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2014 Top 10: Looking back at the top sports stories of the year

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It was another year for the record books in 2014, mostly for the right reasons -- state championships, new challenges, and new stars taking their turn to shine. But there were also plenty of big stories that reminded us that sports -- like life -- isn't always about victory, rather dealing with the adversity life can throw at you, and there was plenty of adversity to be had in 2014.<br /> <br /> With that in mind, we present you with the Access North Georgia's top 10 sports stories of 2014. <br /> <br /> These aren't necessarily the "best," the "most popular" or the "most fun" stories. Rather these are the stories that had the biggest impact on sports at the local and regional level. We kept the most local stories at the top, with the regional stories taking more of a backseat.<br /> <br /> <b>Top Sports Stories 10 of 2014:</b><br /> <br /> <b>1. State championships</b><br /> <br /> Once again there were plenty of championships to be had by both teams and individuals representing prep sports programs within our coverage area.<br /> <br /> In fact there were eight team titles and 31 -- yes 31 -- individuals that laid claim to the mantle of champion during 2014. There were also several big runs and near misses during the year, including Buford boys and girls basketball (state runners-up) and Commerce football (Class A public semifinalist).<br /> <br /> The list of champs (click on the team name to revisit some of the championship moments) includes:<br /> <br /> -- <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=282938">Buford football</a> claims its seventh state championship in eight seasons and 11th overall.<br /> <br /> -- <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=281366&c=4">Buford softball</a> notches a state-record-tying eighth crown.<br /> <br /> -- <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=269804&c=4">Buford, Commerce and Jefferson wrestling</a> all sweep their respective classes in state duals and traditional tournaments.<br /> <br /> -- Individual wrestling champs: <br /> Chris McCrackin, Banks County (113 pounds)<br /> Eli Hartley, Buford (106)<br /> Darius Bunch, Buford (120)<br /> Jack Barber, Buford (126)<br /> Brayden Hartley, Buford (132)<br /> Rudy Guillen, Buford (145)<br /> Chip Ness, Buford (195)<br /> Dalton Flint, Commerce (106)<br /> Austin Brock, Commerce (120)<br /> Trent Reddish, Commerce (160)<br /> Greyson Cochran, Commerce (170)<br /> Chance McClure, Commerce (220)<br /> Gavin Brown, Dawson County (182)<br /> Price Joiner, Jefferson (113)<br /> Chase Piperato, Jefferson (126)<br /> Tyler Marinelli, Jefferson (138)<br /> Jack Dollar, Jefferson (145)<br /> Caleb Little, Jefferson (160)<br /> Michael Paolozzi, Jefferson (220)<br /> <br /> -- <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=270941&c=4">Individual swimming champions</a>:<br /> Colin Mongahan, Gainesville<br /> Paul Powers, North Hall<br /> Ty Powers, North Hall<br /> <br /> -- Individual track and field champions:<br /> Jenna Gearing, White County (<a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=274439&c=4">3,200</a> and <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=274487&c=4">1,600 meters</a>)<br /> Gabrielle Hoffman, North Hall (<a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=274439&c=4">pole vault</a>)<br /> Harper Seymour, North Hall (<a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=274439&c=4">discus</a>)<br /> Maia Caldwell-Booker, West Hall (<a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=274509&c=4">100 meters</a>)<br /> Sally Woerner, Rabun County (<a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=274509&c=4">100 hurdles</a>)<br /> Colton Quinones, Gainesville (<a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=274711&c=4">discus</a>)<br /> Mason Hamrick, Jefferson (<a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=274711&c=4">pole vault</a>)<br /> <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=274763&c=4">Buford boys 4x100 team</a><br /> <br /> Cross country<br /> <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=281636&c=4">Chase Kennedy, East Jackson</a><br /> <br /> A banner year indeed and one very much in keeping with the traditions of northeast Georgia.<br /> <br /> <br /> <b>2. <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=278190&c=4">Atheist group brings lawsuit</a> against Hall County School System over prayer in football program</b> <br /> <br /> Remember the adversity bit? <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=282468">Well here's certainly one of them</a>. We're not going to get into a religious or philosophical debate here, but this story certainly rallied people both within Chestatee High School and throughout northeast Georgia in support. One of the things that makes this nation so great is that everyone has the right to worship as he or she chooses, and plenty exercised that right after the challenge was brought. In fact, the challenge only stiffened the resolve of thousands within northeast Georgia.<br /> <br /> <br /> <b>3. <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=270186">Bob Christmas leaves North Hall football</a></b><br /> <br /> These days everyone thinks of North Hall football as a winning tradition, but it wasn't always that way. In fact at one point it was anything but... until Christmas donned the Trojans' green and white. A coach with a driven will to shape young men -- and win along the way -- and the plan of how to do so, was a revelation, taking the program to heights never before achieved and perhaps previously thought impossible. Christmas led North Hall to two state semifinals, four region championships and 106 victories during an incredible 13-year career with the Trojans -- one that came to an end in January. He left a mark that few in North Hall will ever forget.