A look at Spring sports

With basketball season nearly behind us, it's time to look ahead into the spring sports in this area. In particular, baseball and softball.
   The Watauga Conference should be a tough conference in baseball this season with Elizabethton, Happy Valley and Unicoi County poised to sport some of the area's top teams.
   Hampton, Sullivan Central and Sullivan North should be tough this season as well, with some of the leagues top hitters returning.
   Elizabethton has a lot of solid returning players this year, while Happy Valley returns one of the area's best players in Cody Cannon. The All-State catcher will be a reason for the Warriors success this year.
   In softball, defending State Champion Unicoi County will still be a tough squad to beat despite losing some marquee seniors. The Lady Devils had some efficient depth last season that helped them advance the distance.
   Happy Valley has a lot of solid athletes returning this season and are the early favorites in my opinion.
   In the Watauga Valley, Unaka is the odds on favorite to win the baseball race this year with a load of returning talent and solid pitching.
   University High will be tough behind pitcher Drew Harrell, while Cloudland and North Greene will have the players to be a competing force.
   University High and Unaka will battle it out in the softball race. The Lady Bucs return Meredith Rearden to the squad this year, while Unaka is sporting one of their best freshman classes ever.
   North Greene and Cloudland's teams are slowly improving year by year, and may compete for some conference wins this year.
   Other spring sports to look forward to are track and field and tennis.
   There will be some successful individuals on the tennis front this year in the Watauga Conference.
   Unicoi County's Amber Campbell is the perennial favorite in the girls, while Elizabethton's Amanda Pike and Liz Dove will be tough. Also look out for Volunteer's Morgan Smith.
   On the boys side, Johnson County's Adam Cornett is possibly the favorite along with Elizabethton's David Reece.
   But the biggest state championship outlook for this area will take place in the track and field events.
   Elizabethton's State Champions Valnessha Redd and Tara Benfield are returning from solid outings in last year's events and could be favorites in their categories, along with Vince Redd at the discuss.
   Johnson County's Matt Cornett is a favorite in the high jump, while Happy Valley's David Hughes and Katie Williams, as well as Elizabethton's Lester Bailey will be favorites in on the track.
   GAMES OF THE WEEK:
   BASEBALL: Unaka at Cloudland (Monday), Elizabethton at Hampton (Tuesday), Unicoi County at Happy Valley (Tuesday)
   Unaka and Cloudland face off in their first district contest on Monday, while Elizabethton and Hampton will be a barn burner on Tuesday.
   But perhaps one of the biggest rivalries is that of Happy Valley and Unicoi County. I look for the Warriors to rebound after a loss on Friday to Sullivan North with a solid week of play.
   SOFTBALL: Unaka at North Greene (Thursday), Happy Valley at Unicoi County (Thursday), Hampton at Volunteer (Thursday)
   Unaka and North Greene, as well as Hampton and Volunteer will be big conference games.
   However, the top billing in softball will be between the defending state champion Unicoi County Lady Devils and the Happy Valley Lady Warriors. These two teams should put on a show in Erwin.
   MALE ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: ROBBY ENGLAND, HAMPTON
   England was five for five in a doubleheader against Providence Academy on Friday with three doubles, a triple and a total 11 RBI's. The Bulldogs are currently 4-0 and are looking to continue their success this week.
   FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: KORTNEY GOULDS, HAPPY VALLEY
   Goulds tossed a perfect game for the Lady Warriors against Johnson County on Tuesday, recording seven strikeouts in the 12-0 victory.