When senior Marist Gray Taylor lined up a left center shot on May 20 for a walk victory for the War Eagles in the GHSA Class 4A State Finals, it marked the end of a remarkable run for the team. Benedictine baseball.
It was also the final play of the high school athletic season for the Greater Savannah area teams. It wasn’t how the Cadets wanted to end it, but Superior Carter Holton put it in perspective the next day. He could have spoken for athletes and coaches of all sports when he said he and his teammates felt lucky to have their senior season after their junior years were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spring 2020 sports ended before the middle of the schedule, and fall sports – including football – were at risk of being canceled altogether in the fall.
But somehow the seasons continued and the student-athletes got to experience all that came with sports in high school in what turned out to be a year to remember.
In football, Benedictine had a strong run as the Cadets moved up to Class 4A with quarterback Holden Geriner bolstering his reputation as one of the best quarterbacks in the country. The junior, who has since signed to Auburn, teamed up with wide receiver Trent Broadnax (signing Duke) and jack-of-all-trades Justin Thomas to lead a team that reached the state semifinals – losing a crush against Jefferson 42-35.
Geriner and Thomas will return to an ever-talented cadet squad, set to make another playoff series in the fall.
The Islands have had the best football season in school history led by quarterback Jadon Adams and a defense led by Bubba Chisholm and Damonte Smith. The Sharks had a superb comeback in the fourth quarter to beat Hardaway for the first playoff victory in school history. Look for more of the same soon under Coach DeShawn Printup.
Calvary Day embraced a new sport as the GHSA sanctioned women’s flag football, and the Cavaliers brought in players from a number of different sports to the team. The Cavs had remarkable basketball guard Hannah Cail as quarterback, with Mahkayla Premo, another basketball star, playing as big a role as winning a state title under head coach. Chad Griffin.
One of the team’s stars, Nevaeh Hamilton, signed on to play flag football at Warner University when the players got their state championship rings a few weeks ago.
The basketball season has seen its ups and downs as teams have been affected by COVID-19 cases and post-exposure quarantines. On the boys’ side, Windsor Forest was a basket away from a spot in the state final as the Knights lost to eventual champion Cross Creek in what was star guard Shamar Norman’s last game in high school.
The Knights will be strong again next year with the return of one of the state’s top rookies as D’Ante Bass plays his final year. Mike Cabellero, Abasi Scott and Qurahn Anderson were part of a stacked supporting cast of talent.
Johnson was the best team on the girls’ side this season, reaching the state quarterfinals. The Atom Smashers are hoping to be back in the mix for a state crown next year with Amani Hamilton and K’Lya Hankerson hoping to close their senior campaigns in style.
Small schools have also shaped memorable years. Habersham School won another GAPPS state title in volleyball and also won state championships in men’s tennis and baseball, while swimmer Sam Parker swept three events in the state swimming competition – his last meeting in high school before starting to swim at UGA.
Gaby Van Brunt of St. Andrew’s also swept three events of the GISA State Swimming Competition – setting three GISA State Records in the process.
Aaron Seymour of Savannah Arts won another Class 1-3A GHSA State Crown in the 100 backstroke with a time of 50.89 seconds and was third in the 200 individual IM.
Richmond Hill wrestler Tate Evans ended a distinguished high school career with a state title for the Wildcats by winning the 170-pound GHSA Class 6A state title. The victory was special as his father, Wildcats coach Bill Evans, was in his corner to share the moment. Evans later signed to wrestle at Newberry College.
Spring sports had a better feel than winter, as sports moved outdoors and COVID-19 vaccines became readily available.
Benedictine had another great season on the baseball field with Holton, who signed with Vanderbilt, leading the way with center fielder Justin Thomas, the UGA start. The Cadets were playing for their third state title under Kevin Farmer since 2014.
Savannah Christian and South Effingham also had excellent baseball seasons, with the Raiders advancing to the private Class 1A quarterfinals while the Mustangs advanced to the 6A quarterfinals, losing to Pope in three games.
The islands boys football team made history for the school by advancing to the semifinals for the first time in class 4A during Dante Casagrande’s final year as head coach.
On the girls’ side, the Saint-Vincent football team went from the 2A class to the much more difficult 1A-Private classification. and had an impressive run to the quarterfinals in Katie Knight’s first season as a head coach.
The track and field season featured Meon McLeod of Liberty County, who set the state’s best 100-meter time among all classifications as he won state titles in the 100 and 200-meter class 3A, with another gold medal in the 4×100 relay. .
Her Liberty County teammate Leia Williams won gold in the women’s shot put.
Cameron Edwards of South Effingham won a state crown in the 6A triple jump.
Maggie Byrd of Savannah Christian won a gold medal in the private Class 1A high jump while Brogan Korta of Calvary won the 100-meter hurdles. Savannah Country Day’s Kenny Odom, Paul Mosley, Alex Wynn and Johnathan Jackson set a school record with a time of 42.50 to win the Class 1A-Private State crown in the 4×100 relay.
Looking back, it was a year no one will forget. Returning to sport was part of the return to normalcy as the COVID-19 pandemic finally appeared to be on the verge of subsiding.
Dennis Knight covers sports for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at [email protected] Twitter: @DennisKnightSMN