WCIA — As 2016 comes to a close, we’re counting down the top storylines of the high school sports year. We conclude our countdown with our 5 through 1 storylines.
Overall it was a quiet year, only one area state champ in Shelbyville senior Garrett Brachbill. He was the second straight Rams wrestler to bring home gold, finishing the season a perfect 47-0. Several other area grapplers took second, including St. Joseph-Ogden’s Wesley Kibler, who was trying to defend his title. Kibler now wrestles for Illinois. Oakwood’s Cody Ayers also finished runner-up.
Central senior Payton Woods tapped the wall first in the 50-yard freestyle to win the state title. The 3-time school record holder is one of the best ever for the Maroons and is now swimming for Michigan State. Uni High’s Ema Rajic one-upped Woods, winning two state championships this fall, and she did it in record time. Rajic reset the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM marks, the medley mark had stood since 1998. Rajic also swam at the Olympic Trials over the summer, finishing 49th out of the 125 swimmers in the event. Not bad for a 16-year old.
—Four squads made it to the final four, two from each sport. Salt Fork baseball appeared in Peoria for the first time in program history, the Storm left River City with a fourth place trophy. Springfield hadn’t been to state since 1985 when the Senators came in second. 31 years later they once again fell in the title game, coming up one game short as Lemont run-ruled the title game.
—In softball, Sacred-Heart Griffin hoisted the third place trophy, short gaming Mundelein Carmel. Fisher made its first appearance at state in Class 1A. The Bunnies wrapped up a record breaking season with a 29-8 record and a fourth place finish.
—Two area teams represented Central Illinois in Normal this fall, Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg in 1A and St. Joseph-Ogden in 2. It was the Spartans’ first-ever trip to the Final Four, and it’ll be one they won’t forget. After dropping the opening set of their semifinal match to Belleville Althoff by 15, SJO rallied back to win the next two games and win the match, advancing to the championship. They ended up losing to Eureka the next day, finishing the season 31-4.
—In 1A, Windsor/Stew-Stras lost a three-set semifinal thriller to the defending champion and eventual runner-up Eastland. The Hatchets bounced back to take third, winning the school’s seventh state volleyball trophy.
—The senior became the first girl in state history to win three state titles, winning this fall’s tournament by three strokes. The Southern Methodist signee not only won the individual championship but led the Trojans to the team title as well.
—On the boys side, Uni High’s Varun Chopra was the top finisher in 1A. The U of I recruit finished fourth, while Monticello, Bismarck-Henning and Teutopolis all came in the Top 10 in the team standings. In 2A, Central was seventh led by Ben Carnahan’s 8th place showing.
—For the 10th-straight season an area team brought home a state championship. The Mahomet-Seymour boys hoisted the Class 2A title trophy, finally breaking through after back-to-back runner-up finishes. The Bulldogs even advanced to the Nike Cross Country National meet in Oregon, where they finished 17th in the country.
—On the girls side, St. Joseph-Ogden also won the team title, the second time they’ve won it all the last three years. Unity took second but the story everyone was talking about, Effingham St. Anthony senior Anna Sophia Keller’s fourth straight individual title. She blitzed the field, finishing almost a minute faster than the Class 1A runner-up. Her time of 16:32 was second fastest in the state regardless of class, just a second behind the 3A winner.
“I got a cold on Wednesday and I was nervous about that but my dad reminded me that Michael Jordan has his best game when he had the flu,” Keller explained. “He just went out and did his best so I was just trying to be like MJ.”
4)Track & Field
—28 state title medals were handed out to area athletes in Charleston back in May.
—The Salt Fork girls captured the team title thanks in large part to Jenny Kimbro. The Iowa signee scored 37 out of the team’s 52 points on her way to long jump and both hurdle event gold medals.
“I can’t even describe it. It feels so awesome,” Kimbro said. “Our goal at the beginning of the season so it feels great.”
—SJO was second, Warrensburg-Latham third. The Cardinals got big performances from South Carolina commit KD Young, who swept the throws for the third straight year.
No surprise — Anna Sophia Keller swept the distance races once again.
—On the boys side, Oakwood’s Jon Davis ran away from the field, even without his spikes. The U of I signee was late to his two-mile race and couldn’t get his spikes on in time, so he ran in regular shoes. It didn’t matter, he still lapped the field.
“I had just got done with my 10-minute jog and got corralled to the tent and shoved onto the track so what am I going to do? Just go out there and run,” Davis explained.
—Multiple area teams made it to Peoria and Normal for the state tournaments. Only two walked away with the big trophy.
—LeRoy won the school’s first title leaning on Loyola signee Matt Chastain’s stellar play all the way to the championship. In 2A, St. Joseph-Ogden cruised to its first title beating Rockridge by 18 in the final game.
“To be honest in December this didn’t seem possible but coach said if we fight they’ll keep fighting with us so it just goes to show that no one can tell you you can’t do something,” Jake Pence said.
—The Central A&M girls bid for back-to-back titles fell just short. The Raiders lost by four to Calhoun in the championship game ending an incredible run that saw CAM finish fourth, first and second. In 2A, Teutopolis also finished second. The Wooden Shoes left Redbird Arena with their second state trophy in the last three years and with a roster full of underclassmen, the TTown is poised to make another deep postseason run this season.
—Four teams from the WCIA viewing area played for titles. In the end, only Rochester walked away victorius. The Rockets won their sixth state championship in the last seven years. Sacred Heart-Griffin finished runner-up, the Cyclones third trophy in four years. St. Teresa made its first finals appearance in 30 years. The Bulldogs left Champaign with a second place trophy, as did Maroa-Forsyth. The Trojans are no strangers to state title games, this was their fifth trip in the last eight years.
1)Year of the Spartans
And our top high school sports storyline of 2016 goes to St. Joseph-Ogden athletics.
It truly was the year of the Spartans. Boys basketball and girls cross country both won state while baseball, volleyball and girls track and field all brought home runner-up trophies. The Spartans boast the reigning WCIA 3 player of the year in boys baskeball, baseball and volleyball.
“Unbelievable I’m lost for words and I’m just so happy for all of us,” Brandon Trimble said.
Congratulations to SJO and all Central Illinois on an outstanding 2016.