MELISSA – Friends, family and fans of Melissa High School sports gathered last week for two banquets to honor the athletes and coaches who worked to make this past year a success. A boys’ sports banquet was held on Tuesday, May 29, and the girls were celebrated on Thursday. Both events were hosted by the Melissa Booster Club and held at First Melissa Baptist church.
In years past, the Booster Club hosted one large springtime event for all sports. Now, to allow a more personal look at each program, a three-banquet approach is employed. The school’s first-ever football-only banquet was held in January at Melissa High School.
“I think it’s very positive,” Booster Club president Paul Anderson said of the new format. “It gives coaches more time to talk about each individual athlete.” The two recent banquets were moved to First Melissa when a scheduling conflict arose at MHS. “That’s the way we work together for the benefit of our kids,” Anderson said. “First Melissa was gracious enough to give us the space and I think it’s worked out very well.”
First Melissa pastor Trey Graham said the church welcomed such opportunities. “We as a church have hosted many school events over the years and we’re glad to do that. We have a lot of friends in the school district. And a lot of players and their families are members of our church family. So it’s always a privilege to be a part of this.”
After Anderson welcomed each night’s gathering, a prayer was offered by a Melissa student athlete - Cole McCraw on Tuesday, Anna Fortenberry on Thursday. That made way for a barbecue dinner with all the trimmings and peach cobbler, followed by brief remarks and award presentations by the coaches of their respective sports.
See below, some highlights from both evenings.
The 9-1 district-champion Lady Cards rolled to a 28-10 overall record and advanced to the area round of the playoffs. Head coach Frank DePaolo noted big wins by the team, including non-district victories over 5A Naaman Forest and Wylie East, as well as a thrilling rally from two sets down to beat Celina for the district title.
Sophomore hitter Caroline Kasson was named MVP. She led the team with 412 kills and no one had more blocks. Kasson was also second in service aces and digs. “But beyond all the stats,” DePaolo said, “she was a great teammate, a humble young lady and a very coachable athlete.”
Co-Offensive MVPs went to top setters Sophia Davis and Charley Lane. “This skill is never rewarded enough,” DePaolo said. “So tonight we honor that skill.” Davis led the Lady Cards in set-assists each of the last two years, with 609 last season. Lane posted 402 assists while collecting 100 kills.
Senior libero Brittany Melcher picked up Defensive MVP after tallying a team-high 414 digs, with 75 set assists. “She waited three long years to wear the libero jersey for the Lady Cardinals,” DePaolo said. “When she finally had the opportunity this season she did not disappoint.” Melcher also made Academic All-State.
3D awards - for Determination, Desire and Dedication - went to seniors Aubrey Grantham and Grace Whittington. “The truly great teams have players that hold it all together,” DePaolo said. “In tough times, they are the calming voice. On tough conditioning days, they are the motivators.”
DePaolo ended his presentation with a slick video surprise for the seniors, featuring their parents. It was produced by Melissa senior Nicole Kasson.
The Cards tied for second in district and topped Kaufman, 51-48, in the bi-district round of the playoffs. Head coach Eric Benton recalled how his team had played half its non-district slate before getting their football players who’d made a deep playoff run. “What was awesome about that was,” he said, “when we got them, winning bred winning. They showed up on Day 1 ready to build on the success that they’d had on the football field. Then we had a handful of guys that were straight-basketball guys and they did a fantastic job of welcoming those guys in. We meshed quickly.”
Sophomore guard Brendon Lewis was named team MVP. Benton noted that Lewis led the Cards in points, rebounds, assists and deflections in district play. “And he stepped up big in our bi-district championship game with a double-double - 12 points, 10 rebounds. He also throws a pretty decent deep ball, if you haven’t seen that.” (Lewis quarterbacks the football Cards.)
Senior forward Josh Wood, who led the team in rebounds and steals, was selected Defensive Player of the Year. “He was a constant steady force for us on the back line,” Benton said, “protecting the rim. And he’s a huge part of the reason we held teams to such a low field goal percentage.”
Offensive Player of the Year honors went to junior guard Junior Castleberry, who finished in the Top 2 or 3 of every offensive stat category Benton keeps. Castleberry also poured in a team-high 19 points in the Cards’ bi-district win, including five 3-pointers. “He’s an explosive playmaker for us and we’re excited to have him back for one more season,” Benton said.
Head coach Heather Lane led the Lady Cards to a second-straight undefeated district championship run in 2018, finishing with a trip to the regional quarterfinals and Melissa’s all-time best record of 32-4.
