Spring Bulldog Update
March 14, 2017
Coming into the season, the tennis team decided that it was time to change things up. In September, players began the process of raising enough money to rent new court space.
“In the past we’ve had to take turns on the court and it’s really taken away from our practice time,” sophomore Bella DeHaven said. “The new courts mean we’ll all have a lot of time to practice and work together. I think that’s not only important to help us get better individually, but also as a team.”
Time on the court didn’t come cheap, as the team had to raise $3000 in a span of four months.
In order to make the money, they offered arts and crafts and games at the Decatur Book Festival in return for donations to support the tennis program.
“It was a really rewarding experience getting to help raise money for a team that I care so much about,” sophomore Ella Kessler said. “I love volunteering so when I heard that we were trying to find ways to raise money to get the tennis courts at Agnes Scott I jumped at the chance.”
Activities included helping kids turn old tennis balls into their favorite book character, a photo booth and a tennis target toss.
In the end, their efforts led to the team reaching their goal with $75 to spare.
“It really was a team effort to make this all happen. I can tell that this season, as a team, we are going to be much stronger,” Kessler said.
According to senior Jordan Baxter, on the team’s Feb. 4 debut at Agnes Scott, the “extra practice time” led to a 3-2 boys victory over Drew Charter.
Although the boys’ team came away with the close win, the game was “shockingly difficult,” Baxter said.
“Normally against small charter schools we do really well,” Baxter said. “It was a rude awakening that we had left our guard down.”
The girls played after the boys’ game against Drew Charter and the “difficult opponent” impacted the girls as well. They came away with a 2-3 loss in their season opener.
Despite these beginning hardships, Baxter was able to find a silver lining takeaway that can make this season a memorable one.
“I think the lesson learned from all of us was to never underestimate the opponent and always play hard,” he said.
Golf allows for team as well as individual qualification to state playoffs, both of which are goals for returning sophomore Evan Gauthier. In his first high school season last year, he was surprised by the playoff level of competition.
“We learned that regionals are much harder than they seem,” Gauthier said. “So this season we have to be more prepared.”
The team switched their practice course for the 2017 season, moving from 9-hole Charlie Yates Golf Course to 36-hole Heritage Golf Link course in Tucker. This will allow golfers to choose between courses for practice instead of playing the same holes each day.
Last year’s players have been practicing individually and together ever since last season ended, which has allowed them to build some team chemistry in what is seen as a solo sport.
“We’re always having fun and joking around,” Gauthier said. “But we also give each other tips about swing and hitting further.”
The golf team tees off its season with a Mar. 4 meet at Woodmont Country Club in Canton.
The boys’ baseball team moved into a new region and classification this year. They are also coached by Robby Gilbert, a former assistant coach at Tucker in his first year at Decatur. Last year, they went 21-7 before losing in the second round of the state playoffs.
But you knew that.
This year’s team is determined to distance themselves from those of recent years. One of those ways, senior Pete Sass said, is how they finish out their season.
“We have a opportunity to make history this year [and win] a region championship,” he said, “which hasn’t been done in over 50 years. We want to be playing our best baseball at the end of our season and, if we do that, we give ourselves a chance to go deep in the state playoffs.”
Junior Oliver Livingston agrees. Livingston assumed a large role by the end of last season as a pitcher and is ready to step into a bigger leadership role this year.
“I’m excited to see what we are at the end of the season,” he said. “I’m close with a lot my teammates and I think the team chemistry is higher than ever this year.”
Many players have been forced to play multiple positions this year, which Livingston said isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“So far this year, I’ve been getting at-bats and hitting pretty well,” he said. “I’m not pitching all the time, so I want to be able to help people out when I’m off the mound.”
After watching boys’ basketball’s seniors go out in heartbreaking fashion this year, Sass recognizes the finality of this season.
“Knowing my time playing at Decatur ends soon, every practice, every game I leave all the passion and love I have for the game on the field,” he said. “That’s always been my mindset.”
“We always used to say how 2017 was going to be our year,” Livingston added. “It’s time to make it happen.”
