Drew senior Lakiah Sims, left, helped lead the Titans to the Region 4-AAAAA title and their first appearance in the state semifinals in school history. (Special Photo)
This might have been one of the best school years in Clayton County history. The county schools experienced another successful year in high school athletics.
As usual, the school year started during August and ended a couple weeks ago with the conclusion of spring football. State championships by the Jonesboro boy’s basketball team and the Mount Zion boy’s track and field team were the highlight of the school year.
Individually, Preston Williams of Lovejoy was the only individual to bring home a state title when he won the Class AAAAAA long jump competition.
The Clayton News Daily sports staff takes a look back on this past school year:
• Football: There were many high expectations entering the year from both teams and individual players. Mundy’s Mill and Lovejoy were the only teams from the area to reach the state playoffs.
Lovejoy won its fourth straight region title before losing to Lowndes at Twelve Oaks Stadium in the second round of the playoffs. In comparison, the previous two seasons, the Wildcats advanced to the Georgia Dome where they played for state titles.
During Lovejoy’s two-game playoff run, junior wide receiver Preston Williams established himself as one of the top receivers in the country with eight touchdowns during that span.
At the conclusion of the season, there was a shake up in the leadership as longtime coach Al Hughes was forced out. It ended a 13-year run for Hughes.
The school immediately named defensive coordinator Edgar Carson as the successor.
Mundy’s Mill enjoyed the best season in its school history when the Tigers rolled off eight straight wins to reach the Class AAAAA playoffs. It marked the first time that the school had won a playoff game.
The Tigers would ride the shoulders of all-state running back Rodney Smith, who finished with 2,201 yards and 26 touchdowns. Mundy’s Mill lost at defending state champion Gainesville to end its run through the postseason.
• Region champions: Lovejoy (Region 2-AAAAAA)
• Cross country: Morrow boys and Forest Park girls captured the county championships. Morrow would go on to make its second straight state appearance. On an individual note, Lovejoy freshman Nichole Slocumb dominated in winning the county championship.
• Volleyball: A new county champion was crowned when Mount Zion defeated rival Jonesboro for the championship. Playing in one of the state’s toughest areas, the Bulldogs were not able to advance to the playoffs. Jonesboro continued its 13-year playoff appearance as it travel to Chestatee in Gainesville for a first-round playoff contest.
• Girls basketball: Forest Park and Drew battled all season in Region 4-AAAAA for the top spot. In the end, Drew defeated the Panthers in the region title game for the second region championship in program history.
• Region champions: Drew (Region 4-AAAAA).
Both teams would advance to the semifinals. For Drew, it was the first time in program history that the team had one a state playoff game. Another team from the region — Mount Zion — would also advance to the first round of the playoffs.
• Boys basketball: The highlight of the season came at the Macon Coliseum when Jonesboro capped off the season with the Class AAAA title with a group of players that had limited varsity experience. Coming into the season, one DeAntre Mack had some varsity experience at Jonesboro. Transfer Tracy Hector was a starter at North Clayton before a wrist injury sidelined him midway through last season.
The Cardinals were led by freshman James “M.J.” Walker, who has established himself as one of the top players in the state.
Mundy’s Mill peaked at the right time to win the Region 4-AAAAA title and advance to the second round of the playoffs. It was the team’s first region title since the 2008 season.
• Swimming and diving: Adara Thomas of Lovejoy became the first county state qualifier since 2010. The junior qualified for the Class AAAAAA meet in the 50-yard freestyle event.
• Wrestling: A paralyzing ice storm in late January put the state wrestling tournament in jeopardy. It had to be postpone for a week, and eventually moved from the Gwinnett Arena to individual schools.
Of the 11 wrestlers that qualified for the state tournament, three placed in their respective weight class.
Forest Park and Jonesboro took three wrestlers each to their respective tournaments.
Jonesboro had two wrestlers — Jalaal Malik and Jermaine Millens — to place fifth overall at the Class AAAA tournament at West Laurens High in Dublin. Malik went 3-2 in the two-day tournament to place fifth in the 126-pound weight class while Millens was 4-2 at the tournament to place fifth at 138.
Forest Park’s lone state placer was senior Anthony Vasta, who finished fifth overall. The senior was 3-2 in the Class AAAAA tournament at Loganville High. For the season, Vasta compiled a 43-9 record.
• Girls track and field: Forest Park won the county title and went on to capture the Region 4-AAAAA title. The Panthers would finish sixth overall at the state championships in Albany.
• Boys track and field: Mount Zion pulled off the trifecta as it won the county, region and state titles on the strength of seniors Marquett Simmons, Jonathan Ross and Andrew Nusek. The Bulldogs amassed 58 points at the state meet to edge Stephenson, which finished second with 46 points.
Simmons was second in the 200-meters and Ross was second in the 110 hurdles. Both signed earlier in the spring to attend Limestone College in South Carolina.
The team’s 1,600 relay won the state title while the 400 relay was runner-up.
Individually, Preston Williams of Lovejoy was the lone state champion after winning the long jump competition. He was runner-up in the triple jump at the Class AAAAAA meet.