Cherokee Bluff High athletics director Kenny Hill already knows his sports programs will have a different feel in the fall.
The Bears have already experienced abundant success, having won Region 7-3A championships in football and boys tennis last year.
However, this is the first time that the fourth-year program in Flowery Branch will have a senior class that didn’t have to start at a different high school.
In 2020-2021, Cherokee Bluff made the playoffs in eight sports, also including a state-quarterfinal run for its baseball program, second round in the playoffs for both the boys and girls tennis, boys and girls soccer and a Hall County championship for the girls’ track and field program.
For all its success last season, Cherokee Bluff finished No. 11 in the statewide Class 3A Georgia Athletic Director’s Association Cup standings.
This fall, Hill said its school will have a senior class in excess of 200, compared to 59 in 2018-2019.
Through its ups and downs, he wouldn’t trade the experience of building an athletics department from the ground up.
Hill knows the grind of coaching, having spent 17 seasons as an assistant football coach. He was last defensive line coach at Flowery Branch High, before making the move into administration.
“There’s been a sense of pride in our athletics programs here at Cherokee Bluff and our coaches ever since we unpacked the equipment for the first time,” said Hill, who is originally from Orlando, Florida, and has spent the past 28 years of his 31-year education career in Hall County. “We’re going to rely on the leadership and experience of these seniors and continue to provide growth for our school.”
Hill stresses the importance and appreciation of its community support that athletics programs receive at Cherokee Bluff as being necessary for success.
He knows that the southeastern portion of Hall County, where Cherokee Bluff is located, will continue to grow and its athletics programs will eventually bump up in classification.
The Bears’ athletic director commends their support system for being on board with generating a good culture since Day 1.
In addition to wins, Hill stresses their athletic department is focused on producing good students with high character.
Last year, Cherokee Bluff had 170 student athletes with at least a 3.75 GPA, Hill said, which includes band, chorus and other extra-curricular activities.
Cherokee Bluff has built its success in athletics from the hard work of veteran coaches, who have been there since Day 1, including Tommy Jones (football), Lindsey Justice (girls basketball), Jeremy Kemp (baseball) and cross country and girls track and field Matthew Brick, among others.
The biggest departure for Cherokee Bluff’s coaching staff is Benjie Wood, who guided its boys basketball program to back-to-back second round playoff appearances. He was announced as the new coach at Buford High on May 18.
According to Hill, Wood did a tremendous job at Cherokee Bluff and they’re excited to now have Josh Travis, previously at Chestatee High, taking on the leadership role. The new coach inherits a program with returning starters Cade Simmons, Dre Raven and Carlos Marlow expected to lead the way.
The boys basketball talent might be young, but is abundantly talented, having compiled a 53-2 combined sub-varsity record (junior varsity, eighth grade and seventh grade) in 2021. Cherokee Bluff is in a unique position with its middle school students on the same campus.
Cherokee Bluff Middle School will open in the fall of 2022, Hill said.
The football program is reflective of the rapid rise in athletics for Cherokee Bluff. In 2020, the Bears were 10-2 and won their first playoff game in school history. Only two years prior to that, the Bears were 0-10 as a first-year program split off, primarily from Flowery Branch High and now inhabit its former campus.
After winning their first region championship, the Bears will be loaded again in 2021 with Division-I prospects Jayquan Smith, at running back, and offensive lineman Mateo Guevara leading the way.
With a new playing field this season, as a result of a county SPLOST, Hill is upbeat about the direction of the football program.
“Coach Jones and his staff, the tremendous work they’ve put into building the football program, is indicative of the work every one of our coaching staffs is doing here at Cherokee Bluff,” Hill said.
Also in the fall, Hill is excited to see the development and success of thriving cross country, softball and volleyball programs.
In cross country, Adison Myers is one of the top names to watch at Cherokee Bluff.
In softball, the Bears are paced by pitcher Izzy Herren, who was hampered with injuries last season, and catcher/first baseman Stephanie Condland (who is committed to Georgia College).
“Stephanie’s one who can put it over the fence,” Hill said.
In volleyball, the Bears have already experienced success under coach Laura DeLaPerriere.
They will be led this season with Sage Sutulovich, Brandyn Peterson and Abigail Hutchins, among others.
In the winter, girls basketball will be paced by senior Timber Gaither, who topped 1,000 career points in 2021. Also for the Lady Bears, Finley Millwood is a key contributor coming back next season.
In the spring, girls soccer will be one of the most intriguing next year at Cherokee Bluff. In 2021, the Lady Bears made it to the second round of the playoffs and are expecting to return every starter, led by Kaitlyn Cook, Anna Gessner, Alyssa Stringer and Eva Martin, among others, in 2022.
In baseball, the Bears will return ample talent from a 25-win program that won a thrilling three-game, second-round playoff series against Greater Atlanta Christian.
Cherokee Bluff entered the postseason, in baseball, as region runner-up to eventual Class 3A state champion North Hall.