Urbana High Winter Sports Preview

Photo | UHS Athletics Axel Seka drains two free throws to close out the first quarter in the Hawks’ Dec. 14 win over Frederick, 65-54.

Photo | UHS Athletics
Axel Seka drains two free throws to close out the first quarter in the Hawks’ Dec. 14 win over Frederick, 65-54.

Boys’ Basketball

With four returning starters, Urbana (7-15 record in 2017-18) is eager to get itself back in postseason contention. Senior point guard Ben Sicat, who has averaged more than 20 points per game early this winter, fellow senior guards Axel Seka and Anthony Neff, and 6-foot-4 junior guard/forward Danny Marshall lead a more experienced squad that thrives when it’s “playing good team basketball.” That cohesiveness is something coach Mike Jarboe said the team had been lacking the past couple of seasons.

The Hawks are at their best when they’re able to move the ball around on offense—giving everyone on the floor a lot of touches on the ball—and playing a tight trapping zone defense. Marshall along with Justin Zimmerman (6-6), give Urbana some strength inside, which should make the drive-and-kick a strength, enabling the Hawks to open up some space around the perimeter and behind the three-point arc.

“Our offense now is an equal opportunity offense,” Jarboe said. “Everyone is screening for each other; we just want to get guys in the best position for them to score.”

Losing is hard and it can be contagious, Jarboe said. As a younger group playing against much older teams, Urbana took some hard hits over the past two years. But this winter, the Hawks know what they’re capable of and have set high expectations for themselves.

“The biggest thing is these guys believe in themselves,” Jarboe said. “They’ve put the work in over the summer and they’re bigger and stronger. They’re different players now and if all goes according to plan, we’ll be competing for a conference championship by the end of the year.”

Girls’ Basketball

If there’s one thing first-year coach Joseph Blaser wants his players to understand, it’s that they’re in control of their own destiny.

“We aren’t going to let anyone else tell us what our goals are and what we’ll be able to do,” Blaser said. “We might not know yet what we can accomplish.”

Propelled by a group of versatile, and virtually interchangeable players, Urbana (10-13 in 2017-18) is looking to employ high-energy, up-tempo basketball. By pushing the ball up and down the court—the Hawks’ hope their tough half-court defense can help dictate the pace of play—Urbana is bound to pick up some easy baskets. And a few of those can be the difference between a close win or loss.

Junior point guard Hannah Orens brings a tremendous amount of energy and leadership to the backcourt, Blaser said, and sets the tone for Urbana. Senior guard Kendal Haggerty (5-foot-11) and sophomore guard/forward Paige Clausen (6-0) should work as a dynamic duo, with the ability to attack the basket as well as shoot from distance.

Urbana’s top priority is to get better each day and so far, Blaser said he’s been pleased with the Hawks’ enthusiasm and patient attitude toward the process of steady improvement.

“We aren’t thinking about our record, like we want to be over .500; we just want to learn and grow, together,” Blaser said. “It’s a steady climb. And if we do everything I think we can, we could still be playing in March.”

Boys’ Indoor Track

Though based on individual results, there is an important team component to track and field that can often be overlooked, first-year coach Kyle Grimm said. So, to promote a more team-oriented atmosphere that is rooted in camaraderie, the Hawks take part, each week, in a character lesson.

“This being my first year (as head coach), I came up with a mission statement, ‘Together we strive for excellence, with our brotherhood, on and off the track,’” Grimm said. “Each week is just dissecting that mission statement and doing lessons about coming together, so the boys can get an understanding of what the mission statement is and the purpose behind it.”

The defending Frederick County champion, Urbana is not short on talent. But when it comes to the bigger picture, and a team’s overall success, there can be necessary sacrifices to make for the good of the team, Grimm said. Athletes aren’t always willing to step outside their comfort zones, or risk their own statistics, to help bolster scoring.

But the Hawks are buying into the team-first philosophy, Grimm said, and have been incredibly supportive of one another early, while working to push each other to new heights.

After a breakout fall cross country season, senior Jonathan Mason is poised to anchor Urbana’s middle distance and distance contingent. The Hawks should also be able to count on consistent scoring from two of the state’s best pole vaulters in seniors Seth Hajzus, who finished fourth at last year’s indoor state meet, and Cole Jiron, who finished third at the outdoor meet last spring, as well as junior thrower Nicholas Rohwer.

Other potential top scorers include Timothy Ogunsola, who qualified for last year’s state meet in the 110-meter hurdles, sprinters Evan Schwab, Steven Drabick, Gunnar Fredrickson and Mark McCauley as well as Tyler Harper in the middle-distance events.

Girls’ Indoor Track

Coach CJ Ecalono’s greatest challenge this season just might be figuring out exactly how best to benefit from his team’s enviable depth chart. With a plethora of dynamic athletes, many of whom are capable of scoring in a variety of events, the trick will be finding the right combinations.

Urbana is no stranger to success at the county level and intends on winning its fifth consecutive Frederick County championship this winter. But the Hawks, who finished runner-up at the 2016 and 2017 state meets in Class 3A before being bumped up to the state’s largest division for the 2018 season, also have their sights set on a state title breakthrough, Ecalono said. And this could be their year—the Hawks finished fourth a year ago, just 15 points out of the top spot.

