Winter Sports Preview
The weather has been unseasonably cold in recent days, but the action is sure to be hot in pools and on courts, rinks and mats as athletes from the Town & Style coverage area prepare for the winter sports season. Area teams had mixed results last winter, although there are some individuals who will be in the spotlight, not only locally, but nationally.
Any contest in the Metro Catholic Conference this winter is going to be worth the price of admission.
Two of the five teams in the MCC reached the Class 5 semifinals last season, with De Smet Jesuit advancing to the state championship game before losing to Rockhurst. Vianney, which lost to De Smet Jesuit in the semifinals, finished fourth in state after a loss to Hickman in the third place contest. Both schools were hit hard by graduation, especially De Smet Jesuit, which lost its top three scorers, including Nolan Berry, who averaged 20 points per game.
Two other teams, Chaminade and CBC, enter the season with new coaches and very lofty expectations. Frank Bennett
takes over at Chaminade, and he will have the pleasure of coaching one of the best sophomores in the country in Jayson Tatum. Tatum, who is being recruited by some of the top programs in the NCAA, averaged 13 points and six rebounds a year last year, and as a freshman was named co-conference player of the year.
The games between the Red Devils and Cadets will be especially interesting this year as Jayson’s dad, Justin, a former standout at Saint Louis University, takes over as the head coach at CBC. The Cadets feature another top area player in Jordan Bennett. The 6-foot-7 University of Texas recruit averaged 17 points and eight rebounds last year.
The college coaches may be focusing on the MCC, but there will be a lot of talent and interesting races in the other leagues around the area. Webster Groves continued its dominance in the Suburban South Conference last year and appears strong again. The Statesmen are led by 6-foot-6 Alex Floresca. He led a balanced Webster scoring attack last year with an average of 11.7 points per game.
Ladue, which won 21 games last year, will have one of the area’s top big man/ small man combinations in the area. Senior guard Cornell Johnston, who is only 5-foot-7, is one of the area’s most exciting players to watch. He led the Rams with a 14.7 points-per-game average last year, and also dished out more than eight assists a game. Senior Andrew Maddock, who stands a foot taller than Johnston, was on the receiving end of many of those passes. Last year, Maddock averaged 11 points and nine rebounds a game.
Maplewood was one of the area’s top smaller schools last year with 23 victories. This year, The Blue Devils lost their top scorer, Kahlid Hagens, who averaged more than 19 points per game.
Kirkwood’s Evan Booker is one of the area’s most well-rounded players. The 6-foot-5 senior almost averaged a double-double last year with 13.9 points and 9.9 rebounds a game for the Pioneers.
St. Joseph’s Academy had another stellar campaign with 23 wins and advancement to the Class 5 state championship game, where it lost to Rock Bridge. The Angels will have a much different look with the loss of four seniors.
“The Angels may be short but they have some wheels,” says St. Joe’s coach Julie Matheny. For the first time in Matheny’s 16 years with the team, the Angels will have no player taller than 6 feet.
“We have always had a tall inside presence that allowed our shooting guards a clean look on kick-outs,” Matheny says. “We lost over 45 points from our graduating class. You can’t teach experience. We will waddle though December and January and plan on being a top seed come February. Our goal is the same every year—Class 5 state champions. Final fours are very special.”
St. Joe’s will be led by senior Mary Barton. The 5-foot-5 point guard was the floor general last year but will be asked to do more offensively. She made 35 3-point field goals last season.
The Angels will have a tough time winning their conference, which includes one of the top teams St. Louis has ever seen. Defending Class 4 champion Incarnate Word Academy is ranked third nationally in the preseason poll by USA Today.
That almost shuts the door on state championship ambitions for teams in Class 4, but teams like St. Joe’s still have shots in Class 5. Parkway South is one of those teams. The Patriots won 26 games last year and were district and sectional champions, losing in the state quarterfinals to St. Joe. They lost three starters but return first-year all-conference player Brittany Thomas, who led the team with a 15.1 scoring average.
“Our goals are to win conference and district and get back to the final four,” says Patriots coach Thomas Williams. “We want to improve each day and get better so we are playing our best basketball at the end of the year.”
A couple of other teams from the Parkway district look strong again this winter. Parkway North had an amazing 2012-13 season with a 25-2 record. The Vikings will be led by sophomore standout Alexia Sutton, who averaged almost 13 points a game as a freshman.
Parkway Central won 20 games last year, and the Colts have one of the area’s top big players in Zoe Wallis. Wallis, a 6-foot-3 post player who will be attending the College of Charleston next year, was a state stuffer as a junior. She averaged a double-double (14.1 points and 10.5 rebounds) and also blocked 5.6 shots a game. Marquette, which won 17 games last season, returns one of the top scorers in the area in Taylor Campbell. She averaged almost 18 points a game last year.
