Saturday Morning Quarterback

Andy Reed • Dec 31, 2016 at 10:30 AM

Waiting on my office chair the other day was a sheet of paper with a list of top news stories for 2016 with the directive to rank the top 16 1-through-16 for a “top 16 in ’16” end-of-year piece.

With the exception of a former Wilson Central softball coach being arrested and charged with statutory rape and another story about the national junior-high rodeo championships beginning a two-year run at Ward Ag Center, nothing had anything to do with sports.

But 2016 has certainly been a big sports year.

It began with Cumberland changing the name of its athletic teams from Bulldogs to Phoenix.

Unlike the past few years, no high school team won a state championship, though Friendship Christian’s softball squad came within 60 feet of repeating before its coach left for Lebanon by way of a summer hiatus at Winfree Bryant.

But individuals certainly excelled.

It began with Friendship’s Donny Turner, who repeated as Division II individual bowling champion.

Even while Turner was striking them down, Wilson Central’s Kendall Spray was stroking it from three-point range better than any high school girl ever. Her 170 threes as a senior are the national record. She was honored in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd section last January for setting a record with 14 triples in one game which, admittedly, came in the 2015 calendar year.

Now a freshman at UT-Martin, she was named Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Week after posting a pair of 17-point outings on a swing through Chicago in the days leading up to Christmas. Through 14 games, including eight starts, she is tied for second on the Skyhawks with 10.9 points per game and is 39-of-109 (.358 percentage) from three-point range. And after building her legend wearing No. 21 with the Lady Wildcats, she sports the more-appropriate No. 3 in college.

Meanwhile, her alma mater keeps right on trucking. With former running-mate Addison Byrd now in the driver’s seat, Central entered Friday’s Overton Christmas Tournament final against Mt. Juliet with a 15-0 record, making the Lady Wildcats winners in 48 of their last 49 games. The Lady Wildcats were 34-1 during the 2016 calendar year going into last night.

Spray and Turner weren’t the only ones lighting up the scoreboard. At Watertown, Seth Price became the Purple Tigers’ alltime basketball scoring leader - as a junior. Now a senior, he keeps pushing his record further and further out into the stratosphere.

And basketball isn’t the only sport where Price is leaving his mark. In football, he set the county record for touchdown passes in a season with - well - the exact number is in dispute. Watertown coaches believe he finished with 39 while historian Ken Fountain maintains, and I would tend to agree with him here until proven otherwise, he threw 40.

Not in dispute is Watertown’s season. Though the Purple Tigers fell short in winning a region/district championship for the first time since 1985, they did reach 10 victories for the first time since ’76.

In fact, it was a banner football season at several places around the county as five of the six high schools enjoyed winning seasons. For Mt. Juliet Christian, it was the first above-.500 season since the school instituted the sport in 2001. But unfortunately for the Saints, none of their six wins came against district competition so they didn’t qualify for the playoffs for the first time.

Making the playoffs was Lebanon which automatically qualified by simply existing as one of the 32 largest schools in the state, putting the Blue Devils in Class 6A where everybody played an 11th game. But LHS only one one of those 11 and Sam Harp submitted his resignation after four seasons. Cookeville assistant Chuck Gentry, a former Cumberland player who broke into coaching as a graduate-assistant to Herschel Moore some 20 years ago, will try to guide the Devils to their first winning season since 2006.

His first game will come against Trousdale County, which will face Lebanon for the first time since 1970. The Yellow Jackets also restored Friendship Christian and Watertown to the schedule, though after much shorter hiatuses. With TSSAA reclassification and other format changes (one of which eliminates the automatic qualifying for playoffs in 6A), Watertown and Trousdale are back in the same football region. But with a bustling new campus and sprawling population in East Wilson, Watertown was moved from A to AA in basketball, meaning the Purple Tigers will trade old rivals Gordonsville and Trousdale for newer ones in DeKalb, Smith and Cannon counties.

Back to Lebanon, one of Gentry’s goals is to take the Blue Devils where Mt. Juliet currently resides - as region champions.

Mt. Juliet’s success was built on the elusive running of Aidan Raines and Mason Earls behind a big offensive line led by D.J. Delfendahl. Also aiding the Golden Bears was the kicking/punting of Jacob Bailey, whose position coach, James Wilhoit (who recently was hired by Brentwood Academy) also coaches other kickers, including Wilson Central’s Adam Williams, who became the Wildcats’ first Mr. Football finalist.

I’m sure I’m leaving some things out. But before I say so long to 2016, I need to make an amendment to paragraph 5 above. While no high school team won a state championship, Wilson County did produce at least one state titlist - the Lebanon Youth Baseball Association 11-12-year-old all-stars won the state Dixie Youth O-Zone championship and played in the World Series in Mississippi.

Also, Mt. Juliet Middle’s girls won the TMSAA Midstate basketball sectional. You can still watch those Lady Bears play - on the Mt. Juliet High varsity where they promise to extend the Lady Bears’ winning tradition to the start of the next decade.

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