Joe Medley: Year of pandemic turns into year of deep runs and champions in area preps

·5 min read

Jun. 4—Have you checked your favorite high school's trophy case lately? Chances are, there's something shiny and new in it.

Whether it's blue or red, it shows that a year of prep sports prevailed over a pandemic and turned out special.

Coverage-area teams came home with four Alabama High School Athletic Association "blue maps" for state championships. Add eight "red maps" for runner-up finishes, including four at Donoho, and this year validated what makes following high school sports in this area special.

It's big enough to have lots of high schools. It's small enough to breed familiarity, rivalry and competitiveness. Prep sports matter here. They're supported.

Ever noticed that teams from this area get through to the late, later and latest layers of postseason in just about every sport? That doesn't happen in most places not named Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile or Montgomery.

This area is quite blessed that way.

We often have a team to follow at the Super 7, sometimes more than one.

We always have a team to follow in the Final 48, usually more than one.

We always have teams in the state softball tournament.

We often have a team or two in at least the state baseball semifinals, if not the finals.

Every May, it seems this old hack spends the better part of two weeks on the road, following deep-run teams. This May's travels included Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery and Muscle Shoals.

It means Mrs. Medley and I often have to wait to celebrate our anniversary. We got married 20 years ago, when I worked in a different capacity, but May 12 often finds me chasing ball somewhere these days.

At least there's a good reason at the end of every season. Here's a look back on a memorable school year:

Trophy count

I've pinned a tweet on my account, accounting for AHSAA trophies that came home to Calhoun County this year.

Anniston's boys brought home blue in basketball.

Both White Plains golf teams brought home blue.

Expand through the full-radius coverage area, and Handley brought home blue in football.

There's no shame in red. It meant that a team made it to the championship finals, and Calhoun County had lots of those.

Donoho finished as runners-up in volleyball, girls tennis, girls soccer and baseball. The soccer and baseball teams made the finals for the first time ever.

Other runners-up included White Plains' boys in cross country, Weaver in wrestling, Anniston's girls in basketball and Anniston's boys in track.

That's a lot of hardware to show off, and the Calhoun County Commission would have to hold a special meeting in a gym somewhere to honor all of the teams at once.

Deep runs

Besides Handley's second state title in four years, football season saw Piedmont and Spring Garden reach the semifinals, Spring Garden for the first time. Quarterfinalists included Oxford, Alexandria, Clay Central, Ohatchee and Saks.

Donoho had lots of company in volleyball's Elite Eight in Birmingham. Alexandria, Jacksonville, Pleasant Valley and Spring Garden all made it.

White Plains' boys led the area contingent at state cross country, which included the Wildcats' girls and teams from Alexandria, Clay Central, Donoho, Faith Christian, Jacksonville, Lincoln, Ohatchee, Oxford and Pleasant Valley. The area was well represented in tent city at Jesse Owens Park.

Fall was busy, and winter didn't slow down.

At state wrestling, Oxford and Alexandria had individual champions in Huntsville. Cleburne County, Ohatchee, Piedmont, Ranburne, Saks, Weaver and White Plains all finished among the top 13 of 33 teams in the Class 1A-4A championships in Montgomery, and area wrestlers appeared in most championship finals.

Basketball saw Anniston's boys and girls make it to Birmingham. They had to get through White Plains' boys and Handley's girls in the Northeast Regional finals.

Alexandria's boys, Jacksonville Christian's boys and Spring Garden's girls also made regional finals. Piedmont's boys, Saks' boys, Ohatchee's girls, Oxford's boys and girls made regional semifinals.

Spring forward, and Alexandria, Piedmont, Cleburne County and Spring Garden made the state softball tournament at Choccolocco Park. Alexandria finished among the final four teams in 5A.

Along with Donoho, Piedmont kept us busy in the baseball semifinals. Alexandria, Handley, Oxford, Ranburne and Spring Garden reached quarterfinal series.

With a runner-up finish in track, Anniston's boys led a host of area teams in the state track meets at Gulf Shores and Cullman. White Plains led all girls teams with a fifth-place finish.

White Plains' boys and girls had familiar company at state golf, with Alexandria's and Pleasant Valley's girls making the field. Weaver's Nick Ledbetter qualified individually.

Donoho carried the area banner at state soccer and tennis.

Individual state champs

White Plains' Jake Moore won the Class 4A boys cross country meet to become the area's first individual state champion ... the first of many.

At the risk of an unintended omission, here we go:

Calhoun County had 10 state wrestling champions, led by Alexandria four-time champion Jaden New. Ohatchee's Troy Galloway, Oxford's Chase Hicks, Piedmont's Dylan Melendez, Ranburne's Carson Hall, Saks' Tre Bolton, Weaver's Cody Souder, Joshua Johannson and Devin Anderson and White Plains' Gavin Kilgore and Jaylen Thomas also won their weight classes in their AHSAA classification group.

Souder was the 1A-4A meet's most valuable wrestler, and Hall had the most pins.

Tennis saw Donoho's Claire Hillman team with Lily Grace Draper to win the 1A-3A No. 1 doubles title, and Hillman was runner-up in No. 1 singles.

As for track champions, take a deep breath.

White Plains' Savannah Yates won her fourth state title in pole vault, and teammate Angel Bozarth won in high jump. Anniston's Christian Myles (800 run), Donoho's Taylor Simmons (400 dash), Ohatchee's Gracie George (shot put), Oxford's Justin Moore (high jump), Saks' Sa'Nya Fleming (long jump, triple jump) and Wadley's Haley Trammel (long jump, triple jump) also won gold.

And that's not counting relay teams.

Piedmont's Cody Holloway (60 hurdles) came away with indoor-track gold, as did Ohatchee's Brock England (high jump).

Hail to the champions, all!

As for all of the deep-run teams, thanks for the ride.

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.

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