The 2014-15 school year provided local sports fans with a bit of everything: tragedy, state champions, record performances, milestone victories, title droughts ended and the list goes on.
West Lafayette’s distance program had a banner year, even by its measures, bringing home three state championships. Rensselaer’s football program made school history in its dominant run to a title. A conference move provided local schools with more than two handfuls of league titles. Beloved coaches died. A first-year athletic team at Lafayette Jeff won a state title.
Here are the 10 biggest story lines from the year.
An unforgettable Knight
Jeff Dienhart was a likable guy — strike that, a lovable guy — to everyone in the Central Catholic community. Like most Indiana boys, he grew up with a deep passion for basketball.
Years of battling cystic fibrosis had taken a toll on Dienhart, who despite declining health returned as an assistant coach for the girls basketball program last winter. Dienhart said he wanted to be on the bench at Bankers Life Fieldhouse watching his girls win a state championship, and he was certain the Knights were going to pull it off.
Dienhart, known as having a basketball savvy others didn’t, was right in his prediction.
Unfortunately, he was not able to sit on the sideline.
Dienhart died Feb. 25, four days after he watched the Knights win a regional championship. Three days after his death, CC trailed defending state champion Oregon-Davis by eight with 50.7 seconds left but outscored the Bobcats 11-0 down the stretch. A week later, they handed Barr-Reeve its only loss of the season in the state title game.
In Delphi, the name Tony Berto carries some weight. So much weight, in fact, that the school’s football field is named after him.
In August, Berto died at age 93, and on a night set for celebration, when the Oracles welcomed back the undefeated 1964 team Berto coached on Aug. 29, the men were at the funeral home. That squad was one of four undefeated teams coached by Berto.
Delphi ended a somber week the only fitting way, with a 21-20 victory over rival Carroll in the Bacon Bowl.
Give the Devils their due
West Lafayette had staked its claim as the little engine that could, a small school that tossed haymakers at the proverbial state powers but could never knock them out.
In November, the Red Devils delivered the Buster Douglas knockout flurry as WL’s boys cross country team edged Carmel for the state title. To top it off, four members of the title team opened the boys track state finals with a victory in the 3,200 relay. One day later, the girls would do the same and repeat as state champions in the event.
Great day to be a Broncho
Coach Dave Howell had little knowledge of unified track and field before the wheels were in motion to start the program at Lafayette Jeff.
Lafayette Jeff’s inaugural program closed the season with a state championship in the second-year IHSAA-sanctioned sport.
Unified track and field partners high school students with and without intellectual disabilities in a 100- and 400-meter dash, as well as a 400 relay, shot put and long jump. Individuals collect points, just as in other sports, to determine a winner.
Behind individual section wins by Chris Lamberg and Lexi Seymour, the Bronchos edged Kokomo 100-97 at Indiana University for the crown.
Over the summer, coach Chris Meeks installed a deceptive offense that he thought fit his team’s bevvy of smaller, quicker linemen and a backfield of elusive speedsters.
Rensselaer’s football team kept things quiet until Week 1. Unsure how efficient the offense would be, Meeks and his staff quickly learned they’d discovered something special.
The Bombers racked up 60 points against Kankakee Valley, a total they’d match or surpass seven times on their way to an undefeated season. Rensselaer won the school’s first state championship, 45-21 over Evansville Mater Dei.
After the game, the team invited Steve Roberts onto the field for photos. Roberts, a longtime spotter in the press box, died after a bout with pancreatic cancer on Dec. 31.
NCC party crashers
The new kids came into the North Central Conference and spoiled the fun of winning championships for everyone else.
Combined, Harrison, McCutcheon and Lafayette Jeff won 12 league titles. Harrison was the overall boys all-sports champion and McCutcheon was earned the same accolade on the girls side as the two schools each won five league crowns.
Frontier’s baseball and softball programs had long awaited their field of dreams.
Had they known what they were getting, they could’ve afforded to wait a bit longer.
Drainage issues, a sandy substance of sod and lack of growing grass caused unsafe playing conditions that stripped the Falcons of their home field late in the season. All games were moved to opponent’s sites and the baseball sectional scheduled to be played at Frontier was moved to Carroll.