Team MVPs were senior guard Taylor Thomas and junior guard Sally Clemmons. A three-time MVP and this year’s District MVP, Thomas surpassed 1,000 career points this season, posted a team-high 56 3-pointers and a team-high 37-percent 3-point percentage. “I have no doubt you could have easily scored 2,000 points,” Lane told Thomas, “but you were so unselfish as you led us in assists for past three seasons.” Thomas also led the team in deflections this year and was the second-leading rebounder.
Clemmons led in scoring with 14.1 points per game and averaged a team-high three steals per game. She was also second in assists and third in rebounds. “You drove opponents crazy with your box-and-one [defensive] assignments,” Lane said. “You were one of the toughest, hard-nosed players I’ve ever seen play.” Clemmons and Thomas also garnered All-State honors from the Texas Girls Coaches Association.
Offensive MVP awards went to senior forward Taylor Carney and sophomore forward Ashley Gideon. Carney shot a team-high 82-percent from the free-throw line and was second in 3-pointers-made and 3-point percentage. She also co-led the team in blocks with 40. “You gave our team swag with your mere presence on the court,” Lane told Carney, a volleyball district champ and Academic All-State performer as well. Lane noted that Gideon “learned quickly to run the floor hard so you could be the recipient of transition passes for easy buckets.” Gideon led the team in field goal percentage, 54, and posted 40 blocks.
Senior guard Natalie Conlin and junior forward Charley Lane earned Defensive MVP honors. Lane called Conlin “tiny but mighty” in leading the team in charges-taken. As for Charley, Lane said, “It was really cool to watch you win district championships with your teams in both [volleyball and basketball].” Charley also made Academic All-State.
Senior Kayla Riles and junior Allie Graham won Pride Awards.
After a tough season with plenty of close losses, head coach Kelley Pitzer noted, “I’m pleased to say we grew a great deal this year. I knew it would be difficult because we only had a handful of upperclassmen. At one point I looked up and we had seven freshmen on the field, out of 11. The youth certainly stepped up.”
Pitzer recognized the seniors who were there when he and Coach Manuel Avila started Melissa’s soccer program four years ago: Dane Hansen, Josh Love, Ulyses Convento and Cristhyn Venancio. “It’s hard for me tonight because I get to watch them go.”
The team MVP was, once again, Love – a four-year starter and the district’s four-time Goalkeeper of the Year. “He came in as a freshman full of vigor and ability and training,” Pitzer said. “And with his sharp wit he learned to diffuse a lot of situations, specifically with me.”
Offensive Player of the Year went to senior midfielder Yoshiya Ando, the Cards’ foreign exchange player from Japan. “This young man was the heart and soul of our midfield,” Pitzer said. “He fought off injuries, played with a cast on his arm for half the season and still remained probably the most marked player in our district.”
Sophomore Yobani Paulin was selected Defensive Player of the Year. “I feel confident that he will be a force to be reckoned with as a defensive lineman for the rest of his career,” Pitzer said.
“We made it to the [playoff’s] regional round for a fourth-straight year,” head coach Manuel Avila said. “We won our fourth-straight district title and these seniors walk away having never lost a district match. To say they’ve been successful is an understatement.” In 104 games, these seniors lost 13 times.
MVP honors went to junior Brittany Morgan, the district’s three-time Goalkeeper of the Year. “She’s one of the best in the business,” Avila said, “and I know she’ll step up next year as a senior.” Offensive Player of the Year awards were presented to seniors Emma Schaeffer and Gillian Stopinski, two girls responsible for 60 percent of the Lady Cards’ offense. Senior Sarah Weideman was tabbed Defensive Player of the Year after leading what Avila called “arguably the best defense we’ve had in four years.” Backed by Weideman, the defense posted 10 shutouts - five-straight in district play - and allowed nine goals in 20 games.
In noting the Cards’ two state-qualifiers, 18 regional-qualifiers, 26 area-qualifiers and five school records set,” head coach Travis Roberson concluded, “We performed at a very high level in every aspect.” Melissa was district champion, area champion for a second-straight year and placed 13th at regionals out of 60 schools.
Roberson named three MVPs: freshman distance-runner Judson Greer, senior high-jumper/triple jumper Cole McCraw and junior sprinter Kennedy Lewis. The trio combined to score the most team points last season.
Greer earned two 4A state medals: silver in the 3,200 meters and bronze in the 1,600. He was also a district and area champion in both races - and regional champ in the 3,200 and runner-up in the 1,600. Greer set school records in the 800 and 1,600 meters as well. “He’s a very driven young man,” Roberson said, “and he might hate to lose more than I do.”
McCraw was a state-qualifying high jumper; a district, area and regional champ in the high jump; and a regional-qualifier in 4X400 relay and triple jump. He placed fifth at state in the high jump. “He’s a great young man, going to Texas A&M,” Roberson said. “And he’ll probably be president of the United States someday.”
