Franklin High School Panther Spring Sports well underway

Franklin High School photo by Vickie Carpenter

Dan Finnerty – Sports Writer

While February looked and felt like spring, March has been mostly cold and rainy – yet athletes participating in spring sports still have to get out of doors and give it their all.

The Franklin High School (FHS) golf team now has five matches under its belt after finishing second out of three teams at Mountain Harbor March 16. The Panthers (358) came in ahead of Smoky Mountain (377) and behind Pisgah, who shot a group low 337. Team scores are tabulated by taking the golfers with the four lowest scores and then adding them together. Max McClure led FHS with an 83, followed closely by Tanner Jones who shot an 86.

The Panthers began their spring 2023 season with two wins, both against Smoky Mountain, before settling for third place at Springdale Country Club in Canton as part of a four-school match that included Pisgah, Smoky Mountain, and Enka. On March 9, they played another match, this time at Laurel Ridge Country Club (against Pisgah, Smoky Mountain, Tuscola, and East Henderson), before heading back to Springdale in Canton. On March 13, FHS, Tuscola, Pisgah, and Smoky Mountain battled once again – this time the elements as much as each other. The day was as cold as the winter had been warm, complete with snow flurries and windy conditions.

“For the most part, the kids did pretty well,” expressed Head Coach Ryan Raby. “It was brutally cold, but they persevered and turned in some respectable scores for the conditions. Springdale is not an easy course to walk and mixing those conditions in made it really tough.” 

The top three spots finished with scores of 83, 84, and 85. As a team, FHS finished third, behind Pisgah and Tuscola, just one shot out of second. Pisgah was first with a team score of 316, Tuscola came in at 349, the Panthers were third at 350, and Smoky was fourth with a 367.

“We are still a relatively young team with a freshman, a sophomore, two juniors, and a senior, but we are gaining some valuable experience. Like I told them, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Raby pointed out.

 The first three matches of the season were only nine holes each but beginning with the Springdale round March 14, with daylight saving time in effect, matches will be a full 18 holes for the remainder of the season.

Men’s Tennis plays through inclement weather

The Panthers men’s tennis team is now 4-1, with all the wins in conference, against Tuscola, North Henderson, and Pisgah; the Panthers lone loss happened at Rabun County High School. Head Coach Sammy Gunter headed into the regular season with seven returning sophomores – Jack Sgro, Mica Jacobs, Gavin Rinker, Orrin Mynes, Eli Adams, Will Sinclair, and Jack Hyatt. A total of nine players is on the roster; one additional player is also a sophomore (Brennan Cable) and the other a freshman (Connor Baldwin). Every returning player either started or had

significant playing time last season. 

“Sgro was co-player of the year in the Mountain Seven conference and was half of the #1 doubles team in our conference tournament, along with senior Caleb Pevia,” said Gunter. “Our goal is to finish as one of the top teams in our conference, which avoiding unforeseen injuries or slip ups, is a good possibility.”


On March 20, the Panthers won 6-3 over the Smoky Mountain Mustangs. In individual play, while the #1 FHS player Sgro suffered a loss, #2 Jacobs, #3 Rinker, and #4 Rynes all won. Number 5 Sinclair lost, but #6 (freshman) Baldwin won. In doubles, #1 Sgro/Jacobs experienced a loss, but #2 Mynes/Sinclair defeated their Mustang counterparts, as did #3 Rinker/Adams.

“This was a close match against an improved Smoky Mountain team,” said Gunter. “Gavin (Rinker) and Orrin (Mynes) dominated their opponents, mixing up their shots … the tightest match was when Jacobs got blown out in the first set but changed tactics to win the second. The tiebreak was back and forth until 8-8, where he pulled off a huge service winner and pressured the Smoky Mountain player into an error for the victory. We spent our last practice on tiebreakers, which paid dividends for us today. I was glad to see our guys prevail but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Earlier in the month, at Pisgah on March 13, the conditions were less than ideal for most any outdoor activity. As the coach relayed it, “On a ridiculously cold and windy day, our guys dominated as we were able to sweep in singles.” Due to just four courts being available, coaches lowered the game scoring for both singles and doubles. FHS won 7-2, with Sgro taking first in singles, followed by Jacobs and Rinker. Mynes and Jacobs won doubles, with Rinker and Adams taking second.

