Beyond the Scoreboard: Series on WNC Sports Awards Banquet finalists begins

WNC Sports Awards Banquet finalists include Madison Softball player Hannah Jennings (right) and Mountain heritage basketball standout Cierra Chandler (left)

On May 6, a total of 118 high-school athletes and teams will be honored for their accomplishments at the 57th WNC Sports Awards Banquet, presented by Ingles.

Conducted by the Mountain Amateur Athletic Club, the banquet at Omni Grove Park Inn will hand out 22 awards, winners in different categories drawn from a field of 103 finalists.

Another 15 finalists will receive $1,500 scholarships from a program presented by The John & Darlene McNabb Charitable Foundation.

There are 14 individual awards and eight team awards.

The awards are subdivided into male and female, subdivided again into Division I and Division II categories and split once again into major sport and Olympic sport divisions.

Division I include the 17 WNC schools with the highest enrollments, from 4A McDowell’s 1,811 students to 2A Brevard (804).

Division II is the 16 schools with lower enrollments, ranging from 2A Madison (763) to 1A Andrews (218).

Because the banquet is held in the midst of the spring sports season, the MAAC honors athletes and teams from the 2017-2018 fall and winter sports and last spring’s (2017) sports.

The board considered more than 200 nominations to select the 118 finalists. The MAAC’s 12-member board selects finalists from a list of nominations from the schools’ coaches and athletic directors, as well as recommendations from the board.

And between now and then, will feature every one of those finalists, the athletes and teams who have performed well enough to be considered among the best in WNC and worthy of an invitation to the banquet, which has been held locally since 1959. will run stories on all of the finalists, category by category, in the days leading up to the banquet.

The first category to be honored is the Wells Fargo Division I Female Athlete in a Major Sport. The finalists are Jessica Beckner, Murphy basketball and volleyball; Cierra Chandler, Mountain Heritage basketball; Kate Condra, Asheville Christian Academy volleyball; Hannah Jennings, Madison softball and Abigail Knight, Robbinsville softball.

** Beckner is the Smoky Mountain Conference Player of the Year in volleyball and basketball. The Bulldogs’ senior, who plans to attend Young Harris College, is a three-time all-conference selection in both sports.

She was named to the NCBCA All-State team, the only WNC player honored. Beckner scored over 1,000 points and he teams posted a 114-10 record in four years, and she has a 4.6 grade-point average.

** Chandler led her Cougars’ basketball team to a 27-2 record. She is a two-time Western Highlands Conference Most Valuable Player and a two-time first-team all-district selection. Her school records include 3-pointers in a game (7), season (85) and career (184) and points in a game (36).

She won four conference and league tournament titles and helped lead her team to a 97-8 record. She has a 4.4 grade-point average, is an academic all-conference selection and a member of the National Honor Society.

** Condra was her conference’s Player of the Year for a second straight season while leading the Lions to a 27-0 record and a state championship in volleyball. She is an all-state selection and was a second-team all-state pick last season.

She also has competed in swimming and track at ACA and plans to attend Harvard.

** Jennings is one of the area’s top softball players and has been to nine all-conference teams in three sports over the last four years. The Patriots’ senior was the Western Highlands Conference Player of the Year in softball the past two seasons.

She ranks fourth in her class and plans to attend Lenoir-Rhyne.

** Knight is a two-time all-conference selection in softball and was the 2017 Smoky Mountain Conference Player of the Year.

A junior, she is a two-time all-WNC selection and is ranked as the 84th best prospect in the nation by She is an honors student with a 4.3 grade-point average.