• 64°

A look back at 2015: The year in local sports

By MICHAEL MURRAY
michael.murray@americustimesrecorder.com

A lot can happen in 365 days. As the year 2015 winds to a close, we, at the Times-Recorder would like to highlight some of the exciting things that our local athletes have accomplished over the last year.
When 2015 kicked off, the area’s high school and college basketball seasons were already in full swing. With three high schools and two institutions of higher education in our coverage area, the excitement on the court was practically non-stop last winter as each team battled its way through a tough season.
Some of the most remarkable action seen on the hardwood in Americus last winter was provided by the Americus-Sumter High School (ASHS) Panthers and Lady Panthers. The Americus-Sumter girls began the year with a 12-0 record and continued to fight towards an elite-eight finish in the state tournament after their second defeat of the season at the hands of the Carrollton Lady Trojans. The Lady Panthers finished their season with an overall record of 29-2. The Panthers met a similar fate, suffering a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Liberty County Panthers in the elite-eight round of the state playoffs to end their season with a 26-6 record.
Though both ASHS basketball teams had their dreams of a state championship dashed in the Elite-Eight, that would not be the last that we saw of ASHS’ hoops stars this year. Several members of the Panthers and Lady Panthers went on to sign collegiate national letters of intent (NLIs) in 2015.
Meanwhile, at Southland Academy, the Raiders’ wrestling team was making a name for themselves on the mat as they pushed towards a third-place finish in the GISA state tournament, held at the Georgia Southwestern Storm Dome. As the season progressed, Raider wrestler, Ryan Landreth, continuously excelled on the mat, earning him the title of state champion for the 145-pound weight class.
The Raiders weren’t the only wrestlers leaving a trail of vanquished foes in their wake, however. Staley Middle School’s wrestlers used the 2015 season to win the team’s first region championship since the merger of the Americus, and Sumter County Schools.
The Raiders’ swimmers were making waves as well last winter, led by the talents of David Murphy, who helped propel the team to another State Championship win for Southland.
The Feb. 6 edition of the Times-Recorder featured an article on three Panther football players, Leonard Williams, Wesley Fields, and David Tyson III, who each received scholarship opportunities for their performances and determination on the gridiron.
Fields signed on with Georgia Southern while Tyson inked his letter of intent to play for Albany State. Williams accepted his scholarship to Morehouse College.
As a member of the Georgia Southern Eagles, Fields was recently named “Most Valuable Offensive Player” after the team’s defeat of Bowling Green in the GoDaddy Bowl.
February was a busy month at Southland. Senior softball player, Ella Hawkins, received a scholarship to GSW, while senior, Hunter Weldon, inked a letter of intent to play football for Berry College during the 2015-16 school year.
A few miles away, in Schley County, a pair of softball players, Ashton Howell and Trenity Coleman, signed letters of their own, agreeing to continue their softball careers at Andrew College and ABAC, respectively.
On the basketball court, the South Georgia Technical College (SGTC) Jets and Lady Jets were still going strong.
The Lady Jets were busy defeating Albany Tech in the last week of February and punching their ticket to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national Tournament in Salina, Kansas. The Lady Jets persevered through the first two rounds of the national tourney to finish the season as one of the top-16 teams in the NJCAA. The SGTC women were taken out of the competition by number-one seed, Hutchinson Community College.
Four members of the Lady Jets were named to GCAA Division 1 Al-Conference teams following the tournament.
The Jets ended their season with a 22-10 overall record in the NJCAA region tournament after a defeat by Georgia Highlands.
During the month of March, the younger generation was busy assuring local basketball fans that the future looks bright. During that time, the Sumter County Parks and Recreation Department’s (SCPRD) 12-and-under basketball team cruised to a state championship win.
March saw the Schley County Wildcats’ baseball team gaining some serious steam, racking up an impressive 9-3 record by the end of the month. All the while, the local Shamrock Jog and Jam raised $14,000 for the Scott Law foundation, which will use the proceeds to provide financial assistance to local residents suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses.
Schley County’s Tra Minter took an opportunity in April to sign a scholarship agreement to continue to showcase his impressive football skills while pursuing his higher education at Garden City Community College in Kansas.
The middle of the month saw the Special Olympics Spring Games come to town as a smashing success. At the same time, the Raider’s and Lady Raiders’ track and field teams grabbed second and fourth place finishes in the region track and field tournaments.
A week later, the Raiders’ ace pitcher, Geoffrey McDonald, inked a letter of intent to continue throwing the heat for the Young Harris College Mountain Lions following graduation.
