Franklin Panther athletes busy with multiple spring sports

FHS' Laura Covarrubias sets a new school record in the Long Jump.
FHS Senior Madalynn Brannon kicks off in a game vs. North Henderson March 27.

Dan Finnerty – Sports Writer

With six different sports, plus both junior and varsity teams for some of them, springtime finds Franklin High School student athletes competing all around western North Carolina.

During warmups before his game March 27 versus the North Henderson Lady Knights, Franklin High School (FHS) varsity women’s soccer coach Dwight Young observed a shot-on-goal bounce off the top crossbar. 

“That is more or less how our season has gone so far,” he said. 

His Lady Panthers were defeated by their North Henderson (NH) counterparts, 5-1, March 27 at the Panther Pit. Seniors Jasmin Valencia (forward) and Stephanie Ortiz-Ruiz (defender) combined on the one FHS goal, with Valencia getting the score and Ortiz the assist. Freshman goalkeeper Carramia Anthony-Ramos was named Player of the Game due to her prowess in stopping many shots-on-goal delivered by the Lady Knights. NH spent the better part of both halves on the Panther side of the field and as such had many scoring opportunities.

Young, who hails from Hayesville, began coaching soccer at the Macon County Middle (MMS) school back in 2011. He started as an assistant coach with the varsity boys team in 2016 and this is now his fifth year leading the Lady Panthers. After he spent two years in that position, the head coach stepped down but Young said the timing wasn’t right for him to step up. 

“The Lord spoke and I took the girls program … and it’s been the best blessing ever.”

Young also mentioned that a junior varsity (JV) team was started up (again) five years ago and it has been a growing process. 

“There’s no travel team for them, but you need a JV team if only to get game minutes in.” He also admitted, regarding his varsity team, “We’re really good, we just been unfortunate. We’ll take 30 shots on goal and score one. But my job is easy because we have great girls, so regardless we’re building great people in the community.” 

Young repeated a theme heard often from FHS coaches, who all appear to keep priorities in order. Essentially, winning can be fun but it isn’t everything.

FHS tied its home game March 24 against Cashiers-based Blue Ridge Early College, 1-1. In that game, sophomore wing Lillian Holt achieved best player honors with one steal and three shots taken. FHS’ record now stands at 2-5-2 overall and 1-3 in the Mountain West conference. Due to rainy weather and its effect on field conditions, the varsity soccer match between Pisgah and Franklin was moved from Franklin High School (FHS) to Pisgah on March 22. There, the Lady Panthers lost their third game in a row.

All remaining home games this season will be played at the Panther Pit (football field), located on campus at the high school due to drainage and water retention issues at the MMS field.

Golf Team begins three-match Conference Tournament

The golf team participated in two matches the past week – Sky Valley on Thursday, March 23, in a match against Smoky Mountain, Pisgah, and Tuscola golfers, and Monday, March 27, at Etowah for the first of three 18-hole rounds that make up the Mountain Seven conference tournament.

At Sky Valley, Coach Ryan Raby lauded freshman Tanner Jones who, “put together a second straight solid round shooting a 82. This was the best score of our team. And the fourth best score of the match.” As a team, the Panthers tied Tuscola with a 359 which sandwiched both teams between Pisgah in first with a 324 and Smoky Mountain in last with a 364. Besides Jones, the other three golfers shot an 87 (junior Ashton Shope), a 91 (sophomore Mac McClure), and a 99 (senior Owen Jenkins).

For the first tournament match at Etowah Valley, the Panthers settled for a second place finish. “Our kids had a really strong showing … freshman Tanner Jones and junior Ashton Shope ended the day three and five strokes respectively, out of first place [behind Pisgah],” said Raby. 

FHS will be on spring break next week and Haywood County schools will be on spring break the following week. The tournament will resume in just over three weeks with the second round on Tuesday, April 18, at Sky Valley.

Men’s Tennis hits rough stretch

FHS tennis was at Rabun Gap (RG) for a match Tuesday, March 27, where they lost 1-8 to the Eagles. 

“Even though the score looks lopsided, the match took four hours to complete,” Coach Sammy Gunter observed. “RG’s lineup features mostly foreign players from Germany and South/Central America so we knew this would be an uphill battle. Overall, our guys played well as there were long rallies and several deuces and [situations] in our favor which we didn’t take advantage of. Today, the RG players moved us around the court better and were a bit more consistent than we were. Hopefully we can learn from this match going forward.”

On March 21, the Panthers took a 7-2 loss against West Henderson (WH), last year’s champions, for their first loss in the Mountain West. In singles play, #1 Jack Sgro lost 1-6, 1-6, while second seeded Mica Jacobs also lost, 1-6,2-6. #3 Gavin Rinker won, 7-5,4-6 (10-8), and fourth seeded Orrin Mynes also won, 6-0,6-2, while both Will Sinclair and Eli Adams lost their singles matches as well. All three doubles teams were defeated by their Falcon counterparts.

Gunter kept the tough match in perspective. “Playing last year’s conference champion we knew this was going to be a battle. Even though the scores [for the two top FHS players] weren’t close, the action at times was good against the top two players in the conference.” 

For his match, Rinker played a long first set before prevailing 7-5, then lost the second set. The two hour, 15 minute marathon ended with an extremely close tie break, 10-8.

Gunter added, “In doubles we played adequately in spurts but basically got waxed by WH solid approach shots, volleys, and overheads. This was the biggest disappointment as I thought we had improved in practice to fend off these tactics.”

The coach also stated that the team needs to be more aggressive and comfortable at the net to be successful for the rest of the season because as it progresses, all the teams will have improved skill. “I’m glad we are in second place and hopefully will stay there until we get another shot at West,” concluded Gunter.

Track and Field continues solid season

Coaches Matt Harlfinger and Melissa Ward’s student athletes were at it again March 24, this time at a meet hosted by Swain County in Cullowhee at the Western Carolina University track. The FHS girls took first and the boys placed second overall behind Christ School, from Asheville. Harlfinger offered, “We actually had a few of the top athletes in the country at this meet. Swain did an awesome job hosting … proud of our kids!”

Individually, sophomore Laura Covarrubias set a FHS record with a 17’ 8” long jump and finished second behind Robbinsville’s Zoie Shuler. Fellow sophomore, Charley Seagle took third in the girls’ discus, with junior Claire Ballard finishing fourth. Seagle also finished second in the shot put with a 34’ 10” throw. In the girls’ triple jump, sophomore Addison Coker had a 33’ 9” to finish one place behind winner Shuler. Coker also came in third for the long jump, with Shuler again winning, and teammate Covarrubias placing second. Covarrubias won the 200m race over Shuler and finished second in the girls’ 100m. Senior Elijah Roots won the same boys’ race with a 23.26 time and junior Barrett Stork placed third in the 3200m, as did freshman Abigail Pope for the women.

Sophomore Boston Stringer placed second in the girls’ pole vault with a 10’0” jump while senior Blake Cassada paced the FHS boys in third place for the same event with a 13’ 0”. In the 300 meter (m) hurdles, junior Elijah Cochran won over 25 participants, then finished just behind Robbinsville’s Brock Adams for second place in the 110m hurdles, and also finished third in the boys’ 100m. Junior Logan Russo placed third in the 800m.

In the team events, Franklin won the girls 4x400m and 4x200m relays, placed second behind Pisgah in the 4x100m relay. The boys won their 4x400m relay. For team scores, the girls tallied 134 ahead of Swain County’s 127.5. The boys scored 117.83 behind Christ School’s 135.33. The next meet will be held at Rabun Gap Thursday, April 13.