By J. Daniel Rollins
Over the last 20 years, names like Independence’s Ashley Jackson, Woodrow Wilson’s Doug Legursky, Shady Spring’s Whitney Humphreys, Wyoming East’s Tank Tunstalle and the late Benny Bowles of Oceana have been enshrined forever as Coalfield Conference Impact Athletes of the Year. On Tuesday evening, four more well-deserving prep athletes joined the illustrious ranks.
Class AA’s Laura Hill (PikeView) and Joey Lacek (Liberty) and Class A’s Jessica Brown (Fayetteville) and Zach Bennett (Richwood) were given the honor, as voted on by sports writers, broadcasters, coaches and athletic directors in the region.
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has had a finer high school career than Hill. A four-time all-state selection in soccer, Hill was named 2012 National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s Scholar All-American, the 2012 W. Va. Soccer Coaches Association’s AA Girls Forward of the Year, W.Va. High School Midfielder of the Year and holds the state record for goals scored in a season with 59 and for assists in a season with 34. She was also named the captain of the south squad in the North-South All-star soccer game and was selected for the WV Olympic Development Program.
But through it all, Hill remains humble.
“It’s exciting to be given this award,” a smiling Hill said. “But it was very unexpected.”
She may have been the only one in the room not expecting her to leave with the award. On top of her soccer career, she was also a three-year letter winner in basketball, and on Friday she will compete in the Class AA state track meet in several events, including the 4x800 in which her team is undefeated.
“It’s been a good ride,” Hill said. “It’s had its ups and downs. There’s been tears and happiness. It’s taught me some valuable lessons that I can take throughout my life.”
Hill will continue her soccer career in the fall at West Virginia Wesleyan.
Lacek was an intimidating figure at the plate for opposing pitchers. With his wide-open stance and bat on his shoulder, Lacek hit .515 for the season and knocked in 42 runs for the 23-8 Liberty Raiders.
“It’s just a great honor with all these great athletes here to be recognized,” Lacek said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Lacek will be able to add his Impact Player of the Year award to his ever growing collection. He was named first team all-state honorable mention in football and is a three-time all-stater in baseball.
“It was a great ride. I’m sad that it’s over,” he said. “But I’m taking the next step. I’m looking forward to getting more awards in college.”
Lacek has signed to play baseball at Concord University but is leaving behind a legacy he hopes little brother Jake will follow.
“Jacob’s a great athlete,” Lacek said. “He has a great chance to be here and win this award, too.”
Jessica Brown is no stranger to the Coalfield Conference awards. She was Fayetteville Athlete of the Year in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and was named first team All-Coalfield in volleyball in 2010 and 2012, in basketball in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and in softball in 2010.
“It makes me feel really proud,” Brown said. “But this is really unexpected.”
Brown was named second team all-state in 2011 and first team all-state in 2012-13 for basketball and surpassed 1,000 career points.
“I’m going to miss it,” she added. “There’s nothing that’s going to be comparable to playing.”
Richwood’s Zach Bennett is a man of few words. He prefers to let his work on the field speak itself.
“There were a lot of fun memories,” Bennett said. “A lot of hard work.”
The hard work paid off.
Bennett was first team all-state honorable mention in football and an all-state honorable mention in basketball.
This weekend he’ll be looking to bring home the state championship in track. He qualified first in the region in the 400, 4x200, shuttle relay and third in long jump.
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Bluefield tennis coaches Cathy Bailey and Cindy Stonestreet were named the Coalfield Conference Coaches of the Year.
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Following are Fayette County honorees:
2013 Coalfield Conference Athlete of the Year
Fayetteville — Jessica Brown, Tracey Lovins
Meadow Bridge — Allison Gilkerson, Cody White
Midland Trail — Hannah Legg, Devon Steele
Valley — Alexis Payne, Arik McGinnis
2013 Coalfield Conference Coaches of the Year
A — Amy White, Fayetteville
A West — Benny Hopkins, Valley
A East — Steve Taylor, Meadow Bridge; A West — Richard Cantrell, Valley
A West — Joe McCoy, Valley
A East — Joseph Craffey, Valley
A East — Renea Lopetrone, Valley.
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