Around that same time, the SCPRD held their annual track and field meet, which brought over dozens of Young athletes to the track at Americus-Sumter High School’s south campus. Of the 20 participants from Sumter County, 17 qualified to participate in the state meet with their local performances.
Nearly 12,000 miles away, local running sensation and assistant coach of Southland’s cross country teams, Charlene Pennymon, was busy completing her third Boston Marathon with a time of 3:48:37.
Later in the month of April, Southland’s soccer phenomenon, Ella Hawkins, shattered two long-standing records on the pitch by scoring 12 goals in a single game. This achievement gave her 44 total goals on the season, more than any other soccer player had previously scored for the Lady Raiders.
In the beginning of May, the Lady Wildcats’ golf team won their third straight region 4-A title. The Wildcats finished second in region 4-A golf. The Lady Wildcats’ Jordan Booker signed an NLI later that week to continue to hone her skills on the links at Columbus State.
The Americus Amateur Soccer League kicked off their summer season in the beginning of the month as well, while the Raiders finished their regular baseball season with a 7-5 record in 3-IAAA.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ baseball team wrapped up their season on the region diamond with an 11-game winning streak. This impressive string of wins paved the way for the Wildcats to grab first-place honors in 4-A with a 17-3 record. The streak also allowed the Wildcats to punch their ticket into the state playoffs.
Southland’s own Kendall Crew signed on with the GSW Lady ‘Canes’ tennis team shortly before the Wildcats swept the first two playoff rounds with victories over Trion and Hawkinsville, advancing them to the final-four round of the state tournament.
South Georgia Tech received good news that week as well. The Lady Jets’ Taquandra Mike and Mikaila Wallace signed NLIs with the Wichita State Shockers and the Paine College Lady Lions, respectively.
Schley County sent six runners to the state track and field meet in early May. At the same time, Southland’s runners tied for seventh place at the state meet.
Mid-month, the Wildcats eliminated Treutlen from the state baseball playoffs to earn the right to compete in the championship game. Soon after, the Raiders fell in the IAAA state playoffs, ending the team’s admirable season with a 12-8 overall record.
The May 22 edition of the Times-Recorder’s sports section was an exciting one. The front page proudly featured an article on the Wildcats’ sweep of the championship series, in which they won the state crown over the Emmanuel County Institute.
The edition also included an article on ASHS football’s defensive back, Tyler Clark, who had just made a verbal commitment to the University of Georgia after turning heads with his gridiron performance during the 2014 Rising Senior Bowl.
ASHS hoops stars, Dwight Harris and Juwan High, also shared some great news that week, with each of them accepting scholarships to play college basketball. Harris signed on to play basketball for Chattanooga State Community College on a full scholarship. High joined up with the Albany State Golden Rams for the 2015-16 season.
In that same issue of the Times-Recorder, SGTC introduced the Jets’ new head coach, Travis Garrett.
Schley’s Lady Wildcats also grabbed a seventh-place finish at the 4-A state track and field meet that week. Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ only participant, Kapris Battle, won first place in the discus event.
At the end of the month, Sumter Cycling and the River Valley Regional Commission received national recognition for the Tour De Farm cycling event. The award was received from the  National Association of Development Organizations.
June saw the SCPRD’s Disc Golf Trilogy Challenge become a great success, bringing dozens of disc golf enthusiasts to the Sumter County Recreational Complex to participate in the event. Also at the SCPRD Recreation Complex, Sumter County’s 10-and-under and 12-and-under All-Star teams both took first place at the 20th annual Kiwanis Baseball Classic.
The next week, the SCPRD held the 12-and-under district tournament at the Recreation Complex and began preparations to host the state tournament, set to begin in early July.
On July 10, the Times-Recorder began running its highly successful archive series, highlighting the 50th and 40th anniversaries of the 1965 and 1975 Americus High football teams’ undefeated seasons. Both teams swept the state championships during their respective reigns.
The next week, the SCPRD 10-and-under team brought home a third-place finish in the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association state tournament. At the same time, the Americus Amateur Soccer League kicked off their post-season tourney.
That week, the Lady Jets’ Molly Brown and Cierra Bond were both selected to participate in the NJCAA All-Star game. Brown received the Harrington 3-D award for her performance on the court during the All-Star game.
On July 31, the Times-Recorder featured an interview with the head coach of the Panthers’ 1975 football team, Alton Shell, in which the former helmsman of the Panthers discussed the team’s epic ‘75 season.
