preston softball

Preston’s Abie Keller runs home to score after she hit a single and then advanced three bases on Bear Lake throwing errors in a game last season.

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Editor’s note: This is the 10th of an 11-part series profiling various spring high school sports in Cache Valley and recognizing the seniors from those teams.

A lack of experience was not a potential pitfall for most of the Franklin County high school sports programs this spring.

First of all, Preston’s boys golf team had its most experienced and talented squad in recent memory, the Preston baseball and softball squads returned a combined 13 starters, and the West Side softball team had eight seniors, albeit several of them were pretty unseasoned.

Most of these aforementioned squads had high expectations for their 2020 campaigns. Unfortunately for these local athletes, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the season barely after it started.

Here is a breakdown of a handful of Franklin County programs:

PRESTON GOLF

This was supposed to be the best Preston boys golf team in at least 15 years. The Indians welcomed back their entire varsity lineup from the 2019 squad, which finished third out of 10 teams in their district and were two strokes out of the No. 7 position at the 4A State Championships.

“Having been to state last year and not having anyone graduate, we fully expected to return to the state tournament again this year,” Preston head coach Jon VanVleet said. “Last year we finished eighth and were (the 4A) academic all-state (team). This year I really thought we would have a chance to finish in the top five, and possibly top three.”

Preston was led by potential all-state performer Garrett Kelley, who was the bronze medalist at the district tournament as a junior and fired a 1-under-par 69 on Day 1 of the state tourney. Teammate Ethan Pearson placed 21st at state a year ago.

“Garrett Kelley has been our number one player since his freshman year and I expected him continue to play some good golf,” VanVleet said. “He has played some of his best golf this spring. ... He was undersized until the last two years and added height, and with it length, which has helped his game.”

In addition to Kelley and Pearson, VanVleet was expecting big contributions from Jackson Porter, who went from shooting in the upper 90s last year to the mid-70s in the offseason. Seniors Dixon Alder and Garrett Ward, a three-sport athlete, had made significant strides from their junior seasons, VanVleet asserted.

Preston’s four seniors on the boys side were Kelley, Ward, Alder and Eli Waddoups.

“I feel very bad for these seniors since this is the best team we have had at Preston in the 16 years I have been the golf pro,” VanVleet said. “We have had good individual players, but have never had four golfers capable of all shooting in the 80’s or lower. ... I am sure that every year a lot of teams say it, but this was going to be our year. It was definitely a big disappointment to me and them to find out we wouldn’t have a season, but these kids all have bright futures ahead of them, and this is just a small speed bump.”

Other competitors for the Preston boys were Ashton Bassett, Hunter Larsen, Tristan Cannon, Pearson, Porter, Owen Pearson, Gabe Hammons, Kadin Reese, Mosiah Steele and Seth Read. In addition to Kelley and Ethan Pearson, Ward, Porter and Alder competed at state last spring.

Kelley, a two-time state qualifier was Preston’s captain on the boys side, with Madison Hunn fulfilling those responsibilities for the Lady Indians.

The Preston girls were pretty young this season, with only two seniors in Hunn and Harli Hymas. The Indians finished eighth at the district tourney a year, but they appeared to have more depth this spring.

“The girls team only had two returning golfers and the rest of the team has very little experience,” VanVleet said. “We did have the biggest number of girls come out in the past 16 years, so I am looking to build on that momentum if we can get them to play some over the summer and get more experience. ... We will have a young team next year, but our future looks bright.”

VanVleet was anticipating a breakout season from Hunn. Other athletes for the Preston girls were Reese Swainston, Sydney Coburn, Maklee Hymas, Claire Austin, Marina Codesal, Emaline Steele, Chloe Kunz, Mallory Carter, Hallie Kunz and Hollie Wright.

Plans have not been finalized, but VanVleet is looking forward to honoring his seniors. The Preston boys and girls were able to play in one tournament this spring.

PRESTON BASEBALL

The Indians finished toward the bottom of the district standings a year ago, but they brought back seven starters, including a pair of seniors who have already signed with junior college programs. This was supposed to be a breakthrough season for Preston.

“It’s one of those things where it’s going to be really easy for everybody to say, ‘hey, this was our year,’ when they don’t really get a chance to prove it,” Preston head coach Kenny Inglet said. “But I can tell you as players and coaches and a lot of our parents, there were a lot of people who were really, really excited to watch Preston baseball this year. I mean, realistically I feel like we could have competed in our district and at the 4A level very strongly.”

Preston was led by seniors Dillon Haslem and Isaiah Finlayson, who were first-team Herald Journal All-Valley selections as juniors. Haslem ranked first among all Cache Valley players last season with his impressive .508 batting average, while Finlayson batted .462 and paced his team with 10 extra-base hits. Finlayson and Haslem, who are both captains and four-year varsity players, will compete at the JUCO level next spring.

Preston’s third senior is Craigun Johnson, who came on strong at the end of the ’19 campaign.

