November 2015 Comeback Player of the Month
Sienna Kellum, Western Albemarle volleyball
Sienna Kellum’s senior year of volleyball got interrupted first by an Achilles’ injury and then by an ankle sprain in a September tournament.
For most of the year, the Warriors’ capable senior hitter, a player they planned to rely on heavily in 2015, was essentially on the shelf.
That changed in the postseason when Kellum made her way back into the lineup more than a month after the injury. In just her second game back, she unleashed 15 kills against Turner Ashby in the Conference 29 championship game.
“Honestly I wouldn’t be back without my team,” Kellum said. “They picked up the slack and they got us (to the Conference final).”
It was a stunning performance for a player that still wasn’t 100 percent at the time. Instead, the Warriors made sure she didn’t play on the back line, avoiding one of the key pitfalls of playing volleyball with a healed ankle.
“The up and down is not so bad, but what is really bad is the side-to-side on the back row,” said Western coach Ron Pack. “It’s more than we expected, I did not expect to get that many kills from her.”
That impressive, gutty performance came not from within according to Kellum. Instead it came from her supportive teammates.
“My team inspires me, they make me push myself,” Kellum said.
That’s certainly one major ingredient to an impressive comeback.
October 2015 Comeback Player of the Month
Caroline Marquis, Orange County Cross Country
Orange County’s Caroline Marquis burst on to the scene as a freshman in girls cross country in 2013, finishing 10th in Region 5A North and 25th in Group 5A that year. She was the third fastest freshman in Group 5A.
She was rolling.
But the Hornets’ young star, ran into a tough injury for a runner. A problem in her foot.
Marquis had fractures in her seismoid bones in her foot in the spring and summer of her sophomore year.
“(She) has had a long, slow road to recovery,” said Orange coach Matt Gilliam before the season via email.
But that hard work and patience paid off this fall as Marquis put together a strong effort, starting with a fourth-place individual finish at the Ragged Mountain Cup. From there, things got rolling again as Marquis won the Madison Quad cross country meet in early September, then finished second at Stonewall Jackson’s meet late in the month. Early in October, she won at the Big Cat Cross Country Meet in the B race with a time of 19:33.30. A little more than a week later, it was a fifth place overall in the Jefferson District championships at Pleasant Grove.
Clearly, Marquis was ready for the postseason as she had rounded back into form pretty quickly. She easily qualified for the Region 5A North meet with a runner-up finish in Conference 16. At the region championships she had to battle but managed a 14th place finish that was strong enough to qualify for the Group 5A state championships in Great Meadows.
That’s an impressive return to action for Marquis, solid work in a comeback effort.
September 2015 Comeback Player of the Month
Patrick Blake, St. Anne’s-Belfield Football
If a comeback takes more than a year, that’s an incredibly significant amount of time. That’s a long road.
When it takes three years? That’s just unreal.
Patrick Blake, three years after doctors ruled him out of playing football for the most part due to a series of concussions, returned to the field for St. Anne’s-Belfield’s football team, a squad he’s grown up with as his father is the school’s long-time head coach.
“Three years ago, we’d have never thought this was possible,” Patrick’s father and STAB head coach John Blake said after Patrick played at quarterback against Hargrave.
Patrick had served as the squad’s placekicker for years, but always wanted a chance to play a more involved position. That became possible when he was cleared in August after finally deciding he needed to give it a shot.
“The first week of the season he said ‘I’m calling (his doctor)’,” John Blake said. “He felt strongly about it.”
He didn’t just play against Hargrave either, he threw for four touchdowns, completing six of 10 pass attempts in a 43-14 win.
It was an incredible start to the season for Blake and the Saints, and while some lineup changes have eventually resulted in Patrick moving out to wide receiver as teammate Jalen Harrison has emerged as a dual threat weapon, he’s getting a chance to contribute in a huge way to a program that’s been pretty special for him and his family.
August 2015 Comeback Player of the Month
Lindell Stone, Woodberry Forest football
When Lindell Stone broke his collarbone in Woodberry Forest’s fourth game during the 2014 season, it cut short what should have been the highly-regarded quarterback’s first full season as the starter for the Tigers.
