By Raven Williams and Cory Van Dyke
Nathan Eaton has been the spark plug for Thomas Dale’s baseball team all year long, whether he was on the mound as the staff’s ace or batting lead-off to get the offense started. On the bump, Eaton repeatedly baffled hitters with a dominant fastball and nasty breaking pitch in route to a 4-2 record with 56 strikeouts. Eaton might have had an even bigger impact at the dish for the Knights, lighting up pitchers all year long by belting six home runs and 20 RBIs with a .508 batting average. With these types of numbers, Eaton finished the season as the Conference 3 Player of the Year and the 6A South Co-Player of the Year. “Nathan is a lead by example type of player,” said Coach Chris Marshall. “Overall, he had a year and career that would rival anyone in Thomas Dale history.” Eaton will move on to the next level and continue his baseball career at VMI next year.
Jordan Starke was the standout player that Thomas Dale softball relied on all year long, carrying her team on the mound and with the bat. Starke had many stellar pitching outings throughout the year, including three shutouts with a 2.09 ERA and notably a two-hitter in the Conference 3 quarterfinals against Patrick Henry (Roanoke). She also made her presence known at the plate, hitting two dingers on the year and batting .435. As a result of her dominating performances throughout the year, the team captain earned First Team Conference 3 pitching honors. “I used Jordan as a litmus test for the team: if Jordan was good, the team was good,” said Coach Mike Zuk. “Every girl on the team looked up to her. They admired her skill and dedication and reflected her intensity on the field.” Next year, Starke will play for Guilford College to continue her softball career.
“She’s just a freshmen, but she has so much maturity – a leader for sure,” said Thomas Dale Girls Tennis head coach Ellen Womble. Emma Clark was named Girls Tennis Player of the Year after a stellar season. The freshman, who was ranked No. 6 at the beginning season, made a quick statement in her first matches and soon became ranked No. 4.
Clark and the Knights finished 8-6 in the regular season. Her doubles record was an outstanding 8-0, but it was not easy for her. Throughout the season, Emma had four different doubles partners. She got along well with them all and had so much chemistry that it did not affect the way she played. “She could be down a game or two and you would look back at her score and she’ll be up,” said Coach Womble.
Being only 14 years old, she definitely put a mark on her team. “ Everyone loved her because she is always up and always giving her time,” Coach Womble mentioned. “She encouraged the older, less experienced players and helped them improve their skills.
Although Thomas Dale lost in the first round of the conference tournament this year, they have 10 players returning to the team next season – including Emma.
Kevin Shaw made a statement coming out of his sophomore season at Matoaca. Shaw had a singles record of 15-1 and helped the Warriors claim a 12-4 season. “Kevin always got the job done. He wasn’t as aggressive as he could be, but he was very consistent and he brought a sure win each match,” said head coach Matt Ramirez.
Nicknamed “comeback kid” by his teammates, he certainly proved why. There were multiple times he came back from being down at least 6 games in a set to win. “He wasn’t the ‘hype man.’ He was quiet for the most part, but he always got the win. His wins gave the other guys confidence,” Coach Ramirez mentioned.
The ‘comeback kid’ will return next season for his junior year. “Shaw is a very polite kid. He is a good listener and a team player and I am excited for next year’s season,” said Coach Ramirez.
The name “Davis Topping’ is certainly one that has been heard before. The four-year starter lead the Matoaca Warriors to a 13-2 season and made it to the regional quarterfinals but lost 1-0 to Hermitage.
“He’s fantastic,” said head coach Jay Parker. “He wasn’t the biggest player on the team but he was definitely the toughest.” Topping was as unselfish as they get. The senior recorded 15 assists this season. Topping has a strong left foot, which is rare, but he notched 16 goals for the Warriors this season. One of Topping’s best performances was against L.C. Bird, who was third in the conference. The Warriors won 2-1 in overtime, both goals scored by Davis Topping. “He played a phenomenal game. He was the best defender and took the best shots,” stated Coach Parker. His hard work did not go unnoticed, as he was named Co-conference Player of the Year and also made first team all-region.