Seven days later, Southland Academy began gearing up for the school’s 2015 Cross Country season, which would end two months later with the Raiders grabbing a first-place win and the Lady Raiders closing the season with a solid third-place finish.
Also in August, the Americus Travelers baseball team earned a second-place finish in the Grand Slam World Series in Panama City Beach, FL.
The end of August saw the opening of football season for ASHS and Southland. Schley kicked off their gridiron action in the first week of December. At the same time, the Lady Raiders cranked up their 2015 softball season with a pair of region wins over Westwood and Terrell Academy.
At the end of the month, the Americus Amateur Soccer League capped off their post-season tourney with Americus taking a strong 3-2 victory over the previously-undefeated Vienna team to take the first-place spot.
As football season pressed on, GSW kicked off the university’s men’s soccer season with a 2-1 win over LaGrange. The Lady ‘Canes got off to a great start as well, tying Point University 2-2.
Meanwhile, Sumter Cycling teamed up with the National Parks Service and the River Valley Regional Commission to hold the organization’s “Find Your Park” ride, which showcased Sumter County to biking enthusiasts ranging in age from eight to eighty.
Towards the middle of September, Schley’s Lady Wildcats softball team began to turn around what began as a pretty dismal season. Over the next two months, the Lady Wildcats would improve from a 2-7 overall record to an 11-10 record that would earn them a spot in the state playoffs.
The Lady Wildcats managed to progress to the second round of the state playoffs before a heartbreaking loss to number-one seed, the Baconton Charter Lady Blazers, took them out of the competition.
The beginning of October saw the Lady Raiders wrap up region competition on the softball diamond with a 13-1 GISA 3-IAAA record, earning them the title of region champions. The Lady Raiders, having suffered their only region loss of the season to the Tiftarea Lady Panthers, immediately began their preparations for the state playoffs.
Southland’s softball team advanced to the second round of the state playoffs after a pair of no-hit victories over Griffin Christian Academy. Mid-October saw the Lady Raiders fall in the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs to the Trinity Christian Lady Crusaders, ending the team’s season with a 14-7 overall record.
Also, in October, the Sparky Reeves Classic Golf Tournament brought over 50 golfers to the Griffin Bell Golf Links in Americus to raise money for the SGTC Jets’ and Lady Jets’ Booster Club.
Southland’s Dr. Quinton Weldon Invitational Cross Country meet was a huge success, bringing runners from Americus-Sumter and Southland Academy together to hone their distance-running skills.
The SGTC Jets opened the 2015-16 season under their new coach, Travis Garrett’s guidance in early November. The team got off to a great start with two outstanding wins in the Pensacola Classic. The nationally-ranked Lady Jets jumped off to a promising start as well, raising the curtain on the team’s 2015-16 season with a trio of solid victories in the Darton State College Classic.
On the other side of Americus, the ‘Canes tipped off the 2015-16 season, showing their determination on the hardwood with a 76-59 win in an exhibition game against the All-Army team. GSW’s ladies fell to the All-Army team in their exhibition match, but rebounded from the loss quickly to go on a five-game winning streak that carried the team through the rest of the month.
On Nov. 11, Lady Panther point guard, Atyanna Gaulden, paved her way to a collegiate basketball career, signing a full-ride scholarship opportunity with Florida State University. She will be joining the Seminoles on the court during the 2016-17 season.
That same week, Southland’s Wright Calhoun, who had finished the 2015 cross country season as state runner-up, signed on with Columbus State University to join the school’s distance runners on the track next year.
As the local high schools were busily preparing to begin their basketball seasons, the Nov. 18 issue of the Times-Recorder featured SGTC’s Molly Brown, who had just signed on with the University of Mississippi Golden Eagles for the 2016-17 season.
One week later, the Times-Recorder featured another pair of great news items from Southland. Lady Raider softballers, Christina Davis and Megan Burke both signed NLIs to continue softball their careers next year. Davis will be playing for the GSW Lady ‘Canes and Burke will be joining Truett-McConnell’s squad on the diamond next season.
The Panthers and Lady Panthers opened up their season with a flourish in Americus, both teams earning significant victories over Albany High.
Most recently, the Lady Panthers had the once-in-a lifetime experience of playing a match at Philips Arena, the very same court that the Atlanta Hawks call home.
With the season now in full swing once more, local basketball teams are poised to continue their strong tradition of fierce competition following the Christmas break.
With all of these exciting achievements behind us, sports fans can rest assured that next year will be another great one for the counties’ young athletes. As we look to the future, 2016 shows a great deal of promise in the local sports community and will likely continue to do so for many more years to come.

