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The five seniors on the Lady Panthers varsity volleyball team celebrate after winning the WNCAC championship last Tuesday. From left, Katie Peck, Lori Morgan, Karey Conner, Lindsay Simpson, and Kacie Peck. The group of five have demonstrated substantial motivation and skill on their way to earning a 13-1 conference record. Photo by Chad SimonsUsually a school can boast about one or two of its athletic teams in a given season, but it’s rare when a community can brag about nearly every team simultaneously. FHS fans can do exactly that, as Franklin’s fall sports teams are rising to the occasion this season, with several teams jockeying for conference championships.

The Lady Panthers volleyball team has already established their prominence in the WNCAC, winning their first conference championship since 2007 after beating Tuscola last Tuesday evening.

Franklin sports fans should revel in the fact that they are witnessing an unparalleled feat this fall, something that may not happen again anytime soon. Quite remarkably, four out of seven varsity teams fought successfully for top three finishes in the WNCAC. This unprecedented level of success is attributed to a great senior class and peerless skill on the playing field.

Franklin sports fans should revel in the fact that they are witnessing an unparalleled feat this fall, something that may not happen again anytime soon. Quite remarkably, four out of seven varsity teams fought successfully for top three finishes in the WNCAC. This unprecedented level of success is attributed to a great senior class and peerless skill on the playing field.

“I think our success comes from a combination of different things and it’s hard to narrow it down to just one variable,” said Franklin High School Athletic Director Jay Brooks.

“For one thing, our coaches have done an excellent job at getting their teams ready to play throughout the season, and our school and community has been great with their support. The school board does a lot of things for our teams, too, and that really helps. The support we get from all of those entities has been tremendous, and I think that is one reason why we have built some quality programs over the past few years,” Brooks said.

“We also have some great players. I don’t think you can overlook that. We got a bunch of seniors who want to leave behind a good legacy. They put in the extra time and effort to compete at the highest level and I think you can see that by the way our teams are playing this fall,” continued Brooks.

Volleyball

Franklin’s varsity volleyball team has a long history of success, mounting six conference championships in the past 20 seasons. This year is no different. The Lady Panthers continue to win games, and have done so in a convincing fashion. With their resounding victory over the Tuscola Mountaineers last Tuesday, 3 sets to 1, the girls earned an outright conference championship.

Before the season began, the team adopted unity as their team motto. As the season has progressed, it is safe to say that the squad has adhered to that theme, overcoming several setbacks on their way to winning another conference title, their first since 2007.

“In past years, we have always wanted to focus on being close and staying together as a team, but we never really did that,” said Panthers senior Karey Conner. “During the middle of the season, we would get off track for whatever reason, but we haven’t done that this year. I mean we have had a few setbacks, but for the most part, I think we have really concentrated on what we needed to do. I’m really proud of what we have done so far this year, and I hope we can go on and win a state championship.”

“Basically, we wanted to play as one,” said senior setter Katie Peck. “It has been awesome playing on this team. We have been playing together since middle school and we’re all such really good friends, and we’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. We just have to keep moving forward, focus on one game at a time, and I think we can do a lot of good things in the playoffs,” said Peck. “We really are a good team.”

Peck’s words are a major understatement, as the Lady Panthers have lost only one conference game this year, falling short at West Henderson last Thursday after being up 8-0 in the final set. “We never want to have that feeling again,” said Conner. Fortunately, redemption was not far off, as the team out-finessed Tuscola last Tuesday en route to yet another conference title.

Not surprisingly, the team’s success is due in large part to a fantastic senior class. The group of five exemplifies quality leadership, an intangible asset that is essential for any successful team to possess. It also helps when you have the tangible skills necessary to compete at a championship level, and the Lady Panthers are certainly not lacking in that area either, which is why they secured a 13-1 conference record.

“I can’t say enough about our group of seniors. They have been huge for us all season,” said head coach Anna Shields.

Senior Lindsay Simpson has been a catalyst in the team’s championship run. “She is a gamer. She brings everything she has on every play, and she wants the ball when the game is on the line and that’s the kind of player a coach wants,” Shields stated about the 2010 WNCAC player of the year.

Conner and Lori Morgan have also been instrumental in the Lady Panthers success on the court this year. Their contributions, on and off of the court, have paid huge dividends for Panthers volleyball.

