The year 2020 turned nearly everything upside down and sports was no exception.
Cancellations, postponements, contact tracing, Zoom calls, extra sanitation procedures and protocols ruled much of the last 12 months. However, that didn't mean there still weren't plenty of noteworthy events here in Cobb County. Here are the top 10 sports stories of they year:
No. 1 -- Marietta's Arik Gilbert named boys Gatorade National High School Athlete of the Year.
After winning the honor of being the Gatorade Football Player of the Year in 2019, Gilbert took his talents up another level as he was named the 2020 Gatorade National High School Athlete of the Year, besting more than 4.2 million other boys candidates in the process.
Gilbert, who was the nation’s No. 1 tight end college football prospect, caught 102 passes for 1,735 yards and 14 touchdowns during Marietta High School's run to the 2019 Class AAAAAAA state championship, which helped earn him a scholarship to LSU. In addition to his on-field accomplishments, the 6-foot-5, 253-pound Gilbert was the founder of a campus-wide initiative called “Whisper,” which urges students to have device-free conversations and supports diversity and inclusion effort. Gilbert also volunteered on behalf of the East Atlanta Kids Club, Habitat for Humanity and March of Dimes, and he also donated more than 50 hours to Marietta elementary schools and the Marietta Youth Football program.
Gilbert joined the likes of LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Kyler Murray and J.T. Daniels to earn the honor.
No. 2 -- COVID-19 claims the spring schedules
March 13 brought Cobb County high school athletics to a halt.
Initially, a two-week postponement of activities became a complete cancelation of the remainder of the spring sports calendar, robbing athletes a chance to compete in baseball, soccer, lacrosse, golf, tennis and track and field. It was even harder on the senior athletes who lost out on the last opportunity to play the games they loved.
While high school sports came to a crashing end, they weren't the only things affected. In college, the conference basketball tournaments and NCAA tournament were also shelved, all spring sports were canceled, and the virus led to the cancellation or postponement in the majority of the professional sports leagues across the country.
No. 3 -- Braves win the NL East, advance to NLCS
In a baseball season that was truly a sprint as opposed to its usual marathon, the Atlanta Braves flourished and nearly advanced all the way to the World Series.
Boasting of the best lineups in baseball, the Braves went 35-25 in the shortened 60-game schedule. They won the NL East by four games over the Florida Marlins and went on to beat the Cincinnati Reds in a three-game wild card series. The Braves then upended the Marlins in the National League Division Series and took a 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the the National League Championship Series before falling one win short of the Fall Classic.
As an added bonus, first baseman Freddie Freeman would be named the NL MVP after a season in which he hit .341 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs. He also led the major leagues in runs scored (51) and doubles (23).
4. COVID-19 wreaks havoc on local football
As the calendar moved the focus to fall sports, football became the bullseye.
Kennesaw State, and all of the Football Championship Subdivision conferences, saw their seasons postponed and moved to the spring.
For Cobb County high school programs, schedules got jumbled and changed not only by the week but by the hour. In all, county teams lost 21 games to the coronavirus, including Marietta and McEachern losing high-profile games against Florida powers Armwood and St. Thomas Aquinas, respectively.
Mount Paran Christian and Harrison were the two programs hit the hardest by COVID-19 protocols as each went a month between playing games at one point during the season.
5. Wheeler boys win Class AAAAAAA basketball title
Wheeler came into the state championship game against Grayson as an underdog. The Rams were the No. 5 team in the country and had already beaten the Wildcats earlier in the season. But that didn't matter when the teams reached the Macon Coliseum.
Sam Hines' free throw with 1.1 seconds left proved to be the difference as the Wildcats upset Grayson 60-59. Hines scored a game-high 28 points and Wheeler closed the game on a 14-5 run to grab the championship.
It was the seventh state championship in the Wildcats' program history.
6. Cobb County knows Cross Country
The Marietta boys and girls cross country teams swept the Class AAAAAAA team titles, and the Pope girls proved they were the best in Class AAAAAA.
