Simmons Says Mailbag - April edition
I really don't want to do a long introduction for this mailbag. They are always really long anyways, so jumping into the questions is much better than giving you more to read at the front. That being said, I want to take a quick second to give people an update on some big things happening in the next few weeks in Warren County. I need to expand a few of these into stories (and I will soon), but let's take some time to give you the details now:
Parent meeting for WCHS football
I know people are worried that I haven't had Matt Turner on the podcast recently and may think we're going through a rough breakup, but I assure you we're still solid. He's been in the lab trying to get the Pioneer football program back on solid footing and I've been alternating weeks of being sick since Christmas it seems (I'm feeling good going into this week).
Coach Turner will be holding a parent meeting tonight, April 25 at the WCHS auditorium. It is encouraged that if you want to be a part of Squad 54 that you attend. We'll get coach Turner on the podcast soon to discuss spring football, which is coming up very soon.
WCMS football holding fundraiser
Coach Ben Matheney and the WCMS Pioneers are holding a craft fair in May at Nunley Stadium. They are still looking to have a few more vendors present for what should be a great day at the field! I know a lot of craft fairs go on locally, but I'd really encourage people to take part in this one. These booth fees are going straight into the program, which needs money to continue to grow and succeed. Coach Matheney is hard at work trying to add more and more kids from the community to the football program - let's make sure we support him and the Pioneers as they embark on a big 2022 campaign.
Baseball/softball camp coming this weekend
I've been critical of league ball at the Civic Center for years, so let me give them major kudos when it is deserved: this weekend's upcoming camp for softball and baseball kids is an amazing thing for our community. It's FREE too. FREE!!!!
Any kid in the community can show up Saturday at 9:30 a.m., register for their age group and get training that day. That's something we've been missing for years, especially with it tying into our local school programs. I hope hundreds of kids (or thousands) take advantage and show up Saturday at Milner Recreation Center.
Also, kudos to the WCHS softball and baseball programs for joining in to help train the kiddos. Coaches Phillip King and Gooby Martin could have easily said "sorry, we're busy" right now, but they want their kids helping the youngsters develop. I know when I was a kid, I looked up to the players at the high school and it meant a lot when they talked to me (much less gave me some tips). I hope this is a sign of good things to come from Parks and Rec!
OKAY -- Let's get to the questions!
Did you see Todd Willmore stepping down as coach coming?
I really didn’t. I teased him about it for the last few years, especially once Katie Toney ran out of eligibility, but I figured he’d stick around and coach another very stout team in 2022. He wasn’t somebody on my radar as leaving Warren County after this year.
When I started to hear that he may be on his way out, it was an eye opener. I started compiling my reporting just in case, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be true. As we talked on the phone last week to confirm his resignation after 14 years, I could hear the anguish in his voice about making the decision.
Make no mistake: Todd Willmore loves the Lady Pioneer soccer program and every kid who he’s had the fortune of guiding over the years. He gave the team everything he had and I think he knows his players gave that energy right back (along with 152 wins and a handful of championships).
If I could talk him into staying, I would. He’s one of my favorite people to talk to every year – even when it’s not soccer season, I usually gravitate his direction to talk shop and local sports. Luckily, he’s still going to be around as WCHS Athletic Director (unless I can push him out and take the job for myself).
I’m going to miss him on the sidelines though. Fortunately, I don’t think the ToddFather would be leaving unless he thought the program would be in good hands without him. I already put out the hot board for who I think could land the job and I’m sticking by my rankings.
Here is our story on Willmore's departure after 14 years as Lady Pioneer coach: https://www.wcsportsauthority.com/post/willmore-steps-down-as-wchs-girls-soccer-coach
Should we be waiting for more coaches to leave soon?
Well, if you keep up with the job website for Warren County Schools like I do, then you’d already know Irving College is looking for boys basketball coaches. I guess John Bryan O’Conner wanted to go out as a champion and retire on top – good for you JBOC!
I think there will be more new elementary coaches at other schools too. Also, we already reported that the WCMS sixth-grade basketball coaches have stepped down and replacements have already been named.
Is that what this person was asking? Of course not. I’m sure they want to know if WCHS is going to have more coaches step down before the school year is up.
Uhm…. Keep following the WCSA is all I’ll say.
How good is Madison Hollis? Is she the best softball player you’ve seen?
When somebody asked me recently to compare Madison Hollis to the best softball players I’ve seen play at WCHS, it morphed into a debate about building a lineup of great Lady Pioneers. Fittingly, it was also right after alumni night so everybody was already feeling nostalgic.