“Karey brings so much to the table,” noted coach Shields. “She has been battling a shoulder injury all year but she refuses to sit down. She wants to finish out the season before she undergoes surgery, and I think that right there tells you what kind of player she is,” continued Shields.

“Lori is a type of player that is extremely versatile, and she has been solid for us all year. She would literally do anything for this team,” said Shields of another senior leader.

The twin seniors, Kacie and Katie Peck, cannot be ignored in assessing the team’s durability and extensive number of accomplishments. “They are very strong defensive players, but they are also vital in setting up our offense. They have been consistent for us all year long, and they really bring a lot to this team in terms of passion and raw intensity,” Shields said.

The girls are now embarking on a state title run and that journey begins this Saturday in the Panther Den, when the ladies will host Forestview at 700 p.m. Because of their outstanding play thus far, the girls will be a number one seed.

“We have definitely matured a lot this season. We will have home court advantage for several games in the playoffs and I think that will be huge,” said senior Lindsey Simpson, who will likely be the 2011 WNCAC player of the year.

“We don’t want to overlook any opponent, and we have to avoid a mental lapse like we had at West Henderson. Volleyball is a game of momentum. We were playing so well against West, and the next thing you know, the game is over. But we learned from that and moved on. I think winning a conference championship is just a start for this year’s team. We’ve been solid all year,” she said.

Football

Franklin’s undefeated varsity football team continues to trample conference opponents, and after beating East Henderson last Friday night, 28-21, the Panthers are looking at attaining their first conference championship since 2006.

Talented tailback, Marquel Manning races to the endzone early in the season against Murphy. Photo courtesy of Franklin High School Yearbook“After our first game, somebody told me that we were fixing to have a season to remember. Looking back on that comment, I think he was right. This group of seniors have played hard-nose football all year long. They have done it the right way. Some might say that the competition is down this year or that we haven’t played anybody, but the truth is our guys have played awfully well in a lot of games. I hope when all is said and done, people will reflect back on this season and appreciate what they have accomplished for this school and community,” said head coach Josh Brooks.

The Panthers will take on West Henderson Friday night, and will be recognizing 26 seniors on a very talented roster, four of which have been playing varsity football since their freshman year. Running backs Nathan Raby, twins Parrish and Jacob Young, and lineman Thomas Evans have been delivering at the varsity level since they were 14 years old.

Notably, Franklin seniors Justin Bohner and Thomas Evans were named WNC players of the week after the Panthers bruised the Eagles of East Henderson last Friday, offering more evidence at just how powerful the Panthers’ line is. Bohner and Evans carry a lot of muscle, weighing a combined 545 pounds. This is why Franklin has dominated at the line of scrimmage all year, opening up tractor trailer size holes for Franklin’s backs to run through and stifling defenses into a comatose.

The stat sheet speaks for itself. The potent Panthers offense has averaged 35.2 points per game this season, while the defense has held opposing offenses to just under 13 points a game.

With a win Friday night, the Panthers will improve to 10-0, marking their best start in school history. Franklin should receive a top seed in the state playoffs and will compete in the lower 3A bracket. The playoff path will likely lead to a showdown with the Asheville Cougars, the only undefeated team in the west besides Franklin.

Tennis

Seniors Andrea Bell, Katie Rogers, Nikki Valley, and Savannah Herman are thriving on the tennis court this season, amassing a 16-2 overall record and a 12-2 conference record. Astonishingly, the girls have been thriving on the tennis court for four consecutive years, compiling a 65-10 record during that time-frame.

FHS seniors Andrea Bell, Savannah Herman, Katie Rogers and Nikki Valley have played on the tennis team together for the last four years amassing a record of 65-10.Their high level of play has been apparent since their freshman year, and as their careers at FHS come to an end, future tennis player should know they will have big shoes to fill.

“I think the fact that they have played so well, consistently, over the course of four years tells you about their drive and ability to play the game,” said head coach Rick Blanton.

The girls finished second in the conference tournament last Monday, advancing six players to the Western regional tournament this Friday in Morganton. As a team, the girls placed second in conference, behind the Brevard Blue Devils. Of course, all four seniors performed superbly, and each of them will be playing on a bigger stage at the regionals match in Morganton tomorrow.