For Marietta, it was the first time the Blue Devils won both titles in the same year, and is the first school from the state’s highest classification to do so since 2007.
Kamari Miller won the boys Class AAAAAA individual title with a new Carrollton course record time of 15:29, which was good enough to hold off Harrison's Sully Shelton, who finished second.
For the Lady Blue Devils, it was the third championship in the last four years. Walton’s Sarah Burwell (19:49) was the top Cobb placer in the girls’ race with a fifth-place finish.
Pope's victory marked the first one for the Lady Greyhounds since 1997. The Lady Greyhounds were paced by the third-place finish of Sophie Boice in a time of 19:57, and Lorel Golden, who was fourth at 20:10.
7. Lassiter leads Cobb success in the pool
The Lady Trojans held off Brookwood to win their first state title in nine years. It was Lassiter’s first state title since winning four in a row from 2008-11.
The victory was highlighted by the team winning the 200-yard medley and 200 freestyle relays along with finishing third in the 400 freestyle relay.
Mount Paran Christian’s Emma Norton won the 500 freestyle in 5:00.15.
On the boys side, Kennesaw Mountain's Connor Haigh won the 100 breaststroke in 55.17 and Mount Paran's Mitchell Norton claimed the 100 freestyle in 44.84.
Three Cobb County divers also won individual state championships.
Kennesaw Mountain’s Kyler Dixon and Allatoona’s Hannah Stumpf defended their respective Class AAAAAAA and Class AAAAAA state championships in the girls meet, while Harrison’s Alex Scott won the title after finishing as a runner-up in 2019.
8. Lassiter and Mount Paran Christian rule the diamond.
The Lady Trojans did things the hard way. After finishing third in Region 6AAAAAA, Lassiter wove its way through the playoff brackets to Columbus and the final four. There, after an opening win over Buford, it lost to Pope and had to work its way back through the loser's bracket.
Once it made the championship, the Lady Trojans beat the Lady Greyhounds twice, 6-5 and 4-3 to win the Class AAAAAA title. Jill Vitamanti provided the big hit, a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the sixth of Game 2, to secure the victory.
It was Lassiter's first title since 2007.
For Mount Paran, it was the first title in program history. The Lady Eagles beat Strong Rock Christian 7-1 in the championship game to win the first Class A-Private softball state championship in program history.
They swept their way through the final four, outscoring their opponents 20-8.
Malayna Tamborra pitched a complete game, allowed only two hits and struck out 10. She went 3-0 over the course of the weekend, and in 21 innings struck out 39 batters.
9. Pope wins Class AAAAAA Duals Title
The Greyhounds needed to beat four heavyweight programs to win the Class AAAAAA state duals wrestling title. In Round 1 they took out Valdosta, followed by a Round 2 victory over Brunswick.
The third round against Creekview came down to the final match. Andrew Barner won at 170-pounds to give Pope the 28-26 victory to send the team into the final against Richmond Hill.
There the Greyhounds won 30-24 to secure the fourth state duals title in program history.
10. Cobb sends more to the pros
The talent from the county continues to reach the professional level.
Former McEachern and Auburn star Isaac Okoro led the way, by being selected with the fifth overall selection by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Draft.
The McEachern girls basketball program was also represented when Baylor's Tea Cooper was selected by in the second round of the WNBA Draft by the Phoenix Mercury. Cooper would finish the season playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.
Cobb also sent four more players to the NFL. Former Sprayberry and Florida standout Jubari Zuniga was a third round selection by the New York Jets, while former McEachern and Clemson star Tremayne Anchrum was a seventh-round pick by the Los Angeles Rams.
Rodrigo Blankenship, the all-time leading scorer in Georgia history, went undrafted but has made his mark with the Indianapolis Colts replacing future hall of fame kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Kennesaw State also saw its first player reach the NFL as former defensive lineman Auzoyah Alufohai signed with the Houston Texans.
Former Walton and Georgia Tech star Michael Guldberg was the lone Cobb player selected in the truncated Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The outfielder was the 98th player selected in the shortened five-round draft and was headed to the Oakland A's