Members of the 2010-11 Clayton State women's basketball team pose with the Div. II national championship trophy after arriving back on campus following their victory over Michigan Tech in the title game.
1. Clayton State wins Div. II national title
On a late March evening, the Clayton State women’s basketball program made school history.
The Lakers broke open a tight game in the second half as they routed Michigan Tech, 69-50, at the St. Joseph (Mo.) Civic Center to win the school’s first national title.
At one point in the season, the Lakers won 33 straight games. Clayton State ended the season winning six straight to clinch the Div. II national title.
In the title game, Teshymia Tillman had 26 points to lead the offense as the Lakers forced 25 turnovers.
Lakers coach Dennis Cox received several postseason accolades, including being named the Russell Athletic/WBCA Coach of the Year for leading the team to a 35-1 record.
2. Bradley more determined after accident
Clayton State freshman Zac Bradley had a promising future ahead of him on and off the basketball court. The former North Clayton High standout had just completed his freshman season for the Lakers as a top reserve. In the classroom, he compiled a 3.68 grade-point average in his first semester.
A May 25 automobile accident left Bradley’s career in limbo. The then-18-year-old was left paralyzed after a tree fell on his car near campus during a storm. He had several operations on his brain, back and spinal cord.
Bradley has proclaimed that he will “get back to the old Zac” and play basketball again.
His friends, teammates and coaches say Bradley has that will that will help him succeed.
3. Lovejoy makes surprising title appearance
After a first-round playoff failure in 2010, Lovejoy didn’t top any list to make the Class AAAA finals.
Armed with the top-rated defense in the classification, the Wildcats won 14 straight games before losing 22-7 to top-ranked Tucker in the finals at the Georgia Dome. The 14 wins were the most in a single season in school history, as Lovejoy advanced past the second round for the first time.
The team’s top-rated defense, which allowed only five points per game, had eight shutouts. Its defense was led by Class AAAA Defensive Player of the Year Jermaine Hough and major college prospect Rico McWilliams.
On the offensive side of the ball, junior Travis Custis rushed for 1,879 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Lovejoy has won 21 straight regular-season games and was the Region 4-AAAA champion for the second straight season.
4. ELCA wins Class AA/A volleyball title
After graduating one of the top players in the state last season, not many people would have given Eagle’s Landing Christian a chance at winning the Class AA/A volleyball title.
The graduation of Lauren Teknipp, a freshman at Michigan, and the fact the team had never advanced past the quarterfinals round, made the Chargers’ run to the title quite impressive.
Coach Jim Barlow said the team was “motivated” throughout the championship rounds. Led by Florida State signee Mara Green, ELCA defeated Greater Atlanta Christian, 25-18, 20-25, 25-23, 25-27, 15-13, to win the best-of-five series. This was the sixth Georgia High School Association title that the school has won.
ELCA compiled a 37-7 record, with only two losses coming to teams in its classification.
5. Locust Grove lineman dies
The start of football practice was only a few days away.
However, tragedy struck the second-year Locust Grove program when offensive lineman Forrest Jones died after remaining in critical condition at Children’s HealthCare of Atlanta. Doctors believe Jones suffered a heat stroke after a voluntary workout with his football team on July 25.
Jones collapsed while walking inside after practice at the school.
Jones’ funeral was at Tara Garden Chapel in Jonesboro. A motorcycle procession led family and friends from the chapel to the teen’s final resting place.
Several teams paid tribute to Jones throughout the season. Jones’ death wasn’t the only one suffered by a team in the state. A South Georgia teen also died the same week while attending football camp in Lake City, Fla.
6. Forest Park falls short of state title
It was a season of high expectations for the Forest Park girls basketball team. A year after making the semifinals, where the Lady Panthers gave eventual champion Southwest DeKalb all it could handle, they made another long playoff run.
With the return of a talented lineup, which included one of the top freshman in the county, Forest Park won the Region 4-AAAA title. In the semifinals, the Lady Panthers beat undefeated Douglas County to set up a championship showdown with Fayette County.
Down by 19 points midway through the third quarter, the Lady Panthers made a frantic second-half rally before falling 55-45 at the Gwinnett Arena in early March.
It was the first basketball state title for Fayette County, which lost to Southwest DeKalb in the 2008 and 2009 finals.
This was Forest Park’s first trip to the finals since its state title in 1970.
The team was led by Ashlee Cole, who was named the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald Clayton County Player of the Year.
7. Gaines opts for college
Luella’s Julius Gaines entered the 2011 season as one of the top-rated high school shortstops in the country. Many draft experts projected him to going anywhere from the late first round to the third round of the draft.
However, the slick-fielding shortstop didn’t get picked until the 32nd round by the Boston Red Sox. Although the draft position was disappointing, Gaines still made school history as the first Luella player to be drafted.
After a summer of negotiation with the Red Sox organization, Gaines elected to attend Florida International. He had signed with the Sun Belt Conference team in November 2010.
Gaines will become eligible for the draft again in two years.
8. Stackhouse makes Open field
North Clayton rising senior Mariah Stackhouse received national attention after making the 156-player field for the U.S. Women’s Open in Colorado. Although she didn’t make the final cut after two rounds, the Stanford-bound golfer received plenty of attention as the youngest African-American to qualify for the event.
Stackhouse’s father, Ken, was on her bag for the event.
She made the U.S. Open field by shooting rounds of 75 and 71 in a qualifier in May. She won a playoff for the third and final spot with a par on the par-5 first hole. It was her fourth attempt to qualify for the tournament.
Stackhouse’s only other experience on the LPGA Tour was competing in the Mojo 6 in April, 2010. She is a 44-time winner in the junior/amateur circuit.
9. Drew makes first playoff appearance
Jarrett Laws left little doubt this season about why he left playoff-contender Mount Zion in 2009 to start the new program at Drew.
The Titans started the season on the road at Cairo, which had beaten them by 40 en route to the team’s 2-8 season, its first playing a varsity schedule. Drew showed remarkable improvement in this season’s road game, losing 7-6 after Laws decided to go for the win instead of the tie.
Drew compiled a 7-3 regular-season record and clinched the program’s first state playoff berth. The Titans lost 42-7 at eventual state champion Burke County in the first round.
One of the highlights of the season was the program’s first four-game winning streak with victories over Region 4-AAA foes Stockbridge, Eastside, Eagle’s Landing and Jackson.
The streak was halted by a 7-0 loss at Henry County.
10. Barfield retires at Clayton State
Mason Barfield could easily be known as the “Father of Clayton State athletics,” but he officially held the title as athletics director. Barfield built the Lakers program into a competitive Div. II program from its humble roots of a NAIA program.
He was hired as the first Director of Athletics in 1989 and served as head men’s basketball coach until 1995. In late August, Barfield announced that he was stepping down from the post he held for 22 years in October.
He leaves behind a program that he started with one sport at the NAIA level in 1990, and developed it into a highly competitive program at the NCAA Division II level, and a program that won its first national championship, in women’s basketball, this past March.
“Mason Barfield was, first and foremost, a university leader. While his more than two-decade focus was on athletics and student athletes and athletics programs, that focus was guided by his commitment to this university and its commitment to learning,” Clayton State President Dr. Thomas J. “Tim” Hynes said.