KCHS wins tennis, track state championships

Notre Dame’s boys soccer team finishes runner-up as both high schools stand out at Spring Fling 

By Dan McWilliams

The TSSAA’s annual Spring Fling championships saw Knoxville Catholic High School and Notre Dame High School achieve great things, as KCHS won tennis singles and team titles and multiple track-and-field state crowns, while Notre Dame finished runner-up in boys soccer and placed several track athletes in the state meet.

Knoxville Catholic junior tennis standout Lillie Murphy won her first singles state championship on May 24 at the Adams Tennis Complex in Murfreesboro. Lillie defeated Melanie Woodbury of Hutchison 6-4, 6-3 in the Division II, Class AA title match. Lillie, also a two-time state doubles champion in 2022-23 with senior teammate Eleni Liakonis, advanced to the singles final with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Avery Franklin of Ensworth in the semifinals May 23. Lillie also swept her first-round match earlier in the day, blanking Estelle Denker of Ensworth 6-0, 6-0.

The Lady Irish have won the singles title four straight years, with three-time champion Maeve Thornton graduating last spring.

Eleni fell in the first round of the singles tourney this spring 3-6, 7-5, 6-0 to Melanie of Hutchison as KCHS had two players in the final eight.

The Lady Irish won the team state title for the fourth straight year and sixth time overall with a 4-3 win over Baylor on May 22. Sophomore Lauren Murphy battled back from the brink of defeat to outlast Molly Donovan in the No. 5 singles match 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 to clinch the championship. Knoxville Catholic also won at No. 1 singles as Lillie defeated Margarette Berdy 6-1, 6-1. Eleni at No. 2 swept Helen Guerry 6-3, 6-3. Eleni and senior Payton Carroll won at No. 1 doubles 8-4 over Helen and Sloane Proffitt, and Lauren and Lillie triumphed in No. 2 doubles 8-6 over Margarette and Molly.

KCHS defeated Hutchison 4-2 in the semifinals of the team tourney May 21. Lillie coasted to a 6-0, 6-2 win over Melanie while Eleni had a slightly easier win over Olivia Evans 6-0, 6-1. Payton defeated Elizabeth Dunavant 6-1, 7-5. Eleni and Payton outlasted Melanie and Olivia 9-7 in doubles, while Lauren and Lillie shut out Elizabeth and Anna Caroline Domas 8-0.

Knoxville Catholic junior Maggie Frana won the Lady Irish’s first-ever discus state title with a throw of 110 feet, 5 inches, in the Division II-AA track-and-field meet at Dean Hayes Stadium on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. Maggie edged Tessel Visser of Lipscomb Academy by 7 inches. The track-and-field events took place May 22.

Sophomore Chloe Truss of KCHS, who swept the three sprint state titles as a freshman, won the 100-meter dash this year with a time of 12.07 seconds, beating Lauren Wynn of Harpeth Hall by 0.39 seconds. Chloe placed second in both the 200 dash with a time of 25.43 and in the 400 dash with a time of 56.40. Taylin Segree of Lipscomb crossed the line first in the 200 in 25.20 and in the 400 in 55.74.

The Knoxville Catholic girls 800-meter relay team won the state title with a school-record time of 1:43:28. From left are Payton Sipos, Chloe Truss, Juliet Biden, and Sarah Salsbery. (Photo courtesy Pam Rhoades)

Knoxville Catholic’s 800 relay team of freshman Sarah Salsbery, freshman Juliet Biden, sophomore Payton Sipos, and Chloe won the championship in 1:43.28, outpacing Ensworth (1:45.22) by nearly 2 seconds.

Payton recorded high finishes in three individual events, coming in second in the girls 300 hurdles with a time of 45.47, placing behind Halli Olivo of Christ Presbyterian Academy (44.73). Payton took fifth in the 100 hurdles with a time of 14.98 seconds and finished seventh in the high jump with a leap of 4-8. She also finished ninth in the pentathlon.

As a team, the Lady Irish scored 60 points to place fifth overall out of 17 schools that tallied.

