Grace Christian Academy finds success in 2023-2024 athletic year

Published 1:16 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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This year, the Grace Christian Academy athletic program resembled the story of David and Goliath, showing that just because it is a smaller school doesn’t mean it can’t accomplish big things.

The Cougars finished the 2023-2024 athletic year with three state championship titles, four state runner-up titles, and five region titles.

Junior tennis and volleyball players Kate Poitevint and Sybil Lee proved their existing dominance, and showed they’re capable of more this year. The two captured a state title and two state runners-up titles between their two sports. 

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“They just work well together,” said Lady Cougars’ head tennis coach Rhonda Wells. “They’re very dedicated. They put in the work, and they’re seeing the results.”

Poitevint and Lee won the state in doubles tennis, winning a commanding 6-0 6-1 match against a Southwest Georgia Academy pairing. The title win was their second in two years. They won their first doubles state championship in the 2022-2023 season. The duo also helped the Lady Cougars claim a state runners-up title. 

“It kind of doesn’t feel real,” Poitevint said after the win. “She looked at me [during the second set] and was like, ‘This doesn’t even feel real right now.’” Lee added. 

The duo was also a threat at the net in volleyball. Poitevent and Lee served as co-captains of the Lady Cougar volleyball team and led the squad to a state runners-up title in the fall. Poitevint was named Region Player of the Year after the season. 

“[Poitevint] is that player that every coach and every team wants to have when a game gets tight,” said Lady Cougars’ head volleyball coach Kelsey Raley. “And you’re never going to catch Sybil on an off day.”

Sophomore Walker Elrod is an emerging talent in the Southeast. The distance runner claimed multiple state championships and broke two all-time City of Bainbridge running records.

Elrod won his first career state title in cross country, running a 16:42.71 and finishing more than 20 seconds ahead of second place. He got his second championship during the track season.  He finished first in the 3200-meter run, clocking a 9:42.20 time— more than 25 seconds ahead of second place. Elrod also finished state runner-up in the 1600-meter run.

“He knew he had to go out there and just run comfortably enough to win,” said Cougars’ head cross country coach Heather Smith after the cross country state championship. “I wasn’t concerned.”

On top of his championship titles, Elrod etched his name into the Bainbridge history books. He broke the City’s records for the 5k and 3200m races, surpassing previous record holder and BHS alum Poncherella Leonard. The new record times are 15:32 in the 5k and 9:25 in the 3200m.

“When I was younger and joined the cross country team, I asked, ‘So, what’s a good time?’” Elrod said. “They were like, ‘Well, this one kid named Poncherella, he’s the fastest, and it’s never going to get better. He’s the fastest ever and the best to ever do it.’” Now, when that conversation comes up… My name’s going to get brought up.”

Freshman Tatiana Smith also had a productive running season in cross country. She found success during the regular season and came in first at the region championship meet.

“She came out of the woods leading,” Smith, who is also Smith’s mother, said. “It was like, ‘She’s going to have to put on whatever gear she has left to the finish line.’ It was good… She’s a region champ.”

The Cougar and Lady Cougar golf teams both claimed region championships and sent golfers to the state championship match in the spring. It was The Lady Cougars’ first time competing in States in program history. 

“I hope it means a lot for the program,” said Grace Christian Academy head golf Jeff Toole at the Lady Cougars state match. “I mean, they made history for GCA… I’m very proud of them.”

Rounding up region champions is the Cougar Baseball team. They earned a 5-1 region record and boast the region’s Player of the Year, Noah Smith, and coach of the year, Ryan Riles.

“[Smith] brings that leadership,” Riles said. “To have a guy on the team that can perform on a high level, and also you’ve got the other guys looking up to him, man, it does something for the team. He really brought that spark for us this year.” 

Senior three sport athlete Evan Sigman found individual success on the wrestling mat. In the winter season, he fought his way to a sixth-place finish at the state tournament and would go on to earn a spot in a national wrestling tournament. 

“It was amazing,” said Cougars’ head wrestling coach Michael Sigman after the state meet. “That’s something [evan] has been working for for some time, you know, since we started the team three years ago… I was extremely happy and proud of him.”

Junior three sport athlete Owen Earnest ended the tennis season singles state runner-up. He and the rest of the Cougar team fell in the semifinals of the playoffs. Earnest was awarded the “Most Positive” award by the Positive Athletes Association for his attitude and the team-forward attributes he showed during the tennis season.

Earnest also played a part in The Cougar basketball team’s success during the winter season. He and fellow junior Keith Eidson had a pair of career scoring nights this year, and they’ll look to top those performances next year. 

“He’s been showing flashes,” said Cougars’ head basketball coach Travis Harrison after Owen’s career night. “He’s always been a confident dribbler around the perimeter, and he’s always been a confident shooter, but he never wanted to combine those things by attacking the basket… Now he goes to the rim with reckless abandon, and I love it.”

The Cougar football team turned a new leaf last year, moving from 11-man football to 8-on8 and hiring first-year head coach Richard McClure. They accrued a 4-3 record in his opening season, and have an improved team and season schedule going into the 2024-2025 year.