In full disclosure, this is not an easy decision. So many teams are worthy to be honored as Team of the Year. However, we pick one per sport, and list the honorable mentions as well. Here goes:
BOYS BASKETBALL – JEFFERSON DRAGONS
How can anyone really argue with this. The Dragons got hot at the absolute perfect time, and made an historic run to their first-ever State Championship game appearance in Macon. Jefferson, under head coach Kevin Morris, went 22-8 overall. Heading into the final minutes of the title game, Jefferson even held a lead.
Consider that the boys won 13 in a row to get to the title game. When they reached the Final Four for the first time in a decade, they didn’t rest there. Instead, they took an 8-point win over Central-Macon to earn the right to the title game appearance. The Dragons lost the season-opener to powerhouse Banks County, and dropped 5 of their first 9 games of the year. So on December 10 after losing to Franklin County by 8, Jefferson was a modest 4-5 and 0-2 in region play. Hardly impressive.
Something changed, as Jefferson went 18-2 the rest of the way. An early loss on December 3 to Monroe by 3 points was avenged January 10 with a 7-point win, and on February 7 in the Region Tournament by 27 points. Similarly, an 8-point loss to Franklin on December 10 was avenged on January 17 by a 26-point cushion, and again in the Region Championship game on February 10 by 9 points. Key players of this team included Jacob Radaker, Owen Parker, Daniel Parker, Spencer Darby, Malaki Starks, and others.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Banks County (Region Champs, Elite 8), Dawson County (Region Champs, Rnd 1), Towns County (Region RU, Rnd 1), Tallulah Falls (Rnd 1), Union County (Rnd 1)
GIRLS BASKETBALL – UNION COUNTY LADY PANTHERS
A dream season for 1st-year head coach Crystal Beach and the Lady Panthers. Truthfully, many people saw this coming the way you see a boiling pot of water on the stove about to overflow. The pieces were there, as Union brought back stars Andelin Hill, Ava Hunter, Kait McCarter, and Brooke Dockrey. The team had also been held out of the playoffs since 2015-16, and were long overdue after just missing out the past two seasons.
The girls left no doubt they were ready, rolling to an Elite 8, a #5 state ranking, an 8-AA Region Championship, and a school record 23 wins. Things could not have gone any better for Union County, who finished 23-7 overall and made their 7th playoff appearance in 10 years. Hunter had a sensational sophomore season, while Hill, McCarter, and Dockrey closed their respective careers in style.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jefferson (Region Champs, Elite 8), Rabun County (Reg Season Region Champs, Rnd 1), White County (Region RU, Sweet 16), Stephens County (Reg Season Region Champs, Rnd 1), Lumpkin County (Rnd 1), Dawson County (Rnd 1), Habersham Central (Rnd 1), Tallulah Falls (Reg Season Region RU, Sweet 16), Banks County (Region RU, Rnd 1)
WRESTLING – COMMERCE
The true mark of consistency. Coach Kendall Love’s group continues to do it well. This season it was a State Runner-Up finish at Duals, which snapped a 6-year streak of winning it all, and a State Championship in Traditionals, making it 7 years in a row as champs in that arena.
10 Individuals for the Tigers represented the school at the Traditionals Tournament, with 7 of them placing in the top 5 of their respective class. That includes a trio of State Champions in Elijah Burns, Dawson Legg, and Jake Frates.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Lumpkin County (3rd in Trad), Jefferson (4th in D&T), Banks County (4th in Trad)