<br /> <br /> <br /> <b>4. <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=269905">New regions take hold for GHSA</a></b><br /> <br /> The continued movement and shaping of northeast Georgia's prep sports regions brought us yet more big changes in 2014 -- ones that brought some new rivalries and some exciting new possibilities.<br /> <br /> <br /> <b>5. <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=280208">Deshaun Watson</a> and <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=282678">Blake Sims</a> play way to stellar collegiate seasons</b><br /> <br /> Watching these two former Gainesville High quarterbacks was treat enough in itself -- and Clemson and Alabama football fans discovered why this season, as the two former Red Elephants covered themselves in glory. The freshman Watson suffered some unfortunate injuries but showed, even in an abbreviated campaign, that he will continue the same jaw-dropping play that took the high school gridiron by storm. Sims, meanwhile, made the most of his one chance to shine as the Crimson's Tide's starting quarterback, leading Alabama to an SEC championship and a spot in the inaugural college football playoff. Sims refused to move positions or try his luck at another program and that determination and four previous years of hard work all paid off in 2014. What a campaign, and every person who saw them shine on the prep level probably enjoyed a little bit of the success -- Clemson or Alabama fan or not.<br /> <br /> <br /> <b>tie, Connor Shaw takes his chance in the NFL</b><br /> <br /> The former Flowery Branch High and South Carolina star went undrafted in the spring but still landed a spot with the Cleveland Browns, becoming the first northeast Georgia-based NFL quarterback in recent memory. While Shaw had to bide his time before finally getting his shot, the former Falcon impressed in his one start, putting up a very respectable performance, going 14 of 28 through the air for 177 yards with an interception. What will the performance mean for the future? It's not easy to tell at the moment, but the possibilities must be thrilling indeed for the Shaw family -- which is deeply imbedded in the football culture of northeast Georgia. His father, Lee, helped build the Flowery Branch program from scratch into a playoff stalwart and is now leading alma mater Rabun County to prominence, while older brother Jaybo was one of the most explosive high school players in northeast Georgia and led the way for both Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern. It reads almost like a football fairytale.<br /> <br /> <br /> <b>7. <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=280568">Todd Gurley suspension saga rocks Georgia, college football landscape</a></b><br /> <br /> You can argue the validity of the rule until the next New Year, but when the Bulldogs junior star signed autographs for money (and was outed by an unsavory and unscrupulous dealer) he vaulted himself from a great running back into martyr-like status -- especially as Georgia initially rallied and played its way into SEC and national title contention (until a Florida meltdown of epic proportions). The Gurley tale then provided a final cruel blow, as the explosive back tore his ACL in a beatdown of Auburn. If the NCAA ever makes real changes to some of its archaic rules, you can bet the Gurley saga will be cited as a big reason why.<br /> <br /> <br /> <b>8. <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=281649&c=6">Chase Elliott wins NASCAR Nationwide championship</a> </b><br /> <br /> "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" once captivated area and national racing fans with his abilities on the track. Now another member of the Dawson County-based Elliott family looks well on his way to doing the same. Chase Elliott hasn't reached Awesome Bill status yet, but it looks as if it won't be long for the young speed demon.<br /> <br /> <br /> <b>9. Falcons make playoff push despite tough season/fire coach Mike Smith</b><br /> <br /> True the Falcons were vying to be perhaps the best of the worst, but their refusal to quit after a season ravaged by both tough losses and injury after injury was worthy of headlines and a little bit of admiration. Their do-or-die finale against Carolina unfortunately provided little real excitement (save for Panthers fans), but just being in that position was memorable enough. And plenty more headlines followed the defeat, as owner Arthur Blank opted to relieve Mike Smith of his head coaching duties. Smith's reign ended in ignominy, but he should be remembered fondly by previously long-suffering Falcons fans. After all, he helped the team to new heights of consistency -- and a winning philosophy that ended up being his downfall.<br /> <br /> <br /> <b>10. Area soccer fans celebrate through spring and into summer</b><br /> <br /> Is it America's -- or northeast Gorgia's -- pastime? No. But it is undeniable that soccer has made huge strides in this region and this nation, and this summer gave thousands of fans locally and billions of fans worlwide plenty of reason to celebrate as the <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=276517">2014 World Cup commenced in Brazil</a> -- much to the detriment of actual work being completed for weeks, as fans cut out of of their offices or logged online to take in matches. The worldwide celebration followed an announcement by Falcons owner Arthur Blank that he was bringing a slice of the soccer pie to Atlanta with his <a href="http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=273863">taking on an MLS franchise</a>.
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2014 Top 10: Looking back at the top sports stories of the year
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