By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor
Nothing was better than seeing student athletes back doing what they love to do during the 2020-2021 school year after a trying few months to end the previous year.
Across Shelby County, we saw multiple team and individual state champions as athletes had a rejuvenated excitement to pour everything into being the best.
It paid off, as the county ended the season home to some of the state’s best players, including four Gatorade Player of the Year winners. Below, we honor the 20 best athletes from the year on the third annual All-Sports Team, which is broken down into 10 First Team and 10 Second Team athletes.
J.T. Pennington, two-sport star, Shelby County: This year’s Male Athlete of the Year, Pennington was the only athlete in the county to make an All-County First Team in two different sports. He was arguably the best offensive lineman in the county this year for Shelby County’s football team with 105 pancake blocks and also added 13 quarterback hurries, 11 tackles for loss and three sacks defensively. He then helped the baseball team reach the quarterfinals of the playoffs with a county-high batting average of .465 and tying for the county lead with four home runs. In addition to those numbers, he finished second in the county with both 38 RBIs and 16 doubles.
Annabelle Widra, softball, Spain Park: This year’s Female Athlete of the Year, Widra was as athletic as they come. A starter for six years with the Jaguars, she went 20-5 with an ERA of 1.20 in the circle this season. Widra totaled 236 strikeouts and allowed just 30 runs on 63 hits. She also dominated at the plate, batting .490 with 49 hits. Her 15 home runs tied for the county high, while she also stole 32 bases, walked 30 times and scored 51 runs. Widra spent time competing in the 60-meter dash for the track and field team during the indoor season and won an event with a time of 8.22 seconds and finished ninth at the state meet with a time of 8.09 seconds.
Jeremiah Alexander, football, Thompson: This year’s football Player of the Year in the county, Alexander is one of the top athletes in the state heading into the 2021-2022 school year. His junior season featured a remarkable 29 tackles for loss and eight sacks. He also recovered three fumbles and totaled 106 tackles. He is now one of the top 15 football recruits in the country.
Jenna Williams, softball, Thompson: Williams was named this year’s Hitter of the Year in Shelby County after batting .536 at the plate with a county-high 75 hits. She also finished second in the county with 55 RBIs and in a tie for fourth with 14 doubles.
Jackson Nabors, soccer, Indian Springs: Nabors put up possibly the most jaw-dropping stat of the season when he scored 52 goals and totaled 23 assists for state champion Indian Springs. He was named this year’s Player of the Year in the sport and earned the MVP of the Final Four after scoring on both goals in the state championship win and assisting on the two semifinal goals.
Haley Duca, soccer, Chelsea: Duca became the first player in school history to win a Gatorade Player of the Year award at Chelsea after finishing second in the county with 38 goals and becoming the first in school history to reach 100 career goals. She also set a new record with six goals in one game and added 19 assists to her stat line for 52 during her career.
Conner Harrell, football, Thompson: This year’s Gatorade Player of the Year winner for football in the state, Harrell passed for more than 3,405 yards with 40 touchdowns and just three interceptions. That, along with 315 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground, helped lead Thompson to a second straight state championship despite it being Harrell’s first year at the helm.
Cady McPhail, runner, Chelsea: McPhail busted onto the scene as one of the state’s best runners this season, finishing first in 19 of her 29 different events between cross country, the 1-mile run, the 3,200-meter run, the 1,600-meter run and the 800-meter run. During the indoor season, she swept all three track events with state championships, while she went on to win two of the three during the outdoor season.
Laci Gogan, basketball, Pelham: The girls basketball Player of the Year, Gogan scored 19.2 points per game while adding 3.1 assists and 2.8 rebounds as well. Just a sophomore, she was clearly the county’s best player this season with six more points per game than the next closer player. She helped lead Pelham to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history and added 54 steals and 44 3-pointers to her stat line.
Evan Smith, two-sport star, Oak Mountain: Possibly the county’s best athlete going into his senior season, Smith made jaw-dropping plays on both the football field and the basketball court this season. At the quarterback position, he actually led the county in rushing with 1,719 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also added 620 passing yards and six touchdowns through the air with one 44-yard touchdown reception as well. On the hardwood, he helped lead the Eagles to their first state championship in school history behind 8.2 points, four assists and 3.2 rebounds per game as a true point guard who made shifty plays to get to the basket or find the open man.
Cam Crawford, basketball, Spain Park: Basketball’s Player of the Year in the county, Crawford finished fourth with 15.7 points per game. He added 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game with 52 steals. He was the best player and biggest leader for Spain Park’s Final Four team this season.
Noah Young, two-sport star, Oak Mountain: Young averaged 12.3 points per game on the hardwood this season along with 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. His role was key in leading the Eagles to their first state championship in school history. He also added 29 receptions for 370 yards and four touchdowns as the team’s best receiver on the football field, making it to the quarterfinals of the Class 7A playoffs.
Tyler Waugh, two-sport star, Briarwood: A baseball star for several years, Waugh finished strong on the football field during his senior season. He totaled 90 solo tackles, 75 assisted tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and three interceptions defensively. He also flipped over to play offense when the Lions needed key yards and totaled 13 touchdowns and 257 rushing yards.
Connor Ball, baseball, Chelsea: The Pitcher of the Year in baseball, Ball led the county with 128 strikeouts this season and held an ERA of 1.90. Those numbers helped Chelsea reach the semifinals of the playoffs, while he finished the season 6-4 overall with run support tough to come by in many games.
Audrey Rothman, volleyball, Spain Park: During her junior season, Rothman led the county with 512 kills and 46 blocks to help the Jaguars reach the state championship. She also totaled 244 assists, 172 digs and 64 aces to earn this year’s volleyball Player of the Year honor.
Kierson McDonald, soccer, Oak Mountain: This year’s top defender for the Eagles, McDonald was also a force on the other end of the field for Oak Mountain’s state championship team. She totaled 14 goals and 19 assists for the Eagles and scored four goals in the Final Four, including a hat trick in the state championship and the only goal in a 1-0 semifinal win against Vestavia Hills in the semifinals.
Michael Jones, two-sport star, Montevallo: Still one of the more underrated athletes in the county, Jones was the second leading scorer on the hardwood this season with 20 points per game. He also totaled four rebounds and four assists per game while leading the county with 63 steals. In addition to that, he played receiver for the football team, helping the Bulldogs advance to the second round of the playoffs.
Keon Buck, runner, Spain Park: In 17 of the 22 events he competed in between the 60-meter dash, 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash this season, Buck was able to take the top spot. He won the 100-meter and 200-meter state championships and finished second in the 60-meter state championship race. Buck never finished lower than third in those events.
Norah Roller, soccer, Indian Springs: Roller had the most goals this season in soccer across the county thanks to putting 55 in the back of the net. She had 10 hat tricks, scored eight goals in three different games and totaled 12 assists.
J.B. Mitchell, football, Thompson: The top receiver for this year’s football team, Mitchell made athletic catches or simply sprinted by defenders to grab the deep ball. He totaled 1,163 to lead the county and posted 12 touchdowns despite an offense loaded with weapons.