Spring sports ride on momentum from winter

 

With winter sports finishing over break, the transition into spring is in full effect.  Some spring sports have already started competition by traveling to nicer climates over spring break to tune up on their skills before entering into its second year against GLIAC competition.  Many sports are looking to ride the momentum off of Pioneers’ winter teams who made some noise in the GLIAC conference.

Track and Field

For most of the track athletes, this is their first and last real opportunity to seize a GLIAC championship and hopefully a national championship.

Coming off a harsh winter of training due to weather, the track team is hoping for better weather so they can perform to the best of their abilities.

Junior sprinter Lepear Smith (right) hands the baton off to sophomore sprinter Malik Felton in the men’s 4x100m relay at the Stark County Championships. (Photo courtesy of Andy Smith)

On the long distance side, the men and women are both led by outstanding seniors who are already known in the conference due to previous performances.

Tina Oprean is one of our premier distance runners,” head distance coach Jack Hazen said. “On the men’s side we are led by Mitch Williams, Jarod Williams, and Nick Fresenko.”

Oprean broke multiple indoor records this past season and is looking to focus her attention on the 5000 meter race. Hazen said Oprean is focused on breaking the current 5000 meter record.

Mitch Williams is looking to repeat his championship title in the steeplechase this outdoor season, and Jarod Williams is looking to score again this season and hopefully bring home a championship of his own in either the 800m or 1500m run. Fresenko is looking to finish off his career here with a great finale.

“We have outstanding runners on each side who can be in the jest of things and who can score for us,” Hazen said. “Both Sara Polatas and Sarah Meek have come alive for us down the final stretch in the indoor season and will be looking to take on the 10k outdoor. Scott Whitaker and Ryan Roush are also stealer runners who can score for us as well.”

The long distance athletes aren’t the only ones looking to make an impact in this year’s outdoor season.

The men’s and women’s sprinting and throwing teams are also stacked with potential GLIAC scorers and possible national qualifiers.

Lyndsey Bates is coming off of an impressive indoor season where she became a national qualifier in the weight throw,” head coach Mark McClure said. “For our sprinters, we are returning Courtney Armsey in the heptathlon, who placed last year in the outdoor conference meet.”

According to McClure, the women’s sprinters side has potential aboard and a few newcomers who will be vital in the GLIAC title.

“We have a good group of sprinters who will help us individually as well as in relays,” McClure said. “Crystal Barber, Emily Fisher, Karli Oprian, Jaylyn Vance, and Erika Rector are a few to name.”

Fisher is a returning placer in the 400m hurdles from last year. Vance is an exceptional long jumper who already holds Malone’s indoor long jump record as a freshman.

“On the men’s sprints side, Lepear Smith is one of our returners who will be competing for us in the hurdles, short sprints and relays,” McClure said. “We are also looking for Duke Taylor to do some damage in the discus throw, as that’s his best throwing event, and Michael Irwin is also returning for us.”

Women’s Golf

Women’s golf is a young team after Heather Evanich graduated this past winter.

“Our varsity team is actually all freshmen,” head coach Heather Curtis said. “This is one of the best groups that we had in a while.  I see a lot of drive in these girls.”

With a fresh start, the young team is looking to just compete this spring.

[pullquote]“There’s a lot of positive energy and inhibition and feeling like we can go out there and do anything if we put our minds to it,” Curtis said.[/pullquote]

Last year’s team was able to compete in the GLIAC tournament. Due to the conference transition, the team was not allowed to advance to finals.

“If you go back and look at the results, we aren’t even on them, and it’s kind of frustrating but at the same time motivating,” Curtis said. “So we are just looking to really compete in the conference.”

Like for many teams, competing in the GLIAC is challenging, and it is no different for the women’s golf team.

“There are schools in our conference that are ranked in the top 25 in the nation, which is outstanding, being that we are schools up north that don’t have the ability to always be outside training,” Curtis said.

Over spring break, the team took a trip to Kentucky to compete in a tournament.

“We took a spring break trip and went to Kentucky and it was beautiful and that was good experience and trip for us,” Curtis said. “We are looking for that that leads us into this spring season.”

According to Curtis, the team is focused on progressing throughout the season and stepping up to the challenging competition.

“These girls are it for us this season, and this will be a great learning experience for them,” Curtis said. “We do have dreams of winning a GLIAC championship as a long-term goal.  Our short term goal is to be in the top half of the conference.”

Baseball

The baseball team also traveled south for break.  The team traveled to Arizona for a few exhibition games that were learning experiences for the early season. They returned back with a record of 3-10 but since the return won two games.

“The offseason was hectic for the guys,” assistant coach Tyler Newhart said. “They had to wake up at 4 a.m. for practice at 5 a.m. and go to class after that.”

Adversity normally brings out the best in athletes, especially if they are strong minded and have a desire and will like this year’s team.

“The trip to Arizona was much needed being that we have a lot of young talent,” Newhart said.

Six upperclassmen led the Pioneers into their first season of post-season play.

“We are going to come out strong once GLIAC play opens up for us,” Newhart said.[pullquote] “Being down in Arizona was an eye opener for the guys, as well as a confidence booster.”[/pullquote]

Seniors Taylore Baker and Michael Chack will play a major role in this year’s success.

“Baker and Chack are who the younger players really look up to, and they have helped with eliminating self doubt in most of the younger players,” Newhart said.

Conference play begins  March 21st  facing Walsh University.

“Our goal is just like the other sports here, we want to bring home a GLIAC championship and win games,” Newhart said. “Hopefully we get some fans out to some games this year, so they can really see the work that this group has put in over the offseason. The team is willing to go 110% while on the diamond.  They aren’t scared to get dirty out there, they’ll do anything to get a win and bring home a title.”

Softball

The women’s softball team shares the common theme of having many newcomers on the scene for this year’s season.

Last year’s team finished with only two wins in the conference and wasn’t as competitive. According to head coach Tenqque Martin, the competitive drive is still being instilled within the athletes for this year’s competition.

Sophomore Emily Isla will be one of the Pioneers’ main contributors this season. (Photo courtesy of Andy Smith)

“Our biggest thing is to get out there and compete,” Martin said.  “We are kind of stalled right now because of weather, but the team is excited about the season and we’re really just excited to get out there and compete. “

Martin is in her first year at Malone.  She comes from Greenville College, where she served two years as head coach and brought success to the program in her short time there.

The offseason was a learning and growing stage for the team. The team went to South Carolina as well as Virginia for some light competition. As of now they have a record of 8-4-1, which already matches the amount of wins they had last season.

“We are a team that’s come in and gelled really well, and that can be tough when so many people are newcomers,” Martin said.

There are nine freshmen and one senior who will be leaving at the end of the season.

“Everybody has gelled together,” Martin said. “This is a fun team that enjoys being around each other and that is really ready to compete.”

There are a few players who contributed a lot to last year’s team that have stepped into big roles.

Emily Isla has definitely stepped up as a leader,” Martin said. “She caught just about every game behind the plate last year, I believe.  But not only that she’s swinging the bat, she’s just absolutely amazing at the plate right now.”

There are also some younger players who have already stepped up and are ready to be a vital contributor to the team’s success, not just for this year but in the future.

Mikayla Fowler anchors us in the outfield and has stepped up big for us so far.”

Fowler is a freshman from Fairless High School.

“It’s exciting looking at numbers of teams in the conference,” Martin said.  “Last year wasn’t so great for us, and I am expecting better.  All that’s left to do is to compete and go try to bring home a championship.”

 Justin Davis is a sports writer for The Aviso AVW.

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