Photo: Southside High boys soccer coach Randy Vice and rising senior Ariq Chandra gather for a photo following the North’s 5-0 victory in the recent AHSAA North/South All-Star boys soccer game in Montgomery.
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Several area rising high school seniors and one coach recently showcased their respective skills in Montgomery.
Glencoe’s Katie Giles (girls cross country), Southside’s Jackson Griggs and Ashville’s Joe Stephens (boys cross country), Westbrook Christian’s Hugh Windle and Gadsden City’s Jordan Nowell (baseball), Southside’s Ariq Chandra (boys soccer), Westbrook’s Ella Keene and Southside’s Anna Kate Welch (girls soccer) and Sardis’ Caroline Johnson (girls tennis) were members of the North rosters during the recent North/South All-Star Sports Week from July 18 -July 22.
Southside High School boys soccer coach Randy Vice helped guide the North to a 6-3 victory at the Emory Folmar Soccer Complex.
“It was an honor and privilege coaching the North All-Stars and working with my co-coach, Michael Farmer [of Fort Payne],” said Vice. “It was even more special getting to coach Ariq. It was a pleasure to coach all of those young men, who showed a tremendous amount of character during the day.
“I felt like we were going to win when I watched our guys thank the bus driver when we got off for lunch and then thank the people at the Faulkner University cafeteria, all without prompting from any coach. Character is the most important winning characteristic, and these young men showed why they are winners, both on and off the field.”
Chandra, who was selected as the Player of the Year for the All-Greater Gadsden Area boys soccer team this past season, played extensively at center back.
“I think I played well, but I could have played better,” he said. “It was very competitive, and I think I got better playing against some really good players. I got to play for most of the game before I cramped up a little. We all bonded pretty well after we first met and became pretty good friends.”
Prior to the boys’ match, Welch started for the North in goal and had five saves in the North girls’ 5-0 shutout. Welch helped the 2021 Lady Panthers go 19-4 and make it to the Class 6A Final Four state tournament.
“The game was definitely fun, but even more fun was the relationships I made while I was there,” she said. “We had a really good team relationship, which we showed in the game. For me as an individual, it was just a matter of doing my best. It was pretty hot out, but I did my usual drinking a lot of Pedialyte before the game, which definitely helped.”
Keene had one shot on goal while playing at midfielder. She helped the 2021 Lady Warriors go 19-4 and make it to the Class 4A/5A Final Four state tournament.
“It was really fun,” she said. “When we got there, we all started talking and getting to know one another, so we bonded as a team pretty quickly. I got to play so many different positions I’ve never played before, which was a lot of fun. We all had the same competitive mindset, so it was easy working together and trying to win.”
Windle and Nowell played in a doubleheader on July 18, losing 5-0 and tying 2-2 in five innings at Riverwalk Stadium.
Nowell pitched three and two-third innings in Game 1, allowing five hits, two earned runs and three walks while striking out five.
“Playing against some of the best talent in the state, I could do that every day,” he said. “My performance could have been better, but I think that had to do with my nerves because of the type of players I went up against. I knew I wouldn’t have been on the team if I wasn’t good enough, but at the same I was like, ‘Wow, these guys are really good.’ There was a certain level that I felt I had to play up to, but at the same time, I knew that I was there because I was supposed to be there.”
Windle had a hit and a stolen base in the nightcap while playing second base. He was a first-team Class 2A All-State selection this past season while helping the Warriors make the state quarterfinals.
“It was an honor for me to be there,” he said. “I knew a lot of guys on the team from travel ball, and I got to meet some more [players]. It was an awesome experience.”
Giles helped the North girls post a 19-38 cross county win on July 18 at Gateway Park, clocking in with a 10th place time of 22:03.27. She won the Class 3A cross country title as a sophomore and finished 11th out of 155 runners this past season.
“It wasn’t my best race, but it was a lot of fun running with a lot of fast girls,” she said. “It was really hot out and the course wasn’t the best with three loops, but it’s always good to see where you are in your training against some good competition. I was definitely a great experience.”
Giles, who has been battling a nagging hip injury for the past several months, said she is getting close to 100 percent.
“I’m doing therapy exercises for it pretty much every day, but I would say that I’m healthy now. I took two weeks off after [outdoor] track ended, and I’ve been slowly building back up.”
In the boys’ race later that day, Griggs and Stevens’ North squad came up short by a 22-32 margin. Griggs time of 17:09.87 was good for eighth out of the 19 competitors, while Stevens ran a 17:58 for 14th place.
Griggs is the defending Etowah County School cross country champion. He finished ninth out of 248 runners in Class 6A at the 2021 state country meet in November.
“We’ve run in practice when it was a little hotter, but that was the hottest race I’ve ever been in, for sure,” he said. “I injured my hip flexor half a mile in, so my time wasn’t what I wanted, but it was really cool to race with such good runners.”
Stevens is the defending Class 4A cross country state champion.
“I really enjoyed the run overall,” he said. “We had to do three loops, so the course was a little boring, and it was blistering hot. But I knew a couple of guys on the team, and it nice having my family, my coach and several of my teammates there to cheer me on. I’m definitely ready for the [cross country] season to start.”
Johnson helped the North defeat the South by a score of 6-3 on July 19 at Lagoon Park. She and partner Elliott Armstrong of Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa defeated the South’s Kaitlyn Ross and Emma Stricklin, 6-1, 6-1, in No. 2 doubles.
“It was a lot of fun, for sure,” said Johnson, who helped Sardis finish fourth at the Class 4A-5A state tournament. Johnson made it to the No. 1 singles semifinals, while she and McKenzie Williams were the state runners-up in the No. 1 doubles championship. “It was a lot of fun to play with somebody that good (like Armstrong). I felt that we fit really well together. It was nice to look around and see what the best (tennis players) in the state can offer.”