Bigger turnouts, sharper practices prep Panthers for spring

At the end of their second week of practice, Rappahannock County  High School’s Lady Panther soccer players are hot on the trail of producing an exciting season.

“We have some good things going for us,” sophomore Shelby Burnett said. “There are so many freshmen; we have enough to field a freshman JV team. It’s even looking like some freshmen may step up and play varsity.”

“It’s time to get back at our rivals from last year,” said sophomore Amber Dodson. We had lots of injuries last season, and many are coming back from those. Coach is trying to reduce injuries. We are conditioning a lot in practice – getting back in shape.”

In the rules presentation, coach Rich Hogan presented the girls with some firm guidelines. His No. 1 goal is to be “the premier sports program at RCHS – male or female. This can be accomplished on the field, in the classroom, in the school and in our community.” In addition, Hogan desires to “surpass” the 2011 win-loss record. His closing motto is: “Work hard. Play hard.”

“Coach wants us to improve our record by 25 percent over last season,” Burnett said. “That’s the goal that’s driving our conditioning. We’re working on fundamentals, so we’re really getting the passing down, working on our communication and our defensive skills. Everyone’s moving quicker to the ball.

Sophomore Keelee Armor echoed her teammates. “In practice, we are focusing on every part of the body. That way, we won’t be as prone to injuries – lots of knee, ankles and core strengthening. Conditioning has been agility for better footwork, and we’ve worked a lot on one-touches.”

“The bottom line is . . . we want to play extra hard because we have a lot of close friends who are seniors,” said Dodson, “and we want them to have an amazing last season. We are going to give it our best, for them. It’s the sophomores’ time to shine!”

One of those close senior friends is Bryn Sonnett. “I’m super out of shape, so the first few days of practice were rough. Thank goodness, the weather’s been pretty glorious.

“As far as the team goes,” Sonnett said, “we have a bunch of really young girls with tons of potential. We definitely have potential, but it’s going to take some work. We have to be optimistic. I see the JV team doing really well, even though they’re intimidated right now. I’m trying to reach out to them and make them more comfortable. For varsity, we have four seniors, and we want to have a fun season and go out with a bang.”

The Lady Panthers’ first match is 5:30 p.m. this Friday (March 2) at home against Eastern View High School.

Track and field

Panther track and field coach Scott Stephens is proud to witness the first steps in truly building a program at RCHS. “This season is the start of something new here,” Stephens said. “We will have a dedicated middle school program with four middle school meets. In the past years, we have had middle schoolers run in the varsity meets. This is definitely something to look forward to.”

“We have lots of new youthful members, our middle school runners,” said senior Josh Jones. “There are some outstanding and stubborn young ones. We also have a lot of new varsity kids, primarily males. This track turnout represents an overall increased interest in Panther athletics.

“Personally, I’m feeling extremely strong, amazing,” Jones said. “This year is going to be good. I already feel good enough to qualify for regionals. I’d like to go to states in the 400 and/or 300. Other than Christmas break where I took the two weeks to rest, I’ve been nonstop training since the end of cross country season.”

“As always,” said coach Stephens, “we look forward to continuing our streak of sending athletes to the state competition and, with the added teams to the Bull Run district, the challenge will be that much greater. However, we feel that our runners and throwers are up to the challenge.”

Track season officially starts Wednesday, March 14 with the first meet being held in Page County.

Softball

At the beginning of the 2012 season, Lady Panther softball is celebrating a change. According to coach Andy Hipple, “This is the largest roster that RCHS has seen in years – 16 players.”

“I am looking forward to the 2012 softball season,” Hipple said. “We have a strong core of returning players from last year’s squad. I am excited to be coaching the varsity team. I was encouraged by the number of girls who came out for softball. A core of this year’s team has played together for the past several years.

