Top 10 Campaigns of 2016-2017

No. 1 — Albemarle girls soccer


A perfect season speaks for itself. Going 23-0 with a state title to your name — that pretty much qualifies all the argument that the Patriots need to land in this spot. But for the sake of argument, let’s go one step further. As a Group 5A school, what makes any big playoff run from Albemarle impressive (and for that matter, Orange County as well) is the difficulty of playing up a classification from its regular season.


With the Albemarle girls soccer team, it was pretty clear early on that the Patriots weren’t going to be very battle tested going into the playoffs. That makes to jump from playing 3A and 4A teams to the 5A level even more of an interesting hurdle. Conference 16 was no match for this Albemarle team, and that was the case last year too. It wasn’t until the Region 5A North semifinals against J.E.B. Stuart that the Patriots had to sweat. They still won 1-0. In the Region 5A title game against Mountain View, they came from behind 2-0 to win in overtime 3-2. The state final four saw the Patriots explode past Maury 4-0. And lastly, in the Group 5A championship, Albemarle beat Mountain View in the final minute of play 1-0.


For all that to happen in the first place is impressive. But considering that the Patriots had to completely rewrite what they had planned coming into the season when key defender Anne Ridenhour went down with a knee injury, well, that’s more icing on the cake. Leading scorer Hannah Eiden shifted back to a more defensive role in response. Madison Kersey, who had a breakout year in 2016, became an even stronger back line watch dog. Aiyanah Tyler-Cooper was her usual rock-like self back in goal. Brooke Bauman was simply masterful as the team’s puppeteer, pulling the strings to make this offense go. Fizzy Gonzalez stepped up as the team’s big finisher. There were just so many players that took their game up a notch from Leticia Freitas to McKenna Winterton, and on and on.


So to wrap it up, a perfect season doesn’t happen by accident. The Patriots came by this championship honest. There were so many state championship teams for Scrimmage Play area teams in 2016-2017. But only one of them was flawless.


That ship: Albemarle gets last minute game winner to beat Mountain View for state title


No. 2 — Blue Ridge basketball


Thirty wins. Thirty of them. Blue Ridge’s boys basketball team adopted one of the most grueling and challenging basketball schedules we’ve ever seen locally. With Clemson signee Aamir Simms and point guard Josh Colon leading the way, the Barons mowed down opponent after opponent in major national tournaments. They tangled with prep basketball royalty like Huntington Prep and Oak Hill Academy and lost, but only to two those two heavyweights and archrival Virginia Episcopal (once and avenged twice more including in the state final four.


Most of the year, the Barons cruised, including a 73-36 win over Miller in the VISAA Division II state title game, Blue Ridge’s fourth win over the year over their rivals from Crozet including an overtime victory for the VIC championship.


The Barons made all the pieces fit together this season, with Simms, the versatile big man, providing the foundation.  Colon stepped into the spot vacated by Malik Johnson a season ago and was fantastic at the point, Darius McGhee emerged as one of the area’s most efficient and lethal scorers and Sardaar Calhoun came on board as a tremendous two-way player. Throw in Myles Jones, freshman Richard Amaefule, Jaden Frazier and a host of other players that contributed in big ways and it’s clear why Blue Ridge had such an incredible year in 2017 — they were deep, they were talented and they were focused. That’s why they ended with a championship.


Redemption: Blue Ridge gets second state title in three years


No. 3 — Madison County softball


For the better part of a decade, the Mountaineers have flirted with state title aspirations. Madison hasn’t had an off year despite the handful of rebuilds because every year there just seems to be this fountain of youth that fills the gaps left by the previous senior class. So while the Mountaineers expected to contend at a high level, with so many underclassmen in key roles, making it out of Conference 35, playing in a Region 2A East game would have been a solid season.


But if you’re one of the three seniors — Kara Price, Carrington Frazier or Katelyn Ryder — why not rally the young troops and win the whole thing? That’s what happened, and as such, Madison County softball was easily the single biggest overachiever this year.


The Mountaineers expected Logyn Estes to improve on an outstanding freshman campaign and she did so as the team’s number one arm and hitting third in the lineup. The real get for this team was a one-A arm in Emily Seal. The freshman did more than just help keep Estes arm fresh, she came on in some tight spots and worked out of more than a handful of jams.


