2015: Best of Sports

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Cannon County's basketball teams celebrated a historical 2014-15 one last time with the annual postseason banquet inside Robert A. Harris Gymnasium on March 28. It was a chance for the players, coaches, and parents a chance to reflect on the magical season by both the boys and girls team
Of course, we all remember the Lionettes starting the postseason on Feb. 13 as a No. 5 seed in District 8AA, while the boys were in the middle of a long winning streak since New Year Eve's 2014. For both squads, it a special journey through the postseason, which included long road trips, two snowstorms, and several schedule changes. However, through it all, both teams will be remembered for its success for a long time as the Lionettes advanced to its third state tournament in four years, while the Lions was one game away from earning a trip to the Murphy Center for the first time in 30 years.
"It is really important to me because everyone doubted us as far as we got," Lionette senior Erin McReynolds said. "It just means that 10 times more special, because we were not supposed to make it as far as we actually did. It made our team closer because we really had to dig down."
"It is very special," Lions senior Jacob Nave said. "We did accomplish a lot this year. We won the most wins in Cannon County history and won the region. I am really happy about it."
The night was not about what could have been, especially for the Lions after coming so close to tasting history and ending a 30-year curse, or the Lionettes trying to win another state title with the first and only coming back in 1989. Instead, it was a chance for everyone to come together, especially those who played such an important role in the success of the team this season.
Magical run ends for CC girls
The magical run though the postseason ended at the 2015 TSSAA State Tournament for the Cannon County girls' basketball team. Its season concluded with a 69-48 loss to Martin Luther King during the Class AA quarterfinals. The Lionettes finished the season with a 24-10 record and Region 4 champions.
Coming into the tournament, CCHS had been on a magical ride through the postseason after a less than stellar regular season, in which they earned the No. 5 seed in District 8. During the next two weeks, the Lionettes defeated the top four seeds ahead of them to win the Region title. They could have won the district also, but the title game was cancelled because of the ice storm a few days ago.
However, their Region title earned them a home sectional game against Sequoyah on March 1 at the Robert A. Harris Gym in front of a standing room only crowd, which the game sold out in 15 minutes. At stake was a third consecutive appearance, and fourth in five years to the Elite Eight in Murfreesboro.
The Lionettes knew they had to fight with everything they had in order to reach their goal, but by now they were already used to it since hardly anybody gave them a shot before the postseason started to make it back to the Glass House inside the Murphy Center.
CCHS had five players in double figures to help them return to the state tournament. Kristen Hale led the way with 14, Autumn King had 13, McReynolds and Davis each had 12, and Kendra Maynard chipped in with 11.
With the win, CCHS was heading back to its 14th state tournament, and fourth in the past five years. Of course, it was hoping for its first state title since 1989.
The Lionettes quarterfinal opponent was Martin Luther King, based out of the Music City. This was the first ever meeting between the schools, and the Lady Royals were hoping of make some history of their own.
MLK qualified for the state tournament for the first time ever last season, but it was eliminated in the quarterfinals. However, they were coming off a huge upset victory over No. 2 ranked and once-beaten CPA in their sectional game.
Early in the opening quarter, CCHS hung in with MLK and the score was tied at 10 after a layup by Hale with 1:28 left. However, the Lady Royals took the lead for good when six foot senior guard Jordan Majors blocked a Lionettes shot, and fellow senior guard Briana Smith converted a three-point play with :53 seconds left in the first quarter to put them ahead 13-10.
That would be the closest CCHS would get during the rest of the game.
"I am proud of these kids, no matter what happened tonight," Dodgen said after the loss. "Obviously, you come here wanting to win it, and you want to do everything you can to win it. Sometimes it just does not happen. You cannot lose three starters, and three of our leading scorers when you are trying to make a run to cut it to seven. I am proud of our kids' effort, and I thought they played hard. They gave it everything they had, and that is all you can ask for.
Senior Kendra Maynard led CCHS in scoring with 15 points, while McReynolds added 11 in a losing effort. MLK got 22 from Smith and 21 from Majors in the win.
