Category Archives: Athletics

Just Because: NCAA Gymnastics!

By Tori Kitchens

By Tori Kitchens

The NCAA Gymnastics season is reaching its end as all eight teams in the National Semifinals have been decided. Today at 3 p.m., the University of Florida Gators will try to earn its spot in the finals.

But how did we get here? Let me tell you!

The four regional competitions concluded last weekend. Round one of the regionals was a play-in competition between two teams in each regional. NC State defeated Ball State, Boise State defeated BYU, Penn State defeated Towson, and Arizona defeated North Carolina to earn a spot in the second round competition.

Round two featured eight teams per regional where four would face off for two spots in the regional final. Round three, the regional final, included the four teams that advanced. These four teams competed for two spots in the National Semifinals in Fort Worth, Texas.

Oklahoma, Kentucky, Ohio State, and Alabama earned their spots and faced off in the Norman regional final. The Oklahoma Sooners and Kentucky Wildcats advanced with scores of 198.05 and 197.85, respectively. The Sooners had an incredible final two rotations after having to count a low score on the balance beam. The squad did not score below a 9.90 on the floor, and junior Katherine Levasseur scored another perfect 10.0 on the vault to push her team to victory. The other three teams in the final were within 0.20 points, but Kentucky was able to get the victory over the Buckeyes and the Crimson Tide.

Utah and UCLA edged out Missouri and Washington in the Los Angeles regional final with scores of 198.05 and 197.925. The competition included three perfect 10.0 routines: Jaedyn Rucker from Utah on vault, Jordan Chiles from UCLA on floor, and Selena Harris from UCLA on vault. This was the freshman Harris’ first 10.0, and she was very emotional. UCLA and Utah will have to fight for a spot with the reigning champion team, Oklahoma.

UCLA’s Jordan Chiles with a perfect floor routine at the 2023 regional finals

California-Berkley and Florida advanced to the National Semifinals with scores of 198.075 and 197.80 over Michigan State and Arizona State. The Florida Gators faced some difficulty during round two as their star all-around performer and fifth year senior Trinity Thomas stopped in the middle of her floor routine with a lower leg injury. This left the team in a difficult position as they needed to put gymnasts to fill in during the following two rotations and the regional final competition. California put together an incredible all-around performance scoring their third highest score of the year. Florida barely edged out the Michigan State Spartans as the Gators scored lower on the vault and floor exercises than their average.

In the final regional in Denver, drama unfolded before our eyes as Denver and LSU defeated 2021 National Champion Michigan and Oregon State. Denver scored a 197.875 and became the lowest seeded team to advance to the National Semifinals. LSU and Michigan tied with a 197.75, so a tiebreaker left both teams holding their breath as they awaited the news of who would continue their postseason run and who would go home empty handed. The NCAA officials added the sixth score to each rotation to see who deserved to advance. Michigan had falls on the uneven bars and the balance beam which gave them low scores that they worked hard to drop. However, with the necessary tiebreaker, these scores had to be added to their total, which allowed LSU to swoop in and advance.

California, Denver, Florida, and LSU will compete in the first Semifinal for two spots in the National Championship. This side of the bracket features Florida, the most probable squad to advcance. Without Thomas, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Champion Gators will face a greater challenge than in prior rounds.  

California won their first NCAA Regional final with their highest road and postseason score in school history, and they produced the highest score of any team with a 198.075. At the regional final, they did not record a score below 9.80, showing that they were solid on each event.

Denver is not a stranger to the National Finals as they have qualified six times, most recently in 2019. This was the Pioneers’ second regional win. Fifth year senior Lynnzee Brown scored 9.95 on each event to produce the second highest all-around score in program history and a personal best 39.80. Junior Bella Mabanta scored a 9.975 on the beam which was the highest beam score in the history of Denver’s postseason activity.

The Florida Gators made it to the Semifinals for the third consecutive year and are hoping to make the Final Four on the Floor for the third consecutive year. Even though Florida has been a consistent competitor in the finals, the last championship that they won was in 2015. With it being unknown if Thomas will be available to compete, the Gators have had time to prepare for the rest of postseason. Thomas, as an individual, is two 10.0 scores away from owning the NCAA record.

UF’s Trinity Thomas scores a perfect 10 on the floor at the SEC Championships

The LSU Tigers have made it to the National Championship round eight times but have never won a title, yet they have placed second three times. They are strong competitors in the SEC as they have won three titles in that tournament in the last ten years. They were consistent competitors in the semifinals in Fort Worth, but they barely missed out on qualifying last year. After a rough season full of injuries, the Tigers have made it back to the National Semifinals.

