With the new football season less than three months away, Gretna High moved quickly to promote assistant Shaun Miller to the position of head coach, replacing Cole Simpson, who announced his resignation late last month.
Miller, a 39-year-old Gretna alum, has served as Hawks defensive backs coach the last four years. He graduated from Gretna in 2000 after a career in which he was a member of the football, basketball and track teams. After playing under former coach Robert Prunty, Miller went on to earn a full football scholarship at Elon University in North Carolina, where he played defensive back and graduated in 2005.
"We're still gonna keep it simple," Miller said of his coaching methods. "Football is always about blocking and tackling. Games are won in the offseason, so we're concentrating on getting bigger, stronger, faster and mentally tough."
Gretna featured a young squad this spring and finished the pandemic-shortened season 1-3 after the Pittsylvania County School Board decided its four schools could only play one another in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. In 2019, the Hawks went 9-4 and advanced to the Region 2C title game.
Miller took away positives from the shortened season. He'll return basically the same team this fall, since GHS lost just three seniors to graduation, and they know each other pretty well after the spring season. They also enter the new season, which begins in late August, already in football shape.
"They'll be able to hit the ground running," Miller said. "The guys are excited. We're gonna keep our heads down and work hard and see what happens."
Miller may introduce some new wrinkles into Gretna's offense. Simpson brought back the Wing-T and installed it three years ago.
"We're probably going to open things up a little bit," Miller said. "We'll still be a run team and spread it out a little bit, too, and get the ball to our athletes in space to make some things happen."
Miller said he'll stress accountability, teaching players to "do the right thing when people are watching and when they aren't watching."
"Not all of them will have the chance to go play football beyond high school," the new coach said, "but they will have the opportunity to go out into the world and be productive citizens. That's what we want to teach. ... So we're gonna keep it simple and have fun."
Amherst baseball top seed in Region 4D
After earning the Seminole District regular-season crown, Amherst's baseball squad found out Thursday it will be the top team in the upcoming Region 4D tournament.
The Lancers (10-2) receive a first-round bye and play the winner of Saturday's quarterfinal game between No. 4 Jefferson Forest (8-4) and No. 5 Salem, which will be played at Forest Middle. Amherst hosts the winner at 6 p.m. Tuesday. E.C. Glass (5-7) is the sixth seed and plays a first-round game at No. 3 Pulaski.
Amherst has gotten production from all across the board this season, from talented freshman Dalton Wentz and a solid sophomore class to experienced standouts like Christian Martin.
Martin, the shortstop headed to Virginia Tech, has put up eye-popping numbers in his senior season, sporting a blistering .563 batting average with 18 hits, two homers, eight RBIs, 16 runs scored, an on-base percentage of .729 and 12 stolen bases in 12 games (and 15 walks).
"He's really been on the ball," Lancers coach John Apperson said.
Apperson knew before the season started his team would excel defensively.
"But hitting is always the question in high school," he said. "We had sophomores who hadn't seen varsity pitching until this year, and the Seminole is loaded with arms. Every team has a solid No. 1. ... I knew the potential was there. I think we're now just finding our approach at the plate."
The Lancers won the district over Liberty Christian. Both finished with 10-2 records, but Amherst won in the tie-breaking scenario because it shocked the Bulldogs with a come-from-behind 4-3 walk-off victory March 21. It was the only time the two rivals faced off in 2021.
Amherst and LCA head into different classes for the playoffs, with LCA taking the No. 2 seed in the Region 3C tourney, which starts Monday.
"Our pitching has stayed pretty consistent," Apperson said of his Lancers. "We've been fortunate to keep the order of our games as of late without postponements for a consistent rotation. And the bats have definitely started to heat up a little bit. We had some guys who were really struggling at the plate come up big at the plate lately."