Decatur High spring sports teams secured three region championships in 2023The DHS Baseball team celebrates victory in the playoffs against Union Grove. Via @kesonthedhspics
By David McFarland, contributor
The 2022/23 school year is over, and that means another success-filled spring sports season is in the books. Decatur achieved historical-best seasons in tennis and lacrosse, added three region championships in baseball, tennis, and track, along with a handful of deep playoff runs.
Decatur’s run to the final four in 2022 set the bar very high for 2023, but the Bulldogs didn’t disappoint. Decatur won its region with a perfect 10-0 record, part of a 24-9 overall tally. For head coach Victor Radcliff, “a large key to the success of our season was that we had a large senior class that bought into taking ownership of their by building a culture of brotherhood and accountability. Our team chemistry was admirable when it mattered most.”
That collective spirit helped lead to big wins over Northgate and Union Grove in the GHSA playoffs, with Decatur outscoring the two 60 runs to 23 across five games. The Bulldogs’ run would eventually come to an end in the quarterfinals at the hands of Centennial 5-4 in game one and 10-4 in game two. Nonetheless, Decatur still had quite the season to be proud of, and all the more so when considering the major exodus of seniors after the 2022 season. Coach Radcliff described how Decatur had to adapt on the fly with so much roster turnover.
“Coming into the season, we only had 2 players that made significant contributions to last year’s team,” he said. “Essentially, we had a ton of growing up to do in a small timeframe.”
But Decatur was ready to rise to the challenge, and then some. The gaps left behind by 2022’s seniors forced the remaining players and new additions “to compete in order to earn a role in this year’s team. Our practices and intersquad scrimmages were highly competitive environments. Our non-starters were able to grow their skills and build confidence along the way, as well.”
“I really enjoyed watching this team take our most adverse moments and turn them into building blocks,” Radcliff added. “My favorite moment was watching them grow closer as one unit.”
Decatur’s Varsity girls’ tennis team reached historical highs in 2022. The Bulldogs finished 2nd in its region and made it all the way to the state quarterfinals with a dominant 13-6 overall record. For senior and captain Devyn Rosenberg, “The team was so successful due to everyone’s desire to play well and our bond as a team. We all really enjoy spending time together and that furthers our desire to play better on the court to continue our time together.”
Junior Rachel Dressler echoed that sentiment but put special focus on Head Coach James Pressley. She put down “most of the team’s success to Coach Pressley. He has been such a great coach for the girls’ team this year, helping all of us with our technique as well as our mental game. He brought the team together and made a great lineup to aid in our success in matches.”
One of those successful matches was a 3-2 win against 1-seed Statesboro in the second round of playoffs. Coach Pressley described how his “favorite moment of the season would have to be the girls having to drive four hours down to Statesboro for their Sweet 16 match-up and upsetting the No. 1 seed in our bracket.”
“We started the match down 0-2 and one match after another, we started to silence a crowd of nearly 100 supporters,” Coach Pressley said. “No comeback is sweeter than that!”
Dressler, who won the deciding 3-2 match, agreed that victory was one of the pinnacles of the season. “All the matches were extremely close, but we were able to pull through with the win. It was such a gratifying experience.”
Decatur also had its fair share of obstacles, starting with the loss of four 2022 seniors. On the flip side, Dressler described how Decatur received “a lot of new additions to the team this year, so we were able to create a new and improved lineup, allowing us to go even further in the state tournament than the previous year.”
To find a winning recipe, however, Coach Pressley outlined how he, “had to develop some new pairings and try players at different positions in the lineup that they normally would not have played. We didn’t have a set post-season roster until the second to last match of the regular season. But all the girls stepped up when needed in a huge way.”
Another hurdle on Decatur’s path to success, “was most definitely transportation,” according to Dressler. “The tennis team was not given any transportation for pretty much the entire season, forcing players to have to drive themselves to matches up to an hour away. Hopefully, we will get a bus for the next tennis season.”
Speaking of the campaign to come, Dressler looked back on the season with a bit of bitter sweetness as Rosenberg will be graduating after four years on the team. “I also really enjoyed getting to spend time with the team. it has been such a fun group this year, and we are all going to really miss our team captain, Devyn, next year.”
Nonetheless, Coach Pressley is excited about another year at the helm of the varsity program.
“Next year is going to look very interesting,” Pressley said. “We are only losing one senior and currently have six juniors on the roster. Not to mention four juniors on JV that are looking to step up. We will need to collectively continue to play year-round to get better. We have shown that we are a team to watch out for, and we need to back that up!”
