Daylight Savings time arrives Sunday and, a day later, the official start of high school spring sports begins. William Byrd teams have been scrimmaging and practicing to prepare for next week’s openers.
It’s an exciting time at William Byrd. Plans have been made to upgrade the outdoor facilities, with artificial turf on the stadium field and lights on the practice fields. Work will begin on that shortly, sending the Terrier teams to Vinyard Park and various locations for games. But, as they say in highway construction, “temporary inconvenience results in permanent improvement.”
The first games of the season are Monday, as both the boys and girls lacrosse teams take on E.C. Glass in Lynchburg. On Tuesday six other teams open. The softball and girls soccer teams will play at home against Cave Spring(softball) and Hidden Valley, while the baseball team is at Cave Spring and the boys’ soccer team is at Hidden Valley. Both the boys and girls tennis teams are at Bassett on Tuesday.
Following are previews of the William Byrd sports teams, including all the teams except track. The track teams won’t have a meet until April Fool’s Day.
Vinton folks love their baseball, and the Terriers have high hopes as they begin their third season under coach Neil Zimmerman on Tuesday at Cave Spring.
Last year was a rare losing season for the Terriers, who finished 9-15. Don’t blame the pitchers, as Byrd finished with a season earned run average of 3.10. However, runs were hard to come by for the Byrdmen and they found themselves on the short end of some low-scoring games.
The good news is, all the pitchers return except for reliever Ben Harron, who spent most of his time behind the plate in 2016. Starters Gehrig Spradlin, Derrick Chocklett and Brendan Draughn all return, as well as crafty reliever Adam North. All are seniors with experience and saavy. Also, sophomore Bryce Boothe and junior Josh Hilliard will be counted on to play important roles out of the bullpen and in some spot starts.
And the bad news? Well, there really isn’t any at this point as the offense is expected to be much better. Returning seniors Jay Trail, Macon Hale, and Mitchell Lyle will hit in the meat of the order and be counted on to drive in runs.
Byrd should be solid up the middle defensively with sophomore Hunter Meador at shortstop and Grant Watson returning at second. Bryce Mullen will handle most of the catching duties and has a couple years of varsity playoff experience under his belt, and firstbaseman Hale can catch if needed. Booth, who showed a live bat at times last year, returns at third.
“Our anemic offense from last year has shown great signs of improvement so far,” said Zimmerman.
“Staying healthy is a priority for our team down the stretch. Over the last 2 years, some injuries to key players have made an impact on our lineups at the end of the season, and we hope to stay injury free as the year progresses.”
Landon Jacobsen returns as pitching coach for the Terriers and Rodney Spradlin, who coached Byrd to a state championship 20 years ago this spring, is back in the dugout as an assistant coach.
William Byrd softball coach Greg Barton can’t hide his enthusiasm when he talks about this year’s team.
“In my 17 years in this program , this team has the potential to be one of the best,” said Barton.
And why not, with only two starters lost from last year’s Blue Ridge District championship team. Byrd made it to the region semifinal before falling to a strong Woodgrove team, finishing 18-6.
The Terriers return all their pitchers from a year ago. Junior Mara Strum will be the ace while senior Cassie Powell is next in line and Jada Karnes rounds out a solid rotation.
A strong defense backs up the pitchers. All-Conference Ellison Spangler will be behind the plate and All-Conference shortstop Megan Grant returns to anchor the infield. The outfield is headed up by All-Conference center fielder Alexis West and Sydney Burton. Grant, West and Burton all have good speed.
“These girls are so fast and exciting to watch,” said Burton. “Great arms and so good at tracking the ball ”
Senior Ryan Stanley, junior Hannah Sowers, Karnes, and Powell will compete for time in the infield. Outfielders MacKenzie Beard, Anna-Lee Huber and Katie Focus are all fighting for outfield spots and Abby Gordon looks like a capable power hitting pinch hitter.
“A very tough schedule should have us ready to make another post season run,” said Barton. “Last year the girls got a taste of how good winning feels, and I kind of enjoyed it too .”
Assisting Barton will be Mike Andrews, Scott Whitehead, and Lyndsey Barton Partsch.
For the first time in the history of William Byrd soccer there’s a new sheriff on the sideline. Matt Guilliams replaces Jeff Highfill, who retired from coaching soccer after 35 years and 446 wins. Highfill was the coach when Byrd started the program 36 years ago.
Guilliams, who played for Highfill at Byrd and also at Concord University, was named the new coach in September. He’s young and brings some fresh ideas to the team, and Highfill left an experienced team for Matt to work with.
