In a new twist on an old tradition, this year’s Winter Athletics Awards began with team captains paying tribute to their coaches. Extolling the patience, guidance, care and passion of those who guide them to and through sports at WRA and beyond, the students set the stage for a celebration of grit, grace, gratitude…and Gold Medals, the highest honor in Athletics at Western Reserve Academy.

Tara Bowen, Assistant Director of Athletics, shared, “It takes a village, and we have an amazing village.” Winter athletics at Reserve include the sports of girls and boys basketball; fencing; indoor track; swimming; diving; ice hockey; wrestling; and riflery. 

Coaches reiterated lessons they model every day for their athletes, sharing insights on emotional consistency, what it takes to be a good teammate, and fostering mental toughness and confidence. Director of Athletics and Boys Varsity Basketball Coach Pete Hutchins highlighted one of many examples of the school’s excellence in preparing athletes to attend top universities, recognizing team standout Damarius Owens ’24 for his role on the team and his recent commitment to Marquette. 

Varsity Hockey Coach Brand Closen received a hearty round of applause upon taking the podium to laud his team, recognized by his players and school as the leader of 29 years of Varsity hockey at Reserve, after what has been announced its final season and was a punctuating one at that, culminating with the program’s second Baron Cup victory in consecutive years. We will miss Coach Closen and his innumerable contributions to hockey, and to Reserve. 

“It was a joy to coach so many great players…never did I regret a season,” Closen said. “For me, there is more to the game than wins and losses. As Dr. Seuss says, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’”

Coach Hutchins awarded a basketball standout Trey Autrey ’23 with the Gold Medal, the highest honor in Reserve Athletics, saying, “This player is obsessed with being the best basketball player he can be. Trey, thank you for all you have done to put our basketball team on the map.” Autrey will attend and play basketball at George Washington University in the fall.

Wrestling Coach Dave Habat awarded two WRA wrestling stars Gold Medals, JT Chance and Sam Cartella. Chance will wrestle at George Mason. Cartella will wrestle at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Both students have set records at Reserve in a wrestling program that continues to mature and elicit national attention.

Longtime English faculty member Jeff Warner, Closen’s partner in the hockey program, ended the ceremony with a special tribute to his friend and colleague of 37 years. “He has always been a class act, and always put everyone ahead of himself and his needs.”

See the full list of award winners here. Congratulations to our hardworking and talented Pioneers!