Oklahoma, Utah, UCLA, and Kentucky will face off for the final two spots in the National Championship. This matchup will be very difficult as the number four UCLA Bruins will try to wedge their way through the top ranked Oklahoma Sooners and the number five Utah Utes to keep them from returning to the National Championship competition.

The Sooners have appeared in the final 11 times and are hoping to make another championship run. Oklahoma has been ranked first in the country all year and have produced very high scores, making them likely to go back-to-back and become champions for the sixth time in program history.

Utah’s Red Rocks have been one of the most decorated programs in the history of NCAA Gymnastics as they have made it to the National Semifinal every year since 1982 (with the exception of the COVID year) and came up victorious ten times, tying for the most titles with the Georgia Gym Dogs. The Utes have not won the National title since 1995, but they have come very close in recent years.

The Bruins of UCLA have made it to the finals 23 times and won the title seven times. This team has had a few coaching shifts over the past few years. In 2019, Valorie Kondos Field retired from coaching after being the head coach of the Bruins for 28 years. Field was the longest reigning head coach of UCLA. Since then, Chris Waller became the head coach for two years, and Janelle McDonald is in her first year. With fifth year Margzetta Frazier and Olympic silver medalist and sophomore Chiles, the Bruins will try to win back their crown as they did in 2018.

The Kentucky gymnastics program has only made it to Fort Worth once (2018), but the Wildcats successfully punched their second ticket after scoring a 197.85. Senior Raena Worley led her team with an impressive 39.65 to tie for runner-up in the all-around. The Wildcats have not been the strongest program over the years, but they are proving everyone wrong as they will compete to win their first national championship.

These eight teams will compete today for the chance to keep fighting and win a National Championship. The team with the highest score in Saturday’s competition will take home the trophy.

In addition to the team competition, four all-around competitors and 16 event specialists qualified to the National Championship to compete for individual titles, as their teams were eliminated in the regionals. Each regional produced one all-arounder and four event specialists, one from each event. The individual champions will be decided in today’s competition.

Payton Harris from the Norman regional with compete in the all-around representing Ohio State University. She produced her season high all-around score with a 39.60, and she has an average score of 39.358. Chloe Widner of Stanford will be the all-around athlete sent from the Los Angeles regional as she scored a 39.55 and has an average of 39.068. She scored as high as 39.625 during the regular season against Oregon State, and she will look to replicate this performance in the National round. Hannah Scharf of an up-and-coming program at Arizona State will compete in the all-around from the Pittsburgh regional with a 39.625 performance. Finally, senior Abby Heiskell will represent the Michigan Wolverines in the all-around competition as she scored a 39.675.

Courtney Blackson from Boise State, Naomi Morrison from Michigan, Ava Piedrahita from Penn State, and Lauren Williams from Arkansas will compete as individuals in the vault. Luisa Blanco from Alabama, Natalie Wojcik from Michigan, Emily Lopez from Boise State, and Cassidy Rushlow from Penn State will compete on the uneven bars. Nora Flatley from Arkansas, Gabrielle Stephen from Michigan State, Alisa Sheremeta from Missouri, and Jade Carey will compete on the balance beam as individuals. Finally, Sierra Brooks from Michigan, Elexis Edwards from Ohio State, Derrian Gobourne from Auburn, and Delanie Harkness from Michigan State will compete in floor exercise.

My Predictions:

Team Champion – Oklahoma
All-Around Champion – Trinity Thomas from Florida (if healthy) or Jordan Bowers from Oklahoma
Vault Champion – Olivia Trautman from Oklahoma
Uneven Bars Champion – Leanne Wong from Florida
Balance Beam – Trinity Thomas (if healthy) or Ragan Smith from Oklahoma
Floor – Sierra Brooks from Michigan and Derrian Gobourne from Auburn

MLB Opening Day is Finally Here!

By Tori Kitchens

Major League Baseball (MLB) is back! Today marks Opening Day of the 2023 MLB season.

The 2022 season ended with an American League (AL) victory in the World Series for the Houston Astros over the National League’s (NL) Philadelphia Phillies. The Astros won in six games, ending the Phillies’ impressive postseason run in Houston.

Last year’s regular season ended with the New York Yankees winning the AL East, the Cleveland Guardians winning the AL Central, the Astros winning the AL West, the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets tying for the win of the NL East, the St. Louis Cardinals winning the NL Central, and the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the AL West.

