EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth in a five-part series chronicling the sports milestones and accomplishments of the each of the five Cherokee County schools this past school year.
CENTRE - Cherokee County High School has always had its share of talented athletes, but the 2016-17 sports season may go down as one its best in terms of churning out players for the collegiate level.
Seven athletes in four different sports signed college scholarships during the school year. The signings started in January when tennis players Jessie Griffith and Katie Hill inked with Snead State. February saw two Warrior baseball players sign in Jaren Lockridge (Chattanooga State) and Colin Brewer (Alabama-Huntsville). Track and field's Kaitlyn Coheley declared for Montevallo in March. A third Warrior baseball player, Josh Decker, signed with Central Alabama Community College at the team's athletic banquet near the end of May. Football player Quartez Henderson capped the sports year off by signing with Lindsey Wilson in early June.
A big reason why Cherokee County claimed so many athletic scholarships throughout the year was the success they had on the courts and playing fields.
After losing their first two games of the football season, the Warriors went on to win 10 games in a row, including the Class 4A, Region 5 title along the way. They held off Winfield 29-22 and squeaking by West Limestone 39-38 at home in the first two rounds of the state playoffs, setting up a quarterfinal showdown with region rival Hokes Bluff. The Warriors lost a heartbreaker to the Eagles 28-21, ending their season at 10-3.
Six Cherokee County football players earned All-State football recognition by the Alabama Sports Writers Association on Christmas Eve, including a pair on the Class 4A First Team Defense in Riley Russell and Zach Fife. Caleb Ransum earned a spot on the Second Team Defensive Line. Henderson was a Second Team Wide Receiver. Jacob Graves was a Second Team Athlete and James Sewell earned an honorable mention at kicker.
Russell, a linebacker, finished second in the ASWA Class 4A Lineman of the Year balloting in Montgomery on Jan. 18. He led the Warriors with 144 total tackles, including 15 for lost yardage, with 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
Russell, along with fellow teammate and quarterback Tyren Dupree, as well as head coach Tripp Curry, took the top honors on the All-Cherokee County Football Team. Russell was selected Defensive Player of the Year while Dupree earned the Offensive Player of the Year. Curry was chosen the Coach of the Year.
In volleyball, Cherokee County finished with a winning record (17-16). The Lady Warriors' season ended against Jacksonville in the Class 4A, Area 12 tournament. Kari Arnold and Coley Battles were both selected to the All-Cherokee County Volleyball Team.
The success football and volleyball had carried over into basketball. The Warriors won the Champion Sports Academy Christmas Classic by defeating Ohatchee 51-40, outlasting Alexandria 75-68 in double overtime, and holding off Saks 66-61 in the tournament championship. Ivory Moore, who started the year on the Warrior junior varsity team, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
Cherokee County swept the varsity and junior varsity boys and girls basketball county titles on Jan. 14. The varsity boys won their fourth straight county title with a 70-59 victory over Cedar Bluff. The Lady Warriors won their first county championship since 2013 with a 48-36 victory over Sand Rock. The Warrior B-Team boys defeated Cedar Bluff 54-20 and the Lady Warrior B-Team Girls earned a 32-11 win over Sand Rock.
Both Warrior varsity basketball teams fell short of the Northeast Regional Tournament at Jacksonville State University. The Warrior boys lost a heartbreaker to Hokes Bluff, 51-50, in the opening round of the Class 4A, Area 12 tournament at White Plains on Feb. 9. The Lady Warriors fell a day earlier against Jacksonville 61-29 in their area tournament opener at Hokes Bluff.
Henderson and Kendal Perry took All-County Basketball MVP honors following the season. Henderson, whose season ended prematurely to a broken wrist, averaged 13 points, six rebounds, three steals and three assists for the Warriors (18-8). Perry posted nine points, four assists and three steals for the Lady Warriors (18-7).
Joining Henderson and Perry on the All-County basketball teams from Cherokee County were Kyle Burgess, Colin Edwards, Jensen Alexander and Crimson Mahannah.
More honors and accomplishments were to follow for the Warriors in the spring months.
Claudia Graves scored the first goal in Cherokee County girls soccer history on March 4, but the Lady Warriors fell 6-1 in the match.
Cherokee County won its third straight Cherokee County Baseball Tournament title after defeating Spring Garden 12-4, Cedar Bluff 10-4 and Gaylesville 18-0 in five innings at Sand Rock March 24-25.
Jacob Graves, a three-sport standout at Cherokee County High, earned the Class 4A, Region 6 Scholar honor at the Bryant-Jordan Student Athlete Awards Banquet in Birmingham on April 11.
After taking second at the Class 4A-5A sectional tournament in Guntersville on April 17, Cherokee County's boys tennis team finished 10th in the Class 4A-5A state tennis tournament in Mobile on April 24-25.
At the Class 4A state track and field meet in Gulf Shores, the Lady Warriors’ 4x100 meter relay team of Jhayda Whiteside, Destinee Scott, Laney Kate Johnson and Sidney Scott finished third with a time of 51.39 seconds.
Whiteside also came in fourth in the 100 meter dash (12.97) and eighth in the 200 meter dash (28.30). Grace Locklear took ninth in the discus (84’7”). Coheley came in 11th in the shot put (29’9”). The Lady Warrior 4x400 meter relay team finished 11th (4:26.24).
Erin McCord finished 12th in two events: the 800 meter run (2:30.34) and the 1600 meter run (5:49.18). She was also 19th in the high jump (4’2”). Sidney Johnson came in 12th in the 400 meter dash (1:02.55), followed by Johnson in 15th (1:03.27).
The Lady Warrior 4x800 meter relay team took 15th with a time of 11:18.38. Scott also finished 18th in the shot put (27’7 ½”).
In the boys’ events, the Warriors’ Ivory Moore finished 14th in the long jump (19’5 ¾”).
Cherokee County finished its softball season at 7-18-1 after a pair of defeats to Hokes Bluff and Jacksonville in the Class 4A, Area 12 tournament in Jacksonville on May 1. The Lady Warriors had three players selected to the All-Cherokee County Softball Team in Perry, Jensen Alexander and Emily Williams.
The Warrior baseball team closed out the year on a strong note. After Hokes Bluff edged Cherokee County for the Class 4A, Area 12 baseball championship by scores of 15-5 and 4-3 on April 11 and April 13, Cherokee County responded with a sweep at Danville (10-3 and 1-0) in the first round of the state playoffs. They swept again in the second round against DAR (16-6 and 20-6), setting up a quarterfinal showdown at home against Madison Academy on May 6. The Warriors finished the season at 25-10 after falling 11-1 in five innings and 4-3 in 12.
Cherokee County had the most all-state selections from area teams (3 first team, 2 second team).
On the Class 4A All-State First Team was second baseman Jaren Lockridge, shortstop Colin Edwards and designated hitter Brewer. Second-team honors went to pitcher Noah Ledbetter and catcher Jy Lockridge.
Jaren Lockridge was named Cherokee County Baseball MVP for the second time in three seasons. He batted .514 with 10 doubles, three triples, three home runs, 12 walks, 42 runs and 38 RBIs.
Joining Lockridge was his brother Jy, along with Brewer, Decker, Edwards, Ledbetter, Ransum, Gunnar Gable, Cade Gossett, Mason Rodgers, Christian Stinson.