By PATRICK MacCOON
The Cleveland and Bradley County area has a rich sports history that continues to grow with each year.This community is home to 60 TSSAA state championship teams, including five Bearette girls …
The Cleveland and Bradley County area has a rich sports history that continues to grow with each year.
This community is home to 60 TSSAA state championship teams, including five Bearette girls basketball and four volleyball squads, plus three straight Blue Raider gridiron teams and a trio of Bear hoops units.
National-record setting girls basketball coach Jim Smiddy had a 90-game winning streak while claiming the 1975 and '76 national championships, while legendary gridiron mentor Benny Monroe's 1993-96 Blue Raiders won 54 straight games.
Not to mention the local dominance of the state wrestling mats as Bradley boasts 26 state titles and Cleveland another dozen.
The local area has also produced 122 individual state champs, including 72 Bear matmen and 32 Raider grapplers.
Nonetheless, many memorable moments filled 2017 for three standout high school athletics programs, including a pair of state team championships and four individual ones.
Here is a chance to look back at the Top 10 sports stories from this past year.
1. Bradley Central wins 25th and 26th state wrestling championships
While Steve Logsdon brought home the first state individual championship for the Bears in 1984, the dominance on the mats by this program since then has taken the state by storm.
Bradley claimed it 14th TSSAA dual championships, plus swept its 12th traditional title, making it a double win for one of our local teams for the fifth straight year.
In the last two decades only three times (2000, 2007, 2012) has neither state title come back home to Bradley County.
2. Knox Fuller 4X state champion, TJ Hicks 3X
Fuller joined the late Matt Keller as the only Bear to win four state championships on the wrestling mat, as he pinned Soddy-Daisy’s Tony Wilson in the second round of the 145-pound Class AAA finals.
Currently tied for the team lead this season at West Point (Army) with nine wins in 14 wrestling matches, Fuller (149 pounds) is off to a strong start after a dominant 156-4 mark in his prep career.
With a great defensive strategy, Hicks was able to become a three-time state champion with a 3-0 decision in the 113-pound championship bout.
One of three No. 1 ranked wrestlers for Bradley, Hicks went 39-1 on the season to conclude an amazing career in which he was 125-2 overall.
3. Three individual state champions
Cleveland saw two athletes bring home individual state titles this past year as Benjedi Casseus won the 110-meter hurdles in track and Colton Landers won the 132-pound championship match in wrestling.
Casseus will look to defend his championship in his senior track season this upcoming spring. Landers finished his career with a 42-2 season and 146-13 career mark.
Bradley’s Austin Mathews battled for a 6-3 decision victory in the Class AAA state title bout at 152.
Mathews finished with a 40-4 record his senior season and is one of 69 individual state championships in Bear history.
4. Rheagan Hall 3X all-state golfer
Putting Cleveland High School’s girls golf program on the map, Hall finished off an incredible prep career with a TSSAA state tournament best 11 birdies this past October.
The UTC signee finished tied for fifth overall, which was her best showing after finishing sixth as a junior, eighth as a sophomore and 14th her freshman season.
5. Lady Raiders volleyball back-to-back state tournament Top 6 finishes
Led by the powerful booms of Emma Flowers and talent all around the court, Cleveland has made a name for itself in Murfreesboro the past two seasons.
The Lady Raiders have won 73 matches the past two seasons along with grabbing two wins in each of the Class AAA state tournament.
Flowers, a Lincoln Memorial University signee, finished her volleyball career with a school record 2,508 kills.
6. Bearettes 32-game winning streak
Led by the "Double-H Duo" of Rhyne Howard and Halle Hughes, plus several other key seniors, Bradley Central won 32 straight hoops contests from the season opener through the Region 3-AAA championship.
The Bearettes' feisty defense was key as they held 22 teams in the win-streak to 40 points or less. Coach Jason Reuter’s squad won its seventh straight District 5-AAA championship.
BC is tied with South Greene for most TSSAA state appearances among public schools with 28. The Bearettes rank in the top 25 in the country, and are 16-0 to begin the 2017-18 season.
7. Record 63 locals sign college scholarships
With talent across all nine TSSAA certified sports in the Cleveland area, a record whopping 63 student-athletes were able to sign college scholarships this past year.
Being able to obtain a degree, while also getting scholarship money to play sports, is a true blessing for many around the local area.
