I did so much more in year four!

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 9, 2005

It’s tough to believe, but year four of manning the sports page has come to an end for me. I’ve spent the equivalent of a high school career writing about high school sports. With a new high school opening up, my workload increased by 25 percent, and no amount of weight-lifting at the Suffolk YMCA could help lighten that load. But it’s been great, and now it’s time to take an annual look back at some of the most memorable moments from my &uot;Senior Year&uot; of writing for the News-Herald…

10. July 24, 2005: The Hilton’s first &uot;Wedding Weekend.&uot; Aren’t weddings great? Seriously, they’re one of the few times in life when it’s impossible to get angry or upset. I think people should just have one-day marriages once in a while, just to make everyone feel good.

This was one of those times. I wasn’t the groom, the best man, or even on the invitee list, but I still got out there to cover this event (historic because it was the first time the Hilton had had two in one weekend), and, like most weddings I’ve been to, it was heartwarming as anything. The picture that I took of the new husband and wife still makes me feel good every time I look at it.

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Maybe someday, I’ll get to walk the aisle at the Hilton myself. Oh, wait, I need to find a fine lady first (wink-wink, nudge-nudge, Suffolk!).

9. King’s Fork’s junior varsity girls basketball team takes a bite out of local basketball. This team didn’t make a splash – it was a typhoon. After coming together for the first time ever early in the winter, Suffolk’s newest bunch of little lady cagers tore up the younger district, roaring to 18-3, the best record of any team in Suffolk this year. If the district gave out individual awards, Gina Herr would have been a shoo-in for top coach and some of her players would have probably filled up the team.

Their older counterparts did pretty well as well, ponying up a 9-14 record and almost becoming the first Suffolk squad in years to win a district playoff game. They also didn’t lose anyone, so watch out this winter.

8. Warriors rebound with another district title. For the first time of my tenure, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. After half the team and coach Franklin Chatman left after the season, there was actually a bit of doubt as to whether Nansemond River’s boys basketball team would go all the way back to the Southeastern District title.

At least, not to us outsiders. The new team, with Ed Young at the helm and Keith Josey, Vaughn Wilson, Nick Wright and Andre Jones manning the oars, showed us and the rest of the district that River might have lost a step – they fell to Indian River for the first time in three years and also lost to Western Branch – but a step wasn’t big enough to keep them behind the district. The team charged to a 16-6 record, good enough for a district title, a Coach of the Year award for Young and a Player of the Year honor for Josey, then slipped past Oscar Smith and whomped Indian River to tear through the district tournament once again. The usual faces might have been gone, but the success was there to stay.

7. Dec. 2004- Jan. 2005: Lakeland wins three at last second. For me, this was a nervous breakdown divided by three.

Things started off with a bucket it overtime that gave them a 51-50 win over Churchland in a tournament at King’s Fork. Then, on Dec. 10, the Cavaliers were battling Great Bridge and coming up short, losing 43-29 in the final period.

Then things finally got going. Tyrone Parker, Jaleel Nelson and Voyland Cooke started stealing balls and jamming them through the basket. With 16 seconds to play, Aston Williams hit a jumper to tie the score. A flustered Wildcat squad lost the ball, and Parker grabbed it and sent it back to Williams. With the clock tickling past five, he missed a jumper. Right there was Nelson, who rattled it back through the net as the buzzer sounded.

But that wasn’t enough for the Cavs. On Jan. 18, they let Western Branch slip out to a 7-0 lead and spent the rest of the game fighting back. With a minute left, they were down by those same seven points. Then Nelson hit a three-pointer and Williams stole the inbounds pass and dropped in a pair of free throws. He stole the ball again and sent it to Parker for the tier. With 13 seconds left in overtime, Parker pushed in another freebie to ice a 52-50 win.

6. May 2005: Nansemond-Suffolk Academy brings home two lacrosse titles. I knew the boys had the potential to get there – they’d come within a game last year. But the girls were the surprise.

With Olivia White, Tess Smith and the rest of the Lady Saint defense backing them up, Ellis Pretlow, Courtney White and Parris Grieder took it to opposing TCIS defenses all the way through. They started off with a healthy defeat of Catholic April 14, and Grieder stunned Cape Henry with a late goal to lift her squad to a 17-16 double-overtime victory April 27.

After Norfolk Academy forfeited their win, the Lady Saints were within a game of the first title in history. They made it a sure bet, as Grieder and Pretlow combined for eight goals in a 13-3 defeat of Norfolk Christian May 5.

The boys, however, still had something to prove – they’d taken second in the regular season, and had to fight their way through the TCIS tournament. But perhaps following in the female’s footsteps, the men made short work of league powerhouse Cape Henry eight days later, charging to a 14-8 victory.

5. Katelyn Smither’s career comes to an end. In Aug. 2001, I took over the sports department of the News-Herald. A month later, Smither kicked off what I’m going to go out on a limb and call the finest athletic career in Suffolk history.

