Taylor Aikerson did about as much as you could hope for on the basketball court for Deshler High in 2017-18. Asked to lead teammates and shoulder more responsibility, Aikerson excelled as a senior and led the Tigers to the Class 4A championship game.

If that weren’t enough, she competed in track this spring and found success there as well, earning a sectional title in track and then taking fifth in the state in the triple jump and 11th in the long jump

Aikerson was honored as the Female Athlete of the Year for 2017-18 at the TimesDaily’s annual Athlete of the Year banquet Thursday at the Florence-Lauderdale Coliseum.

Ryan Weathers, a Loretto High graduate who excelled in baseball and basketball, was named the TimesDaily’s Male Athlete of the Year. Weathers, who was unable to attend, led Loretto basketball to Tennessee’s 2018 Class A state championship and was named most valuable player of the state tournament.

He then reasserted his dominance in baseball, allowing only one earned run all season as Loretto finished state runner-up. The San Diego Padres selected the left-hander with the No. 7 overall pick of the MLB Draft.

Aikerson said she wasn’t expecting to earn the award, and a couple of her supporters let out a cheer when she was named.

“It meant a lot. It’s an honor. I was happy for it,” said Aikerson, who will continue her education and basketball career at Alabama State University.

Aikerson was just one part of an overall successful athlete year for Deshler High, which was recognized as the TimesDaily’s girls athletic program of the year. Deshler girls won multiple state titles in track and competed well in tennis. In addition to her basketball team's state runner-up finish, Jana Killen also led the volleyball team to the 4A finals.

“It means a lot to be a part of a good girls program, and I just hope they can continue to exceed (what they’ve done) and do better through the years,” Aikerson said.

Lauderdale County was named the TimesDaily’s boys athletic program of the year. The Tigers, who compete in Class 3A, made the playoffs in football, advanced to the semifinals in basketball and finished second in the state in baseball – their best finish ever on the diamond.

North Alabama softball coach Ashley Cozart was the event's guest speaker. Cozart has built UNA softball into a consistently successful program, and she guided the Lions to the 2016 NCAA Division II national championship.

Cozart advised the athletes present to know and embrace their roles on a team while valuing the contributions of their teammates – no matter how big or small. She explained that during the national championship season, the Lions celebrated “Thankful Thursday,” writing complimentary notes to one another.

“We took them up, and before every series we would actually read those cards. We would be huddled as a team, and it was a very emotional and loving moment,” Cozart said. “But every single person on that team knew their role, and they knew that they were important.

“So I think moving forward it’s important for these athletes to know that everybody has a role. And yours may not be as big as somebody else’s, but your role is important.”

Contact Craig at Craig.Thomas@TimesDaily.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TD_CraigThomas

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