Hannah Whited wins acclaim
Most of the attention this school year on the CCHS athletic field belonged to a well-rounded, very talented senior class, including the McReynolds, Josh Ruehlen
"Last year, I learned from my mistake, because I took more time off," CCHS sophomore Hannah Whited said. "This year I went straight from cross-country to track, and I felt like that helped me a lot, because my body stayed in shape more.
The sophomore continued her success on the paths and track this season even though she had to do it for two different schools. Last season, Whited qualified for the cross-country state meet as a freshman, but she was the only member of the Lionettes to achieve this feat.
This season, her success continued as she was the top finisher for CCHS at all of the cross-country meets, which included two overall wins. At the same time, Whited was a member of the Lionettes which made history as the first team in school history to advance to the state meet as a team. During the state meet, Whited finished 11th, and the Lionettes as a whole completed the season with a 6th place placing overall.
"(Hannah) Whited is a very tough blue-collar runner," CCHS Cross-Country head coach Marc Larson said. "She always shows up and gets the job done. I never had to worry about her performance. Her consistency was due to her work ethic. Her attitude matches her ability. She is extremely supportive of the other runners. With all of her success, she stays grounded and loved by everyone on the team."
Dream comes true for Jonathan Odom
CCHS's Jonathan Odom experienced a litteral "dream come true" when he was hired as Cannon County's new girls basketball coach.
Odom takes over the successful program after previous head coach Michael Dodgen left to take the same position at White County. Odom had spent the previous seven seasons as an assistant for the CCHS boys' basketball team.
"The biggest dream anyone could have is to be a head coach and I am no different," Odom said on June 11. "I feel very blessed to have my first opportunity with a program like CCHS that has so much history and tradition. To be able to do it in my hometown and that just adds to it. I think that it is a big plus and just the knowledge of the fan base here and how passionate they are and knowing the history and tradition and the expectations is invaluable."
During Dodgen's decade at CCHS, he helped lead the Lionettes to four state tournament appearances in five seasons including last season's surprising run to the Elite Eight after finishing fifth in the district during the regular season. Odom understands the player's mindset of wanting to continue the program's winning expectations.
"They are so used to winning and they do not know anything different," Odom said. "That is a credit to Dodgen and the previous staff. That is so huge, because a lot of times when a coach take over a program they've got to 'change the culture.'
"The culture is already here. That makes my job easier in one way, but also challenging to have that pressure to keep that going. The girls are very driven, and they do not expect to take a step back. I am not going to put any guarantees that we are going to make it back to state, or how many games we are going to win. The girls expect that and I expect that," he said.
Jonathan Odom

Dodgen honored by Courier
At the 5th annual Cannon Courier Hall of Fame and All Sports Banquet girls basketball coach Michael Dodgen made his final night on the job memorable.
Not only was Dodgen inducted, but one of his legendary former players, Emily Sissom, was also selected for the honor. Also, the school decided to retire the jerseys of not only Emily, but her sister Abbey. It was a perfect night for Dodgen to end his tenure as coach of the Lionettes before moving to White County to take the same position.
"It is a unique thing, and special situations to have one of your players go in at the same time you did," Dodgen said a few weeks before the event. "(Emily) Sissom was a kid that was the foundation of when we started the success eight years ago. She was a part of the first group that got to go to the first region finals, eight years ago, and one of the first groups to go to the state tournament. To be able to share that moment with her family and my family it means a lot."
As for Dodgen, when he took the Lionettes job 10 seasons ago, he knew the history of the program, including the team's 1989 state title, but it had not been to the state tournament since 1992. By the time he left, the program was back on top, including four trips to the state tournament out of the past five seasons.
"Cannon County is a special place to me, my family and kids for the simple fact when you have been somewhere for 10 years you establish a lot of friendships," Dodgen said the day after the ceremony. "I have been able to be the coach at CCHS, and have a great group of young ladies that have played for me over the last 10 years, which have built back a program to one of the top programs in Class AA and to be able to do that is rewarding in itself. It is so much about what these young ladies allowed me to accomplish as a coach, because of their work ethic and how hard they wanted to be good."