With Frazier anchoring the defense at shortstop and providing plenty of team speed and Price being an extra base threat in any at bat, this lineup had a little bit of everything, but than anything else, lots of depth. Sophie Adams, Morgan Clark, Emillee Russell and Meadow Anderson all came up with big moments in May and June.


And while the Mountaineers had to battle to 12-inning victories over both Nottoway and Goochland en route to a Region 2A East championship, once they got to Radford they were able to win more comfortably with a 4-2 win over Lebanon in the Group 2A semifinals, and then cruise 4-0 over Richlands for the state title.


While this championship didn’t come out of nowhere, it probably came a year earlier than many in Madison might have expected. But that’s always a nice treat.


Hold on Tight: Madison softball wins sought-after state title


No. 4 — Western Albemarle girls soccer


One opposing coach said it early in the year — that it’d be crazy if Western Albemarle’s girls soccer didn’t win a state championship. But getting there, making that happen, is far from easy. Western brought a ton of key players back, led by eventual Group 3A state player of the year Jane Romness, who was just a junior, but is a tremendous piece to build a midfield around. They also had standout Shannon Moore and senior Nichole Heon along the back and Abby Zimmerman up front, as well as extremely experienced, versatile players like Elizabeth Fabiano and Emma Ratcliffe. Throw in Julia ad Katrine Berg, Savannah Wilson and newcomer Erin Meier and  it’s a pretty incredible collection of talent.


Making that all fit together and figuring out how to navigate that ship all the way to a state championship is no easy task. It takes some serious management and some serious focus from the roster. The Warriors’ young players met the challenge early, contributing in a big way out of the gate. The more experienced hands also got the job done with big goals and big plays at big times (see Fabiano’s crucial goal in the state title game) and helped the team stay on track during and after losses to Albemarle and Moore’s injury in the state final four. The Warriors were loaded and beat eventual Group 4A state champion Jefferson Forest as well as the other finalist Salem during the regular season, so odds are good that Western could’ve won that state title too, moving a full classification up.


2017 was an incredible run for the Warriors, the program’s first state title in 15 years, a No. 18 National Ranking and proof that even when you’ve got the talent, there’s work to be done and obstacles to overcome in order to become a champion.


Right Team, Right Moment: Western girls soccer capitalizes on second half run to win state title


No. 5 — Woodberry Forest football


It’s going to be a while, if ever, that we see an offense this explosive, this productive. Of course, that’s how things felt coming out of the 2015 season too when Woodberry quarterback Lindell Stone and his receiving corps simply torched each field they stepped foot on. That 2016 saw this team get even better in the process, well that’s something.


Woodberry completed its second year of a grueling schedule and came out on the other side as the top ranked team in the state at 9-1 this past fall. The Tigers won a season opening thriller on the road at Bishop McNamara, and after a narrow week two loss to North Carolina public powerhouse Pinecrest, 47-23, nothing else was close… which is amazing considering that in week two, the program found out that coach Clint Alexander was moving on after the season. The Tigers took the news and rallied behind their coach.


Over the next eight games the Tigers scored at least 34 points in each contest. In those eight straight wins to close the year, the closest margin was 13 points. They scored more than 40 points in all but two games on their schedule. And most importantly, the Tigers avenged their loss and tie to Episcopal with a coveted 34-21 win to give the Class of 2017 and Alexander a proper send off.


In the end, Woodberry threw for 3,411 yards and 38 touchdowns. The Tigers rans for another 1,276 yards and 23  more touchdowns. Stone obliterated all the career All-Scrimmage Play records for yards passing and touchdowns in the process.


2016 was an emotional roller coasted for Woodberry in a number of ways. But those last eight weeks were something spectacular to watch unfold.


Perfect Game: Woodberry wraps up Alexander era in style


No.  6 — Miller baseball


Coming into the season much was expected of a Miller baseball team that boasted a ton of playoff experience from its veteran leaders. With senior captains Jackson Barrett and Will Wagner, UVA commit Tanner Morris, Clemson commit Adam Hackenberg and Duke commit Ethan Murray, the Mavericks had all the pieces. But things started out with a hand full of losses.


