During a school year filled with uncertainty—a pandemic that threatened to disrupt every aspect of our daily lives—one constant remained: our collective determination to be on campus for classroom activities as well as athletics.
Armed with the knowledge that physical activity in general and team sports in particular are vital to a student’s overall well-being, from day one of the 2020-21 school year, our coaches were devoted to ensuring health and safety measures would allow athletics to continue as normally as possible. As a result, each sport was able to compete, with most teams completing a primarily typical season in terms of number of games or matches compared to previous school years.
This spring, GPS athletes competed in track and field, softball, and tennis during the 2021 TSSAA Division II-AA Spring Fling in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on May 26 and 27. During the event, track and field saw 13 athletes compete in 14 of 18 events, softball reached the double-elimination four-team tournament, and tennis sent a pair to the doubles competition.
Track & Field
The Bruisers came in second place in the state two-day event, narrowly edging out Harpeth Hall (Nashville) by one point; Ensworth (Nashville) placed first, with Baylor (Chattanooga) placing fifth.
GPS’s Nicola van der Merwe ’21 competed in four events, ending the day with an individual point count of 24. Nicola was state champion in the triple jump, 4th in pole vault, 4th in 300-meter hurdles, and finished in 5th place for the pentathlon. She played a vital part of the 4 x 400-meter relay team (placing 3rd), which garnered 6 points and clinched state runner-up status for the team.
Emily Kreek ’22 was key to the team’s success as well and also competed in four events, with an individual point count of 21 for the meet. Emily was 3rd in the pentathlon, 3rd in 300-meter hurdles, 4th in 100-meter hurdles, and 6th in high jump. She was the lead leg in the 3rd-place 4 x 400-meter relay.
Jane Eiselstein ’21 set a school record in the 3200-meter run (11:21.79), finishing in 2nd place. She was also instrumental in the state championship status of the 4 x 800-meter relay team, who finished with a winning time of 9:54.97. Rounding out the rest of that relay team were three eighth-graders: Tessie Braman, Gilly Shumate, and Frances Bohner.
Louisa Bohner ’22 had a great day in shot put, hitting a personal best of 44’ 8”, 6 inches shy of the school record. “In any other division, this would have gotten her a state championship,” said Head Coach Beverly Blackwell.
“I am so proud of how hard all of the girls worked all season,” Blackwell continued. “We have a very special team, and they all know how to come through in a clutch. The 4 x 400 relay team was given a task to finish within two places of Harpeth Hall to hold on to our lead, and they persevered and came through with a third-place finish and a season personal record. The love on this team is incredible, and I am so proud to be called Coach of these girls.”
Softball went into the state tournament with a 14-12 record on the season. Their first game was Wednesday morning against St. Benedict (Memphis), with GPS storming out to an early 8-1 lead enroute to an 8-6 win over the Eagles. GPS started strong with 3 runs in the first inning and then added 5 more in the fourth. Pitcher Mikayla Beard ’21 was credited with the win.
The Bruisers would go on to lose the second game later that afternoon to cross-town rivals, Baylor, which pitted them against St. Benedict again the following morning. Led by Isabella Jenkins ’23 on the mound, GPS won a decisive game with a 13-5 victory that would pair them again with Baylor later that evening. Their loss again to Baylor placed the Bruisers in the runners-up position for the state tournament.
“We had a great season and showing at the spring fling,” said Coach Martha Hanzelik. “We had two matchups with St. Benedict in what were hard-fought games. It took every player in our lineup to put up both wins against them. We took this tournament one game at a time, knowing that the outcome of each win would mean seeing Baylor in the championship.
“It's never easy to come in second,” she continued, “but our girls held their heads high and wore the name GPS on their uniforms proudly. We never stopped putting the bat on the ball or making defensive plays. For the adversity this team has faced this year, they came together for a great season.”
GPS sent doubles pair Mary Kate Johnson ’22 and Caroline Clarke ’23 to the TSSAA Division II AA Individual Doubles Championship. Due to a tough region and region draw this year, only two teams qualified out of Knoxville Catholic, Baylor, and GPS.
Mary Kate and Caroline played some amazing tennis at the region tournament to beat Knox Catholic in a closely contested battle and then lost a very close match to Baylor to achieve the number two seed from our region. They showed great heart and perseverance in those matches at the region and then during a tough three-set win against Ensworth in Murfreesboro.
“These girls have worked hard all through last summer and the school year, and their improvement from even the beginning of the season is dramatic,” said Head Coach Sue Bartlett. “After a tough loss to Hutchison (Memphis), the Hutchison AD came up and thanked our coaching staff and school for the years of fair play and mutual respect. MK and Caro are inspiring and inspired and ready to be back next year as our other returning members are.”
The Hutchison duo went on to win, so Mary Kate and Caroline were put out by the eventual winners.
“Our entire team has worked really hard this year,” Bartlett continued, “and they have improved all aspects of their games. Due to no overnight stays, we traveled to many schools within a 2-hour radius of Chattanooga—Nashville, Birmingham (Alabama), Rome and Atlanta (Georgia), Knoxville, and Murfreesboro—in search of good competition. They are a committed, hard-working, and very fun group of girls who truly enjoy being together. I can’t wait to get back working with them next year!”
The varsity tennis team graduated only one player, so their future looks bright for the 2021-22 school year.
For photos of all the spring teams, please see our SmugMug page: