Some high school sports programs wait decades to claim a state championship.
That’s not the case at Western Albemarle, where the Warriors have won 15 Virginia High School League state championships in the past two seasons.
The 2018-19 school year was especially fruitful for Western, which captured a program-best eight state titles to continue its reputation as one the elite high school athletic departments in Virginia.
“We’re very proud of the athletes and coaches,” Western Albemarle athletic director Steve Heon said. “To win eight state championships and have several others reach the state finals, it’s a special year and by all accounts, the most successful year for our program.”
This past fall, Western Albemarle repeated as boys cross country state champions to set the tone for the rest of the school year. In the winter, the Warriors’ boys and girls swimming programs and the girls indoor track and field team won state championships.
Heon’s program capped off a terrific school year by sweeping the Class 3 boys and girls soccer and tennis state championships with decisive victories at the VHSL Spring Jubilee to finish with eight titles for 2018-19.
The eight state championships this school year eclipses the previous record of seven set during the 2017-18 school year. It also gives Western Albemarle 58 state championships since the school opened in the fall of 1977.
“I think the No. 1 thing is that the Western Albemarle community, as a whole, values athletes and its benefits of being involved,” Heon said. “That coupled with the resources to be involved. We do have excellent coaches. We have numerous coaches that could be coaching at the college level and we’ve had the consistency with a number of our programs in terms of leadership.”
Milo Oakland, who is one of only two varsity boys soccer coaches at Western over the past 20 years, said continuity is key.
“The success over a period of time at Western starts with very strong sports institutions, not just in Crozet, but also in the greater Charlottesville area,” he said. “I know that there are other teams at Western who have enjoyed more success than us, with coaches that have been around long. I’m speaking to the level of devotion, passion and consistency that creates strong foundations. The players know what to expect and what is expected of them, year in and year out.”
The Warriors won their fourth state championship earlier this month with a 4-0 victory over Northside in the title match in Salem.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” senior forward Carter Spilman said. “It’s my first state championships that I’ve been hunting for my whole high school career, so I was stoked to go out with a bang. It feels good to contribute to the school’s success and the support system from friends at the school is awesome. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Spilman had a goal and an assist in the state title game.
Not bad for someone that spent most of his career as a defender.
“It means everything to me,” he said. “I love to win and it shows how all the work these past few years has paid off and I’m so proud of us bringing it back to Western.”
One of only four seniors on this year’s Western boys soccer team, Spilman said athletes are motivated by the program’s tradition of excellence.
“I think it’s just tradition,” Spilman said. “There is an expectation you get a spot on the team and everyone understands that. We had a very young team this year with only four seniors, but there was still an understanding that we have goals to achieve and we will find ways to reach them as a unit.”
Western Albemarle girls tennis coach Ellen Markowitz watched her team capture its second state title this spring with an unbelievable performance over the final month of the season.
“We’ve had a strong tradition of excellence and I’ve tried to continue and build on the foundation laid by great coaches before me,” Markowitz said. “We have now been to four state finals in my nine years and this second title was well earned and deserved. I’m so proud of how the team performed, running the table in the postseason.”
Markowitz credits the resources available to athletes in Central Virginia that have helped prepare them to perform on the biggest stages.
“I’m equally or prouder of what they learn each season, how they grow through their experience on the team and who they become in the process of competing for state titles,” she said. “Tennis is a hard and challenging sport, from the perspective of being out there competing on your own in singles, and it being basically an individual sport played within a team context. We are grateful to have opportunities to compete at the highest level and always want the best competition we can have so we can get better individually, and as a team. We try to stay process focused and emphasize hard work, being a good teammate and mental toughness. I hope they will take the power of the team and life lessons learned when they leave WAHS.”
Dan Bledsoe guided the Warriors boys and girls swimming teams to state championships this past winter. He’s been involved with the program for 17 years, including the past decade as coach. Bledsoe believes coaching stability across the board is essential to the program’s success
“In my opinion, one of the things that makes Western so successful is stability in the coaching staffs,” Bledsoe said. “Outside of boys tennis, the teams that won state championships this year have coaches who have been in place for a long time and have staffs that have been in place for a long time. Even those coaches who didn’t win, but run successful programs, have been here for a number of years and have stable assist, JV and ninth-grade coaching staffs.”
Another key for Bledsoe is the diversity of the athletes.
“We also have a large number of multi-sport athletes,” Bledsoe said. “The coaching staffs generally support student-athletes playing different sports and contributing to the success of student-athlete teams and the school.”
Heon also credits his coaches for allowing athletes to explore other opportunities.
“I think all of our coaches are just proud of the overall success of all of our programs,” he said. “I’d hate to say that [state titles] are the expectation. All of our programs understand how we think they stand and we try to recognize any success they have. We’re very fortunate that our coaches support athletes playing other sports. We try to be a family and support one another and are hopeful for a high level of success.”
Kate DeJong and Julia Berg finished their senior seasons with multiple state championships. During the winter, they were key contributors on the Warriors’ title-winning indoor track team. This spring, they each scored in their final game to lead Western Albemarle’s girls soccer team to a third straight championship.
“It just shows that we have a strong program and a really great coaching staff and everybody’s so supportive,” said Berg following the state soccer final. “The parents and the whole community have been there to support us and that’s just really helped us find our success.”
“If you had told me four years ago that we would walk away with three state championships in soccer and three more in track as well, I think I would’ve been blown away,” she said following the state soccer final. “It just shows the level of coaching and the level of support we have at our school and I’m so appreciative of all of that. I love this team so much.”
For Heon, aside from the success, he’s most proud of the way the athletes and coaches represent the program.
“One of the things that we’re proud of is how we conduct ourselves as well,” Heon said. “I’m very proud that once again we had no ejections this year. We should win the Sportsmanship award again, which is something we always strive for.”