From Grosse Ile, Michigan, Gold Medal winner Abby King has been playing soccer for as long as she can remember.
Varsity Football - Boys
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Varsity Season Record: 9-1
Captains: Michael Malen ’17, Justin Chung ’17
Athletic Awards: Most Valuable Player | Offense: Jayden Demmy ’17; Most Valuable Player | Defense: Dakota Gibbons ’17; Most Improved Player: Derrick Hampton Jr. ’17; William F. Starn Spirit Award: Andrew McCaffrey ’17
This was a season of pushing the limits and exceeding expectations. The 2016 football team won nine games, becoming the third team to reach this record in the 110 year history of the Western Reserve Academy football program. “This was an incredible season. Being only the third team to win nine games in the 110-year history at WRA says a lot about the team. The players were extremely hardworking and dedicated to be successful. We were a close-knit group and had a selfless attitude,” said Head Coach Jeff Hildebrand of the 2016 WRA football team.
But hard work doesn’t come without some sacrifice. The team had only eight practices before their first game, giving them a very short timeframe to get ready for the season and grow as a team. Adding on to that, they were playing with a small squad and a lot of expectations at the start of a new school year. “The difficulty of this can not be taken lightly as what we do is incredibly complex mentally, and the physical challenges are daunting,” said Hildebrand. “We are in a great school that prides itself on academic rigor and these players are heavily taxed throughout the season. We take pride in this fact, however, and embrace the intellectual brutality of football at Reserve. We are smart kids, playing a brutal game, and we love it.”
The 2016 team prided itself on putting others first and helping other members of the team succeed, ultimately making this stronger together as the season continued. “They willingly suffered throughout the season, both physically and mentally so that their teammates could have success,” added Hildebrand.
Every game this season was exciting, but it was the wins against two IPSL rivals, Linsly School and The Kiski School that pumped up the team. WRA took the win against Linsly School with a final score of 67-54 and had a nail-biting win against The Kiski School with a score of 43-42.
With nine wins in the season, there were other competitions that stood out as well. Beginning with week two, Cardinal Stritch High School gave WRA a run for their money. Down at the end of the first quarter, WRA exploded scoring 44 points, taking the team into halftime leading with 50-34. Cardinal Stritch High School eventually tied the game in the fourth quarter. It was with the help of senior Jayden Demmy ’17, who knocked a Cardinal Stritch pass out of the endzone, that the team was able to leave with a victory. It was a hard-fought game lasting nearly four hours long.
Many players shined this year, especially captains Michael Malen ’17 and Justin Chung ’17 who were the backbone of this team. “This is probably one of the toughest kids I have coached. He basically played hurt, in much pain for the past two seasons. He had 21 receptions for 530 yards. Nearly half of his catches went for a touchdown, which is evidence of his play-making abilities,” Hildebrand said of Malen.
Quarterback Owen Levine had 60 completions on 102 attempts and acquired 1,172 passing yards, in addition to 17 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions this fall. “He is easily the most accurate and instinctive quarterback I have coached in my many years of coaching the position,” said Hildebrand. Most Valuable Player Jayden Demmy also brought his incredible talent to the team this season. Making many key plays at linebacker, he rushed for 1,309 yards on only 106 carries, and also scored 20 touchdowns on the ground and one from a pass. “He easily has the best stiff arm I have seen in 25 years of coaching,” added Hildebrand.
Dakota Gibbons ’17, a four year varsity starter who has played in every football game the last four years, ran for 692 yards on 56 attempts for an incredible 12.3 yards per carry average at running back. “He is a great blocker who loves to hit. On defense he has been a tackling machine for four years. Dakota set the tone on defense with his physical tough play. He has great instincts and an uncanny way of getting to the ball carrier,” said Hildebrand.
The players won’t be taking much time off leading up to next season. These players will be building on their current strengths in the off-season through the other sports they play in the winter and spring. “Pressure situations they experience on the mat, at the foul line, on the ice, at the plate with two strikes, on the field against great competition, absolutely make us better individually and makes us better at handling fourth and goal situations. You can not get this valuable experience walking around the weight room or focusing on one sport all year,” said Hildebrand.
Hildebrand is looking forward to another successful year in the 2017. “For the past three seasons here at WRA, we have had excellent people in place that care deeply about the football program and its members. This includes everyone from our Head of School all the way to our team managers. When this cultural shift of caring gets momentum, when everyone involved cares about getting better, that's when great things happen.”
Varsity Season Record: 5-3
Captains: Colt Roe ’16 and Jorge Spagnuolo ’16
Athletic Awards: Most Improved Players: Anthony Cecchini ’17 and Isaiah Swoope ’16; William F. Starn Spirit Award: Sam Becker ’16 and Ryan Mock ’16; Most Valuable Player: Justus Harris ’16; Gold Medal Award: Colt Roe ’16
Adversity can strike a team at any time. Whether it is injuries or other setbacks that are at the root of the struggle and create tension. It is the resolution, the rising-from-the-ashes of a strengthened brotherhood that carries the team to victory. Head Coach Jeff Hildebrand acknowledged the challenges his team faced this past season and commemorated them on a successful season.
“We play for each other, not for ourselves,” Hildebrand stressed. “As a result, we were able to handle the more difficult times. I am proud of my team.”
Hildebrand attributes his team’s singular identity to captain and Gold Medal winner Colt Roe ‘16. “Colt received this award not just because of his stats, but because of his leadership and other attributes. He made you accountable for your actions and placed the team’s success before his own.”
In their final game of the season, the Pioneers defeated Upper Sandusky, a win that Hildebrand said epitomized the identity of his team. “We had every reason to ‘quit’ [the last game of the season],” said Hildebrand. “But we played inspired and were more determined than ever to compete for victory.”
Post-graduates Justus Harris ’16, Mario Marset-Ehrle ’16 and Wyatt McInturff ’16 had equal contributions towards the team’s success, according to Hildebrand: “These athletes provided an example of what on-the-field-work looks like.”
Several individuals inserted themselves into vital roles when others before them went down with injuries or missed time for various matters. Anthony Cecchini ’17, Justin Chung ’17, Dakota Gibbons ’17 and Michael Malen ’17 displayed strong character and mental toughness in these situations and were important contributors throughout the season.
Hildebrand also wanted to highlight Andrew McCaffrey ’17 and the inspiration he provided for his teammates. “Although he only played in a few games this season due to injury, he possessed a great attitude,” Hildebrand said. “Andrew acknowledged that there was going to be some pain in order to achieve his goals, but he never made an excuse and always smiled.”
In the off season, Hildebrand says his team will focus on preparing to handle in-season adversity and will look to a solid core of players who have been around a winning football program or “a legacy of success” as he calls it. Hildebrand credits his seniors Sam Becker ’16, Daniel Gomez Godoy ’16, Jae Hoon Lee ’16, Marcos Lopez ’16, Ryan Mock ’16, Roe, captain Jorge Spagnuolo ’16 and Isaiah Swoope ’16 for establishing this precedent.
“The team, next season, does not want to stop this legacy.”