While Woodberry still managed a 7-1 record, without Stone, a Texan signal-caller with nine Division I offers including West Virginia, UCLA and UVa, the Tigers weren’t nearly as dynamic offensively. Still, Stone stayed plugged in, which only increased his anticipation for this season.
“I’ve really been waiting all summer to get back here,” Stone said. “Last year I knew the offense inside and out so I was helping the receivers and running backs and the line. Even though I was hurt, it was still exciting and I was able to contribute.”
Stone rehabbed and was ready for the International Bowl, a January event pitting United States All-Star teams at the U-17, U-18 and U-19 levels against squads from Canada. Stone wasn’t just good playing on the huge stage of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, home of the Dallas Cowboys, he was terrific. Stone won MVP honors while leading the U.S. squad to a 24-10 victory. He went 17-of-22 for 236 yards and a score and ran for another touchdown for good measure, showing no ill effects from the collarbone injury suffered in the fall.
“For him to get injured like that and then to take two seconds to become our waterboy and then the next thing was he said he wanted to coach so then he’s in coaches meetings and he’s on the phones during games,” said Woodberry coach Clint Alexander. “He’s a special guy. He’d literally been cleared two weeks before that game (the Team USA clash) and really hadn’t played that much and he did a great job there. He came in ready to go.”
Now Stone has his sights set on making some similar magic happen for the Tigers this fall. He’s got some serious weapons back as well as a strong line that includes a top-flight recruit in Clark Yarbrough. The Tigers’ offense is looking to get going quickly as the Woodberry.
“We’ve got a lot of talent coming back,” Stone said. “That’s really what I’m excited about. I think we’ve got the talent to win every game we play.”
Clearly Stone’s comeback is well underway.
June 2015 Comeback Player of the Month
Hunter Deforge, Fluvanna County Boys Soccer
Fluvanna County’s boys soccer team has some key pieces of the puzzle that they can’t do without. Carter Allbaugh is one of them, a tremendous midfielder who makes the Flucos go. Jameel Wilson became one of those this year too as the speedy forward emerged as a big-time scoring threat.
Hunter Deforge is also a major piece of the puzzle, and a torn ACL in his junior year gave the Flucos incontrovertible proof that they need him in the lineup.
“(In 2014) We went 3-14 (and) this season, with his contributions, we were able to finish 11-4-1,” said Fluvanna coach Earl Gibson.
That finish put Fluvanna in position to challenge for a regional berth, and while the Flucos fell short in the Conference 23 semifinals, it was clear what an impact Deforge had.
The senior midfielder who runs the midfield for the Flucos and distributes well in that spot finished with four goals and three assists on the season. He served as a senior captain for the Flucos as well, providing leadership throughout the campaign.
The long hours or rehab and hard work to get himself back on the field proved worth it for Deforge, as he left the Fluvanna program better than he found it with a stirring example of resiliency.
May 2015 Comeback Player of the Month
Jack Morris, Miller Baseball
Jack Morris knew there was something wrong with his elbow at the end of the 2013 season. Then the ace of the pitching staff at William Monroe, Morris went and got his elbow looked at after the Dragons qualified for the Group A Division 2 tournament for the second straight time and just one year removed from a state title. The diagnosis on Morris’ throwing arm was as bad as it gets for any pitcher. With a torn ulnar collateral ligament it meant that it was going to be well over a year before he could pitch again.
While the injury forced Morris to make some major decisions, it did not side line him for long. For starters though, Morris transferred to the Miller School and reclassified as a junior, giving him a year to rehabilitate his injury and give him a shot to pitch as a senior and to help further aid his pursuit to play baseball in college at the Division 1 level. After a successful Tommy John surgery and beginning the rehab process, Morris was able to pick up a bat. That paired with the fact he could play in the outfield help to make sure that the 2014 season wasn’t a wash. But as far as pitching was concerned, Morris would have to wait until the following season.
“The length of the rehab is very tough,” Morris said. “It can be depressing at times but you just try and stay positive through it.”
This past November Morris was cleared to start pitching. He worked with his coach, former Major League All-Star Billy Wagner who also had Tommy John surgery, and started the long climb back to getting his velocity and arm strength back to it’s former self. It wasn’t so easy.
