No. 1 RETURN OF ETSU FOOTBALL
Dormant for a decade, East Tennessee State president Brian Noland breathed new life into football with the April announcement that the Bucs would return to the field in 2015. The news came with a projected annual operating cost of almost $5 million by 2018-19, paid for in a large part by an increase in student athletics fees. It also set the stage for ETSU’s return to the Southern Conference, its former home of 26 years. The Bucs will leave the Atlantic Sun Conference and begin competition in the SoCon in the fall of 2014. Carl Torbush, the former North Carolina head coach, was hired in June to start the football program from scratch and currently has two assistant coaches with local ties on staff, Billy Taylor and Teddy Gaines. The site for a new on-campus stadium has yet to be identified.
No. 2 ‘BATTLE AT BRISTOL’ TAKES SHAPE
The talk of a football game between the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech in the infield of Bristol Motor Speedway first began almost two decades ago. Track owner Bruton Smith, a master showman with plenty of resources, is finally making it happen. The Vols and Hokies will tangle on Sept. 10, 2016 in what is enthusiastically being billed as “The Battle at Bristol, The Biggest Football Game Ever.” A record crowd for football, perhaps topping 150,000, will be on hand to savor the bigness.
No. 3 ‘THE STREAK’ FINALLY ENDS
After 19 years, with some near misses and more than a few blowouts, Science Hill was finally able to subdue archrival Dobyns-Bennett on the football field again. The Hilltoppers went to Kingsport in early November and pulled out a 35-24 victory to complete an unbeaten season in the Big Seven Conference. Said shifty junior quarterback Malik McGue, who had two touchdown runs in the final two minutes, “It doesn’t get much better than this.” McGue also threw for a pair of TDs, and Chance Pierce ran for 148 yards on 17 carries for the 'Toppers.
No. 4 ADMINISTRATIVE CHANGES AT ETSU
The athletic department at East Tennessee State certainly took on a whole new look in 2013. Dave Mullins announced his retirement as athletic director in January, after a decade in charge, and handed the reins to Richard Sander, whose fingerprints are now all over the program. The longtime Virginia Commonwealth AD, hired initially on an interim basis, has laid the groundwork for football’s return, overseen the transition back to the Southern Conference and hired two new head coaches. With the input of former UT coach Phillip Fulmer, the well-traveled Carl Torbush was brought in to start a football program from scratch. And Brittney Ezell was hired away from Belmont to take over the women’s basketball program in the wake of Karen Kemp’s retirement after 19 years at the university.
No. 5 ETSU BASEBALL RETURNS TO NCAAs AFTER 32 YEARS
The Bucs hadn’t made it to the NCAA baseball tournament since 1981, and they didn’t figure to get there this year either. The team finished fourth in the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season but caught fire at the tournament in DeLand, Fla. The driving force was Kerry Doane, a shortstop his first three seasons at ETSU who was converted to a starting pitcher. The senior right-hander responded with one of the greatest campaigns in school history, going 12-1 and being named A-Sun pitcher of the year. He couldn’t win at the end in Nashville, however, and the Bucs were eliminated by Vanderbilt. They went home with a 36-24 record, posting the third-most wins in program history.
No. 6 LADY 'TOPPERS REACH STATE FINAL AGAIN
For the second straight year, the Science Hill girls basketball team was close enough to a state championship to taste it. Unfortunately, Riverdale, the nation’s top-ranked team, was again standing in the way. The Lady Warriors won the Class AAA title game in their home city of Murfreesboro, 78-69, sending Science Hill packing with a 35-4 record. Lady
'Toppers coach Darrell Barnwell resigned shortly thereafter, citing a need to make changes in his personal life. Athletic director Keith Turner didn’t have to look far to find a replacement; he took the job himself. Turner is a former boys coach at Unicoi County and Monterrey, and he had the Lady 'Toppers off to a 15-0 start heading into Christmas.
No. 7 MUDDY CREEK DRAWS HUGE CROWD FOR NATIONAL EVENT
Motocross enthusiasts were wowed by the inaugural Built Ford Tough Tennessee Nationals at Muddy Creek Raceway, the first AMA Pro Racing event in the Southeast in 15 years. And so were organizers, who estimated that more than 20,000 fans turned out on June 1 to see riders get down and dirty. "Amazing. Absolutely amazing," said Sam Gammons, owner of Victory Sports, which promotes the Blountville track. Top officials of AMA Pro Racing looked forward to returning soon.
No. 8 ETSU TENNIS WINS SEVENTH STRAIGHT A-SUN CROWN
One of the few certainties in the Atlantic Sun Conference has been the dominance of the ETSU men's tennis team. Even as the 2-seed, the Bucs rolled to their seventh straight conference championship in May. Doing so in their shiny, new digs on campus, the ETSU Tennis Center, made the feat even sweeter. Sophomore Rogerio Ribeiro was named the tournament MVP.
No. 9 GOOD TIMES FOR PIONEERS
Two key pieces of Science Hill's recent basketball dominance in the Big Seven Conference changed locations. Assistant coach John Good was named to take over the program at David Crockett, and his son Patrick, a sophomore guard, went with him. The Pioneers suddenly look a lot more competitive, and the Hilltoppers, who still have a 59-game win streak going in the conference, perhaps a little less so.
No. 10 McCORMACK STILL RULES THE ROADS
Tom McCormack was part of coach Dave Walker's famed Irish Brigade at ETSU back in the 1970s, and he still packs a mighty kick when it counts. The retired Johnson City policeman and firefighter, 60, has been dusting the competition this year, near and far. McCormack won his second national championship in a month in November when he set an American record for his age group at the USATF 12K Road Racing Championships. Groups like the Atlanta Track Club have reportedly offered to pay for McCormack's race fees and travel expenses in the future, but he declined, saying he enjoys the individual aspect of running these days. He'll be shooting for more during the indoor track and field season.