Westminster led all schools in the state with four state titles in the 2019-20 academic year.
Photo: Jason Getz/For the AJC
Photo: Jason Getz/For the AJC

2019-20 High school Player of the Year winners

The COVID-19 pandemic that brought an early end to high school sports during the 2019-2020 academic year also has taken on a toll on end-of-year team awards and individual recognition.

Only 11 of the Georgia High School Association’s 25 championship sports reached their conclusions. Champions were crowned in the six fall sports (football, fast-pitch softball, boys cross country, girls cross country, volleyball and cheerleading) and five winter sports (boys basketball, girls basketball, boys swimming, girls swimming and wrestling). The 14 spring sports were just getting into full swing when the GHSA was forced to cancel their seasons.

One of the state’s most prestigious awards was one of the casualties, when the Georgia Athletic Directors Association decided in April not to declare winners in the Directors Cup competition. The Directors Cup, presented to the top overall athletic program in each classification, had been awarded every year since 2000. Although the school year was about two-thirds complete when the shutdown came, fewer than half of the sports had been able to crown state champions.

Westminster, which has won 19 Directors Cups in the program’s 20-year history, earned the most state titles this school year with four (boys and girls swimming, boys and girls cross country). Blessed Trinity, McIntosh and Woodward Academy won three each.

Individually, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has recognized an athlete of the year in each GHSA sport every year since 2003 and is continuing that tradition today. This year, however, only the sports that were able to complete their championships were considered for the honor.

Athletes of the year

Basketball (boys)

Walker Kessler, Woodward Academy: The 7-foot senior center averaged 17.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.2 blocked shots in leading the War Eagles their first state title. He had 17 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots in a 75-56 victory against Cross Creek in the Class AAAA final. Kessler, the No. 20 senior nationally in the 247Sports Composite rankings, has signed to play basketball at North Carolina.
» All-Metro boys teamAll-State boys team

Basketball (girls)

Raven Johnson, Westlake: The 5-foot-8 junior guard averaged 15 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 steals and 3.9 assists for a team that won its third consecutive Class AAAAAAA title. Johnson is the only player to start in all three finals victories. She scored 23 points in the 2020 final, a 72-53 victory against previously unbeaten Collins Hill. Johnson, who is uncommitted, is ranked as the No. 13 junior nationally by ESPN.
» All-Metro girls teamAll-State girls team

Raven Johnson (25) led Westlake to its third straight state title in 2020.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Cheerleading

Sidney Butler, Union Grove: The senior, a varsity-team member for four years, earned all-region honors and was named the Georgia Cheerleading Coaches Association state cheerleader of the year. “She will practice everything until it is perfect, and then perform with all her heart,” Union Grove coach Kristen Tilson said. Butler will attend Georgia and plans to try out for the cheerleading team.

Cross country (boys)

Graham Blanks, Athens Academy: The senior set an all-classification record at the state meet in Carrollton when he ran the course in 15:33.32 to win the Class A Private individual championship. The Spartans finished fifth in the team competition. It was the second consecutive individual state title for Blanks, who had a winning time of 16:31.89 in 2018. He will run cross country and track at Harvard next season.

Cross country (girls)

McKenna Trapheagen, Woodland-Cartersville: The senior posted the fastest time at the state meet, running the course in 18:27.67 to win the Class AAAAA individual title for the second consecutive season. During Trapheagen’s four-year career, Woodland won two team titles (2016, 2018) and had two runner-up finishes (2017, 2019). She has signed to run cross country and track at Georgia Tech.

Marietta tight end Arik Gilbert (2) had 105 receptions for 1,860 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2019.
Photo: Jason Getz/For the AJC

Football

Arik Gilbert, Marietta: The 6-foot-5, 253-pound senior tight end was the Gatorade national player of the year, a USA Today first-team All-American and the No. 1 tight end (No. 5 player overall) in the 247Sports Composite rankings. He finished the season with 105 receptions for 1,860 yards and 15 touchdowns and led a star-studded Marietta team to its first state title since 1967. Gilbert has signed with LSU.
» All-State teamAll-Metro team

Softball (fast-pitch)

Jahni Kerr, Wesleyan: The senior outfielder posted a .534 batting average and had 11 home runs, 32 RBIs, seven doubles, seven triples, 41 stolen bases and 55 runs scored for the Class A Private runner-up. Wesleyan won state titles in 2017 and 2018. Kerr was a USA Today All-American and the No. 6 player in FloSoftball’s national rankings. She has signed to play softball for Florida State.

The Wesleyan softball star is headed to Florida State to play college softball.

Swimming (boys)

Jake Magahey, Mill Creek: The senior won the 200- and 500-yard freestyle races at the Class AAAAAAA meet for the third consecutive season. His time of 1:34.37 in the 200 broke the state record, and his 4:15.63 in the 500 last season broke a 36-year-old national mark. He is one of four swimmers tied for the No. 1 ranking nationally by CollegeSwimming.com. He has signed to swim for Georgia.

Swimming (girls)

Abby McCulloh, Parkview: The junior won the 200-yard free (1:47.95) and 500-yard free (4:46.21) at the Class AAAAAAA meet for the second consecutive season and earned another title when she anchored her team’s first-place 400-yard free relay (3:29.26). McCulloch is ranked as the No. 1 junior in Georgia, according to CollegeSwimming.com. She has committed to swim for Auburn.

Volleyball

Savannah Bray, Etowah: The 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter led the state in kills this season with 734 and had 705 digs, 53 blocks and 33 service aces for an Etowah team that reached the Class AAAAAAA semifinals. She broke the state’s career record for kills with 2,304 and the school’s career record for digs with 2,314. Bray will play volleyball next season at the U.S. Military Academy.

Wrestling

Gavin Kane, Cambridge: The senior won the Class AAAAAA championship in the 182-pound class and helped the Bears to a second-place finish in the team competition at the traditional state meet. The individual title was the fourth for Kane, who finished his high school career with a record of 167-2. Kane, named the No. 1 wrestler in the state by Georgia Grappler, has signed to wrestle at North Carolina.

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