Athletic program showing signs of getting back on top

A s time drops the curtain on the first

decade of the 21st

century Thursday, Rockdale Tiger sports fans can look back on a period where the athletic program went through drastic changes from coaches to facilities and can take solice in the fact that things are on the upswing in every department.

Rockdale also produced some quality athletes, that made their presence known throughout the state and the nation.

While most of the boys programs struggled to find their footing, it was the Lady Tigers who waved the flag highest during the decade, through their state caliber basketball and softball teams.

Football

The Tigers’ disappointing loss to Coldspring in November left the program with a 54-54 record for the past 10 years which correctly summed up the football program.

Under Casey Creghan, who was forced out in 2003, the Tigers were 22-21 with two playoff victories in the front end of the decade.

Creghan had led Rockdale to back-to-back district championships in 1998-99.

The Tigers have not won another since.

However, with the arrival of Jeff Miller, the Tigers have won 17 games in the past two seasons and are on a definite upswing.

Expectations are high and the program has gained respect, being chosen as district favorites and ranked as high as No. 10 this past season.

Big Blue shared a district with Liberty Hill for two seasons, which concluded with the Panthers capturing state titles both times.

The program produced three first-team all-state performers in the decade, defensive end Stryker Sulak (2003, Missouri), defensive end Austin January (2005, Abilene Christian) and linebacker Nic Hammett (2008, Rice).

Sulak was the most prolific player by far, earning firstteam All-Big 12 accolades for Missouri during the school’s unprecedented four-year run while he was there.

Sulak was drafted in the sixth round by the Oakland Raiders.

Basketball

After completely dominating area basketball in the 1990s, the Lady Tigers’ basketball program came back down to earth in the past decade.

After producing a 102-18 mark in district play in the previous 10 years under longtime coach Janet Havelka (including 41 straight), the Lady Tigers struggled to post winning records in the 2000s.

After Havelka collected her eighth straight league championship in 2000, Rockdale has had just three winning seasons since, the last in 2006 when the Lady Tigers went 15-13 and missed the playoffs.

Havelka retired in 2007 after 17 seasons and over 300 victories and the program was taken over by former Tigerette star Liz McQuitter.

The best player in the period, Jessica Gaines, was a two-time all-state performer and earned a scholarship to Stephen F. Austin.

On the boy’s side, the Tigers have struggled to pull themselves out of the doldrums and have not registered a winning record or made a playoff appearance since 1997 in Dean Hollingsworth’s last season.

Hollingsworth had led Rockdale to the state tournament in 1995 and won 160 games in eight seasons.

The Tigers got into a playoff for a playoff spot in 2006 and 2007, but were turned away both times by Hutto for third place.

The Tigers were 16-16 under James Johnson in 2006.

In the 12 years since the last winning mark, the Tigers are 121-225 (34 percent) under five different coaches.

The Tigers have featured a couple of great backcourts in Tee Richardson (1,057 career points) and Katory Morrison (908) from 2005-07 and the current tandem of seniors Lance Loewe and William McQuitter who have both scored over 1,000 career points.

Softball

The Rockdale softball team has held the banner high for the Tigers athletic program with the most successful run during the decade.

The upstart 2005 team came out of nowhere to reach the regional finals and were one game away from heading to Austin, but were blasted by district mates and eventual state champion LaGrange in a double header and denied with a 27-5 mark.

In 2006, the unbeaten Lady Tigers rose to the rank of No. 2 and despite the fact that they defeated district foe and No. 1 ranked Giddings, were denied a No. 1 ranking.

The Lady Tigers appeared to be on their way to another regional final before being sent home with a walk-off home run from a China Spring pinch hitter that closed out their season at 23-2 at the quarterfinals.

Beginning with Rainey Eanes at the front of the decade, the Lady Tigers have produced a steady flow of outstanding shortstops with Toni Ellis, Kaitlynne Schnerr and Kassie Roddam, who all received all-state recognition, including Schnerr who was a first-team selection.

Schnerr, who signed with Temple College, set most of the offensive records for the Lady Tigers before she left with 100 runs batted in and a .492 batting average.

Pitcher Sammie Meyer—who pitched at Temple—chalked up a 43-7 record.

Eanes signed with Iowa St., while Caitlyn Luetge, an allstate third baseman, signed with North Texas.

Several players out of the softball program went on to play college softball.

From 2005-07, Jessica Poole steered Rockdale to three straight district championships and a 68-17 mark, which included a 32-game winning streak, before leaving for Hutto.

Baseball

When Larry Pipken was not retained by new athletic director Robbie Clark in 2004, the Tiger baseball program took a giant step backwards, losing its all-time winningest coach (208 wins in 16 years).

