Licking County’s top sports moment did not come until the year’s final months, but it was undeniable.
Newark Catholic, coming off a 5-5 season, capped off a turnaround with a thrilling run to the Division VI state final. The Green Wave lost in heart-stopping fashion, 28-21, to Maria Stein Marion Local.
Of course, NC was not the only story. Area teams made history on the court, course, diamond, ice and in the pool this past year. The Advocate has picked its 10 favorite moments from 2012.
1. NC football reaches state final
It only was fitting a spectacular catch by Kevin Bourne put the Green Wave within striking distance of a ninth state title.
The miracle drive fell short on the next play, but this much was certain — NC had returned to Division VI state prominence after a five-year absence. “Week 15” was the constant chant, and with many underclassmen returning next year from a 12-3 team, the Green Wave are back in familiar territory.
After sharing its first Mid-State League-Ohio Division championship behind the amazing plays of Bourne, the Division VI Defensive Player of the Year, the Green Wave won in every imaginable fashion in the playoffs: a 20-13 defensive struggle against Trimble, a 48-46 shootout against Danville and a 38-21 state semifinal domination of top-ranked Mogadore.
“You can’t fake love, and I love all these guys, and they love each other,” said coach Bill Franks, tears in his eyes and his voice quivering after the gut-wrenching title game loss. “I get emotional because there was such a big commitment made. It’s great to see kids pull together like these guys did.
“This group of players (was) special. It was a wonderful ride, and I can honestly say I’ve never been more prouder of a group of kids.”
2. Johnstown returns to regional final; Granville, Heights make playoffs
A year after their historic run, which included a 10-0 regular season and 13-1 overall record, the Johnnies surprised everyone by reaching the Division IV regional finals — again. Johnstown lost its opening game of the season and, after a loss to Danville in Week 8, the Johnnies finished strong.
They hosted a first-round game and edged Indian Valley, and followed that up with a dominating win against Ironton. The Johnnies eventually lost to St. Clairsville in the regional final.
After going 9-1 in 2011 and missing the playoffs, Granville went 9-1 again in 2012 to qualify for the postseason. The Blue Aces lost a heartbreaker in overtime at Dover in Week 11 after scoring what they hoped would be the game-winning TD with 36 seconds left.
Licking Heights’ unbeaten regular season was highlighted by victories against Watkins Memorial and West Jefferson. The Hornets won the program’s first MSL-Cardinal title in 20 years.
3. NC basketball teams win district title
It was a championship season for the NC teams. Led by senior guard Lauren Blair and the work inside of forwards Jill Blacksten and Caroline Wollenburg, the girls lost just one regular-season game in winning the MSL-Ohio title.
NC then ran roughshod over the Division IV district competition, winning the title 46-23 against Fairfield Christian.
With the same cast of characters, the boys took their season one step further than 2011. Locked in a shootout with Shekinah Christian, David Meurer’s run to the rim after picking up a loose ball pushed NC to a 52-48 victory for a district title. Led by All-Ohio performer Jett Speelman, the Green Wave won 21 games.
Each team lost in a regional semifinal. The Green Wave are hoping this season’s trek takes them to the state tournament.
4. Newark Generals win state title
The Generals won the Buckeye Cup state title, marking their second title in four years, and they finished with a team-record 33 wins. They also won the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League tournament.
Senior goalie Zach Dennis finished with 28 saves in the state title win against Jackson, and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Senior Mitchell Anderson scored two goals, and junior Gabe Parini scored on a break-away goal. Thomas Nichols, Ben Baldwin and Matt Congos all finished with an assist.
They also represented Ohio in the USA Hockey High School National Championships in Utah.
“I don’t believe in all of my years involved in hockey that I’ve experienced anything like this year,” Generals coach Don Jennings said.
