This year has been a monumental season for university-area sports teams, with Mallard Creek and Countryside Montessori graduating their first senior classes this year.
There is a lot of talent leaving these programs, but other athletes are ready to step up and take on new leadership roles.
Mallard Creek won the I-Meck 4A baseball championship, and Vance won a conference title in track and field this spring. Countryside had its first thousand-point scorer in basketball and has many young athletes waiting in the wings. With so many seniors leaving, who are the spring athletes to keep an eye on next year?
Here is an early look at some teams of interest.
Mallard Creek had a senior-heavy team and will graduate four of its top five players, including Blaine Lewis, Michael Boles, Brandon Wilkerson and Mikal Hill. Kirk Morgan, who was an all-conference selection as a freshman and sophomore, returns next year and, along with Jamel Harbison, will lead the Mavericks and try to keep them on top of the conference.
Vance is coming off a one-win season where not a lot went right, but things are looking better. Sophomore Mark Stevens is the Cougars first all-conference player in the last few years and, along with a JV team on the rise, will be counted on for leadership.
Mallard Creek soccer will lose three all-league players in seniors Allie Gartland, Kelsey Manning and Sarah Webber, but juniors Ashley Warren and Brianna Pauser are ready to help fill their shoes.
Vance has been making strides since re-forming its golf team a couple of years ago under head coach Jerry Smith. They are not all the way there yet, but the Cougars return four players to help continue the revitalization including juniors Tristen Thompson and Michael Budd, sophomore Jeffrey Harris and freshman Anthony Bondi, who is the Cougars lowest scorer from this year.
Mallard Creek will lose six players to graduation, including Mike Mullman and Mac White. Freshman Tyler Murphy played a big role this year and will be the Maverick with the most match experience to return.
Track and Field
Vance is coming off a conference championship but will lose many of their key seniors, including seniors Jamil Ray, Cameron Tate and Dominique Weathers and will lose head coach Jupiter Wilson. There to help shoulder the load is junior Lamar Johnson and freshman Erin Jennings.
Mallard Creek is losing all-conference girls sprinter Lauren Gulley and distance runner Getisso Dentamo, both of whom are going to UNC Charlotte on scholarships. Marquez North, a sophomore, and junior Kaitlyn Shetler will be leaned on to replace them.
Vance is coming off a 5-6 season and has its best player, Marquis Duncan, returning. The all-conference junior will be counted on to continue his promising development next year, and continue to help the improving Cougars.
The Mavericks and Mustangs are facing senior turnover for the first time, while Vance is used to the yearly changes. All three schools have talent waiting to lead these teams for years to come.
Andrew Stark is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Andrew? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.