During his time at the helm of the Lionettes program, Dodgen amassed over 200 wins, and he helped coach two All-State players, one Miss Basketball, two District MVPs, and over 50 All-District players. However, some say his best coaching job came this past season as the Lionettes advanced back to the state tournament even though the team finished fifth during the District 8AA regular season.
Once the postseason started, CCHS used their winning tradition to defeat the top four teams in the district during both the district and region tournaments earning them a spot back at the Murphy Center for the 2015 TSSAA Class AA state tournament. Unfortunately, the dream ended in the quarterfinals by eventual state champion MLK.
"This year's team provided a lot of memorial moments," Dodgen said. "A lot of people counted this year's team out, and they did not think they could accomplish a lot. For this team to get back to the state tournament is great."
Those Lionettes were led by several award winners, including girls' basketball player of the year, Kelli Davis, Kristen Hale and Erin McReynolds. It was a memorial way for Dodgen to end his career at CCHS.
Of course, coaching runs in the family tree for the Dodgens, as the person who inducted him into the Hall of Fame, his father, Donald, taught him the game of basketball, especially the coaching side growing up. Currently, Donald is the athletic director at Knoxville Farragut High.
After getting his college degree at Tennessee Tech, Dodgen coached at Smith County for three seasons, which included an overall record of 52-45 and their first trip to the regions since 1989. In June 2005, he was named CCHS girls basketball coach, which he stayed until May of this year.
However, he admitted one of the toughest things he had to do was tell the Lionettes he was moving on. He has nothing but fond memories of his time here in Cannon County.
"One of the toughest things a coach has to do, especially when you have put everything into a program for 10 years, and you have watched these current players since junior pro, and grammar school basketball. I have watched them grow up, and turn into great young ladies. To have to tell them I was leaving was probably one of the hardest things I had to do. Everybody here has been nothing but wonderful to me and my family. It was a move and an opportunity to get closer to my family. It gets me close to that situation where I could help out there. It is one of the hardest things you have to do. Cannon County will always have a special place in my heart. I will always check in and watch in on the program from a distance. I appreciate everything everyone has done for me."
CC gridiron opens under new lights
The Cannon County High School football team opened the 2015 home portion of their schedule on Aug. 28 against Jackson County. It was also throwback night as the Lions wore jerseys from back in the day honoring those former players in program history. However, the Blue Devils shutout the Lions, 47-0.
"I think specialty games like this are a fun thing to do," senior lineman Eldon Resko said before practice last week.
He wore No. 50, which is his normal jersey number, in honor of Gary Northcut. Some of the players wore different numbers than normal during the game to honor those famous former players who wore them back then.
"It is pretty exciting and we have not done anything like this in a long time," Senior lineman Bo Bryson, who wore No. 40 instead of No. 10 in honor of Mark Roberts added.
The home opener was also the debut for the CCHS football team with the new lighting system at Fred Schwartz Field. Several other sporting events have taken place since the lights were put in last year, but this was the first high school football game under the new lights.
"These projects are advertised for bid, then bids are approved by the school board at a regular meeting," Cannon County Director of Schools Barbara Parker said via email on Aug. 28. "The football stadium lighting project was a project that the school board felt was badly needed, and the board included funding for this project in the budget for the 2014-15 school year. The former lights were given to CCHS and had been used for many years and did not lighten the field as much as were desirable."
Cross-country roars back
The Lionettes high school cross country team are roaring back to the state meet after finishing third at the Region 4A-AA event, while the Cannon County middle and elementary teams finished up the season by competing at the state meet in Knoxville.
The Junior Lions and Lionettes made three-for-three in state meet appearances during the short but successful run in program history, while elementary team made the state in their first try.
"It was really exciting just being there with the whole team," Lionettes middle school runner Madison Gaither said. "I thought we did really well."
The state meet was held at Victor Ashe Park in Knoxville in which the team faced a challenging course and the toughest competition in the state. However, the middle and elementary school teams went down a day early to practice on the course, and make final adjustments before the meet the following morning.
