Photos Andy Calvert
When speaking to the Pepperell athletes, one common theme jumped out quickly. Each one of them said wearing a uniform with the big letter P on it meant something to them, and they were truly honored to be able to represent the school and the community.
Ryan Ely, a baseball player for the Dragons, has high hopes for the squad this season. The senior plays pitcher, shortstop and just about anywhere the coaches ask him to play.
The Dragons have had some solid squads the past couple of years, and Ely and his teammates are hoping to make a deeper run into the state playoffs this season.
“We are hoping to make it to the Sweet 16 and hopefully get further than that,” he says. “We’ve been there the past two years, and hopefully we can go further this year.”
A big part of the optimism of possibly moving deeper into the playoffs comes because of a new off-season conditioning program the Dragons have employed.
“We’ve been working harder this offseason than the previous two years,” Ely says. “We have a new workout system and have been doing a lot more conditioning.”
Along with the offseason work, Ely says the close bond with his teammates is a huge plus for the team.
“We’re a really close group with the coaches and the players. We really feel that we are playing for each other and feel like we can come back from anything,” he says. “I love the community and getting to call Lindale home. There is a lot of baseball history in Lindale. It’s an honor to play at Pepperell.”
Another athlete hoping to help her squad advance a bit farther in the state playoffs is Pepperell’s No. 1 tennis singles player Allie Adams.
“We’re really hoping to win the region title this year. We’ve been runner-ups the past two years,” she says. “We’d also like to get past the Sweet16 this season because that’s where we’ve gotten to the last two years.”
The senior enjoys being the No. 1 singles player because she relishes the big moments.
“My coaches tell me that I like the big crowds and that I like to draw my matches out a little bit longer to let the larger crowd get here to watch,” Adams says. “I like the pressure too. I think I do better when I’m under pressure, and I just love playing against the other team’s top players.”
While Adams loves the competition, she also enjoys being a part of the team.
“I really like how the coaches are nice, but they also expect a lot of you. It’s also really neat because the team is really like one big family,” she says.
As far as what it’s going to take for the Dragons to possibly win that region title and advance deeper into the playoffs, Adams has some thoughts.
“We’re just going to have to play as hard as we can and get more reps in and figure out what our best lineup is,” she says.
Steven Ballitor hopes he and his teammates can make a run at the region soccer title and maybe a deep run into the state playoffs this season.
The senior, who plays attacking midfield or striker, has plenty of experience playing for winning teams in travel soccer and hopes to bring that same thing to the Dragons.
“Most of our team plays travel ball. I played this past season with SSA. We went undefeated but lost in regionals,” he says.
The senior enjoys being an offensive player.
“I love scoring goals and being able to distribute the ball and just help run the offense,” he says.
When asked what a perfect season looks like for him, he sits back and gets a big smile on his face.
“The ultimate goal is to win the state title. Winning the region title is a good first step. We just need to do that and then do well in the playoffs,” he says. “But it’s going to take a lot of hard work from us, being coachable and just putting in the effort. We need to be giving 100 percent effort in practice and leave it all out on the field in every match.”
The senior, who hopes to play soccer in college as well, also says he has a bit of added motivation when playing for Pepperell.
“I love this community and representing the P,” he says. “Actually going out there and knowing you get to play for your school and your town is special.”
A love for their school, their teammates and their community is evident when speaking to all three athletes. What’s also evident is their will and desire to help propel their teams to heights beyond what they’ve reached the past few seasons.