2016: The Year That Was In Fayette County Sports

2016: The Year That Was In Fayette County Sports

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The McIntosh Lady Chiefs celebrate with their fans after winning the tenth girls soccer state championship in program history. (Staff Photos by Christopher Dunn)
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Sandy Creek High School alum Christian Taylor, a two-time gold medal winner in the triple jump at the Olympics, speaks to his old school at an assembly.

As it is every year, 2016 brought a host of thrilling performances throughout the sports landscape of Fayette County.
The year tipped off in spectacular fashion with arguably the finest boys basketball season in county history, Fayette County, Sandy Creek, and McIntosh each making big noise in the playoffs.
The Tigers showed you never count out such a storied program, entering the playoffs as a four seed and going on the road in round one and toppling Buford 69-62. They nearly kept the run going, falling in overtime in round two.
Sandy Creek got back to the Elite Eight in the first year under Anthony McKissic, including their first region championship since 2003. They fell just short of a Final Four trip with a 55-53 loss to Lithonia.
McIntosh continued their recent run of dominance, completing back-to-back region titles and making the school’s first ever trips to the Elite Eight and Final Four, falling to six-time champ Miller Grove in the semifinals. Along the way, they played in arguably the year’s best game in any sport, toppling Gainesville in round two in a thrilling finish. With just seconds to play in the game, Chase Walter got loose on the baseline for a game-winning dunk, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
Spring brought more dominance on the fields around town.
In baseball, three teams made the playoffs in McIntosh, Starr’s Mill, and Whitewater.
In lacrosse, the McIntosh and Starr’s Mill boys qualified, as well as the Lady Chiefs. It was the Starr’s Mill girls who really made a mark, clawing all the way to the Final Four before falling to the eventual champion.
Track and field was another bright spot. On the girls side, Starr’s Mill placed fourth in AAAAA, and Fayette County took fifth in AAAA. On the boys side, Starr’s Mill again placed fourth, and Sandy Creek, Whitewater, and Fayette County all finished top ten in AAAA.
As has become a rite of spring, Fayette dominated the soccer pitch, especially on the girls side. The McIntosh Lady Chiefs won their tenth state championship, throttling the Columbus Blue Devils 4-0. They upped their game when it counted the most, dominating the semifinals and finals with a combined 8-0 margin of victory. After handily beating their region rivals from Northgate, they were able to find that extra gear again in the second half to blow out Columbus.
For their consistent excellence in all sports, Starr’s Mill High School won the coveted Director’s Cup for AAAAA for the second consecutive year. The Cup is awarded to the most successful overall athletic program in each GHSA classification. Schools accrue points based on their performance in each sport, building up to the final total. While the Panthers, under the leadership of first-year Athletic Director Sandy Martin, did not win any state championships, they took the title because they excel in virtually every venue, tallying top-eight finishes in 12 sports.
Summer belonged to the Olympics as three local alums competed in Rio. Sandy Creek’s Christian Taylor repeated as the gold medal winner in the triple jump. Our Lady of Mercy’s Christian Coleman, who had just finished his sophomore season at the University of Tennessee, competed in the men’s 4×100 meter relay. Starr’s Mill’s Kelley O’Hara was on the women’s soccer team that was shocked in the quarterfinals by Sweden.
Not to be outdone, a team of youngsters from Peachtree City hit the national stage. The squad from PTC won the state crown and advanced all the way to the Southeast Region finale, before falling just one game short of the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Their final game was shown on TV, and ESPN was captivated by the unique nature of Peachtree City, repeatedly commenting on its golf cart paths. In particular, they pointed out the team’s jersey logo that included a golf cart.
Fall brought more remarkable performances from the girls of the county as the new school year kicked off.
Softball season was awesome on the diamond, both Whitewater and Starr’s Mill qualifying for the Elite Eight in Columbus. It would be the Panthers stretching the farthest, as they knocked out the Wildcats en route to a fourth place finish.
Volleyball was highlighted by a year-long battle between Whitewater and McIntosh. After McIntosh won in the regular season, Whitewater got revenge with the region crown. Undaunted, the Chiefs battled back and knocked out the Wildcats in the Final Four before falling in the state championship match.
As always, football brought its share of highlights. New classifications made things really interesting in AAAAA as the race for four region playoff spots would come down until the last Friday night. Starr’s Mill and Whitewater finished in a three-way tie at the top with Griffin, the Panthers claiming the tiebreaker. Starr’s Mill would advance to round two. In AAAA, Sandy Creek kept doing what they do best: winning. The Patriots returned to the playoffs, going on the road in round one and claiming a thrilling overtime victory against Marist.
As a new year nears, 2017 will have a high bar to jump to top the one just past.

Christopher Dunn

Managing Editor Christopher Dunn has been with the Fayette County News since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Victory magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.