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Contagious success spurs Squire athletics

HUDDLE: Manchester’s boys’ soccer team huddles before a game against North Miami during the regular season last fall.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

Year one in charge for athletic director Eric Screeton at Manchester was a busy one. The Squires hosted the Wabash County Tournament, a girls’ basketball sectional and came away with half-a-dozen Three Rivers Conference (TRC) trophies in the process.

As Screeton looks back on the year, he knows his first go-round could hardly have gone better.

“For me, just being in this new role was very exciting,” he said. “You kind of have your vision of what it’s going to be but until you actually get in the seat, it can be quite hectic at times. It’s definitely a new journey so you kind of get caught up in what you’re doing. It’s been a fun journey.

“Looking at our teams, the Squire athletic department, I thought, had a fantastic year. We brought home several conference championships, especially on the girls’ side.”

On the field, the Squires racked up titles across the fields, courses and courts. The boys’ soccer team kicked off the fall with a historic season, running through the regular season with a perfect record, winning a conference title in the process.

The girls’ cross country and girls’ golf teams followed suit with TRC titles of their own. During the winter, the girls’ basketball team earned a memorable TRC title as well with impressive road wins over Northfield and Tippecanoe Valley.

The individual highlight of perhaps the year as a whole, though, was from Halle Briner as the sophomore made her second appearance at the state finals as she qualified in both the 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly. In the former event, she finished 19th while taking 25th in the latter event.

“I think all in all, it was a really successful year,” Screeton said. “Obviously, you want to win a little bit more but we had some really good things. I think we have some great veteran coaches that are maximizing the student-athlete experience and at the same time developing a program or developing an individual and getting our athletes ready for the next level whether that be college or just a future in the community.”

As much success as there may have been in terms of trophies, many of Screeton’s high points in the year came in different areas away from the competition. For one, 78 athletes earned Academic All-Conference honors across the three seasons, though that doesn’t account for overlap between multi-sport athletes.

In a similar vein, Manchester qualified for the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s (IHSAA) Sportsmanship award for the fifth year running. An emphasis on reaching the benchmarks set by the IHSAA began under previous athletic director Jeremy Markham was continued in Screeton’s first year.

As previously mentioned earlier, though, the chance for Screeton and Manchester to host multiple bigger events in the county and for the postseason also proved to be memorable in his first year.

“Hosting some big events stood out to me,” Screeton said. “Hosting the Wabash County Tourney is quite an experience and there are so many people behind the scenes I have to thank. That was a big moment. There were some great games in a packed house. This county gets really excited for that event and I think that’s something special. Hosting the girls’ sectional with an Oak Hill team that ended up winning state. Just having an exciting sectional here with Wabash and us and even North Miami’s girls’ program was solid. So, from a larger perspective, I think were kind of exciting.”

Screeton also highlighted a handful of events, ranging from a memorable comeback on the football field in the fall against Wabash to the aforementioned road wins by the Squire girls’ basketball team in the winter and a slugfest on the diamond between the Squires and Rochester on the baseball diamond in the spring.

Screeton also noted specific individuals who fought back from various injuries as highlights to watch up close as well.

“Individually, I think there were some student-athletes that stand out,” he said. “I know there are a couple of runners, Jaelyn Webb and Ethan Davis, that struggled. Their bodies didn’t quite give them what they needed this year so they fought through it. To see them battle back and have great track seasons and just PR down the stretch and fight through some things, those are some more of the moments that stand out to me is just seeing some individual perseverance.”

Both the individual and team success on and off the field is something that Screeton believes is contagious.

“I completely think our student-athletes feed off one another,” he said. “We do have a vision...of 50 teams, 20 sports, one family. I really think if you get a little buy in early with that and you see what our cross country team is doing or you see volleyball is on the rise...or you start to see in boys soccer and the crowds pick up. You see football players at soccer games and soccer players at football games. I think that does lend itself for a successful year. Winning or just having those tight, competitive contests in the fall carries over into the winter and then carries over into the spring.”

With the Squire athletic program in a good place moving forward, Screeton’s focus is simple: don’t screw it up.

“I hope to continue the same stuff,” he said. “I said a year ago that this is an athletic department that’s in a good place. (Former athletic director Jeremy) Markham’s done a nice job and many of our coaches have done a nice job of leaving me in a position to just not screw it up. We’ve achieved a lot on the court and off the court and I look to do a lot of the same in the future.”