By Pete Zamplas- Quarterbacks Alex Flinn of Reynolds and Navy Shuler of Christ School, Roberson wrestler Anthony Johnson, Owen basketball’s Chesney Cooper Gardner, and golfers Asheville High Ana Tsiros and Rachel Kuehn of Asheville School are among local star athletes recently honored at the 58th WNC Sports Awards Banquet.
Flinn took home the (John and Darlene) McNabb Family Male Athlete of the Year, for larger (“Division 1”) area schools, for both his baseball and football feats and helping ACR’s perennial deep playoff drives.
“It’s amazing,” Flinn told The Tribune of the honor. “I started playing baseball when I was four, and football at eight” with longtime friends. “Our bond is crazy. Getting that award shows the hard work we’ve put in together is worth it.” He excelled in the classroom, too with an adjusted GPA of 4.39.
Reynolds won its conference (now the nine-team WMAC) with unbeaten marks for all four years that Flinn was at ACR, including two and a half as starting QB.
Flinn led the Rockets to the 3AA state title game in 2017, passing for nearly 4,000 yards. His TD-INT ratio in ’18 was eight to one. He is a strong runner, gaining pivotal first downs.
Flinn committed a year ago to East Carolina. He hopes to get a much better “fair shot” at starting as a true freshman this fall, with a new coaching staff in and ECU’s ’18 starter “more of a runner,” Flinn said. “I think I’m more of a passer.” Recruiting publications agree, listing the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Flinn as a pro-style (passing) QB.
“I know what it takes to win playoff games,” he said Sunday night. “You’ve got to play four quarters with maximum effort, and try to win every quarter. Coach (Shane) Laws says it’s a roller coaster of momentum. You have to pull the momentum back to you.”
Reynolds did that to battle back from nine down at halftime to defeat Sun Valley and feisty UNC-bound QB Sam Howell in ’17, then last fall won the rematch last fall in freezing rain in round two. Flinn goes from calm to fierce, who will “pump up” teammates with an urgent “let’s go!”
In all, there were 24 awards for individuals and teams and four WNC Sports Hall of Fame inductions at the banquet of the Mountain Amateur Athletic Club (MAAC). John and Darlene McNabb of Asheville funded three of the sixteen $1,500 student-athlete scholarships. The two winners from Buncombe were Pali Smith of ACR soccer, and TCR wrestler Max Wells who was third in the state.
Omni Grove Park Inn’s massive grand ballroom was jammed May 19 for the banquet. Ingles is its naming sponsor. MAAC HoF Pres. Keith Jarrett, the veteran sportswriter, hosted.
Brevard’s Luke Ellenberger won the Goforth Builders Inc. Male Athlete D1 award for a major sport. He is versatile as a four-sport athlete. In football, he was a threat as downfield receiver, safety and return man. His GPA is 4.1.
Many onlookers “oohed” when hearing he beat out Flinn, ACR pitcher Josh Dotson, and North Buncombe hoops star Ren Dyer. Dotson was 11-1 with 188 whiffs in 80 innings in ’19, and has a 1.02 career ERA.
Roberson state champion wrestler Anthony Johnson (46-0) is overall D1 male athlete of the year. He won the 3A state title, in the 182 lb. division. Nearby North Henderson’s wrestler Morgan King was D1 male scholar athlete. Pisgah’s wrestling Bears won as male olympic sport team.
Gardner is top female D1 athlete in a major sport. The three-sport star was temporarily paralyzed in a car crash six years ago. As a senior she poured in 26.4 points and ten rebounds per hoops contest and was all-WNC, was WHC player of the year in volleyball, and ranked first statewide in discus and second in shot put.
Reynolds baseball (major team) and AHS golfer Ana Tsiros (olympic) also won in D1. Tsiros’ average nine-hole score was a sparkling 35.8. Her GPA is 4.5.
Navy Shuler is selected as top D2 male athlete in a major sport. He passed for 4,112 yards and 45 TDs in ‘18 for Christ School, a magnet school and football power among private schools in the state. His father Heath Shuler, former congressman, was at the banquet. Heath quarterbacked Swain to three 1A state titles in a row through 1991, starred for Tennessee Vols, then played in the NFL.
Overall D2 female athlete is Rachel Kuehn, of Asheville School golf and tennis. She is the NHSCA (coaches) National Senior Girls’ Golf Athlete of the Year — merely the second ever from this state. Kuehn won the state amateur title in ’18. She shot a 138 as a senior to win her third straight state prep tourney title, among private school female golfers. She is heading to Wake Forest.
Other D2 winners from Buncombe are U. of Michigan-bound swimmer Madeleine Bauer (olympic) of Carolina Day, and Asheville Christian Academy cross country males (olympic).
Hall of Famers
Three of four new Hall of Fame inductees are coaches; the fourth is WCU star DB Tiger Greene. Carroll Wright coached football at Brevard (’74-79), West Henderson (’81-87) and Pisgah (’88-93), averaging wins in three of four games. Jolly Wright had the Right Stuff as a motivator, winning 13 conference crowns. He was 232-108-8 (.696) overall, with all 31 seasons winning ones.
Enka’s Susan DeWeese went 491-196 in volleyball in 1975-2005. She spiced Sugar Jet competitive spirit. DeWeese said “don’t waste your talent” is her mandate. The late Tom Pryor got Edneyville Lady Yellow Jackets basketball swarming. Pryor has the WNC wins mark with 702 (vs. merely 244 defeats), in 43 seasons.
Two other coaches got lifetime awards. Gene Hammonds coached Asheville Cougar baseball for 35 years, starting in 1969. He gave needy players money for clothes. Buddy Baldwin was 325-273 in 25 boys’ hoops seasons at TCR, starting when the school opened in ’62 and he was age 22. He was 25-0 in the ‘73-74 regular season.
Two-time NCAA champion coach Roy Williams of UNC, among dignitaries at the banquet, calls Coach Baldwin the “most influential person in my life,” and as a father figure the “first person to give me confidence. I still consult him, for major decisions.”