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The Year in Warren County Sports 2019
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Coach Gooby Martin hands out high fives after the Lady Pioneers defeated Ooltewah 3-0 in the region finals at WCHS softball field. It was the first region title in program's history and the last of 20 wins this spring for the Lady Pioneers.
Senior Ashton Whiles, right, meets former Lady Pioneer Lexie Chadwell on the field at Walker Valley during a celebration. The Lady Pioneers went on the road and beat the defending state runner-up 4-0 to open region play in May. Whiles was one of three seniors to sign athletic scholarships.

1. WCHS softball wins program's first region tournament title

Before the 2019 softball season started, coach Gooby Martin thought his Lady Pioneers had what it took to be one of the best teams in the state. Martin proved to be a profit over the next three months.

The Lady Pioneers claimed the program's first-ever region championship, shutting out Walker Valley and Ooltewah in back-to-back games to add a piece of hardware that has been missing for four decades.

Warren County, which finished with 20 wins for the second straight year, rode freshman Madison Hillis in the circle in the postseason and the youngster delivered. Hollis didn't allow a run in 14 innings of work, shutting down two premier programs.

She was backed up by a star-studded senior class which featured all-district players and college signees Emily Mikkola, Hailey Wood and Ashton Whiles.

Mikkola was named the District 6AAA infielder of the year following the season and signed a scholarship to attend Tennessee Wesleyan College.

Wood made her pledge to the University of the Cumberlands, while Whiles - who set the school's home run record during her final season - now attends Cumberland University.

A historic crowd surrounded the field when the Lady Pioneers played host to the first substate game in school history. Siegel ruined the night though, winning 14-0. It was the only thing that didn't go right in 2019 for the Lady Pioneers.

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Lacedrick 'Red' Cox breaks open down the sideline for a touchdown against Rockvale. The Pioneers beat the Rockets 36-35 for their first win over a Rutherford County school since 1997.

2. WCHS beats Rockvale for first Rutherford Co. win in 22 years

New Pioneer coach Matt Turner never hesitated. With his team down one to Rockvale following a touchdown with 1:34 to play, Turner put his offense back on the field looking for the victory.

CJ Taylor delivered it, diving over the pile for the game-winning, two-point conversion in a 36-35 victory over the Rockets.

Before the Pioneers took down the new school from Murfreesboro Sept. 6, it had been 22 years since the program's last win over a Rutherford County school (beating Oakland 30-14 in 1997).

Taylor and senior Lacederick 'Red' Cox each rushed for two touchdowns in the win, while senior Jay Rozier scored the short touchdown before Taylor's winning dive.

Dante Elam sealed victory with an interception with :35 left.

Three weeks later, the Pioneers picked up their second victory over a Rutherford County school in 2019, beating Siegel 29-28 on homecoming. It was another photo finish, with Taylor scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 27.2 seconds left.

Warren County finished the season 4-6 in Turner's first season at the helm. All four wins came at Nunley Stadium, including beating DeKalb County 35-21 on opening night and Coffee County 42-20 on senior night.

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Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics Former Pioneer K'rojhn Calbert made Warren County football fans proud this fall, starting multiple games for the Volunteers on the offensive line. Calbert, a redshirt junior, started two of his team's final three games and should see action in the Gator Bowl (Jan. 2, 6 p.m., ESPN).

3. Taylor wins Athlete of the Year award

In a region filled with future Division-1 athletes, Pioneer junior CJ Taylor was picked as the best of the bunch this fall.

Region 3-6A coaches voted Taylor as the Athlete of the Year after he led the Pioneers to a 4-6 mark by being everywhere on both sides of the ball.

Taylor finished the season with 898 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground while serving as the team's starting quarterback most of the year. Taylor also had the team's lone receiving touchdown, hauling in a 39-yard Hail Mary against Coffee County on senior night.

His 15 touchdowns on the ground in 2019 were the fifth-most in a season in school history.

"I’m very proud of CJ. It’s nice to see a kid rewarded for the ability and skill set they possess and the work they put in,” said Matt Turner, who was 4-6 in his first season leading the Pioneers. “It also says a lot about our team and the work they did to help CJ excel.”