As for the first question – I’d say Madison has a chance to say she had one of the best careers in school softball history. She probably would’ve broken the school’s HR record if not for the COVID shutdown in 2020 (giving her just three games as a sophomore). That stoppage has to be taken into account, but Hollis still can be celebrated.
She was the pitcher, as a freshman, on a region championship team and helped the Lady Pioneers win a regular season district title last year (while winning District 6AAA MVP). If the Lady Pioneers were to win another district championship this year with Hollis in the circle, she’s right in the mix of the always fun G.O.A.T. conversations (and really, if you’re in the GOAT mix, you’re amazing at your craft).
Maybe we’ll revisit that in a month or so, but right now, I hope Madison and her fellow teammates are focused on Tuesday night and taking down Coffee County. Coupled in with Thursday’s senior night, it’s a big week for the Lady Pioneers. You should be making your way to the park to follow a fun group of girls who seem to be peaking at the right time.
I won’t completely side-step the question though: I do like the idea of building a roster from the girls I’ve seen play that could win a state title. There are just not enough records of stats to make it an all-time team, so I’ll just go by my eye test from 2010 until now.
Softball can rely on one pitcher almost the whole way through the postseason, so I don’t have to carry a big roster. Here’s my starting nine and I’ll throw in a few subs I’d want as well if I needed to win for 2-3 weeks in big games:
CF Hailey Wood – Class of 2019
SS Lauren Wilkinson – Class of 2012
1B Neva Tackett – Class of 2017
C Skyler Youngblood – Class of 2017
3B Ashton Whiles – Class of 2019
P Madison Hollis – Class of 2022
2B Emily Mikkola – Class of 2019
LF Elia Atterson – Class of 2021
RF Shelby Roberts – Class of 2022
I took a few liberties on playing positions, but I had to so I could get all the MVPs who have played for the Lady Pioneers on the field. It all starts with Lauren Wilkinson, a two-time defensive player of the year at shortstop. I know Mikkola had the same honors in her career, but I’m putting the 6-foot-2 gazelle with a bazooka arm in the middle of the field and moving Mik – and her lightning-quick hands – over to 2B. That meant Wood – a District MVP in 2018 – gets shifted to OF, where she’s become an all-conference player in college.
Shelby Roberts is another person who gets bumped from behind the plate to outfield (something she already has done from time-to-time) to make room for Youngblood. Skyler could absolutely mash, she’s a brick wall as a backstop and nobody would try running on her.
There’s a good chance I may even use Lexie Chadwell as a FLEX sub to play first base. Tackett isn’t a liability at the bag, but Chadwell may be the first athlete I’ve ever seen earn a college scholarship based strictly on their defense and leadership. She’s somebody you want in the mix and I could do it without taking away Tackett’s thunderous hitting ability in the middle of the lineup.
No lineup in softball is just nine-deep though. Here’s the rest of the lineup I’d want at my disposal to win big games:
Chadwell, Hope Mullican (big bat, good corner OF), Lindsey Rowland (speed demon, capable in OF), Ty Ramirez (can step in at 3B if Ashton has to pitch), Rhealee Johnson (same as Ty, but also can play 1B or pitch), Monica Lane (good hitter, good infielder, pitches in a pinch), Kyra Hillis (always need a lefty who can rake) and MaKenna Mason (backup catcher, great speed).
It's crazy to think that there are multiple all-district players I’ve left off (and I’m sure I’ll hear about it too), but you only play nine at a time. I don’t know if I have the 17 most-talented players, but I think that’s the most complete and diverse lineup you can assemble.
How about baseball? Who gets the nod for your all-time team?
I just went ahead and added this question because I know the moment I put out a softball team, I’d get asked about a baseball team. Therefore, I’ll do a baseball one too (again, same timeline – 2010 to present for the guys I’ve seen on the diamond).
For baseball, I’ll need a few more players because if we’re making a postseason run, we’ll need more than one pitcher. I personally think you’d want 3-4 studs, plus a couple more guys in relief that can get you big outs. So first off, let’s pick a pitching staff:
Starting pitchers – Brooks Helton, Jack Keele, Logan Underhill, Layne Roberts
Bullpen arms - Tyler Hollingsworth, Ryan Jennings, Will Sweeton, Derek Brumley
In just the 12 years I’ve been covering the Pioneers, I’ve seen Warren County have multiple players win District 6AAA MVPs and/or Pitcher of the Year honors (the MVPs rarely won pitcher of the year, but their pitching stats helped secure top billing). Helton and Underhill were MVPs, while Roberts and Hollingsworth were District 6AAA Pitchers of the Year. I’m going to give Keele an honorary MVP/Pitcher of the year award for 2020 (COVID shut down the season, but he had 13 strikeouts in his only start against a lineup featuring five D1 signees).
