Athletes of the Year in the GHSA for 2020-21

March 12, 2021 Macon - Sandy Creek's Jabari Smith (10) dribbles against Cross Creek's Antoine Lorick (23) during the 2021 GHSA State Basketball Class AAA Boys Championship game at the Macon Centreplex in Macon on Friday, March 12, 2021 Cross Creek won 57-49 over Sandy Creek. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
March 12, 2021 Macon - Sandy Creek's Jabari Smith (10) dribbles against Cross Creek's Antoine Lorick (23) during the 2021 GHSA State Basketball Class AAA Boys Championship game at the Macon Centreplex in Macon on Friday, March 12, 2021 Cross Creek won 57-49 over Sandy Creek. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Sports in the Georgia High School Association for the 2020-21 school year looked different than in past seasons, but at least the games were played.

The pandemic that led to the cancellation of spring sports in 2020 also brought about a lot of changes in the recently concluded school year. Schools and teams spent much of their time dealing with COVID-19 testing, quarantines, game postponements and cancellations, mask mandates, social-distancing requirements, limited attendance at games, and new sanitization procedures. Through it all, however, every GHSA sport reached its championship conclusion.

That was a big step forward from last year, when the premature end to the spring season meant that roughly half the sports were unable to crown champions.

The GHSA even added several activities over the past year. Most notable was flag football, which capped its first official season with West Forsyth and Calvary Day winning exciting championship games in December at Georgia State’s Center Parc Stadium.

Here are the athletes from 26 GHSA sports whose standout performances led to individual and team success during the 2020-21 school year:

Baseball

Ryan Spikes, Parkview: The senior infielder and pitcher batted .400 and had a 0.48 ERA for a team that finished 30-10 and won its third consecutive Class 7A title (ninth since 1996). In 10 playoff games, he hit .571 with five home runs, three triples, four doubles, six stolen bases and 22 RBIs and recorded four saves. Spikes signed to play baseball at Tennessee.

Basketball (boys)

Jabari Smith, Sandy Creek: The 6-foot-10 power forward averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots for a Sandy Creek team that went 28-5 and reached the state finals for the first time, finishing as the Class 3A runner-up. In the 247Sports Composite ranking, Smith is the No. 4 recruit nationally and No. 2 power forward among seniors. He signed to play basketball at Auburn.

Basketball (girls)

Raven Johnson, Westlake: The 5-foot-8 senior guard was a four-year starter for Westlake, which became the seventh school in GHSA history to win four consecutive girls basketball state titles. She averaged 15.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 3.7 steals for a team that went 20-0 this season (110-4 in her career). Johnson, named the Naismith national player of the year, signed to play basketball at South Carolina.

Cheerleading

Kendall Stephens, South Forsyth: The senior was named the Georgia Cheerleading Coaches Association Cheerleader of the Year for the Class 5A-7A division and led her team to the Class 7A championship. She earned the team’s scholar-athlete award three times, and her teammates voted her the most valuable cheerleader as a senior. She will attend the University of Georgia and plans to try out for cheerleading.

Cross country (boys)

Kamari Miller, Marietta: The senior had the fastest time at the state meet, earning the Class 7A individual title with a time of 15:29.72 and leading Marietta to the team championship. Miller won eight of nine meets during the season, setting four course records. He was a first-team All-American and the Atlanta Track Club’s All-Metro Runner of the Year. Miller signed to run cross country and track at Syracuse.

Cross country (girls)

Makena Gates, Creekview: The senior had the fastest time in any classification at the state meet, running the course in 18:46.60 to win the Class 6A individual title by 54 seconds. It was the third state championship for Gates, who won the Class 6A event as a freshman and sophomore and finished second as a junior. Gates will run cross country and track next season at Harvard.

Flag football

Haylee Dornan, West Forsyth: The senior quarterback/free safety scored the tying touchdown and game-winning extra point in the second overtime in a 26-25 victory over Hillgrove in the 6A-7A championship game. For the season, the area player of the year accounted for 28 touchdowns (25 passing, two rushing, one returning a punt) and had a team-high nine interceptions. She will play soccer next season at Piedmont College.

Football

Brock Vandagriff, Prince Avenue Christian: The senior quarterback passed for a state-best 4,169 yards and 46 touchdowns in leading the Wolverines to the Class A Private championship, the first GHSA title in school history. Vandagriff became the sixth Georgia player to surpass 10,000 passing yards and 100 passing TDs in his career. He enrolled early and is playing football at Georgia.

Golf (boys)

Deven Patel, Johns Creek: The senior was the consistent leader for a Gladiators team that won its fifth consecutive Class 6A championship. He shot a 5-under 137 to finish second at the state tournament and shared medalist honors at the Area 3-6A tournament. He was voted Class 6A Player of the Year by the Georgia Golf Coaches Association. Patel signed to play golf at Virginia.

Golf (girls)

LoraLie Cowart, Carrollton: The senior won the individual title at the Class 6A championship and was the unanimous choice as the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association’s Player of the Year. She was medalist at the Area 4-5A tournament, the GSGA High School Girls Invitational, the 2020 National High School Golf Association national championship and the AJGA Callaway Golf Junior Classic. Cowart signed to play golf at Georgia.

Gymnastics

Rubylyn Goad, Newnan: The junior had the highest all-around score in either division of the state meet, posting a 39.082 to win the individual competition in Class 6A-7A. She also led Newnan to its first team championship since 2008 and second overall. Goad finished second in the uneven parallel bars (9.766) and balance beam (9.8) and fourth in the vault (9.8) and floor exercise (9.716).

