HIGH SCHOOLS: BEST IN THE MIDLANDS

Wildcats are area’s triple threat

Lexington has Midlands’ top athletics program for third straight year

ainelson@thestate.comJuly 1, 2012 

For the third consecutive year, the Lexington Wildcats — with two state championships and three runner-up finishes — have the Midlands’ best athletics program.

“We’ve got great kids who are willing to work hard for us and I feel like we were able to hire some new, great people in crucial areas and that helps keep us strong with our coaching staff,” athletics director Scott Earley said.

New coaches, such as Brian Hucks in baseball and Matt Oberly in track and field, had successful first outings with the Wildcats. Hucks was named the Class 4A coach of the year by the South Carolina Baseball Coaches Association.

Although the Wildcats missed the statewide South Carolina High School League Director’s Cup by about 20 points, Lexington enjoyed broad success.

Led by Tony Morales and Colby Coulter, the Wildcats won titles in boys cross country and boys track and field.

Two-sport star Shaq Roland led the basketball squad to the state finals and the football team to the playoffs. Lauren Stephenson led the girls’ golf team to a second place in the state, and Jackson Myers helped secure a runner-up finish for the wrestling squad.

The Wildcats’ strong year began with the football team, which Earley coaches, being the state’s top-ranked team through the fall. Although their season ended in the first round of the playoffs, the football team earned one of the Wildcats’ 15 region championships for the year.

“Everybody did as well as they could have and maybe even over-achieved,” Earley said.

Earley is looking forward to another year of high achievement in the 2012-13 school year, which will be the Wildcats’ last before the school splits — with much of its student population going to the new River Bluff High.

But Jeff diBattisto, athletics director at Cardinal Newman — which finished fourth in points for the best program in the Midlands — knows that strength does not come just in numbers.

Cardinal Newman is a private school with an enrollment of 430, so diBattisto can attest to the success possible for small schools.

“I don’t know that we have as many athletic opportunities as other schools because of our size, but we definitely maximize what we have,” diBattisto said.

“We offer every sport we can possibly handle, and we want to be excel at those sports,” he said.

Cardinal Newman offers 15 sports, and the Cardinals won three championships — in wrestling, cheerleading and girls soccer — and reached the semifinals in four other sports.

The key ingredients to that well-rounded success, diBattisto said, are commitment and sacrifice.

“It’s a total credit to our coaches and student athletes,” he said. “It takes sacrifice and a lot of dedication, because a lot of our kids play three sports and have multiple titles. Our athletes give up a lot of their time. Our coaches don’t always have their athletes for the whole season.

“But because we have a family kind of atmosphere, everybody is pulling for everyone else and willing to make those sacrifices and work together,” diBattisto said.

The same phenomenon is apparent at Hammond, where the Skyhawks — enrollment 902 — rank second in the area with their overlapping rosters and cooperative coaching staff.

Large as Lexington is, the Wildcats have somewhat of the same atmosphere.

The track and field team’s championship would not have been possible if not for the added efforts of the Wildcats sprinters — several of whom were also members of the football team.

“There is lots of pride in being a Wildcat, and everybody that’s part of this program wants success, and success for everyone else in the program,” Earley said.

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