Lewis - a district and area champ in the 4X100 relay, the 4X200 relay and 200 – was a bronze medalist in the 200 at regionals. “I feel like this young man is the heart and soul of my track team,” Roberson said. “When the injury bug hit he stepped up and gave us effort and leadership. He led by a great work ethic.”
“Every one of them gave me everything they had every day,” head coach Clay McCarter said.
Top Sprinter/MVP honors went to freshman state bronze-medalist Kaylee Lewis. Lewis claimed the medal in the 200 at state and she finished fourth there in the 100. The district and area champion in both of those races, she claimed silver in both at the regional meet. Lewis set new school records in the 100 and 200 this year, marks previously held by her sister Karrington Lewis.
Pole vaulter Marisa Brunson was named Field Event Athlete of Year. A district bronze medalist, Brunson was the area champion and a regional finalist, tying the school record along the way.
Distance Runner of the Year went Alison Kocsis. (See track)
Other highlights from the season included: the district- and area-champion 4X200 relay of team of Natalie Courtney, Sally Clemmons, Reagan Eichel and Lewis; Susan Blake making the regional shot put finals; pole vaulter Lily Rodgers earning district silver and a trip to regionals; and 100-meter hurdler Mia Ellis claiming district bronze to reach the area meet.
Head coach Eric Rodgers and the Lady Cards just completed a program-best 7-3, second-place district campaign. They also defeated Caddo Mills in the playoff’s first round, the team’s third bi-district title in four years.
For a second-straight season, team MVP honors went to junior pitcher Alexis Pevehouse. “This young lady did a tremendous job for us in the circle once again,” Rodgers said. Pevehouse threw nearly 150 innings while collecting 16 wins and 243 strikeouts. She also led the Lady Cards in hits and runs scored.
Offensive Player of the Year was awarded junior third baseman Audrey Solomon. “She terrorizes pitchers,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think she’s seen a good pitch in about three years.” Solomon was the team leader in batting average, on-base percentage, RBIs and home runs.
Junior outfielder Anna Fortenberry was named Defensive Player of the Year. “She runs down everything that’s hit out there,” Rodgers said. “And she has a canon for an arm.”
After a second-place district finish, head coach Jason Russell and the Cards advanced to the regional-quarterfinals in the playoffs, compiling an overall mark of 26-12. “We had a very special group of seniors,” Russell said. “Most of these guys I’ve had since my first year. I’ve seen them grow into young men. Thank ya’ll for everything you’ve done for this program.”
Senior Tate Whittington picked up the Cards’ MVP award for a third-straight season. A four-year starter as an outfielder, pitcher and first baseman, Whittington hit .440 last season with over 30 RBIs. He’s also led the team in hitting for three years and was District 11-4A’s 2018 Co-MVP. “He’s been the backbone for this program,” Russell said. “He does it the right way.”
Russell named two Defensive MVPs: senior pitchers/infielders Krisjon Segleski and Andrew Cole. Cole, a three-year starter, finished with a team-low 1.4 earned run average and pitched a 2-hit gem to beat Sanger in Game 1 of the area round. Segleski led the Cards in innings pitched and strikeouts - 81 - while posting a 1.8 ERA. He and Cole tied for most wins, with nine.
Offensive MVP honors went to sophomore infielder Tyler Womack, a Top 5 performer in every offensive category, including fewest strikeouts, second-most RBIs and second-most walks.
“We lost the district championship last year,” head coach Chris Tyner said. “Our goal this year was to take that back … and these guys were the 2018 district champions. We actually took six of the top 10 spots at district. That’s unheard of the last few years.”
Junior Matt Brown claimed second at district and junior Nathan Foster placed third. Besides those two, Walker Eanes, Chandler Barch, Xavier Bighaus and Connor Newberry were also regional-qualifiers.
On Day 2 at regionals, the Cards shot a team-low score to take fifth place. “The future of this program is great,” Tyner said. “We have a complete returning team this year: eight golfers, all returning. Our plan next year is take that fifth-place finish and make it a third- or a second-place finish and make our run to state for the first time.”
Tyner presented two awards: Newcomer of the Year to the freshman Bighaus and MVP to Foster. Both were Top 25-finishers at the regional tournament.
The Lady Cards logged Melissa’s 10th-straight district championship this year and had the district’s top player for a 10th-straight time as well. “That’s a legacy,” Coach Tyner said. “And we actually had six of the Top 10 places at district.”
At the regional tournament, the girls fired their season-low score on Day 1 for fourth place and a shot at state, but came up just short on Day 2.