Davis is playing in the VHSL All-Star Game, which makes him the third player in Matoaca history to be honored. He is set to continue his soccer career next year at Christopher Newport University.
Katie Waring had an exceptional senior year. She was known for her leadership and her motivation toward her team. “She told us to always do our best during practices and games,” said teammate Dominique Grubbs.
Waring, a four-year starter, had her best performance against Matoaca. The Knights won 8-2, and Waring had four goals. Waring help lead the Knights to finish 13-4 overall. She received first team honors for Conference 3.
“She was definitely the best player on our team and she brought her high skill level to the team. She would always pump us up before big games,” stated Grubbs.
After a stunning career at Thomas Dale, Waring graduated with a 4.41 GPA and will continue her soccer career next year at Lynchburg College.
TRACK & FIELD
Jumps and Sprints
Devin Bethea is one of those athletes that every track and field program needs: a senior leader whom the team can look to for consistent performances. Thomas Dale depended on Bethea to compete in a plethora of events throughout the year including the triple jump, long jump, 100 meter dash, 4×100 meter relay, and 4×400 meter relay. Bethea’s signature moment came in the 6A South Regional Championships where he placed fifth in the triple jump with a leap of 45 feet 8 inches. With this jump, Bethea was able to wrap up his senior year by achieving a personal record he had been aiming for. “Devin is a quiet individual who was one of the hardest workers,” said Coach Jay Price. “He took the leadership role in jumps this year and knew my methodologies.” Bethea’s track and field career is only just beginning as he will join VCU’s program next year.
TRACK & FIELD
Jumps and Sprints
Every once and a while, a special athlete comes along and takes the area by storm: that athlete was Thomas Dale’s Titiana Marsh. Marsh ran the gauntlet, competing in the triple jump, long jump, 100 meter dash, 200 meter dash and 4×100 meter relay on the year. In the triple jump and long jump, Marsh became an outdoor state champion, and, during the indoor season, she remarkably shattered the freshman national indoor record for the triple jump at 41 feet two inches. Marsh did nothing but improve each and every day as a freshman. “She was a valuable puzzle piece and played a major part for our team,” said Coach Jay Price. “Titiana came in and fit right in with the program.” Although she has not been officially offered anything, prominent colleges have already inquired about her, but at the moment she hopes for an even better season next year at Thomas Dale.
Lacrosse is a sport in which a player must be tough-minded, intense, and dedicated to the game. Latzi Balint certainly embodied all of these characteristics, above and beyond the call of duty. Balint was the key contributor to Thomas Dale’s team all season long collecting 17 goals and nine assists. He was recognized for bringing Thomas Dale success in its first official season by earning First Team Conference 3 honors. The co-captain’s main area of expertise was in face-offs where, time and time again, he won possession for the Knights due to his grit and technique. “He really controlled the game for us in face-offs,” said Coach Paul Amos. “Latzi is very experienced, having played lacrosse for a long time, and he really brought maturity to our team.” Although he only got to play in one official season, Balint will have many more to come as he will play for Randolph College next year.
Unlike boy’s lacrosse, checking is not allowed in girl’s lacrosse, but that does not mean it is any less intense. Hayley Peaks undoubtedly exemplified all it takes to excel in lacrosse with her will to win. In its first official season, Thomas Dale had its growing pains, but Peaks was a definite bright spot, scoring 16 goals on the year. As a result of her outstanding year and hard work, Peaks received Second Team Conference 3 honors. Peaks often stepped up and made a name for herself by winning draw controls for the Knights. Referees and other coaches often raved over Peaks’ incredibly strong draw controls. “Hayley was a huge leader for us,” said Coach Logan Mason. “She had one of the biggest hearts in the game and loved the sport.” Next year, Peaks will be attending Old Dominion University where she will continue her love for lacrosse by playing on the club team.
Thank you to all the athletes who worked hard to perform at their highest level, coaches who dedicated their efforts to developing players and faculty who gave athletes the knowledge and wisdom to be successful.