Magnolia Seniors Denied One Last Chance
NEW MARTINSVILLE – It is no secret fans of Magnolia sports love their Blue Eagle athletic programs. The school’s fans fill seats at every game, cheer hard at track and field meets, and all around enjoy the atmosphere of many sports events.
So the announcement that COVID-19 had axed the boys’ basketball team’s shot at the program’s first state title since Preston Boswell roamed the hall and canceled spring sports all in one swift stroke surely came as a quick gut punch.
The slobber-knocking uppercut didn’t stop the damage with the fans, but followed through on the coaches and athletes as well. And the connection was just as devastating. By all accounts, 20 Blue Eagle seniors across four sports were ready to give it the ole college try one more time. As the announcement hit, it left softball, track and field and baseball all in different positions though in terms of seniors needing a proper send off.
For legendary baseball head man Dave Cisar, he never got the chance to guide Jake Gamble and Justin Hamrick. Seeing as Gamble had put on 15 to 20 pounds of muscle and Hamrick had the makings of a solid defensive catcher behind the plate, it stings a little more.
“Jake’s been with me for the last three years and he is a great athlete for us at shortstop and pitcher,” said Cisar. “He had picked up 7 to 8 miles on his fastball and we were very excited. He was throwing in the high 80s. He really loved the game and it was his passion. We just felt every time he was on the mound it gave us a good opportunity to win. He really worked hard improving and that is something I will never forget about him.”
On the smaller diamond, Angela Johnson now has to juggle the top of her lineup next season after four final year players take their leave upon receiving their diplomas. But, their departure also is more for the head coach then just saying goodbye to Paige Brill (SS), Kayna Anderson (2B), Ashley Kelly (3B) and Haleigh King (OF). As the quartet made up the first senior class of her tenure, Johnson now can’t see them through the final path of their journey.
Plenty of offense, moving runners over, and utilizing their speeds were all in the cards for Johnson. Anderson and Brill’s speed made them the bunt specialists and each would have had the assignment of getting on in-front of Kelly. She then could have easily brought them in with one swing of the bat, according to her head coach.
While the trio also played key roles in stopping runs, Johnson specifically mentioned King’s ability to track down balls in the outfield as a big strength for her team.
As Mike Harwick and the girls track and field team got underway, there were five final-year players (Kyndra Pilant, Karina Patel, Liza Clegg, Sierra Walker, and Reagan Hale) all bringing different abilities to the numerous outdoor events. This balance left the head man thinking it was going to be a pretty good season.
Topping the list of potential state tournament point earners in not only the class, but the team was girls’ basketball all-time leading scorer Pilant in the throws. Junior Mady Winters and she arguably gave the Blue Eagles one of the deadliest throwing lineups in the state. As both finished in the top 3 last season, each had their eyes on big things headed into the season.
And Harwick sounded confident Pilant could meet those goals. “She’s really competitive and always wants to do her best even if she didn’t show it on the outside. Not winning is frustrating for her.”
Patel drew the unenviable task of once again chasing down Williamstown runner Ella Hesson in the distance races. And after coming off a strong cross-country season, Patel’s “very well-hidden competitive nature,” as her coach called it would have been on display one final time. “The way she grew and what she grew into was very impressive mostly due to that hard work.”
Clegg covered many of the hurdle events again one year after the she qualified in the 100 hurdles and anchored the tenth-place shuttle team. “She’s just been a great leader overall for our team,” shared her head man.
Walker and Hale were still figuring their roles out, but Harwick appreciated the leadership each had shown in the opening days of practice.
And while those two hadn’t found their niches, their athletic backgrounds in multiple other sports gave them a leg up even as new arrivals. They, together with Clegg, Patel and Pilant, had Harwick hoping for state runner-up, third, or fourth-place finish after two days of state competition in Charleston.
Travis Emch left his limited practice time taking a similar train of thought with his boy’s athletes. “I really wish we would have gotten a chance,” lamented Emch as he waved goodbye
For starters, there was already a competitive sibling rivalry blossoming between Jakob and Jarrod Burrows in the throwing pit. One year after finishing in the top five of the Class A state field (Jakob won a state championship and Jarrod finished fifth) and as Jakob finished third in the discus, it appeared they had lost none of their edge.
As both were already throwing 130 and 140 at the beginning of practice, along with Jakob tossing the shot put 52 feet in practice (just .500 feet short of his winning state distance in 2019) this gave Magnolia a good chance to sweep the two events in most boys and girls meets.
If this wasn’t exciting enough, Bain Smith added a third thrower to the already intimidating boys’ lineup. “If we scored under 30 points in those events, we would have been disappointed,” said Emch.
Away from the field events, James Stillwagoner and Jordan Ratliff brought to experienced runners to the relays and hurdles. While Stillwagoner may have been a quiet leader, his specialty of leading by example left him as an anchor for many relays and as a consistent competitor for the underclassmen to look up to.
Many eyes also would have been on Ratliff after he sprained his ankle at the state meet in the 300 hurdles in 2018. “He worked hard in the offseason and was poised for a big push,” said Emch.
Rounding out the group were a pair of first-year participants in Josh Rice and Trenton Mitchell. “They had the right attitude and I could tell they were there for the team to be the best teammates they could,” said Emch.
Although those two were new, their leader still factored them into the larger equation. After the team lost its state championship repeat attempt, the chip on all their shoulders served as a big motivation builder for the season. “No one placed blame they just wanted to show what they could do this year,” said Emch.