The first official spring sports events of the season are scheduled to open Monday for James River High School. The Knights will travel to Riverheads for baseball while the girls soccer team will host Amherst County at 5:30 p.m.
Previews for spring sports are as follows, with track not scheduled to open until April:
The Knights will be in somewhat of a rebuilding year after graduating a strong class of nine seniors last year, including district Player of the Year Garrett Dorton.
Among the returnees are senior Landen Horton, who take over as the ace pitcher and also play first base. Luke Harman returns at catcher and senior Andrew Harless is a third baseman and pitcher.
Other top returnees include junior Jonathan Perry at second and junior Kavin Vest and Coulter Hodges, who have some varsity experience.
“Our key early is how quickly the younger players adjust to playing with each other at the varsity level,” said coach Harry Falls.
The Knights will open the softball season a week from today, on Wednesday March 15, when River hosts Alleghany. The Knights have a home scrimmage against Craig County on Friday at 7 p.m.
River lost three players to graduation last year, including first team all-state outfielder Ashley Tiller. However, the cupboard is far from bare as senior pitcher Olivia Simmons returns. She had a 1.54 ERA last year with 126 strikeouts in 132 innings.
Other key returnees include senior four-year starter Sydney Gordon at third, sophomore Cameron Hildebrand, who hit .435 as a freshman, in center and sophomore catcher Josey Lackey, who hit .313 as a freshman.
The Knights also return senior Hollie Hill, who had an injury plagued junior season. She likely will move from the OF to 1B. Also returning are senior OF Brenna Eubank, sophomore 2B Erin Peery, Junior SS Rachel Kickuth, and sophomore utility player Evie Melvin. Up from JV are junior pitcher Kaitlin Simmons, junior OFs Sara Faust, Brittany Crawford, and Allena Curtis. Also junior C/Utl Lauren Mayhew and freshman OF/Utl Lakota Lucado.
“Success in 2017 will be determined by how much improvement can be made offensively and defensively,” said coach Steve Austin. “We hit only .310 as a team and the squad had only 27 extra base hits in 22 games. Defensively, 33 of 63 runs allowed last year were unearned. James River allowed only a total of nine runs in their four losses to state champion Parry McCluer and final four participant Glenvar and only four of those runs were earned, but we scored two runs in those four games.”
The boys soccer team will open on March 15 when the Knights host Alleghany at 7:15 p.m., the second game of a doubleheader with the girls. Coach Jared Whiting has a strong group returning, with 15 back from last year’s team, including seniors Tyler Whiting, Ben Woody and Travis Sisson.
“I’m very optimistic about this season,” said Whiting. “Our first scrimmage showed a lot of potential. Sure, we made mistakes and that is expected but our chemistry and execution was outstanding.”
River will be in the much tougher Three Rivers District this year.
“We know what we need to work on to improve and have some time to do so before our season opener,” said Whiting. “The change in conference, I feel, has increased the level of competition, which makes for a challenging yet exciting year for us at James River.
“I feel like these guys are capable of stepping up to the challenge. There has been a lot of off-season work by these guys and it shows.”
The James River Lady Knights return to the soccer field with a solid, experienced team this spring. River graduated only one senior from last year’s successful team and anticipation is high for another good run.
Look for Brook Ford, Kaitlyn McClung and Emma Butler to find the net a lot this season. Other scoring threats include Olivia Baker, Kendra Peery and Megan Hill. This balanced attack will be good to watch and should deliver consistent results.
At the other end of the field, sophomore Colleen Peery has continued to grow as a top-notch goal keeper. Peery and the defensive line will have a number of tough games this season.
With the move to Three Rivers District, the Knights add Auburn and Amherst to their schedule, dropping Bath County and Parry McCluer.
“This will make for a tougher schedule and better preparation for the post season,” said coach Bill Smith. “As always, the big matches to watch in the regular season are when the Knights face Radford. This rivalry has really heated up in the last couple of years.”
James River delivered the only tie to the Bobcats in regular season play last year. The Bobcats went on, with an otherwise perfect winning streak, to the state finals, ending No. 2 in the state.