Decatur High School’s busiest sports season is hereDecatur High School, City Schools of Decatur, N McDonough Street.
By David McFarland, contributor
Decatur, GA — It’s the spring sports season, and the Decatur High Bulldogs will compete everywhere from the tennis court to the track in the coming months. Several reigning region champs are ready to defend their titles.
Decatur’s Varsity Baseball team was one of the most successful programs at the school, winning its region championship and reaching the quarterfinals of the State tournament. The team now has two straight successful seasons under its belt, having gone all the way to the Final Four in 2022, and there are no signs that it’s slowing down anytime soon. Senior Graham Sanders put the bar even higher for the upcoming campaign.
“I believe we will have a great run in the playoffs just like last year,” Sanders said. “Our goal is to win every single region game and win state.”
The Bulldogs will have to do so without 16 seniors from the 2023 team. Sanders, however, is confident that the current crop of 7 seniors will be able to shoulder the leadership load left unattended, while younger players can fill the gaps on the field.
“We understand that our individual impact on and off the field is greater than the group of last year’s seniors,” he said. “This will also allow for more development of the juniors on the team, giving them more playing time on the field. The underclassmen will rise to the occasion,” and set Decatur up to repeat the success of years past.
The team with the most turnover from the spring programs is surely Varsity Girls’ Soccer. Not only did 11 players graduate but there’s a new Head Coach in the form of Decatur graduate Wilson Witherspoon, who previously served as an assistant and Junior Varsity manager.
However, if there’s anyone who can take advantage of Decatur’s momentum from a 2nd place region finish in 2023, it’s Coach Witherspoon. As the former JV coach and a well-known name at Decatur for some time, he’s very familiar with the current crop of Varsity players and no stranger to the program.
“Even though I’m in a new position the task and the group is still very much the same,” said Coach Witherspoon. “I’m most looking forward to working with the players, helping them to develop and make the most of their opportunities on and off the pitch, as well as testing my ideas at a higher level of competition.”
Junior and goalkeeper Maddie Cooper described how the team is looking to make use of the many underclassmen joining the team for the first time or taking on more responsibilities to beat longtime rival Midtown and make a deeper playoff run, while Coach Witherspoon went on to outline the program’s goals for 2024.
“I’m very optimistic about our potential to make a run in the state tournament this year,” Cooper said. “A huge first step would be winning our region and securing home-field advantage throughout the tournament, especially with the problems our large field can cause opponents.”
Coach Witherspoon has his eye on another important game.
“We play Chamblee, the defending state champions, in a home region game on Friday, March 15 at 6 p.m.,” he said. “A win in that game puts us in pole position to win the region so come out and support!”
Decatur’s Varsity Boys Soccer program is set to embark on year two of its journey under Head Coach Derrick Burgess. There’s a strong foundation to build off of according to Coach Burgess.
“Last season was a learning experience for all. Getting to know the players, the personalities, strengths, and weaknesses has helped the coaching staff be better prepared for this upcoming season,” Burgess said.
While the departure of 15 seniors is a step backward in the short term, Decatur has a succession plan in place according to Coach Burgess.
“We are consistently building for tomorrow which allows us to reload and not have to rebuild,” Burgess said. “The players that take the field will be able to be competitive, fun to watch, and score goals.”
That should have Decatur well on its way to meeting its targets for the season both on and off the field. Coach Burgess outlined his expectations for the campaign: “Have fun, improve as young men and players while appreciating and understanding the process as we are one team and each member has a role to play in this success.”
Senior Aiden Martinelli described how a positive environment off the field and a home playoff game and region title on it are the goals for 2024, and Decatur has the foundation to reach them.
“We have already created a good bond with each other and have a strong underclass and senior presence, so we’re now just hoping to make a run in the playoffs,” Martinelli said.
What’s certain, though, is that with plans for programs such as community soccer camps and an international trip to connect culture and sports on the way, Decatur soccer sure will be busy this year.
Decatur’s historic 2023 season on the tennis court has inspired it to keep reaching for higher and higher heights. The Bulldogs won their region for the first time in over 20 years, went 16-3 overall, and reached the State quarterfinals, losing to the eventual champions in two of its three losses all season. Such success also marked a bit of the end of an era, however, with five out of last season’s seven starters no longer on the team. Head Coach David Messer is well aware of the challenge that awaits, but he and the team are clear that even without several of 2023’s stars, the expectation is to continue to bring trophies home.
“The number one goal this year is to become back-to-back region champions and make another run in the state playoffs,” said Coach Messer, a sentiment backed by senior Josh Dressler. “Our team is very capable of winning the region again this year and going as far if not further in the playoffs.”
Decatur is just as clear about its expectations as it is on the challenge that awaits with so many familiar faces gone.
