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Reflections on a Championship Season

 

A Conversation with Assistant Baseball Coach, John Lewellen: Reflections on a Championship Season and the Uniqueness of the MSA Baseball program

Last year the Varsity Baseball team won the Division 2 VISAA State Championship beating Atlantic Shores in the final game and finished the season 27-5. I asked Coach John Lewellen some questions about the team, the baseball season, and the program.

Coach Lewellen said that “The goal of the past season, like all other seasons, was/is the development of MSA’s student-athletes. To strive to help them become the best player they can be in order that they can attain their goals of playing at the next level. In conjunction with this primary goal of development, we set our eyes on winning a state championship.”

Lewellen went on to say, “This past year’s team was perhaps the most talented team we have put on the field in the 6 years we have been at Miller. We had arguably five of the best players in the state (Will Wagner, Tanner Morris, Jackson Barrett, Ethan Murray, Adam Hackenberg), and those that played around them were just as talented. The coaching challenge lay in helping them manage their expectations, which is typical for elite athletes. At times, they would press in an effort to help elevate the team and not perform to their standards or capabilities. It was our job to help manage these expectations in critical moments, because when playing their normal game it was usually something very special.”

“A second challenge we faced was with our pitching staff; they were talented but young. They did not have as much experience as some of the former pitchers in our program (e.g. Mike Daily, Connor Gillespie, Jack Morris). We had to give these young guys room to grow and mature through the season, which at times meant allowing it to be ‘handed to them’.  Giving them room to fail, per se, became a means for their growth and development.  A number of those young pitchers grew this past season, which bodes well for this upcoming one.”

Miller School of Albemarle has a unique program, not only one that is successful, but one where the kids really learn their skills as athletes and team players. Coach Lewellen attributes that to the dedication of both Miller’s players and coaches, but also to the shear love of baseball that the young men that come to MSA have; that they really want to see just how good they can become at the game. “Just about every one of them would like to play at the next level and that desire drives their willingness to work and learn. In conjunction with their commitment, Coach Wagner and I are here every day, including the summer, doing everything we can to help them reach their goals. This commitment and regularity allows for the development of deep relationships of trust and communication to be established and maintained. Each player is unique, and we seek to coach individual players according to their needs and dispositions.  Building these relationships is a key ingredient to our success.”

It also helps that Coach Billy Wagner knows what he is talking about when it comes to baseball from his experience playing the game at the highest level professionally. Says Lewellen, “He knows what is truly important with respect to both the game and development within it.  He keeps the players focused and working on the things that matter.” John adds, “We have been doing this long enough that we have been able to develop a self-perpetuating culture. We have certain expectations and ways of going about our business that enables us to build a culture of success.”

One of the challenges for student athletes is balancing school and athletics, at Miller School of Albemarle emphasis is put on academics. Coach Wagner holds each player to high expectations both on and off the field. Those expectations include how they practice and prepare, as well as, how they play the game and relate to their teammates. “We expect them to take care of their business in the classroom and at home. We have high standards and encourage them to live up to those standards and responsibilities. I believe athletics has the potential to teach self-discipline and habits as well as build certain character traits that translate to the classroom and life. Furthermore, in and through athletics students experience teamwork and come to learn about personal responsibility within that team,”  says Lewellen.

This past season, several players stood out and came into their own, Coach Lewellen talked a bit about each of these young men:  “Jackson Barrett, a senior, was our centerfielder. Coach Wagner, has commented, ‘he is one of the best outfielders, I have ever seen’; that’s a very high compliment.  Not only does he have tremendous speed, but an uncanny ability to get a jump on a ball off the bat and track it down just about anywhere in the ballpark. Our pitchers had no worries when he was roaming the outfield. Jackson will be playing at University of South Carolina, Lancaster this upcoming season.”

“Will Wagner, a senior infielder, has been a varsity starter for 5 years at Miller.  Will and Jackson are two of those young men that have helped build and establish Miller Baseball.  Will has some of best hands I have ever seen on an infielder, and this past year he unleashed a display of power at the plate that pole-vaulted us to the conference and state championship. It’s hard to underestimate the legacy of commitment and hard work that he has left behind at Miller. Will’s progress and play this past season caught the eye of several pro scouts. He will be playing this year at Liberty University.”

“Tanner Morris has been our standout short stop for the past two years. Tanner was ranked as the number one prospect for the state of Virginia. There were very few practices or games that went by that there was not professional scouts watching and evaluating his play. He was a nemesis with his bat to opposing pitchers from the left side of the plate as well as on the base pads. He hit .512 with an on base percentage of .607. Tanner opted to forgo professional baseball for a few more years and will be playing at the University of Virginia this upcoming season.”

“Ethan Murray was a junior whose all around play from the field, to the mound, and at the plate earned him “Player of Year” honors. It’s difficult to say enough about this young man on and off the field! Thankfully he is returning this year. Ethan has verbally committed to play at Duke University.”

“Adam Hackenberg was a standout junior behind the plate this past season. He stifled our opponents running game. He was equally effective at the plate, where at times he displayed tremendous power. And again, thankfully like Ethan, he is returning to lead our team this year. Like Tanner this past season, he is garnering much attention from MLB teams and will be heavily scouted throughout his senior year. Adam has verbally committed to play at Clemson University.”

Other standout contributors were: Carrson Atkins, Jeremy Wagner, Stu Barrett, Colin Wagner, Jack Marshall and Matt Sykes.

On winning the Championship after so many years of working hard and coming close: “Winning the State Championship was sweet. What was just as meaningful was the number of alumni (Mike Daily, Rivers Spence, Jacob Gavin, Jack Morris, Bryce Whitehurst, Alex Chan, and others) that were just as excited for us. They were contributors to that win through the legacy they left behind. Not to understate it, winning the State Championship was awesome!”

Community involvement is an important part of every aspect of life at Miller, and baseball is no exception, Coach Lewellen concurs, “As cliché as it sounds, ‘it’s all about the kids’.  Our goal – administrators, teachers, staff, and coaches – is one and the same and that’s to educate thoughtful and self confident young women and men to exhibit strong character and communal responsibility. It takes a community of folks to do such a thing. We have enjoyed good support from the MSA community and hope that we have given that support in return. “

Thanks to Coach John Lewellen for taking the time to give his thoughts on this past baseball season, and all the best going into the next one. Go Mavs!

(Team photo NBC29)

 

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