She was a scoring machine.
When LaGrange Academy’s Sydney Emerson got the ball near the goal, that was usually bad news for the opposing team.
Emerson enjoyed a brilliant freshman season, shattering the school’s single-season scoring record while leading the Lady Warriors to a successful spring.
The Lady Warriors won a region championship and finished with a 12-2 record after losing to First Presbyterian in the semifinals of the GISA state tournament.
Emerson, who had six goals in an 11-0 first-round playoff win over Valwood, finished the season with 55 goals.
The Lady Warriors came a long way from the end of the 2013 season when they didn’t even have enough players to field a full team.
“Last year, they played their last game with nine on the field. We’ve got 13 playing this year, and we’ve got a bunch in the middle school,” LaGrange Academy coach Mike Petite said. “We had 16 play for the varsity boys in the spring, and they had a good season. It’s good to have a little comeback with soccer.”
It helped to have Emerson on the field.
She didn’t play as an eighth-grader, and she obviously made a huge impact as a freshman.
“We’ve got a young group, with Emerson kind of leading the way,” Petite said. “We’re excited about what we can do.”
The Lady Warriors were hoping to make it through to the championship game, but they’ll likely be back in title contention next season with everyone returning.
“These same people will be playing together next year,” Emerson said. “We’re not losing anybody. That’s awesome.”
After winning the Region 4-AA title, LaGrange Academy hosted a first-round state game, and it thumped Valwood 11-0.
Sydney Allen and Brandi Smalls each had two goals against Valwood, and Caitlynn Croft had one goal.
LaGrange Academy’s defense was also up to the task, with goal keeper Mary Beth Cottle on the spot when Valwood was able to get a shot away.
After a quick start against Valwood, Petite felt his team let up a little bit before finishing strong in the second half.
“We played a little complacent, and we had a little discussion at halftime, and they played really well in the second half,” Petite said.
Against First Presbyterian, after falling behind 2-0, LaGrange got a goal with 21 minutes remaining to get within one.
First Presbyterian dominated the closing stretch of the game, though, to advance.
LaGrange Academy’s boys’ soccer team, meanwhile, made it to the semifinals of the state playoffs in the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association.
Chase Wardlaw, who would later go on to have a dominant season on the basketball court, had 13 goals for the Warriors, and Zach Callaghan added 10 goals.
The Warriors were led by seniors Zack Alsop, Wesley Reames, Evan Genova, Jamie Zubernis, Harman Reames and Wardlaw.
In the GISA Class AA state tournament, the LaGrange Academy doubles team of Ali Herring and Caitlynn Croft made it to the state semifinals before falling short.
Herring and Croft, the number one seed out of Region 4-AA, won two matches in the state tournament before losing to the team that went on to win the state championship.
In boys’ tennis, LaGrange Academy also had a doubles team make it to the semifinals.
Jamie Zubernis and Chase Wardlaw, the champions of Region 4-AA, won their first two matches in the state tournament before dropping their semifinal match.
Daniel Shin made it to state and lost in the first round of the singles tournament, and the doubles team of Evan Genova and Harmon Reames won a first-round match at state before losing in the second round.
In the team state tournament, the LaGrange Academy boys won the region title, and the team captured a first-round win at state before losing to Westwood in the second round.
LaGrange Academy’s girls’ team, after finishing second in the region, lost to Brentwood in the first round at state.
Chase Wardlaw made the most of his senior season.
Wardlaw, who was just one of the guys the previous season, became the number one option during his senior year, and he responded in big-time fashion.
Wardlaw averaged more than 25 points per game to help lead the Warriors to the second round of the state tournament.
During the season, Wardlaw reached a milestone when he scored the 1,000th point of his prep career.
Wardlaw knew he needed to take on a more significant offensive role last season, and he has embraced that.
“In past years we had Mo (Oshinowo), and Nick West and all that,” Wardlaw said. “I just had to play my role. This year I had to step up to it. I feel like I’m prepared for it. I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job with it.”
