Year in Review: Highs, lows mark list of local sports storylines in 2016

From the highlights – high school student-athletes winning state titles and earning college scholarships, a local team winning the Valley Baseball League and an area college competing for a national championship – to the lowlights – a local athletic program rocked by controversy – the 2016 calendar year was filled with local sports storylines.

Below are the top 10 local sports stories of 2016, listed in chronological order, as selected by The Northern Virginia Daily’s sports staff.

Strasburg High School’s boys basketball program suspended

The turn of the calendar into 2016 quickly brought with it a swirl of controversy surrounding Strasburg’s boys basketball program. The rise of allegations in early January of misconduct involving student-athletes on a team bus triggered lengthy investigations involving Shenandoah County Public Schools and the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office that ended with several student-athlete suspensions and sweeping coaching changes within the basketball program. The Rams’ varsity and junior varsity boys basketball teams played their final contests of the 2015-16 season on Jan. 7, after which games and practices were suspended while the investigations were conducted.

The Strasburg’s boys basketball program returned to the court under new varsity head coach Hamilton Doyle in November.

High school athletes take home state titles

The success at the state level for a handful of local high school athletes began on the wrestling mat on Feb. 20 when Sherando’s John Borst (182 pounds) and Warren County’s Zach Beckner (126) each won their second straight Virginia High School League state titles, and Strasburg’s Kyle Sisk (113) claimed his first.

The following day, Central’s Ashley Funkhouser became the first swimmer in Shenandoah County history to win a VHSL state championship when she claimed gold in the girls 50-yard freestyle at the 2A meet.

In the spring, Strasburg’s Elijah Waters capped his record-setting track and field season with a 2A state title in the boys 110-meter hurdles, and Sherando’s Davina Lane, the owner of four individual school records, won 4A state championships in the girls 100- and 300-meter hurdles. Central’s boys 4×400 relay team of Kyle Clanton, Coy Jimenez, Wyatt Robinson and Carston Shockey also won a 2A state title.

Postgraduate boys basketball returns to Massanutten Military Academy

Nearly two years after MMA cut ties with its postgraduate boys basketball team, the school announced in April the return of the program and former head coach Chad Myers. Myers, who guided the Colonels to a No. 1 national ranking in 2012-13, opened his third season with MMA on Nov. 1. Led by NCAA Division I signees Jamarko Pickett (Ole Miss) and Bud Mack (Manhattan), the Colonels are 13-2 and will begin their post-Christmas schedule on Jan. 6.

Central softball makes historic run

Led by all-state pitcher Bekah Ansbro (who is now at George Mason) and The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2016 Softball Coach of the Year, Lisa Rhodes, Central’s softball team soared to previously unmatched heights during the spring season. The Falcons claimed the Conference 35 championship on May 26, earned their first-ever regional win a couple days later and pushed all the way to the Group 2A state championship game on June 11. Central fell to Lebanon, 2-1, in the title game on a walkoff home run in the bottom of the 16th inning. It was the longest state championship softball game in the history of the VHSL.

Shenandoah University’s Phil Morse Jr. chosen in MLB Draft

A standout relief pitcher for the Hornets in 2016, Morse saw his dream of playing professional baseball come to fruition on June 11 when he was selected by the Washington Nationals with the 484th pick in the 16th round in the MLB Draft. He became the first Shenandoah University player to be drafted in at least the last 25 years, and was the first Hornet taken in the draft in head coach Kevin Anderson’s 13 seasons at the school.

Local high schools see spike in coaching vacancies

The end of the 2015-16 school year brought a surge of coaching staff changes for local schools with those in Shenandoah County seeing the largest amount of turnover. Central, Stonewall Jackson and Strasburg high schools combined to hire 12 new varsity coaches over the summer, and each of those three schools introduced a new varsity boys basketball coach in 2016. Strasburg alone had nearly 20 coaching vacancies to fill at the end of last school year.

The next wave of coaching changes has already begun for local schools with Stonewall Jackson and Warren County each seeking new varsity football coaches.

Strasburg Express win second straight VBL title

Strasburg staked its place atop the Valley Baseball League for the second consecutive season when the Express topped Waynesboro in two games in the best-of-three VBL championship series in early August. The title capped a season in which Strasburg went 22-3 at home, tied Waynesboro for the best regular-season record (30-12) and set a franchise record for wins.

VHSL approves new realignment plan

The VHSL Executive Committee approved the realignment committee’s final 24-region alignment and final district plan in September, officially marking the next change in the VHSL format for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. All six local public high schools will remain in their current classifications, although Skyline and Warren County will join Sherando as members of the new 13-team Northwestern District.

The new realignment also eliminates conferences, meaning postseason play will begin with regional tournaments.

Three Sherando student-athletes sign DI letters of intent

John Borst, Davina Lane and fellow Sherando senior Brett Loy each signed NCAA Division I letters of intent in November to continue their respective sports at the collegiate level. Loy, the most successful golfer in school history, signed with Longwood University, while Lane signed to run track and field at George Mason University.

Borst, the first Sherando wrestler to receive a Division I scholarship, signed with Virginia Tech on Nov. 10. Just over a month later, Borst, now the third-ranked 195-pounder in the nation by InterMat, capped his stellar calendar year in style by winning the 195-pound championship at the prestigious Beast of the East wrestling tournament in Delaware.

JMU football reaches national championship game

James Madison University’s football team announced Mike Houston as its new head coach back on Jan. 18. Almost a full year later, the Dukes will play for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national championship. JMU is scheduled to play Youngstown State at noon on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas. The Dukes will play for their second national title. (They won their first in 2004).

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com.