TODAY'S SPORTS

LHS set for return to 2A




The Luray High School softball team racked up more than just wins when it bounced around the state of Virginia this past postseason.

“If you put your finger on Luray and you go 1,800 miles west, you know where you are?” said Don Ehlers, who’s been the AD for 18 of his 29 years at Luray. “You would be at the border of Colorado and Utah, and that’s how many miles our girls traveled, so I’m thankful we’re going back to districts and four regions.

“Those days are over. Those girls were whipped when it was all said and done.”

While Harrisonburg High School faces potentially longer road trips as it re-classifies from 4A to Class 5 — the renamed 5A level in the Virginia High School League’s new alignment plan — LHS is greeted by the opposite.

Luray, a 1A member for the last two years after previously being a 2A school, has grown back into a Class 2 school based on its increasing enrollment. It’s a welcome change for Ehlers, as the Bulldogs relocate from the spread-out 1A East Region and Conference 44 to a more proximate Class 2 Region B.

In the VHSL’s alignment overhaul, which has gone into effect for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, the Bulldogs have been grouped into Class 2 Region B with six of their Shenandoah District foes. The VHSL disbanded conferences, which in turn restores meaning to districts, and doubled the amount of regions spanning the six classifications from 12 to 24.

“I’m thankful that we’re going back to the old way of doing things and having district tournaments and four regions, ” said Ehlers, whose late father, Dean E h l e r s, wa s James Madison University’s first full-time athletic director. “Which is the way I think it should’ve been done, but, you know, hindsight’s 20-20. It was an experiment that’s over.”

The Shenandoah District will bring back district tournaments for the first time since the 2012-13 school year, with eight of the league’s nine teams making the field.

For the last two years, Luray shared 1A East’s Conference 44 with Shenandoah District foes Stonewall Jackson and Riverheads. But the other four C-44 members were Altavista, William Campbell, Galileo Magnet and Highland, who are all located two hours or more away from LHS.

The softball team, Ehlers said, was a perfect example of a team that was “in a conference that was too big and a region that was too big.”

In a postseason run that featured the first state tournament in program history, Luray traveled to Riverheads, William Campbell, Windsor, Central-Lunenburg and Mathews before playing in the 1A state semifinals at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

“The travel that we’ve done the past two years, whew, man, that was tough. Tough,” said Charlie Turner, Luray’s softball coach for the last 10 seasons before resigning earlier this summer. “On a school bus on top of it, it just beats you down.”

In the new Class 2 Region B— which also includes five Bull Run District schools, none of which are more than roughly 85 miles from LHS — a state tournament run wouldn’t require nearly as much travel. In most team sports, the Shenandoah District will advance four teams to Class 2 Region B, with the Bull Run sending the other four for an eight-team bracket.

Although football undergoes the least drastic postseason-format change, Luray football will be thrust into a grueling battle for playoff spots with the likes of the Shenandoah District powerhouses.

The Shenandoah has four squads that made the 2A East Region playoffs in 2016. Perhaps the league’s perennial team to beat, Riverheads, claimed the 1A state title. Although the intense Shenandoah District football competition won’t be new to LHS, the Bulldogs will now be vying for playoff spots against those programs.

In 1A East, while earning extra power points for regularly facing larger schools, Luray vied for one of 12 playoff spots in a 28-member region. Now, it will fight for one of eight spots in a 12-team region with no extra bonuses for facing fellow Class 2 schools.

“The Shenandoah District’s one of the toughest around. I think the competition’s definitely going to make it a little bit tougher, especially when you look at our schedule,” Luray coach Nolan Jeffries said. “I think it’s going to be a little bit more challenging, but hopefully we can take it week by week and hopefully we meet those challenges.”

Luray has earned a 1A East postseason win in each of the last two seasons, after previously not winning a playoff game since 1998, and has qualified for the postseason in each of the last five years.

Although Luray still has a roster of approximately 35 players, as it has for years, Jeffries hopes the Bulldogs’ past experience as a 2A member will be beneficial in their return to the classification level.

“When you look at our schedule, already we kind of play a 2A schedule. We definitely know what to expect,” said Jeffries, a second-year coach who was previously an LHS assistant. “We’re hoping for some good things. We’ve been working hard.”

Ehlers said he hopes Luray can be competitive in all sports, but acknowledged that schools of LHS’s size will always endure their “ups and downs.”

Turner believes the softball team, however, will be prepared right away.

“Some people say ‘Well, you go back to 2A, you might not be able to compete.’ With the team they have coming back, they’ll compete,” said Turner, whose Bulldogs didn’t have any seniors this past season. “They’ll be right there.”



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