Gunter also changed some of the doubles lineup to allow some of the lower ranked players to get game experience. 

“Overall, I thought that our guys adjusted to the adverse weather conditions and played smart tennis as it is extremely hard to get your timing right in a strong crosswind.”

Women’s Soccer – Off to a Challenging Start

Varsity Panthers soccer lost at Tuscola Monday, March 20, by a score of 0-3 to bring their overall record to 2-3-1, 1-1 in conference play. FHS also lost a tough 1-2 contest to Highlands at home last week (March 15) and then had their March 17 contest at Cherokee postponed due to weather.

The soccer season began with two games at home. The first was a 0-0 tie with Swain County on March 6, followed by a 3-2 win over Murphy, March 7. In the Murphy contest, forward Jasmin Valencia was named Player of the Game, the third time she has won the award in the past two seasons. She also won the award in March and April 2022.

Next, came a loss to the Blue Devils at Brevard, 0-6, on March 10. The team got back on the winning track in their conference game, March 13 at East Henderson. In commenting on the 1-0 win, Head Coach Dwight Long said, “We put up a good win against East Henderson. We held high pressure and controlled the ball well throughout the match.”

From her wing position, sophomore Lily Holt had an assist that resulted in senior forward Cynthia Rios-Ruiz getting the score. Senior defender Madelynn Brannon was named Player of the Game against the Eagles.

On March 6, the junior varsity girls won their only game played so far this season. They triumphed in their home opener, with a 6-0 shutout win over the Cherokee Lady Braves. 

However, on Monday night, March 20, the JV team lost against Tuscola, 0-3. 

Track & Field – Two Meets Completed and Two FHS Records Broken

FHS, Smoky Mountain, Swain County, and Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School competed at Rabun Gap March 18 in a meet that represented the Panthers second competition of the spring track and field season. Of the 33 overall events, eight of which were team/relay races, FHS placed first in 24 of them. In particular, Wofford-bound Isabelle Duchemin (senior) and junior Hope Smith posted the #1 and #2 times respectively, recorded the fastest 100-meter (m) dash in FHS history. The feat places the duo 4th and 5th currently in the 3A Conference.

“I have predicted that we can break 11 school records during the outdoor season [this year] and this was one l didn’t think we would get,” said Coach Matt Harlfinger. “Off to a great start!”

Elsewhere at the meet, junior Elijah Cochran and senior Isaiah Roots finished 1-2 in the boys 100m dash, junior Braxton Deal and sophomore Jason Mesa came in first and second for the 200m dash; Roots and Cochran topped the list at 1-2, respectively, in the 400m dash.

FHS took the top three spots in the 1600m finals with junior Barret Stork and sophomores Dan Hooper and Cooper Tyler finishing 1-2-3; Stork and Hooper also took 1st and 2nd in the 3200m run. Senior Blake Cassada and sophomore Talon Smith each won the 110m and 300m runs, respectively.

In team events, the Panthers took first in the boys 4×100 and 4×400 races, with Rabun Gap winning the 4×200 and 4×800 events. Cal Drake and Cochran took the two top spots in the high jump, an event Drake excels in. Senior Seth Brewer topped the shot-put competition.

For the girls, freshman Michelle Ortega and junior Rylee Cassada placed 1-2 in the 200m dash while Smith, sophomore Laura Covarrubias, and Cassada took the top three spots in the 400m. In the girls 800m, FHS took six of the eight places in the race, with three freshmen runners (Mindi Holbrooks, Amy Mendoza Lopez, and Montana Boatwright) finishing 1-3. In the 3200m, junior Claire Hovis and senior Mykayla McClure took the top two spots. For the 100m and 300m hurdles, Duchemin won both, with sophomores Addison Coker and Madison Breeden finishing behind her in each race, respectively. FHS took first in both the 4X100 and 4X400 relay races. Breeden won the high jump competition; Covarrubias the long jump, and junior Claire Ballard the discus, with sophomore Charley Seagle finishing second. Seagle also won the shot-put event, ahead of senior Renae Younce and Ballard.

The Panthers first meet was held at Cherokee March 8 with many of the same Panthers competing and many placing first as well. At that event, Cal Drake won the high jump at 6 feet 4 inches, which tied him for second best, all-time at FHS. Their next meet will be against Swain County and will be hosted on campus at Western Carolina University on Friday, March 24.