At the conclusion of each high school year, I like always make sure to do two things: Take a vacation and recollect on the year in area high school sports.
The Journal & Courier recognizes team sports with players of the year and all-area teams (individual sports tend to sort themselves out). The conclusion includes the J&C’s Student-Athletes of the Year, which places emphasis on the word student, as well as athletic accomplishments and additional extra-curriculars. If you missed it, congratulations to Seeger’s Becca Haussin and Harrison’s Tanner Watkins for that.
In a very ESPY-like fashion (minus the bad jokes), I like to recognize some other moments and athletic performances.
Without further ado:
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR
Cooper Williams, West Lafayette
The name of this honor hints at an athlete who returned from injury or suspension or some other unforeseen circumstance to have a great season. I considered Delphi’s Tyler Burns and Central Catholic’s Dylan Kiracofe for that reason, but what Williams did at the state finals certainly fits the definition of comeback (as does the now well-known Central Catholic girls basketball semistate win. More on that later).
The Red Devils entered the IHSAA state track and field finals believing, almost seemingly knowing, they had the makeup of a team that could win the 3,200 relay.
But, hanging in fourth place with just one runner left, Jake Cohen handed the baton to Williams, who began picking off the pack one at a time. By the time he came to the frontstretch for the finish, the outcome wasn’t in question and Williams crushed his 800 meter portion of the relay to give West Side the championship.
FEMALE FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Olivia Geswein, Harrison
This Raiders phenom stormed onto the high school soccer scene and put together a season unmatched by anyone in Harrison history.
Geswein’s 29 goals not only smashed Alison Steele’s 2000 program record of 21, it already ranks her fifth on Harrison’s career goals scored list with Daniela Giuliani’s mark of 53 seemingly breakable for Geswein as a sophomore this fall.
It was a good year for freshmen. Others considered include Central Catholic keeper Bay Ulery, who helped the Knights win their first Hoosier Conference title, North White point guard Maci Heimlich, who led the Vikings to a sectional title and West Lafayette tennis No. 1 singles player Cameron Coakes.Hey, let’s toss WL pole vaulter Maria Siciliano in the mix, too. She’s gonna be a good one. And because the WL Class of 2018 is so talented, Kylie Martin is a name to know for the next three years.
MALE FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Colton Crum, Frankfort
It pains me to not choose McCutcheon baseball player Jackson Smeltz. He might be the most talented baseball player in a talent-rich area.
But Crum’s season can’t be overlooked.
The Hot Dog pole vaulter won the indoor state championship, setting a record in the process. He’d finish second at the outdoor state finals to record-smashing senior Deakin Volz of Bloomington South.
Toss Harrison’s John Roop in this conversation, too. He was a sectional champion in the 500 freestyle and runner-up in the 200 free. He finished 11th at state in the 500.
MALE BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER
Cole Bradley, Harrison
Sure, his dad is a golf coach. Sure, Bradley was one of the top tennis players in the state as a freshman.
He backed up his racquets and took his clubs to the course. Every single day. For hours. And hours. And when many packed up and left, Bradley continued working on his game with an unmatched will to get better.
The Raider sophomore was rewarded for his effort, winning the IHSAA state championship in just his second year of playing golf. Afterwards, there was a smile before his tireless work ethic mantra broke through. The satisfaction quickly faded as he expressed he hoped to win two more titles.
FEMALE BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER
Macee Williams, Fountain Central
Last season, coach Amie Anthrop promised big things were on the horizon for her Mustangs. At the forefront was Williams.
The sophomore center had a pretty good season as a freshman, but as a sophomore she became outright dominant. Williams posted 20 double-doubles in 25 games. Needless to say, she also averaged one with 17.1 points and 13.1 rebounds per night.
She engineered an upset over eventual state champion Central Catholic with 19 points and 25 rebounds. For good measure, she blocked seven shots. Fountain Central advanced to the regional championship and Williams became the focal point of every scouting report for coaches who faced the Mustangs.
FEMALE UNSUNG HERO
Emily Burks, Central Catholic
Burks racked up plenty of accolades during her senior seasons with the Knights’ volleyball, basketball and softball programs. But she may not have been the best player on any of her teams.
However, time and time again during her career, when CC needed someone to step up in crunch time, it was Burks who answered the call. (See her 2013 volleyball semistate performance vs. Wes-Del).
She’ll go down in CC lore for her performance against defending state champion Oregon-Davis at the Class A north semistate game. Burks scored nine points in the last 1:44 and helped the Knights overcome an eight-point deficit in the final 50 seconds. The Knights went on to win the state championship the following weekend with Burks’ 17 points leading the way.
If I had to name a second choice: Easily Lafayette Jeff’s Rylie Pittard.
MALE UNSUNG HERO
Braden Giroux, McCutcheon
It’s somewhat misleading to label Giroux an unsung hero. He’s been a stout ball player for the Mavericks and will continue his career at the collegiate level.
