Trio of Warlassies take home top honors

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

It almost seemed like ladies night May 17 Owen High School cafeteria as dozens of students, parents and staff recognized the top athletes of 2017-18.

While plenty of Warhorses took home hardware for their accomplishments on the field or court, a trio of Warlassies carried away the heavy stuff.

Junior Chesney Gardner was named the school’s Athlete of the Year, an award that comes with a hefty trophy. Her name is now etched on a larger trophy with names of past winners of the award, which is sponsored by SunTrust.

Owen junior Chesney Gardner is presented with the SunTrust Athlete of the Year Award, recognizing the top athlete during the 2017-18 school year.

Gardner has been a huge athletic presence since her freshman year when she was named Female Athlete of the Year for the first time. She won the same award as a sophomore last year.

This year, on her way to scoring her 1,000th career point, she led Warlassies basketball in scoring on their way to their first 20-win season in over a decade. She averaged a career-high 17 points per game and led Owen with almost nine rebounds per contest. She protected the rim on the defensive end with a team-high 1.3 blocks.

“This individual is MVP in every sport they play,” Owen athletic director Anthony Lee said as he introduced the award for the school’s top athlete. “All-WNC, all-conference in all sports she plays, a tremendous athlete and competing at the state level (in the discus throw) this Saturday," on May 19.

In addition to her exploits on the basketball court, Gardner has also broken the school’s discus record repeatedly since 2016. She broke her own record twice this season; her current mark stands at 117 feet.

“She’s a back-to-back regional champion,” track and field coach Tom Mammerilli pointed out at the ceremony before recognizing her as the team’s top thrower.

She also led the volleyball team (6-2 in the conference) in kills with 89.

It’s almost impossible to discuss sports at Owen in recent years without bringing up the names Jaiden Tweed and Ashley Valencia. So it seemed fitting that the two seniors would be named co-Female Athlete of the Year.

Lifelong friends and teammates Jaiden Tweed, left, and Ashley Valencia embrace after being named co-Female Athlete of the Year at Owen High School on May 17.

The two began playing softball together at the age of six. Tweed, a dominant pitcher, has thrown to Valencia, an athletic catcher, ever since.

The pair has been instrumental in the 51 wins the Warlassies softball players have recorded since the start of the 2015 season. That run includes a trip to the third round of the state playoffs, in 2016.

Tweed, the team’s MVP this season, has been dominant since her freshman season when she struck out 201 batters and won nine games for Owen. She finished her Warlassies softball career with 651 strike outs, a 1.79 ERA and a 39-23 record. She will continue her softball career at Presbyterian College.

Base runners feared the left arm of Valencia behind the plate, head coach Angela Louis said when she presented Valencia with the team’s Golden Glove Award.

“Her leadership and knowledge of the game made her like another coach out there on the field,” Louis said.

As a left-handed batter,  the catcher has also caused concern for opposing pitchers. Twice in a season, Valencia batted .500 or better. She will take her career .463 batting average, .557 on base percentage and 70 RBIs to Florida, where after graduation she will play for Pensacola State College.

Valencia and Tweed also left their collective mark on the tennis courts at Owen. The duo signed up to play the sport together for the first time as sophomores and played for a state championship as a doubles team last fall.

Valencia also played in 102 games for the basketball team and scored 747 career points, 380 assists and 300 rebounds.

Linebacker Kaleb Woods led the Owen football team in tackles (103) as a senior prior to his stellar season for the Warhorses wrestling team. His performance in those sports earned the Brevard College football commit the Male Athlete of the Year Award.

“He was the MVP of the football team, the MVP of the wrestling team and finished in the top eight in the region,” Lee said of Woods. “The crazy thing is he couldn’t be here tonight because he had to work.”

Woods wasn’t the only male athlete recognized that evening, as every member of the Warhorse tennis team was presented with a plaque commemorating a perfect 11-0 season. The team’s coaches, Chuck Robinson and Dick Keefer, were named conference coaches of the year.

Owen soccer continued to have a big year - sophomore Camryn Bolick earned the WHC Player of the Year Award and junior C.J. Graham was honored as the top goalkeeper in the conference.

Sophomore Camryn Bolick receives a plaque after being named Western Highlands Conference Player of the Year.


“I believe this is the first time that the boys and girls programs went undefeated in the conference and advanced to the third round of the playoffs,” said David Fiest, head coach of both programs. That announcement was met with loud applause.

“This (Warlassies) team gave up only one goal in conference and 12 total this year,” he said. “This year we had more all-conference selections than we have before.” Fiest’s squad landed eight players on the All-WHC team.

The Warlassies track and field team also recognized its 4x800 relay team, which won the conference championship in the event and finished just shy of qualifying for the state championship.

Lee announced that Owen earned the Wells Fargo Cup, which recognizes the top overall athletic programs in the conference each year.