The Boys’ Varsity team also pulled off its best season in quite some time – if not ever. In Head Coach David Messer’s first season in charge, Decatur won its region with a perfect 4-0 record and made it to the GHSA Elite 8. The Bulldogs’ overall record was a superb 16-3 tally, with two of those losses coming to Greater Atlanta Christian, who went on to hoist the State title.
GAC was the team that ended Decatur’s run in the quarter-finals by a slightly misleading 3-0 scoreline, as the Bulldogs were winning in both remaining matches in front of a packed and rowdy crowd at Glenlake Tennis Center before GAC won the decisive third match. Making the eventual champions work so much for the victory was a clear sign that Decatur belonged in the upper echelons of the 5A region. There’s no denying, however, that this was the peak of Decatur’s current crop of players. The Bulldogs will be losing four seniors, all starters, and both captains for next season. However, Decatur remains a very talented team and will look to navigate its transition season under the oversight of Coach Messer while maintaining success on the court.
Decatur’s track dynasty continued its winning ways in 2023, hosting the Region Championship on the Boys’ side and finishing 3rd on the Girls’. The Boys’ title was decided by the final race, in which they edged out Martin Luther King High School by a single point. Along with team success, almost 40 individual athletes qualified for sectionals, and from there, Decatur had athletes advance to state championships in every event they featured in.
Decatur’s Varsity girls’ soccer team finished 2nd in its region with a 4-1 record and made a run to the Round of 16 in 2023. For Head Coach Douglas Altizer, Decatur’s best moment of the season came in the 2-0 win against Harris County, ranked 7th in the state, with both goals coming in the final ten minutes. Harris County was just one of the many elite teams Decatur faced.
The Bulldogs had “one of the toughest schedules in the state. Ten of the teams we played made the quarter-finals, seven made the semi-finals, and we played five teams that will be in the State finals for their classification,” the coach said.
However, Decatur turned that to its advantage and “learned and grew from the toughest level of competition available.” Sophomore and goalkeeper Maddie Cooper agreed.
“The team started off the season with a few losses and the morale was low but with a few wins we were able to overcome the obstacles. We worked together more as the season went on, and this helped us minimize our mistakes,” Cooper said.
The Boys’ team underwent a transition year as Head Coach Derrick Burgess took charge of his first season and the Bulldogs’ dealt with the loss of thirteen 2022 seniors. Decatur lost in Round 1 of the playoffs 3-2 to Northgate in overtime, but Coach Burgess’ post-season takeaways are positive. Decatur is a “very exciting project with tons of talent and support from a soccer city,” and though he was “disappointed that we didn’t have better results on the field as we had enough talent to make a deep playoff run,” the foundation is there for a successful future.
“With the ups and downs that we experienced, I feel better equipped and prepared for the 2024 season,” Coach Burgess said.
For Coach Burgess, some of those ups were “tryouts and beating Cross Keys. As a coach having such much talent to choose from is exciting! Versus Cross Keys to win a big Region Game in the last 30 seconds in front of our fans was great.”
Junior Aiden Martinelli, meanwhile, named his favorite moment of the season as “scoring my first varsity goal against Lithonia. One of my other favorite moments was simply just the team get-togethers. They were fun and important for the team.”
Decatur also faced a number of challenges. Coach Burgess described how, “squad size was a big obstacle, having 24 -26 players is something that I won’t do again…not knowing all the players and having so many to choose from made it difficult to manage minutes of all the players.”
Martinelli echoed that, chronicling how the team “struggled at the beginning of the season because, with a big roster, we viewed it as battling for our individual spots but not to improve the team. I think as the season approached the end, we learned that we needed to work and play as a team better. I think it never reached the potential that we as a team wanted, but it will be better next year.”
Like Martinelli, Coach Burgess is confident that the 2024 season will be a success. “Next year we will have a small roster size, and now I know more about our student-athletes and what they can contribute to the team. One thing about a tough season, it gives you the opportunity to learn a lot.”
Decatur’s Boys’ lacrosse team marked 2023 with victory in the ITP Tournament. Junior Clinton Shaeffer described the Bulldogs’ success on their home field as one of his “favorite moments from the season.”
“It was a lot of fun hosting the tournament and going out to eat with the team after. We played 2 games and we won both. It was a good time,” Shaeffer said.
