Daily archive

August 23, 2021

FRESH START

in Football

Derailed by injury bug in back-to-back seasons, Class 1A, DII Iredell Dragons hope to return to winning ways

IREDELL – After winning three consecutive district titles and making back-to-back trips to the Class 1A, Division II, Region IV finals in 2017 and 2018, the Iredell Dragons have fallen on hard times.

Following getting derailed by a slew of injuries in 2019, the Dragons were bit by the Covid pandemic and injury bugs last season.

While staying healthy will be the top priority this season, the Dragons hope that results in getting back to their winning ways as well.

“It definitely feels like it is back to normal,” Iredell football head coach Luis Guereca said. “Our numbers improved, so that helps on feeling like it should be. I see it in the kids also. There is no hesitation in being themselves. They can enjoy the practices and games without worrying about having to stop practicing for so many days. At least, for now.”

Entering his 11th season as the Dragon head coach, Guereca led Iredell to five straight winning seasons culminating in three consecutive district titles from 2016-2018.

With the Dragons expected to be in the hunt at the state level again in 2019, injuries took their toll early forcing the team to shutdown before district. Last season ended up feeling like a bit of déjà vu.

With a fresh start in 2021, the Dragons will be young with only five returning lettermen with limited experience. Despite 13 players on the roster, Iredell will not field a single senior.

The Dragons will rely on three juniors – quarterback Preston Robinson along with Chase Wilkerson and Kason Wilson – to provide leadership while turning to four sophomores – running back Payton Murphy, end Jaime Najera, Kyle Niedorf and Conner Sweat – to step up to varsity-level competition.

“Obviously it’s important for every team to stay healthy,” Guereca said. “I just hope we can at least start district play with the same amount of kids we started at the beginning of the season.

“We are just hoping for an opportunity to give ourselves a shot at competing for the playoffs and district championship.”

Clearly, Guereca expects his young squad to grow up in a hurry and compete for a playoff berth in the all-Bosque County District 12-1A, Division II. With the 20th-ranked and defending district champion Morgan Eagles picked to repeat, Guereca knows Walnut Springs and Cranfills Gap will be tough as well.

With that said, Iredell needs to stay healthy season to get a chance to build toward the future.

With six freshmen – Aiden Bailey, Weston Chandler, Deuce Paul, Josiah McAskill, Walker Johnson and Justin Shields – on the roster, there will be some depth to work with this season. And Guereca thinks this freshman class could end up being special.

“We have a young team willing to get better,” Guereca said. “We will need to get our younger players to improve from now until district.

“In the end, we ask our players to compete each day and get better. If we can do that, I believe we can give ourselves an opportunity to win on Friday nights.”

Be sure to pick up a copy of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: 2021 BOSQUE COUNTRY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW published by The Clifton Record & Meridian Tribune on newsstands this week.

Photos by BROOK DEZAVALA & courtesy of Bosque County Publishing

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

in Football

After cancelling season in 2020, Class 1A, DII’s Kopperl Eagles reboot football program with new head coach

KOPPERL – Although no one likes to hear about a Texas high school football program getting shut down. But there’s definitely something to be said about starting from scratch.

With a new head coach leading the way, that’s exactly what the Kopperl Eagles will be doing in 2021.

“We are excited to get back on the field and be playing high school football again,” Kopperl’s first-year football head coach Aaron Maxwell said. “Since we didn’t field a team last year, most of the COVID interruptions didn’t affect us in that regard.

“Overall, it is nice to get back to some “normalcy,” and we’re excited to see what this season holds for us.

Coming off an injury-shorten season in 2019, Kopperl decided the lack of numbers coming out to play football and the presence of the Covid pandemic warranted shutting down the football program last season.

Now with the Eagles returning to action in 2021, Kopperl will complete the five-team, all-Bosque County District 12-1A, Division II making the mythical battle for the Bosque County Six-Man Football Championship finally possible.

“We are blessed to be in a very competitive district,” Maxwell said. “Every week, we know we’re going to get a good game. We have a very young team this year, so our expectations are focused on improving every week in practice, and then carrying that improvement over into the games on Friday. 

“As far as the district goes, I think it’s going to be very competitive. And hopefully, our young team will be in the mix. We are focused on getting our basic skills down and making sure to put the players in the best positions to succeed and help the team. With a young team, it’s all about their skill acquisition and growth.”

As the only returning letterman, end Michael Ensor provides some experience and leadership along with sophomore Brenden Tallant. But Kopperl will turn to a trio of freshman – quarterback Christian Falk, running back Anthony Johnson and running back Isaac Payen – to form the cornerstone of the program for the next four seasons.

“We’re a young team, and we’re trying to improve week by week,” Maxwell said. “Our greatest strength is our players’ desire to be the best they can be.”

After playing football two years before turning his focus to cross country and track, Maxwell graduated from Marcus High School in Flower Mound, earning a bachelor’s degree from Hardin-Simmons University and a master’s from Tarleton State University.

Prior to coming to Kopperl, Maxwell coached at North Central Texas Academy where he served as an assistant coach for football, the head track coach, and the head junior high boys coach.