Junior Leah Tyner was awarded MVP. The two-time district champ finished 7th overall at regionals and missed going to state by three strokes. She was made the All-Region team. Tyner’s Newcomer of the Year went to freshman Allie Norton, a Top 10-finisher at district with a 12th-place showing at regionals.
Freshman Sydney Norton was also a Top 25-finisher at regionals.
With no seniors this past season, Tyner said, “The promise for this team for next year is super-high. And we will be at the state tournament next year.”
Girls Cross Country
“In my 11 years of coaching,” head coach Clay McCarter said, “I couldn’t hand-pick a better group of athletes to work with. They’re all phenomenal students, they’re all phenomenal athletes.”
The Most Valuable Runner for a second-straight year was state-qualifier and Top 20 regional finisher Alison Kocsis. “She puts in a ton of time,” McCarter said. “She has a dedication to this sport, to track as well, that you don’t see very often – in any sport.”
This regional-qualifying team was the district runner-up, finishing two points out of first place. Its Top 10 district runners were Kocsis, Sarah Weideman and Madeline Graham, with Kocsis claiming a silver medal.
Boys Cross Country
Cards cross country won its sixth district title in a row and its second-straight regional championship. “We came into the year with one expectation,” head coach Luke Scribner said, “and that was to win the state championship. … We ended up placing fourth, which is still pretty good but it wasn’t our goal.”
Freshman Judson Greer, who took third at state, was named team MVP. “Most of you probably see him running more than you see me running,” Scribner said. “He’s the kind of person that never has a bad day. Even on his worst day, he rocks and rolls.”
Melissa team tennis reached the playoffs last fall with 0-4 district record, narrowly losing three matches, then knocked off Crandall in the bi-district round. In the spring, doubles partners Justin Mercer and John Lewis were district champions. At regionals, the pair handily won their first match before falling to Center in a 3-hour, 45-minute three-set marathon.
First-year Melissa head tennis coach Brad Crawford said, “I couldn’t be more proud to be their coach this year.” Crawford recalled being away on a long-planned, prepaid trip to Italy during his team’s playoff match and credited assistant coaches Eric Benton and Manuel Avila for helping claim that victory. “It was such an exciting thing,” Crawford said, “and these guys were a huge part of that.”
Doubles champs Mercer and Lewis were tabbed Co-MVPs.
The Lady Cards were part of that team-tennis bi-district playoff win last fall. The girls finished third in district play in the spring. “Even though we didn’t qualify anyone for regionals this year,” Coach Crawford said, “that is on the horizon for all those girls that aren’t graduating.”
MVP awards went to district third-place medal-winners Aubrey Grantham and Lilly Hubbard. “They were our two seniors,” Crawford said, “and we’re going to miss them a lot.”
“Wrestling is a little different,” first-year wrestling head coach Kyle Dezern said. “They don’t get to compete with a lot of 4A teams - they generally just get a lot of 5A and 6A teams. They worked their tails off and did a great job this year.”
With four meets this season, Melissa qualified two wrestlers for regionals: Tanner Sandoval and Spencer McGreer. McGreer claimed Wrestler of the Year honors as Dezern recalled him facing a 14-2 opponent at regionals. “He was down in points and had to pin him [to win] and did so with 10 seconds left.”
Head coach Rick Gagarin awarded team MVP honors to state-qualifier Hastings Frederick, who claimed the team’s most medals and is ranked 14th in the state. “Hastings has only lost to state-ranked [wrestlers] or state-qualifiers this entire season,” Gagarin said.
Team captain Lilly Rodgers was the District 9-5A district champion and a regional-qualifier for a second-straight year. “Lilly has had back-to-back 20-plus winning seasons,” Gagarin said. “She was also ranked in the Top 20 in the state for part of the season.”
Viktorya Dietrich and Queen Humphrey were also regional-qualifiers.
Head coach Jacob Alford noted the “self-discipline and old-fashioned hard work” required of powerlifters. “These kids spent countless hours in the weight room and they really understand that concept. You get out what you put in it.”
The Cards qualified four for regionals, including Ja’Bray Young, Perry Simpson, Omar Villegas and Brian Blackwell, with Young and Simpson placing fourth in their weight class. Young also set a new school record with a 575-pound squat at regionals. For that effort and more, he was named team MVP. “The best thing about this kid is his character,” Alford said.
The Lady Cards had three regional-qualifiers: Natalia Cox, Natalie Courtney and Jaclyn Rodgers, though Rodgers was unable to compete due to injury. “Natalia and Natalie competed well at regionals,” Coach Alford said. “They both achieved personal-bests in multiple lifts. It was a great way for these two seniors to end their powerlifting careers.”
The MVP went to “extreme competitor” Cox.