The Knoxville Catholic boys track-and-field team placed in a number of events. Junior Keegan Smith finished second in the 800 run with a time of 1:54.41, just .07 seconds off the pace of Joe Edwards of Christian Brothers. Keegan also came in third in the 3,200 run with a clocking of 9:23.68. Keegan is a two-time state champion in the 1,600 and has one 3,200 state title along with a cross-country crown.

Sophomore JR Fowler took third in the discus with a toss of 166-10. Senior Andon Mashburn finished eighth in the shot put with a throw of 46-9.25.

The KCHS 3,200 relay team of sophomore Radek Molchan, junior Gonzalo Vela, junior Tony Ortega, and Keegan placed fourth in a time of 7:58.47.

The Knoxville Catholic boys scored 26 team points to place 10th out of 15 schools.

For Notre Dame, junior Olivia Mroz placed third in the Division II-A girls high jump, clearing the bar at 5-2. She tied with Kayla Underwood of Lakeway Christian. Both had faults at all three attempts at 5-4, but Kayla had no faults to Olivia’s two at 5-2 and was awarded second place on the tiebreaker. Kori Robinson of Davidson Academy won the title with a leap of 5-4.

Freshman Audrey Strickland of Notre Dame finished seventh in the shot put with a throw of 30-4.50 and seventh in the discus at 88-03.

Olivia and Audrey gave the Lady Irish 10 team points to place 17th out of 30 schools.

The Notre Dame boys team put two athletes in the top eight of the 200 dash. Senior Braylon Hammond took fifth with a time of 23:03, a shade quicker than teammate Maximo Santiesteban, a sophomore, who placed seventh in 23.33.

The Fighting Irish 3,200 relay team of three sophomores, Dylan Hall, Jose Gray, and Josiah Morais, and Braylon finished eighth in 9:25.52.

As a team, the NDHS boys scored seven points to place 21st out of 27 schools.

The Notre Dame boys soccer team celebrates after defeating University School of Nashville 3-1 in overtime to advance to the state-championship game. (Photo Brian Gill)

The Notre Dame boys soccer team lost a heartbreaker in the Division II-A state-championship game, falling 1-0 to Boyd Buchanan on May 23 at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex in Murfreesboro. The Fighting Irish advanced with a 3-1 victory in overtime against University School of Nashville in the semifinals the previous day.

The runner-up finish was the best for the Notre Dame program since the 1996 and 1997 squads won back-to-back state championships.

Boyd Buchanan’s Andrew Pollard scored on an assist from Edson Angel in the 33rd minute of the first half of the state finals. Moments later, Notre Dame junior goalkeeper Chase Lundberg made a save on a penalty kick by Phillip Collins. The Fighting Irish had no shot attempts or corner kicks in the first half.

Notre Dame junior Josh Bonk took two shots early in the second half but did not find the mark. Junior Caleb Salenda of the Fighting Irish attempted two shots in the 68th minute, one of which was saved by Boyd Buchanan netminder Nathan Randolph.

Josh led Notre Dame’s offense with four shots attempted, one on goal. Caleb and sophomore Luke Rosellini recorded two shots each. Goalkeepers Chase and Nathan made four saves apiece.

Josh and senior Lucas Johnson scored in overtime to give the Fighting Irish the victory over USN after 80 minutes of regulation play ended 1-1. Josh scored unassisted in the 84th minute after having two shots blocked earlier in the first 10-minute OT period. Lucas scored quickly in the second half of OT, tallying an unassisted goal in the 92nd minute. Chase made a save in the 96th minute, and Notre Dame held on for the 3-1 win.

Luke scored the game’s first goal on an assist from junior Sébastian Saenz Lara in the 54th minute of the second half. USN, however, would tie the game in the 55th minute, and the score remained even for the rest of regulation. Josh, in the 58th minute, had the only Notre Dame shot in the remainder of the second half.

Luke, Caleb, and senior Totti Card, the latter in the final minute of the first half, recorded shots for the Fighting Irish in the opening 40 minutes, which ended 0-0.

Notre Dame outshot USN 11-10 for the game, with Josh having four to lead the team and Luke two. Chase played the entire 100 minutes in goal and made three saves.

The Fighting Irish began their march to the state tournament with a 2-1 win over Webb School of Bell Buckle in the round of 16. Webb led 1-0 at the half, but Totti and Caleb scored second-half goals to clinch the victory.

