Freshman phenoms take center stage

January 2, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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By Greg Farrar Freshmen varsity athletes (from left), swimmer Sydney Hartford, cross country runners and twin sisters Brigette and Kelsey Takeuchi and football player Noah Pritchett, stand by a poster in the Liberty High School commons proclaiming the motto of Patriot athletes and their student body fans, ‘We Are One.’

By Greg Farrar
Freshmen varsity athletes (from left), swimmer Sydney Hartford, cross country runners and twin sisters Brigette and Kelsey Takeuchi and football player Noah Pritchett, stand by a poster in the Liberty High School commons proclaiming the motto of Patriot athletes and their student body fans, ‘We Are One.’

Less than a year ago, Brigette and Kelsey Takeuchi, Sydney Hartford and Noah Pritchett roamed the halls at Maywood Middle School.

Fast forward to their first year at Liberty High School. Three of them have competed among the top athletes in the state, while the fourth has found a place on a varsity squad that rarely makes room for freshmen.

Liberty sports teams found a lot of success this fall, due in no small part to these budding stars.

Brigette and Kelsey Takeuchi — cross-country

Liberty coach Mike Smith knew of the talented twins on Maywood’s cross-country team, he just didn’t know what sport they would choose in high school.

Luckily for him, the Takeuchis, of Newcastle, chose cross-country instead of soccer. They were integral parts of the Liberty team that finished sixth at state.

Brigette became the school’s first cross-country state medalist when she took fourth overall with a time of 18 minutes, 31.79 seconds.

“It was really fun, because everyone supported each other no matter how they did,” Brigette said. “I also really like the course.”

It’s a good thing, too, because if the Takeuchis have their way, they’ve got three more visits to the state competition in their future.

Kelsey completed the state course in less than 20 minutes, putting her among the state’s top 30 runners in the 3A division.

High school cross-country is different than anything she saw at Maywood, Kelsey admitted, but it’s a lot more rewarding.

“We used to think that our 2-mile runs were really long, but we don’t even do 2-mile runs anymore,” she said.

Smith said he’s excited about the girls’ potential.

“We look at increasing pace, mileage and leadership every year, so over the next couple of years, they’ll hopefully have progressively faster times and serve as role models for the other runners,” he said.

Brigette, in particular, has the talent to compete on a national stage, Smith said. He added that the Takeuchis’ work ethic and parental support separate them from the pack.

“How you do in cross country is based on how hard you work,” Brigette said. “So, if you put in a lot of hard work, then you will be more successful.”

Both girls said they hope to continue to drop times as their careers progress, with the ultimate goal of running in college at a place with warm weather, such as California or Hawaii.


Sydney Hartford — swimming

Sydney Hartford, of Newcastle, feels at ease in the pool.

“I love swimming because I’m actually more graceful in the water than I am walking or running,” she said.

There is no doubting Hartford’s prowess in the water, where she was a member of Liberty’s state-medalist 200 freestyle relay team. That team took fifth place and Hartford recorded a season-best split.

Liberty coach Kris Daughters, who knows a thing or two about top freshman swimmers after the early successes of Mackenna Briggs, Lauryn Hepp and Ellie Hohensinner, said she was pleasantly surprised about Hartford’s contribution to the team.

“Sydney has competed on a club team for the past few years, so she comes with more experience and endurance than most ninth-graders,” she said. “She is also very tall and lean, and that makes a difference in swimming.”

Hartford admitted she was a little nervous joining the Patriots squad, but she was quickly welcomed by her teammates.

“I was blown away just by how much they accepted the freshmen into the group,” she said. “On the first day, I had multiple people walk up to me and introduce me to other people on the team.”

Hartford likely isn’t done growing, Daughters said, which helps in a sport where height is valuable.

“I loved seeing her get more confident this year,” Daughters said. “I’m not sure she knew she would have the impact she did when the season began.”

Hartford said she isn’t sure if she wants to purse swimming in college, but her goal is to make it to state in an individual.


Noah Pritchett — football

It’s rare for a Liberty freshman to crack the football team’s varsity roster, let alone start; if he does, he must be pretty special.

In coach Steve Valach’s 15 years at the school, he said he can count the number of freshmen to start on varsity on one hand. One of those is ninth-grader Noah Pritchett.

“Noah has size, strength and aggression,” Valach said. “He’s also a humble kid who’s willing to work hard and be coachable.”

Pritchett is a soft-spoken lineman, with an unrivaled determination and work ethic. He began training and watching film last year, hoping to make varsity.

“I went to the summer workouts and I would walk to Liberty if I couldn’t get a ride,” he said. “I’d also go in the weight room in my free time at home.”

When not at school or doing homework, he’s working out, even in the offseason, with an eye toward getting the chance to play in college.

Like most Liberty football players, Pritchett got his start in the Five Star football program. It was quite a leap, he admitted, from the youth leagues to KingCo.

“The game speed is a lot faster in high school football, but after a few games I got used to it,” he said. “I’m getting the hang of it.”

Valach said he’s eager to see how Pritchett develops in the next few years, but he knows that effort will never be an issue for the freshman.

“Noah has tremendous potential, and I am excited to see how a year of varsity experience and an offseason in the weight room impacts his play on Friday nights,” he said. “Hard work in the weight room and game experience do so much for a player’s confidence.”

Pritchett is rather humble about his lofty accomplishment in seeing the field at such a young age, but more than anything, he said he is extremely grateful to Valach for giving him the opportunity to play for the Patriots.

“I’m really fortunate to be able to play on this team and I’ll do anything I can to help the team,” he said. “I’m going to work out and just try to be the best lineman I can be going forward.”

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