“This is my first time as a head football coach,” Maxwell said. “Some of the high points for me, coaching wise, was making it to the TAPPS six-man state title game in 2017, taking our boys and girls track teams to the TAPPS state meet and having our girls finish second in TAPPS 1A in 2017.

“And certainly, the highlight was coaching my daughter in track and seeing her compete at the TAPPS state meet in 2017.”

After struggling in Class 1A, Division I for years, Kopperl moved down to Division II in 2018 and enjoyed immediate success by winning the District 12-1A, DII title. But the Eagles were unable to finish the following season due to injuries before shutting down the program in 2020.

“I chose to come to Kopperl in 2019 because they looked to be a program on the rise,” Maxwell said. “Unfortunately, we hit some major bumps and didn’t finish out the 2019 season or field a team last year. “I have stayed at Kopperl because I love the kids, and the people I work with. I look forward to seeing our young team grow and improve.”

Be sure to pick up a copy of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: 2021 BOSQUE COUNTRY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW published by The Clifton Record & Meridian Tribune on newsstands this week.

Photos by ASHLEY BARNER & courtesy of Bosque County Publishing

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

THE THRILL OF VICTORY

in Volleyball

Posting their first winning record in 42 years, Class 2A Meridian Lady Jackets win back-to-back matches at Covington Tournament

MERIDIAN – They say winning isn’t everything, but it sure feels good. Just ask the Meridian Lady Jacket volleyball team. For the first time in 42 years, the Lady Jackets walked off the court with a winning record by winning back-to-back matches over Mount Calm and Morgan in the Covington Tournament Aug. 14.

“The girls are thrilled to have a winning record,” Meridian volleyball head coach Lauren Cartwright said after the tournament. “As a coach, it’s encouraging to see them inspired and excited to play. We have seen vast improvements in the past two weeks, and I expect that to continue throughout our season.”

Unable to maintain the momentum, the Lady Jackets (2-2) dropped a hard-fought match against Penelope in straight sets, 25-22, 25-17, 25-16 at home last Tuesday. Sophomore Eve Dirkse led Meridian with two kills and 16 service receptions.

“The girls played a great game against Penelope,” Cartwright said. “We have key goals for each game and focus on specific measurable skills. They are a young team, having only played volleyball for one year, but they are doing a stand out job. This week, we will continue to work on hitter coverage and consistency with our serving.

“I’m proud of the girls’ mental endurance and focus during the games. They fought for every point, and that’s not an easy thing to do in volleyball. You can get down on yourself quickly due to the direct relation between your mistakes and the score. I tell them every week, the W or the L is not the most important thing in my book. What’s most important is if we do our best. At the end of the day, I believe that was the case against Penelope.”

Due to some changes in the schedule, Meridian did not play over the weekend, but will resume play traveling to Italy for a non-district matchup Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. before playing in the Valley Mills Tournament Aug. 26 & 28.

“Our schedule has been changing significantly over the last two weeks,” Cartwright said. “Unfortunately, I have no control over the changes. The majority are coming from our opponents.”

In Meridian’s season-opener Aug. 10 in Yellowjacket Gymnasium, the young Lady Jackets proved no match for an experienced Bruceville-Eddy squad as the Lady Eagles swept Meridian in straight sets, 25-12, 25-13, 25-12. Dirkse led the Lady Jackets with eight kills, followed by sophomore Hope Cabrera with six and sophomore Canyon Stauffer with four, while senior America Ramirez uncorked three service aces.

“With every game we’ve seen marked improvement,” Cartwright said. “I’m proud of the girls for battling every volley.

In the Covington Tournament, the Lady Jackets won a thrilling 25-22, 23-25, 15-13 victory over Mount Calm as senior Mackenzie Lane led Meridian with six kills. Dirkse delivered three service aces and a block, while Stauffer led the Lady Jackets with 10 service receptions, followed by junior Abigail Lucas with nine.

“The Covington Tournament proved to be a useful tool to work on our team dynamics and solidify the foundational concepts our players are learning through repetition and game time,” Cartwright said. “We participated in a series of quick pool play games. These rolling games assisted our team in working on mental focus and endurance.

“With a young program, our muscle memory isn’t there yet. So, the girls are learning to play each point with intentionality, while focusing on the little things that make a big difference.”

Winning their second straight match, the Lady Jackets shook off losing the first set to Morgan to win in dramatic fashion, 26-28, 25-23, 15-5, as Cabrera, Dirkse and Lane led Meridian with two kills apiece. Ramirez delivered two service aces, while Stauffer led with 14 service receptions, followed by Dirkse with nine as well as Lucas and Lane with five each.

“The important thing is, the girls are learning to actually play volleyball,” Cartwright said. “We aren’t waiting for other teams to make the mistakes. We are running our own plays and not cutting any corners on fundamentals. With a young program, it can be tempting to encourage them to just get the ball over. However, my vision is for the long term betterment of the athletes and program.

“This week, we are continuing to focus on taking things to the next level by doing all the small things right. At the end of the day, those fundamentals are what makes are breaks a program.”

Photos by WENDY OROZCO

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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