In the quarterfinals, Notre Dame nipped Northpoint Christian 1-0. Caleb scored the game-winning goal.

Knoxville Catholic tennis head coach Rusty Morris said veterans and new players combined well for this year’s team.

“We lost two seniors from last year’s team, Maeve Thornton and Gigi Sompayrac, who are both playing D1 college tennis,” he said. “That being said, we felt that we still had the best two players in the state with Lillie Murphy and Eleni Liakonis at 1 and 2 singles. We also split them apart in doubles to help the team get the doubles point. We also knew that Payton Carroll at 3 singles and 1 doubles was one of the best players in the state.

“This year, we had new players step into new roles at 4, 5, 6 singles and 3 doubles. Lauren Murphy had been hurt all last year and was not able to play or even hit a tennis ball all last year. Karenna Thurman, a junior, had played 6 and 7 singles last year, and senior Marianna Hurley was not in the lineup last year. Mary Caroline Ellis was a freshman this year and new to the team. So, we were developing the players at 4, 5, 6 singles and 3 doubles throughout the year and could see their improvement. It was great to see this team four-peat because unlike other years we were not the favorites to win, and to see the players at the top of the lineup handle the pressure like always but to see the players at 4, 5, 6 step up under such great pressure was awesome to see, particularly Lauren Murphy clinching the win.”

The team championship match against Baylor came down to the wire, with Lauren making a remarkable comeback.

“The match was so tight, and the score was 3-3, and everyone was watching the 5 singles court with Lauren Murphy playing that position for Catholic,” Mr. Morris said. “Lauren had lost the first set but would not quit fighting. She was able to get the second set and in the third set was down 5-4 and 30-all, so she was two points away from being defeated. Lauren fought back and went ahead 6-5 in the third set and was up 40-30. She was not able to get the first match point. At 6-5 deuce, no ad, Lauren was able to hit a great overhead smash to win the match and clinch the win for Catholic. It was awesome to see Lauren win the key match with all she has battled through with injuries.”

Eleni Liakonis (left) and Lillie Murphy of Knoxville Catholic High School hold the tennis team state-championship trophy. Lillie won her first singles state championship this spring, the fourth consecutive singles title for the Lady Irish. KCHS won the team state title for the fourth straight year and sixth time overall. (Photo courtesy Pam Rhoades)

The Lady Irish’s two doubles wins gave them a team point early on.

“Catholic was able to get the doubles point to start the match by winning courts 1 and 2 doubles,” Mr. Morris said. “Payton Carroll and Eleni Liakonis played court 1, and Lillie Murphy and Lauren Murphy played court 2. We knew we had to win the doubles point because the only loss we had in the last four years happened at Baylor during the regular season when we were not able to get the doubles point.”

Lillie and Eleni took care of matters in the top singles matches.

“Lillie Murphy won on court 1 singles, and Eleni Liakonis won at 2 singles, and that gave us three points,” Mr. Morris said. “Baylor won at 6 singles, and then Karenna Thurman lost a close match at 4 singles. Payton Carroll battled back in the second set and lost a close second set to make it 3-3. Lillie Murphy has been dominant throughout high school. She has never lost a singles or doubles match.”

Lillie and Eleni, with two doubles state titles in hand, both went for the gold in singles this season.

“Lillie Murphy and Eleni Liakonis won the doubles state championship the last two years,” Mr. Morris said. “With Maeve graduating the year before, they both wanted a shot at the singles title, and both made it to the finals of the region to qualify for state. Eleni had an extremely tough draw at state and lost to Melanie Woodbury in the quarterfinals in three sets. Lillie Murphy played exceptional in defeating two Ensworth players and Melanie Woodbury in the finals. Lillie Murphy has been that dominant throughout her high school career, having never lost in singles or doubles.”

The Lady Irish finished the season 12-1 as a team, “which is tremendous since we were able to defeat Girls Preparatory School, Ensworth, Hutchison, and Baylor and also win the A division in the Rotary Tournament in Chattanooga,” Mr. Morris said. “Lillie Murphy has been undefeated the whole year, and Eleni Liakonis’ only defeat this year was in the quarterfinals at state. Lillie and Lauren Murphy never lost at 2 doubles, and Eleni Liakonis and Payton Carroll lost only one doubles match this year.”

Three seniors completed their KCHS days this spring.

“Eleni Liakonis, Payton Carroll, and Marianna Hurley graduated this year,” Mr. Morris said. “Next year will be different because we have depended so much this last year on winning at 1, 2, 3 singles, and two of the three will be graduated. I’m excited about how much the players at 4, 5, 6 have developed this year, and we have some great freshman coming in next year. With Lillie Murphy’s leadership, we will have a chance to compete with the best in the region again next year.”

Knoxville Catholic track-and-field head coach Sean O’Neil said he was proud of Maggie for winning the discus state title.

“Maggie has put in a tremendous amount of work to get to where she is,” he said. “Last year, as a sophomore, she made huge improvements in her technique and finished second at the state championships. This year, she refined her technique even more and spent a lot of time in the weight room getting stronger. All the hard work paid off. Conditions were windy at the state meet, so personal records were hard to come by in the throwing events, but Maggie was able to do enough to get the win. The athletes got four throws each, and Maggie hit 110-5 on her third attempt. She went last, so everyone else had a shot at beating her mark. Seven inches is a pretty small (winning) margin, so there were definitely some nerves in the last round of throws.”

Chloe’s relay effort helped her teammates win a state title but may have affected her chances in the individual sprints she didn’t win.

“Chloe won the 100 this year and was the anchor on our school record-setting 4-by-200 relay,” Mr. O’Neil said. “Last year, she won all three sprint events, but this year the relay was her second event of the day, and that definitely took something out of her. Getting the relay win was important to Chloe, so it was worth sacrificing her having a better shot at individual titles. She is still getting faster, so the future is definitely still bright for her.”

The relay team set a school record in the state meet with Sarah starting the race and the handoffs going to Juliet and Payton before anchor Chloe took the baton to the finish line.

“The 4-by-200 was amazing. A nearly two-second margin is huge in a sprint event,” Mr. O’Neil said. “This team ran over a second faster than our previous school record.”

Payton was a busy athlete at the state meet.

“Payton is a beast,” Mr. O’Neil said. “She finished ninth in the pentathlon, seventh in high jump, fifth in the 100 hurdles, second in the 300 hurdles, and first in the 4-by-200 relay. The pentathlon was the week before the rest of the state meet. On the day of the state meet, Payton did high jump in the morning and came back for the 100 hurdles, then we had a two-and-a-half-hour weather delay, then she had to do her other three events. It was an exhausting, long day for her, but she toughed it out and did an amazing job.”

The 3,200 relay team set a record for the Irish boys team.

“The 4-by-800 relay was Radek Molchan, Gonzalo Vela, Tony Ortega, and Keegan Smith,” Mr. O’Neil said. “Their time of 7:58 broke our old school record by six seconds. They ran exactly the kind of gutsy race we wanted from them. Later in the day, Keegan barely missed out on winning the 800 with a second-place finish, and shortly after he finished third in the 3,200. Like Chloe, the relay definitely took something out of him, but having a chance to race at the state meet with your teammates on a relay is a special experience, so making that choice was a no-brainer.”

JR’s effort did not go unnoticed by his head coach.

“JR Fowler is another athlete who doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Mr. O’Neil said. “He finished third in discus at the state meet. He’s the No. 1 sophomore in Tennessee in the discus and the No. 12 sophomore in the country. Our division is loaded in the throwing events, so a lot of people probably don’t realize just how impressive JR is.”

The future is “very bright” for the KCHS track team because of its surplus of young talent, Mr. O’Neil said.

“We’ve got a lot more talented underclassmen who didn’t qualify for state this year, but if they continue to work and improve the way they did this spring, they will make it to state before they graduate.”

Notre Dame track-and-field head coach Will Musto said the future is nice for his program.

“We’re excited about the future of track and field at Notre Dame High School,” he said. “In just a few months, we took seven athletes—four of whom had never competed in track and field—to the state-championship meet. In the last two weeks of the season, we saw over 40 personal bests across the roster, averaging more than two per athlete, and momentum for the future is fantastic. At state, we had one senior, one junior, four sophomores, and a freshman, which is an incredible showing. I am incredibly proud of these athletes and the efforts they put in each day this spring.”

