Swim team’s work ethic holds key to successful season

A strong work ethic will lead a “young and hungry” swim team towards success this season, according to head coach Robert Blashill.

“They seem willing to work hard,” Blashill said. “We are a small team, and we look forward to some improved swims and advancement to the regional and state meet.”

The team competed in their first meet of the season against Liberty on Dec. 5 at the Manassas Park Community Center. The boys team won 111-91, and the girls took home a victory with a score of 191-81. Overall, the team worked really hard and did their best, according to sophomore Beth Larkin.

“Everyone tried their best and kept a positive attitude,” Larkin said. “It was a really great way to start the season.”

Although eight seniors graduated last year, the team still looks strong with returning state finalists senior Maddy St’ Ledger, sophomores Larkin and Kat Creveling, and junior Katy Joyce for the 400 freestyle relay. Also returning is last year’s 100 backstroke state finalist junior Christina Cox, along with junior Connor Aiken who is “quickly improving” as a swimmer, according to Blashill.

“We hope Katy Joyce can improve on her third place finish at states last year,” Blashill said. “She also looks very good in training so far.”

Last year the team qualified 10 swimmers for the state meet, which was remarkable, according to Blashill.

“That was unprecedented,” Blashill said. “I’m not sure we can, but I think we are capable of qualifying five or so [swimmers].”

The conference has added Kettle Run, John Champe, and Freedom High Schools this year, which all present new challenges, according to Blashill. Joyce is working hard this season to return to the state meet.

“I want to make it back to states again and place in the top three,” Joyce said.
At the end of the season Blashill hopes to see that the team bonded through experience and that their hard work paid off.

“The rewards, such as how the team will place at championship meets, how much we will improve, and who will advance and place in championship meets is a mystery,” Blashill said. “All I can guarantee is that good things will happen.”

~alex wright, sports director

Say ‘Hello’ to an instant hit

Taylor Swift has officially been dethroned as the queen of pop now that Adele has returned with her much anticipated third album, 25. After an absence from the music industry of five years, the 27-year-old British singer is back and better than ever, musically, mentally, and emotionally.

With her successful previous albums, 2011’s 21 and 2008’s 19, Adele said in an interview that she didn’t think she could top their popularity. But the world was hungry for her music, and her suspenseful, bone-chilling comeback single, “Hello,” immediately sky rocketed to the top of the iTunes charts and stayed there for weeks.

Adele comes back confident, sexy, and belting notes in almost every song. Songs like “When We Were Young,” “Million Years Ago,” and “Remedy” are soft, pretty, and sorrowful piano ballads, with romantic lyrics and calming acoustics. But then the album takes a dip into catchy pop music with “River Lea,” “Water Under the Bridge,” “Send my Love,” and “I Miss You,” all featuring incredibly catchy beats, with background sound effects and vocals. Adele sounds like she is almost having fun.

Although many of the songs are her usual slow, beautiful tunes, the pop ones are nestled in between, almost as if they are a surprise. Definitely the most compelling song on the album is the catchy “River Lea,” personally my favorite; but it also comes with a heavy backstory. The Lea River is a tributary of the Thames River near Adele’s hometown. Adele is singing an ode to this river, and she has mixed feelings about it because she wants to forget where she grew up, but the past will always be a part of her. In the first verse, Adele sings: “I grew up by the River Lea / There was something in the water / Now that something’s in me / Oh, I can’t go back, but the reeds are growing out of my fingertips / I can’t go back to the river.” And in the chorus, she sings out: “I blame it on the River Lea.”

Adele’s voice has the ability to draw people in to the story she tells through her lyrics, and on 25 she shows she has overcome personal struggles. The boost in her confidence and self-esteem suggests it just took her a while to finally find her inner superstar. “I was too strong/ You were trembling/You couldn’t handle the hot heat rising/ Baby, I’m so rising,” she sings in “Send My Love.” This album, while new and confident and fiery, has a nostalgic touch to it, as if Adele secretly wishes she could relive her younger years.

