Cloudland nabs share of WVC championship

By Matt Hill

   Queen's "We are the Champions" was not played at Sonny Smith Gymnasium Monday afternoon, but the Cloudland Highlanders didn't need a song to tell them what they had just accomplished.
   The Cloudland boys basketball team wrapped up its first Conference title in 34 years Monday with an 83-58 victory over the Clinch Wildcats.
   The "Landers will split the Watauga Valley crown with Unaka, a team Cloudland beat Friday night to give them an opportunity to share the championship.
   The Clinch Wildcats were the only hurdle left for the 'Landers, and Cloudland head coach Ned Smith made sure his team was ready to play in this pivotal contest.
   "I said after Unaka that we had one more, and we've got to take care of business first," Smith said. "I really stressed that."
   The 'Landers certainly took care of business Monday.
   The 'Landers were up 42-21 at halftime, and didn't slow down in the third quarter. By the 3:24 mark of the third stanza, Cloudland was leading 61-30 and it never looked back.
   "I'm really proud of the kids," Smith said. "They've earned it. I worked them hard, and they've practiced hard. They've earned it."
   The players who have stepped up throughout Cloudland's magical season came through again Monday afternoon.
   Despite most of the 'Landers only participating in two quarters because of the game Cloudland played last night against David Crockett, Ricky Whitehead and the Jones' twins still managed to get into double figures.
   Kyle and Kevin Jones both had 17, while Whitehead tallied 13 for the 'Landers.
   Whitehead has seen this program turn the corner, and a conference championship was something that he could only dream about a few years ago.
   "I had a dream just to be up there," Whitehead said. "To have this feeling your senior year, there is nothing like it."
   This is Smith's first year under the helm at Cloudland, and he couldn't have scripted it any better.
   "Any season is great, but this being my first year it has been super," Smith said. "The kids have been great, they listen in practice, they work hard, and the enthusiasm is there. It's been a fun year. It's what you dream about as a coach."
   The District 1-A tournament is the next obstacle for the 'Landers. Cloudland and Unaka will be favored to meet in another showdown, but Smith says anybody can take it.
   "I think everybody's got to show up and play," Smith said. "I think anybody can beat anybody. University High's got a ton of talent. North Greene's got a real good shooter, and a big post guy inside. I think you've got to show up and play."
   Cloudland knows the district is going to be tough, but that doesn't stop the 'Landers from having high expectations going into postseason play.
   "I would like to go the whole way, and I say the team would, too," Whitehead commented. "It would be nice to go to the state in football and basketball."