The St. Louis/Tom Lombardo chapter of the National Football Foundation [NFF] has awarded two local high school students the NFF Scholar-Athlete Scholarship.
The mission of the NFF is to promote and develop the power of amateur football in developing the qualities of leadership, sportsmanship, competitive zeal and the drive for academic excellence in America’s young people. Each year, the local chapter awards 11 scholarships to athletes in the St. Louis metropolitan area. This year’s recipients include Dardenne Prairie resident Jacob Larson of St. Dominic High and Lake Saint Louis resident Seth Thompson of Timberland High. Both are only the second individuals from their high schools to have received this prestigious award.
To be considered, the athlete must be nominated by their coach and have demonstrated excellent academic achievement, athletic accomplishment and community service.
After high school graduation, both Larson and Thompson will attend Missouri University of Science and Technology where they will pursue engineering degrees and play football for the Miners.
High school girls basketball
Sometimes the best opportunities are just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Such was the case for former longtime Maryville University women’s basketball coach Chris Ellis, who was recently hired to take over the O’Fallon Christian High girls’ basketball program.
Ellis succeeds coach Craig Liddle, who informed O’Fallon Christian Athletic Director Andy Hare that he would not be back next season. After getting the news, Hare asked assistant coach Lori Drury to reach out to her contacts and Drury, who previously coached against Ellis at Harris-Stowe, made the connection.
“Lori used to coach against him at Harris-Stowe and knew him well,” Hare said. “She was able to connect with him and get us together to talk about our coaching situation and she helped us find a really good coach.”
Ellis, who was coaching a pair of club teams at the time, said it was a pleasant surprise to have the new opportunity to coach again on the prep level.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here and I’m excited about the new job and the direction that the school is wanting to be headed in terms of basketball and athletics in general,” Ellis said.
Ellis spent five years coaching at Webster Groves before moving on to Parkway South early in his career. He led the Parkway South girls to 186 wins in nine years and then coached a year of pro ball. Maryville University came calling in 2001-02, and Ellis took over the women’s squad, racking up a 255-160 record in 15 seasons.
“We are really excited and fortunate to have Chris leading our girls’ program,” Hare said. “He has a strong track record of success and teaching his players the game and playing with high standards.”
Ellis will be looking to bring respectability to a club that went just 9-17 [4-6 in the Archdiocesan Athletic Conference].
“I think the players, with another year of experience behind them, will be a lot more confident when they play,” Ellis said. “There are a lot of great things happening and I think to be a part of it is going to be very, very exciting.”
Ellis is the second big name coach to land at O’Fallon Christian in the past two seasons as he joins Terry Hollander, who took over the boys’ program last season.
Hare is thrilled about the direction of the basketball programs.
“I think it starts with having good timing and good coaches to help grow our programs,” Hare said. “We expect Chris will help us get winning records, compete in the AAA conference for championships and help us have success in the playoffs.”
Muehling named player of the year
It was a dream senior season for Fort Zumwalt South girls’ soccer standout Stacie Muehling.
Muehling, a recent graduate, was the unquestioned field leader for the Bulldogs on the pitch. Her drive and talent allowed her to carry the Bulldogs to new heights, and as a result, she was recently named Gateway Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
For Muehling, an outstanding center back who helped lead the South girls’ program to its first state tournament appearance in early June, the title was the icing on the cake.
“I was very, very surprised and I’m so, so happy and so honored to get it,” Muehling said.
Muehling was not a huge goal-scorer during the 2017 season, but she was second in the club as a playmaker with 11 points and made a huge impact on her teammates with her senior leadership.
“Stacie played all four years with me and she is, in my opinion, of the girls I have coached, the best that I have seen,” Zumwalt South coach Jim Layne said. “Her leadership is phenomenal and I think the one thing that separates her is her leadership qualities.”
Muehling said she believes that the team’s mid-season turnaround, when the Bulldogs went from 5-11-2 to winning nine of their last 12 games and going to state, helped her cause greatly in earning the award.
“We all came together and wrote down our schedule and burned it and put that part of the season behind us,” Muehling said. “We were all focused and we all played for each other.”
For Muehling, who is heading to Maryville University to play soccer this fall, the award, along with the state tournament appearance, was the perfect way to finish out her career at Zumwalt South.
“It was just such a great feeling to get that; [it] just really topped my season off,” Muehling said.
Martinez thriving with River City Rascals
So far, it has been nothing short of a rebirth this spring and summer for River City Rascals infielder/outfielder Braxton Martinez.
Martinez, a Francis Howell North and Saint Louis University graduate, is thriving in his second year with the club. Heading into early July, Martinez is hitting a productive .280 at the plate and is turning in solid defensive work in right field.
“I feel pretty good so far,” Martinez said. “I like the way our team looks and I like the way I’ve been feeling so far this season. We can only get better from here.”
For Martinez, getting better with the bat was his primary goal during the Rascals’ run to the Frontier League Championship Series. He hit a pedestrian .194 during the regular season in 2016 and knew that had to change for him to stay around in 2017.
He got some help in the offseason and has managed to become one of the more consistent bats in the Rascals’ lineup this summer.
“He had a nice approach at the plate for us even though his numbers didn’t really show it as he hit into some tough outs,” River City manager Steve Brook said. “He’s gotten out to a really good start for us this year and has been playing a little right field and first base for us.”
Martinez said the pitching he is facing in the Frontier League is very similar to the weekend pitchers he faced in college but the pitching is deeper in the Frontier League, which makes the at-bats more challenging.
Being able to continue his baseball career in his backyard has been a great opportunity for the former Howell North star.
“Obviously, living at home is pretty sweet and definitely having my family and friends at all the games is pretty neat,” Martinez said. “I know that there are plenty of guys my age that would kill to still be playing baseball, so I’m really fortunate to still be playing and I can’t thank the coaching staff of River City more for sticking with me after last year.”