Adele is a pop colossus who doesn’t conform to the basic rules of fame. She prefers not to be seen in public, and she is humble in every single interview, despite holding a BT Digital Music Award, four Brit Awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, 10 Grammy Awards, 13 Billboard Music Awards, and four American Music Awards. If that doesn’t define a music icon, then I don’t know what does.

~julia sexton, co-features director

Wrestling team ready to wrangle

After winning the state championship in 2015, the wrestling team needs to stay focused and continue working hard to repeat their success this season, according to head coach Doug Fisher.

“It is easy to fall into the mental trap of thinking previous results are guaranteed by just showing up the next year,” Fisher said. “Their attitude and effort will be the deciding factor.”

On Dec. 5, the team competed at the Skyline Elite tournament with last year’s 6A, 4A, 3A, and VISSA championship teams all in attendance. The Falcons placed fifth out of 12 teams. In the same tournament last year, they placed third overall.

“The tournament went all right,” sophomore Franco Camarca said. “We just didn’t do as well as last year.”

Emerging leaders on the team include seniors Garrett Tingen and Caleb Strum and sophomore Kyle Budd, according to Fisher. Budd, who finished second in the state last year, plans on leading the team into a strong post-season performance by pushing himself and his teammates to work harder.

“As a returning starter, it is my responsibility to set a good example for my teammates by being at every practice, working hard and pushing myself to better my skills and techniques, and listening to our coaches,” Budd said. “Wrestling is a team sport driven by individual performances, so it is my responsibility to preform my best to put our team in the best position to win.”

The team is a mix of experienced and new athletes. The team lost half their starting wrestlers from last year, including Matt Raines, Trevor Marable and Daniel Ariola, who all went on to wrestle in college. Athletes competing for a starting spot are Strum, sophomores Camarca, Joe DelGallo, and A.J. Prudhum, along with freshmen Ethan Jordon and Kevin McEachin, according to Fisher.

“I want to make it to states and win states,” Camarca said. “I need to practice harder and get better.”

Junior Jackson McEachin will be out for five to seven months recovering from an ankle injury last spring. McEachin was set to wrestle in the 195 weight class this year.

Fisher’s main goal is to develop wrestlers who will be ready to compete at the highest levels in college.

“My goal is simple,” Fisher said. “Prepare FHS wrestlers to be able compete at the national level and be prepared to wrestle in NCAA Division I programs when they graduate, if they so choose, to continue their wrestling careers. With this focus, successful local and state level results will take care of themselves.”

The team needs to work on and be more disciplined in their stance and attack positions, but experience will be their strength, according to Fisher

“We have a lot of guys on the team that have been wrestling for many years, and if they have the right attitude, we should have a successful season.”

According to Fisher wrestling is “90 percent mental,” so handling adversity, distractions, and negative thoughts is a main objective.

“The guys need to get hungry again, if they are not already,” Fisher said. “And do the work that is required to have another shot at a title.”

~alex wright, sports director

‘Mockingjay Part 2’ fires up audiences

With eye catching visuals, heart stopping action, and gripping performances, Mockingjay Part 2 offers a powerful, albeit lengthy, conclusion to the riveting and widely popular Hunger Games series.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) captures the essence of the courageous heroine, uniting rebel forces to revolt against the tyrannical President Snow. Katniss teams up with Squad 451 and some of her closest allies—longtime lover and recently brainwashed Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and fellow victor Finnick (Sam Claflin)—to unite the districts of Panem and lead the rebellion against the gamemakers and President Snow.

They make their way through streets lined with weapons created by the Capitol towards Snow’s mansion. One of the most gripping scenes occurs in the underground sewage tunnels, which reintroduces the horrific “mutts,” this time taking form of genetically engineered lizard people. Part 2 gets its intensity with more jump scares throughout than previous movies. However, despite brief exciting moments, the plot drags on through some scenes.

Although Mockingjay’s combat scenes are perfectly synchronized, viewers are often able to predict the outcome. Crouching behind buildings seconds before the weapons deactivate removes suspense, as do characters who outrun flesh eating tar that fills up the courtyard and part of the building that Katniss and the rest of her group flee into shortly after. Miraculously, the tar is sucked back into the courtyard after capturing two unimportant soldiers in Squad 451, leaving lead characters unharmed.

