We've dedicated a large portion of the sports section this issue to looking back on the highlights of 2006.
As I sifted through the incredible and the not-so-incredible moments of 2006, I couldn't help but think about what 2007 will bring. Will Greenbrier's baseball team be as good as last year? What will the basketball postseason look like? Besides Augusta Christian, who will be the first football team in this county to make the state playoffs?
I can't answer those questions, but I would like to take a look ahead at what might happen in 2007. Keep in mind, I'm not making predictions. I'm merely hinting at what to expect in the coming year.
It's perhaps the most-asked question I get from fans not only in Columbia County but also around the state. How good will Greenbrier be? There's no clear cut answer. Will they be as good as last year?
To be honest, I can't see how. Rich Poythress, Chris Johnson, Tim Thornhill, Rafael Parks and Cal Morris were all starting seniors last season and won't be in the lineup this year. Simply put, that can't be a good thing. However, Nolan Belcher and Brandon Cumpton, the best one-two pitching combination in the state, are back and with more experience. Can Jeff Rowland, Michael Hester and five newcomers to the starting lineup give Belcher and Cumpton enough offense? No doubt, the two pitchers will help offensively as well.
Time will tell whether the Greenbrier dominance will continue into a second season, or if Evans and Lakeside will catch up to their main rival. Believe it or not, both the Knights and Panthers lost more seniors off their starting roster than Greenbrier did.
Speaking of losing seniors, no two teams were wiped out more by the 2006 graduating class than the Greenbrier soccer program. Coach Alex Heider said goodbye to 11 Lady Wolfpack seniors, while coach Chip Warren did the same with eight seniors. If there was ever a year when Evans and Lakeside could take over the soccer throne, this is it.
The season is already halfway over, but in many respects it has just begun. Evans' boys entered the season as the favorite, but an early loss to Greenbrier thrust the Wolfpack into the spotlight. Only the region games will tell who's the best, but there's no doubt that the Evans Knights have improved dramatically since that loss to Greenbrier.
For the girls, no one in the county will touch Greenbrier with or without Michelle Swiec, but how far can they really go without a true center?
Augusta Christian overcame the "rebuilding" label this past season by making it back to the state finals. In 2007, and for the next several years, similar results will be expected from the SCISA powerhouse. As for the rest of the county, it's still way too early to name a clear-cut favorite. Three schools (Evans, Greenbrier and Lakeside) will have their 2006 starting quarterback under center again in 2007.
No matter what happens in football this coming year, I don't think it can get much worse than in 2006. Our county's public school teams combined for a record of 14-26.
This could be the most competitive sport of all in 2007. First of all, the teams will be good. Lakeside, Evans and Greenbrier combined will lose only 13 seniors. That means with most of the starting lineups back for each team, we're poised to see some quality softball. In Harlem, a new coach will be leading the Lady Bulldogs with only the catcher and first baseman spots to fill.
Good luck to whomever takes over as Evans volleyball coach. The Lady Knights will lose their entire starting six after winning the area title this past season. Greenbrier and Lakeside will have a chance at revenge this coming year, while Harlem and Augusta Prep will still be on top of their regions.
I've tip-toed around enough in this column. Here are some tangible predictions that the entire county can hold over my head all year long.
- Super Bowl XLI winner: San Diego Chargers
- 2007 NCAA men's basketball champion: North Carolina
- 2007 Masters Champion: Vijay Singh
- 2007 NBA title: Cleveland Cavaliers
- 2007 NHL Stanley Cup winner: Nashville Predators
- 2007 World Series Winner: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
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