Panther Pride: Three-sport star Angelo leaves legacy
by Rilee Stapleton
Photo by Shelby Foster
via The Prowler News at SMHS
Starr’s Mill is known for their motto ‘Demand Excellence,’ and they approach every aspect of high school with that mindset. Whether it be the drama department, the marching band, or athletics, the Mill is determined to be the best they can possibly be. This is reflected in the students, and especially one in particular.
Senior Alyssa Angelo is a rare three-sport athlete for the Panthers, having played in over 300 games during her high school career, earning 12 varsity letters. In the fall, she leads the softball team as the starting shortstop. In the winter, she gears up at point guard for the Lady Panther basketball team. In the spring, she takes the lacrosse field, a field she’ll get used to in college at Winthrop University.
“I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t fun,” Angelo said. “All three of them are team sports. It’s like three extra families I get to be with.”
Angelo started the school year on the diamond playing for head softball coach Mark Williamson. She was a part of a deep Final Four run and was a member of a region championship team. Angelo completed her career with 65 hits, 47 RBIs, and a career batting average of .286.
Her main role came as a leader for the Panthers, as they had many young pieces on the roster during her final season.
“This year was a great year for her all around,” Williamson said. “She stepped up in a leadership role and was always there for her teammates.”
Once softball season ends, Angelo laces up to take the basketball court where she plays point guard. The defensive menace averaged over two steals per game and forced one charge per game. Angelo was normally tasked with defending the opposing team’s best guard, and her hustle and skill caused problems for those guards.
What Angelo did on the court was more than just putting up numbers and bothering opponents. She was a part of a class that helped turn around the girls basketball program at the Mill.
“[Angelo] is a great player,” head girls basketball coach Emily Sweeney said. “She works hard and gives you everything she’s got.”
During Angelo’s freshman year, the Lady Panthers finished with a 15-10 record, and the following year they finished 12-13, missing the state playoffs. After Sweeney took over as the head coach, Angelo, along with rising seniors Alice Anne Hudson and Ashtyn Lally, turned the team around. Over Angelo’s final two years, the Panthers went 40-17 and reached back-to-back region championship games.
Angelo was a crucial piece to the girls’ basketball program, as once again her role as a leader brought the team together. The chemistry of the team helped spark their successful seasons.
“As a senior I felt that it was my job [to lead],” Angelo said. “It could be the hardest part, but it’s worth it.”
Despite all of the games she logged and the postseason runs she experienced, Angelo failed to win a state championship on the diamond or the hardwood, but the 2019 Lady Panther lacrosse team delivered what she desired most.
The Winthrop commit played with a fire all season and elevated her play in the postseason. As the Mill knocked off opponent after opponent throughout their 13-4 regular season, they built a bond that turned the team into a force to be reckoned with. They averaged 18 goals per game and outscored their opposition 90-29 on their way winning the first lacrosse state championship south of I-20.
After scoring five goals in the semifinal game, Angelo scored twice in the championship game and made hustle plays that kept the momentum in Starr’s Mill’s favor. Her passion and desire for a state ring was on display during their final game. Angelo left the game after the opening draw with an ankle injury but returned to be the leader the team needed on the field.
“As a lacrosse player, she never slows down. She plays every inch of the field,” head girls lacrosse coach Mary Lehman said. “As a teammate, she has tremendous leadership skills. All the girls look up to her.”
While Angelo accomplished a lot in her career, she always made sure to put her team first. Whether she was at shortstop, point guard, or midfield, she held herself and her teammates accountable, which allowed for the success those teams experienced.
“I just want to win all the time,” Angelo said. “Being so competitive, things like that, drove me to keep playing.”
The Winthrop lacrosse team is coming off of an 8-11 season in which they lost in the second round of the Big South tournament. Angelo is no stranger to helping lead a turnaround of a team. She will join a young Eagle team that is only losing three seniors to graduation. Just three years ago, Winthrop was 20-3 and made a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Angelo could be a crucial piece in returning the program to that type of glory. If her high school career is any indication, she won’t back down from the challenge.
“I’m kind of excited to be a freshman again and having to prove myself,” Angelo said. “I think it’ll be fun to reinvent myself again.”
Ed. Note: This story also appears in our newest issue of Game Day, available now.
2019 Girls Athletes of the Year
Sidney Sims • Fayette County
Sidney Sims was the heartbeat of Lady Tiger athletics this year. In basketball season, Sims was the steadying veteran leading a young Tiger team to the playoffs, earning All-County First Team honors in the process. In the spring, she anchored the track and field team, competing in the triple jump, 100 meter, 200 meter, 4×100 relay, and 4×400 relay. She qualified for state in each event, with a runner-up finish in the triple jump her biggest highlight.
Kayla Rose • McIntosh
Even in an area known for distance running excellence, Kayla Rose is something special. The junior Chief posted a remarkable year on both the cross country and track and field teams. In the fall, she won the region cross country championship and placed seventh at state. In the spring, she won region titles in the 800 meter and 1,600 meter runs. At sectionals, she won the 800 and finished third in the 1,600. At state, she upped her game, winning the championship in the 1,600 meter and finishing second in the 800 meter.
Jania Hodges • Sandy Creek
Jania Hodges is just getting started. On the hardcourt, the sophomore point guard led the Lady Patriots to 25 wins, a perfect 12-0 region record, a region championship, an Elite Eight appearance, and All-County Honorable Mention recognition. On the season, she averaged 7.4 points, 4.1 assists, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.1 steals a game. In the spring, she dominated as one of AAAA’s best all-around track and field athletes. She won region titles in the 300 meter hurdles and high jump and as a member of the 4×100 meter relay, along with a runner-up finish in the long jump. At sectionals, she won the high jump and placed second in the 300 meter hurdles and long jump. At state, she was runner-up in the 300 meter hurdles and the long jump and third in the high jump and part of the runner-up 4×100 relay.
Bailey Vessell • Whitewater
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who does it better than Bailey Vessell, as the senior capped off a decorated career at Whitewater with a year for the ages. In the fall, Vessell helped key the Cats to another region softball title. She smoked the ball to the tune of a .481 batting average with 20 RBIs and 35 stolen bases, while also playing stellar defense in the outfield. She upped the bar in the spring, leading the Lady Wildcats on an underdog run to the state championship game as a brick wall on the back end. Her coach, Randy Hayes, called her arguably the best defender in the entire state. With enticing options in both sports, Vessell has chosen to continue her career playing soccer at North Georgia College.
Julia Allen • Landmark Christian
Julia Allen was a key to the continued success of the Landmark Christian School Lady War Eagles softball program this past fall. Julia was the primary pitcher who took the mound each game to slow opponents’ offensive attacks, while also hitting in the middle of the lineup driving in runs for the War Eagles. The pitching and offensive exploits of Allen this season helped lead the team back to the GHSA state playoffs for a fourth straight season during her career. Julia was selected as an all-region 5-A first team pitcher and was named 2nd team GHSA 1-A private all-state. After four years of playing softball at Landmark, Julia leaves the program as one of the all-time strikeout leaders. Julia Allen also lettered as a starter on the varsity girls basketball team during her high school career. This fall, Julia will join the Georgia State softball program.