Year in Review: Winning storylines abound for area sports in 2017
The 2017 calendar year in local sports brought with it an abundance of storylines. Below are the top 10 sports stories, listed chronologically, of this pastyear as selected by The Northern Virginia Daily sports staff.
The James Madison University football team kicked off the 2017 calendar year by capping the 2016 season with a victory over Youngstown State in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision national championship game on Jan. 7. The 28-14 win gave the Dukes their second national title.
JMU is a win away from a repeat this season, as the Dukes have rolled to a 14-0 record and a return to Frisco, Texas, to take on North Dakota State at noon on Jan. 6 for the national title.
Smoot era ends
For the first time since Strasburg High School’s baseball program was restarted in 1982, Jeff Smoot did not serve as the Rams’ head coach in 2017. Joe Bauserman, who starred for Strasburg from 2000-2002, was named Smoot’s replacement on Jan. 12 after the latter stepped down the previous fall and led the Rams to a 12-8 record.
Over his 35 years as Strasburg’s head coach, Smoot led the Rams to four state championship game appearances and the program’s lone state title in 2007.
Former Sherando standout linebacker Dylan Rivers created one of the coverage area’s biggest sports headlines of the year when he announced on Jan. 22 his decision to flip his verbal commitment from Penn State to Virginia Tech. He signed with the Hokies less than two weeks later on Feb. 1 and saw sparse playing time, primarily on special teams, as a true freshman during the 2017 season.
Central’s Ashley Funkhouser claimed the area’s first individual state championship of the year on Feb. 15 when she swam to her second straight VHSL Group 2A title in the girls 50-yard freestyle and added another in the 100 free while breaking the state meet record in the latter.
Three days later, Strasburg’s Brandon Swink won a VHSL state wrestling championship at 120 pounds, and Sherando’s John Borst – who went on to join the wrestling team at Virginia Tech – became the school’s first three-time state champ with his title at 195 pounds.
Another Sherando standout, Davina Lane, earned a trio of girls track and field state titles – 100-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles and 200-meter dash – at the Group 4A state meet in June to finish her career with five total. Central senior Kila Watson closed out her own high school track career with a Group 2A state championship in the girls discus, her first.
On the boys side, Central’s 4×400 relay team of Kyle Clanton, Saxon Franklin, Coy Jimenez and Carston Shockey streaked to its second straight Group 2A championship – and a new state meet record – while Stonewall Jackson’s own 4×400 relay team, consisting of Wade Banks, Mark Keith, Tyler Patton and Kaelan Sorrells, won the title in Group 1A.
Stonewall Jackson’s baseball program entered the 2017 season having gone 22 seasons without qualifying for a regional tournament, and the Generals halted that drought and then some in head coach Mike Lenox’s sixth and final season at the helm. The Generals caught fire in the postseason and marched all the way to the program’s first state championship game appearance, where they fell to Auburn, 6-0, on June 10.
Warren County’s volleyball team achieved a few firsts of its own during the fall sports season, as the Wildcats rode a 17-match winning streak all the way to the VHSL Class 3 state championship final before falling to Lord Botetourt, 3-0 on Nov. 18. Warren County won its first district title in 14 years and the program’s first-ever regional championship on the way to its first-ever state championship appearance.
Two win gold
Lloyd Willis, a 53-year-old Strasburg resident, and Wesley Pence, 51, of Edinburg, struck gold during the 3-on-3 men’s basketball tournament at the 2017 National Senior Games in Birmingham, Alabama on June 13. The duo competed alongside three men from Atlanta and one from Russia to form the “Georgia Zags” and won the Division II championship with a 70-46 win over the Alabama Defenders.
Bruce Alger, the longtime president and general manager of the New Market Rebels of the Valley Baseball League, became the VBL’s head man on July 2 when he was appointed the league’s new commission/president in a unanimous vote by the VBL’s Board of Directors. Alger, who has been a part of the Rebels organization and the VBL since 1965, replaced former commissioner Don Lemish, who announced his retirement in the middle of the 2017 season.
Shenandoah University junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman continued to rewrite the school’s record book in 2017, as he set new single-season highs in passing yards (3,818), passing touchdowns (41), completions (321) and attempts (514) on his way to his second straight first team All-ODAC selection. The 2014 Central High School grad finished the regular season as the NCAA Division III leader in passing yards and ranked second in passing TDs.
Central High School’s football team ran roughshod through the regular season, finishing a perfect 10-0 for the first time in school history while outscoring teams by an average of 44.2 points. The Falcons, who beat eventual VHSL Class 1 state champ Riverheads during the regular season, fell in the Region 2B semifinals to Robert E. Lee, which finished as the Class 2 state runner-up.
Sherando enjoyed even more success in the postseason. Fueled by a rare playoff absence in 2016, and by an explosive offense and a defense that returned to form, the Warriors won the Region 4C championship this past season and came within a win of reaching the program’s fifth state title game appearance. Sherando fell to the now three-time defending Class 4 state champ Salem in the state semifinals on Dec. 2.
Shenandoah University broke ground on the James R. Wilkins Jr. Athletics and Events Center in October 2016, announced the name for the facility this past April and is nearing completion of the 77,000 square-foot building. The events center, which will serve as the new home for Hornets basketball and will include facilities for indoor track and baseball, among others, is scheduled to be completed next month.
Honorable Mention: Former Warren County High School and JMU football standout Gage Steele earns an NFL tryout with the Saints … Former Massanutten Military Academy point guard Frank Mason III named NCAA men’s basketball player of the year and was selected 34th overall by the Kings in the 2017 NBA Draft … Sherando girls tennis wins Conference 21 West and Region 4A West titles, finishes as Group 4A state runner-up … Strasburg native Colt Scott appears on Netflix series “Ultimate Beastmaster.”