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Season Preview: Springing into a New Sports Season

After successfully completing tryouts, this year's girls lacrosse team recently received their new jerseys and numbers for the upcoming season. (Courtesy Photo)

By Emma Duncan and Evan Heins--Eagle Editor and Eagle Staff Writer

As temperatures begin to rise, the spring sports teams are breaking out their cleats, bats, and A-game to welcome a new season.

“Spring doubles the number of teams that we have than in fall or winter. You’ve got four lacrosse teams, four soccer teams, two baseball, two softball, track, boys tennis, and girls tennis… so think about the number of student-athletes who get to participate in the spring compared to other sports. That's why I’m here; that’s why we do the job. That’s why we have athletics: because we want kids to participate," Bradley Lang, athletic director, summarized.

Besides fielding more teams, spring sports differs from fall and winter athletics in other ways. “What’s unique about spring sports is that you’re starting in the wintertime and your first games you’re freezing cold and the wind’s blowing and [for] your last game in May it could be 85 degrees and everybody is in short sleeve shirts. I love that we’re busy; we’re always doing something new every day," Lang reflected.

Tryouts for all teams were held in late February after school.

“Tryouts take place over a 3-day period and players are evaluated in all aspects of the game,” head baseball coach Barry Shelton explained. “Arm strength and accuracy, hitting, hitting with power, defense, and speed. We also evaluate them on the intangibles: work ethic, attitude, coachability, and being a great teammate.”

In addition to skill in their respective sport, each coach had additional visions for what the ideal athlete for their team would look like.

The boys lacrosse team comes together for a final huddle after practice, showing they're beginning to bond as a team. (Courtesy Photo)

“I'm looking for players who are going to stand up and be leaders,” Shannon Barker, head coach of the girl’s lacrosse team, shared. “I told my players this already. I'm very much about a very healthy climate on my team. I don't want mean girls. I don't want people putting each other down in group chats or anything like that. These girls have a lot of skill so I’m not really too worried about that. I'm more worried about the character.”

The track team is unlike any other spring sport, as it doesn’t hold tryouts at all. However, athletes still have to compete against each other if they hope to participate in meets.

“We do not have tryouts or… any requirements to participate in track,” said track head coach Chris Renick. "We try to get everyone into at least one meet. Then in our bigger meets, it is usually the top 3 in each event.”

Track athletes seem to have an advantage for the spring season, as athletes can run cross country in the fall and indoor track in the spring. To give their athletes similar experience before the season begins, baseball and lacrosse players have the ability to play fall ball.

“We have a 7 week fall baseball season that transitions into our winter strength and conditioning program,” Shelton elaborated. “We finish the winter workouts in January with our annual Iron Eagle Competition.”

As Shelton mentioned, conditioning is another way athletes prepare to play, but also for coaches to discover things to improve on.

“I like to do a little bit of everything in conditioning,” Barker explained. “We’ve been focusing a lot on running, but for the first time we were allowed to have the girls practice with their sticks in their hands. Usually it's like a blackout time but it's really nice to not have to run for three quarters of the practice [because] the girls would be wiped by time we could use our sticks. I can already see things we're gonna be focusing on: a lot of stick work to begin with, a lot, and probably some more running. We have a lot of girls who you can tell spend time in their backyard shooting and their shots are incredible but now they need to transfer that into a game mode when you're not by yourself. Also teaching those experienced players how to hold their skills and those new ones how to apply them.”

The teams practice every day after school in hopes of becoming the best team in the area for their respective sport. Some practices are spent running, others focusing on specific techniques, and after games or scrimmages the team watches film as a group. Based on a seemingly successful 2022 spring season and a hardworking team, Shelton is confident this year’s baseball season will bring several wins.

Sophomore Aleah Davis and junior Moriah Quesenberry take part in this year's softball media day. The Lady Eagles were provided with props and told to scream at the camera, hyping them up for a new season. (Courtesy Photo)

“The 2022 team finished 16-6 led by a mix of seniors and underclassmen. I am excited about our youth this year. We have one senior but a lot of young talent,” he added. “As always, we need to stay healthy, working hard together, playing unselfishly, and competing for a common purpose. The most important game is the next one. No one is more important than the other.”

Shelton’s mindset is shared by Barker but accompanied by a few nerves since this is her first season as head coach. However, Barker comes with experience playing lacrosse at the high school and college levels.

“I'm definitely nervous,” she revealed. “I'm a young coach and all the players are gonna look at me and be like ‘You look just like me. What do you mean you're gonna tell me what to do?’ But you know I do have a lot of years experience and have coached different sports as well… so I'm excited. I definitely want some wins. Hopefully, I'd like to see a lot of the younger players really blossoming because there’s a lot of potential in the program.”

Originally, Barker explained that there were concerns regarding the number of girls who would come to tryouts, as these last few seasons brought in significantly fewer potential players compared to before the pandemic. The lacrosse program isn’t as much in need of players as the tennis teams are, though.

“There’s always a chance we won’t have [a tennis team]. For boys tennis last year, three guys showed up the first day to practice and I told the coach to look at those three guys and say ‘Bring a friend tomorrow,’” Lang said. “It’s about numbers. When you do a match six people play and then there are also double matches. If you have ten tennis players that’s good. Tennis sometimes could have good numbers; other years it struggles a little. Girls tennis right now, I think our numbers are good, but boys, not so much. It’s good to have around ten people because if someone gets injured you can still play.”

While the tennis team focuses heavily on recruitment each year, the track team by far has the most athletes out of any spring sports team, so to Renick, fostering a close-knit team bond is crucial, along with improving individually.

“There is a mix of young freshmen and veterans on the team, everyone has to work together to create that bond and be a team player. We have a lot to work on to stay consistent at what we do, to reach our goals. [I hope we] get better each day and take more athletes to compete at the state level. We have to put everyone in the right position to get points for the team to win a championship,” Renick said. “Injuries always happen; we have to do a better job of not overworking and resting when needed.”

From left to right: Sophomore Aleah Davis, junior Julianne Bowman, sophomore Jaidyn Vukelich, and junior Whitney Holland are some of the track athletes who run year round, competing in simple season meets all the way to regional competitions in Virginia Beach, as seen above. (Courtesy Photo)

Rest is reportedly incredibly important since these athletes are running year-round, as explained earlier. Another team who has a constant presence on campus is the cheerleaders. Although their competition season is over, the cheerleaders don’t really get an off-season.

“We sort of ‘start over’ in the spring because we have sideline cheerleader tryouts and conditioning for the next school year’s squad,” cheer coach Marsha Lopez commented. “We do get to run the Spring Sports Pep Rally, so that’s always fun and helps highlight what we’re working on. We do not cheer on the sidelines for any spring sports, but we have cheered in the stands in the past for a couple of different teams. We plan to do that again this spring. We just love it so much when everyone yells and participates at the pep rallies and games.”

Lang shares Lopez’s hope that the spring sports teams will get more support this season from Eagles and community members.

“Attendance is a little different in the spring and that’s because everything is spread so thin. You could have a baseball game, a softball game, and a soccer game all in the same night so kids who want to come to games have to pick and choose who they watch,” Lang explained. “Traditionally the student sections are larger at football and basketball games but I think it would be really cool to see a lot of kids cheering on our spring sports teams this year because they work extremely hard to do what they’re doing.”

Any students interested in cheering for the spring sports teams at their home games, or simply following along with their season record, should visit the athletic website for team rosters and schedules.

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