The winter sports season officially began on November 18th. State High’s winter sports program includes eight PIAA teams, and each will spend the next few months preparing, training, competing, and if the coach’s goals expectations and goals are met, winning.
“We set the bar high this year,” head swimming coach Andrew Morrison said. “We’re hopefully going to be winning districts again, with Mid Penns coming up when that happens, and another strong showing at states just like we did last year.” Anchored by reigning state champion and University of Virginia commit Matt Brownstead, the swim team practices ten times a week. They are the only sport to do so, and this year, instead of practicing before and after school in the pool, they will practice before school four times per week, every day after school and once on Saturday. The team will also attend practice biweekly in the weight room after school.
“This is the first time we’ll be in the [State High] weight room and I think the kids are really gonna enjoy it, getting stronger than we have done in the past,” Morrison added.
Often found in the weight room beside the swimmers is the wrestling team, led by head coach Ryan Cummins.
“We have a team this year that has a little more experience than years in the past and we have some good leadership,” Cummins said. “I think that we should have a pretty good season if everyone stays healthy and follows the way to captains are pushing them.” Cummins looks for dedication, hard work, and success in the classroom as well as on the mat, and aims to send as many competitors to states as possible. In addition to the traditional celebration of the seniors’ accomplishments, pushing the match back half an hour from the regularly scheduled 6 p.m. start time, Cummins also touted giveaways and a push-up contest that will take place during the match on January 7th against Chambersburg, the last home match of the season.
When the wrestling mats are rolled up, the main gym is the basketball team’s domain. There are freshman and JV/Varsity basketball teams for the boys and the girls. The girls’ freshman basketball coach, Erin Castiglione, described her team as driven but acknowledged the team needs to learn to play together.
“It’s going to take some time to be able to gel as a team, but I think we’ll be able to get it done,” Castiglione said. Both the girls’ and boys’ freshman teams will be challenged by the higher level of competition they will face this year.
“Now we’re in the Mid Penn conference and now you’re playing bigger, stronger athletes,” freshman boys’ coach Rick Hall said. “The speed of the game and the strength of the game is completely different than what they played in 7th or 8th grade.” Coach Hall looks for players who are both good team players and coachable: whether they are willing to change their fundamentals to make themselves and the team better. While the team is just out of tryouts, there is currently no true point guard, and their development of ball-handling skills and the ability to take control of the offense as a point guard will have important effects on the success or failure of the team as a whole.
Coach Christopher Leazier, of the girls’ varsity basketball team, has no such concerns about his team’s ability to fill out a team.
“We certainly like versatility,” Leazier said. “We like kids that can do what we need to do to function within our team structure offensively, but then also make a contribution defensively.” Returning to the court will be three of last year’s full-time starters, led by returning seniors Maya Bokunewicz, a Rice University commit and first-team All-Mid Penn Conference player last year, and Isabelle Leazier, an honorable mention All-Conference player and College of New Jersey commit.
“While we do have quite a bit of experience returning, we are gonna need some contributions from some new, less experienced players,” Leazier said. “I think the first challenge for us will be how quickly we can integrate them into what we’re doing. To win you gotta get some lucky breaks and you gotta have good health and all that stuff, but we’ve got enough, I think, that we can compete every night.”
State High’s coaches are all confident in their ability to dominate in the gym and in the pool, and the school’s athletes are poised to practice the same winning mentality on the track.
“We try to develop young women who are able to persevere in the face of a challenge and who are confident in their abilities to succeed in measurable ways,” girls’ track coach Jennifer Evans said.
The boys’ team, led by captain Zach DeCarmine, a hurdler and Central Michigan University commit, is just as confident.
“I think we’ve got some athletes that are anxious to pursue another state title,” Artie Gilkes, the boys’ head track and field coach, said. Last year, the boys won the State title in both indoor and outdoor track and field, and although a group of talented seniors graduated last year, there is a new generation of athletes ready to make an impact.
“We had a lot of young guys last year, and all those young guys are back and they’re a year older… I think that they’re kinda pretty hungry to leave their mark,” Gilkes said. “I think it’ll be just as good. I think it’s just a different makeup where figuring out our story and personality will be something that we’ll have to do.”