Lawrence delivers a phenomenal performance in showcasing Katniss as a powerful and iconic heroine. In times of grief and panic Lawrence brings a strong willed character to the screen and exhibits the leadership that struck hearts in the first Hunger Games. After losing important teammates she is somehow strong enough to lead the battered group through the rest of the mutt—contaminated tunnels.

However, during the group’s triumphant march into the Capitol, the overused and confusing love triangle between Peeta, Gale, and Katniss comes onto screen during short periods of quiet awkward moments while the group rests. Katniss, who is trying to help revert Peeta to normal and attempting to jumpstart his memories, turns to Gale for help and receives a few kisses in the process, leaving the audience still wondering what lover Katniss will choose.

Overall, Mockingjay delivers a crowd–pleaser that continues to have exceptional acting by Lawrence, Hemsworth and Hutcherson, while the plot moves foward on bursts of suspenseful moments, bringing a strong, yet lengthy close to the epic Hunger Games series.

~gretchen deitrich, staff reporter

Syrian refugee crisis calls for compassion

Following attacks in France that left 130 dead, U.S. lawmakers are responding by making it harder for the 10,000 Syrian refugees that America promised to accept to enter the country. With more than half of the nation’s governors refusing to accept refugees into their respective states, the United States has traded compassion for suspicion, further victimizing the thousands of people fleeing from their war-torn country. The motivation? Fear and Islamophobia.

If the United States ultimately decides to bar Syrian refugees from entering the nation, we may as well dismantle the Statue of Liberty and send her back to France (which is still accepting 30,000 refugees, in spite of the attacks). Turning away refugees is spitting on the country’s most valued principles. These people aren’t trying to infiltrate our nation; they’re fleeing tyranny and terror, caught between an oppressive government and ISIS.  Some of those who oppose giving refuge to Syrians seem to have no empathy for Muslims and to consider Islam synonymous with terrorism. However, the majority of ISIS’s victims are Muslims who do not accept ISIS’s extreme and violent doctrine, according to the United Nations.

The concern over security is understandable, and definitely shouldn’t be overlooked. A forged Syrian passport was found on the body of one of the Paris terrorists, who had used the documents to enter Greece. Seven thousand refugees enter Greece every day, and the country simply can’t handle the influx of people. However, the United States can. A thorough vetting process, which can take 18 to 24 months and includes screening from various agencies, is already in place. So, when government officials and public figures claim that the United States has no way of telling who is a refugee and who is a potential threat, sympathetic citizens should not be silent. Are we willing to portray ourselves as incompetent just so we don’t have to face these scary Syrian widows, orphans, and refugees?

We cannot allow fear and ignorance to impede our better judgement and moral standards. GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson has referred to Syrian refugees as “rabid dogs,” and after visiting a refugee camp in Jordan, referred to the facilities—and let’s remember that these people are living in tents, with no electricity and little security—as being “really quite nice.” Moreover, he was confused upon learning that refugees would rather return to their home countries than come to America. Of course they would! But their homes are currently being ravaged by a militant fundamentalist group with an affinity for beheadings. The responses from fellow candidates Jeb Bush and Donald Trump have been just as thickheaded, with Bush advocating allowing only Christian refugees to enter, and Trump calling for banning all Muslims from entering the country.

Have we learned nothing from the past? America didn’t allow Jewish refugees into the country during World War II because people feared dangerous ideologies and Communist saboteurs. Today we find that inaction deplorable. Do we wish to look back on our decisions today with the same shame? Have the Japanese internment camps taught us nothing about what happens when fear overshadows our conscience? Time and time again, prejudice presides over sympathy. Let’s not allow it to happen this time.

It’s past time that America—a supposed beacon of freedom and independence—learns the meaning of its own virtues and rejects fear-mongering. We have the means to help refugees, and the power and resources to keep ourselves safe in this unsafe world. If the United States won’t help those suffering underneath the fist of tyranny, perhaps it’s time we rethink that whole “liberty and justice for all” thing.

~lana heltzel, online editor