THS Spring Sports: A Comprehensive Preview

Spring doesn’t start officially until March 20, but track, boys’ tennis, softball, baseball, and lacrosse have already begun. As Talawanda looks ahead to an action-packed spring athletic season, here’s a comprehensive forecast of THS’s teams and their competitive prospects.

Talawanda runner Michael Phillips placed 2nd last year in the 2015 Ross Invitational. (Photo by Nick Graham, Hamilton Journal-News)

Talawanda runner Michael Phillips placed 2nd last year in the 2015 Ross Invitational. (Photo by Nick Graham, Hamilton Journal-News)

Girls’ and Boys’ Track

How they did last season: THS’ boys’ track team finished fifth out of seven teams in the Southwest Ohio Conference (SWOC), and the girls’ team finished third.

What to expect this season: Head coach Paul Stiver predicted continuous team improvement based on a strong belief in equal opportunity for all athletes and a willingness to try new things. “As a coaching staff we are always trying to find new ways to motivate and help our athletes perform at a higher level.  We attend clinics to get new ideas and try these new ideas. We do want to emphasize that everyone on the team is important and that we should care about every team member no matter the talent level,” said Stiver.

Who to watch: Sophomore Valerie Green is the program’s top returning athlete, according to Stiver. Last season, she tied the school record in high jump and went as far as the regional meet, one of only four athletes in the program to do so. Another standout athlete is senior Jessica Starrett, who made second all-conference team last season in the 800 and the 1600 meter runs.

When they compete: The boys’ and girls’ track teams will compete for the first time at Harrison on Saturday, March 26.

Why you should care: Track attracts a large number of students; its size and wide range of events help make it both a secondary or tertiary activity for athletes involved in other sports and an access point into athletics for those who are newcomers to the world of high school sports. Not only does this flexibility allow for champions of diverse talents, you probably know someone who’s doing it, and you can be rest assured that all benefit in some way. “I love when they improve and do things they didn’t think they could do,” said Stiver. “It’s fun to see improvement and the team come together as the year progresses.”

Lacrosse

Brennan Prince attacking the goal on offense in a game last season. (Photo by Marek Kuspan, The Miami Student)

Brennan Prince attacking the goal on offense in a game last season. (Photo by Marek Kuspan, The Miami Student)

How they did last season: Of the twenty games that the lacrosse team played last season, they did not win any.

What to expect this season: “We definitely want to win more than last year,” said head coach Brand’n Byrd, adding that they wanted to win all six home games. Byrd, who is new to the program as head coach, described the unifying philosophy that he and his staff are working to instill in the athletes: “We’ve already talked to our players, and we’ve adopted three words that are built in our program: we talk about discipline, we talk about enthusiasm, and we talk about effort. And the goal is to kind of take those three words, teach them through lacrosse and relate them to life.”

Lacrosse has a short history at Talawanda. It began three years ago as a club sport, and this year it became a varsity sport, which means the program is officially affiliated with the school. However, lacrosse is not an official Ohio High School Athletic Association sport, meaning that coaches are responsible for dividing up districts and deciding rules. In June, the OHSAA voted unanimously to sponsor as an official sport, a ruling that will take effect in 2017.

Who to watch: Though Byrd has only been working with the lacrosse team for a few short weeks and praised the team as a whole for working hard and helping ease his transition into his position, he said that Aaron Hool and Sawyer Zinn particularly have stepped up. “They were on board from day 1,” he said.
“As soon as we said hey, there’s lifting for lacrosse, they were there everyday.”

When they compete: The team will compete versus La Salle High School on Monday, March 21. The game will be away.

Why you should care: Lacrosse has officially joined a circle of athletic programs that have established themselves through years and consistent performance, and accordingly, it can be fairly characterized as the wild card of the Talawanda spring athletic season. Shifting leadership and an underdog status established last season lay the groundwork for what could be a revolutionary season in Talawanda lacrosse history.

Furthermore, lacrosse presents an interesting challenge in terms of gender equity in athletics. Right now, the team is completely male. “We’re trying to build the foundation for a womens’ program,” said Byrd, adding that the staff approached several female students at the high school who expressed interest, but ultimately could not find any girls willing to commit. For now, female lacrosse players are welcome to join the team. ““We’re more than willing to take them on, I mean, the more athletes the better, I don’t care if you’re a man or woman, if you can score goals or stop goals we want you on the team and it’s going to be difficult for us to kind of judge how soon we can have a womens’ program,” said Byrd. In other words, the future of womens’ lacrosse at Talawanda is entirely up in the air, and it will certainly be interesting to see where the chips fall in the future.

Liz Beckett pitches versus Edgewood in a game last season. (Photo by Nick Graham, Hamilton Journal-News)

Liz Beckett pitches versus Edgewood in a game last season. (Photo by Nick Graham, Hamilton Journal-News)

Softball

How they did last season: The team came in sixth out of seven teams in the conference last year, with eight wins and seventeen losses.