8. CHS boys soccer state tournament run
No one could touch the Blue Raiders soccer team up until the state tournament, as John Brose’s powerful team went 21-0-2 up until the first round of the Class AAA state tournament.
Tommy Marino and Jordan Lopez combined to set a new school record for goals (44), as Marino landed 21 and Lopez sent in 23.
Lopez, who waited until his senior season to join the starting lineup, came just one goal shy of tying the single-season school record.
Marino is heading to play NCAA D-II soccer for Lee University, while Lopez will take the pitch for Bryan College.
9. Bradley football's 10-win season, state quarterfinals appearance
An offense that averaged 420 yards per game, led by the school’s first ever 3,000-yard passer in Dylan Standifer helped pave the way to the program’s first 10-win season since 1980.
Two-time all-stater Lameric Tucker, along with seniors Nick Howell and Stephen Muhonen, helped lead one of the top receiving corps in the greater Chattanooga area, as they combined for 2,802 yards through the air on 163 catches going for 22 touchdowns.
The Bears had eight all-region selections, including the Defensive Player of the Year in linebacker Jay Person.
Person (Appalachian State), Tucker (UTC) and 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive tackle Chris Cash (Air Force) all signed NCAA D-I scholarship offers.
10. WV substate runs in basketball and girls soccer
The Mustangs once again proved poised in February, as they surprised Cleveland in the region tournament with a 58-51 win in the semifinals.
A strong senior class led by three-time all-region tournament selection Bryce Nunnelly, nearly advanced to the state tournament for the second straight year, but fell late to Oakland in the Class AAA sectional.
The Lady Mustangs advanced to the sectionals as well, in large part thanks to Taylor Ellis, who finished with a school record 90 career goals.
Coach Nathan Brown’s team has brought the program its first two district championships over the past three seasons.
Top 10 individual performances
1. Kolten Gibson 626 total yards
Gibson lit the gridiron on fire as he threw for 526 yards, rushed for 100 and accounted for his second career game of eight touchdowns in a 62-55 loss at Stone Memorial on Sept. 8.
The all-state senior gunslinger averaged a state best 402.4 yards per game and accounted for 43 touchdowns, both Bradley County records. Gibson fell just 144 total yards shy of Charlie High’s record of 11,371 total yards in TSSAA history.
2. Rhyne Howard's near quadruple-double
In a 66-32 road rout of Walker Valley, the 6-foot-2 do-it-all Kentucky signee put forth 24 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and eight steals in 29 minutes.
3. Zeke Westfield's 300-yard game
Julio Jones is the only wide receiver in NFL history to ever notch 300 yards receiving in a single game.
Proving too much for his opponent, Westfield reeled in the state’s top performance by a receiver this season, with 18 catches for 310 yards and three TDs in a shocking 45-42 victory at Red Bank.
4. Tommy Marino's state-clinching goals
Marino landed a hat trick and two of his goals in the final three minutes to break a tie with Oakland and send Cleveland to the state tournament.
5. Dylan Standifer’s perfect night
In a county rivalry meeting, the junior gunslinger finished 13-of-13 for 303 yards with three touchdown passes and two rushing scores in a 52-7 victory over Walker Valley.
6. All-State decathletes
In the greatest test of athleticism, Walker Valley's Bryce Nunnelly and Zeke Westfield took fourth and fifth in the Class AAA decathlon.
Cleveland's Eric Parker also finished seventh, as the top eight took home all-state recognition.
7. Cleveland's "Zoobacc's" explosion
Micaleous Elder and Keegan Jones combined for over 400 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns in a 67-47 victory at home over Walker Valley. They finished with 37 combined scores on the season.
8. Sewell's no-hitter
Cleveland flamethrower Camden Sewell tossed seven hitless frames and struck out a dozen against McMinn County in a District 5-AAA matchup.
The University of Tennessee baseball signee posted a 0.98 ERA and set down 76 batters on a third strike in 56 innings, plus had a 25.2 scoreless inning streak.
9. Hall dominates
Rheagan Hall could not be touched as the senior golf standout was the low medalist in every match and tournament leading up to her Top 5 finish at the state championships.
10. KK Curry Show
Cleveland's "rim rattler" sent home 29 points to help Cleveland blow out East Hamilton, 77-47, in the District 5-AAA championship game. Curry scored at least 29 points or more on six different occasions.
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