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Keeler: Great season for local athletes


Another high school sports season is almost over. We still have three local athletes playing in this week's state tournament, and hopefully they will come back from Radford and Blacksburg with a couple state titles. I figured this would be a good time to a look back at what has been a great year for local athletes.

It was a banner year in the fall as many of our football teams had great seasons. All three Shenandoah County schools made it to the playoffs for only the second time ever. Warren County and Sherando also made it to the playoffs, before suffering tough first-round losses. Strasburg and Central each won a game in the playoffs.

It was the first playoff win ever for Central, which also was the outright district champions. They clinched the district title with a thrilling 27-26 double-overtime win over the Rams, in probably one of the best games in the rivalry's history.

Coming into last football season, I had never covered or seen a double-overtime high school game and by the end of the season I had covered two of them. Sherando also beat Handley in double-overtime earlier in the season. There were a lot of great games last year, and I'm already looking forward to another great football season coming up.
Sherando had a great year in volleyball. The Warriors won the district title, but were bounced in the regional quarterfinals. Strasburg also won its district and played for a state berth, but came up short in the regional semifinals.

Sherando also had a great golf season, finishing just short of qualifying for the state tournament. Central's Ben Kline also made a big run in the postseason, advancing to the state tournament.

Skyline's Thomas Madden stole the show in cross country as he won his first state title in the Group AA meet. Warren County's Seumus O'Reilly finished eighth, as did the Wildcats' Kayla Gibbons on the girls side.

Central's Brandon Poff finished second in the Group A boys meet, while Strasburg's Katlyn Ayers did the same on the girls side. Strasburg also finished second as a team in the girls meet.

There were also some great perfomances across the region in the fall. Millbrook's Matt Fazenbaker finished fifth in the Group AA state golf tournament. Millbrook's Crystal Nelson placed second in the girls Group AA cross country meet. James Wood had a solid season in volleyball with a young squad. James Wood, Handley and Clarke County all advanced to the playoffs in football.

Wrestlers took center stage during the winter season. Stonewall Jackson's Lucas Ryan and Ricky Tisinger won their second straight state title each. Strasburg freshman Nic Campbell also won a state title. Central's Skylar Wolf finished second in the Group A state tournament.

Stonewall Jackson had a stellar girls basketball season. They finished third in the district, and made it to the regional semis where they lost to eventual state champion East Rockingham.

Central's girls basketball team had one of its best seasons in over a decade. A young Falcons' squad won its first regional game since 1997. They lost a close contest to eventual state champion George Mason, who they beat once during the regular season, in the regional semifinals.

Sherando's girls basketball team also had a very strong campaign, before falling to Millbrook in the regional semis. Skyline had a very good season as well, but injuries slowed the Hawks down as they just missed making the regional tournament. Warren County also made it to regionals and had a solid year.

Sherando's boys basketball team advanced to the regional semis, before losing to a strong Potomac Falls squad.

There were plenty of good stories across the region. Obviously, the top one was Millbrook's third consecutive state title in girls basketball. The team set the Virginia High School League record with 80 consecutive wins. The Pioneers were a one of a kind team that this region will likely not see again for a very long time.

Handley also advanced to the Group AA state tournament, falling in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion Brunswick. Millbrook's Joe Jessen won his second state title in wrestling, while Jake Crawford finished second. Clarke County's Joe Nappi also placed second in the Group A state tournament.

That takes us to another strong spring in the area. Sherando's baseball team came up short in regionals, but still had a very good year, losing only one game in the district all season. Strasburg was the only other team to advance to regionals in baseball, losing in the quarterfinals.

In softball, Skyline won the Northwestern District and was led by Sabrie Neeb, who hit nine homers, and Taylor Henry scored a lot of runs on the rest of the district. They came up short in the regional quarters, but still had a great season. Warren County had the misfortune of being in the very tough Evergreen District. However, Warren County's Nicole King still put up huge numbers in the circle. She finished just a little short of 1,000 strikeouts for her career. Central's softball team advanced to regionals for only the second time in school history, and did so with a very young squad that could make some noise over the next few years.

We had yet another spectacular tennis season in the area. Central's Molly Barb advanced to the Group A state tournament in singles, and she also helped lead the Falcons to their first district title in more than 10 years. Sherando's Trey Scott and Chris Mikus are in the doubles state semifinals. The Warriors made it to the regional tournament for the sixth straight season. Skyline also advanced to regionals in girls tennis. Coming into the last couple matches of the regular season they were fighting to stay out of last in the district, but the Hawks got hot at the right time.

Stonewall Jackson had a strong year in both boys and girls soccer. The Generals won the district in the boys side and finished third in girls soccer. The Generals ran into a tough Manassas Park squad in regionals. Sherando's boys soccer team won the district title, but came up short in regionals as well.

It was a great season across the board, but I don't think anything can top the track season this past weekend for local athletes. There were eight state champions in 10 different events, not to mention Stonewall Jackson winning the boys state title. Talk about saving the best for last. Strasburg's Ayers won two individual titles as did Stonewall Jackson's Dylan Shirley. Strasburg's Taylor Cockerille also won a state title, as did Stonewall Jackson's John-Michael Pirtle. Central had two state champions as Justin Bauserman and Logan Patrick each won one. Skyline's Madden and Sherando's Chris Smith each won a state title at the Group AA meet.

Across the region there are still a couple teams going strong. Clarke County advanced to the state tournament in softball, boys and girls soccer, with only the girls soccer still left. Handley's boys tennis team is in the state semifinals, and Handley's Jessie Nolan and Kathryn Bock are in the doubles state semifinals. Handley's girls won the state track title, and the Judges' Britani Myers and Millbrook's Nelson won two individual state titles. Handley's Verna Hilaire-Lee and Lisa Meneau each won a state title.

As great as this season was, just writing this column makes me excited for next season. There's sure to be many more great memories ahead.






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