles Championship Friday, to get on the court and finish the job. Two sets later, it was 6-3, 6-2 and the celebration was on. Again.

"We've relied heavily on (Brooke and Morgan) for the past four years, and they've gone a great job at #5 and #6, undefeated this year, undefeated last year. Having the confidence that they're stepping on the court, I had no doubt in my mind that they would come through," Hein explained.

In many ways, the 2018 championship brings a large measure of validation to the 2017 title, something Broussard would have readily agreed with a season ago. This year, as was last year, was a total team effort. And, to celebrate the victory, the Hawks received the customary Hanover County Sheriff's Office escort from Interstate 295 to the school. This year, it included a K-9 unit.

And, when the girls piled out of their "victory van" with the trophy, they almost immediately asked to meet "Scout", who immediately became the team mascot. Other teams in Class 4 will now have to "scout" Hanover, thanks to these past two seasons, for many seasons to come.


Class 5 State Lacrosse Championship: Freedom-South Riding 9, Atlee 8:

They hadn't been truly tested all season long. They weren't supposed to be this good. They weren't supposed to replace a Division I goalkeeper with a freshman and dominate area competition.

But after Atlee went to Cosby and routed the Titans in late March, it was clear early on that the 2018 Raiders had the potential to be even better than the 2017 edition, who had qualified for the Class 5 State Tournament for the first time in school history last June.

With a spark plug named Kate Miller scoring goals at will, the veteran leadership of Faith Anna, Kellyn McGlamery, Reaghan Kolb and others, Atlee rolled through the regular season, barely broke a sweat at the Region 5B Championship Tournament, and were clearly better than two-time defending state champion Potomac Falls when they ousted the champions in the Class 5 State Semifinals last Tuesday night.

And, in a cruel twist of fate, maybe that was the achilles heel which, in the end, held Atlee back, falling just short to Freedom-South Riding Saturday in an intense, physical, and very close match. None of those adjectives could have described a previous Atlee match this season. And that was a problem head coach Christina Dobson worried about before her Raiders took the field at Deep Run High School.

"We got out of our game a little bit, and one of my concerns was not being challenged enough during the season," Dobson noted following the match. "Being put in this situation for the first time, and, we just kind of got out of our heads mentally."

After Miller, the freshman, scored the first goal of the match less than a minute in, the Raiders committed five uncharacteristic turnovers. The Eagles' defense demanded crisper passes, better routes, and with a worthy opponent and maybe an early case of nerves, Atlee struggled early. But Stella Harrison, also a freshman, stood tall in goal, and the five turnovers only resulted in two Freedom goals.

The Raiders responded with a 3-0 run to retake the lead and had a 5-4 advantage late in the first half. But a clock management issue gave Freedom a late chance to tie the match, and they did, at 6.6 seconds left, for a 5-5 halftime score. Miller scored four of her team-high five goals in the first half. The Eagles made adjustments to Miller for second half play, and the Raiders did not answer.

The second half was nip and tuck all the way, tied at 8-8 when the Raiders committed two costly penalities. Two players down for the final three minutes, and just over two minutes left, Freedom connected on the game-winner, got possession back, and ran out the clock. A controversial call in the final minute where Anna looked to have forced a turnover was called in Freedom's favor, ending Atlee's final hope for a comeback, and overtime.

It has been blatantly obvious this season that Kate Miller is the best player in Region 5B, though just in ninth grade, and Harrison, in that same class, is among the top goalkeepers. And Dobson, in immediate retrospect, thought maybe there was too much responsibility placed on the duo. Watching them play, it's hard to remember they have three more years of high school ahead of them.

The next, and final, step for these Raiders to return and seize the title, begins not in February, but now, just as this year's Raider squad used a youth camp nearly a year ago to continue to forge team unity and lay the foundation for this championship game run.

"This group has relied on girls like Kellyn and Faith for a number of years now, and so that'll be a tough loss for us, but I think it's more about the program sort of growing and adapting for a new norm," Dobson explained. "The junior class is really big, solid, and a great group of kids, so it's about them finding their role, finding their voice, and finding new leaders."