“This year’s team holds a great deal of potential,” Hipple said. “If we can score runs while keeping errors to a minimum, we can be successful. Position players like Peyton Bailey, a junior, will be anchoring the defense with her pitching, backed up by five or six starters from last year. We plan to make some noise in the standings of the Bull Run this spring.”

“JP softball is also looking forward to an exciting season,” said coach Chelsey Kamody. The team is led by five talented eighth-graders and six seventh-graders. Kamody is excited for her first chance to coach softball, especially after leading such a successful volleyball season. “This team is planning on practicing very hard in preparation for the first game,” Kamody said. The first contest is at home on April 12 at 4:30 p.m. against Buford Middle School.

Varsity Lady Panthers host Culpeper on Friday, March 9 and open their official season against Colonial Beach on Friday, March 16 at 7 p.m. Bull Run district play begins on Tuesday, March 27.

Baseball

Hopes are high on the Panther baseball dirt diamond this year.

“Practice is going well,” said junior Garfield Burke. “We are getting in shape and working on a lot things: endurance, stamina, hitting, fielding, pitching. It’s very exciting. We have definitely improved since last year.”

Fellow junior Grayson Love expressed similar sentiments for the season. “It’s going to be a lot better than last year. We have a solid infield this year, and our outfield is pretty good, too. For many of us, it is something like rec ball because we’ve been playing together for so long.”

The two teammates compared notes about their long-range goals for the season. “Really,” Burke said, “really, I just want to win.

In the short range, Love said he just wants “to come out strong against Culpeper and beat them next Friday!”

Panthers host the Culpeper Blue Devils at 5 p.m. Friday, March 9.

Varsity boys’ soccer

Rappahannock’s varsity boys’ soccer has taken to the field with members already on the injured list, but the team’s fiery determination is well intact.

“Even though we’ve lost some injured players already, we should do better than last year,” sophomore Shane L’Amoreaux said. “Smith Cliffton and Trey Swindler are out, but the coaches [Galen and Andrew Weyer] are working us hard. It’s going well. There’s more practice with trapping and endurance. I’m seeing more team-based training, more teamwork. We’re going to get to know each other better this year.”

Sophomore teammate Daniel Schlosser complimented his coaches. “There’s a different strategy than our previous season. We’re doing more muscle building in addition to cardio. That’s been a big challenge for me, especially running a mile and a half in the 26-degree weather.

“It’s should shape up to be a good season,” Schlosser said. “Teammates are getting to know each other’s playing better. When you play with a group for long enough, you can start to predict what someone’s going to do.”

“I like the team now,” sophomore Amrit Tamang said. “Coach’s approach to build team chemistry is good.”

“My assistant, Noah Tucker, and I are both very excited to be working with the varsity boys soccer team at Rappahannock,” coach James Lofton said in an email. “In the first week of tryouts and practice, we saw great potential. Even more important, the boys displayed tremendous effort and willingness to grow and develop. Our goal is for this to be a learning experience – one in which they progress as soccer players, but also redefine what it means to be a member of the community, servant-leader, and young man in today’s society.

“We view soccer (sports) as a medium for affecting lasting positive change – athletically, academically, and in terms of life skills. We don’t expect change to happen overnight. Instead, we’re looking at the experience over the long haul. John Wooden said: ‘In looking forward, I never expected miracles to happen. Instead I expected the slow, steady progress that comes with industry and patience. Miracles were welcome, of course. I just felt more comfortable focusing on that over which I had some degree of control. Miracles were under Someone Else’s control.’ ”

JV boys’ soccer

“We’ve had a start with practices so far,” coach Andrew Weyer said, “and we are looking forward to a season full of accomplishments. What I’d like to stress to the community is that we need more athletes out. If there is anyone still in the area who would consider playing soccer, come out and play. We can coach you how to kick a ball or make a save in goal, we just need some more hustling faces out on the field. The only thing that I can predict is that this season will be a lot of fun.”

The varsity and JV Panthers’ first game is Friday, March 9, at Panther Stadium against Culpeper High School.

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