Top 10 Cobb sports stories of 2021

·8 min read

Dec. 31—The 2021 calendar year brought a little bit of everything to Cobb County including a world championship, Olympic medals, 14 team state titles.

The NFL, MLB and the NBA also drafted some of the county's best in the pros, and Kennesaw State's football team left the Big South exactly the way it wanted.

In all, it made for an exciting year in sports on the field, courts, pitch, diamond, tracks and in the pool.

The top 10 sports stories of 2021 include:

1. Braves win World Series

For the first time in 26 years the Atlanta Braves brought home a World Series title and this time they brought it home to Cobb County.

After scuffling under .500 until late August, and dealing with season-ending injuries to Ronald Acuna Jr., Mike Soroka and others, rebuilt their outfield and rode a hot bullpen to the National League Eastern Division championship.

That momentum carried over into the playoffs where the Braves sent the Brewers home in the divisional round, the Dodgers in the NLCS and then finally the Houston Astros. Atlanta defeated the Astros in six games to win its first World Series since 1995, and it was only fitting that Cobb County's own Dansby Swanson recorded the final out to secure the title.

2. Marietta girls win first state basketball title in 70 years

Marietta defeated Woodstock 52-47 at the Macon Coliseum. The title was the second in program history and it came 70 years and three days after the first one in 1951.

The Lady Blue Devils arrived in the state championship game after winning their first four playoff games by a total of nine points, including winning the last two — Cherokee in the quarterfinals and archrival McEachern in the semifinals — by one point each. That was already the fewest combined points for any team to reach the championship game since the tournament was expanded to 32 teams in 1999. Now, the mark of winning a state title by a combined margin of 14 points will likely stand for a long time to come.

Lauren Walker led the way with 19 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, and Chloe Sterling added 10 points and 15 boards.

3. Wheeler tops Kell in an all-Cobb County final

The fourth time was truly the charm for Wheeler as it defeated Kell 71-61 to claim the Class AAAAAA basketball state championship.

It was the fourth time the programs had met during the season. The Wildcats had won the first two — a 74-73 win in overtime on Jan. 15, and then a 68-65 decision on Feb. 12. Seven days later, Kell (22-7) bounced back with a 78-71 double-overtime victory in the Region 6AAAAAA championship to earn the No. 1 seed heading into the state playoffs.

Isaiah Collier finished the game with 16 points while Ja'Heim Hudson, Kaleb Washington and Max Harris all had 12. The quartet more than balanced the 29 point, 10 rebound effort by Scoot Henderson.

The win marked back-to-back state championships for Wheeler and the eighth in program history.

4. Fields leads newest group of Cobb pros

Former Harrison High School standout Justin Fields became the first quarterback from Cobb County to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. The former Heisman Trophy finalist at Ohio State was selected with the 14th overall selection by the Chicago Bears. Other players drafted into the NFL included former Marietta and Georgia standout Azeez Ojulari in the second round by the New York Giants and former Sprayberry star Trey Sermon taken in the third round by the San Francisco 49ers.

On the diamond, North Cobb catcher Harry Ford heard his name called in the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft. He was the 12th overall selection by the Seattle Mariners.

Other baseball players drafted included former Pope star Ryan Webb in the fourth round by the Cleveland Indians, Kennesaw State's Jake Rice (ninth) by the Arizona Diamondbacks, former McEachern High School standout Keyshawn Askew (10th) to the New York Mets, and former KSU and Sprayberry standout Tyler Tolve (17th) went to the Braves.

The NBA grabbed a former star, too. Former Auburn and McEachern standout Sharife Cooper was selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the second round.

5. Cobb sends six to the Olympics

After being delayed for a year because of COVID-19, the 2020 Olympics were competed in Tokyo and Cobb County was well represented.

Marietta's Emily Sonnett and Kennesaw's Jane Campbell were part of the US Women's National Soccer Team that defeated Australia 4-3 to win the bronze medal.

Former Georgia and Kell High School standout Kendell Williams qualified for her second Olympic games and finished fifth in the heptathlon.

Marietta's Daniel Haugh, a former Kennesaw State NCAA champion in the hammer throw, made his Olympic debut, made the final, and finished 11th.

