• 73°

Special ride for Lady Tigers

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

Carla Thornton, Troup High’s girls’ basketball coach, thought her team had a chance to do something special, and she was right.

The 2018-2019 season was a successful one for the Lady Tigers, who went 17-9, finished second in the region tournament and made it to state.

The season came to a disappointing conclusion, though, with a loss to Oconee County in the opening round of the state tournament.

The good news for the Lady Tigers was that all of the key contributors from that team were set to return, so there was a belief that the 2019-2020 season could be a memorable one.

Indeed it was.

Troup went unbeaten in the regular season and made it all the way to the Class AAAA state-championship before losing to Americus-Sumter.

The extraordinary success enjoyed by the Lady Tigers was the top highlight of the 2019-2020 year in sports for Troup High.

There were plenty of other highlights as well, from the continued excellence of the competitive cheerleading program, to wrestler Michael Irvin’s quest for a state title, to the football team’s return to the state playoffs, to the success enjoyed by the swim program, with Kate Moore earning a top-10 finish at state.

Here’s a look back at the 2019-2020 year in sports for Troup High:

CHASING A TITLE: Soon after Troup lost to Oconee County in the first round of the state tournament last year, the players started thinking about the prospects for the following season, and they were aiming high.

“After we lost the first round, we said this is not what we want to do next year,” said sophomore guard Monyia Murphy. “We want to go all the way and win a ring.”

They nearly made that a reality.

Troup finished a spectacular season with a 27-2 record, and it reached the Class AAAA state-championship game before losing to Americus-Sumter 66-52.

It was a team that didn’t shy away from the high expectations, and head coach Carla Thornton said the players had a championship “mindset since (preseason) conditioning.”

“They had a mindset that we’re playing for a state championship,” Thornton added. “I give them all the credit for that. That’s a goal they had, and they were willing to put in the work. As a coach, I had to step up my game also. We watch film all the time and study the other team together. We spend time off the court together.”

Following a perfect regular season, Troup finished second to Sandy Creek in the Region 5-AAAA tournament.

Troup shrugged off that loss and beat Chestatee, Cross Creek, McDonough and Carver to reach the championship game.

In the second-round win over Cross Creek, freshman Alexcia Murphy scored at the buzzer to give Troup a 46-45 victory and keep the season alive.

Following a comfortable 58-48 road win over McDonough, Troup eased past defending state-champion Carver 56-47 in the semifinals to earn a title shot.

Amber Gilbert, a four-year starter, was Troup’s leading scorer, and she’ll be a member of the East Georgia State College basketball team next season.

The other seniors on last season’s team were Shanise Turner, Myeshia Sims and Tashauna Askew.

Returning for the 2020-2021 season are a host of players who keyed the run to the championship game, including Aniya Palmer, Monyia Murphy, Alexcia Murphy, Samarria Weldon, Jada Green and Darnesheyuna McCollough.

SWIMMING STRONG: It was back-to-back top-10 finishes in the state swim meet for Troup High’s Kate Moore.

After placing eighth in the 50-yard freestyle at the 2019 state swim meet, Moore earned a 10th-place finish at this year’s state meet in February.

Moore was also 16th in the 100-yard butterfly at this year’s state meet, and she and her three of her Troup teammates competed in the 200-yard freestyle relay.

In the 50-yard freestyle, Moore posted a time of 25.36 seconds in the finals to place 10th, with Buford’s Caroline Irwin (23.79 seconds) taking top honors.

Moore also made it to the finals in the 100-yard butterfly and placed 16th with a time of 1:03.08, with Oconee County’s Olivia Della Torre (54.06) finishing first.

Moore, who was also a volleyball standout at Troup, competed in the 200-yard freestyle relay as well with teammates Belinda Hart, Tessa Pacelli and Gianna Pacelli.

The relay team had a time of 1:49, with Moore closing strong with a time of 25.23 seconds while swimming the anchor leg.

BUSINESS AS USUAL: It was another banner season for Troup High’s competitive cheerleading team, which has been consistently excellent over the years.

During the regular season, Troup participated in six competitions, and it finished first three times while placing second twice and third once.