“He had a dead arm in the fall and I told him that’s okay,” Wagner said. “I told him to focus on his hitting, to have fun with that. Then we got to the spring and he started to feel better. After that I said okay, now take 10 days off and don’t even pick up a ball. He started feeling even better the next time. Mentally it’s so tough. He wanted instant success, everyone does. What you have to remind players after a bad day is that it’s okay because what matters is that you have a new elbow, it’ll all come together eventually.”
That it did. Come spring, Morris was ready to join an already loaded pitching staff at Miller that included Mike Dailey, Connor Gillispie and Jacob Rich to name just a few arms. In all he pitched 23.2 innings and amassed an ERA of 1.62. Morris struck out 32 batters and gave up just 11 hits. That along with his hitting helped lead the Mavericks to a second straight showing in the VISAA Division 2 championship.
“Last year being an outfielder I enjoyed just being on the field but I missed the pitching so much,” Morris said. “This year I’m just grateful to be back healthy and now 100 percent.”
Morris is headed to play in college at Virginia Tech. It’s been a long road of recovery since the end of his 2013 spring season, but ever determined to finish high school strong, Morris went through the vigorous rehab, pushed through the wall to get his form back and then put together a brilliant senior season.
April 2015 Comeback Player of the Month
Carmen Thomas, Albemarle girls soccer
Carmen Thomas’s game is built on her explosiveness. The Albemarle girls soccer squad’s star forward changes what defenses have to do against the Patriots because she makes them account for her on every single possession.
If they don’t? She’ll make them pay.
A year ago though, the Patriots didn’t have Thomas in the fold as a torn ACL sidelined the standout.
“We missed her speed wise last year but her heart was still in it and her head was still in it with us,” said Albemarle coach Amy Sherrill. “Now we get to add her speed and technical skill on the field.”
Thomas, who signed to play for James Madison’s girls soccer team this fall, returned with a vengeance after sitting out her junior season, and she poured in 14 goals while dishing out 10 assists in Jefferson District play. Thomas’ impact, however has stretched well beyond her ability to put the ball in the back of the net.
“She’s incredible,” Sherrill said. “She’s so fast and technical with her skill work but also she’s just a good person and a good kid. She’s super competitive but she can have fun while doing it. “
Thomas did things well, overcoming her 2014 injury to make a seismic impact on an Albemarle squad that was unbeaten in Jefferson District play and wrapped up the district title for the second straight year.
March 2015 Comeback Player of the Month
Josh Meeks, Western Albemarle football
Josh Meeks was just getting prepared for the 2015 football season when he fractured his elbow during spring practice.
The injury put him on the shelf for four months as he missed a ton of valuable preparation time going into what appeared set to be a big senior season for the Warriors’ captain who was slated to be a big part of the puzzle at linebacker.
All the while, with just one arm available, Casteen put in time conditioning, staying in shape to be ready for fall camp. A short time into fall camp, Casteen went back to the doctor who found that he had a bacterial infection in his arm, prompting doctors to place an IV in his arm with a pouch he had to carry everywhere. All the while, he was again, maintaining his conditioning, hoping not to miss out on a chance to return later in the season and contribute.
“Preparation became a big part of who we were as a team,” said Western assistant Michael Redmond. “We really rallied around Josh and his hard work throughout the week. He knew his time would come. When it did, he took advantage of it.”
Meeks missed seven weeks of football but only six games, and when he came back he was ready.
“We talk about ‘The Edge’ a lot in our program,” Redmond said. “Josh saw it, and was able to fight his way back.”
Meeks made a big impact on Western’s incredible finish to the year and the school’s deepest postseason run in decades as the Warriors went all the way to the state semifinals. Meeks contributed in a variety of ways at linebacker, including a five tackle performance that included a sack in the win over Waynesboro that clinched that state semifinal berth for the Warriors. Against Lord Botetourt in the playoffs he even got a chance to tote the ball a little with five fourth quarter carries for 36 yards that helped Western close the door on the Cavaliers.
Meeks made a pair of comebacks this year, and the reward was pretty sweet for the Western senior.