Bell and Herman will arrive in Morganton Friday as the number one doubles team. The duo has advanced to the state tournament the past two years and will likely do so again. Valley and Rogers will be representing Franklin as the number two doubles team in Morganton. The pairings should concern future opponents.

The newcomers representing Franklin tennis at regionals are Deven Quigley and Michaela Quigley, each of whom will be playing singles. Despite their inexperience, the two have played tremendously this fall. Quigley posted a 12-3 season record and Quigley’s record stands at 16-1. Their winning percentage thus far is telling, and both girls should give opponents a lot to handle.

Golf

The girl’s golf team has put up some intriguing numbers this year, peaking at the right time. The team fell an agonizing 12 points shy of second place in the conference tournament this week, but managed to shoot some great scores.

On the first day of the conference tournament at Lake Junaluska Monday, each girl shot their personal best, demonstrating their focus and desire to win when it mattered most. Senior Carly Payseur shot an 85, Sophomore Erin Campbell shot an 88, and Sydney Pierce shot 102.

Going into the second day of the conference tournament in Etowah, the girls were just six points back of second place. The difficult course challenged the team, but each player remained poised and finished strongly.

Payseur shot an 98, Erin Campbell tallied a score of 101, and Sydney Pierce recorded a score of 114.

Payseur and Campbell were outstanding, and were awarded by being named All Conference and All-Region.

“I’ve been very happy with the way we have played this year, and we’ve been very blessed with great weather as well. As a team, we’ve improved considerably this year, and even though we are still not as consistent as I would like for us to be, we have still played really well at times,” said Franklin’s golf coach David Morgan.

“It’s really been a fun year. We’ve had a ball and I think just being around the girls all season has been the best part. We have stayed positive, didn’t get down when we didn’t play well and we keep getting better,” said Payseur.

The senior also gave a lot of praise for her head coach, who brought a lot to this team and to Payseur. “He is always trying to help us get better. He is a great teacher and a great friend. We know that he is always there for us when we need him,” said Payseur.

Hopefully, the team can carry their conference momentum into the Regionals match next Monday in Asheville.

“I didn’t play good there last year, so I am hoping to redeem myself this time around,” said Payseur. “My goal is to simply get to state. That’s been my goal all year long.”

Coach Morgan believes Payseur and her teammates can reach their goal of competing at state. “I think several of our girls will be able to qualify for state,” said coach Morgan. “They definitely have a really good chance to do so.”

The top four teams at the Regionals match will qualify for the state tournament later this year.

Cross Country

Led by senior Kyle Brown, the FHS boys cross country team have exceeded expectations this season, and with a young team, the future is looking bright for Franklin XC.

Even though the boys did not do as well as they expected at the conference meet Tuesday evening at WCU, some of the runners set personal records (PR). “We had runners who really demonstrated some of things that we have been talking about during practices,” said first year head coach Rita Esterwood.

The team was shooting for third place, but ended up settling for fifth. However, because several runners improved vastly, the Panthers remain optimistic going into the Regionals meet.

Harrison Conner ran extremely well Tuesday, finishing with a PR of 18:44, placing second on the team. Jimmy Yokel set a PR of 19:44 and senior Jake Tallent shattered his PR by 40 seconds, finishing in 19:44. Once again, Brown led the team, finishing in 18:25, coming three positions short of placing All-Conference.

The Panthers are trying to finish strong this season, and hope their experience and confidence will lead to a rewarding meet at Regionals, which will be held in Catawba County this Monday. “I think we will do well,” said Brown. “I hope to break 18 next week.”

“I’m very proud of our team this season. You know, we really have come a long way since we started and I think we all have learned so much,” said Esterwood. Despite her youth, Esterwood has led the Panthers to a top five conference finish.

“A lot of our guys have set personal records this year, so we have made progress. I am really impressed with our team’s hard work. A lot of people perceive cross country to be a miserable sport, but our guys have approached it differently and made this season a lot of fun. They have all worked really hard to get where we are now, and I’m really proud of them,” said Esterwood.

Worthy of mention, sophomore runner Shawn Marcie shattered the course record at Rabun Gap earlier this season, finishing in 17:53 to take first place. Marcie has been pushing Brown all year, and their competitiveness has been a major factor in the Panthers’ progression this season.

“They really go after each other, in a positive way,” noted Esterwood. “They make each other so much better.”





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