If we have learned one thing from the 2018 Atlee girls lacrosse team, it is they refused to let large graduation losses affect them. They clearly looked to the future from the moment they returned from their first appearance in state tournament history in Northern Virginia last June. Now, the 2019 Raiders must quickly turn the page from the disappointment of Saturday, and use the many successes of this season as the foundation for 2019, and to continue striving to, as they would say, finish their business.

Class 5 State Softball Semifinal: Prince George 4, Lee-Davis 0

All season long, softball fans with a keen eye noticed that there was something different, something special about the 2018 edition of Lee-Davis softball. There was a camaraderie there that was unspoken, not absent from past teams, but definitely stronger.

Maybe it was fueled in part by determination to take the final step, after making the state semifinals in 2016, then the state championship in 2017, only to fall both times to rival Atlee, but, likely, it was mainly fueled by family. While Lee-Davis went about their business this season, quite successfully, the air around them showed an intense respect and appreciation for one another.

The only time, prior to the seventh inning of Friday's Class 5 state semifinal against Prince George, where the Confederates seemed deflated was, ironically, when they played at Prince George during the regular season in April, as a 1-0 lead turned into a 7-1 deficit by the fourth inning. There was no fight left. That day.

But Lee-Davis bounced back, won classic walk-off comebacks over county rivals Atlee and Hanover in walkoff fashion, both thanks to senior Jesse Gentry. Fellow seniors Logan Hawker, Sydney Guess and others fueled both offense and defense. Sophomore lefty Savanah Henley grew up in front of our eyes in the circle. And, after defeating Prince George 2-1 in a classic Region 5B Championship last Friday, the Confederates seemed primed to take the final step.

In the end, however, it was the inability of Lee-Davis to find a way for "the big inning" at the plate, and Prince George's ability to do it at the best possible time for the Royals, and the worst possible time for the Confederates, that ended the dream of the program's second state title this decade. Two solo home run were Lee-Davis' effort against the Royals in the region final. A Gentry two-run homer was the difference in their 2-1 state quarterfinal win over Kempsville.

On Friday, the score stood 0-0 after six intense innings, as Henley and Prince George's Laura Thompson matched each other pitch for pitch, out for out. Then, in the seventh, the Royals found timely hitting, with not one, but three well-placed hits down both the left and right field lines, turning the rally into four runs thanks to a squeeze bunt and a bases-clearing double. It was just the kind of inning Lee-Davis was praying for, but never got when they needed it the most.

"I felt like, you know, earlier along the way in regions and states we had a little bit of luck help us through it, and I takes a little bit of luck and they were able to those right inside the line," Lee-Davis head coach Jackie Davis noted following the 4-0 defeat. The Confederates put two runners aboard to threaten a rally in the seventh, but pinch runner Sydney Gentry was thrown out trying to advance to third on an errant throw, and, even though it was only the first out of the inning, as was the case in April, it seems the final bastion of hope disappeared for the Mechanicsville faithful.

Henley battled valiantly in the circle, the victim of the Royals' good luck finding fair territory down the lines in the seventh. The sophomore will be a lynchpin for the Confederates in 2019.

"For six innings, I thought we played really solid defense. Savanah looked great on the mound, and has really grown a lot. She's done a heckuva job for us with us not being able to produce a lot of runs," Davis noted.

The big story, for this year's edition of Lee-Davis softball, was the countless contributions, both in game play, during practice, and especially away from the diamond, of this senior class. The vibe was different, their head coach seemed looser, enjoying the little things that this season of success, no matter the final result, produced. That includes three straight region championships.

Davis could not hold back emotions when asked about the players who will receive their diplomas this Saturday at the Siegel Center.

"I've been doing this for nineteen years," Davis said through tears. "And along the way, you always come across special kids, kids that you have that connection with. But to say that I had that with this senior class, the entire class, they had that connection, they had that fight. They're an amazing group of young ladies, and, I really, I really wanted this for them because they a special group, they were tight, they were close. They left it all out there today, and that's all I can ask of them. I'm going to miss them."

Some teams do not need trophies to show their immeasurable impact on lives and institutions, from between teammates to reaching their community. Davis, and all Lee-Davis fans, are thankful and indebted to softball's contribution to the Class of 2018.

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