By ZACH BIRDSONG
A pair of multisport athletes was selected as The Tullahoma News’ Athletes of the Year for 2017, as Julia Duncan and Nic Barstad were the recipients of this year’s honor.
Duncan, a sophomore who plays soccer and basketball, was named The News’ Female Athlete of the Year. Barstad, a senior who plays football and basketball was selected as The News’ Male Athlete of the Year.
Both of these athletes were selected based on their performances in their respective sports throughout the calendar year. Duncan and Barstad were selected after ballots were cast by coaches at Tullahoma High School.
As a freshman on the girls basketball team, Duncan put up a stellar first year for the Lady Wildcats as she led her team in scoring, averaging 20 points per contest. She was the lone Tullahoma girls basketball player to be named to the All-District 8-AAA Squad.
As a fan last year, Duncan’s level of play caught the attention of her new head coach, Dale Alsup, who took over as head coach in September. During the preseason, he talked about what made her a good player.
“She loves the game and works hard at it,” Alsup said. “Physically, she’s well developed and last year, as a freshman, she was stronger than a lot of other freshmen. She works hard. It’s also what people call the ‘it factor.’ It’s the intangibles that go into the game and some people just understand what to do… and she understands what to do with the basketball.”
Duncan has also exceled on the soccer field as well, and a sophomore she led the Lady Wildcats in scoring. Duncan netted 24 goals on the season and added eight assists for the Lady Wildcats.
Based on her performance this year, she was named to the first-team All-District 11 Team. As a squad, Tullahoma finished with an overall record of 10-7 and 4-3 in district play.
“Soccer went very well this year, I was very happy,” Duncan said. “I had a good season and my team had a good season. We improved from last year as well. Our coaches really gave us encouragement and they pushed us hard. We knew that we had a bunch of seniors and this was our year, but it didn’t end as well as we wanted, but it was good season overall.”
With soccer season wrapped up, Duncan then turned her focus to basketball. This season has been another solid year for Duncan, as she has averaged 19.5 points per game this year, again leading THS. Currently, the Lady Wildcats have an overall record of 5-8 on the year, already matching last season’s win total.
“During the summer, we worked harder than we ever had in my opinion,” Duncan said. “It was a whole different environment and a brand-new atmosphere. We all want to be there this year and we are all trying our hardest.”
During the winter break, the girls basketball team has been busy, first taking part in the Sonic Shootout in Sparta, which concluded last Friday. On Wednesday, Tullahoma was slated to travel to Decatur, Alabama to play in another tournament.
“I’m hoping to see that we start to come together as a team,” Duncan said. “I know our confidence is kind of low right now after the last couple of games (a pair of one-point losses). I think a win is really what we need to get back to where we are. If we come together and play as a team, I think we will do good and get that confidence back up to where it needs to be.”
As a junior last season, Barstad led the Wildcats in scoring on the season, averaging well over 20 points per contest. He was the only member of the Tullahoma High School boys basketball team to be named to the All-District 8-AAA Team.
Just like last year, Barstad again leads the Wildcats in scoring, averaging 24.6 points her contest. Just three games into his senior year, Barstad put up a career-high of 34 points against Smyrna on Nov. 21.
Barstad eclipsed the 1,000 point mark in the Wildcats’ 63-45 win over Trousdale County last Thursday.
Last season, the Wildcats finished 9-20 as team overall, going 3-9 against district competition. The Wildcats have already matched their win total from last year, scoring nine wins in their first 13 games of the season.
“A lot of us have been playing a while together,” Barstad said. “I know Race (Marin) and Sam (Brock) have been starting since they were freshmen and now they are juniors. Ben Fulton played last year as a freshman and now he’s a sophomore and, of course, I’ve been starting since I was a freshman too. All of us have grown up together and played together, getting experience and it’s finally paying off.”
Just like the girls basketball squad, the Tullahoma boys team has been busy this winter break. The Wildcats first took part in the Sonic Shootout in Sparta, which concluded last Friday. On Thursday, Tullahoma was scheduled to head to the King of Smokies Christmas Classic Tournament at Pigeon Forge High School.
“We’ll play a lot of different teams that we haven’t played before and it’s good to travel a little bit and get to know each other a little bit more,” Barstad said. “We’ll get to see more people out on the floor and have them get some playing time and find different ways that we can play.”
After taking part in December tournaments, both Tullahoma basketball teams will return to District 8-AAA play on Jan. 5 when they travel to Lawrence County. Tipoff of the girls game is slated for 6 p.m. with the boys taking the floor 15 minutes after that first contest concludes.
Prior to basketball season, Barstad also put together a solid season at quarterback for the Tullahoma High School football team. After THS put up back-to-back winless seasons, the Wildcats finished the 2017 campaign with a 5-5 record.
“The last couple of years, we’ve always had a pretty good JV team and we’ve been really successful there,” Barstad said. “I guess over the summer, you could really tell how hard that we were working. The chemistry between all of the players was really evident.”
Barstad completed 64.6 percent of his passes this season, connecting on 164 of his 254 pass attempts. During his senior season, Barstad threw for 2,242 yards and 24 touchdowns.
He also was able to use his legs to rush for eight scores on the season, picking up 227 yards on 71 rushing attempts. Those legs also helped Barstad try to extend plays, running away from defenders, as his receivers looked to get open.
“When the play breaks down, I’m trying to get an opening or see somebody trying to get themselves open… It’s just kind of instinct,” Barstad said.
Barstad’s strong season effort earned him some recognition across the region. In November, he was selected as the Region 4-4A Offensive Player of the Year, a vote taken by all of the region’s coaches.
“Nic had a football season beyond our expectations,” said THS Head Football Coach John Olive. “He’s always had a great mind for the game and this past season, he learned to execute and made some very quick decisions and accurate decisions.
“He executed better than every quarterback that we’ve had in the last few years,” Olive added. “Jared Davis is the last time we probably had a quarterback who executed as well. Nic’s numbers were compatible with Jared Davis and Robert Matthews, who have been the top two quarterbacks in my time period (at Tullahoma).”