What to watch for: Auburn fall sports edition

Trojan football and Mountainview girls golf are two teams to keep an eye on this fall season.

With the summer of 2023 coming to a close, high school fall sports are starting up. Here are two storylines that should grab your attention going into the fall season.

Football action

The Auburn Trojans are defending their league title for the first time since 2010.

Auburn won its first league title since 2009 on the backs of 14 seniors last season. This year is a much different vibe, riding the growth and development of young players.

“It’s going to be how fast the sophomores grow up, if they can figure out a way to get used to varsity football fast. Then we’ll be competitive,” Head Coach Aaron Chantler said. “If we’re slow to adjust to the speed of varsity, then it might be a long season.”

But Chantler has hopes for this group.

“We’re sophomore heavy, so it’s really going to come down to how fast do those kids want to grow up … They’re a good group of kids and they want to (grow up). They work hard and they want to be better football players that want to work and go,” Chantler said.

The core of the Trojans left as part of those 14 seniors from last season, and the skill position room took one of the biggest hits. However, coming into this year, the coach has confidence in the next crop of skill players.

Head Coach Aaron Chantler working with the Auburn quarterbacks.

Head Coach Aaron Chantler working with the Auburn quarterbacks.

“It’s hard to fill those shoes. … Be the best version of yourself, learn from those guys and add your own spin on it,” Chantler said.

That doesn’t mean the Trojans are lacking experience and leadership. They get a lot of that from senior Luvens Valcin, who not only is a standout on the football field, but on the basketball court as well. His coach understands the expectations that have been put on the senior’s shoulders.

“I know it’s hard because Luvens has a lot of pressure from the outside world. You get an offer and you get attention and he’s got a lot to live up to. He has moments of leading by example. Kids naturally gravitate toward him,” Chantler said.

Coach Chantler is asking Valcin to do something he’s never done before — play every play of the game. This year, Valcin is working on the Trojan defense as an edge rusher.

“He knows you can’t really take a play off, the eyes are always on. We’re asking him to play both sides, which is something he hasn’t done before. He’s like ‘I gotta step it up and be that leader.’ He’s done a good job with that part,” said Chantler.

One of the 14 players who departed Auburn was two-year starting QB Amari Goodfellow. He left some big shoes to fill and as a former quarterback, coach Chantler is excited to see his guys work.

“As a guy who played quarterback and had been a quarterbacks coach, having a real quarterback battle is fun…But as a head coach you’d rather not,” he said.

“Both DJ and Baylen [Erdmann] offer very different things. Baylen is really smart, he’s a student of the game. DJ is an under the radar runner … he hasn’t had the chance to really show that. So I think they’re both going to play,” Chantler said.

The Trojans turn their sights to Prairie for their week one game on Sept. 1. Last season, Auburn dropped their week one matchup against the Falcons, 26-20. It proves to be a good mark to see where the Trojans are, especially when they were loaded with seniors a year ago.

“It’s a good learning experience to get on a bus and travel. If you’re going to the playoffs, you’re going to do something similar. So let’s do it in week one and give it a shot,” said Chantler.

Photos by Ben Ray / The Reporter
Top three golfers from Auburn Mountainview Ella Podeszwa, Esther Yu, and Malina Ta’amu work the practice green.

Photos by Ben Ray / The Reporter Top three golfers from Auburn Mountainview Ella Podeszwa, Esther Yu, and Malina Ta’amu work the practice green.

Lion pride look to perform well on Golf Course

On the links, Auburn Mountainview had a fantastic year last year, having five girls golfers compete in the state tournament. Coming into this season, they returned just one golfer who placed in the state tournament a year ago.

“I feel like the team is really tight knit. I’m very comfortable with the girls,” sophomore Malina Ta’amu said.

Leading the pack was Marina Long, who finished T38 with a total of 180 over the course of the two day tournament. But Long was a senior which left the sophomore Ta’amu the highest finishing returning Lion for the 2024 season. Her focus is on getting better for this year.

“I think I still have a lot of growing to do, but if I accomplish that, I’m pretty confident,” she said.

Ta’amu finished with a score of 190 with a best round of 91 tied for 51st.

The lone senior this season is Ella Podeszwa, who is also the captain of the Lions girls golf squad. Her state tournament was a unique one last year, and this year she looks forward to competing there again.

“I’m really excited, it’s kind of crazy being the only senior… But I’m really excited for what the year holds,” said Podeszwa.

Podeszwa was one of three other Lions that competed in state but didn’t quite make the cut for round two. It was the second consecutive year five or more Auburn Mountainview golfers made the state tournament; in 2022, six Lions made the tournament.

Along with that success the Lions had last season, they welcomed a new freshman to the team, whom coach Chris Carr believes could be special. Esther Yu is coming in with high expectations and is getting along with her new squad.

“I really like (the team), everyone is really, really nice. It’s been a lot of fun getting out on the course,” Yu said.

As Podeszwa is the lone senior, she is given a leadership role and is helping out in any way she can. Even learning herself from the young freshman Yu, “she’s taught me a lot about perseverance,” Podeszwa said.

And of course Yu has learned from her captain: “She’s taught me a lot about leadership… She’s really good at making everyone feel supportive,” Yu said.

The Lions open their season against Kentwood on Sept. 5 at Auburn Golf Course. The girls don’t feel much pressure under Coach Carr going into matches. But on the first tee, it’s hard not to get a little nervous.

“I get a little bit nervous on the first tee because there’s a lot of people, but they only watch the first drive. But I’m excited,” said Yu.

This pride of Lions is ready for the season, and has the confidence to make an impact.

Esther Yu practices the short game at Auburn Golf Course.

Esther Yu practices the short game at Auburn Golf Course.