February 2015 Comeback Player of the Month
Jacob Buck, Tandem Friends Boys Basketball
It’s far from an overwhelming stat line at first glance. One game, five points, two rebounds, 2-for-5 from the field. But for Jacob Buck that line, and Tandem Friends’ boys basketball’s 55-23 win over St. Michael’s was a tremendous triumph.
“(He) never faltered in his commitment to the team,” said Tandem athletic director Jackie Rose. “Within weeks of this pretty serious injury, he was back in the TFS gym watching his team.”
Buck, a senior, was playing for the Quakers in Tandem’s second game of the season at a tournament at Eastern Mennonite High in early December. While diving for a loose ball, another player’s knee hit Buck’s back. He heard a pop and fell down.
Buck was diagnosed with a fracture of the transverse processes at the L1 and L2 vertebrae. The injury required him to sit in a special chair and take a lot of pain medication to get in the gym and watch his teammates compete.
“(He) could barely walk and he made it to the games to support his team,” Rose said. “In the last month or so he has been more healthy and has been taking stats and participating in non-contact portions of practice.
According to Rose, the injury should not have any lasting damage, which opened the door for that performance against St. Michael’s on senior night.
Buck contributed to the win with those five points and capped his career for the Quakers on a high note after a frustrating start to his final year and a protracted healing process.
There’s a lot of talk in the basketball world in particular about toughness lately. Clearly, Buck is tough. He’s also committed. And he’s clearly capable of an incredible comeback. That’ll serve him well well beyond the court.
January 2015 Comeback Player of the Month
Kendra Hairston, Albemarle Girls Basketball
Kendra Hairston was a big part of the Albemarle girls basketball team’s run to the Region 5A North quarterfinals in 2014, teaming with K.K. Barbour, Alexus Anderson and Samira Hussaini to form the Patriots’ core as just a junior.
Then this summer, while playing AAU basketball, the Patriots’ guard and team captain suffered an ACL tear and it seemed to spell the end of her high school career.
“We thought her basketball career with us would be over due to the timing of her surgery,” said Albemarle coach Rachel Proudfoot.
Hairston, however, refused to let that be the end of the line. The senior endured 3.5 months of physical therapy before finally deciding in October to wear a brace, play and have the surgery later. She’s managed playing through the pain awfully well as she’s the Patriots’ second leading scorer and rebounder while leading the team in assists and steals per game. She even set a new career high in scoring with 20 points in late January against Powhatan.
“She is one of the most important players on our team this year,” Proudfoot said. “Not due to her ability to score, but her intensity on defense, leadership on and off the court and the extreme effort she gives for the good of the team.”
That off the court portion is a key part of the equation for Hairston. She sports a 4.66 GPA and is in the running for a number of academic scholarships, winning the team’s All-Academic award for three years in a row.
That foundation of hard work and an ability to attack the task at hand was certainly a factor in making Hairston’s comeback happen, and it’ll surely pay off when that surgery comes around. For now though? Hairston and the Patriots have some unfinished business left to deal with.
“She has been in pain this year, but still performs in practice, attends physical therapy for her knee and has made the most of (her) playing time to help her team have a chance for victory,” Proudfoot said.
December 2014 Comeback Player of the Month
Kyree Koonce, Monticello Football
Kyree Koonce’s junior season at Monticello ended abruptly after an explosive start when he suffered a broken fibula against Charlottesville High School.
As a running back, that’s a difficult injury to recover from, and when you’re a speed merchant like Koonce, getting healthy is just the first step. Getting his confidence back and returning to his old form in 2014, that was clearly going to take some time.
Still, Koonce started the season on a roll, rushing for 105 yards against George Wythe on just three touches, scoring on all three carries. A foot issue briefly limited him and when that healed up, Koonce slowly took on a larger and larger work load for the Mustangs who eventually sewed up a playoff spot. Right around that time the Mustangs unleashed Koonce in a much bigger way.
He finished the year on a tear, rushing for 229 yards in the regular season finale against a stout Louisa squad, then a whopping 350 yards and four touchdowns against Tunstall and 158 yards in the playoff loss against eventual state champion Magna Vista.
Koonce ended the year with 1,683 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground, averaging a whopping 9.78 yards per carry.
Not bad for a comeback.