Photos Andy Calvert
Coming together, competing as a group, and trying to elevate their teams to greatness in region and state are the common themes shared by Rome High School athletes Shariya Garg, Jalen Winston, and Bryson Thacker
The three standouts are quite literally at the top of their game or sport for the Wolves and hope that they can help their squads to lofty goals this spring.
Garg serves as the No. 1 singles player for the Wolves’ tennis team. She is also the high school’s valedictorian. The scholar-athlete says tennis is one of the ways she stays focused academically.
“For me, my athletics is more of my way to have fun, and how I escape homework, school, and other stuff,” she says. “I find it really fun to do tennis outside of school and for the school as well.”
Garg competes in the sport year-round. Typically, tennis is an individual sport, but when high school season begins it becomes a team sport as the singles players and doubles teams coalesce into one group, attempting to beat the other squad.
“I definitely look forward to the season. I have my own group at my individual tennis practice. The team is something really different,” she says. “We win or lose as a team. It’s fun to cheer on your teammates.”
Last season, Rome’s girls won the Region 5-6A crown but lost a close match, 3-2, to Chattahoochee in the opening round of the state playoffs. This year, Garg and her teammates hope to learn from that close loss and possibly make a run in the playoffs.
“Last year, we barely lost in the opening round of the playoffs. This year we have really good players, but it’s also about not letting things get to our heads. We just need to remain confident,” she says. “I think the team is really good this year, so I hope we can go really far in the state tournament.”
Much like Garg, Winston hopes the squad he is on, the boy’s track team, can come together, place well at the region meet, and possibly make some noise at the state track and field meet this season.
Winston says he’ll be competing in the 100 and 200 meters as well as running a leg on the 4×100 meter relay team. He also says he could be competing in the long jump if he is needed.
While Winston enjoys the competitive aspects of track, he also enjoys the social aspects.
“The main thing I like about running track is all the different people you get to meet,” he says. “I have a lot of brothers and sisters, but it’s fun to meet all these new people. When I meet someone new, I really connect with them.”
While track is a team sport, each event and how well someone places gives the team points toward the overall title.
While Winston wants the team to do well, he also wants to do well individually.
“My goals this year are to try to set a record in the 200 and also set a record in the 100,” he says. “Hopefully, I can do that and help my team win the region.”
This season, Rome has a unique opportunity as both the region and state meets will be held at Barron Stadium, the Wolves’ home track.
“Being able to compete in front of our fans and our families is going to be great,” he says. “If I could make the state meet and my family and friends be able to come out and support me there, that would be amazing.”
As for what it’s going to take for the squad to compete for the region title, Winston says it’s all about mental aspects and attitudes.
“As a team, we just need to lock in and work. I don’t think we were focused enough at region last year,” he says. “If we can cut out those distractions and not goof off, I think we can do really well.”
Competing for a region title and making a run in the state playoffs is quite high on Thacker’s list of goals he hopes to accomplish with Romes’ baseball team this spring.
The senior left-handed pitcher has already signed a baseball scholarship with the University of Tennessee and could possibly get drafted in the MLB draft this spring. For the moment, he’s not thinking about the future and instead focusing on working and getting ready for the season.
“My goals this year are to be first-team all-state as a pitcher and pitcher of the year for the region, and I want to help the team reach the state playoffs,” he says. “I think we can do that if we come together, play small ball, do the little things, and put the team before ourselves.”
While Thacker is in the starting rotation, he also plays first base and outfield for the Wolves, but pitching is what he truly loves. With his resume, he knows other teams and players will be gunning to do well against him when he is on the mound.
“I just try to take every game and every at-bat step-by-step,” he says. “Everybody out there wants to beat me, and I want to beat everybody else,” he says. “As soon as I step on the mound, my mindset changes. I’m thinking that the batter isn’t going to get a hit off of me. I just have to go out there and have the dog in me.”
As for the team aspect, Thacker says he enjoys the team’s camaraderie.
“The best part about baseball is that you get to go out there with your friends and compete as a brotherhood. We’re all out there working hard together and trying to win for our school,” he says. “I think that if we work hard and everyone plays together, we can be the top two in the region and make a run in the state playoffs.”
All three athletes are key components of their squads. And all three also know the importance of teamwork, cheering for each other, and working hard. For the Wolves to go far in track, tennis, and baseball, it will require supreme efforts from them and their teammates.