By Matt Myers
As the beauty of our mountain region is accentuated by the spring sunshine and mild weather, the community of middle school athletes in Elizabethton is gearing up to take the sports play outside in the form of baseball, softball, soccer and track and field.
One group of young athletes in particular, the boys and girls of T.A.Dugger’s spring sports teams, are looking to make a collective contribution on the diamond, between the goals and around the track.
Present and former Elizabethton baseball players know that every win is special, but a win over the Hilltopper program at any level can be a confidence builder that impacts an entire season. No rivalry is as cemented in the pages of ’Betsy lore as the one with Science Hill is. Any winning encounter against the annually talented bats and gloves of the Johnson City natives represents an adherence to fundamental play and sound focus.
This spring the TAD varsity baseball squad looks to build off of and maintain the focus that was necessary in their capturing of a 9-5 win over the Jr. ’Toppers in this season’s opener. Jr. Cyclone skipper Chris Berry was very happy with the team’s win, but the young coach also stressed his concern with his talented team’s ability to maintain the confidence instilled in them by the win
“This year from a mental standpoint we are focused on maintaining a sound level of play, the level of play we demonstrated in the win over Science Hill,” said Berry at Tuesday’s school media day. “Last night we sort of lost focus in a loss to Vance, but so far we are extremely proud of our guys effort despite the loss. We just have to work on getting back to the tough fundamental play that got us that first big win. I am confident that these guys will do that.”
Offensively, the Jr. Cyclones are looking to maintain the power hitting that has led to 14 runs in their opening two ball games. Third baseman Nick Harley, right fielder Conley Bowers and catcher John Lee have all proven themselves as reliable hitters so far, and Coach Berry has definitely been impressed with their potent offense.
“Offensively we really have the bats going right now, I expect a lot of good things out of our whole team as far as hitting is concerned,” said Berry of the hitting prowess of his team.
Defensively, the Jr. Cyclones are really finding leadership through Cyclone family lineage. Bo Pless, son of the legendary punter and passer Eddie Pless, has proven so far this season that his leftie pitching skills can wreak havoc on opposing hitters. His focused ability, coupled with fundamental pitching skill, has definitely made an impression on his head coach.
“Bo’s pitching has been really key for us so far; he is definitely one of the solid defensive leaders we have on this team,” Berry said. “If he can continue his good pitching and we can stick to fundamental play, guys will not only have success but also have learn to play this game better. At this age that is the most important thing.”
The Jr. Cyclone baseball squad will face Sevier and Robinson in double headers coming up next week.
GIRLS TRACK & FIELD
Jr. Cyclone coach Camille Demateo has a problem with her squad that many coaches would beg to have, the problem of being able to adequately distribute deep talent.
“Right now our main problem is we have a lot of strong runners who are talented in multiple events,” said a smiling Demateo. “Our seventh-grade distant runners are really excelling. Our varsity athletes, Autumn Thomas Kayla and Kelci Marosites, they are all showing impressive times in the 100-meter, 200-meter races, as well as the 4×100 and 4×200 relays. As of right now the only slot we are sure about is Autumn’s slot in the 100 meters; she is really doing well. This is a problem you want to have though, the girls have conditioned themselves well and now they are reaping the benefits.”
The Lady Cyclones weill get a chance to show their collective smoke beginning April 22nd, when the boys and girls track teams go up against Unicoi and Happy Valley’s runners. In the upcoming season, Robinson looks to be the most competitive opponent the ladies will face in their nine meet season. Overall, Demateo said that the teams focus was squarely on the month of May, and taking the steps necessary to be performing at peak by that time,
“Our conference (championship) meet on May 4th at Dobyns-Bennett is really what we want our whole season to build towards,” he said. “These girls are very competitive, they definitely want to showcase their talents on a regional scale.”
The Jr. Lady Cyclones and Jr. Cyclones track teams share a schedule with four meets at home and four away with the conference meet to conclude the spring.
BOYS TRACK & FIELD
Legendary Cyclone football player Travis Smithdeal is looking for his boys track team to maintain consistency in all events this year on the track and field. Harrison Wright has emerged as the coach’s go-to guy as far as the 800M and mile distance runs are concerned, and overall the young coach was impressed with the effort of his varsity athletes,
“Our eighth-grade boys as a whole have stepped up and continue to maintain solid effort in all the running events,” he said. “I have been particularly impressed with the toughness they have shown in distance running. Nathaniel Lawson has also definitely began to emerge for us as far as shot put and discus are concerned. When you are facing top notch talent in the conference like the athletes from Robinson, consistency is the key to not falling out of the pack as a team.”
Coaches Penny Nave and Bonny Peters are striving to promote all around improvement amongst their young Jr. Lady Cyclone softball squad this spring. The ladies have seen only three eighth-graders return from last years squad, and as a result the coaches have shifted their focus towards fundamental improvement overall as well as improving final scores.
“With a young team like this, your focus has to shift more to teaching,” Peters said. “We want to put an emphasis on basics and playing the game through to the end. We lost our opening two games by a combined total of two runs, and we want to grow fundamentally because of that. In that way we can gain experience as the season goes along and hopefully get back those close losses. Our overall effort has been outstanding though.”
Center fielder Emily Kiser is poised to maintain leadership for the Jr. Lady Cyclones as the stalwart looks to have a balanced eighth-grade season. Seventh-graders Caitlin Gardner and Abbi McKinney, playing third base and shortstop, respectively, are also poised to turn youthful inexperience into future wins this season.
T.A. Dugger coach Michelle Butler has a simple attitude when it comes to leading young men on the field of sport.
“I love teaching, and I love coaching,” she said. “The opportunity to coach this soccer team is something that I look forward to daily.”
The young coach’s palpable optimism and focus on complete team effort has created a more disciplined, and conditioned unit of young players.
“This season I have tried to get the guys focused on team play, and so far judging by our first scrimmages they have taken it upon themselves to do that,” she said. “I also stepped up conditioning and although the guys were very tired at first, they saw that they were steal competing at a high level in the second half of our scrimmage against Boones Creek Middle. This team is really starting to find a legitimate identity with their stamina and quickness. We want to see that carry over into the season.”
Although Butler was not quick to highlight any individual player, the coach did express satisfaction with her midfielders and forwards in particular. Midfielders Donte Callahan and Hayden Townsend are both poised to lead the Jr. Cyclone defensive charges, while forwards Chris Schaff and Steven Wilson look to provide sound offensive strikes.
Sixth-grader Hunter Vines has also proven himself to be a speedy threat in preseason preparation, as well as a source of youthful depth.
The Jr. Cyclones’ “goalie by committee” attack also brought about a positive reflection from the young coach,
“Noah Locelace and Cody Dugger have both proven to be strong at keeper here in the early going,” Butler said. “Noah has a real grasp of form and fundamental play while Cody is a vicious aggressor, I couldn’t believe it last week he actually tackled the ball while it was still under a striker’s feet. That sort of tandem work that is going on at the goalie position right now is something any coach would like to see. “
The Jr. Cyclones will begin regular action next week.