I’m sad to say this, but until taking over this job, I’d never seen a field hockey game. But along with Darcy Pinchbeck, Cara Byrd, Courtney Brown and the rest of the Lakeland squad, Smither taught me a lot in a short time. After taking over the reins in her sophomore year, she rose straight to and right past the challenge, helping her team to two unbeaten seasons and three District regular-season and tournament titles. She led the league in goals and assists three times and won two (should have been three) district Most Valuable Player awards, placing her among the nation’s elite.

That would have been more than enough for almost everyone. But Smither headed over to the softball diamond and gave her all to that team as well, the only Lady Cavalier to make All-Region honors for two consecutive years. Here’s hoping that her achievements continue to rack up at Old Dominion University.

4. Nov. 6, 2004: Nansemond-Suffolk wins the junior midget Pop Warner football state title. This was the best football game I’ve ever covered – and I didn’t say youth football.

After charging to a perfect regular season, the Saints got off to a quick start in their battle with Stafford at Nansemond River, as Dominque Patterson scored a touchdown and racked up 119 yards. But then Patterson went down with a neck injury (fortunately, he recovered quickly) and the Saints had to go on without their primary weapon.

The Titans tied the score, and the Saints held on to force overtime.

After stifling the Titans in their attempt, Derek Bennett carried for five yards on two plays. But he was stopped on third down, and the Saints had a fourth and goal at the three.

Hunt Odom went back, and Derek Wright went forward. Odom lobbed an easy pass to his wide-open receiver. Two seconds later, the endzone was mobbed with Saints players, coaches and parents – and a reporter thrown in the middle – engulfed in a hugging, high-fiving war! I still don’t know some of the people I hugged that night. For that one moment, everything in the world was right and everyone you met was your new friend.

3. Nansemond River’s baseball team finally gets it together. I’ve never told anyone this before, and if you see Will Hirsch, don’t tell him I wrote this. I was at a River basketball game over the winter, and he was selling tickets.

&uot;We’re definitely going to the playoffs this year,&uot; he said of the baseball team, sounding remarkably non-chalant. &uot;There’s no way we’re going to miss it.&uot;

I admit it – I thought, &uot;Yeah, right.&uot; The squad had lost virtually all of its top pitchers from last year, as well as a large chunk of the batting order in Eric Berry and Dennis Conley. Could a group of youngsters and unproven veterans really take the Warriors to the top of the Southeastern District – or even a bit farther?

Over the next few months, I found out. The Warriors started off by winning their Nansemond River Invitational for the first time of the millennium. The squad then went perfect in Suffolk, sweeping Lakeland and King’s Fork. They knocked back Deep Creek, Oscar Smith, and, in a shocker, district powerhouse Great Bridge. While I sat shocked on the sidelines, Hirsch’s prediction came true, as the team indeed made the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02.

Then, on May 26, they went one step farther. With two outs and a full count, Hirsch smacked a double down the left field line to score Chris Williams, completing a 2-1 defeat of Deep Creek in the semifinals of the District tournament, pushing the squad to regional competition for the first time of the millennium. A team mired in mediocrity for two seasons had made it farther than anyone guessed.

2. March 16, 2005: Nansemond River rallies around Britanie Pelletier. On the field, the Lady Warriors soccer team worked as a team to score goals and win games. Off the field, however, their bond might have even been stronger – and today, I found that out.

Pelletier, their starting goalkeeper, had been stricken with a brain tumor, forcing her to spend her senior year on the sidelines. Her teammates had staged a meeting, telling her it was to plan strategy for the next year.

As she walked through the school auditorium doors, Pelletier found out that she’d been wonderfully duped. Her teammates, adorned in special shirts they’d made for the occasion, had staged the event to let her know how special she was. The team gathered around her, gave a cheer, and told her they’d be dedicating the season to her. And as a great footnote, she got a standing ovation from the rest of the Nansemond River community two months later at the Spring Sports Banquet. This was the definitive act of people doing right for people.

1. Christina Maupin inspires thousands. I normally leave the top spot blank, but there’s really no question as to what else could go here. Christina spent three years on the sidelines of Nansemond River football games, enticing people to cheer. She’d end up inspiring a city.

I still remember fellow writer Andrew Giermak coming back from covering a River field hockey game Sept. 15 and telling me that a student had been in a car crash. That night, my voice mail filled up with messages letting me know who that student was.

It couldn’t have been. Christina, who I’d seen at a game just five days before – and, ironically enough, was in the paper that very day as part of our Fall Sports Preview – was near death? Over the next few days, sitting with her family at Sentara Norfolk General, I found out the truth.

A few weeks later, Christina’s brother Bryan told me that she was out of her coma, but not out of danger. I was allowed to see her for the first time, and saw her laying there in her bed, just staring at the world. In the room, everyone fought to keep their tears back – outside, the situation changed.

Then, a few weeks later, Bryan told me her sister had spoken. A few days later, I went to the Children’s Hospital for the King’s Daughters, to which she’d been moved. Walking into her room at and hearing her say, &uot;How are you, Scoop?&uot; is something that’s going to stay with me for a long time.

At times like this, sports become secondary. When these things happen, scoring a goal or winning a game doesn’t really mean much anymore. But Christina didn’t stop moving upward – three months after her accident, she was about as good as new. Now, less than a year later, she’s on her way to Christopher Newport University. This girl has more guts than she’ll ever know.