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Every week, my focus shifts as I find stories to report on around the Swannanoa Valley. But, there is one subject that I can count on covering week-in and week-out. And that’s sports.

The Black Mountain News has a long history of reporting on the community’s athletic accomplishments, and I take pride in putting together a sports section each week that honors that tradition accordingly. As a result, sports in the Valley is a regular part of my life.

It’s typically tough to fill the sports page around the holidays because the local schools are on break and the weather outside is usually, well, “frightful,” according to Vaughn Monroe in the 1945 holiday hit “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

So as the Warhorse basketball team is set to play in the championship game of the Cherokee Holidays on the Hardwood tournament on Dec. 23 (results not available as of deadline), I figured this would be the best time to take a look back at the year in sports.

It’s hard to believe that it was just around a year ago when Asheville Christian Academy senior Jordan Shepherd first committed to play NCAA Division I basketball. After agreeing to play for James Madison University, the former Lion became an Oklahoma Sooner after a coaching change at JMU.

Shepherd’s first start of his collegiate career came Dec. 17 against Memphis. Oklahoma lost 99-94, but Shepherd scored 18 points and had zero turnovers at point guard.

Another Valley athlete continued his career in college in 2016. Owen High School graduate Jager Gardner scored two touchdowns this season for the Temple University Owls, who finished the regular season 10-3, earning a spot in the Dec. 27 Military Bowl against Wake Forest in Annapolis, Maryland.

The alma maters of Gardner and Shepherd accomplished quite a bit in 2016 as well.

The Asheville Christian Academy Lions produced their first Division I golfer in 2016 when Will Tamplin signed with the University of Richmond Spiders. ACA brought home its second consecutive state championship in boys soccer in exciting fashion, beating Coastal Christian, 3-2 in a shootout.

Owen’s soccer team didn’t win a state championship but had quite a season of its own. In August the Warhorses tied T.C. Roberson, which was ranked nationally at the time. Head coach David Fiest lost his leading goal scorer, Jacob Robinson, near the end of the season, but managed to guide his team to the third round of the state playoffs.

The Warhorses struggled on the football field in 2016, going 1-9 for the second season in a row, but sophomore Kendrick Weaver did manage to throw the ball for more than 1,000 yards. The quarterback’s performance, combined with the anticipated return of Sidney Gibbs, means the 2017 season should be a brighter one.

The Owen Warlassies softball team finished the 2016 season 15-6 and advanced to the third round of the playoffs. Its 10-2 record in the Western Highlands Conference was good enough for a second-place finish behind perennial powerhouse Madison. The team's speedy lead-off hitter Anissa Avila signed a letter of intent to play for East Tennessee State University in August.

Many of the players on that softball team have enjoyed success on the basketball court as well - the Warlassies advanced to the second round of the playoffs to finish the 2015-16 season with 19 wins.

The Warlassies basketball team picked up where they left off last season, opening the season by winning five straight. Their counterparts on the boys team enjoyed similar success in 2016, starting off on a five-game winning streak before winning 16 games and advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

In a side note, Owen High recognized the 1960s Warlassies teams that won 90 straight games by hanging a banner in the rafters.

The basketball court in DeVries Gymnasium at Warren Wilson College was the site of plenty of action in 2016.

The men’s team from Warren Wilson entered the USCAA Division II National Championship Tournament as a fourth seed, the highest in the team’s history. The Owls dispatched the University of Maine-Machias in the opening round of the tournament before falling to eventual champion Berkeley College - New York.

The womens basketball team from Warren Wilson also had a big year, with sophomore Danasia Dumas earning  All-American honors.

Not to be outdone, the Owls mountain biking team brought home its first national championship in 2016.

The mens basketball team at Montreat College finished the first half of the 2016-17 season with a 10-2 record (5-2 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference). The second half begins in 2017.

Former Owen athlete and Super Bowl champion Brad Johnson came to town this year to attend a book signing for Jon Decker's book, much of which is set in Black Mountain. The Valley made more Super Bowl champions in 2016 when the Warhorses youth football team won the championship for the midget division in WNC Youth Football.

Of course there were too many athletic achievements locally to fit all of them into one column. There were trail races like the annual Mount Mitchell Challenge, Black Mountain Monster and the first running of the Lookout to Lookout to Lookout race.

With 2017 knocking, I don't know what I'll be writing about. But every week I know people from the Swannanoa Valley will be out there pursuing athletic excellence. And we'll be there to cover it.

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