The sounds of spring sports highlight the late afternoons on campus at Liberty Bell High School these days. The rhythmic beat of track and field hooves stampeding across the hard surface, the crack (well, more like a ping) of the bat connecting with the baseball, the snap of the ball hitting the leather of the glove, the thwack of the racquet as it connects with the luminescent chartreuse tennis fuzz ball, and the smack of the soccer ball colliding with the folded up gym bleachers.
But most of those sounds are heard inside, as winter continues to recede.
It’s not for lack of effort. Local contractor and spring snow relocation expert Jerry Palm and crew spent serious hours blowing clear the soccer practice field, baseball and softball outfields, and a crew of snow blowers has been busy prepping the tennis courts for spring play.
Hope does spring eternal. With Daylight Saving Time bringing more late afternoon sunlight and warmer temperatures working away at the snow, athletes are moving outside a bit more. It’s beginning to look a lot like spring, and less like Christmas.
Activities Director Michael Wilbur is pumped up about his spring sports program. First of all, he points to the numbers: “We have 158 students in our grades 9-12 and 122 are participating in a spring sport,” Wilbur said. “It says great things about our students when 75% of them are participating.”
This is the highest post-COVID participation numbers for a season, and may well be a record both in raw numbers and percentage.
With a lot of new students in every program, it makes the preview and prediction thing challenging, especially when the teams haven’t hit the field, court or track yet. The first look comes this week as Tuesday had the Mountain Lion track and field team, with 36 members, headed to Ephrata for the aptly named Spring Ice Breaker at the Tigers’ track and field complex.
Following is the first of two installments previewing the Mountain Lions’ spring 2023 sports program.
Track and field
Coach Erik Brooks and assistant Haida Ikeda have gone from a smallish group of 18 or 19 athletes in 2022 to about 35 this year. The Mountain Lions return all of their state meet athletes from last year, including distance runners Leki Albright, Dexter Delaney and Aksel Thomson, Sandra Hernandez, hurdler Kyler Mitchell, javelin thrower Fisher Edwards and high jumper Isaiah Stoothoff.
Junior Will Halpin is also back after a disappointing illness at district time last spring that took him out of qualifying for state. The rest of the season was a see-saw affair with teammate Delaney, while Thomson was close on their heels. Liberty Bell’s boys distance team will again be solid and should be out front at most meets, regardless of classification.
Albright should again be at the front of the pack, and beyond, in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meter races, whichever she chooses to run at whichever meet. The junior distance runner will again be pursued by Brewster’s junior Kaydence Carrington, a friendly rivalry that has been fun to watch, and should be again this year. Hernandez will again be solid in the 100 and 200 meters, but is also capable of running longer distances as a proven cross country veteran. Sophomore Zoe Kaltenbach is also back and looks to continue her upward trend in the longer events.
New members include some already proven athletes that should contribute to meet points accumulation and move Liberty Bell up the team standings. Senior Riley Lidey and freshman Marit Nelson both made headlines in football and futbol (soccer) last fall, and should find a niche on the track fairly quickly. Other notables new this year include soccer players Lilly Belcher and Nina Kominak, and Rio Lott from volleyball and basketball.
Two comeback stories this year to watch will be thrower Zack Baldwin, who suffered a knee injury in football last fall, but is almost full strength, and Lucy Riggs, who returns after her courageous year-plus dealing with leukemia.
In the best name for an event category, Damien Spears will be throwing the javelin this year after an extremely successful wrestling year, placing 6th at the state championships.
Tuesday’s Ephrata Ice Breaker will be the first look at the new crew and provide an early glimpse into the expanded roster.
• Coaches: Erik Brooks, assistants Haida Ikeda.
• Dates to circle: First meet Tuesday (March 14) at Ephrata; home meet April 25; district (state qualifier) at Oroville May 17. Volunteer officials are needed for the high school meet on April 25 and junior high meet on May 11.
Much like the track and field program, after struggling for numbers the past two years Coach Chad Surface has a full roster, times two, with 21 girls currently at practice. Still lacking for significant experience, this year’s team looks to be much improved over last season. At most positions, there is at least one year of previous experience, not something Surface was able to tout last year.
Sophomore outfielder Violet Chrastina anchors the outfield from center, with Kaden Clapp flanking her in left field. Right field is open with the graduation of Jadyn Mitchell last year. Surface has yet to set the infield, but the battery is pretty much set with sophomore Cassidy Jones-Mowen behind the plate and junior Bailey Thomson on the mound.
The departure of would-be junior Maddie Mihalic to Ohio has left the bullpen open for anyone who wants to jump in. “We’re still looking for a couple of extra pitchers,” Surface said. “We think we have a couple in mind. We’ll have to see how it all plays out.”
Defensively, the Mountain Lions were improved last year, and look to continue that trend. Having practically doubled the size of the roster this year, Surface thinks that will help improve all phases of the team’s performance.
“The nice thing about the increased numbers is we will have enough to have a full JV team, which will give a number of players some extra playing time and a bunch of extra work,” he said.
Brewster and Okanogan will be the usual league favorites again this year, as in most years. This group of Mountain Lions is building on the past two seasons and looking to climb up the ladder of the Central Washington 2B League. While a league title might not be in the immediate future, a district berth could be achievable.
• Coaches: Chad Surface, assistants Kelsey Baldwin, Janie Ochoa.
• First game, Tuesday (March 14) at Cashmere; first home game April 1 hosting Lake Roosevelt.
• Key returning players: Cassidy Jones-Mowen (catcher), Bailey Thomson (pitcher), Violet Chrastina (outfield).
Next week we’ll look at boys’ soccer and new coach Mark Crum; tennis with the venerable Dave Schulz at the helm; and Mountain Lion baseball.