The Top 1-10 moments and performances of 2020 are:
No. 1 - Covid shuts down sports
Just like everything else in the world, the Covid-19 pandemic had a huge affect on the sports world. For local athletes, the pandemic shutdown the college, high school, and middle school sports seasons in early March, and by April all hopes of finishing of the traditional spring sports of baseball track, soccer, golf, and tennis came crashing down when Governor Brian Kemp announced that all schools in the state were shutting down for the year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Shortly after Kemp's announcement, the Georgia High School Association followed the governor's lead, announcing all extracurricular activities, including sports, for the 2019-20 academic year have been canceled.
“Given the announcement by Governor Kemp, it is with a heavy heart that I inform you that all GHSA activities and sports are cancelled for the 2019-2020 school year,” GHSA executive director Dr. Robin Hines said. “I especially want to commend the graduating seniors who have not only missed most of the spring season but prom, senior nights, awards ceremonies, possibly graduation, and spent the last few months away from their friends and classmates. Our seniors have a great deal to be proud of and while this is not the way any of us wanted it to end, I want to thank them for a job well done.”
Truett McConnell University's spring team also had their seasons cut short last spring, as the NAIA announced it was canceling the softball, baseball, track, and golf seasons.
Things started to get back to normal in June when the GHSA allowed teams to begin summer workouts.
High school and middle school sports like softball,volleyball, and cross country started on time in August, and then football joined the fray in September. On the college level, TMU's soccer, volleyball, and golf teams also resumed play in September.
No. 2 - Gearing second at SEC meet
In November, Jenna Gearing lined up with some of the best runners in the nation at the SEC Cross Country Championships in Baton Rouge. La., and did something even she didn't expect, finishing second in the women's race behind Alabama's Mercy Chelangat.
Gearing, a White County High School and Clemson graduate, became a member of the Univeristy of Kentucky cross country program when she used a graduate transfer last summer to continue her college academic and athletic career. At the SEC meet, Gearing covered the 6,000-meter University Club course in 19:58, while Chelangat turned in a time of 19:46.
Gearing was in sixth place with 1,000 meters remaining, when she used a strong kick to five runners and finish as the runner-up in the field of 128 runners. Gearing earned All-SEC honors with the second-place finish.
“Honestly, this is so unexpected,” Gearing said. “I had a PR (personal record) in our first race, then another PR in the second, and another in the third race. I just kept getting faster (during the season), and I was running with girls that I never thought I would be able to beat. I didn't see something like this being in the cards for me. I'm thankful to still be running. I always loved cross country in high school, but at times, I thought that might have been my peak. At Clemson, I kind of focused on middle distances. Coming to Kentucky, I never really thought cross country was my event, but coming here really opened up opportunities for me.”
At the start of the race, Gearing went out quickly with Chelangat, and stayed among the lead pack until the final stretch of the race, allowing her to make a move in the sprint to the finish line.
Gearing reeled in the five runners, passing Missouri's Sarah Chapman in the final 10 meters of the race. Gearing finished at 19:58, while Chapman came in at 18:58.8.
No. 3 - Sullens siblings excel at Class AAAA wrestling tourney
White County took four wrestlers to the Class AAAA state finals last winter in Macon, and all four came home with a Top 5 medal.
Devin Sullens and Sidney Sullens both finished second in their respective weight classes for the second consecutive year, while senior Sean Wurtz and sophomore Justin Gilbert each got on the podium with fifth-place finishes.
Sidney Sullens was the runner-up last year in the 152-pound division in the first-ever girls' state tournament.
At the 2020 tournament, she matched the 2019 performance with a second place finish in the 146-pound division. Sullens posted a 3-1 record in the state finals, falling to Dade County's Heidi Raines.
Devin Sullens made his second consecutive run to the finals in the 285-pound division, but fell to Blessed Trinity's Jackson Filipowicz by a 4-3 decision, and finished with a 3-1 record at the tournament.
In the 132-pound division, Sean Wurtz capped off his prep career with a spot on the podium, finishing with a 4-2 record to finish fifth.
Justin Gilbert made a big splash in his state finals debut, finishing fifth in the 170-pound division.