Lacrosse (boys)

Danny Kesselring, Lambert: Kesselring, a junior attack, finished with 64 goals on the season, including 15 in five playoff games. In the Class 6A-7A championship game, he finished with four goals and two assists to guide the Longhorns to a 17-9 victory, giving the program its fifth state title since 2011. In addition, Kesselring was named to the USA Lacrosse All-American team.

Lacrosse (girls)

Maddie Dora, Milton: A senior attack, Dora was the leader on a Lady Eagles team that finished 21-0 and claimed its fifth consecutive state title and 14th overall since 2005. Dora finished with 112 goals, 42 assists, 48 draw controls and 22 caused turnovers. She was selected to play on the 2021 Under Armour All-American team, and she’ll continue her lacrosse career at Southern Cal.

Riflery

Colin Haskins, Georgia Military: The senior won the individual championship at the all-classification state meet and led Georgia Military to its first team title in the sport. Haskins posted a score of 396.2 (296 in qualifying and 100.2 in the finals) to finish 1.2 points ahead of two-time defending champion Laci Jewell of Ware County. Haskins plans to attend Kennesaw State.

Soccer (boys)

Damian Rodriguez, Dalton: The 5-foot-5 senior forward had 15 goals and 11 assists for a balanced Dalton attack and led the Catamounts to their second consecutive Class 6A title (and fifth in eight seasons). “Despite usually being the smallest player on the field, he plays with great intensity and toughness, which makes him difficult for opponents to handle,” Dalton coach Matt Cheaves said. Rodriguez is undecided on his college plans.

Soccer (girls)

Henley Tippins, Westminster: The junior forward was the leading scorer (31 goals) for a team that went 21-0, set a school record with 154 goals and became the first in GHSA history to win six consecutive state titles in the sport. Westminster was ranked No. 1 nationally among spring teams by MaxPreps and United Soccer Coaches. Tippins, rated a four-star recruit by Top Drawer Soccer, committed to Georgetown.

Softball (fast pitch)

Dallis Goodnight, Mill Creek: The senior hit .583, scored 45 runs, had an on-base percentage of .623 and set the Gwinnett County public-school records for stolen bases in a season (52) and a career (173). She is a consensus top-five prospect and the No. 1 outfielder, according to Brentt Eads of Extra Inning Softball. Goodnight signed to play softball at Alabama.

Softball (slow pitch)

Gabby Buffington, Hart County: Buffington, an infielder, was the only senior among 19 players on a Hart County team that went 16-0 and won the school’s first state championship in the sport. She finished the season with 13 home runs, including one in the first inning of a 13-1 victory over Cherokee in the championship game. She signed to play fast-pitch softball at Emmanuel College.

Swimming (boys)

Jack Aikins, West Forsyth: The senior won the 50-yard freestyle (19.68) and 100 freestyle (43.29) and anchored two winning relay teams at the Class 7A meet. The Wolverines’ times in both the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:22.56) and 400 freestyle relay (3:03.13) broke state records. Aikins is tied for the No. 1 ranking nationally by CollegeSwimming.com. He signed to swim at Virginia.

Swimming (girls)

Abby McCulloh, Parkview: The senior won the 200-yard freestyle (1:48.37) and 500 freestyle (4:44.96) at the state meet for the third consecutive season and helped Parkview to a seventh-place finish in Class 7A. She qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle. McCulloh is the top-ranked swimmer in Georgia, according to CollegeSwimming.com. She signed to swim at Georgia.

Tennis (boys)

Thomas Brewer, Stratford Academy: The senior went undefeated at No. 1 singles this season and was 62-0 over four years. (He was undefeated in No. 1 doubles as a freshman.) He never lost a set in high school until the state championship match, but came back from a 4-2 deficit in the final set of that match to win. Brewer helped Stratford win three Class A Private titles. He will play tennis next year at Georgia College.

Tennis (girls)

Hayden Mulberry, Walton: The freshman played No. 1 singles from the start and helped Walton regain the Class 7A title. The right-hander is considered a blue-chip recruit and has a No. 9 Universal Tennis Rating. She was 14-0 in 2021 against an aggressive schedule. “Her skill, athleticism and desire to compete are second to none,” Raiders coach Anthony Foti said. The state title was Walton’s first since 2018 but 17th in 20 seasons.

Track and field (boys)

Bradley Favors, Stephenson: The senior was the state’s best 400-meter sprinter, clocking a season-best time of 46.74 in the state meet, ranking him No. 4 in the country. Favors also claimed the Class 4A title in the 200 meters (21.65), and he anchored the winning 4x400 relay team in the final event that lifted the Jaguars to the team title. Favors signed to run track at Georgia Tech.

Track and field (girls)

Janae Profit, Dunwoody: The senior was the state’s top thrower this season, leading Georgia in the discus (159 feet, 8 inches) and shot put (47 feet, 11 inches). Both place her among the top 20 nationally. She was undefeated in both events this season in state and national competitions. Her last loss was during a national indoor meet in December 2019. Profit signed to compete next year at Virginia.

Volleyball

Ngozi Iloh, McIntosh: The 6-foot-1 senior middle blocker had 525 kills, 123 digs, 52 blocks, 41 services and a .383 hitting percentage for a team that finished 33-1 and won its fourth consecutive Class 5A championship. Iloh was the Gatorade state player of the year and was named a first-team all-American by VolleyballMag.com and MaxPreps. She signed to play volleyball at Duke.

Wrestling

Caden McCrary, Woodland-Cartersville: The senior won the Class 5A championship in the 138-pound weight class and helped Woodland sweep the team titles in the dual and traditional tournaments for the third consecutive season. The individual title was the fourth in four seasons for McCrary, who finished his high school career with a record of 167-2. He signed to wrestle at North Carolina.

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