Top Hays Free Press Sports Stories of 2017

Kirkland takes over as Lobo athletic leader

While making his way to the 2014 UIL state basketball tournament, Joshua Kirkland never forgot how “gorgeous” the Kyle and Buda area were to him.

“I told my wife, ‘If I get the opportunity to come here to work, I’ll take it,’” Kirkland said. “It has everything you want to do.”

Three years later, Kirkland was sure to make good on that promise.

In May, Kirkland was officially hired as the third head coach and athletic coordinator at Lehman High. His hiring fills the void left by Todd Raymond, who left to take the athletic director role at Pflugerville ISD.

A high-energy, “energetic and very positive” approach is what Kirkland also brings to the table. Kirkland said he’s often seen “running around practice,” and at times, will “jump in the drill” with students.

Kirkland proved that point when he raced a student while pushing prowler sleds on Lobo Field at a 2017 practice

“I told him, if you beat me, you’re good. They looked at me like I had lost my mind,” Kirkland said. “They seemed to enjoy it. It’s one of those deals where I won’t ask them to do something I can’t do.”

Strategy on the field could center on the run game, which Kirkland found success at while at Parkland. Focusing on what the Lobos can do, and not on anyone else in the district, is the key.

“We’re going to focus on what we do and use getting better and not focusing on who we’re going to see,” he said.

Bittersweet victory for Lady Rebs over Vipers

Tears welled in the eyes of Hays Rebel head softball coach Lisa Cone when she realized just how emotionally significant Tuesday’s 13-0 run-rule win over the Vandegrift Vipers was for her team.

Hays’ 13-run bombardment of Vandegrift capped off a regular season that culminated with the 25-6A crown. It also helped the Rebels shake off their only district loss to Vista Ridge which was suffered late last week.

Perhaps more symbolic, Hays’ run total Tuesday corresponded to the number worn by Brynn Aylor, who was tragically killed in a car accident roughly a month ago.

It was a bittersweet moment for Cone, who understood the range of emotions her team has experienced.

“I know we had a little extra angel out there. I know that’s what the girls are thinking. We got some help tonight,” Cone said. “The kids have worked hard this year and played through things that you couldn’t quite imagine.”

Hays capitalized on struggles suffered by Vandegrift pitcher Sydney Wunsch, who battled command issues during her four inning outing.

The Rebels plated three runs in the second inning via an RBI single from Abbie Blackwell and a two-RBI base hit from Kayln Davis. Hays added three more runs in the third frame before breaking the game open with seven runs in the fourth inning.

Hays sent ten batters to the plate and recorded three hits while drawing five walks.

“It was good to learn that we can’t take anything for granted,” Cone said.

Valdez said the win meant a lot to the team as they continue to play for Aylor.

“We’ll keep playing for her and give it all we’ve got,” Valdez said.

Lobo head girls soccer coach steps down 

For the first time in program history, the Lehman High girls soccer team had to search for a new head coach. 

Longtime Lobo head girls soccer coach Nauri Garcia announced his resignation as the team’s leader. Garcia confirmed to the Hays Free Press he would remain as a PE instructor at Hemphill Elementary. Former assistant girls soccer coach Michael Banning will step into the head coach cleats.

Garcia had served as the Lehman girls soccer head coach since the school first opened its doors in 2004. 

During his tenure, the Lady Lobos soccer team won 123 games and reached the playoffs seven times. The program also notched two bidistrict playoff championships, and had 13 athletes sign to continue their playing careers in college. 

Last season, the Lady Lobos struggled to a 2-12-3 mark. 

Garcia said on his Facebook page he loved the lessons “the sport of soccer continues to teach me.” 

“If you are lucky enough to continue to play a sport, embrace it,” Garcia said. “Doors that close will always lead to something new.” 

Brent Holcomb, Hays High head girls soccer coach, who faced Garcia numerous times over the years, said he has the “deepest respect” for Garcia both personally and as a friend and colleague.

“As one of the most successful coaches in Lehman history, he has led his team to the playoffs almost every year,” Holcomb said. “He is an outstanding leader who values the growth and development of his players, not only as athletes, but as young adults as well.”

Following Garcia’s departure, only Orlando de La Fuente, Lehman High head tennis coach, remains as a head coach who was originally hired when Lehman High first opened.

Rebel senior overcomes injury to return to the gridiron

Like many times before in practice, Hays High football player Marcos Barrera knew his role when “F-right” was called in an October 2014 game at Anderson High.

As an offensive lineman, Barerra’s job was to block down and help set up a lane for his running back.

What seemed like an exercise in the routine turned into a nightmare scenario.

“I was blocking down and then I remember hearing a snap in my leg,” Barrera said. “I then couldn’t get off the ground.”

But what was thought to be just a broken leg turned into three years of turmoil for Barrera, who has endured more than 20 surgeries, and even a threat of potential amputation.

After an aggressive physical therapy regiment, Barrera, who was once told he may never play football again, aimed in his senior season to complete an arduous climb back to the playing field.

Sarah Ashworth, Hays High assistant athletic trainer who helped Marcos’ recovery, said PT involved calf raises and the use of ankle bands. There was also work to strengthen the hip muscles.

“He was not able to do things until he was cleared,” Ashworth said. “Then it was like two years worth (of PT) in six months.”

One primary constant was Barrera’s drive to get back on the field with his teammates, with whom he’s played since little league.

Proving the doctors who said he may never play sports again wrong gave him ample motivation.

For Marcos, the toughest obstacle to overcome was the mental wall.

“The biggest thing was the mental aspect, to keep on pushing myself to not give up and not let the injury keep me away from the game,” Marcos said.

Rebel freshman jumps to new heights

Perhaps one could forgive Hays Rebel freshman high jumper Reagan Casey for feeling a little anxious prior to competing at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin earlier this spring.

It was only two years ago that Casey began her track and field career as a high jumper at Dahlstrom Middle School.

This year, Casey was one of only two freshmen to compete in the high school girls high jump at the 90th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays.

Kevin Bussinger, Hays girls high jump coach, said he didn’t know what to expect from Casey until she began to consistently work out with the track team.

It didn’t take long for Casey to show her competitive nature.

During the team’s first track meet at Canyon Lake, Casey debuted by winning the event with a clearance of 5-feet, 6-inches.

The height was only two inches shy of the Hays girls high jump all-time record.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve never had a girl jump (5-feet, 6-inches),” Bussinger said. “For her to do that as a freshman, it’s amazing.”

“High jump is one of those crazy sports where if you’re a half stride ahead, you can’t jump.   If you’re a half-stride behind, you can’t jump. Everything has to be perfect,” Bussinger, said. “It’s just a matter of consistency and getting there.”

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