“We have eleven seniors this year so there is no excuse for not having veteran leadership,” said Guilliams. “I think we have a good, solid core group of guys with those who know their role as starters and those who can still make an impact coming off the bench. We have a very strong midfield that could really change outcomes of a game if we do it right.”
Senior Stephen Olsen and junior Luke Johnston were among the leaders in the conference in scoring last year and will be counted on to put the ball in the net.
“I think the biggest concern moving forward is I don’t know what anyone else has since I’m brand new to this,” said Guilliams. “I think once we play everyone that first time, we’ll really have a better idea of how to improve. Plus, the guys are still adapting to a new style of play that I’ve brought in that most of them aren’t used to. We certainly will have some rough patches along with that, but once they get it down. I think we could be a huge threat around the valley and beyond.”
Tom Brown returns for his second year as girls’ soccer coach at Byrd after a 12-4-3 record last season. The Terriers were Conference 24 runnersup, to state runnerup Salem, and saw the 2-16 season end with an overtime loss to Millbrook in Region 4A West.
Byrd returns 15 players from last year, and Brown has 21 girls on the team who are either juniors or seniors. Key returnees include Grace Carroll, Madison Moses, Madelyn Gibbs and Amaya Wilhelm.
“With so many returning players, I expect our team to pick up where we left off last season,” said Brown. “ I love the depth we have on our team. We have some strong players coming up from last year’s undefeated JV Team (14-0-2) and I expect them to be key contributors.”
The girls will be tested early in the season with back to back games with Hidden Valley and Lord Botetourt, two of the best teams in the area. Byrd will host Hidden Valley next Tuesday and play at LB a week from tonight.
The William Byrd boys lacrosse team will have a new coach as Vinton’s Noel Spencer replaces Dean McDaniel, who took the Terriers from club status to an official VHSL team.
Spencer is no stranger to the program. He’s been a long-time youth coach in the area, having worked with the East Roanoke Bandits and as an assistant at William Fleming High School. He takes over a team that won just two games last year in a rebuilding season.
“The team is young, 10 of the 21 players are freshmen,” said Spencer. “Our season will hinge on the play of our two goalies. We have a lot of potential and it will be interesting to see what they do with it.”
Key returners are Bryce Campbell, Parker Browne and Devon Williams. Captains are Williams, Campbell, Matt Tench, Cameron Kornegay.
Our season will hinge on the play and attitudes of our seniors,” said Spencer, who will be assisted by Shawn Gwyn and Baylor Buck. “The future is very bright with 10 freshmen and six sophomores and a new turf field coming.”
After Monday’s game in Lynchburg the Terriers will be back in town to play Roanoke Catholic on March 15.
William Byrd girls’ lacrosse coach Dan Eberhardt has 24 girls on his roster this year after graduating eight of 12 starting positions a year ago. There’s optimism in the Byrd camp as the girls look to improve on last year’s 7-7 season.
“I have a very talented freshman class,” said Eberhardt. “With the returning players and freshman I feel that we will have a challenging but successful season.”
The team will be led by seniors Leah Anderson and Ali Shail, junior goalie Evamarie Pascoe, junior Natalie Ferguson and sophomore Katie Letz.
Byrd opens at E.C. Glass Monday, then plays at Rockbridge County on March 15. The home opener isn’t until March 29 against William Fleming, but Byrd has games in the valley against Cave Spring and Salem on March 18 and 23.
The William Byrd tennis team should be much-improved this spring, as five of last year’s top six on the ladder are returning and all are improved.
Seniors Garrett Walsh and Brent Smith will be at or near the top of the order and other returning starters include Savion Ferguson, Vraj Gor and Zach Lambert.
“Our roster has nearly doubled from last season so we’re excited to introduce some new players to the team and continue to develop our strength on the court,” said coach Patrick Elwell. “We are almost finished seeding and I anticipate having a formidable and energetic starting lineup.”
Kayla Mitchell is the new coach of the Byrd girls’ tennis team and she’ll be assisted by Ashley Stultz. It will be somewhat of a rebuilding year with no seniors on the team.
“We have a young team this season,” said Mitchell. “The majority of our team is juniors and each will be great asset to the program.”
Kaidyn Settles is a promising returner and Hannah Shelton is one of the most consistent players on the team. Allison Faulkner, Kinley Moore, Kaylee Tuck and Maddie Craig will be battling for positions on the ladder as well.
Byrd opens Tuesday at Bassett, then plays at Glenvar on Monday, March 20.