No. 4 - TMU wins third straight AAC soccer title
For the third consecutive year, the Truett McConnell women's soccer team was the Appalachian Athletic Conference regular season champions.
The Bears (12-0-1) finished off an impressive run in the 2020 conference schedule last fall with a 1-0 win over Brenau University. After opening the season in September with a 0-0 tie with Montreat College, TMU rolled off 12 consecutive wins to claim the regular season crown.
Truett's first win of the season, a 2-1 overtime win against Reinhardt University on Sept. 23, turned out to be pivotal in the AAC race as Reinhardt had an 11-1 record heading into their final match of the fall season against Milligan University, and will finished as the runner-up in the conference standings.
"I am running out of words, superlatives to describe this team, but I am definitely not running out of belief," TMU head coach David McDowell said after the win over Brenau. "All season they have been absolutely superb. Every day in practice they are always excellent and every game they are excellent."
No. 5 - WC runners stellar at state
The White County High School cross country teams capped off the 2020 season with a solid performance at the Class AAA meet in Carrollton.
The Lady Warriors came up with a solid effort throughout the lineup, putting all seven runners in the Top 70, to finish fourth in the team standings. The fourth-place finish was the team's best since 2016, when the girl's squad finished third in the Class AAAA race. The Lady Warriors had finished fifth the past three years, but found a way to get back in the first four teams. The Warriors returned to the state meet and posted a 14th place finish, led by senior Eamonn O'Bryant's seventh-place finish.
The girl's race for the top spot in the girl's division came down to a private school power and four teams from Northeast Georgia. Westminster took the team title with 50 points, while Oconee County was second with 58 points. The next three spots was a battle between a trio of Region 7-AAA schools. North Hall, led by Caylee Wagner, who won the state individual title, finished third with 72 points, while the Lady Warriors were next with 125 points, and Cherokee Bluff finished fifth at 136 points.
“The girls set the goal at the beginning of the season of getting on the podium and we couldn't be prouder of the work they have put in throughout the season,” WCHS head coach Carrie Vandegriff said. “The girls knew what they had to do. They showed up, ran for their team, and accomplished their goal.”
Sydnee Nix and Nealeigh Broadwell led the effort with a pair of Top 20 performances. Nix capped off her prep career with a 13th place finish, crossing the line at 21:38, while Broadwell, who missed the state race last year due to an injury, was 18th at 22:01. Lily Gearing was just outside the Top 20, finishing 23rd at 22:20, while Reese Vandegriff was 30th at 22:39. Josie Stover had a time of 23:44 to finish 44th in her final high school race, Ella Blair was 52nd at 24:21, and Leah Alexander was 70th at 24:56 in her last high school race.
The Warriors returned to the state meet and posted a 14th place finish, led by senior Eamonn O'Bryant's seventh-place finish. O'Bryant and Hart County's Diego Martinez battled for the next spot, with Martinez holding on for the sixth-place spot at 17:01, while O'Bryant had a time of 17:04.
O'Bryant has made a yearly decent at the state meet after finishing 45th as a freshman. He was 28th as a sophomore, and finished 20th as a junior. O'Bryant's seventh-place finish is the best for a WCHS male runners since 1997 when Jonathan Sutton finished seventh in the Class AA meet.
O'Bryant's performance puts him in the conversation as the best runner in the history of the boy's program..
No. 6 - WCHS advances to second round at state
The White County Lady Warriors ran into one of the top volleyball teams in the state last fall in Atlanta in the second round of the Class AAA state tournament.
Westminster, which has been ranked No. 1 in the Class AAA stat poll all season, lived up to the hype as they claimed a 3-0 win and end the Lady Warriors' season. WCHS finished the year with a 27-9 record, setting a program mark for wins in a single season. The WCHS squad also finished as the runner-up in the 7-AAA Area tournament, the program's highest finish ever in an area tournament in the sport.
“It's been a great season,” WCHS head coach Shannon Smith said during the playoff run. “We have some big time players, but we still play as a team. They work so well together, they have great attitudes, and we are an emotionally stable team. It's been a pleasure coaching this team.”
