McCormick: Shorter nights mean Owen sports going long

The summer months appeal to pretty much everyone.

The pool is open, the golf course is packed and there is never a shortage of things to do in the Swannanoa Valley.

However, the one thing that summer cannot provide returns this week when Owen's fall sports season gets underway.

Six sports kick off the first athletic season of the school year. Students, parents, alumni and other supporters will fill the stands to support Warhorses and Warlassies for the next 10 months.

On Aug. 21, the day after the volleyball team plays in its first official contest of the year, the football team goes on the road, opening its season against Enka.

For the first time in 30 years, the Warhorses are heading into action under a new head coach.

Nathan Padgett, a graduate of Owen who played under former Warhorse coach Kenny Ford, is putting his own stamp on the program.

The team is coming off a year in which it thoroughly dominated the Western Highlands Conference and rode a perfect regular season record into the third round of the playoffs.

Coach Padgett has made it clear that this team is not last year's Warhorses, but, as it was last year, a solid running game will feature prominently.

Sophomore running back Sidney Gibbs was impressive against East Henderson and Pisgah last week. A stark contrast to Jager Gardner - the most productive running back in the history regional high school football - Gibbs is shorter. He picks his running lanes by following his lead blockers.

Once he commits, Gibbs is tough for defenders to take down. Listed at 5-foot-9, Gibbs does not provide a target for would-be tacklers.

He is joined in the backfield by Cyrus Hooper, who prefers to run straight through opponents.

Senior quarterback DeMarcus Harper will be a player to watch for the Warhorses as well. A shoulder injury cut his season short last year, so he returns with something to prove.

A stable of wide receivers will be on the other end of passes from Harper, and four seniors will be looked upon to provide stability at the position.

Another new head coach will wear maroon and white this year - Tia Vasko takes over the volleyball program.

A 2011 graduate of Owen, Vasko was an assistant on last year’s team that went 1-19. She is optimistic that an influx of talented freshmen and solid senior leadership will lead to an improvement this season.

On the tennis courts, the Warlassies will play their first season at the school’s new tennis complex. The tennis team is the third of Owen’s fall sports teams to welcome a new coach, Chris Bracklow.

The boy’s soccer team is once against under the guidance of head coach David Fiest. The Warhorses have been a consistent force in the Western Highlands Conference in recent years, and Fiest’s system is geared toward continuing that trend.

Joe Hyder and Kate Dost team up again to coach Owen’s crosscountry teams. The teams will run in the Hyder-McMahill Invitational at Montreat College’s Black Mountain campus on Sept. 2.

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, make some plans to enjoy one the great things about fall in the Swannanoa Valley - Owen athletics.