“It’s an exciting time,” Ecalono said. “Right now, it’s a huge puzzle all over the floor. We have a vision, and I just have to keep the girls healthy and put the puzzle together the right way to get the most points.”

Flexibility will likely be Urbana’s biggest strength this winter, and one major advantage of such versatility is that Ecalono can put together a championship lineup without tiring out his top athletes by putting each of them in four events every meet.

Urbana will look to significant scoring from senior pole vaulters, defending state champion Payton Bohrer and Kelsey Calabrese, who finished third at the season-ending competition, as well as sophomore Ella Auderset, who finished in the
top five of three events at last year’s state championship in the middle-distance events and relays.

Junior sprinter and hurdler Riley Johnson teams up with junior sprinter Piper Jons to bolster what traditionally could be considered Urbana’s Achilles heel—the shorter distances. And Mary Miller leads what should be a strong core of distance runners.

“We have a pretty deep team,” Ecalono said. “I don’t even know what I’m going to do (with everyone), and that’s the exciting part.”

Photo | Anne Addis Matteo Torres won first place in the butterfly in the Dec. 11 swim meet against Linganore.

Photo | Anne Addis
Matteo Torres won first place in the butterfly in the Dec. 11 swim meet against Linganore.

Boys’ Swimming

Despite some turnover in its roster due to a combination of graduation and the inability of some top club swimmers to make the added time commitment to the high school team, the Hawks are primed to remain in the county’s upper echelon this winter.

Last year’s Frederick County meet runner-up, Urbana returns the defending 200- and 500-yard freestyle county champion, senior Benjamin Landon, and classmate Yahshua Garcia; the two were part of last year’s county meet record-setting 400  freestyle relay. Matteo Torres and Anton Smariga round out a multifaceted core around which Coach Isabella Edler, a 2013 graduate of the program, looks to build this year’s squad, which welcomed an influx of freshmen.

“If I could, I would put them each in all four strokes and all relays,” Edler said. “But (swimmers) are restricted to four events.”

The early portion of the season is the toughest, as those swimmers who don’t train year-round work to build up their strength and stamina, but they’ll be ready to peak by the end of the regular season, Edler said. One of this team’s biggest strengths, she added, is the willingness of the Hawks’ top swimmers and senior leaders to help their teammates during practices.

“It’s not just me saying, ‘Fix this, fix that,’” Edler said. “As a team they help each other out, and I think that working together as
a team and helping each other out is our biggest weapon.”

Girls’ Swimming

With a bigger, more dynamic roster—and higher percentage of year-round club swimmers—than last winter, the Hawks are in position to climb back into the county’s top five this season.

Sophomore Jordan Best, who excels in the individual medley and backstroke as well as a variety of freestyle distances, and returning state meet qualifiers Olivia Menusan, Ailee Miner and fourth-year varsity swimmer and senior co-captain Kiara Vicenty lead a strong group that features strength across a wide range of events.

“Numbers has always been an advantage, but it helps that this year we have a lot of strong swimmers across the board,” Raborg said. “We have swimmers who are pretty strong in all events, and all strokes, so I can pull from my toolbox if I have to,
last-minute to change anything.”

A talented freshman class that includes Jiayi Wang, a likely scorer in any event she’s entered, should add another dimension to this year’s squad.

Though Urbana is looking to improve on last year’s results and wants to contend for the county title, Raborg said her priority is making sure each swimmer is getting better, making new friends and having fun.

“That’s what high school swimming is all about,” Raborg said. “I push my girls and I expect results, but I also remind them that it’s high school swimming and they’re just competing against themselves and their previous time. They should be having fun. And with that, come the results.”

Wrestling

The defending Class 4A state dual-meet champion Hawks graduated eight of 13 starters from a year ago, but expectations for this season remain just as high. Urbana’s 2018 duals title was the program’s second overall and first since 2012.

“As a coach, I never believe in rebuilding; I believe in winning with what you have,” Coach Justin Krop said. “A lot of these (new starters) have been around the program or on junior varsity, waiting for their time to start.”

And they have an invaluable opportunity to learn from one of Urbana wrestling’s all-time greatest athletes, senior and University of Maryland recruit Kevin Makosy (195 pounds). Krop described Makosy, whose dominant junior season was highlighted by his first individual state title, as “the best captain to ever lead a team” that he’s seen in nearly 20 years around the program.

“(Makosy) is fully invested in this team; he’s interested in (his teammates’) success,” Krop said.

Makosy, who surpassed 100 high school wins last winter, leads a contingent of five returning starters that includes classmate Jakob Arneson (152), junior Austin Rohn (120) and sophomore Colin Acton (120). Whether or not they were on the state championship mats a year ago, everyone can benefit from Urbana’s run in 2018, Krop said, and witnessing what it takes to win the season-ending title.

But the Hawks aren’t looking too far ahead. They’re focused only on what’s within their control—such as effort and  commitment. And if they stick to their principles of wrestling each match wholeheartedly and are able to see and push themselves past the momentary discomfort—where great things can happen—then this season will go down as a success.

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