"We had a compact course, which was choppy, and hilly," CCJL head coach Brian Elrod said. "It was one of the toughest courses in the state. We were prepared for it, and we did great. We had the ideal conditions for running."
Also, the team was inspired by watching the Disney movie, McFarland, which is a true story about a successful built from scratch cross country program with Kevin Costner playing the head coach.
"The movie boosted us up, because they did the same things we did," CCJL runner Zettie Elrod said. "They make mistakes and they came back from them."
The Lionettes finished 16th overall out of 26 teams with five runners finishing the season on a strong note. The CCJL runners included Zettie Elrod (66th), Amanda Blanco (95th), Hannah Higgins (159th), Lauren Knox (172nd), and Madison Gaither (178th) out of 294 runners.
The Lions was 21st overall out of 30 teams in a meet which featured 312 runners, and CCJL included Duncan Cook (69th), Tyler Southworth (110th), Colin Reed (122th), Matthew Elmy (147th) and Tristan Davis (300th).
The elementary school runners included AJ Armstrong (116th), James Hawkins (118th), Boone Elrod (127th), Nick Foster (180th), and Gunter Pitts (150th). The boys finished 15th out of 19 teams, which included 232 competitors. The girls was represented by Maddie Reed (113th) and Georgia Hawkins (115th).
While on the high school level, the Lionettes advanced to state with a third place overall finish, while the Lions were eliminated with a fifth place finish in a very tough region at Camp Jordan in East Ridge.
"We are really excited, and we were hoping to make it this year," CCHS Lionette Alayna Reed said. "At first, we were really nervous, because we were not for sure if we made it. As soon as they announced it, we were screaming and jumping."
Besides facing the toughest competition in the region on a brutal course with a state berth on the line. The weather conditions were horrible with rain from the hurricane that hit Mexico last weekend, and the course turned into a mud bath. However, both teams used the bad weather to their advantage.
"We were covered from head to toe in mud," Reed said. "We made sure before we started our shoes were tied tight, if not we were going to lose them.
The Lionettes who made state included Hannah Whited (5th), Isabella Russo (20th), Alayna Reed (22nd), Elva Magana (26th), Samantha Gaither (27th), Tyger Kennedy (31st) and Flor Magana (34th).
While, the Lions missed advancing to state with a fifth place finish, they were led by Devin Gilpatrick (22nd), Justin Whited (26th), Austin Duggin (27th), Corey Seymour (28th), Reece Wisdom (39th), and Alex Sergouiano (41st).
"It was a sick part of my stomach about that, because those guys are good," CCHS head coach Marc Larson said. "They got the best average Top 5 running time that I had since coming to CCHS, and for them to do as good as they did this year and not make state it hurts a little bit. I know how hard they have worked, and they are good. It is an extremely good region."
Abbey Sissom vital for MT success
Former Cannon County standout Abbey Sissom has played a vital role in Middle Tennessee's success at the outset of the 2015-16 season, and the sophomore standout says she is excited to be part of something special with the Lady Raiders.
Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Insell, a Cannon County native and five-time Hall of Famer, including the Cannon County Sports Hall of Fame, said "Cannon Countians will be glad to know Abbey Sissom is a big part of what our team is doing. She continues to improve.
"Abbey is stronger and now she is not only a strong outside shooter, but she is slashing to the basket, penetrating. She is a complete player. Cannon County takes pride in their basketball and they should be proud of Abbey Sissom. She is doing a great job for us."
Sissom was a prolific scorer at Cannon County High School and finished her career second on the all-time scorer list with 2,606 points.
Sissom said putting in extra work and getting stronger in the offseason have aided her performances.
"I put in a lot of time in the weight room and in the gym putting up shots this summer," Sissom said. "I can see the hard work paying off in a lot of areas. I feel like I am rebounding better and playing better defense."
While she has been one of the team's leading scorers this season, it has been Sissom's defense that has been a strong facet of her game.
"Abbey is one of our best perimeter defenders," Insell said.
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