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Keeler: New prep seasons a welcome thought

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Tommy Keeler

By Tommy Keeler - tkeeler@nvdaily.com

The smell of summer is still in the air. The heat, the humidity, the constant thunderstorms remind us all that it's still summertime.

However, there's a buzz circulating around the area. A true excitement of what's to come within the next week. Practices for fall sports start up Monday. Already you can hear people talking about it at the grocery store, at Valley League games, at the water cooler at work. It's pretty clear the area is excited for another high school season.

I would definitely include myself on that list of people excited for a new season. Taking vacations and enjoying life in the summertime is fun. Valley League games are great, but at the end of the day there's nothing like the high school season.

The high school season can be very long, and by the end I'm always praying for the hot summer days and dreaming of lying on a beach somewhere. It only takes a few weeks of R-and-R before I'm ready to get back to high school sports, and this year is no different.

It should be a great year for the area, starting with everyone's favorite -- football season. Many of the area teams have good reason to have very high hopes. In fact, five of the six public schools went to the playoffs last year. And the only one that didn't, Skyline, has a lot back and should be a real factor in the Northwestern District this season.

Central, Stonewall Jackson and Strasburg each have a fair amount returning from last year's teams. Sherando has been solid for a number of years, while Warren County head coach Tony Tallent has his program going in the right direction.

All of that leads me to believe it will be a special season in football. Golf, volleyball and cross country should also be solid in the area.

Sherando and Strasburg volleyball have been strong for a number of years, and even though each team lost a lot, coaches Chuck Ashby and Suzanne Mathias always seems to get the most out of their players.

We've had some really good golfers come through the area over the last decade or so, and I'm sure there are more just around the corner. Central's Ben Kline advanced to the state tournament last year, and that experience should help him going into his junior season.

In cross country, Skyline's Thomas Madden is back to try and add to his already impressive resume. Will he be able to defend his Group AA state title?

While the fall season is right in front of us, the winter and spring seasons should bring just as much excitement this year.

We don't have any dominant teams in our area in boys basketball, but we still have teams that should have strong seasons. Strasburg and Central have a lot back and should be improved from last year. Warren County made regionals last year, and the program is going in the right direction. Sherando has made it to the Region II semifinals the last two seasons, and could have enough returning players to make yet another deep run.

In girls basketball, Central and Sherando each made it to the regional semifinals with young squads, and could have the talent to get at least that far again this year. Stonewall Jackson lost a lot of its scoring from a regional semifinal team, but you can never overlook a team coached by Jeff Burner. Warren County made it to regionals with a fairly young squad, and has shown signs of improvements over the last few years.

The wrestling in this area has been strong for years and I see no reason why that will change this season. Stonewall Jackson loses two state champions in Lucas Ryan and Ricky Tisinger, but the program has made great strides over the last few years. Strasburg should be returning a state champion in rising sophomore Nic Campbell, and I would expect the team to be very strong again this year. Warren County and Skyline are always solid in wrestling, and with coach Pepper Martin, Sherando is always a team to be reckoned with.

The spring should also bring success in a variety of sports. Sherando will be looking to repeat its strong season in baseball, and Strasburg will try to continue its winning ways. In softball, Warren County will try to move on without standout pitcher Nicole King, while Skyline tries to do the same without Sabrie Neeb and Taylor Henry.

Stonewall Jackson will have a new boys soccer coach, but with a lot returning could field another strong team on the pitch. In girls soccer, The Generals will also have high hopes after coming up just short of a regional berth. Sherando will also look to return to its winning ways after a down year last season.

In boys tennis, Sherando will try to continue its strong program, which will be tough with the graduation of Trey Scott. Central could also have a lot back, and may be in line for another solid year. Central's girls tennis team had one of its best seasons in more than a decade, and with a young team has a chance to keep moving the program forward.

It should also be another great year in track and field. Last season, Stonewall Jackson won the Group A boys state title, so the pressure will be on the team to defend the title. Strasburg also had strong boys and girls teams, but did lose a lot of top athletes to graduation.

There's sure to be many new teams rise unexpectedly, and some that have high hopes may fall flat. The unknown is part of what makes sports great and exciting.

While I think it will be a great year for many teams in terms of wins and losses, that's not what is ultimately important. Winning is a great thing, but what's really important is that all the local athletes show good sportsmanship and have fun. At the end of the day, it's just a game.

At all the games an announcer reads off a Virginia High School League creed, and at some of the VHSL state championships they have players read the creed. Part of the saying is, 'Let the players play, let the coaches coach and the officials officiate.' If all of our fans and athletes can remember this and show good sportsmanship, then I'm confident this will truly be a great season.

-- Assistant sports editor Tommy Keeler can be contacted at tkeeler@nvdaily.com.

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