Name a team's softball pitcher who wears No. 5 and is valedictorian at her high school in Marion County. "Kelsey Thomas" would be a correct response, but so would "Carmen Wooden."
Thomas has earned the top scholastic honor at Marion County, the top-seeded team in the District 6-A tournament at Whitwell that starts Saturday. Wooden heads the academic list at No. 3-seeded South Pittsburg.
Kelsey's father, Chris, is the Lady Warriors' head coach. He also coached his daughter and Wooden from coach-pitch ball through 14-under with the Thrashers summer program.
"They both strive for excellence, as far as sports go, and with the books," Coach Thomas said. "They're both able to balance the two. They both want to be the best at anything they do. They're going to work hard, no matter what it is."
Wooden wore No. 5 with the Thrashers. Thomas switched numbers when she got to Marion County because the jersey with her preferred No. 16 didn't fit but the No. 5 jersey did.
Millwood follows sister
Hixson senior Dylan Millwood recently signed to continue his tennis career at Lenoir-Rhyne College, an NCAA Division II school in Hickory, N.C.
Millwood, whose sister Dawon is the South Atlantic Conference softball pitcher of the year at Lenoir-Rhyne, was a District 6-A/AA semifinalist last season. He's in the same position this season, with a shot at advancing to the region tournament if he can defeat Central's John Mitchell this afternoon.
"I'm very excited, but I'm very nervous," he said about college tennis. "It's going to be a new level of play, so I'm going to see how my skills stack up against their players. I set a goal to play tennis in college during my sophomore year."
The lanky senior, who also had an offer from Carson-Newman, credited coach Raul Fernandez with getting the Hixson program back on track.
"This season, there's just a lot more interest in the program," he said. "We've got some underclassmen now that have helped build the team up and getting the team ready for the future."
Milestone for Polk
For the first time at Polk County High School, the softball program that was started less than 20 years ago has earned more victories in the same school year than the Wildkittens' storied basketball program. Polk's softball team added to its season school-record total Tuesday by winning for the 21st time.
The basketball team, which won 27 games two seasons ago and advanced to the state tournament, won 13 times this past winter. The program may not be down for long, but the softball team's fortunes could just be beginning to head upward, considering this year's team has one senior -- shortstop Caroline Jenkins.
"It's amazing," said Jenkins, who missed her eighth-grade season because of Tommy John surgery but has been a mainstay for four years. "This is the first time in school history we've been this successful. It's been a great opportunity to be a part of it. It's sad my time is coming to an end, but it's been such a great run and I'm pleased with that."
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