After the final competition at the Middle Tennessee State University track ended Friday night in Murfreesboro, another high school sports season was in the books.
There were many good performances across Northeast Tennessee, but for Elizabethton athletics it was arguably the best in school history across the board.
“It depends on how you define success, but I don't ever remember it being this good in terms of winning,” said Cyclones' athletic director Mike Wilson. “I think there are two reasons for it. We have student-athletes who are just good quality kids. And secondly, our administration has allowed us to hire the right people and put them in the right places to coach our kids.”
It started in football with the Cyclones making a run to the Class 3A state semifinals. Then they gave eventual state champion Christian Academy of Knoxville quite a fight.
At the same the time the football team was winning a lot of games, one of its players was helping girls soccer reach the Class A-AA state tournament for the first time in school history. Christine Hardin, who doubled as the football team's place-kicker, led the Lady Cyclones to Chattanooga.
When basketball season rolled around, the Lady Cyclones were expected to be a state tournament threat while the boys figured to be pretty good. Then the Lady Cyclones suffered three key injuries.
However, they regrouped and battled all the way to the Class AA state semifinals, losing a heartbreaker to eventual champion Christ Presbyterian Academy.
As for the boys, they kept getting better and better. And for three-fourths of the sectional game at Corryton Gibbs, they were dominating their way toward Murfreesboro.
A late-game collapse, and a questionable call in the final minute, left them one point short of the state tournament.
When springs sports season arrived, a chance to reach the state tournament didn't seem to be in the cards for any of the Cyclones' teams. And when the baseball team had a record of 6-8, it seemed very unlikely.
However, Elizabethton caught fire and eventually made its first appearance in the state event in 55 years. The Cyclones lost to eventual champion Pigeon Forge in their first game.
From August until the end of May, Elizabethton was making noise on the state level.
“In a small town like Elizabethton, the high school sports program — and high school period — is a great source of pride,” said Wilson. “The community supports us, and is very proud of our school. It's about academics, but athletics are important to people in this town.”
Wilson said he has already reflected on the standout 2012-13 athletic season, and three things really surprised him.
“Honestly, girls soccer surprised me,” said Wilson. “And girls basketball shocked me, getting that far after (point guard) Morgan Depew got hurt. Who could have known the twins (Kayla and Kelci Marosites) would be that good?
“And baseball was a total surprise. (Head coach) Joe Nix told me early they wouldn't be good, but by the end of year they would. I thought that was just coach talk, but that's exactly what happened.”
Wilson said he just enjoyed the way it all played out.
“I'm proud of it even though I didn't have anything to do with it,” he said. “One thing that is gratifying is the administration. There's nothing more frustrating than an administration that won't go out and hire the coaches you need. It's very refreshing to be in a system where they get the kind of coaches they need.”
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It was one incredible softball season for Tiffany Laughren.
The Unicoi County standout blasted 23 homers this season, breaking the old state record by four. And she didn't just pile up a bunch of them against the have-nots. She set a state tournament record with three, and hit her record-breaking 20th home run against Class AAA power Daniel Boone — in a tie game in the fifth inning.
Laughren's ability to hit is impressive enough, but she crushes home runs without swinging for the fences. The “ball jumps off her bat” cliché certainly applies here. It's a unique power nobody in this state has ever seen.
And Laughren is not just a home run hitter. She's a top-notch outfielder, and a very good pitcher — proving it by holding Goodpasture Christian without an earned run in eight innings in the state tournament.
Also, Laughren is a very good basketball player. She's a tough-nosed point guard for the Lady Blue Devils.
As an athlete, Laughren is one of the best to come around in many years. Now she faces a big challenge: improving on things instead of resting on what she has already accomplished.
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Speaking of coaches, two of the best in the business are Unicoi County's Grady Lingerfelt and Daniel Boone's Rick Wagner.
The two softball coaches not only do a really good job of preparing their teams, they also are very helpful in promoting their teams. They are competitive, but also handle the ups and downs very well.
Lingerfelt led a fairly young squad to the Class AA state tournament while Wagner took a similar-type team to the Class AAA sectional round. Both coaches have gotten their programs in the state conversation on a yearly basis.
In general, Northeast Tennessee coaches were good to deal with from a media standpoint in 2012-13. They have gotten better at making sure their kids get recognition for their accomplishments.
It's easy sometimes to overlook things, but area student-athletes are very fortunate to have so many good coaches clustered in one area.
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Prep signings: Unicoi County's standout left-hander pitcher Jonathan Davis made his college choice. He signed recently to play baseball at Walters State Community College. …
Tennessee High recently put three players into the college ranks.
Colton Shankle and Mitch Stophel each signed with King College for baseball. And in softball, Mackie Carr made it official with King. …
Sullivan East will send two softball players and one baseball athlete to the next level.
Ashlee Minor and Brittany Scott will join Emory & Henry's softball program while Austin White got a baseball deal from Alice Lloyd College.
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Tennessee High tennis coach Reedy Toney was recently inducted into the United States Professional Tennis Association, Southern Division, Hall of Fame. The ceremony took place in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.