Things changed quickly though. By the middle of April it was clear that Miller was going to be the team to beat come VISAA playoffs in May. With Murray taking a step forward and being basically untouchable after a great breakout season last year, the Mavericks had their ace. Stu Barrett emerged as a bonafide arm and allowed the program to piece together a solid weekly 1-2 punch. With Morris and Hackenberg presenting a particular problem hitting next to each other, the rest of Miller’s lineup did a great job of feeding of off that and piling the runs together, to the tune of 16 slaughter rules, including a pair of them in the state tournament.


In the postseason, the top seeded Mavericks dispatched Hargrave 11-0 before beating Highland 12-2 in the state semifinals. Facing an Atlantic Shores team that rocked the boat with wins over second seeded Greenbrier Christian and third seeded Covenant, the Mavericks got a late surge in the state championship to navigate their way to a 6-0 win.


For this group of seniors, it was a first state championship. The Mavericks were in the final four last year, and were state runner ups in the previous two seasons making this title win particularly sweet. And with a cluster of young talent returning next year, this might just be the first in a line of more to come.


The air up there: Mavericks go off in the fifth to win state title


No. 7 — Albemarle boys basketball


It was the end of an era. After three seasons, the Austin Katstra and Jake Hahn tandem got one more shot at a ride with the Albemarle boys basketball program. Coming off a year where the Patriots advanced to the Group 5A final four, it was going to be difficult to meet high expectations with the graduation of key players like Myles Adams-Yates, Kennedy Brown and Grant Kersey. The 2015-2016 edition was a special squad that made an incredible breakthrough.


But Katstra, Hahn and the rest of the Patriots went to work, with J’Quan Anderson, Cartier Key and Na’il Arnold all embracing expanded roles, giving Albemarle a slashing, attack-oriented guard capable of feeding the Patriots’ big men. Hahn adjusted in a big way expanding on his already versatile game to fill a ton of different roles for the Patriots.


With that newly minted supporting cast emerging and quickly finding a rhythm, the Patriots won the Jefferson District regular season title and then the program’s first JD tournament title since they moved into the district four years ago.


But Albemarle was all about the playoffs this year, knowing they had unfinished business to try and take care of after breaking through to the state semis the year before. They took care of business with a Conference 16 title, winning a hard-fought final over Patrick Henry-Roanoke, then they blew past Stonebridge to lock up a state quarterfinal berth. Refusing to rest there, they beat Wakefield to improve their seeding a grab a spot in the Region 5A North title game where they fell to Potomac, the squad that knocked them out of the state tournament when Katstra and Hahn were juniors.


That sent the Patriots to Hampton where they faced Varina and kept their season alive with a win. In the state final four, they ran into L.C. Bird and engaged in one of the finest basketball games anywhere in the state this year before falling 61-59 in double overtime. It was a brutal defeat, but getting back to that point with a new cast of characters made this season a special one for the Patriots.


No. 8 — Goochland football


By all counts, a 13-win season is one amazing ride. The last time the Bulldogs won a state title back in 2012, they went 12-2. Yes, losing to eventual Group 2A champion Appomattox in the final four hurt, but it should in no way diminish what this team accomplished in 2016.


For starters, Goochland became the first public Central Virginia football program to make the state final four since 2014 when Western Albemarle did so. But a perfect regular season that began with a 14-0 win over Essex and featured key wins eight blowouts sandwiched between a crucial 28-14 win over Central Lunenburg gave the Bulldogs their best start to a season since 2011 when they finished state runner up.


Goochland was as well rounded a team as you could ask for. Offensively it had it’s usual balanced attack with running backs Calvin Martin, Marcus Burton, Jasper Carter and Cordell Maddox. Quarterback Tanner Bradshaw proved to a goal line machine. And all of those had success because a fantastic offensive line led by senior Joshua Clarke among others.


And then there was this Bulldogs defense. With Maddox roming in the secondary, Ricky Mayfield cleaning up the middle of the field and Clay and Sam Brooks dominating the defensive line, Goochland featured a defensive unit that was balanced with age, talent and great football IQ that simply confused teams.


The Bulldogs pounded Washington and Lee to start the playoffs, then routed Strasburg. Against Clarke with a final four berth on the line, Goochland rallied and put together a fantastic post-Thanksgiving day performance to win a Region 2A East championship, 28-14.