What to expect this season: Head coach Stephanie Guenther, who is in her first year with the THS team, said she hopes to build the foundation for a stronger program through small victories. She mentioned the team’s standing last season, and said that “even if they go up one place, that’s a success, that’s a victory there.” Guenther, who previously coached softball at Ross, Monroe, Middletown, and Oak Hills, said she was working on integrating new hitting styles, new fielding styles, and new techniques of form into the team. Overall, she was optimistic about the team’s ability to take up new responsibilities and move forward. “It’s week two and I’m already seeing improvements from week one,” she said. “I think they will be successful this year.”

Who to watch:“I’ve had two leaders step up,” said Guenther. “Zoe Coleman and Lauren Baker have really been setting themselves apart, pushing people…If there’s someone straggling running, they’ll always be the ones jumping in and running with them.” Baker made the second all-conference team last season as a freshman and batted a .467 average, the eleventh-highest in the conference. Baker also hit three home runs, putting her at seventh in a ranking of conference players by total home runs. Guenther also mentioned senior Liz Beckett, who pitched with an earned run average of 4.33 last season, the eleventh-highest in the conference.

When they compete: The team will play Bellbrook on Monday, March 21. The game will be away.

Why you should care: They’re not champions, but they’re working on it. A new, highly experienced head coach could mean great things for the program, especially considering the balance of conviction and compassion that Guenther described as the root of her coaching style. “I really push team bonding. We’re not just a softball team, I’m teaching them how to be young adults and pushing them to be good people, so I really push the family atmosphere. We’re a big softball family, we spend a lot of time with each other.” A fresh outlook and a strong sense of loyalty infuses the program, and that makes it a team worth watching.

Talawanda baseman Sam Poetter in a game versus Edgewood in the spring 2014 season. (Photo by Greg Lynch, Hamilton Journal-News)

Baseball

How they did last season: The baseball team won eleven games and lost nineteen last season, coming in sixth out of seven teams in the conference.

What to expect this season: According to head coach Tim Reed, the team’s goal is to win twenty games this season. Reed said that, in order to reach that goal, the team will strive to “be more aggressive on the base pass, play better defense, and pitch better” throughout the season.

It is Reed’s first year as head coach at THS; for the last thirty years, he has taught and coached baseball at Hamilton High School. Though he is relatively new, Reed expressed optimism about his future with Talawanda’s program and players. “I enjoy working with kids, and they’ve been a great group to work with so far, they work hard,” he said.

Who to watch: Senior Lane Dougherty, who pitches and plays first base, made the second all-conference team last year with a batting average of .299, the second-highest in the conference. Junior Trevor Detherage had an average of .333, the fourth-highest in the conference. He is a catcher and third baseman.

When they compete: The baseball team plays for the first time on Saturday, March 26 at Fenwick High School.

Why you should care: Baseball is a popular sport at Talawanda High School, and well-known for its competitiveness – two full weeks of tryouts precede a final round of cuts, which will be made sometime today. Despite this selectivity and standout performances from a handful of athletes, the team’s overall performance has slipped over the past several years, dropping from third in the conference to the second-to-last rank in 2014, where it has remained for the most recent two seasons.

While it would be difficult and speculative to assess exactly why such a drastic shift took place, at least some of it can be attributed to the team’s inability to retain a strong leadership – Reed is the fourth new head coach in the past four years. Still, Reed was both straightforward about past performance and optimistic about the future. “We plan on having a better record,” he said, noting specifically that “we talk about all kinds of situations and have them prepared for anything that comes along.” Reed’s calculated faith in his players indicated the potential for huge growth in the team this season, and accordingly the baseball team will be an interesting one to follow this season.

Boys’ Tennis

How they did last season: The team came in first in the conference last season, with nine victories and ten losses.

What to expect this season: “Every year the expectation going in is to win the League and this year is no exception,” said head coach Pete Thomas. “Outside of league play we have a pretty tough schedule that includes Moeller, Elder, Loveland, St. Xavier, Lakota West, and Kings.  Those matches most likely will result in team losses but they make us stronger for league and the program is built on team goals and the team goal is always to win league.”

In terms of obstacles to competitive success, Thomas identified Edgewood High School as a potential rival. “We narrowly beat them last year and we graduated half our team and they graduated none,” he said. Ultimately, however, he expressed confidence that Talawanda would maintain its position at the top of the league.

Who to watch: Connor Wentzell, who is team captain and the only senior on the team, played 1st singles last year and made the second all-conference team. Thomas also predicted that homeschooled varsity players Thomas Kelly, Noah Pitts, and Simione Maglich, all of whom also made second all-conference team last year, will be the “strength of the team”, along with junior Marshall Patterson.

When they compete: The first match will be Monday, April 4 versus Winton Woods. The match will be at home.

Why you should care: The boys’ tennis team is small, and composed partly of home-schooled players. Accordingly, it tends to fly under the radar, while larger sports like baseball and track dominate athletically attuned attention spans during the spring season. But last year, the boys’ tennis team was the only spring sports team at Talawanda to bring home a conference championship, a title that Wilmington High School held in 2013 and 2014. (Prior to that, the Talawanda team won six championships in a row as part of the Fort Ancient Valley Conference, which was disbanded in the fall of 2012 and split into the SWOC and the Eastern Cincinnati Conference.) The boys’ tennis team is small but strong and well-established at the high school, and it is highly likely that they will continue to make fans of Talawanda athletics proud.