Troup finished the season on a strong note by participating in the Class AAAA state finals in Columbus.

“They are not surprised by anything, and they don’t back down from anything,” said Troup head coach Amelia Key. “They’ve won several competitions, and they’ve placed at every one of them which is a big deal. To place at six out of six competitions is a huge deal.”

Troup has placed at state on multiple occasions, and Key believes the past success serves as motivation for the current crop of cheerleaders.

“Part of our success is because of the previous cheerleaders and their record and the expectation that’s there,” Key said. “The expectation is to exceed or to meet that every year. They put a lot of pressure on themselves to be that good and are very disappointed if they don’t perform at that level.

Two of the veterans on the team were seniors Isabella Moncus and Katie Wingate, and they were leaders for the younger cheerleaders.

“When I was a freshman, I just remember looking up to the se

niors and whatever they’d do, I’d try to do that, too,” Moncus said. “So I just wanted to be a good role model for the freshmen coming up this year, and all the underclassmen as well.”

PLACING AT STATE: Michael Irvin closed his high-school athletic career with a flourish.

Competing in the Class AAAA state wrestling meet in Macon, Irvin shook off an early loss to finish third in the 285-pound division.

After losing, Irvin won four consecutive matches to finish third and earn a place on the awards podium.

“I just felt like I wanted to do it for my coaches, and for myself, and show the kind of person that I am, that I’m not going to quit no matter what the circumstances are,” Irvin said.

Irvin was one of five Troup wrestlers who made it at least as far as the state sectional after finishing fourth or higher in the area tournament.

Troup’s other state representatives were Kullum Irvin, Camden Roberts, Thomas Fuller and Josh Tunnell.

Michael Irvin, Kullum Irvin and Camden Roberts all did well enough at the state sectional to make it to Macon for the state finals.

BACK AT STATE: Troup High’s boys’ basketball team used a strong late-season push to make it to the Class AAAA state tournament for the third consecutive season.

After playing well at the end of the regular season, Troup beat Cartersville and LaGrange in the Region 5-AAAA tournament to finish third and advance to state.

Troup’s season came to a close with a 75-56 loss to Blessed Trinity in the first round of the state tournament.

Troup had dropped three straight games when it went into LaGrange High’s gym and came away with a 68-60 victory on Jan. 25, and that was the start of a three-game winning streak.

Troup punched its ticket to state with a 76-70 win over Cartersville in the region tournament, and after losing to Sandy Creek, it beat LaGrange 69-62 to finish third.

The Tigers were led by seniors Camren O’Neal, Trey Williams, Qua Johnson, Gabe Cofield and Isaiah Cox.

Blake Craft, who is heading into his fourth season as Troup’s head coach, had a great time coaching the 2019-2020 team.

“I love coming to practice,” Craft said. “I love this group of kids. The chemistry is awesome. They get after each other, but they have fun.”

ENDING EARLY: Everything the Troup baseball team had been doing was in preparation for the start of region play.

The Tigers (6-10) played a challenging early-season schedule that head coach Craig Garner believed would have his team prepared to make a strong run in Region 5-AAAA.

Unfortunately for Garner and his players, they never got to find out how they would have fared against their region opponents.

The season was suspended right before the start of region play in the middle of March, and a little more than a month later the season was canceled.

“This year especially was one of those years where the guys have enjoyed being around one another,” said Troup head coach Craig Garner. “For the most part they got along really well. It was a good group of guys to coach, and very enjoyable to coach this year.”

It’s a team that featured seniors Cade Garner, Chance Lester, Caleb McCurry, Luke Purnell, Grayson Garner and Guy Morris. While Cade Garner will play college baseball at Southern Union, Purnell is set to join the football program at Georgia State.

While the season was cut short, the Tigers did at least get to play 16 games, which gave Garner a chance to coach three of his sons, Cade, Cole and Carson. It was the first time that all three brothers played on the same team.

“It was special this year, getting to see all three of them on the field at the same time,” Garner said. “That was pretty cool. I did enjoy that.”

GIVING IT THEIR ALL: Troup’s boys’ and girls’ soccer teams didn’t find much success from a win-loss standpoint, but the coaches appreciated the effort the players gave.