Taylor was no slouch on defense, roaming the backfield and finishing with 65 tackles and two interceptions. 

"I made a promise to myself that I would get healthy again and be the player I know I could be. When I’m healthy, I feel like I’m one of the top ‘dawgs’ in the region,” said Taylor.

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Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics Former Pioneer K'rojhn Calbert made Warren County football fans proud this fall, starting multiple games for the Volunteers on the offensive line. Calbert, a redshirt junior, started two of his team's final three games and should see action in the Gator Bowl (Jan. 2, 6 p.m., ESPN).

4. Calbert earns starting position at Tennessee

It was one of the first things local fans saw pop on their screen when Tennessee traveled to take on Florida. Just as the Vol offense was introduced, McMinnville, Tenn., popped up on the screen under K'rojhn Calbert's name.

The local product became a focal point on the Vol offensive line in his third season on the Hill, starting four games at right tackle for the 7-5 team.

Calbert, a redshirt sophomore, got action in every game this fall, including playing big roles in victories over Kentucky and Missouri late in the season. His play earned the praise of UT coach Jeremy Pruitt on several occasions this fall.

“K’Rojhn had a really good spring and fall camp. He’s not had an opportunity to play a lot in the last couple of years because he’s been injured, but he’s a guy that has some talent,” said Pruitt postgame following Calbert's first career start against Chattanooga. “He’s a big physical guy that can move folks. He missed the first couple of practices, or maybe the first four practices getting ready to play Georgia State. We weren’t really as comfortable putting him in the game then. He’s worked hard and improved.”

Calbert should play significant snaps when Tennessee takes on Indiana in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2, 2020. The game, which will be the first bowl for the Vols since 2016, will begin at 6 p.m. on ESPN.

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Tom Moore addresses his team during the 2018 season. Moore resigned in February to go to Hillwood High School. Moore was 8-34 with the Pioneers and 4-6 this season with the Hilltoppers.
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Matt Turner talks to Xander Lee during a home game this fall. Turner took the job in March and went 4-6 in his first season.

5 Moore resigns, Turner named new WCHS football coach

After four years leading the Pioneers, Tom Moore decided to look for greener pastures last winter. He found them in Nashville.

Moore resigned as WCHS football coach in February to take the same position at Hillwood High School.

"This was an opportunity for me that’s really a chance to go home and reconnect with that community. I grew up there and rode my bike in front of the school as a kid," said Moore after accepting the Hillwood job.

Moore was 8-34 in four seasons with the Pioneers.

It only took a month for WCHS to find his replacement.

Matt Turner took his dream job, accepting the position as Pioneer coach. Turner was an instant hit, especially when he established "Nunley Nights" through the summer.

His popularity with Pioneer fans only grew through the season as he led Warren County to four wins at Nunley Stadium, including beating Siegel and Rockvale - the first two wins over Rutherford County schools in 22 years.

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Photo provided Members of the WCHS football cheerleaders, who won a state championship at MTSU, are, front row, from left, Zoye Henry, Koley Campbell, Heidy-Lin Teeters and Kassidy Byars. Second row, Julya West, Araya Buchanan, Ellie Noblin, Kensley Whiteaker, Abby Reagan and Caitlyne Hutton. Back row, Rylee Ryan, Ashlynn Wells, Lexie Thomas, Deryn Allen, Emily Hoch, Bella Blankenship, Gracie Cowan and Megan Davenport.

6. WCHS football cheerleaders win state title

The WCHS football cheerleaders had spirit to spare this fall. The group emerged as one of the premier cheer programs in the state, culminating with their victory at the TSSAA state event.

“When the announcer called out the second-place team and it wasn’t us, I knew we still had a great chance,” said WCHS cheer coach Stacey Elam following the team's victory in early December. “When he said we were the new state champions, it was the best feeling in the world.

“We were runners-up last year and we wanted the championship this year. We were looking at some amazing programs that have state and national titles under their belt. The girls went out on the floor and blew the competition away.”

