Girls’ spring sports notes: A pair of state champion softball teams undergo changes at the top

“When I came on board we already had that background relationship to build off of,” said Owen, whose team is ranked No. 2 in The Post’s debut rankings this spring. “It was great because we respected one another.”

Sixty miles south, a similar script played out. South County lost in the Virginia Class 6 state championship game, 6-3, to Cosby. That was the last game for South County coach Gary Dillow, who had been with the program, first as an assistant coach, since its inception in 2006 and took over as head coach in 2011.

In his stead came Brian Griffith, who had been an assistant coach since 2015 after coaching JV for the Stallions since 2012. While Griffith understands he’s expected to uphold the winning tradition of No. 3 South County, he knows that he’ll have the skill to get it done.

“I know since I’ve been there … that the talent is there,” Griffith said. “So as long as I do my job and I make it easy for the girls I think we will continue to be successful.”

In 2019, when Dominion won its first Virginia Class 4 girls’ lacrosse championship, Coach Diane Traynor could turn toward her team’s bench any time and choose from a plethora of players to enter the game.

Dominion has had more success since, winning last year’s state title while finishing 14-0. Instead of the program’s interest rising, however, Traynor said fewer players have tried out in the past two years.

She believes Dominion’s teams are still experiencing the coronavirus’s impact on sports.

“We had some kids who were coming along,” Traynor said. “And then they hit the gap year and just didn’t come back.”

Nonetheless, Dominion, with five Division I commits, is in a position to contend for its third consecutive state title. The Titans opened with a 19-3 win over Briar Woods on Friday. This week, they’ll play Class 6 contenders Yorktown and Langley.

Dominion’s turnaround has been significant since Traynor began coaching in 2015, when the Titans finished roughly .500 and didn’t develop any Division I players.

“For a school our size,” Traynor said, “I think to put together what we’ve been able to put together is really something to be proud of.”

Last spring, as the Patriot Pioneers made the most of a condensed campaign, Coach Kelly Beauchamp-Payne would often tell her players they should be grateful for every chance they had to take the field.

“This year it’s different. This year it’s more so about being grateful for what is almost a normal season,” the coach said.

A normal season means the return of everything a team does outside of playing soccer. This Patriot group in particular does a lot away from the field, including a weekly team-building exercise that often takes place inside. The menu includes blindfolded mazes, balloon walks and other activities that build chemistry and take the players’ minds off the field.

Last year, those types of peripheral activities were off limits. The amount of time the group could spend together was limited, and it was always spent outside. Even team meals were eaten outside. Now, the traditions have returned.

“I see a huge difference this year,” Beauchamp-Payne said. “And the teams that have better chemistry off the field always play better on it.”

The Pioneers, consistent Prince William County contenders and last year’s Class 6 runners-up, opened their season with a tough 1-0 loss to Colgan. Losing is not something the Patriot program does often, but the coach treated it like she would any of her team-building exercises: simply a chance to learn more about each other.

“I learn a ton, and my players earn a ton, from a loss,” Beauchamp-Payne said. “Makes you want to get better and come back stronger.”

After routinely finishing at or near the top of the D.C. State Athletic Association standings, Dunbar enters this outdoor season with a bit of uncertainty.

While every high school team has been impacted by the pandemic in form, D.C. public schools have had it tougher than most because of a lack of indoor track facilities and a D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association rule that forbids teams from spending the night on the road.

As a result, the Lady Tide and their D.C. public counterparts head into the outdoor season with just one indoor competition behind them — the DCSAA state championship.

“We’ve been trying to be creative with how we use the treadmills and things like that to try to keep the kids engaged and focused on track despite there being no events,” Dunbar Coach Marvin Parker said. “But the only way to gauge where you’re really at is to get on a track and run.”

“The circumstances are tough, but I’m excited,” Parker said. “I feel like I’m starting all over again. We’ve been on the top for a long time, but sometimes it’s good to come back to the village and remind the people.”

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