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Simmons Superlative - Under the Radar athletes

As we officially close down the 2020-21 school year this week, WCSA editor-in-chief Jeffery Simmons wanted to go back and hand out his final awards for the year. Simmons has been picking the defining athletes, teams and moments in high school sports for years, but this will be the first on our new website.

Welcome to the Simmons Superlatives!

Monday was best moment and Tuesday was best coach. Today, we’re looking at the top under-the-radar high school girls athletes.

First, let me explain what this superlative means. I was looking to honor some of the athletes who had outstanding seasons, but maybe weren’t talked about as much (either because of dominant teammates, the position they played or school they attend). I like to think the Warren County Sports Authority did a good job of being at all schools at all times this year, but it’s never a bad thing to dig a little deeper and find some hidden gems.

Now, for our awards winners:

1. Shelby Roberts, WCHS softball/soccer

This may be a bit of a reach, especially considering the accolades Shelby already brought in this year. Roberts was an all-district and all-region selection for the soccer team and was named the infielder of the year in softball, one of the 4-5 top awards given out by District 6AAA.

So how is she under the radar? For me, it’s because she’s not the first (or sometimes, even second) player you’d think of on those teams, though she may be just as vital to their success. In soccer, Roberts does the dirty work on the back end, patrolling on defense for the Lady Pioneers to make sure no attacker can get a clean look. In softball, she’s the masked woman behind the plate making sure everything is running smooth.

In both sports, Roberts also has some of the most high-profile teammates in the Midstate and they happen to all be classmates too. Fellow juniors Katie Toney (soccer) and Madison Hollis (softball) were each named the District 6AAA MVPs in their respective sport. In Toney’s case, she went on to be named all-state as well, while Hollis was named the Tennessean Player of the Week at one point this spring.

Ask either coach and they’ll tell you that Shelby’s contributions are just as important as her MVP teammates’ work. Because she’s not a goal scorer or in the circle, I think she gets lost in the shuffle a little bit, but it’s not for a lack of talent. When it’s all said and done, she’s going to leave as one of the most decorated Lady Pioneers of the last decade.

If she gets even better as a senior, I think we’ll be talking about Roberts in another award category next spring – Best Athlete, Best Senior or both.

2. Ally Beneke, WCHS track

One of only two individual Lady Pioneers to make the state track tournament, Beneke has put together an incredible season in her Warren County debut. She concluded her outstanding year with a fifth-place finish in the TSSAA state tournament today, becoming just the second athlete this year at Warren County to get a state medal (Ike Gillentine, wrestling).

Beneke is one of the small core of great athletes performing for the Lady Pioneers that actually attends DeKalb County, but her name is likely to be up in Warren County’s gym for the foreseeable future. She broke the school’s high jump record earlier this year, then matched it over and over, including at Thursday’s state meet.

Coach Patty Kelly believes Beneke is going to beat that 5’4” mark before long and I can’t argue with her. She’s just a sophomore, so she could become a three-time state medalist before she’s done as a Lady Pioneer.

3. Audrey Durham, Boyd basketball/volleyball

If I had to pick one player most likely to record a triple-double in Warren County next year at the high school level, Audrey would be it. Durham was the engine pushing the Lady Broncos on the hardwood this year, showing she can do a little bit of everything to help the squad win big.

Durham led Boyd in points, assists and steals while finishing second in blocks and third in rebounds. She’s a prototypical point forward for the Lady Broncos, big enough to bang in the paint but possessing all the skills to operate on the wing.

Durham narrowly missed recording triple-doubles twice last year. The first came against Daniel One Academy where she had 20 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. In her next game against Richard Hardy, Durham scored 16 points, grabbed a season-best 22 rebounds and dished out eight helpers.

With a loaded roster returning this winter, I think Durham can put up some Russell Westbrook like stat lines for the Lady Broncos.

4. Sarah Sharpe, Covenant v'ball/b’ball/tennis

One of my favorite stories about Sarah Sharpe was told at senior night for tennis by coach Sarah Netherton. She was talking about how they were working on ranking the players and Sharpe took over, assigning her teammates top spots before leaving herself at the bottom.

As a senior, Sharpe probably had every right to give herself a boost in the Covenant hierarchy. Netherton knew she wouldn’t though – “she’s always thinking about her teammates,” said the coach.

Sharpe was an unselfish star for the Lady Lions, playing huge parts in TNCAA championships in volleyball and tennis. She was also one of the top scorers and rebounders for the basketball team, showing a huge amount of growth in a sport she hasn’t been playing for long.

I’m happy that Sarah is going to get a chance to keep growing as an athlete next year. She recently signed to play volleyball at Bryan College this fall. They’re getting a good one – a humble athlete who will be a great teammate first and foremost.


5. Taylor Swan, WCHS softball

I must admit, when I got the call back in the winter about a college softball signing, Taylor Swan wasn’t the first player I thought about. I figured Rhealee Johnson or Elia Atterson, starters since their freshman years, were about to put pen to paper.

Nope, it was Swan – the super quiet athlete who had attracted Jackson State’s attention with her play in the outfield, timely hitting and speed on the base paths. Before this year, I don’t think I had seen Swan play in more than 1-2 varsity games (though most of that is because of last year’s COVID shutdown). She wasn’t on my radar, even with colleges setting their sights on her.

This season, it was fun to see what the Jackson State coaches saw in Taylor last summer. I wasn’t as shocked by her play in the OF – I had seen it in practice over the years. Her hitting really stood out though – Swan had some key hits in the team’s biggest wins this year, helping keep the lineup rolling at the bottom of the order.

She’s tough too. I don’t know it for certain, but it feels like nobody got hit by more pitches than Taylor. I remember wincing when she got hit in the back at one game this year and it was tough to see her sit out a week down the stretch after getting hit in the head at DeKalb County.

She always came back though. Great job Taylor!

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