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What a Year It’s Been!

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Part One: A Look Back at the 2016-2017 Year in Sports

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

EAST TEXAS – What a year! What a year! As the graduation caps fell back to Earth last Friday and Saturday, I couldn’t help but think the 2016-2017 sports year was one of the best this area has witnessed in a long while.

Area teams from Crockett to Westwood thrilled us all year long as student athletes from the freshman level to those recently graduated seniors gave it their all and brought us along for the ride.

As the grass turned that ugly shade of East Texas summertime brown, new life sprang up on the volleyball courts, tracks and gridirons during August 2016. The moans and groans, shouts, whistles and enough smack-talking to make Ali proud resonated off the empty bleachers.

Two weeks later, the lights began to flicker on at the gyms and football fields as the 2016-2017 sports train began to lurch out of the station.

The fall of 2016 was not kind to volleyball teams in either Anderson or Houston County. The reason being can be summed up in two four-letter words: Leon and Iola.

Iola laid waste to the teams in Class 2A on its way to a state championship and started in a district (District 22-AA) that included Grapeland, Kennard, Latexo and Lovelady. Kennard dropped down to 1A in the playoffs and fell in the Area Round after a first round bye.

Leon handled the Class 3A teams in Anderson County and finished up as the state runners-up. Both the Elkhart Lady Elks and Westwood Panthers made the playoffs but lost in the Bi-District Round.

Out on the football field, three Houston County teams punched their tickets to the postseason. They were: the Crockett Bulldogs, the Grapeland Sandies and the Lovelady Lions.

The Sandies took on the Iola Bulldogs in a bi-district matchup and came away with a bad taste in their mouths as they fell in the first round by a score of 23-6. It was a game they easily could have won, but as Coach Wayne Mahaffey said, “We were just snake bit.”

The Crockett Bulldogs were ranked in the top 10 and riding high in anticipation of a showdown with the Newton Eagles in the Regional Finals. They ran into a tough Arp Tiger team in the Quarterfinals, however, that had a different outcome in mind.

The game was a back and forth affair throughout and just when the Bulldogs seized momentum with a defensive stand, an offsides penalty gave the Tigers one more shot.

Arp’s kicker, Ford Merritt, had been, to put it mildly, horrific throughout the game.  From 38 yards out, it looked like Merritt wouldn’t even get a shot and the game would head to OT. With no time left on the clock, however, Merritt showed up and nailed the FG, leaving the Bulldogs and their fans in stunned disbelief as Arp advanced by a final score of 35-32.

On the other side of Palestine, the Lovelady Lions were also in the Regional Quarterfinals and faced the Centerville Tigers. The two teams had played earlier in the season with the Tigers picking up a controversial 29-21 win in District 12-2A DI play.

Unfortunately for the Lions, the rematch didn’t go the way they planned as Centerville hammered the Lions by a final score of 43-14. It should be noted both Arp and Centerville made it to the State Semifinals in AAA DII and AA DI, respectively.

While football and volleyball seasons didn’t go the way most thought they might, the cross country runners did not disappoint. At the Class A level, the Slocum Mustangs and Lady Mustangs galloped into the state meet held in Round Rock.

The Lady Mustangs’ team was comprised of: Shelby Bowman; Christy Dunnam; Jalyn Fletcher; Caroline Gray; Tiffany Jackson; Courtney January; and Laney Lasiter. The team finished 13th as a whole at the state competition while Courtney January placed 27th individually.

The Mustangs’ team was comprised of: Randall Guess; Gage Horn; Justin Neal; Jordan Randall; and Trevor Stewart. The team finished 14th as a whole at the state competition while Justin Neal placed fifth individually.

Moving to the Class AA level, the Latexo Tigers made a return trip to the state cross country meet in 2016.  The team was comprised of: Carter Catoe; Tristan Curless; Randell Holcomb; Conner McKinnon; and Sonny Townsend. The team finished 14th as a whole at the state competition while Carter Catoe placed 25th individually.

Cayuga Wildcat Adrian Mickens also competed at the state cross country meet and finished in 104th place individually.

In part two of the 2016-2017 sports recap, a basketball season to be remembered will be looked at as two area teams both came within a game of playing for a state championship in San Antonio.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.