While the season ended on a sour note with a loss at Appomattox, the totality of a 13-win season that saw so many blowouts showed that this team was truly deserving of a being one of the top four in Group 2A, and arguably, the best we had in Central Virginia.


No. 9 — Charlottesville boys soccer


It didn’t end the way Charlottesville’s boys soccer team wanted it to end. Instead, the Black Knights fell in devastating fashion to Kettle Run in a Group 4A state championship game marred by yellow cards, red cards and frustration on both sides.


But don’t let that frustrating finish obscure what the Black Knights did in 2017, because what led up to their lone losses in the Region 4A West final and the Group 4A final was nothing short of remarkable. Whether it was Abibi Osman or Evan Blow or Alex Pfister notching dramatic, game-changing goals or the Black Knights’ defense led by standouts like Yahya Mohammed, Kyle Lehner and Thomas Inigo coming up big in key game after key game, the Black Knights were a free-flowing joy to watch in 2017.


Charlottesville started its season with a blowout win over Monticello and knocked off defending Group 5A champion Albemarle shortly thereafter. That kicked into gear an unbeaten run that rolled right through the regular season and the Conference 23 tournament on into a region quarterfinal victory over Park View that avenged a elimination game loss in 2016 and a 1-0 victory over Harrisonburg that clinched a spot in the state final four.


Charlottesville lost a nailbiter to Kettle Run in the region final, but knew that if they could take care of business they’d get another shot at the Cougars. They did just that in the Group 4A semifinals, beating Chancellor 3-1 thanks in part to Osman’s move down the goal line that eventually landed at Pfister’s foot for one of the goals of the year, maybe of the decade in Central Virginia high school sports.


The Black Knights followed that performance with a hard fought defeat in the championship game, managing to shake off a frustrating red card to force overtime where they eventually fell to Kettle Run win the Cougars scored on a mad scramble after a rebound.


Sometimes great campaigns don’t have storybook endings. Sometimes you’ve got to look at the journey to see how special a season was and CHS boys soccer in 2017 certainly fits that bill.


No. 10 — Covenant Field Hockey


Covenant’s field hockey team had some high expectations coming into the fall. With a couple of top notch juniors in Maddy Fagan and Lizzy Shim and a lot of excellent pieces around them including senior Bunny Gaffney, new addition sophomore Ivy Allen and second year keeper Sheridan Santinga in net, the Eagles had the look and feel of a state title contender.


But when your program has never reached the top of the mountain, the climb can feel a little steeper. The Eagles’ athletic program has won a lot of state titles in a lot of sports but despite some excellent field hockey players and teams, they’d never won a state championship in the sport.


But you couldn’t tell that struggle when this group took the field. The latest edition entered the first rankings of the season at No. 2 in the state and rarely let up over the next month and a half, delivering first with a major win in the local sports world in overtime over St. Anne’s-Belfield to highlight a tremendous regular season and then in the state playoffs with a run to the title game. The Eagles, after earning the tournament’s top seed dispatched Nansemond Suffolk easily 8-0 in the state quarterfinals. They then advanced past No. 4 Carlisle in overtime after ending regulation tied 1-1.


That moved Covenant into the state championship game, and this time they left no doubt, with Shim, a UVa commit, blasting home two early goals to give the Eagles a comfortable lead that held up as the final. Shim, perhaps, summed up the Eagles’ season best:


“We put everything into this, we put our lunches into this trying to meet together to figure stuff out,” Shim said after the title game. “We put our bodies into this, training, conditioning and trying to eat right. Honestly that pays off and it shows that it does.”


Everything about their season shows that it does.


The Next 10

11. Monticello girls lacrosse

12. Orange County baseball

13. Miller boys basketball

14. St. Anne’s-Belfield boys lacrosse

15. Louisa County girls basketball

16. Charlottesville football

17. Covenant baseball

18. Louisa County football

19. Western Albemarle volleyball

20. Albemarle football


Honorable Mention

St. Anne’s-Belfield girls basketball

Blue Ridge football

Western Albemarle boys basketball

Miller girls basketball

Charlottesville boys basketball

Goochland softball

Albemarle softball