“It’s just been an emotional high when you consider we won the Blue Jackets Cup, the state tournament title and a trip to the nationals. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
5. Granville swim team takes 3rd in state, wins relay
The Blue Aces won a Division II state swimming title in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:36.39, edging perennial power Gates Mills Hawken by six-hundredths of a second. The winning relay team consisted of seniors Lori Davis and Kelsey Haller, sophomore Sydney King and freshman Abby Stone.
King led the way for the Blue Aces with three individual second-place finishes, and Granville finished third overall after taking second in 2011.
King, who helped lead the Blue Aces to their fourth consecutive MSL and Division II district titles, finished second at the state in the 200 freestyle (1:51.29), 500 freestyle (4:54.62) and was the anchor on the 200 medley relay (1:45.92).
“Sydney is the type of swimmer that always steps up when she’s challenged,” Granville coach Kevin Yates said.
6. Northridge grad Crawford falls short in Olympic bid
After falling just six targets short of making the Olympic team in Men’s Double Trap shotgun shooting — a sport where most don’t enjoy success until about 30 — 19-year-old Northridge graduate Billy Crawford bounced back to win his first Double Trap national title at Colorado Springs, Colo. He beat the two Olympic qualifiers — Sgt. Josh Richmond and defending gold medalist Sgt. Glenn Eller — after finishing third at the Olympic Trials.
“Before I turned pro (at age 16), I always looked up to those guys,” said Crawford, who takes aim at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. “Now, the younger shooters look up to me and realize they can do it, too.”
7. Granville track has record-setting year; Newark’s Johnson places 5th
The Granville track teams raised two more MSL-Ohio championship trophies, but the Blue Aces did so much more. The boys broke — often shattered — an eye-popping eight school records in traditional running events, and placed the 1,600 relay fourth in the state meet during the program’s first year at Division I. Not to be outdone, the Granville girls also broke multiple records and placed two relays in Division II.
Newark junior Anthony Johnson stepped back onto the state podium in Division I. A year after a fifth-place finish in the 300 hurdles, the school-record holder matched it with a fifth in the 400. Other All-Ohio finishers included Sheridan’s Sarah Clow, who won her sixth and seventh medals in the throws, Licking Valley’s Mackenzie Butler in the 1,600 and Johnstown’s Kendall Colvin in the high jump.
8. NC, Granville baseball lose heartbreakers
NC’s run of three consecutive trips to the Division IV state tournament came to screeching halt, but the Green Wave didn’t go down quietly against Berlin Hiland.
The Green Wave scored two runs to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh. The Hawks took the lead in the ninth, and NC had the tying run on second in the bottom half of the inning. But a diving catch sealed NC’s fate in a 5-4 loss in a Division IV regional final at Beavers Field in Lancaster.
Granville was one out away from upsetting No. 2 seed Jonathan Alder in a Division II district final, but an error allowed the Pioneers to tie the game and force extra innings. Alder eventually scored the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
9. Granville cross country places 4th; Sheridan’s Bromley finished 3rd
The Licking County contingent certainly defended home turf at National Trail Raceway. The Granville boys again cemented their place as among the state’s best with a fourth-place in the Division II meet, the highest finish in program history. In the same race, Sheridan’s Matt Bromley ran a personal-best time of 15:50 to place third.
In Division I, Newark standouts Toby Hardwick and Kameron Carpenter narrowly missed All-Ohio honors, but at 15:54 and 16:02, the Wildcats ran the fastest times in school history. Licking Valley’s Mackenzie Butler led the area girls with an All-Ohio finish of 10th in 18:40, while Granville placed sixth in the team standings.
10. Licking Valley wins district; NC, Northridge are runners-up
Valley broke through with an intriguing mix of five freshmen starters and veterans, winning the MSL-Ohio title and Division II district championship with a 2-1 win against River Valley. The Panthers then fell, 5-2, to Lima Shawnee in the regional semifinals.
Newark Catholic and Northridge came up short in district finals. The top-seeded Green Wave couldn’t repeat from 2011 and fell, 6-0, to second-seeded Danville in Division IV. The Vikings made the Division III finals for the second time in three years, but lost 6-4 to defending district champ Fairbanks.