I’ll bump Hollingsworth to the bullpen because I’d always want him focusing on pitching, whereas the other starters are going to find roles on the field on their off days. Jennings gives me a lefty with a heavy curveball to match up in spots, while Sweeton’s side-arm style could throw any lineup off for an inning. Brumley rounds out the bullpen as a world-class junk baller (he had some heat too, but his movement was nasty).
Here is the final game lineup I’d want, but I’ll have more guys below because there has to be people to come in and out as the pitchers change:
RF Ethan Smith, Class of 2019
2B Logan Underhill, Class of 2015
P Brooks Helton, Class of 2019
1B Chayse Frye, Class of 2015
DH Will Cantrell, Class of 2019
3B Jace Brantley, Class of 2021
LF Kason Holder, Class of 2021
CF Brett Mullican, Class of 2012
C Lee Carden, Class of 2014
SS (not hitting) Jack Keele, Class of 2020
That may be a little rude to Keele, who was a perfectly capable hitter, but I like Will Cantrell’s big bat in the middle of the order more. I love the speed at the top (and bottom), while Helton, Frye, Cantrell going righty-lefty-righty through the middle with out-of-the-park power is nasty.
Brantley and Holder are do-it-all hitters, capable of resetting the lineup in the middle, moving runners in multiple ways or hitting it deep.
When Keele is starting pitcher, I’d shift Helton to 3B, Underhill to SS and bring in Patrick Harvey (Class of 2010) or Westen Wilson (Class of 2021) at 2B. Roberts could also be a middle infielder when Keele or Underhill take the mound.
On the bench, I’d want to have Pat Harvey, Braden Bottoms (a rock-solid backstop, great hitter and a guy with closing experience), Mark Harvey (another power lefty bat), Caleb Northcutt (speedster who could play 2B/3B/OF and hit for power), Ryland Holder (the perfect utility player who hits and runs well), Christian Gonzalez (defensive sub in OF exclusively) and Wilson (the perfect team player while also being a junk-ball pitcher, middle infielder and bulldog).
I’m not sure they’d beat an all-star team of Pioneers from the late 1980s and 1990s, but they wouldn’t back down that’s for sure.
Who do you think wins in the primary races in May?
I’ve been holding off on this one for a while, but I think it’s about time to answer it. When people ask this, I assume they’re really only talking about one race – the Republican County Executive matchup between Joseph Stotts and Terry Bell (all other primary races, aside on county commission seat, are just getting a vote and making it to the general election in August).
Stotts vs. Bell is interesting because it presents each with a dilemma: How hard do you run against a guy that you may need to be supporting the day after the election? I know there’s been a lot of talk about a “Red Wave” coming through Warren County in 2022, but does it matter if they get Republicans in a number of offices but can’t unseat the present County Executive, Jimmy Haley?
Personally, from talking to many people around the area, I think that’s the one position the party wants more than any other. Therefore, can you have two Republicans waging war on one another to win a primary? It’s not the best strategy considering either one is going to need the other’s voters to slide their way by August.
So how will people vote? From listening to people who have went to the polls already (or are planning to this week or May 3), there are common themes emerging.
For the people pushing for Stotts, they usually comment that they want to see a different person run against Haley this year (Bell vs. Haley was the 2018 matchup). Bell believers talk about his long history on the commission and overall experience. I get both points – the logic is sound both ways.
Currently, I think it’s a coin flip for the primary victory. I think the betting odds would be the same both ways, -110 for either (I won’t go into detail explaining the number, just know it means they’re both co-favorites).
I wish I could give you a definitive answer, but going out on a limb would just be a guess and I don’t want to be holding a one-man Iowa Caucus and give either a boost in this column off a coin flip. Best of luck to both next week!
Last thing, Haley is still the County Executive favorite no matter who wins in May. That could change by August, but Haley’s ability to win in Warren County elections has made me adopt a “I’ll believe it when I see it,” attitude on the prospects of somebody beating him.
I'd also like to let anybody that would want it know that I'd be game to show up to the election office on May 3 with my excel spreadsheet to relay the up-to-date numbers and maybe offer some political commentary as well. Maybe I'll just get my own setup and do a Facebook Live.
Will any WCHS teams win a district title this spring?