The Lady Warriors secured a spot in the Class AAA Sweet 16 by posting a 3-0 win over Ringgold in the first round matchup. The Lady Warriors need just over an hour to dispose of Ringogld in the opening round, posting a 25-15 win in the opening game to set the tone for the match. They closed out the first round win with a 25-21 win in the second set and finished things of with a 25-10 win.
In the second round match, the Lady Warriors had to square off the No. 1 team without their full lineup. Senior Dasha Cannon suffered a ankle injury during the area tournament and then fellow frontline starter Rusty Dye also missed the match with an injury.
No. 7 - Lady Warriors take trip to Sweet 16
The White County Lady Warriors made the progam's deepest run in the state basketball playoffs in more than 35 years last winter, earning a spot in Class AAAA Sweet 16. The Lady Warriors were knocked out of the tournament by No. 1 Carver-Columbus, 65-49.
The Lady Warriors, making the third consecutive trip the state tournament, finished the season with a 21-9 record.The trip to the second round of the state tournament was the first time since 1984 the Lady Warrior program had advanced to the Sweet 16. “The girls competed; they battled to the end just like they always do,” WCHS head coach Jarvis Davenport said. “We going to try and grow from it.”
The game was the curtain call for seniors Bentley Cronic, Ellie Gearing, Rachel Lovell and Naomi Crumley. Over the past three years, the group has been apart of 51 wins, two region runner-up finishes, three consecutive trips to the state tournament, a first-round win, and a spot in the Sweet 16.
No. 8 - WCMS girl's basketball team posts perfect season
The White County Middle School seventh-grade girls basketball team wrapped up a perfect season last winter by winning the Mountain League Tournament in Blairsville.
After a 14-0 run during the regular season, the Lady Warriors knocked off Clear Creek and Pickens County to finish off the run and become the first WCMS girls' squad to post an unbeaten season since 2016-17 when the middle school squad featured current varsity players Dasha Cannon, Maddie Futch, Madison Adams, Mckenna Moose, and Camryn McAfee.
The members of the year's team were Jada Palumbo, Emma Lightsey, Lauren Black, Emily Rhoads, Jenna Pratt, Mya Yeh, Kiannah Dorsey, Madi Black, Paisley Cathey, Sarah Grace Jarrard, Emma Kerley, Kylie Watkins, and Amelia Kennedy. The head coach is Jodie Watkins, with Kyle Watkins serving as an assistant coach. The team managers are Brooklyn Thomason and MaKenna Clark.
“It's a very talented group,” Jodie Watkins said. “They want to hard and they have a lot of intangibles. They understand how to play as team, and they do things you can't coach. It's just a really good group. They've really gelled as a group. We don't have a lot of size in this group, but we make up for it with a quickness and speed.”
No. 9 - Warriors claim middle school football title
The White County Middle School football team used a stellar defensive effort last fall to win its first league title in 10 years.
The Warriors (6-1) closed out the year with an 18-0 win over Fannin County, giving the Warriors the Mountain Athletic Conference eighth-grade championship.
The middle school title was the first for the Warriors' program since 2010, when former head coach Jason Nix led the squad to a 14-0 win over Banks County in the championship game. The 2010 team included future standout WCHS players such as AJ Vandiver, Max Taylor, Sam Turner and Maurice Sutton.
Much like the 2010 team which featured a dominant defensive unit, this year's squad leaned on it's defensive players to bring home the title. The Warriors never allowed the Rebels to put together a serious scoring drive, while the offense did it's part, scoring twice in the first half and adding a another touchdown in the third quarter to put the Rebels away.
No. 10 - Craig earns All-American Schlor honors
White County High School graduate Caroline Craig was one of three University of Georgia golfers named to the All-American Scholars list by the Women's Golf Coaches Association.
Craig, along with teammates Célesté Dao and Caterina Don were significant contributors to the Bulldogs as freshmen during the 2019-20 season. The criteria for selection to accolade are some of the most stringent in college athletics. The minimum cumulative GPA is 3.50, while the golfer must compete in 50 percent of her team's rounds from the season.
Craig participated in six of seven tournaments in the pandemic-shortened season. She compiled a 74.44 stroke averaged, with three par-or-better rounds a pair of top-10 individual finishes. Craig was named SEC Freshman of the Week after she tied for 10th individually at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, an event that featured 20 of the nation’s top-50 ranked golfers.
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