The group was unbeaten in competition this fall, winning events in Murfreesboro, Birmingham and Nashville before claiming the state title at MTSU.

The victory at the state tournament gives the group momentum as they search for the biggest prize - a national title.

The WCHS football cheerleaders are scheduled to take part in the UCA National Competition Feb. 7-9 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. 

7. Katie Toney earns top soccer honors

Katie Toney became one of the most decorated athletes in Warren County history this fall. The trouble for all District 6AAA opponents is the star soccer player was just a sophomore this season for the Lady Pioneers.

Toney was named the District 6AAA MVP and Region 3AAA co-MVP following her sophomore campaign where she led the team in goals and assists.

Toney scored 28 goals and handed out 13 assists to help the Lady Pioneers win nine games and finish second in the district standings. It came just one season after she was named the District 6AAA rookie of the year following a 19-goal debut.

The honors didn't end following the season. Recently, the Tennessee High School Soccer Coaches Association selected Toney on the All-State team.

Toney is the first Lady Pioneer to earn all-state honors since soccer players Morgan McCormick and Ansley Mullican each were named all-state following their senior seasons in 2013.

Photo courtesy of Painted Barn Media Even though his season was cut short, Brooks Helton, right, was unstoppable in district play in the 2019 season. Helton was named the District 6AAA MVP after hitting .667 with three HRs in six games.

8. Helton named District MVP

There's no telling the stats Brooks Helton could've put up in the 2019 baseball season if his elbow had cooperated.

Even in an injury-shortened season, the Pioneer senior was still dominant.

Helton, who is now attends Faulkner University in Alabama on a baseball scholarship, destroyed District 6AAA opponents last spring. In just six games, Helton was the most feared slugger in the league, hitting .667 with three home runs and 12 RBIs as he guided the Pioneers to a 5-1 record.

Helton's masterpiece came at home in the team's district debut. Helton struck out nine in five innings of work to pick up the victory (he was 3-0 in district starts), but he saved his best for the batter's box.

Helton went 4-for-4 with two home runs and seven RBIs as the Pioneers run-ruled Rhea County 12-2.

Just a few weeks later, elbow discomfort forced Helton off the field. He had to undergo Tommy John surgery and he is still completing rehab on his college campus.

Following the 2019 season, Helton was named to the Tennessee Baseball Report all-state team.

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Tyra Wright, pictured in her final season at WCHS, has already earned a starting spot as a freshman at Charleston Southern University.

9. Wright earns starting spot

A disappointing senior season didn't seem to stick with Tyra Wright for long.

After signing with Charleston Southern University before the start of her senior season, Wright enrolled at the South Carolina school in August. By the time the team was ready for action in November, she was the team's starting center.

Wright has parlayed her talents on the hardwood into a featured role from her first game, where she debuted in Tallahassee as the Buccaneers took on Florida State.

Finishing her high school career with a 9-19 record - including eight straight losses to end the year - wasn't how Wright wanted to finish as a Lady Pioneer. She has taken flight since switching jerseys, ranking in the top five in minutes and field goals for Charleston Southern.

Wright scored her first career varsity points against South Carolina State Nov. 9, though she had to wait seven games before tasting victory for the first time.

She was the star in the win - a 92-55 pounding of Virginia-Lynchburg. Wright scored an early career-best 16 points in 18 minutes.

Wright became the first Lady Pioneer in over two decades to sign with a Division 1 program when she made her college decision in November 2018.


10. Franco wins title

Kieven Franco continued her family's dominance on the mat in March.

Franco, then an eighth-grader at WCMS, won the state tournament while representing the Warren County Middle School wrestling team.

“Kieven is a very positive young woman and as competitive as anyone I have coached,” said WCMS wrestling coach Ben Matheney following the victory. “With her success, she is in the position to inspire many other young girls to achieve the same thing.”

Franco's medal added to her family’s growing collection. Kieven’s older sister is Allison Franco, who was a three-time TSSAA medalists before graduating in May.

Kieven is currently wrestling for the WCHS team.