However, the Bulldogs were tested heavily in the injury department and struggled to build off the ITP success, losing in the first round of the playoffs. Shaeffer outlined how Decatur “faced a lot of injuries throughout the season and it was definitely difficult to have some key players hurt. Our team definitely handled them well and other players were able to step up and fill the key roles.”
The Girls’ Lacrosse put its name in the history books in 2023. Their 13 wins under first-year head coach Alex Powers was a season-high and made all the more impressive when considering the departure of a number of seniors last season.
Nonetheless, Decatur rebounded and is only getting started for Coach Powers.
“My biggest takeaway from this season has been about how bright the future is for Decatur Girls Lacrosse,” Powers said. “We are a team of hardworking, dedicated girls who have a strong love for the game and each other. They are an amazing group to coach and they make me grateful to be in this position every day!”
Coach Powers went on to describe what was behind Decatur’s success. “The hardworking nature of the girls was the biggest reason why we were able to be so successful this year. A lot of the girls play year-round, so they’re constantly increasing their skills and learning new things. We all worked hard to challenge ourselves by playing as a team and looking for assists and finding ways to create opportunities for other people.”
Junior Ruby Kelly, meanwhile, pointed out Coach Powers herself as the key to the Bulldogs’ sky-high tally of wins.
“We had incredible coaching this year from our brand new head coach,” Kelly said. “It was her first year as head coach and her biggest request from us all was to remain positive on and off the field, win or lose and that was such a driving force for us this year and helped us come together and play like a team.”
Kelly said Decatur dealt with the roadblocks on the route to 13 wins, starting with significant roster turnover.
“There was definitely concern after losing so many teammates but it was important to everyone to make the new players feel welcome and to be able to learn from the past but stay present and focused on the team we have now,” Kelly said.
Kelly noted that Decatur is “a smaller and younger team, so that definitely poses challenges going up against huge teams with feed programs and deep benches but our small numbers made us bond closer.”
Coach Powers is confident that the Bulldogs will only get better.
“The girls are going to continue to play year-round as a team,” Powers said.
Decatur’s golf teams had a success-filled 2023. The Boys’ reached State Sectionals and sent one player, Pargen Robertson, to State individually. Head Coach Paige Nowacki outlined the reasons behind the Bulldogs’ accomplishments.
“What made this team so different from past years was the chemistry of the team and all focusing on one goal,” Nowacki said. “At the end of the season last year the team saw that they could compete with the other state finalists and made it a goal this season to do so. They were dedicated to making each other better at every practice and tournament. Golf is a fun sport because it requires competition between teammates. The players compete for spots in order to play in the matches and if they don’t make the cut they work harder to make it the next week.”
That helped spurn Decatur on to “making the cut at the Area tournament. We were so close last year, and it was very disappointing, so to turn it around this season and watch the boys’ team accomplish this goal made for a great experience.”
Coach Nowacki is confident this is only the beginning as well.
“I know this team will keep its momentum and make it even further next season,” the coach said. “As soon as we left the last tournament discussions started happening of what the players could do to prepare themselves and get their scores lower for next year. We can build on our confidence and understand that we are a state-level team and that we can compete with our rivals.”
Though officially a club according to GHSA, Ultimate Frisbee is a sport in everything but name. The Girls’ team finished 3rd in the State tournament and won the Spirit of the Game award for the 2nd year in a row, a sportsmanship recognition voted on by opponents. Junior Katie Sanders described how Decatur reached such levels despite, “dealing with the loss of lots of fundamental seniors last year. We had lost a lot of talent on our roster, and it was up to our returning players to rebuild the team. In fact, we recruited so much that 50% of our team were new players, and we all were able to grow and improve so much throughout the season.”
Junior Evan King outlined the Boys’ team’s highs, such as “getting 3rd place at the Deepfreeze tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn. and winning against Woodward Academy on our senior night.”
However, long-standing obstacles remain in the Frisbee team’s path.
“The team has long had to deal with the lack of field to use when playing games,” King said. “Because Decatur High School doesn’t allocate any field time to the Frisbee team, we are unable to play in home games and have had to reschedule important games throughout the season, including our qualifying game against the Grayson and Brookwood high school teams.”
On the field, King described how Decatur, “has just lost eight seniors, and will have to build new bonds between the new and returning players in order to play at our full potential. We are looking to improve our cohesiveness and teamwork and take home 1st place at the next statewide competition.”
Fellow junior Rory King added, “The team will be looking to get a field to practice on, as well as inviting new underclassmen to join and help the team grow.”
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