After seven-straight non-winning seasons, current coach Jarad Richards has infused the program with youthful enthusiasm and the Tigers established a school record for victories last season with 22.

The Tigers entered the playoffs for the first time since 2000 and handled Huffman-Hargrave in the area round, but just could not get past a state-ranked Taylor squad in the quarterfinals, which they had lost to twice in district.

Starting with Vincent Garza in 2000, the Tigers produced some top notch ball players during the decade.

The fireballing Garza (9-4) struck out 179 batters for the 2000 area champions including 17 versus Manor. The left hander also hit .459.

Rockdale also produced allstate catcher Nic Hammett, who established a school record with 94 runs batted in during his four-year career. Hammett plans to play baseball at Rice, where he is on a football scholarship.

Pitcher/utility player Mark Drake (7-1, .400) also earned all-state recognition.

In 2009, senior first baseman Chance Betchan was a firstteam all-state selection after knocking in 48 runs batted in and hitting .435.

Track

The Rockdale track program had the privilege of watching one of the pioneers of the pole vault in Leslie Starnes.

Starting from scratch, Starnes made four trips to the state track meet (2004-07) and walked away with three silver medals.

Along the way, Starnes also established a new record in the 100-meter dash, breaking Tammie Marion’s 19-year old mark, set in the year Starnes was born, 1987.

Starnes earned a track scholarship to Texas Christian University.

Camille Campbell broke the school record in the 300-meter hurdles in 2006.

Crystal Anderson also made her presence felt in the first part of the decade (2000-02), setting school records in the triple jump, the 200-meter dash, and as a part of the 400-meter relay team.

At the 2000 Rockdale Relays, Anderson rolled up 28 points.

Following a family tradition, Krysten Brooks took her turn on the hurdles at the state track meet in 2008 and 2009, where her father and uncles once dominated the cinders.

Brooks, who broke her own school record in the 100-meter hurdles several times, now runs for Texas-Arlington.

Michael Menley was the lone Rockdale boys athlete to make his way to the state meet in Austin during the decade, earning a silver medal in the discus in 2004.

Menley was given a decathlete scholarship to Tulane.

Tennis

Jeff Easterwood single-handedly put Rockdale back on the tennis map, returning the program its golden age of the 1980s.

Easterwood rallied for four straight entries at the state tournament (2000-03) and collected three medals (two silvers, one bronze) for the effort.

Ginger Owen joined Easterwood at the state tournament in 2000.

The surprise doubles team of Matt Sanders and Kurt Griesbach journeyed to the state tournament in 2004.

Caryn Bland and Toni Ellis were three-time district doubles champions in 2003-05.

Alethea Maldonado captured a district championship in 2007 as a sophomore.

Maldonado was also a district champion with her cousin and partner Evan Grandstaff in 2008 in mixed doubles.

In 2009, Annie Wilde and Bobby Baggerly were district mixed doubles champions.

Volleyball

The volleyball program has suffered the same fate as boys basketball and seems to be mired in a cycle of losing.

The Lady Tigers have not had a winning record since 1999 and have made just one playoff trip (2006) when they were 15-18 under Jayson Langman, who stayed just one year before leaving for Round Rock Stony Point.

In the past three seasons, the spikers are 12-78 overall and 2-30 in district play.

Since 2002, the Lady Tigers have had six different coaches.

Losses

Rockdale lost many people who were former athletes or coaches who were connected with the program.

The year 2001 was an especially bad year as Rockdale lost M.C. White, T.A. Weems, Don Wesley and superfan Jerry Throckmorton.

Weems was a superb allaround athlete for Rockdale in the 1930s and went on to star at Rice. When he moved back to Rockdale, he became a track mentor to Tiger athletes.

Wesley led the Tigers to the 1976 state championship and is still the school’s all-time leading rusher. He was 42, his jersey number.

White was the beloved booster club president and father of a family of star athletes at RHS.

The Tigers lost former basketball player Joe Gregg Nelson in 2005 along with football standout Gary Holliman.

James Roy Young, the lone senior starter on the Tigers’ 1966 state tournament team, passed away in 2006.

The school’s all-time winningest coach Duane Vincent died in 2007 after a short illness.

Weldon Alford—the referee’s referee and Tiger sports supporter— passed away in 2008.

In 2009, former all-state performer and Mr. RHS Germaine Dawson was murdered in Dallas.

Dawson had been playing football for North Texas.

Within the past two months, Rockdale Hall of Honor recipients Billie Jean Washington and Barbara Young Kastner passed away.

Another honoree, Louise “Shorty” Barnes—who once scored 86 points in a game in 1937— died in 2008.


Click here for digital edition
2009-12-31 digital edition



The burn ban for Milam County has been lifted. Burning is always prohibited in the county's municipalities.


Click here to register for the 5 Kay!