MICDS and Westminster Christian combined to win 45 games last year and had an epic district championship game, which MICDS won in overtime. The Rams return standouts Emily Kyman and Taylor Baur, while Kayla Armstrong returns to run the show for Westminster.
Principia won 19 games last year, led by Alli Ball. The senior, who will be attending Akron University in the fall, averaged 16.1 points and 8.3 rebounds a game.
The championship game in the Challenge Cup Division of the Mid-States Hockey Association is always one of the highlights of the area winter season. It is played before large crowds at the Scottrade Center and is filled with emotion. Last year’s game was one for the ages, as Saint Louis University High won its first Mid-States title in dramatic fashion, with an overtime victory over rival and longtime Mid-States power CBC. Both teams hope to be back this season, along with other teams from the area.
“Our goal is to defend the title of state champs, nothing less,” says SLUH coach Kevin Fitzpatrick. “That is our goal and expectation. We did graduate 11 seniors from last year’s team, but I believe we have the team to win it again.”
The Junior Bills will be led by forwards Christian Hoffmeister and Liam FitzGerald and defensemen Stan Pawlow and Steve Lockwood. SLUH is also blessed with a pair of top-notch goaltenders in Brenden Haselhorst and Joe Warnecke.
CBC certainly comes into the season as one of the top area teams with the return of standouts such as goalie Joe Staely; defensemen Ryan Croghan, Alex Clark and Mike Sieckhuas; and forwards Joe Lupo, Glenn Ryan, David Hibbard, Caesar Sorrentino, Mike Beckham and Adam Caruso.
“We are very excited about the 2013-14 season,” says CBC coach John Jost. “We have a good nucleus of returners from last year’s team, along with top newcomers. Experience tells us in order to have the success of past CBC teams, we need to be playing our best hockey come February. So that is our goal.”
Whitfield continued its dominance in Class 1. The Warriors defended their state championship, winning for the fourth time in the last six years.
The Warriors had a pair of state champions in Chris Wilkes and Rodney Hahn. Wilkes is now wrestling at North Carolina State University but Hahn is back for his senior season, which he hopes will be a historic one. Hahn won the state championship as a freshman at 135 pounds, as a sophomore at 145 pounds and as a junior last year at 152 pounds. He is starting this season at 170 pounds, although he could drop to 160 by the postseason.
“We have had some outstanding wrestlers here at Whitfield,” says Warriors coach Charlie Sheretz. “We have had some three-time state champions and four-time finalists, but Rodney is looking to become the first four-year champion here. He is such an entertaining wrestler to watch and has a fearless style. Nobody goes to get popcorn when he is on the mat.”
Whitfield does not have great numbers and thus not a lot of margin for error, but it does have top talent, with three other returning wrestlers who were state medalists last year. Senior Derrick Swaney was fourth at 132 pounds, senior Andy McLaughlin was fifth at 170 pounds and sophomore Curtis Hahn was fifth at 126 pounds.
“Those guys are working to go from the podium to the top of the podium,” Sheretz says. “I try to be realistic but also optimistic. We have a lot of work to do, but I think we are capable of making things interesting in February.”
Other area teams are looking to make more of an immediate impact. There were individual successes including state titles by Westminster Christian’s Bennett Lewis and CBC’s Tim Gant and second place finishes by Christian Bledsoe of John Burroughs and Marlon Hampton of Webster Groves, but no area team other than Whitfield had even a top-10 state finish in any of the four classes in the state.
Glendale High School from Springfield, Mo., captured the state championship last winter at the St. Peters Rec-Plex. But five teams from the Town & Style coverage area finished in the top seven, and two of them came home with state trophies.
The battle for second place behind Glendale was the closest in state history, with just a half-point separating the three teams. Parkway West and Notre Dame de Sion (from Kansas City) each had 151.5 points, while Parkway South had 150 points.
Parkway West finished second despite having one of the youngest teams at the state meet. The Longhorns won the 200-yard medley relay and did so with a sophomore (Natalie Folkins) and three freshmen (Caroline Biss, Carolyn Kammeyer and Kristen Petersen). The three freshmen also were part of the 400-yard free relay team, which finished second.
Youth was served at state last year as another freshman, John Burroughs’ Maddie Wessell, was second in both the 100-yard freestyle and 200-yard individual medley. The area also had the individual diving champion, MICDS’ junior Kat Friese.
Senior Samm Crocker returns to lead the way for Parkway South. Crocker finished second in the 50-yard freestyle last year.“We hope to be in the top two in the Suburban West Conference and finish in the top six at state,” says Parkway South coach Sara Gerth. “I’m looking forward to a fun and successful year.”
By Bill Hester
Pictured: Evan Booker of Kirkwood