Former Whitefield Academy standout Emilie Grand'Pierre competed for Haiti and former Lassiter star Nuna Bamatraf competed for Yemen and the swimmers faced off in the same event in the 100-meter backstroke. For Bamatraf, it was her second Olympic games after competing in 2016.

6. Cobb girls dominate the fall

If there was any doubt of the superiority of Cobb County's female athletes within the state of Georgia, they made everyone believers during the fall. At least one Cobb County team proved victorious in every sport leading off with Lassiter storming through the Class AAAAAA state softball tournament behind All-State pitcher Ellie Kean to claim its second championship in a row, beating River Ridge in the title game on Oct. 30.

A week later, Cobb teams claimed three titles. The Walton volleyball team reclaimed its rightful spot atop Class AAAAAA by beating Alpharetta 3-1 behind the strong play of Mary Neal, Aviah Miller, Elizabeth Curry and Greta Hans. Mount Paran Christian used big matches from Kara Dunn and Paige Armstrong to down Athens Academy 3-1 to claim its second Class A-Private volleyball title in four years, and the Marietta cross country team, led by Kristal McQueen, won its fourth title in the last five years by holding off Harrison and Hillgrove.

Topping off the fall season, the Hillgrove girls won the county's first flag football championship in an all-Cobb County championship game, beating Marietta 20-6.

7. East Cobb girls claim the spring

Lassiter and Walton claimed a combined three state titles in the late winter and spring.

Elizabeth Tilt won the 100-yard butterfly and the 200 individual medley to help lead the Lady Trojans to the Class AAAAAA state swimming title. It was Lassiter's second straight and its first back-to-back titles since winning four in a row from 2008-2011.

The Lady Raiders claimed the other two championships, winning the Class AAAAAAA tennis title, behind freshman Hayden Mulberry, with a 3-0 victory over Lambert. It was Walton's 15th championship in the last 18 seasons and 21st overall. The other title came from the Lady Raiders track team as Amara Onyeukwu led them to a defeat of Peachtree Ridge by four points. It was the second title in program history and first since 2012.

8. Mount Paran Christian wins Class A-Private baseball title

After rolling through the regular season, and winning the Region 7A title by going a perfect 12-0, the Eagles played their best baseball when it counted the most.

Mount Paran needed only 11 games to nearly whitewash the championship bracket sweeping St. Francis, Hebron Christian and Fellowship Christian in two games each, while needing three to beat defending state champion Tattnall Square, to advance to the state championship series against Wesleyan.

The championship series against the Wolves proved to be a coronation as the Eagles won both games by shutout — 4-0 and 3-0 — to end Wesleyan's 25-game winning streak behind the fine play of Cam Collier, Luke Dotson, Paul Farley, Jake Tucker, Tyler Minnick and others.

9. Kennesaw State returns to the top of the Big South

Entering the final season as a member of the Big South Conference in football, the Owls had a goal of leaving it the right way. KSU wanted to win the conference, go undefeated at home and return to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

The Owls accomplished all three behind Walter Payton Award finalist, and all-American quarterback Xavier Shepherd. KSU defeated Monmouth 49-17 in the conference championship game and then defeated Davidson 48-21 in the opening round of the FCS playoffs. The Owls finished the year 11-2, and coach Brian Bohannon tied the Big South record for most wins by a head coach with 63 and set a new conference mark with the program's fifth playoff win.

Kennesaw State will join the new ASUN football conference in 2022.

10. Former Kennesaw State coach Tony Ingle dies

Former Kennesaw State coach Tony Ingle, who led the Owls to the 2003-04 Division II national championship, died as the result of COVID-19 on Jan. 18.

Ingle was a head coach for 33 years, making stops along the way at Gordon College, Alabama-Huntsville, BYU and Dalton State, but he made his biggest mark at Kennesaw State from 2000-11, where he built the NCAA Division II program into a national power.

He took the Owls to three straight national tournament appearances from 2003-05. During the 2003-04 season, they went 35-4 and won the national championship, beating Southern Indiana 84-59 in Bakersfield, California.

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