Coming off a 3A state championship, the boys soccer team knows that even though they jumped up two classifications to 5A this year, there’s an expectation to do very well again this season.
“Obviously, the standard is very high,” junior Owen Tumperi said. “We’re going to have to be even better this year because of the higher competition.”
This year’s team features plenty of names in new places. Junior Nate Wakeman made the transition from striker to goalkeeper, a position that’s not all that new to him.
“It’s very different from last year,” he said. “However, I’ve played keeper for a while and being a striker in the past helps me as a keeper now.”
One aspect that hasn’t changed is the team’s emphasis on unity.
“We try to keep the same traditions that worked for us over the past couple of years, like spaghetti dinners,” Tumperi said. “They help the team bond and build chemistry.”
The team’s goal is to repeat as champions, although both know that there’s a lot of work ahead.
“That’s always the main goal in the end, but we have to take it one step at a time,” Wakeman said. “It’s all a process and we must take it game by game.”
Expectations aside, Tumperi stresses that this is a new year.
“I don’t think we can expect any team to win a championship,” Tumperi said. “We’re focused, though, and I believe we can produce the results on the pitch.”
During the offseason, the girls soccer team decided on a major change in strategy that has already had an effect in game this season.
Gegenpressing is a style of play used increasingly by professional teams such as Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, Barcelona, and, recently, Paris Saint-Germain. It focuses on aggressively pressuring the ball high up the field and from different angles, with emphasis on winning the ball back quickly after being dispossessed. Decatur girls head coach Stephen Gathany said that in high school, this style can rattle opponents and keep them from building up their game normally.
“What we realized with high school is that when you put a lot of pressure on other teams, it disrupts their play a lot,” he said. “We want other teams to be in panic mode against us.”
After assessing this year’s team and seeing a potent mix of speed, skill and endurance in his players, he made the switch to this physically taxing style of play.
“This is probably the best team I’ve coached here so far,” Gathany said, “and I think it has more to do with our depth at each position that anything else.”
Gathany expressed confidence in having all 23 of his players substitute in and out of games, which helps ease the burden on tired gegenpressers. As they were still adjusting to the new style going into the season, some problems “got exposed” in the team’s first game, a 4-1 loss in a scrimmage against North Atlanta.
Sophomore striker Maggie Carlton has seen the team working harder to learn and implement the “physically and mentally exhausting” gegenpress.
“(The gegenpress) requires us to be more disciplined, because you can’t get out of position,” she said. “It’s less about individual skill and more about being in the right place and how fast and willing to work you are.”
After a 1-1 home draw with Lakeside, the team traveled to Druid Hills on Feb. 21. Decatur’s pressing resulted in a 10-0 mercy rule result for the visitors.
“Everyone on that team was yelling and emotionally distressed, which lets us capitalize on mistakes,” Carlton said. “They were frustrated because every time they had the ball and tried to make a pass, we would swarm them.
Though this dominating performance was encouraging, Gathany said that the team will only be able to truly gauge their new strategy’s playoff potential later on.
“We’re going to play some real tough teams, and we’re waiting in anticipation to see how the gegenpress works against them,” he said. “Once we play those teams and see our results, we’ll have a better determination of what type of shot we have at the state championship.”
Since the program’s start in 2006, Decatur’s boys lacrosse team had never missed the state playoffs. Last year, though, the team didn’t make it to state for the first time in over a decade.
Senior A’Santi Blackshear didn’t think last year’s team bought into a devoted process.
“We were a really good team, just undisciplined,” Blackshear said. “We didn’t play up to our full potential every game.”
Despite the disappointing season, senior goalie Jelani Hunt recognizes the benefit of the experience.
“To be honest, I think we needed one rough year to finally be able to come out this year and play harder,” Hunt said.
Blackshear feels the team has learned their lesson and they entered this season with a more focused mindset.
“We are all buying into the process and working hard everyday to get better individually,” Blackshear said.
In addition to dedication, Hunt thinks that their skills and athleticism could make them a contender in state playoffs this year.
