Every sports fan loves brackets. March Madness, high school state tournaments, the knockout stage at the World Cup: Wherever there's brackets, there's excitement and elimination-game intrigue.
Here at the Forsyth County News, we figured that we'd get in on that action, too. To decide the biggest Forsyth County sports story of the year, the one with the most intrigue, significance and impact, we're putting together a bracket of 16 contenders, drawing from high school, college and pro sports.
The stories will be seeded and pitted against each other, and you can help decide the winner by voting on the polls we post on Twitter at @ForsythSports, starting tonight.
Here are the contenders, starting with the highest seed:
The 6-foot-6 right-hander was already carrying plenty of buzz as a pro prospect after his dominant junior season with the Bulldogs, but an incredible summer and fall season, featuring appearances in both All-American games, multiple sterling showcases and a gold medal with Team USA, put Hankins in truly uncharted territory. He'll be one of the most hyped amateur players in the country come February.
For a program playing in the GHSA's smallest classification, it's tough to make a bigger splash than hiring a former Pro Bowler who starred for the hometown team. Mathis, a receiver and kick returner for the Atlanta Falcons during the 1990s, had a forgettable start to his tenure with the Paladins, failing to win a game in 2017. However, his presence brought excitement and energy, as well as a crew from NBC's Sunday Night Football, which stopped by one of Pinecrest's home games to do a segment on Mathis.
Chris Rowley, a crafty, deception-based righty, took an appropriately unconventional route to the big leagues, where he debuted on Aug. 12. He played in college for Army, signed a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, and then had to take a few years off to serve on active duty before getting back into pro ball. That journey started at South Forsyth High School, where Rowley helped lead the War Eagles to the state finals in 2009.
The final result seemed routine, given the Longhorns' dominance of the state scene for much of recent memory, but this particular result was anything but. After two rounds punctuated by wacky weather at Chateau Elan's Woodlands Course, Lambert found itself tied with Mill Creek. It took just one hole, though, with the sun finally shining down to break up a rainy afternoon, for the Longhorns to beat the Hawks in a playoff and take home another trophy.
This particular state title run balanced dominance and drama. The Longhorns' defense, led by Auburn signee M.E. Craven, strung together eight straight shutouts in one late-season run, and the goal that Grayson scored in the state title game was the first one that Lambert had allowed in more than a month. The Longhorns were closely matched during the region schedule, though, settling three wins in penalty kicks, and the state title win came in extra time, with Alisa Barr slotting home a long pass from Craven to provide the winning score.
Forsyth County's best MLB Draft days are likely to come, with Hankins and Lambert alum Seth Beer looking like strong first round possibilities, but this year's draft produced some news as well. Central alum Andrew Gist, who went on to pitch at Georgia, went in the ninth round to the Tampa Bay Rays, and Danny Edgeworth became the first Lambert alum to be drafted when the Colorado Rockies took him out of Mercer in the 23rd round.
Quite a way to start the football season, no? The War Eagles' road to an undefeated (in regulation) regular season and a region title started with this double-overtime win over the Hornets, at the time ranked as the No. 2 team in Class 7A. Roswell would fall swiftly from that status as the year went on, but this win still felt like a huge one for South.
The Longhorns' 2016-17 was surely one of the best years for a single school in state history, with five state championships and 11 region titles, and Lambert received the GADA Directors Cup, awarded to the best-performing program in each class, for the third straight year. This was also the strongest of those three titles for the school, as the Longhorns finished with the most points in both the boys and girls standings for the first time.
The Longhorns and Paladins both got further than ever in the state basketball postseason this year -- to the quartefinals in Class 7A and the Class 1A-Private, respectively -- and both teams dealt with unconventional situations on the way. Lambert head coach Jaime Fisher gave birth to her son before the playoffs, handing assistant coach Carolyn Whitney the reins, and the Paladins made their run with just seven players on their roster.
Penn State freshman wrestler Mark Hall was in a predicament at the Southern Scuffle wrestling tournament in Chattanooga: He'd forgotten a singlet. North Forsyth head wrestling coach Travis Jarrard was on hand to help run the event, though, and because Jarrard had the requisite equipment stowed in his car, Hall wound up winning the 174-pound bracket while sporting North's logo and colors.
Jenna Staiti treated local fans to some of the best low-post play in the country during her years at West Forsyth, but she made the decision to take those talents up to Maryland, joining one of the best college programs in the country. Staiti decided to transfer after her freshman year, though, and she's set to be represent her home state Bulldogs next season.
The South Forsyth/Lambert rivalry was particularly relevant this past girls soccer season. The War Eagles were the only team to beat the Longhorns during the region schedule, and Lambert got revenge with a win in penalties. South's loss to Grayson in the state semifinals deprived audiences of what would have almost surely been a dramatic third matchup, and when the Rams wound up vacating their entire season as penalty for using an ineligible player, South's contingent couldn't help but feel cheated out of a huge opportunity.
Despite being an older school than Lambert by two years, West Forsyth hasn't seen the same bountiful state playoff success as the Longhorns. In fact, the Wolverines hadn't won a team state title until this year. That changed on April 21 this year, when West went down to McDonough and won the gymnastics state title, with their top contributors finally healthy and competing together and Missouri commit Sienna Schreiber turning in the top all-around score in the tournament. (But not winning the title, strangely, enough, because she hadn't placed high enough in the individual qualifiers.)
The Raiders finished sixth overall in the boys standings at the Class 6-7A state swimming championships this year, boosted largely by a heroic performance by Jack Dalmolin. Dalmolin, now competing for Arizona State, won the 100-yard breaststroke, the 200 medley and the 200 freestyle relay, anchoring the latter event. “It’s the best feeling,” Dalmolin said after the meet. “I love high school state meets so much."
Forsyth County's rapid population growth has positioned its high schools as regular contenders for state titles in most sports, and this year's state cheerleading championships might have been the best showing for the county yet. South Forsyth won the title, Lambert finished second, West Forsyth finished third, North finished sixth, and Forsyth Central finished second in the co-ed championship.
Adam Clack leaving his job as head football coach at West Forsyth after three seasons, the last two of which included state playoff appearances, was a big story in itself. That he was doing so to take the same job at Milton, which plays in Region 5-7A along with West, added even more intrigue. When Clack returned to Cumming to face the Wolverines in this past season's region opener, West's student section was plenty fired up.