Winning year for LaGrange

By Kevin Eckleberry

June 2, 2014

Andrew Coggins left quite a legacy at LaGrange High.

After Coggins ran his final race, he’d won two state championships in track and field and come close to winning a few others, and he’d led the cross-country team to the brink of a state title last fall.

In his final high-school competition, the state track meet in Jefferson, Coggins won the 1,600-meter run and finished third in the 800-meter run, putting the cap on a remarkable prep career.

As a junior, Coggins won the 800 at state and finished second in the 1,600.

“He was made for (distance running). There’s no doubt,”said Brad Wilson, who coached Coggins in cross country and track and field. “And to his credit, he recognized that and dedicated himself to it. He’s gotten everything out of his potential he can get.”

Coggins was part of an exceptional contingent of distance runners at LaGrange High last season.

At the state track meet, sophomore Sam Bowie earned two top-five finishes.

Bowie was fourth in the 3,200-meter run, and he was fifth in the 1,600.

Jonathan Pelham, meanwhile, added a sixth-place finish in the 3,200.

Wilson said the three runners complement each other extremely well.

“They’ve got great personalities, they joke around, but when it’s time to get to work, there’s one thing they have in common is when you see them coming around, they all have the same look in their eyes,” Wilson said. “That look in their eyes tells you all you need to know about them. They’re going to get done what they need to get done. They’ll joke around before and after, but during they’re all business.”

Bowie said having Coggins and Pelham to train with is a huge help, and they have a distance coach in Wilson who has put together a workout program that is obviously working.

“Coach Wilson helps push us every day in training, especially on track workout days,” Bowie said. “And Andrew and Pelham just help every single day. It’s somebody to talk to after school if you have a rough day, and they’re good training buddies that make you want to get out there and run.”

On the girls’ side, Sarah Bearden enjoyed plenty of running success of her own.

At the state meet in Albany in May, Bearden was third in the 3,200, and she finished fourth in the 1,600.

A year ago, Bearden finished fourth in both of those events.

Bearden said having the male distance runners to train with has helped her a lot.

“I don’t think I would do it if I didn’t have them,” Bearden said. “I run with them every day. They’re like my brothers. I don’t know what I’m going to do without them next year.”

Bearden didn’t begin running until she was a sophomore, and she said “the best decision I ever made was to join cross country my sophomore year. I’m so glad I did.”

Wilson said Bearden has done a great job of making the most of her time as a high-school runner.

“She’s been great,” Wilson said. “And she’s come a long way in the three years she’s been with us.”

Two other LaGrange athletes, Jessica Jourden and Denae Hill, made it to the state finals in Albany.

Jourden competed in the pole vault, and Hill ran in the 400-meter run.


LaGrange was on the brink of a state championship last fall, but despite having four runners in the top 10, it was unable to overtake Marist.

Marist finished with 53 points to outdistance LaGrange, which had 75 points.

It was still a terrific finish for a LaGrange team that had a dominant season.

At the state meet in Carrollton, it was Andrew Coggins leading the way with a fourth-place finish.

Sam Bowie was sixth, Garrett Cashwell was ninth, and Jonathan Pelham was 10th.

Ben Anderson, Will Wooten and Gabe White also ran for the Grangers.

LaGrange has developed into one of the state’s elite cross-country programs, and Wilson said there have been no shortcuts.

“You have to have kids who are willing to work,” Wilson said. “That’s the biggest thing is how many kids are not willing to do it. When we first started, we ran some kids off. The ones that stuck with it, they’ve been more than up to the task. It’s what they do over the summer when we can’t even be around. When they get out there in late May, June, and July, that’s when championships are won. The fact that we had the kind of leadership from Andrew to get those guys out there, and the leadership from our other captain, Jonathan Pelham, to get those guys out there. That’s really what started it.”

“You’ve got to have five guys that are willing to put in the work. We’ve found them. It’s been a fun ride.”

In the girls’ state championship, Sarah Bearden’s 11th-place finish helped LaGrange finish sixth as a team.

Sophomore Ellie Doerr (21:44) finished 29th, and freshman Alaina Tomlinson (22:04) was 38th.

Junior Violeta Haro-Oropeza (24:02) was 93rd, and junior Colleen Riggs (24:42) was 114th to round out LaGrange’s top five.

LaGrange’s other runners were Audrey Tomlinson (25:12) and freshman Emma Kate Shelton (27:23).

Bearden and Coggins both set school records during this season.