Michael Murray/Americus Times-Recorder:   This previously-unpublished ATR file photo shows Atyanna Gaulden making a break for the basket past a pair of Carrollton defenders in the third round of the 2014-15 state playoffs. Her teammate, Timia Swanson, follows close behind in the Feb. 24 match. Gaulden went on to sign a letter of intent to join Florida State University’s basketball team during the 2016-17 season.

Michael Murray/Americus Times-Recorder:
This previously-unpublished ATR file photo shows Atyanna Gaulden making a break for the basket past a pair of Carrollton defenders in the third round of the 2014-15 state playoffs. Her teammate, Timia Swanson, follows close behind in the Feb. 24 match. Gaulden went on to sign a letter of intent to join Florida State University’s basketball team during the 2016-17 season.

Submitted by Patrick Calcutt:   This photo, previously unpublished in the Times-Recorder, shows 2015 Southland graduate, Ryan Landreth pinning an opponent during the GISA region 3-IAAA wrestling tournament in Albany. Landreth took first place honors in the 145-pound weight class in the tournament. Landreth would go on to win the state championship in his weight class a few weeks later.

Submitted by Patrick Calcutt:
This photo, previously unpublished in the Times-Recorder, shows 2015 Southland graduate, Ryan Landreth pinning an opponent during the GISA region 3-IAAA wrestling tournament in Albany. Landreth took first place honors in the 145-pound weight class in the tournament. Landreth would go on to win the state championship in his weight class a few weeks later.

Michael Murray/Americus Times-Recorder:   This photo, from the May 22 edition of the Times-Recorder, shows the Schley County Wildcats’ victory celebration after winning the Class A state championship. The Wildcats lost only one player to graduation last year, so Schley’s 2015-16 baseball team is certain to bring a similar level of competition to the diamond this spring.

Michael Murray/Americus Times-Recorder:
This photo, from the May 22 edition of the Times-Recorder, shows the Schley County Wildcats’ victory celebration after winning the Class A state championship. The Wildcats lost only one player to graduation last year, so Schley’s 2015-16 baseball team is certain to bring a similar level of competition to the diamond this spring.

Michael Murray/Americus Times-Recorder:   This photo, from the March 30, 2015 edition of the Times-Recorder shows Southland first-baseman, Hunter Weldon, taking a powerful swing during a contest between the Raiders and the Terrell Academy Eagles. At the time this photo was taken, Weldon had already signed a letter of intent to attend Berry College on a football scholarship in 2015-16.

Michael Murray/Americus Times-Recorder:
This photo, from the March 30, 2015 edition of the Times-Recorder shows Southland first-baseman, Hunter Weldon, taking a powerful swing during a contest between the Raiders and the Terrell Academy Eagles. At the time this photo was taken, Weldon had already signed a letter of intent to attend Berry College on a football scholarship in 2015-16.

Michael Murray/Americus Times-Recorder:   This photo, from the April 10, 2015 edition of the Times-Recorder, shows Schley County running back, Tra Minter, signing a national letter of intent to play football for Garden City Community College during the 2015-16 season. Shown with Minter are his family members and members of the Schley County Wildcats’ coaching staff.

Michael Murray/Americus Times-Recorder:
This photo, from the April 10, 2015 edition of the Times-Recorder, shows Schley County running back, Tra Minter, signing a national letter of intent to play football for Garden City Community College during the 2015-16 season. Shown with Minter are his family members and members of the Schley County Wildcats’ coaching staff.

Submitted by South Georgia Technical College:   This photo, from the March 13, 2015 edition of the Times-Recorder shows the SGTC Lady Jets celebrating after defeating Denmark Tech in the NJCAA District J Championship game. With the victory, the Lady Jets earned the right to advance to the NJCAA National Tournament in Salina, Kansas.

Submitted by South Georgia Technical College:
This photo, from the March 13, 2015 edition of the Times-Recorder shows the SGTC Lady Jets celebrating after defeating Denmark Tech in the NJCAA District J Championship game. With the victory, the Lady Jets earned the right to advance to the NJCAA National Tournament in Salina, Kansas.