“We are fast and really athletic,” Hunt said. “We are a team that should be competing with top teams in the state, but we need to take steps to be the best we can be.”
The boys have started their season with a 2-1 record. They won their first game over Newnan 11-3 and defeated defeated Riverwood 8-5.
Head coach Jessica Mayer is “looking forward to having the most returners [she has] ever had on the varsity team.”
“Something that’s so exciting about this season is how every single person on varsity is on there because they stand out in one way or another,” senior and captain Emmie Berberick said.
This talent combined with a strong work ethic impresses Mayer.
“Last year, we lost five games,” she said. “Four them were by one goal. The fifth one was by two goals. It doesn’t usually happen like that. They were upset, so they asked for summer practices. They have been putting in the work.”
Berberick recognizes the team’s effort and believes their work will greatly benefit them this season.
“I think we are going to be the best team DHS has ever seen,” she said. “Last season, we won the most games ever, and I think we won’t have any problem doing the same this year.”
Those high hopes on the field are aided by some crucial offseason additions to the coaching staff. After losing coach Christopher Watt, the team got three new coaches, all of whom, according to Berberick, are “really knowledgeable and make practices run much smoother.”
This season the team’s strategy is to start with the basics. Conditioning during practice has increased, and works hard on building foundational skills, specifically stick skills. Throughout practice, coaches work to strengthen skills by bringing attention to specific techniques.
“If you can’t catch and throw the ball in the air, then that defeats the purpose of lacrosse,” Mayer said.
Along with building skills, team leaders have stepped up to create/influence the team dynamic.
“I think our juniors and seniors really have set the tone for the season,” she said. “They said they wanted to make state playoffs. They set their goal without my help and are putting in the work to get there.”
Berberick’s goals for the season include a victory against St. Pius.
“We expect the whole school to be at our home game against St. Pius on March 28th at 7pm because they’re our rival,” she said. “We’ve never beaten them, and we hope to this year.”
At the first track meet of the season on Saturday, Feb. 18, Sam Ellis ran a 1:55 in the 800. Until it was broken over the next few days, it was the fastest time in the nation among high school track runners this season. Ellis was actually aiming for three seconds faster, a time of 1:52.
“To me, it really doesn’t mean much because it’s early in the season and a lot of schools are still doing indoor [track],” Ellis said, “but I was happy with it as the first race of the season.”
Ellis is among a handful of elite upperclassmen looking to cement their legacy with Decatur tTrack and fField. Senior Colby Clark looks to break 52 seconds in the 400, while new junior Robert Edge is already eyeing the 5A shotput title. Despite these elite times, the team lacks depth, head coach Mary Souther said.
“I think the fact that the only points we scored at the meet on Saturday were first place, [indicates that] we’ve got some fabulous people and we’ve also got people that have a lot to learn,” Souther said.
Souther became the coach of the track and field team after coaching the cross country team for two years and immediately faced her first challenge: where to practice.
“There’s a lot of logistical nightmares that you have to deal with when you have to bus people across town,” Souther said.
The track and field team alternates between practicing at Python Park in Avondale and Cheney track in downtown Atlanta. Last year, the team used the Agnes Scott College track, but it was unavailable to them this season.
“Sam, Amelia [Priest] and I have been running together since the sixth grade,” Clark said, “so it’s kind of crazy seeing things manifest over the years.”
From winning the Georgia Middle School 4×800 relay in eighth grade to holding down the 2017 4×400 relay, Clark and Ellis have perennially been in the front of the pack. This has Clark looking to the future of Decatur track and field.
“Coming into my senior year, I was a little worried about [the future of] track and field,” Clark said. “I feel like we have a promising future if [the younger athletes] decide to get serious and start putting in the work.”
Ellis has also been impressed with the effort shown by the team’s younger athletes.
“I’m pretty surprised,” he said. “Most years, after the first two weeks, most people start quitting, but these freshmen and sophomores have been coming back and working hard, which is definitely what we need.”
In the second meet of the season on Saturday, Feb. 25, the boys team won three relays and 11 other athletes placed, including many underclassmen. Souther views this as a positive sign for the team’s future.