But Giroux just seems to be one of those kids who oftentimes gets overlooked when compared with others in his sport. Make no mistake, he’s been the firestarter for the Mavericks. His speed is a welcome weapon for Jake Burton’s offense and defense, where Giroux mans center field (and sometimes half of left and half of right field). He also stole 15 bases. … Against McCutcheon’s schedule. That’s pretty impressive.
Runner-up? I don’t know, but South Newton’s Skylar Sanders seems like a good option. Probably not the best player on talented Rebel football, basketball or baseball teams, but solid in all three sports.
FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Cameron Onken, Central Catholic
In an area filled with talent, this choice came down to five athletes from the Hoosier Conference: West Lafayette distance runner Lauren Johnson, WL volleyball/softball player Devin Hainje, Twin Lakes volleyball/basketball/track standout Laurhen Pickett and Benton Central volleyball/basketball/track standout Evonnie Payne. (Note: I tend to favor multi-sport athletes).
Onken may be the best volleyball player of the four in that mix (or Hainje) and also the most talented basketball player. She also is one of the fastest 400 runners around. She’s committed to play basketball at Villanova and has led teams to state championship games in multiple sports.
MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Cooper Williams, West Lafayette
I almost pulled the trigger on McCutcheon’s Tre’Shon Heard here. A basketball talent, he played football for the first time this season. All he did was lead the top-ranked Mavericks with six interceptions.
However, Cooper Williams is just freakish. He finished third in the cross country state finals, won the 3,200 relay state championship as the anchor leg and, oh, in his spare time he swims. Even with his concentration on running, he managed to finish third at a tough Zionsville Sectional in the 200 freestyle and fifth in the 50.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Chris Meeks, Rensselaer football
There were so many deserving candidates: Harrison soccer’s Bryan Clouse, Harrison baseball’s Pat Lowrey, Carroll softball’s Stephenie Pencek, North White girls basketball’s Bryan Heimlich, McCutcheon boys basketball legend Rick Peckinpaugh, Lafayette Jeff basketball’s Scott Radeker or baseball’s Scott McTaggertt. Sure, there’s countless others: Fountain Central basketball’s Amie Anthrop, Harrison girls tennis coach Julie Hawkins, Tri-County basketball’s Ty Scherer or Covington basketball’s Kent Chezem. Benton Central girls basketball’s David Baxter or West Lafayette softball coach Chauncey Stacy. Covington softball coach Adam Welchans deserves high praise for his work. Let’s not discount West Side cross country coach Steve Lewark or track coach Lane Custer, Central Catholic basketball’s Craig DeVault and Dave Barrett. McCutcheon football’s Ken Frauhiger. Harrison football’s Terry Peebles. McCutcheon swimming’s Amanda Cox or Harrison swimming’s Beth Brown.
Anyway, the point is, Meeks led his program to something that had never been done before. And he didn’t do it by the performance of one season. He masterminded a three-year plan for this, starting this year’s seniors as sophomores, perhaps a bit prematurely, but willing to let them learn varsity football on the fly.
Then, prior to the season, he installed a new offense that made for a perfect match with that speedy defense. It worked 15 times in a row. And the Bombers won the state title.
GAME OF THE YEAR
Football: Central Catholic vs. Rensselaer, Oct. 10, 2014
It looked as though neither team would score. CC’s best chance was doomed by penalty. Knowing a semistate rematch was probable, both coaches held back on unleashing the full playbook.
Rensselaer ultimately capitalized by winning the field position game, taking advantage of a short-field to score the game’s only touchdown and also with Trevor Hill bringing down CC quarterback Avery Denhart in the end zone for a safety in a 9-0 game.
With more at stake in the semistate, the rematch was just as epic. The Bombers again prevailed on their home field 17-14 to advance to the state finals, where they capped an undefeated season.
Obviously I didn’t see every game, but I will note that McCutcheon-Logansport boys basketball sectional championship game was a fun one to cover.
FEMALE TEAM OF THE YEAR
West Lafayette track and field
The little engine that could nearly pulled off the team state championship in a single-class sport, ultimately finishing third after Pike’s Lynna Irby went all Michael Jordan takeover mode on the IHSAA state meet to give her team the crown.
This was West Side’s most balanced team, having the field athletes to go with those runners. Susan Hubbard is so good, so underrated, and she pulled out a phenomenal leg of the 3,200 relay to help West Side repeat as state champs in the event. Hubbard, Alex Deryn, Rachel Bales, Kaia Harris and Lauren Johnson all scored points in individual events, but the Red Devils came up eight tallies short of Pike.
Runner-up: West Lafayette cross country.
MALE TEAM OF THE YEAR
West Lafayette cross country
Again, single-class sport. Carmel, the powerhouse with a bajillion kids in the school. West Lafayette with less than 700. And the mighty Red Devils prevailed for their first state title in 50 years.
If you’ve read this far, you know about Cooper Williams. But props for this performance go to the rest of the gang, too: Evan Johnson, Dominic Patacsil, Jake Cohen, Dylan Williams, Logan Berndt and Travis Shinsky for having a major hand in what I think is the story of the year in terms of IHSAA state championships.
Runner-up: Harrison boys golf.