Bronchos get Moore
Over 19 successfull seasons, Brian Moore won 179 of 219 games at Seeger and Fountain Central.
Looking to bring in a coach with a successful football coaching pedigree, Lafayette Jeff tabbed Moore to take over the Bronchos, succeeding Andy Kennedy.
Moore won a state championship at Seeger and stepped down as Fountain Central athletic director and football coach to hopefully restore Lafayette Jeff’s football tradition.
Cougars clear hurdle
It was Carroll’s fourth-straight trip to the softball semistate, but the Cougars had yet to enjoy the victory that sent them to the state finals.
A fourth loss that deep in the postseason would’ve been demoralizing, but Elizabeth Eurit made sure that did not happen.
Eurit’s hit in the eighth inning brought home the only run in a pitching war between Carroll’s Carly Kingery and North Miami’s Josie Wood.
It marked the second program in Carroll history to reach the state finals, joining the football team that won a state title in 1995 and was runner-up in 1996.
Lump of Cole
The field at the IHSAA boys golf state finals eyed the prize of a championship.
The winner may have been the least experienced player in the field.
Harrison sophomore Cole Bradley, who’d been playing the sport for just two years, let a two-stroke lead slip away in the late holes, but managed to get into a playoff against Columbia City’s Spencer Klimek, which he won with a par putt on the second hole.
BY THE NUMBERS
Seconds left when Mikey Kidwell tossed a 7-yard touchdown to Kyle Turner and a 2-point conversion to Spencer Ronchetto in West Lafayette’s Week 1 football victory over Tri-West. It was the only loss of the season for the Bruins, who won the 3A state championship.
Two-point field goal made all season by West Lafayette basketball senior Tyler Nycz, who made 59 of 166 3-pointers.
Sectional titles in a row for Harrison’s girls tennis team, which had won just one in program history prior to its current streak.
Seconds it took Harrison senior Maggie Shandrick to go the length of the floor and throw in a floater at the buzzer as the Raiders stunned No. 1 Central Catholic 58-56 in the J&C Hoops Classic.
Points scored in the final 50.7 seconds by Central Catholic’s girls basketball team, which overcame an eight-point deficit to defeat defending state champion Oregon-Davis in the Class A semistate.
Shutouts by Harrison’s boys soccer team, which went 19-2-2 and advanced to semistate.
Years since Harrison’s football team posted a shutout before the Raiders defeated Anderson 45-0 on Sept. 19
Holes it took Morgan Brown to earn City/County girls golf medalist honors over Lafayette Jeff’s Samantha Hatter. Both shot a 76 at Coyote Crossing in a meet dominated by the Bronchos. Brown’s CC team didn’t even have enough players to have a score tabulated, but she outlasted Hatter in two sudden-death playoff holes.
Double-doubles by Fountain Central sophomore forward Macee Williams in 25 games. The Mustangs reached the regional championship game.
Tackles for loss by Rensselaer senior defensive end Austin Fleming, earning him a spot on the Indiana Football Coaches Association’s list of top 50 players in the state.
Goals scored by Crawfordsville senior forward Hannah Whicker, who owns the Athenians’ record for a season and career.
Combined years since Frankfort’s last baseball conference and sectional championships. The Hot Dogs ended a 39-year drought by winning the Sagamore Conference title and a 23-year drought with a sectional title, beating Crawfordsville to secure both.
Career pins by Harrison senior wrestler Seth Meyer, including one in a school-record five seconds.
Points scored by West Lafayette’s boys cross country team in the IHSAA state finals, edging Carmel for the championship, WL’s first in 50 years.
Combined two-day score at the IHSAA state finals shot by Harrison sophomore Cole Bradley, who was 1-under par and defeated Columbia City’s Spencer Klimek in a playoff to win the individual state championship.
Rushing yards per game averaged by McCutcheon senior running back Blake Elming, who owns the Mavericks’ single season and career records.
Rushing yards by Rensselaer in the Class 2A state championship football victory over Evansville Mater Dei, an IHSAA record for the final.
Kills by North White senior middle hitter Kalene Ruemler, the most by any player in the area.
Points scored in 22 games by Twin Lakes senior guard/forward Laurhen Pickett, who averaged 25.1 per game to go with 11 rebounds a night.