No. I don’t think we get a district championship from the team sports (soccer, softball and baseball) next month. Baseball could make a big move this week by sweeping Franklin County, but the Pioneers haven’t been consistent enough yet to make me think they’ll take two from the Rebels (who have one of the best pitchers in the Midstate at their disposal).
The Pioneers have a few more regular season games to get everything in order. It looked like they were trending in that direction as recently as last week, then they blew another 8-1 lead and lost again a day later. Warren County did pound Moore County Saturday, so maybe that can vault them into a big finish.
Softball is already locked in at No. 2 in District 6-4A. The Lady Pioneers are perfectly capable of taking down Coffee County in the tournament, but they’re going to have to take care of business against Franklin County first (and it’s not easy beating a team four straight times). Even if the Lady Pioneers beat Franklin County and Coffee County in back-to-back games to get to the finals, they’ll have to beat one of those teams again to hoist the hardware. I think getting to regionals (by finishing top two) is a more likely scenario than winning a title.
Pioneer soccer is still trying to find its footing in August Palombo’s first year (it’s not been easy as he’s been playing less than full strength for weeks). The Pioneers probably should just focus on trying to win its first tourney game and make a region bid instead of thinking about a championship (one that looks unlikely considering the lopsided results lately).
If you’re looking for the best bet for championships this spring, start looking at the WCHS track team. The Lady Pioneers have some record breakers who are going to make it to state, while the Pioneers are steadily making progress this season. I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility Ally Beneke wins a state championship in the high jump and several WCHS athletes take home region/subsectional victories next month.
The tennis program also has had a stellar year, but beating Cookeville for a district title won’t be easy for the Pioneers or Lady Pioneers.
Do you still think Tennessee baseball is a juggernaut after losing to Tennessee Tech?
Absolutely. Sure, they followed the Tech loss up by losing to Alabama too (Really, it had to be Bama to break the SEC streak), but then they won two from the Crimson Tide, beat Bellarmine and then swept Florida on the road (including Sunday’s awesome comeback).
I don’t care if people are going to keep pushing the “they haven’t won anything” narrative on the Vols or that I’m a complete homer jumping on the baseball bandwagon with the Vols. So what? It doesn’t change the fact that Tennessee is No. 1 in the country, leads the SEC (and nation) in several pitching and offensive stats (Team ERA and HRs stand out), are the odds-on favorite to win the NCAA title on every betting site and are 37-3. Let me say that again – the Vols are THIRTY-SEVEN and three.
This is baseball, a sport built around the premise that failing 7 out of 10 times is exceptional. It’s a sport where teams grind through seasons and lose --- A lot. Championship teams every year commonly lose 15-20 games in college (and 60-plus games in the pros). Tennessee was slumping because they lost TWO games.
When the entire team’s pitching staff is on the Golden Spikes watchlist (and that doesn’t include a projected first-round pick), a reliever is regularly getting mentioned on MLB broadcasts for his ability to throw 104 MPH and the lineup is averaging over nine runs a game, I’d say you can safely say that team is a juggernaut.
Does that mean Tennessee will win it all? Of course not. What it does mean is if they lose, some other team will have pulled off an upset. That happens in sports all the time too.
Making it out like Tennessee must do more than it already has to be able to talk the talk is foolish. The Vols are 102-23 since 2020, won the SEC East last year, played for the SEC title and made it to Omaha in 2021. Barring a complete collapse, they’re going to win the SEC East and SEC overall title in the regular season this year. They’ll be the favorites in Hoover to win the tournament too.
If you don’t like their way of celebrating, keep them from doing it. And you’re welcome to tell me about it if it happens. I probably won’t care, but I’ll give you your time to gloat about it – I’m getting plenty of time to bask in wins right now.
Can the Braves repeat?
Yes, of course they can. It’s a long season and you have to remember that they were mediocre right up until the trade deadline last year. They’re also playing without their best player (Ronald Acuna) right now and also adjusting to being without a Brave legend (it didn’t help that Freeman homered twice for the Dodgers in the recent head-to-head matchup).
Look at the bright spots: Matt Olsen is legit, Austin Riley looks as good as ever and the pitching staff is healthy (Kyle Wright looks amazing too).
If Dansby Swanson, Adam Duvall and last year’s playoffs hero Eddie Rosario flirt with the Mendoza line all year, then yeah it may be time to panic (sidenote: Rosario would love to be flirting with that line right now – he’s hitting a woeful .068 through 17 games). I think those guys will come around and the Braves will make the right moves when needed at midseason.
It’s a long year, nobody is winning a World Series in April or May (But the Vols are going to win one in June!).
Thanks for the questions! If you want to ask about WC sports (or really anything), send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.