In dominant 9-0 start, Damascus softball sweeps long-awaited round robin

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The Damascus, Quince Orchard and Blair softball teams planned to start a single-day round robin in 2019, but the competition didn’t happen for three years because of a rainout and then two pandemic-altered seasons.

The teams finally agreed on April 11 on Blair’s campus, where Damascus turned in two dominant performances, defeating the Blair, 14-2, and QO, 10-0.

While 12th-year Damascus coach Lindsay Burns said it’s the first time the Swarmin’ Hornets played two games in one day, she noted it wasn’t an uncommon experience for her players.

“Most of these girls play tournament ball, so they’re used to playing more than one game a day,” she said. “So they had that mindset going; they were ready.”

The wins pushed the Hornets to 9-0 this season. In their last seven contests, they have outscored their opponents 98-3, largely behind the strength of their top two pitchers, juniors Isabella DiGiandomenico and Morgan Lipansky.

In the 38 innings they’ve pitched, the two have allowed just six earned runs and have struck out 78 batters. In the round robin they combined for 12 innings, one run allowed, and 21 strikeouts.

“They are a force to be reckoned with in the circle,” Burns said.

Lately, whenever Good Counsel’s Leah Stephens steps onto the track she leaves it with a win and a record.

At her most recent competition, the Bullis Invitational on April 9, Stephens eclipsed her own school record in the 3,200 meters by nine seconds. The junior’s time of 10:30.67 obliterated the meet record as well, and at the time it was the top two-mile mark of the season among high schoolers, according to MileSplit.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anyone dominate distance racing in the way that she has,” Good Counsel Coach Richard Hiegel said. “Her name de ella is all over the record books and she’s only a junior, so it’s hard to even imagine what her ceiling de ella may be someday.”

Three hours before that performance, Stephens set a school record in the 1,600 meters as well.

Her time of 4:56.04 cleared the previous record, was set in 1997, by a full two seconds.

“I haven’t had much experience with doing both because of cancellations the last few years, but I look at both as an opportunity for a PR, and I try to focus on the race I’m in and try not to think of the later race,” Stephens said. “I’m finally starting to reach my potential. … It’s still early in the season, though, so I still have work to do.”

In their first year as a varsity team competing within the Independent School League, Holton-Arms is undefeated heading into the ISL tournament, which begins its first round Tuesday. The school hired longtime Sidwell Friends coach Anne Renninger this year in the hopes of building a competitive program, and it appears to be working quickly.

“We’re a really young team, and so it’s just been kind of the luck of the draw,” Renninger said. “It’s good timing for Holton to make it a varsity sport because they have the talent, so it’s been great.”

Renninger, who ended her 39-year tenure at Sidwell in 2019, came out of retirement in part to support girls’ golf but also because she had an itch to coach again.

The Panthers have embraced the shift from club to varsity competition, even marveling at their new uniforms. “They really love their sport and they work really hard at it, so it’s nice to have a vehicle to show off their talents,” Renninger said. “That part has been really worth it to me, just to see how much kids appreciate the ability to do their sport at their school.”

The ISL tournament takes place across two days in two separate weeks on two Silver Spring courses — first the Northwest Golf Course and then Argyle Country Club on April 25. The seven teams will play nine holes each day, and the scores from both days will be added up to determine a winner.

For Robinson Coach Joe Bergin, the way to measure the chemistry of a team is simple: How well are they passing the ball?

“We really look to see how well we move the ball and how well we’re communicating on the field,” Bergin said.

Especially early in a season, the more assists a team puts up the better chance they’re meshing well. So the Rams’ coach was pleased to see his team pull off its smoothest, most efficient goal of the season last week in their first game back from spring break.

It came about 30 seconds into a 3-0 win over Woodson. The Rams got the ball up to a forward, who turned and slotted a through ball to a streaking teammate for a score.

“It all happened so fast, so crisp,” Bergin recalled with delight. “The movement was just beautiful.”

Coming off spring break, the team joked afterward that maybe they should never practice again.

Even after a win like that, Bergin likes the focus to remain on getting better. After every match, the Rams — now 5-1-0 — discuss three things they did well and three things they could do better.

“The only thing that matters is that we get better every day this season,” the coach said.

Paul VI Coach Rich Hayden knew entering this season his team possessed the talent to compete in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. After the Panthers’ blowout loss to Good Counsel on March 22 — their second consecutive defeat — Hayden said he kept his message simple when his players gathered in their home field’s end zone.

“Hey, don’t feel bad,” Hayden recalled saying in a 10-minute meeting. “You had a bad night. You lost, 18-9, but that’s not reflective of really what you’re capable of.”

The following night, Paul VI displayed its potential in its 10-7 win over Independent School League contender Georgetown Visitation. The victory initiated Paul VI’s nine-game winning streak and signified the program’s growth.

Last year, Visitation beat the Panthers (11-2) by seven goals. After last month’s win, Hayden glanced at his assistant coaches and said, “That’s redemption.”

Hayden believes Paul VI’s move from Fairfax to Chantilly in August 2020, and the revamped athletic facilities that accompanied it, has attracted more athletes from across Virginia. Next month, Paul VI will contend for his first WCAC title since 2003.

“We have a saying every game,” Hayden said. “You preach it all the time, but it started to matter [after the Good Counsel loss]: No matter the outcome, at the end of every game, you return back to being 0-0 on the season.”

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