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Top 10 of 2021: Toney sets school records, signs with TTU

Welcome to the Warren County Sports Authority Top 10 of 2021. Each day until Dec. 31, we will be releasing a new story counting down the top 10 sports stories in Warren County this year. Be sure to check back every day to see the biggest headlines from this year!

No. 2 – Katie Toney sets school records, named all-state, signs with TTU

While doing these top 10 stories, I’ve usually just tried to recap the great moments in Warren County sports in 2021. I’ve even reposted stories already written because trying to revisit the moment wasn’t going to be as good of a story as when it was fresh to me.

This one is different. Ever since she walked off the pitch for the final time, I’ve been wanting to write an appreciation column for Katie Toney. I really just couldn’t find the words though. She’s truly been one of my favorite athletes to cover in the last decade, a larger-than-life force on the field who is even more humble and kind off it.

Let’s get this out of the way – Toney absolutely deserves this spot. Here’s a quick recap of her 2021: She broke a school record that stood for 25 years in the spring while running for WCHS track (the 400), then followed it up by becoming the first Lady Pioneers to ever score 100 goals (eventually setting the school record at 113), won her third consecutive District 6AAA player of the year award, was named all-region, all-Midstate by the Tennessean and was named all-state for the third year in a row.

While I know I can be blinded by recency bias at times, I truly believe Toney’s 2021 run is as good of a calendar year that a Warren County athlete has ever had. It ranks right up there with what CJ Taylor did last year a two-sport force for the Pioneer football and basketball teams (she has more individual/state recognition, he has more championships).

Last year, I was making the case that CJ Taylor is the GOAT in Pioneer athletics. The same could be said for Toney on the women’s side, even in a town which hasn’t lacked for star Lady Pioneers in the past.

If there’s any holes in her resume, it would only be that the Lady Pioneers never really got over the hump in the postseason. There was a regular-season championship, but Warren County could never put it all together in the district finals or region tournament to take the next step.

I don’t really think that is Toney’s fault. She has recorded postseason hat tricks while being beaten and battered by every opponent when games get serious in the late fall. She gets held, tripped, pushed, pulled and has to endure every other cheap trick defenses can find to stop her, but she keeps getting up and firing. She keeps scoring. She NEVER quits.

In her last game as a Lady Pioneers, Toney had two goals and two assists in a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to McMinn County. I was particularly struck by what coach Todd Willmore, who saw all over Toney’s games (and her 113 goals and 57 career assists), had to say about her after the game.

“I’m a huge John Wooden fan and to paraphrase him, ‘Success is when you leave a match and know you did your all.’ There is no doubt in my mind Katie Toney left her soul on the field,” said Willmore when asked about his star senior’s final effort. “She’s probably had the greatest career of anybody in our program. You can’t say enough about how much better she made us and those around her. She’s a great player.

“You could tell tonight meant a little more to her. She was more vocal in warmups and at halftime. She was encouraging – just constant encouragement. It’s pretty special to see her play.”

That’s another thing that sets Toney apart. I don’t think you can find a single person who has a bad thing to say about her – a teacher, a coach, a teammate, fans, opposing coaches or opposing players. I’d be willing to bet that if you’ve never met Katie Toney and somehow ran into her and had a quick 1-2 minute chat tomorrow, you’d walk away saying, “I like that kid.”

I can tell you this: that is exceedingly rare nowadays. Warren County, sadly, has a way of ostracizing its memorable players in real time. I’ve seen it firsthand – teammates get jealous of their talent, parents get angry about their coverage (“he/she is just one player” is something I’ve heard countless times over the years), fans find ways to discredit what they’re doing (“Easy to score when you’re taking all the shots” and etc.). Even I’ve been guilty of it, coining the phrase, “Warren County good,” for some kids who I thought believed they were great, but their talent only stood out because of the players they were surrounded by day-to-day.

Nobody did that to Toney. Teammates love her and revere her at the same time. Coaches shower her with constant praise. Fans and parents acknowledge her talent and grace. I’m in awe of her humbleness every time I talk to her – she almost gets shy when she is asked to talk about herself; she is a lot more comfortable talking about teams and wins than individual awards or her scores.

At her signing day with Tennessee Tech (she’s going D1 in soccer – just another feather in her cap for 2021), I asked her what her best memory was about playing in Warren County. It’s a question I ask every athlete on signing day, usually framing it with “it could be a goal you scored, a crazy play you made or a win that you remember.”

Here was Katie’s answer: “Honestly, I made so many friends that I’ll have for the rest of my life. It’s such a great community of people supporting me.”

While I’m excited to see what Toney becomes at the next level, whether it’s becoming a scoring machine for the Golden Eagles or a TikTok sensation, I’m really sad that she’s leaving.

You only get a few real glimpses at greatness at the high school level. I can say with 100 percent certainty Toney was great. She may even be the GOAT.

Make sure to check back Friday, Dec. 31 to see the No. 1 story on the WCSA Top 10 Sports List of 2021:

No. 3A – WCHS track sets school records, send five to state:

No. 3B – Lady Pioneers win Sonic Shootout, start season on fire:

No. 4 – Ike Gillentine earns state medal in wrestling:

No. 5 – Lauren Slatton finishes sixth at state, wins district:

No. 6 – Pioneers win district regular season baseball title:

No. 7 – COVID shuts down Pioneer football, causing the first game cancellations in school history:

No. 8 – Covenant’s year of championships:

No. 9 – Boyd’s special year:

No. 10 – WC Sports Hall of Fame adds 13 members:

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