“In all honestly, it’s going to be hard,” said Coach Messer, but he went on to outline the Bulldogs’ succession plan. “We have some good returning players from last year along with some improving players from JV joining us this year. I think overall, we will be well-balanced and competitive and we are going to build off that momentum.”
Dressler went on to say the changes could even be an advantage for the Bulldogs. “Our teammates are ready for increased playing time this year and new faces will pave the way for a new-look Decatur team that other teams aren’t ready for. The goal is simple: beat the teams we’re supposed to beat and surprise the ones we’re not.”
Regardless, this will be a farewell season to enjoy for Dressler and his three fellow seniors.
“I’m just looking forward to one more great season with my teammates,” Dressler said. “These guys are some of my best friends and I know we’ll have a great season, not only for us with one season left, but for those who will take over this team in the years to come.”
The Girls’ program is also heading into 2024 with the momentum of a successful 2023 campaign at its back. Decatur went 13-6 and reached the state quarterfinals, its best season in recent history. Senior and captain Rachel Dressler is confident that Decatur can and will reach similar heights this time around, despite the departures of its Head Coach and line 1 singles player.
“The gap left in the lineup will be filled by the talent and camaraderie in our group of experienced and new players this season,” Dressler said.
Decatur hopes to turn its 2023 runner-up region finish into a trophy, as well as go on another deep playoff run and perhaps even further with its newfound postseason experience. The Bulldogs are also aiming for major improvement from within throughout the year. All but one player from last season has returned, and with such team chemistry, the stage is perfectly set for an environment full of growth.
“Skills development, endurance, mental toughness, and strategy will all be important arenas for team and individual development,” Dressler said.
Off-court connections and on-court talent will be the keys to Decatur’s progress in 2024 according to Dressler.
“A close-knit community of players will organically create success and a positive atmosphere throughout the season,” she said.
Decatur’s Boys Lacrosse team capped off its 2023 season with victory in the ITP tournament and now has its sights set even higher in 2024.
“We have a shot at taking down the region this year, which would be huge for the program,” said Senior and Varsity lacrosse captain Clinton Shaeffer.
Along with the region, Decatur also is aiming to repeat as ITP champs, with the next edition of the tournament set to be played at the DHS stadium on March 1 and 2.
“The tournament, as a whole, is super important for the lacrosse program because we want the community to come out and support the team,” Shaeffer said.
To do so, Decatur will be relying on several underclassmen to not only replace last season’s seniors but also take on starring positions of their own.
“We have a bunch of young guys stepping up to play huge roles on the team this season, so I’m excited to see what they accomplish and how they carry themselves,” Shaeffer said.
Part of Decatur’s strong young core is thanks to the youth clinics the team hosts and includes Varsity players as coaches, helping “build the future of Decatur Lacrosse further,” as Shaeffer described.
For now, though, Shaeffer’s focus is on the present. “I am looking forward to one last ride with my guys and having a great senior season.”
Decatur’s Girls’ Lacrosse team smashed through its expectations in 2023, setting an all-time single-season record of wins with 13 in Head Coach Alex Powers’ debut campaign. Coach Powers and the majority of 2023’s key players are still in Decatur colors and ready to take the Bulldogs even higher this season.
Decatur’s Track teams are always one of its flagship programs and come into 2024 off a region victory for the Boys and a strong 3rd place finish for the Girls in 2023.
According to Head Coach Mary Souther, both teams are well set up for further success in the upcoming season, with the Girls’ team still largely intact and the Boys’ receiving an influx of strong underclassmen to seamlessly replace the many seniors that graduated. Furthermore, Coach Souther described how the work both teams will put in in training and all season long will make them stand out from the rest.
“We are starting practice early, and plan to focus on endurance and relays. Lots of working together as a team,” Souther said.
The end goal is “to win both the boys and the girls 4×800,” continued Coach Souther. “If the girls win this year, it will be a three-peat! We also want to finish the state meet on the podium as a team for both boys and girls.”
Decatur’s Ultimate Frisbee club is a sport in all but name and is gearing up for a new campaign after a 3rd place finish in the state tournament in 2023 and a second straight Spirit of the Game Award for the Girls’ team. Senior Rory King has set the bar high for 2024.
“Our biggest goal is winning a state championship, alongside placing in regional tournaments and ideally getting nationally ranked,” King said.
Fellow senior Evan King agreed, highlighting Deepfreeze and Terminus as two particularly important tournaments in part due to their role in determining state rankings.
The Bulldogs will have to navigate the upcoming challenges without twelve 2023 seniors.
Decatur’s Gymnastics team is back for year two after a wildly successful inaugural season in 2023. The Bulldogs are hoping to build off its first-ever victory in a meet last year and qualify for the state tournament as a team.
Boys + Girls Golf
The Bulldogs are looking to build off reaching state sectionals and continue its trend of year-over-year success. Much of last season’s team will be back, including junior Pargen Robertson, the sole representative Decatur sent to the State tournament in 2023.
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