By Rick Lewis
The wind was bitter and biting last week as the Liberty Bell High School campus fell quiet for spring break, save for some flurries of activity at early spring practices for the Mountain Lion track and field, baseball, softball and boys’ soccer programs.
Tennis got underway this past Monday (April 12), a week later than the others, still aiming for this weekend’s opening of league competition in most of the traditional spring sports. Schools are entering “season two” under the Phase 3 COVID recovery protocols and Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association schedules.
It’s a season of the new, and the old. Experienced teams and athletes — complemented by an influx of eighth-graders, some trying a specific sport for the first time — produced some eye-popping numbers for boys’ soccer and baseball.
There are also some new coaches. Katie Leuthauser steps up from her former role as assistant track and field coach to take the reins from Erik Brooks. Brooks has stepped back to take the assistant position after holding the lead role for several years. On the junior high side, Thome George and Lindsay Ashford return to coach the seventh- and eighth-graders in track and field.
Dave Marz, a retired English teacher and soccer coach who is commuting daily from Chelan to coach the Mountain Lion boys’ soccer team, is assisted by valley resident and soccer buff Ross Beatty. He has unique methods, opening one practice with an unattributed quote: “Skill is the art of turning limitations into virtue,” and closing practice by assigning his charges homework to find a soccer match on TV or computer and watch for 15 minutes.
David Aspholm returns for his third year as Liberty Bell’s baseball coach, capably assisted by familiar faces Lou Holston and Bret Alumbaugh. The young team Aspholm had a couple of years ago has grown into a seasoned collection of veterans. Sadly, there will not be a regional or state tournament after last year’s total season cancelation. That will have to wait another year.
Mountain Lion softball opens the 2021 season much the same as last year. Coach Chad Surface gets a second try as a first-year coach, and the young team he had hoped to field last year is still young and still somewhat inexperienced.
The numbers were sketchy during the break, but Surface had 11 girls at practice Monday and expects one or two more to have a complete lineup. He has enlisted the help of a couple of former players in Janie McMillan and Sarina Williams to help with skills development and conditioning. The “bullpen” coach this year is Bill Smith, spending much of his time working with the pitchers.
Tennis coach Dave Schulz begins his 60th season coaching high school tennis in the Methow Valley. He has a small squad of girls and boys this year: only six athletes were at the first practice, but the numbers could grow by several as the season wears on.
Schulz began coaching in 1962 at Twisp High School, after a three-year high school tennis career in the mid 1950s for the Yellow Jackets. He is a life-long tennis aficionado, and at the age of 84 plans to keep going for a few more years.
Schulz told of a recent phone call he received from a former high school teammate, now residing in Livingston, Montana. “Her maiden name was Jackie Mantie [the spelling may be incorrect – we are working with his recollection] and back then, we played mixed doubles in high school,” Schulz recalled. “She asked if I remembered her.” He smiled, nodding his head to affirm the memory.
“She went on to tell me her granddaughter had just lost her first high school match and wanted to know what she could say to help coach her and make her feel better,” Schulz said.
“Imagine that,” he continued. “She knew I was still coaching and wanted me to help her granddaughter.”
The week for Liberty Bell
On the diamond, the Liberty Bell girls host the Oroville Hornets in a double-header beginning at 11 a.m. at the softball field, located at the north end of the elementary school.
With only a couple of seniors this year, and a young, inexperienced lineup, Surface is leaning on his daughter Madison and classmate Bella Chrastina to provide the leadership in what looks to be a season of learning and development.
“We just need to get them all here at the same time for practice,” Surface said. This week, he was still searching for a couple of skill position players.
Mountain Lion baseball also debuts in a Saturday double-header, starting at 11 a.m. on the home field. The Lake Roosevelt Raiders invade and renew a sometimes-contentious rivalry. Junior David Kominak, who last pitched as a promising freshman two years ago, is expected to take the mound in game No. 1, with veteran catcher and team co-captain Noah Holston behind the plate. Co-captain and senior Dusty Patterson leads a slew of supporting cast members providing a capable defense, speed on the base paths and some punch at the plate.
The Mountain Lions also have a dugout full of eighth-graders, granted full eligibility as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The roster is at about 22 so far this year.
Marz has perhaps the largest roster (23) of boys’ soccer players in the history of the program, dating back 20 years. Seniors Shiloh Luvon, Travis Grialou and Wyatt Belcher are joined by junior Kieren Quigley as co-captains this year.
In practice, it is evident Belcher has taken a real leadership role and looks to lead the offensive attack. Marz likes what he has seen in the short time he has been with the team.
That first match is this Saturday on the home pitch at Mountain Lion Stadium as the Panther C Squad from 4A Wenatchee High School comes to town. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.
On the track, Leuthauser isn’t quite sure what to expect just yet. With a number of seniors out for spring break college visits, and others gone for family time, the numbers are just beginning to climb a bit.
Senior leadership will come from the girls’ side. Distance runners Keeley Brooks, Liv Aspholm and Lindsay Worrell lead the way. Add to those three freshman Leki Albright, who had a solid start going in spring cross country until aches and pains sidelined her the last couple of races, and the girls look strong in the Central Washington B League.
The boys’ side is young, and also heavier in the distance races with Aksel Thomson, Isaiah Stoothoff and Will Halpin coming off a fairly successful cross country season. Leuthauser pointed toward Marshall Budrow as a senior leader, and expects the boys to also compete for top league spots.
The tracksters head for Bridgeport on Monday (April 19) for the first of five season meets. Liberty Bell hosts two meets next week: a junior high meet on Wednesday (April 21), followed the next day by the Liberty Bell High School Invite. Both meets start at 4 p.m.
Spectators should remember that while events are somewhat opened up, COVID Phase 3 protocols call for masking, physical distancing and limits on how many people are permitted to attend events.
Activities Director Michael Wilbur is excited for the students. “It’s nice to have them outside and playing,” he said. “It’s good for them and good for families to get out and watch them.”