Olivia continued doing well this spring for the Lady Irish.

“Olivia has been placing at state since her freshman year, and this year saw her set a new school record and personal best of 5-4 at the region-championship meet to qualify for state, and I am so proud of her and the work she did to improve,” Mr. Musto said. “Coaches Jonathan Adams and Beau Gilliland did a tremendous amount of work with her from both an approach perspective and a form and technique perspective, and it showed.”

Braylon scored a high finish as an individual and as part of the 3,200 relay team.

“Braylon came out for track and field for the first time, following in his brother’s footsteps, and qualified for state in the open 200-meter dash as well as being a member of the 4-by-800-meter relay,” Mr. Musto said. “His primary spring sport is baseball, but we shared him with the baseball team, and he was a huge contributor for our team, despite coming to only about six or seven regular-season practices, as the baseball schedule allowed. His fifth-place finish in the 200 meters is a true testament to the talent he has—I can’t help but wish I had more time to work with him, but I know he’s going to be successful in all of his post-high school endeavors.”

Maximo set personal records in two events this season.

“Max opened up the season just shy of his personal best in the 100-meter dash and was frustrated, but we had a nice chat about trusting the process and realizing that the goal is to run fast at the end of the season, not early,” Mr. Musto said. “He ended up running personal bests in both the 100 meters and the 200 meters at the region championships and advanced to state in the 200 meters, one of just three underclass boys to advance to state in the event. He has a great future ahead of him competing for Notre Dame High School.”

Audrey did extremely well in her first season with the Lady Irish track-and-field team.

“Qualifying for two strength-based events as a high school freshman is outrageous,” Mr. Musto said. “She was the only freshman in either of the events, and two seventh-place finishes are something to be proud of. She’s a fighter and a worker, and I’d say her performances in Murfreesboro put the state on notice that she’s going to be a force for the rest of her high school career.”

The 3,200 relay team’s eighth-place finish was great for a group of newcomers in Dylan, Jose, Josiah, and Braylon.

“We had three sophomores and a senior on this squad, and none of the four had ever run track prior to this year,” Mr. Musto said. “A squad of rookies, and primarily underclassmen, going to state in a relay bodes well for the future for sure. Dylan Hall was battling a bit of a chest cold the week of the state meet, and that put a real damper on his ability to perform the way he would have liked to, but I think getting the taste and experience of competition at the state level was a huge learning opportunity for these boys. They certainly have the potential to be one of the better distance squads in the state moving forward, and I’m excited to see them lean into that possibility and progress.”

Mr. Musto added that “it’s a huge honor to watch a young team progress through a season and begin to buy in and believe in themselves and the work that they’ve done. As a coaching staff, we’re just putting up guide rails to help point each member of the team in the right direction; the student-athletes are the ones doing the work each day. We have a unique situation with minimal on-campus facilities for running, so we met for practice at a public school about 25 minutes from campus each afternoon, and that alone puts a strain on each practice. I’m really proud of the roster at large, including the seven who represented us at the state championship, for the effort and positive attitudes they had each day despite those hassles. The future is bright for Notre Dame High School track and field. We saw so many successes this season, and I cannot wait to see each athlete continue to pursue excellence moving forward.”

The Notre Dame boys soccer team finished the season with a record of 13-7. Head coach Jim Schermerhorn said the Fighting Irish “played better in second half” in the finals against Boyd Buchanan. “I thought we had three or four good chances, just didn’t score.”

Mr. Schermerhorn said semifinal opponent USN “was a good defending team. They put us out of the state tournament last year. It was a good win for us! Our goalkeeper, Chase Lundberg, played really well all year.”

The Fighting Irish head coach called the Northpoint contest a “really close game against a good team.” Against Webb, Notre Dame “really played better in the second half to win the game.”

Mr. Schermerhorn assessed the 2024 campaign for his team.

“Overall, a really good season. It will be hard to single out players because so many had a good season and worked hard. We have a good returning group next year also. We are proud of our team and how they played this year. We played a lot of tough teams along the way, and it really helped us improve through our season.”

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