“When you have to sit these kids down and tell them they’re losing their senior season — which as a high school athlete is kind of your dream season — it’s heart-wrenching, especially when you’re dealing with kids and athletes of the caliber of especially those two (Haslam and Finlayson),” Inglet said. “It was heart-wrenching. And Dillon, I’ve coached him since super league and youth, and have just watched that kid grow and progress. And Isaiah, this would have been my third season with him, and it’s hard, man. It’s not fair.”

Juniors Justin Inglet and Tate Greene — “we had high expectations out of Justin this year and out of Tate,” coach Inglet said — were honorable mention all-valley honorees a year ago. Haslem, Finlayson, Johnson, Inglet and Greene were joined in the starting lineup by Braden Hess, Karson Chugg, Davon Inglet and Chayse Oxborrow.

Davon Inglet and Oxborrow are both freshmen “that are just phenomenal athletes ... and we were excited to see how well they did (this spring),” coach Inglet said. Oxborrow, a left-handed pitcher, is already throwing his fastball in the mid-80s, and Davon Inglet is very speedy around the basepaths.

“I think you’ll be hearing a lot of that kid’s name in the next three years,” Inglet said of Oxborrow.

In addition to the aforementioned players, coach Inglet was expecting juniors Anthony Viviano, Trevyn Hadley and Zeth Groll to make an impact at the varsity level.

PRESTON SOFTBALL

Like their baseball counterparts, the Indians didn’t get to play a single game this spring. And like the Preston baseball team, the school’s softball program also brought back several of its varsity mainstays from a year ago.

“My expectations and goals I had for this team were so high,” Preston head coach Larry Morrison said. “It’s a stacked state varsity team we have been building for the last couple years. Our goal was to go to state and we had the team to do it. Our team was so united and had a great start to the season with the team unity we had developed over the years.”

The Indians had six returning starters in Abie Keller, Keri Despain, Ashlynn Sparks, Megan Johnson, Vanessa Griffeth and Charlie Bair, and four of them — Keller, Griffeth, Johnson and Sparks — earned all-valley accolades a year ago. Sparks, a future junior college player, secured a spot on the all-valley first team as a utility player after batting .492 and chipping in with 10 doubles, 19 RBIs and 20 runs.

Keller, a three-year varsity pitcher, Sparks and Despain were Preston’s three seniors. Preston’s coaching staff recently put together a Senior Night for these three athletes, where they “made it into a game day scenario (and) honored them with gifts and awards,” Morrison said.

“It was the hardest thing I have probably had to do in all my years in coaching,” Morrison said of telling his players their season had been halted. “These seniors were such great leaders and their drive to make this team united was unbelievable. We had a goal in mind to go to state and it didn’t waiver at all. The practices were spot on and the feeling with those three as senior leaders was the best thing I had seen. So, to tell them that their season was over was heartbreaking and devastating to them, where they have put all of their heart and soul to the team since they were all 10 (years old).”

Rounding out Preston’s starting lineup this season were Shandee Parker, Emily Longhurst and Dru Despain.

Morrison was envisioning dynamic seasons from a wealth of his players. Keller, Johnson and Griffeth have been competing at the varsity level since they were sophomores. Morrison was confident he had a standout catcher in Keri Despain, who “was super behind the plate.”

“I would just like to thank this wonderful team for the heart that they showed at the start of the season, and am so proud of all of them for their hard work and team unity and the respect they all had for each other,” said Morrison, who went on to thank his coaching staff.”

WEST SIDE SOFTBALL

The Pirates certainly proved they could be explosive offensively as they plated seven runs in the fourth and fifth innings during their wild 26-16 road loss to Green Canyon on March 12. West Side only trailed by one heading into the bottom of the fifth.

“We were super excited for this softball season,” WS coaches Ryon and Lisa Wade said. “The eight seniors now were our freshmen of our first year of coaching. We all went through growing pains, moving forward and believing. All the girls were ready and hungry to get the job done on the field this year.”

West Side graduated one of its best players in recent memory in Mauri Wade, who signed to play volleyball and softball at Treasure Valley Community College. Nevertheless, the Pirates welcomed back some strong competitors.

The Pirates had six senior starters and eight total seniors — nine, including manager Peri Swainston. West Side’s other 12th-graders were Shayla Love, Makall Griffiths, Hanna Crozier, Kenlee Nance, Patryce Eldredge, Ashton Tripp, Bailey Henderson and Rudy Valles.

“These seniors will always have a special place in our hearts with their willingness to be coached and keep an open mind from Day 1 of their freshman year,” Wade said. “We had only two seniors that have ever even played before. The others were starting from square one. It was very devastating when the announcement came that the season was canceled immediately. There were many tears and hurt. Our hearts were broken knowing we couldn’t finish what we had started, especially with the seniors.”

West Side’s roster was rounded out by juniors Bailey Aston, Hailey Fitzgerald, Hanna Jensen, Kori Ballif and Sara Pederson, sophomore Brinley Tripp, and freshmen Sami Roberts and Laney Beckstead. Brinley Tripp and Roberts were both starting for the Pirates when play was halted.

“We have a great group of younger classmen more than ready to fill in big shoes, and we are super excited for the what is to come in the future of West Side softball,” Wade said.

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.

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