ESPN writers, analysts, and editors made their predictions of the season outcome. They predicted that the regular season winners from the AL will be the same, and the Astros will become the AL champions.

The NL, on the other hand, having undergone many changes to their ball clubs, have very different outcome positions. The Braves were chosen to win the NL East significantly over the Mets, the Cardinals are predicted to win the NL Central, and the San Diego Padres were predicted to edge out the Dodgers in the NL West. The Padres were also chosen to edge out the Braves in the NL championship.

The ESPN voters were in favor of an NL team becoming the 2023 World Series champions but were split between the Braves and the Padres. The Braves have 2022 NL Rookie of the Year finalist Spencer Strider (pitcher) and the 2022 NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II (outfield) to continue their impressive starts in the majors. The Padres organization is one with a lot of talent with five strong batters to leadoff their order. Fernando Tatis, Jr. will make his return in late April following injuries from last season and a suspension on account of performance enhancing drugs.

MLB play may look a little different this year as rule changes will be implemented. Infield shifts are prohibited, a new pitch clock is enforced, pitchers are only allowed to make two pickoff attempts per batter, and the size of bases are increased from 15 to 18 inches to reduce injuries. We have seen previews of some of these changes in spring training games and are being introduced in college ball as well.

Many transactions occurred during the offseason with the most dramatic being shortstop Carlos Correa. This infielder’s name was brought up multiple times during the offseason as he opted out of his contract with the Minnesota Twins. Correa was set to sign with the San Francisco Giants, but, due to concerns of a weak ankle, the baseball club was timid to let him sign on the dotted line, which would grant him a 13-year, $350 million deal. In the middle of the night on December 21, Correa agreed to a 12-year, $315 million contract with the Mets, which stood as a major threat in the NL East. More concerns arose in the Mets ball club surrounding Correa’s ankle, so he returned to the Twins where he signed a six-year $200 million contract.

Braves fans, like myself, were heartbroken following the loss of former first baseman Freddie Freeman to the Dodgers following the World Series win in 2021. The Braves organization and fans took another hard hit as hometown hero Dansby Swanson’s contract expired. Swanson is one of the league’s most dynamic players and shortstops. On Dec. 17, he announced he would join his new wife, professional soccer player Mallory [Pugh] Swanson, in Chicago and sign a 7-year, $177 million contract with the Cubs organization.

Two more notable transactions included former Dodgers infielder Justin Turner and former Mets ace pitcher Jacob deGrom. Turner will return to AL competition as he suits up for the Boston Red Sox. He will face his former team, the Baltimore Orioles, during opening weekend. DeGrom will make his Texas Rangers and American League (AL) debut as the ace pitcher against the Phillies.

Season Opening Series:
Atlanta Braves @ Washington Nationals
San Francisco Giants @ New York Yankees
Baltimore Orioles @ Boston Red Sox
Milwaukee Brewers @ Chicago Cubs
Detroit Tigers @ Tampa Bay Rays
Philadelphia Phillies @ Texas Rangers
Pittsburgh Pirates @ Cincinnati Reds
Colorado Rockies @ San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays @ St. Louis Cardinals
Minnesota Twins @ Kansas City Royals
New York Mets @ Miami Marlins
Chicago White Sox @ Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels @ Oakland Athletics
Arizona Diamondbacks @ Los Angeles Dodgers
Cleveland Guardians @ Seattle Mariners

OHS Winter Sports Preview Season

By Tori Kitchens

As the end of January approaches, the athletes who play winter sports are gearing up for post season play. 

Girls’ Basketball

The girls’ basketball program finished their season 14-7 going an impressive 5-0 in district play. “This is definitely one of the better seasons we have had in several years playing basketball,” senior point guard Kate Pickens noted. Pickens admits that there are some games the team should have won, however, the team has done a remarkable job playing as one. “When we play together ‘as a hand and not five fingers,’ as Coach Ringdahl likes to say, there is no telling what we can accomplish.”

Leading the team in both points and assists, Pickens intends to make the most of her final playoff run. “As long as we put our best foot forward and give it our best shot, I will be more than happy with the results of my last season,” Pickens acknowledged, “but if we have the opportunity to keep winning, I absolutely want to take advantage of it.” 

The Lady Eagles are going into the post season off a senior night win at home against Eastside 32-27. The team begin their run with a bye and will play the winner of Countryside Christian and Redeemer Christian on Wednesday.