“He and Sarah both had a great summer of training. They came into the fall ready to go,” Wilson said. “I’m so proud of both of them that neither one of them settled. Both of them constantly want to get better.”


It wasn’t the ending they were hoping for, but it was still a spectacularly successful season for the Grangers.

The Grangers won the Region 5-AAAA championship in remarkably dominant fashion - they only allowed one goal in seven matches - and they won twice in the state tournament before falling to Spalding County 2-1 in the quarterfinals.

LaGrange beat Cedartown 3-0 in the opening round of the playoffs before beating Stone Mountain 3-2 in a thriller in the second round.

With just over seven minutes remaining in the match against Stone Mountain, freshman Marat Rosencrants made the go-ahead goal, and LaGrange held on for the narrow win.

In the quarterfinals, it was tied 1-1 when Spalding County pushed across the winning goal in the second half.

The team’s four seniors, Michael Coffman, Jay Free, Yimmi Posada and Nick Hinson led the way.

After not winning a playoff game in their first three years of high school, the four seniors helped LaGrange make it to the third round in their final year.

While losing those players will hurt, the future does appear bright, with so many talented players returning, including junior Jackson Fagundes, who led the team with 12 goals.

Also returning are Michael Brackett and Griffin Bartley, who each scored 10 goals.

LaGrange High’s girls’ soccer team, meanwhile, had plenty of solid results during the season, but it was unable to qualify for the state playoffs in a difficult region.


They were down, but far from out.

After losing to Columbus 2-0, the Grangers had dropped four straight games, and they’d fallen from a tie for first into fifth place in about a week.

Beginning with a big home win over Alexander, though, the Grangers put together four straight victories that propelled them into the state playoffs as the number four seed from Region 5-AAAA.

LaGrange went on to beat Northwest Whitfield, the champion of Region 7-AAAA, in the first round of the playoffs before losing to Lanier in the second round.

It was a nice bounceback for LaGrange, which didn’t qualify for the state playoffs in 2013.

“I hate to lose, and anybody who is a competitor hates to lose, but I will say that I am so proud of this team,” Herrington said. “From fighting back the way we did, and being determined, and refusing to lose was kind of the attitude we had there for a long time. And it never ran out. I couldn’t be prouder of a bunch of guys than I am of this group.”

Herrington also said he’s appreciative of what the seven seniors brought to the team.

“I’m thankful for the seniors who put us back into this thing,” Herrington said. “They led us back into the playoff picture, and it helped give our younger guys a perspective of what it’s like to be there. That’s a program builder. This group of seniors is a part of something really big in our program, to help us get back to that point.”


The Grangers returned home from the state tournament in Augusta with an eighth-place finish in hand.

Among the season highlights was a victory in the Granger Invitatonal, a second-place finish in the Region 5-AAAA tournament, and a second-place finish in the state sectional.

PT Alford led LaGrange in the state tournament with an 82, and Jonathan Pelham and Devin Bray each shot an 84.

Lee Thornton rounded out the scoring for LaGrange with an 86.

Justin Gordon (90) and Lucas Blanton (96) were LaGrange’s other two players.

The four best scores counted toward the team total.

Pleasants gave a lot of credit to the team’s lone senior, Gordon

“He was the flag staff, the anchor of the team and was a consistent high 70s competitor,” Pleasants said.

The state tournament also marked the swan song for Thornton, who is moving to Alabama.

“He was low medalist in several tournaments this year, and was low medalist for the Grangers at the region tournament, and the sectional tournament,” Pleasants said.

The other four players, Alford, Pelham, Bray and Blanton will be back next season.

“Next year looks bright for the Grangers,” Pleasants said.


Competing in the Class AAAA state finals, the LaGrange High cheerleading team posted a score of 244, its best score of the season.

The result was an eighth-place finish, the best finish in the history of the program.

The team made it to the sectional round at state last year, but it was unable to make it through to the state finals.

This team not only made it to the finals in 2013, but it earned a top-10 finish in the process.

Mike Pauley, the team’s second-year head coach, said it’s impressive what the girls can do.

“It’s crazy what these girls do,” Pauley said. “I had no real appreciation for it until I started working with them. It’s really amazing what those kids do.”

Pauley said the girls nearly had a flawless routine in the state finals.

“They did well,” Pauley said. “They had one little bobble, but it didn’t cost us. We may have moved up a place, but it wouldn’t have been much.”


It was a terrific season for the Lady Grangers, who went 20-10 and finished third in Region 5-AAAA to make it to the state tournament.