Troup’s girls’ team went 2-9, matching the win total from the 2018 season that was played to its completion.

First-year head coach Caroline Jeffers was grateful for the way the players responded to her leadership.

“They were really welcoming, and easy to coach,” Jeffers said. “Everybody showed up and worked really hard and wanted to get better, and that’s all you can ask for really.”

Included in that group was Amanda McCartney, Troup’s lone senior.

“She was our captain, not only because she was a senior, but on and off the field she was the best leader,” Jeffers said. “We knew that we made the right decision making her captain. She played in every single game for us except for one. She started every single game for us that she was there for.”

Troup’s boys’ team only won once, but coach Eddie Lawson nonetheless felt the program made positive strides.

“A lot of the (opposing) coaches, after the game, win or lose, they always said your kids played hard, and that’s all you can ask for,” Lawson said. “They don’t get frustrated. They just keep going at it. And that’s all you can really ask of them.”

It’s a team that featured two seniors, Will Bartlett and Danny Conner.

“I think they both show great character, great dedication to themselves and their teammates,” Lawson said.

OVER BEFORE IT STARTED: A season filled with potential never came to be.

Troup High’s track and field team was a few days away from its first competition when all of the spring sports season were postponed, and later canceled.

The cancelation of the season was a particularly tough blow for the seniors, including Ashanti Tigner, who won two medals at last year’s state meet.

Another senior was Mark-Anthony Dixon, who placed in two events at state in 2018 but was unable to compete in 2019 because of an injury.

Head coach Carla Thornton was proud of the dedication the team members showed, and “to see (the season) not come to fruition, it hurts bad.”

KEEPING IT GOING: It was another successful season for the Troup football team, which made it to the state playoffs in one of the state’s best Class AAAA regions.

Troup finished fourth in Region 5-AAAA, and it lost to eventual state-champion Blessed Trinity 31-16 in the first round of the playoffs.

While the Tigers’ final record of 6-5 might not seem that impressive, they played a brutal schedule that included some of the state’s top teams.

“We played the number two team in Class AA, the number one team in Class AAAA, the number five team in Class AAAA, and now we’re going to play the number three team in Class AAAA,” Troup head coach Tanner Glisson said before the game with Blessed Trinity. “And we played Cedartown with a back going to Clemson in a monsoon. I don’t know what people will remember, but this has been a very tough schedule.”

It’s a team that featured a group of seniors who were a part of 35 wins over the past four years, and that included the 2018 season where the Tigers went 12-2 and reached the state semifinals.

Among the seniors was quarterback and wide receiver Kobe Hudson, who will be a freshman at Auburn this fall.

MAKING STRIDES: Troup’s tennis team was able to play 10 of its 14 scheduled matches when the season was canceled.

Both teams had some success and won a handful of matches as the tennis program continued to progress.

There were 10 seniors on the team, including Katie Wingate, Suzana Kimura, Zoie Cline, Olivia McInvale, Paytn Baley, Gracie Thrower, Jackson Tucker, Samuel Johnson, Jaquavious Daniels and Venture Herndon.

COMING UP SHORT: The Troup volleyball and softball teams both had some success during the 2019 season, but they were unable to qualify for the state tournament.

The volleyball team was looking to build off a stellar 2018 season that included a victory over North Oconee in the state tournament.

The 2019 team went 6-22 and dropped a bunch of close matches, including one to Central-Carroll in the area tournament that ended the season.

Troup’s softball team, meanwhile, went 10-16 and lost a hard-fought series to Cedartown in the region tournament.

After winning the first game of the best-of-three series, Troup lost the final two games as Cedartown advanced to the state tournament.

Troup’s top player was senior Skye Loftin, who has signed a letter of intent to play softball at Southern Union.

Loftin had a great time being a part of the Troup softball family.

“I’d like to thank my teammates and my friends for making softball so much fun, and for always making me laugh through every moment,” Loftin said during her signing ceremony. “Playing on Tiger Field has been such a fun experience. I’m so happy to have been able to play these last four years, and I’m so sad to see it end.”