The 6-foot-5 Wardlaw, who did much of his damage inside but also showed a deft outside shooting touch, put up big numbers since Day 1.
“I think I can score whenever I feel like it,” Wardlaw said during the season. “I’m really comfortable offensively.”
Britt Gaylor, LaGrange Academy’s second-year head coach, said Wardlaw was a team-first player who was always looking to get his teammates involved.
Gaylor said his message to Wardlaw coming into the season was to look for your shot, to be aggressive on offense.
“He’s always been an unselfish player,” Gaylor said. “It took me a little bit to push him to be more selfish. He’s done a good job accepting that role, and leading the team that way.”
After finishing fourth in the Region 4-AA tournament, LaGrange Academy faced Sherwood Christian in the opening round of the state tournament.
With time running down in Thursday’s GISA state-tournament game against Sherwood Christian, LaGrange Academy had the ball behind by two points.
Wardlaw, who had a game-high 28 points, had the option of taking a shot himself, or passing the ball off if he felt a teammate had a better look.
Wardlaw spotted his brother Daniel Wardlaw beyond the 3-point line, and he passed him the ball.
Turns out, that decision was the right one.
Daniel Wardlaw drained the 3-pointer to give the Warriors a one-point lead, and they made a defensive stop to preserve the 43-42 victory.
“We had (Chase Wardlaw) coming off the pick-and-roll play that we run,” LaGrange Academy coach Britt Gaylor said. “He made the right pass off of it. And Daniel stepped up and knocked down a huge shot.”
The Warriors then played Monsignor Donovan for the right to advance to the final four, and they lost 33-26 in a game dominated by the defenses.
It was a successful season for the Warriors, who won a state-tournament game and were one of the final eight teams in Class AA.
“I’m proud of what they did this year, and what they accomplished for the school. They played their hearts out,” Gaylor said. “It’s tough to see this senior class go. Not just Chase (Wardlaw), but all four of them for what they do on and off the court for the team, and the school. They did a good job.”
LaGrange Academy’s girls’ team, meanwhile, was unable to make it through to the state tournament after falling short in the region tournament.
It was a rebuilding year under first-year head coach, Mike Petite.
The Lady Warriors had to replace a handful of key players from the 2012-2013 team.
The LaGrange Academy softball team has enjoyed phenomenal success over the years, but the 2013 season ended with the team sitting on the sidelines when the state tournament began.
In their final game, the Lady Warriors beat Piedmont 5-2, with senior Ali Herring wrapping up her softball career with a complete-game two-hitter.
LaGrange Academy finished the season with back-to-back wins over Griffin Christian and Piedmont, although that wasn’t enough to earn a state bid out of GISA Region 4-AA.
“We had some girls who chose not to play, and one was hurt,” LaGrange Academy coach Charles Parker said. “We probably only had two girls who were playing their normal position all year long. We had three second baseman in the infield.”
Parker did say the team improved greatly as the year went along, and that was on display against Piedmont.
Earlier in the season, Piedmont run-ruled LaGrange Academy, but the story was much different in the rematch.
“It was a good win,” Parker said. “It was a good way to end the year.”
Under Parker, the softball program has won numerous state championships and come close to winning a bunch more.
In recognition for what he’s done as a softball coach, in addition to the success he’s had coaching basketball and baseball, Parker was given the GISA Distinguished Service Award, which is basically that organization’s hall of fame.
Parker is one of five successful GISA coaches who has been given the award for this year, and they’ll be recognized during a ceremony in July.
“I’m grateful to LaGrange Academy,” Parker said. “They’ve allowed me to be here for 30 years. This is where I’ll retire now.”
LaGrange Academy finished fourth in Region 4-AA to earn an invitation to the state playoffs.
The Warriors struggled at times to win games, but they did enough to make it to the playoffs, where they lost in the first round to Westwood.
First-year head coach Brandon Lybrand felt the program made a lot of progress during the season.
“We’re excited, because we’ve got a lot of kids come out that haven’t played maybe in a couple of years,” Lybrand said.
“There are some kids that haven’t played, and they’re real excited about being back out here.”