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Dec. 5, 2006

2006-2007 Winter sports preview

by Andrew Kung, Online Sports Editor and Copy Editor and Nitin Sukumar, Online News Editor and Copy Editor
The '06-'07 winter season kicks off today with many teams looking to rebound from mediocre performances last year. With a talented batch of young athletes in different sports, Blair's varsity squads have the opportunity to lay down the building blocks for future seasons. Here's a quick preview of the Blazers' winter teams.

Boys' Basketball

After finishing with a disappointing 4-17 record last season, Blair released boys' basketball coach Orlando Larracuente during the off-season, naming Magruder English teacher Mark DeStefano his replacement. After last year's poor showing, DeStefano hopes to develop a team that is constantly improving, letting the wins come on their own. So far, he has been pleased with the program, citing the positive support from the community, the energy level and the "infrastructure" in place for success. The team looks to implement a flexible system this year, one that adapts to each individual opponent. DeStefano hopes to push the ball down the court via fast breaks and a running offense, but acknowledges the necessity of a reliable half court game. "We can't come in with one idea," he said. In scrimmages so far this year, DeStefano has been pleased with performances from seniors Tori Patton, Darius Smith and Ross Williams as well as juniors Joe Dubuche and Mohamed Mansaray. According to DeStefano, the recent robbery incident surrounding the program has not affected team chemistry, calling it an "unfortunate incident," but one where the team was not involved and where "the kids were the victims." The schedule for the upcoming year looks to be very difficult, with a traditionally heated rivalry matchup against defending state champion Springbrook, as well as key games against local rivals Einstein, Kennedy, Magruder, Northwest and Sherwood. "There are no easy nights," said DeStefano, who likened the season to a marathon. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic about the upcoming year. Already, he has seen improvement in the team and has praised their hard work. "We're looking to do some good things over the course of a long season," he said. "I'm happy to have this opportunity."

Girls' Basketball

The girls' basketball team, led by coach James Mogge, finished with a 7-16 record last year, ending the season with a first round playoff loss to Richard Montgomery. This season, the team looks to rebound to respectability. Captained by junior Meghan Cadigan and senior Helen Denbow, the girls will strive to put past struggles behind them and improve gradually. The squad was devastated by the loss of five players to graduation, all of whom started at some point during the season. The only returning starter is sophomore point guard Jenny Williams. Still, Mogge remains positive about the team's prospects for the upcoming year. He cited the return of junior center Sara Ramsay, who sat out the past season with an injury, and the emergent play of Cadigan, Denbow, Williams and sophomore guard Ashley Arnold, who saw extensive minutes off the bench last year, as vital cogs for the team's fortunes. For Mogge, the keys to success this year are growing as a team, improving conditioning, and getting used to the competition offered by a difficult division. He hopes to improve in these aspects throughout the course of the season and get the Blazers to move forward as a team. This year's schedule offers the exact same matchups as last year's, a double-edged sword for the team. The familiarity of the opponents, for one, will be a boon, according to Mogge. "We know who we're going to play," he said. Still, the team struggled mightily with the same schedule last season, and rematches will not be easy. In a tough, seven-team division, Mogge knows that there will be no cupcakes, but he remains optimistic. "The teams will be fighting for the top spots (in the division)," he said, and he hopes to be one of them. "We look to move to the top."

Swimming

As Blair's swimmers head to the Piney Branch swimming pools, one thought is in mind. "We're going to win the division championship," says co-captain Yang Yang. While this may seem to be a bold statement, the championship is definitely not out of the question. The boys' squad came in second place at the Division II championship, only three points behind top dog Wooton, last year. And while the girls' side had a disappointing last place finish, hope for improvement has been rekindled by freshmen Laura Sirbu and Allison Arai. The guys return a talented core of older swimmers including juniors Yang, Eddie Tang and Sam Bullard-Sisken, as well as seniors David Voung and Robert Feasley. Tang, another co-captain, sees improvement in many of the younger swimmers. "[Sophomore] Andrew McGehee has been doing very well and [freshman] Jeffrey Lin is like literally a beast, he's so quick," exclaimed Tang. The girls' side, captained by senior Sally Chang and junior Francesca Blume, looks to lay the foundation for future years with its younger swimmers. The entire team will attempt to shrug off the loss of Tyler Wilchek and Kelsey Dean, both of whom won Blair's MVP honors last year, to graduation. Year-round swimming has helped many of the swimmers to keep in shape and shatter their personal bests in the pool. "The guys and girls who swim at clubs like RMSC and YMCA are definitely better off and more consistent," said Yang.

Indoor Track

The indoor track squad has the talent to do big things this year, even if the numbers from last year's county meet don't show it. The county's scoring system, which only awards points for the top eight runners, does not reflect the running ability of both the girls' and boys' side. With Johanna Gretschel, Ashlyn Sinclair and Halsey Sinclair leading the girls' side, this season looks bright; the girls are seeking another dominating finish in the county tournament. The only issue is the lack of experience in the sprinting events; key sprinter Reine Momo graduated last year, and Gretschel and the Sinclair sisters specialize in distance running. The team hopes for one of the younger runners to emerge as a sprinter in the upcoming months. The guy's side is headed by juniors Nilan Schnure and Louis Varella and seniors Emanuel Waktola and Aaron Townsend. Schnure and Waktola are feared distance runners on the track, while Varella and Townsend control the sprinting events. The boys are looking to improve on their 18th place finish last year. The team's success has not been limited to the county level, as Schnure and the Sinclair sisters advanced to the state level tournament last season, which includes the top four runners from each event. As long as injuries do not strike up during the middle of the season, Blair can look forward to a largely successful season. Schnure has high hopes for both the girls' and boys' side at the end of the season. "Girls will probably be top five in the county, the boys will be at least top fifteen," he said.

Wrestling

Following a disappointing finish in the two-day County Championships last year, the wrestling team hopes to recuperate with a young core of wrestlers. The 16th place finish was made possible with the help of recently graduated wrestlers Jean Ulysse and Patrick Lao. Only half of the varsity squad is comprised of returning athletes; the others have stepped up from JV or have jumped straight to the team. As a result, the team lacks experience. But with plenty of practice, the wrestlers should be ready for a tough upcoming match against Springbrook this Wednesday. Captains Jake Weinfield and Mike Street, in the 130-lb and 160-lb weight classes respectively, look to lead the team both on and off the mats. As seniors, the two will be regarded as mentors for the underclassmen developing this season. Kekura Musa is already wrestling for varsity in the 112-lb class as a sophomore and will seek consistency in his matches. If the team can avoid injuries and overcome its inexperience through continual practice, Blair can compete for a top-15 finish in the County Championships at the end of the season.



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