School's out, but already training for next season

More work to be done for Owen athletes who remain at the school

Fred McCormick

The end of the school year brings another season of athletics to a close at Owen High School.

Several graduating Warhorses and Warlassies will continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level, while many more have played their final games in their respective sports.

But for rising junior and senior athletes, the journey to athletic excellence in maroon and white continues.

Just finishing her junior year, Caitlyn Ledford is fresh off of her best season as a Warlassie softball player. Her traveling team's season has already started and had its first tournament recently.

With just a few days remaining in her junior year, Owen High School rising senior Caitlyn Ledford is already working hard to get ready for her senior volleyball, basketball and softball seasons.

Ledford's career with the Owen High softball team started her freshman year in 2015 at second base. She was one of three ninth-grade starters on the team that season.

“Me, Jaiden (Tweed) and Ashley (Valencia) all grew up together playing softball,” she said of the other two players. “So playing together in high school has been exciting.”

Their freshman year, the trio helped lead a team that had gone 4-16 the previous season to a 9-7-1 season. The Warlassies have gone a combined 29-9 in the two seasons since and advanced to the third round of the state playoffs in 2016.

Ledford plans to work even harder over the summer with her senior season looming large.

“I plan to take my training even more seriously,” she said. “I didn’t realize how fast my senior year would come.”

When she’s not suiting up for games this summer for the traveling team, Carolina Hit-N-Run Elite, Ledford will be focusing on working out to build strength, as well as improving specific skills.

“We pretty much play every weekend,” she said. “And when I’m not playing or at practice, then I’m working out. It’s pretty intense.”

She will also spend much of the summer getting ready for her senior season of volleyball at Owen, which begins as soon as school starts back in fall. She also needs to stay in shape for basketball in the winter.

"Softball is my number one sport, but I take the other sports I play seriously too," she said. "I love my teammates."

Rising junior Chesney Gardner is one of Ledford's teammates in every sport. Gardner was named female athlete of the year at Owen following her freshman and junior seasons. Much of her summer will be spent playing travel basketball.

Rising junior Chesney Gardner will spend her summer working on her skills on the basketball court, where she hopes to help the Warlassies keep winning in the winter.

"I'm training three days a week," she said. "I have a national tournament coming up in July."

During her first two seasons, Gardner averaged more than 15 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in 54 games for the Warlassies basketball team. She hopes the work she puts in this summer will elevate her game, even though her team is currently without a coach after the retirement of Tim Raines, who coached the program for over two decades.

"Not having a coach right now is tough," Gardner said. "But I believe as a team, if we put in the extra time, we can work on building our chemistry and be ready for next season."

Rising senior Garrett Miller has quietly had a remarkable athletic career for Owen on the golf course, a place he figures to spend a lot of time this summer.

"I practice four to five days a week," he said. "I try to play as much as possible, but I have two jobs so it's not always easy. But one of my jobs is at the golf course at Biltmore Forest (Country Club)."

Just being around the game helps Miller with the mental aspects of golf.

"That's a big part of it," said Miller, who finished 20th out of 84 golfers in the state championship tournament as a sophomore before going undefeated in the Western Highlands Conference as a junior. "I've played the game for 16 years now, so I tend to focus less on my swing and techniques. A lot of my focus is on dissecting the course and where to hit my shots, where to miss, what club to use."

In between the four tournaments he's already set to appear in this summer, he'll continue to study the habits of some of the greats of the game.

"Everyone at the pro level has a great swing and great technique," he said. "But it's important to study how they got great."

Miller and the Owen golf team, which had been coached by Raines for the last three seasons, are also without a coach at the moment. But that hasn't stopped Miller from setting big goals for his senior year.

"I'd like to have a college commitment locked down halfway through the season," he said. "That's a big weight on my shoulders. I'm confident I'll get there, but at the same time I know I have a lot more I need to work on.

"As far as the team here at the school is concerned, I'd like to win the conference championship, go to regional and hopefully win state."