Now that the 2002-03 school year has come to a close, it's a perfect time to look back at all the athletic success during the high school seasons.
Columbia County was represented in state playoff action in every prep sport, and individually there were some unforgettable performances.
As a way to honor those prep standouts, I've decided to dish out some year-end awards.
Female star on the rise: Abby Alexander, Augusta Prep (sophomore, cross country, basketball and track). Although she just completed her sophomore year, Alexander seems like she's been around forever because she excels in so many sports.
Alexander sparked the Augusta Prep cross-country team to its first state championship, then she helped guide the Lady Cavaliers to their first win in the state basketball tournament. Alexander also was a spring standout, notching a second-place finish at state in the 1,600-meter run.
Other county athletes considered in this category were Kristan Glover (Greenbrier sophomore, softball and basketball), Bekah Gibbs (Evans sophomore, softball, basketball and track) and Jamie Nevin (Harlem freshman, soccer).
Male star on the rise: Rich Poythress, Greenbrier (freshman, basketball and baseball). Poythress stepped in with one of the best baseball programs in the state, and despite being a freshman he played like a seasoned veteran.
Of course, he's not your normal freshman. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Poythress already has tremendous size, and by the time he's a senior he could be in the 6-foot-4, 220-pound range.
If Poythress reaches those proportions, look out! Scouts throughout the major leagues will be flocking to the Brierpatch.
Granted, even with natural talent and physical gifts, Poythress has to keep working hard to reach his potential.
Female performer of the year: Lakeside's Toya Coard
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Judging by the 2003 season, he's well on his way -- Poythress hit .372 with 11 doubles, two home runs and 20 RBIs, plus he struck out only eight times in more than 100 trips to the plate.
Other county athletes considered in this category were Justin Jennings (Greenbrier sophomore, football and basketball), Carl Burrow (Lakeside sophomore, baseball) and Hank McCladdie (Evans sophomore, football, basketball and baseball).
Female performer of the year: Toya Coard, Lakeside. Coard has a tremendous senior season for the Lakeside basketball team. She led the county with an average of 19 points per game, and led the Lady Panthers to their best campaign in team history.
Lakeside spent virtually the entire reason ranked in the top 10 in Class AAAA, and Coard played a big part, specifically with her outside shooting and leadership. She has signed to play collegiately at Albany State University.
Others considered in this category were Katie Sutherland (Greenbrier senior, basketball and softball), Anna Cheely (Evans senior, softball and basketball), Jamie Lake (Lakeside junior, softball, basketball and soccer) and Rebekah and Sarah Madebach (Augusta Christian juniors, cross country, basketball and track).
Male performer of the year (co-winners): Jordan Belcher, Augusta Christian (senior, baseball and basketball) and Eric Marshall, Greenbrier (senior, basketball).
Augusta Christian's Jordan Belcher
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Belcher slugged his way to the CSRA's triple crown in baseball. He batted .579 with 18 homers and 46 RBIs, which was enough to get Belcher drafted by the Cincinnati Reds.
The strong-armed outfielder also made his mark on the bases (10 steals) and the mound (39 strikeouts in 26 innings-pitched with a 1.08 earned run average).
If Belcher can pick up some strength, he could be roaming the outfields at the major-league level in a few years.
Belcher also was AC's best basketball player, and the same was true for Marshall. The Greenbrier guard put Columbia County basketball in the spotlight, and the senior almost put the Wolfpack into the state tournament.
Quite simply, without Marshall the Pack wouldn't have won a school-record 18 games last season. He led the CSRA with a 26.8 points per game scoring average, but he did so much more than put the ball through the hoop.
Marshall could handle the ball, pass, defend and rebound with the best prep players in the state. But what truly set him apart was his attitude. Marshall never lost his focus on winning, even when he was struggling with an ankle injury late in the season.
Greenbrier's Eric Marshall
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Wofford College signed Marshall last year, and the Terriers got a real steal.
Others considered in this category were Kelvin Sturgis (Harlem senior, football, basketball and baseball), Matt Scott (Lakeside junior, basketball), Scott Wandless (Greenbrier junior, baseball) and Will Reese (Augusta Christian senior, baseball).
Seeking baseball stars
Now that we've taken a look at the last year in high school sports, let's glance a bit further back.
Columbia County has a well-earned reputation for fielding quality prep baseball teams, and over the past 20 years, few areas in the entire Southeast have produced as much diamond talent as out county.
The question is, who is the best of the best?
Later this month in The Columbia County News-Times, I'll try to end the debate by assembling Columbia County's all-star baseball team from the past 20 years. All players from 1983 to 2003 are eligible for the squad.
If you would like to submit a nominee, e-mail your selections to AB@WRDWAM.com. Please send your submissions by 5 p.m. June 24th.
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