Unfortunately for the Lady Grangers, their first-round opponent was Northwest Whitfield, the defending state champion.

Northwest won the first game of that series 1-0 despite a brilliant pitching performance from LaGrange’s Emily Anderson, and it finished off the sweep with a 5-2 win.

In the series, Anderson recorded her 1,000th strikeout.

Anderson and fellow senior Karsin Spinks - a Samford signee - helped lead LaGrange to four consecutive appearances in the state playoffs.

Taylor Livingston was also a senior on the 2013 team that closed the regular season with eight straight wins.


Led by a top-10 finish from Allie Paschal, the LaGrange High swimming team had a successful stay in the state swimming and diving championship in Atlanta.

Paschal finished 10th in the 50-yard freestyle, and she was also 12th in the 100-yard backstroke.

Christine Yin added a 23rd-place finish in the 100-yard freestyle, and she was 33rd in the 100-yard backstroke.

The 200-yard freestyle relay team of Paschal, Yin, Jenna Conrad and Bailey Allen finished 12th, and the 400-yard relay team of Allen, Conrad, Morgan Skinner and and Yin finished 21st.

Josh Gynther gave LaGrange a 32nd-place finish in the 100-yard butterfly, and Troup’s Andrew Ingram was 44th in the 100 butterfly.


By the standards of most tennis programs, it was a successful season for LaGrange High.

The girls’ and boys’ teams are both used to advancing deep into the state tournament, though, so going out in the first round was a bit of a disappointment.

Both LaGrange teams finished third in Region 5-AAAA to make it to state, and both lost on the road in the first round.


Kyler Hall (138 pounds), Dexter Jones (145 pounds) Jacob Butler (160 pounds), Lew Hyers (195 pounds) and Emmanuel Mann (285 pounds) each made it through to the state finals for LaGrange.

None of those wrestlers ended up placing at state, but Hyers did win a couple of matches, and Hall, Wegienka and Jones each won one match in the finals.

It was a successful season for the Grangers, who won the county championship after losing to Troup the year before.

Qua Tucker got a victory in the final match against Troup to give LaGrange the county championship.

“If would have been nice if we could have breathed the last few matches. It’s not like that,” LaGrange coach Scooter Weathers said. “It’s been that way going back to 2004 when we beat them for the first time. It’s been close, it’s been nip-tuck.”


The LaGrange boys’ team didn’t make it to the state tournament, but the Grangers still took plenty of positives from what was supposed to be a rebuilding season.

Every starter from the 2012-2013 team that won a region championship was lost, and a handful of freshmen and sophomores were either starting or playing significant minutes.

Despite that, the Grangers were in just about every game they played, and they pulled off some big wins during the season, although they did fall one victory short of making it to the state tournament.

“We’re thankful for all the kids finishing the season. We’re thankful for the seniors, Demetrius Whitfield and Jerry Gerdnt,” LaGrange coach Mike Pauley said. “We’re also thankful for the support we had from the players and the families and friends. Those guys stuck with us.”

LaGrange High’s girls’ team, meanwhile, also fell short in its bid to make it to the state tournament.

LaGrange finished second in the region tournament a year ago and won a state-playoff game, but it lost six seniors from that team, including the program’s all-time leading scorer, Brittany Tatum.

The Lady Grangers finished with a 6-19 record, although they lost a lot of close games, including a 47-45 loss to Alexander in their regular-season finale..

The Lady Grangers should be greatly improved next season with every player returning.

“We’re young. We’ll have everybody coming back,” coach Jan Jones said. “And we’ll get a few girls from Gardner Newman that’ll help. We’ll get better.”


The Grangers found themselves in an unfamiliar position at the end of the regular season, sitting at home for the start of the state playoffs.

Before the 2013 season, the last time LaGrange didn’t make it to the state playoffs was in 1999.

LaGrange finished 3-7 overall, and 3-4 in Region 5-AAA as its playoff streak came to a close.

“Obviously, we’re not used to knowing that the last game (of the regular season) is your last game. We’re not used to that around here,” LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch said.. “I’ve been here a long time, and that’s only happened a couple of times.”


It was a rebuilding year for the Lady Grangers, who came up short in their bid to make it to the state tournament.

The 2012 team was a successful one with 10 seniors leading the way.

While wins were hard to come by last season, Newton liked the direction the team was going in during the season.

“We’re young this year,” Newton said. “We graduated 10 seniors, so we’re kind of rebuilding this year. But I’m very proud of what the girls are doing, and how well they’re getting along. The camaraderie is great with these girls.”