EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a five-part series chronicling the sports milestones and accomplishments of the each of the five Cherokee County schools this past school year.
SAND ROCK - From the volleyball court to the softball diamond, the Sand Rock Wildcats made a name for themselves during the 2016-17 school year. The Wildcats earned a few championships, honors and milestones along the way.
It all started with the volleyball and football teams last fall. Under the leadership of Lisa Bates and Johnny Howell, Sand Rock secured its sixth Cherokee County Volleyball Tournament title by defeating Cedar Bluff 25-20, 25-14 at home in the title match on Sept. 24. Sand Rock also defeated Spring Garden 27-25, 25-18 and Cherokee County 25-8, 23-25, 15-8 to earn its championship berth.
From there, the Lady Wildcats won the Class 2A, Area 12 volleyball tournament title by sweeping Collinsville in the championship match 25-20, 25-18, 25-22. Sand Rock advanced to the North Volleyball Regional in Huntsville, but fell in four games to Ider in the opening round to end its season at 36-9. Junior libero Paige Norris set a school record for digs in the Ider match. She posted 37 digs in the loss. Following the season, Norris was named the county's Most Valuable Player. She finished the year with 653 digs and missed just 14 of her total 446 serves. August Gilliland and Savannah Blackwell joined Norris from Sand Rock on the all-county team.
While the Lady Wildcats were a team to be reckoned with on the volleyball court, the football team did the same under second-year head coach Steven Chesnut.
Chesnut guided the Wildcats to a 9-3 record, including a rivalry renewed with Class 2A, Region 6 opponent Collinsville on Oct. 14.
Wildcat senior running back Bradon Carver collected 267 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries and caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jansen Alexander in a 34-0 victory. It was the first time the two schools had met on the football field since 1997.
On Nov. 4, Sand Rock won its first home football playoff game since 1999 and its first under Chesnut by squeaking by Reeltown 20-18.
With just a little over a minute remaining, the Rebels were marching in for the potential game-winning score. They reached the Wildcat 30-yard line, but junior defender Jansen Alexander picked off a Jamon Matthews’ pass to seal the victory. The ninth-ranked Wildcats' season ended a week later at fourth-ranked Tanner 49-14.
Bradon Carver earned a second-team selection at athlete on the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 2A All-State Football Team. Carson Carver earned an honorable mention at punter.
Sand Rock also had nine all-county selections including the Carvers, Alexander, Race Clausen, Josh Sarratt, Charley Cleaver, Gabe Daniel Tony Gentry and Trey Gowens.
The Wildcats' success carried over into the winter months on the basketball court. Sand Rock's girls outlasted Spring Garden 49-46 to win the Cherokee Invitational girls basketball tournament title at Gaylesville on Dec. 20. Point guard Norris netted a pair of key free throws with 10.4 seconds left to help secure the win. Sophomore guard Kirby DeBoard led the Lady Wildcats with 17 points and six rebounds.
Sand Rock's girls were selected the top seed in the Cherokee County basketball tournament and finished runner-up to Cherokee County. The Lady Wildcats opened the tournament with a 59-39 victory over Cedar Bluff, then dropped a 48-36 decision to Cherokee County in the championship game on Jan. 14.
Sand Rock went on to finish runner-up to Collinsville in the Class 2A, Area 12 tournament. The Lady Wildcats lost in the tournament championship game by the final of 76-71. Their season came to an end at 21-10 in a 57-41 sub-regional loss at Fyffe.
DeBoard, Savannah Blackwell and Audrey Richardson were named to the all-county basketball squad following the season. Bates was chosen as an assistant to coach the North All-Star girls in the North-South All-Star game at the Dunn-Oliver Acadome on the campus of Alabama State University on July 19.
Jack Riley Boyd, Cade Clark and Perry Stevens were selected to the all-county boys basketball team. The Wildcats finished their season with an 8-19 record following a 53-43 loss to Westbrook Christian in the Class 2A, Area 12 tournament at Collinsville.
In the spring, Sand Rock was the host to both the Cherokee County baseball and softball tournaments, held March 23-25. Cherokee County High School defeated Gaylesville 18-0 in five innings for the its third straight county title. Sand Rock held off Spring Garden 6-5 in the if-necessary game of the county softball final, giving head coach Josh Bates his first county championship.
Speaking of Bates, he earned his 200th victory with a 14-4 victory in six innings over Gaston in the Class 2A, Area 12 tournament at Collinsville. The Lady Wildcats went on to finish runner-up to Collinsville and clinched a berth in the North Central Softball Regional in Tuscaloosa. Their season ended at 21-21 following a pair of one-run contests to Cleveland (3-2) and to Ranburne (5-4 in 8 innings).
Senior pitcher Magen Rich was named the All-Cherokee County Softball MVP. The senior right hander went 21-21 in the circle with 211 strikeouts and a 3.71 ERA. She also batted .383 with nine home runs, nine doubles, a triple, eight walks, and had 44 RBIs.
Other all-county selections from Sand Rock included Norris, Brylie St. Clair, Haley Lisenbee and Cara Parker.
St. Clair, Rich and Norris also garnered recognition on the ASWA Class 2A All-State Teams. St. Clair earned a first-team spot in the outfield. Rich claimed a second-team spot at pitcher and Norris earned a second-team spot at designated hitter.
In baseball, the Wildcats clinched their fourth straight playoff berth after finishing runner-up to Westbrook Christian in the Class 2A, Area 12 race. Their season ended at 9-14 in the first round of the state playoffs at Section on April 20. Just a few days later, Tyler Driskell resigned as head coach. Longtime Sand Rock coach Jeff Norris was named the Wildcats new head coach at the end of the school year. Stevens and the Carver brothers were selected all-county.
Clausen was one of over 100 high school senior regional honorees at the Bryant-Jordan Student Athlete Awards Banquet at the Birmingham Sheraton Hotel on April 10. He earned the Class 2A, Region 6 scholar honor. Back in February, Clausen was accepted by the United States Naval Academy and reports to Annapolis on June 29. He ended his athletic career by finishing sixth in the discus with a throw of 117’4” at the Class 2A state track and field meet in Cullman May 5-6.
DeBoard came in second in the 100 meter dash (12.99 seconds), finished third in the high jump (4’10”) and came in 14th in the long jump (13’7”) to lead the Lady Wildcats to a ninth-place finish in the Class 2A girls meet. The Lady Wildcats earned a total of 22 points.
Chloe Clausen came in fifth in the discus (91’). The Lady Wildcat 4x100 meter relay team was also fifth with a time of 54.45 seconds.
Former football coach Russell Jacoway received one of the state's highest high school honors. He was one of 12 new members inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame on March 20 in Montgomery. Jacoway compiled a 228-132 head-coaching record at Sand Rock over 32 seasons, including a state championship in 1985. He will also be honored by the Cherokee County Historical Museum for his career on June 29.
The stadium that bears Jacoway's name at Sand Rock was also in the news this past year after receiving upgraded home bleachers and a new press box in late March. The bleachers are made of aluminum and feature wider aisles. There are also six rows of chairback seats (150 total) as well as handicapped seating. The bleachers are also wheelchair accessible.