By Jeff Nations
New Skyline High School varsity baseball coach Jay Barnes can dispense with the introductory speech to his players.
Barnes, after all, knows them all so well. The Hawks' junior varsity head coach the past three years, Barnes is moving up after being named last week by the Warren County School Board to replace former varsity baseball coach Ben Taylor.
"All of the returning varsity players have played for me at one time or another," Barnes said. "It's definitely a luxury to know all the kids that are going to be playing varsity this season."
Barnes, a Strasburg High School and Wingate University graduate, got into coaching soon after the end of his own playing career. He coached at Strasburg for two years, and also spent time coaching in the Valley Baseball League with the Strasburg Express, where he worked with his father, former Express manager Butch Barnes.
With five years of coaching high school players, Barnes said he thought the time was right to try and move up to head a varsity program. A business education teacher at Skyline, Barnes didn't have to look far to find his opportunity this year.
The Hawks finished 10-11 last year under Taylor, who stepped down after three seasons coaching the team. Skyline lost four seniors to graduation off that team, including top pitcher Chaz Rutherford, but Barnes said he'll still have a solid amount of experience on the team.
"We've got a good amount of guys coming back from last year's team," Barnes said. "I hope we've got some fighters, some competitors. Having seen them play before, I kind of know what I'm getting into and what I can get out of them, what they're capable of doing."
Despite the Virginia High School League's shift to six classifications and the resulting new conference alignments, Skyline still plays in the Northwestern District and will once more play three regular season games against each district team. That covers 12 of the school's 20 allowed regular-season games, but Barnes said the Hawks will still get some chances to play their new Conference 28 rivals.
"I think we're going to get a pretty good shot at that this year," Barnes said. "Our athletic director, Bill Cupp, was able to work out some games so that we'll see some of the other teams in our conference."
The Hawks have a home game against conference opponent John Champe, a four-game slate with cross-town rival Warren County, and should see Conference 28 rivals Loudoun Valley and Central when they play in Central's tournament in late March.
For now, Barnes is doing all he can to prepare his new team for the coming season.
"We've been doing a lot of fall workouts, getting ready to start our indoor stuff after the Thanksgiving holiday," Barnes said. "We're just trying to get the guys into the swing of things. We've got to keep up with everybody else, and do everything we have to to get better."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>