Fort Campbell High School is back in session and with the school year comes the fall sports season.
The coaches and student-athletes involved in Falcons football, boys and girls soccer, volleyball and cross country are determined to put their respective sports in the 2014 record books.
Head Coach Anthony Butler is encouraging the football team to achieve goals game-by-game as he returns for his second season overseeing the Falcons.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces and new positions,” he said after an Aug. 6 practice. “We’re still in that process of getting things figured out.”
Due to new Kentucky High School Athletic Association rules instituted this year, the football team was not allowed to start practicing in full pads until Aug. 1. With the team hosting their annual Jamboree this Friday, Butler is relying on a core group of returning starters to lead the team. Christian Berry will take up a vital role this season, after last season’s running back Triston Luke transferred to Rossview High. Senior Jonathan Jethroe, lineman Jake Jorstad and quarterback Jaylen Williams will add further consistency to the team.
“He never got his share of carries because those two kids [Berry and Luke], they look identical,” Butler said of Berry last season. “They play the same positions. So, it just worked out, Triston became an offensive guy and Christian was a defensive guy. So that’s where the focus was … I’m fully expecting Christian to move right on and not miss a beat.”
Butler is looking forward to district games, including Paducah Tilghman, Oct. 11, and Trigg County, Oct. 25. The regular season opener will be an on-the-road appearance at Mayfield, Aug. 22.
“That’s a big, big longtime rival for us back to the early 90s,” Butler said. “We want to win them all, but we want to win the first one and then we want to make sure we do get ready for the district.”
With three consecutive state championships in the past 10 years, Butler said expectations remain high for the team to perform well this season. Last season, the Falcons finished 5-7. This season, Butler said his skill players should add strength on the field.
“Our skills guys [are] probably going to be where we lean on, just because we graduated a lot of our offensive lineman last year and defensive lineman,” he said.
See how the Falcons fare Friday at Fryar Stadium during the annual Jamboree. Kickoff is at 6 p.m., with Fort Campbell playing Clarksville High and Marshall County. Rossview will play Graves County, and Marshall County will also face Northeast.
Another second-year head coach, Alex Romero, returns to the helm of the boys’ soccer program this season. Romero said last year, “I wasn’t prepared for some of the teams.”
“Some of the older players that graduated led me to believe that other teams were the teams to beat,” he said. “But now that I experienced it firsthand, and I know how the other teams play, I think I can prepare or I can help them prepare for that.”
The teams for the Falcons to beat this year include Hopkinsville and University Heights Academy, Romero added. As for Fort Campbell, the team is predominantly young with three main senior returners – Raheem Brown, Donald Williams and Nate Gross.
“I have a lot of people that stepped up this year. They listen, most of them,” Romero said. “If I tell something to one of the younger players, ‘get this done,’ he goes and tells the older players and they listen to him.”
A top focus of Romero before the regular season commences on-the-road Monday against Trigg County is to equip first-year goalie Brandon Horn, who he said “shows great potential.” The midfield and defense are already strong, Romero said, which should help the team improve from last season’s 2-12 overall record.
Horn, a sophomore, said he’s looking forward to the season and contributing to the team.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” the goalie said. “… We just need to have a better passing game than last year.”
A solid group of returning starters for the Lady Falcons soccer team makes first-year Head Coach Michele Ellis confident for the girls’ competitive future. Ellis took on the role as head coach after two years of assistant coaching experience with the team. Demetrius Thomas will take on assistant coach duties this season.
“I know sometimes the season usually starts off a little slow, and then we pick up and stuff,” Ellis said. “We have quite a few, probably about eight starters that are returning, so that’s nice. I have a couple of freshman coming up this year that I’m excited about seeing what they can do on the field.”
Ellis said she will rely heavily on her group of seniors, including Nia-Gibbs Francis, Taylor Hoeltke, Shelbie Bell and Caitlin Strohl, among others. The goal is to make this season a winning one, Ellis said, after the team finished 1-3 against district competitors in 2013. Ellis also hopes the Lady Falcons will be able to push rival Hopkinsville when the teams compete this year.
“The Hopkinsville team is always a very tough team for us, so we’re hoping to get them,” she said. “They mercy [rule] us. So we’re really hoping to get on the board, stay on the board ... hopefully try to make it a little tougher game for them.”
In practices throughout the summer, Ellis said the Lady Falcons have been perfecting keeping possession of the ball and taking advantage of opportunities to make shots. The team’s experience will be one of their greatest strengths this season, Ellis added.
Ellis is junior player Madison’s mother, and although she did not grow up playing soccer herself, she’s been around the game since her oldest daughter was 4 years old. Ellis said she has learned a lot about the game since that time.
“Madison has played travel [soccer] since she was 8,” she said. “So, the experience that we have from her playing travel, it’s a lot of knowledge that we have from that.”
The Lady Falcons travel for their first regular season game Tuesday at Caldwell County. The game starts at 7 p.m.
The volleyball team is bringing back a core group of starters for the 2014 season, with senior Channing Minich and juniors Mercedes Nicholson and Caitlyn Merrell at the top of the list. Head Coach Melyssa Moulden, in her second year at the helm, said with “teamwork, communications and fundamentals” as the focus the Lady Falcons will go far.
“Expectations of course are to win more games than we did last year,” she said. “We have a pretty full schedule this year – double the amount of games from last year.”
Strengths for the team include passing, serving and defense, Moulden explained.
“We don’t have a lot of tall girls, so our defense is what’s going to win games,” she said.
Rivals this year include Hopkinsville and Christian County. The Lady Falcons went 6-15 this past season, with no district wins.
As a former Lady Falcons volleyball player herself, Moulden is even more excited to help on the coaching side again this year.
“The girls, they listen to me more I feel because they know that I’ve experienced it,” she said. “We have a good group of girls. We just have to get our chemistry together.”
With a Northeast away match quickly approaching Monday at 4:30 p.m., Nicholson said her goal is to “make the least amount of mistakes.”
“I think we’re a pretty scrappy team, if we just establish that chemistry and learn to talk more, we’ll really be good,” Nicholson said. “Even though we’re a small team and a young team, I think we’ll do better than last year.”
With the girls cross country team finishing 12th place in state competition this year and first in Region 2A, Head Coach Vicki Gibson expects nothing less than the best from both her male and female running teams this year.
“I want both girls and boys to go to state this year,” she said.
“Cross country’s not for everybody, but these kids really love it. So it’s great to see their love for the sport come out.”
In order to obtain this goal, Gibson said distance practice is critical.
“[The focus is] getting our miles up, because it’s a new team with a lot of new people,” she said. “It’s getting our miles and getting them used to running.”
Military moves changed the faces on the team this season, with the team losing the highly-competitive sister duo, Kacie and Paige Updike. However, former standouts, including Katie and Alli Lever, moved back to Fort Campbell and will be competing with the team this year. Megan and Allison Blais will also add consistency from last year to the girls’ roster.
For the boys, Rahshad Akers and Omar Mascorenas will be the two main returning male runners. James Strait will join Gibson as the team’s assistant coach this season. Akers, a senior, placed 102nd at the 2013 state competition in the 5,000-meter run.
“So far through conditioning and practice, I feel like I can definitely drop my times from last year,” he said. “Now instead of just trying to get to state, I want to place at least top 20 percent.”
The cross country team does not have any home meets this year. The team will compete in the Kenwood Classic, Aug. 23.
“We have returning students and then we have new students,” Gibson said. “So that works out really good, because you know, us being on a military [post], they rotate often. It’s rotated for our favor that we had extra people coming in.”