Boys’ Basketball

Oak Hall’s boys’ basketball team has had a very successful season. Finishing their regular season with one of the highest win percentages in program history, the team went 14-4 and 6-0 in district play. They have two more regular season games against Lafayette and Dixie County before beginning their post season run next week. “It truly means a lot to play together with my boys in the big moments and I just hope we can build up the chemistry to push us through this post season,” junior guard Ryan McKinney stated.

The records they broke and the successes they reached in the regular season has given the eagles a first-round bye in the post season. “I truly believe that we can make it far this year as this is the most united and connected team we’ve had in a while,” McKinney affirmed. 

The team is expected to make a great run this post season. “I’m expecting us to at least make it to the district championship for sure,” McKinney continued, “but if we end up winning, which I think we are capable of, then I believe we can make a solid run at states this year if we compete at our full potential.”

Girls’ Soccer

After a difficult regular season, the girls’ soccer team enters the post season with nothing but positivity. “It’s been a challenging season, but we have grown a lot as a team and have persevered through a lot,” senior midfield Zahra Sims described. 

The Lady Eagles opened their post season on Thursday, defeating St. Francis at Lafayette 4-1. “I think that that was one of the best games that we’ve played,” Sims added. “We had great communication, and it shows how far attitude and effort can go.” 

The team will travel back to Lafayette on Monday to compete against the Lady Hornets in their home stadium. “I am looking forward to finishing out the season on a good note and leaving OHS soccer with a positive legacy,” Sims stated.

Boys’ Soccer

At the start of their season, the boys’ soccer program welcomed OHS faculty member Andy Westfall as their head coach. “While I always want a winning season and want to build a better program, my daily goals are more about effective training sessions,” Coach Westfall noted. The eagles’ training strong practices paid off as the team started off 6-0 and finished their regular season 9-4. 

The boys will start their playoff run Tuesday against Lafayette. The eagles played the Hornets twice during the regular season and game up just short both times. Regardless, the team intends to make a significant showing this post season. “I think we are in a good place on all accounts, and I am proud of the effort the players have put in so far to put us in a good position to make it through District play,” Coach Westfall contended.

Traditional Competitive Cheerleading

For the first time in its 5-year history, the Competitive Cheerleading squad is competing in the Extra Large Non-Tumbling division. With 22 girls on the floor, most being rookies, the team has had to work even harder to fine tune and perfect their routine. 

The eagles made an impressive showing at their regional competition at West Nassau in Callahan on January 14. The team received their highest raw score ever and qualified for the state semi-finals. “It’s been a challenging season because we are putting a harder routine on the floor than we have ever attempted before and over half of our team has never cheered competitively before,” head Coach Kelley Thorp admitted, “so there has been a big learning curve to overcome.”

Going into state competition, the team hopes to hit a zero-deduction routine in order to take a spot in the final round. 

Gameday Competitive Cheerleading

Not only are the members of the cheer program preparing for state competition, but they are also working hard to prepare for Nationals! 

With a smaller squad of 15, the team has been very successful. At their Universal Cheer Association (UCA) regional competition in the beginning of December, the eagles shocked everyone by placing second with a very high score at their first ever Gameday-styled competition. “It’s been a fun and rewarding season,” head coach Kelley Thorp recounted. “With a small team made up [of] predominately veteran cheerleaders, it has been fun to put together a routine in a genre of cheer we have never done before.” 

The team will travel to Orlando next Thursday to compete at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. 

New Gameday Cheer Squad Qualifies for Nationals

By Bailey Thorp

For the first time in school history, Oak Hall school has a Competitive Gameday Cheerleading team. This team has had an amazing run this season from showcasing their routine at qualifiers, to placing at regionals, and finally on the road to nationals. 

On Dec. 2, 2022, the Oak Hall Gameday squad went to the regional competition in Tampa. At this competition, the team scored second place out of eight teams in the division and qualified to compete at Nationals, a significant accomplishment for a brand-new team.

While Oak Hall does have a traditional Competitive Cheerleading team, Gameday is a different routine altogether. While traditional competitive is flashier and is focused on advanced stunting, Gameday showcases what you would see on the sideline at a Friday night football game. The spotlight is on crowd-leading, cheers, and band dances, rather than pyramids and jumps. 

In mid-February, the team will travel to the Wide World of Sports in Orlando to compete at Nationals. This competition lasts multiple days and includes two rounds of competition, semi-finals, and finals. In addition to competing, the team also gets to spend time at Disney together in their time off from cheer. Wish them luck!