Tuesday, December 27th, 2016
A sports memorable year for the Grand Lake area
2016 Year in Review
By Colin Foster
Individuals and teams from the Grand Lake area achieved many great feats in 2016.
The year brought trophies in abundance, record-breaking performances, and teams that achieved success on the state level - two of which claimed state titles.
With that in mind, narrowing down a list to a top 10 was quite challenging. However, when the same conference sends three teams to the state football championships for a third straight season, it's hard to top.
1) 'Mighty MAC'
The Midwest Athletic Conference was referred to as the 'Mighty MAC' by commentators on the Time Warner Cable Sports Channel state football telecast.
Considering the conference's overall body of work throughout history - especially the last three years - it's a fitting nickname.
Coldwater (Division V), Marion Local (Division VI) and Minster (Division VII) all reached the state title games in their respective divisions - a flashback to 2014, when the same teams made it to Columbus (Coldwater in D-V, Minster in D-VI and Marion in D-VII).
That season, all three won titles. In 2016, though, Tim Goodwin's Flyers were the only team to bring home gold with a 21-17 victory over Cuyahoga Heights - reclaiming the throne a year after having lost to Kirtland.
For quarterback Duane Leugers and the 19 other seniors, it was the perfect ending to their careers at Marion Local.
"It feels a lot better than last year," Leugers said. "As a senior, there's 20 of us and we wanted to go out with a bang. This is a heckuva way to end our career and our last game as a player."
Coldwater and Canton Central Catholic ended the state weekend with a bang under the lights, clashing for the third straight season in the Division V title game. The Cavs had won the previous two and were looking for a state-record fifth consecutive title. In an action-packed second half, Tee Rupp scored the game-winning 55-yard touchdown late in the fourth to give CCC a 16-13 win.
"Certainly, if you're a fan, that's the game you want to see," Coldwater coach Chip Otten said. "Lot of good plays. Lot of big plays. Unfortunately, there were some missed opportunities for us. Real proud of our guys. It went down to the wire.
"It's been a good respectful rivalry the last three years," Otten continued. "Good respect for (CCC). Good kids. Coach (Jeff) Lindesmith has done a good job."
Geron Stokes' Minster Wildcats began the season 2-4 before going on a Cinderella run to the D-VII state title game. But Cinderella didn't get the storybook ending it deserved. The Wildcats ran into a stout defense from Warren John F. Kennedy and were bottled up. The Eagles halted Minster's eight-game winning streak and claimed their first state title in 25 years with a 24-6 victory.
"That's a really good football team that deserves a championship," Stokes said.
"I'm really proud of our team," Minster senior lineman Isaac Dorsten added. "We were 2-4 at one point in the season (and) people questioned if we were going to make playoffs. But ending the year here in Columbus, I couldn't be more proud and happy with how we finished the season."
A year earlier, Coldwater and Fort Recovery (Division VII) had won state titles while Marion Local finished runner-up. In 2016, the Flyers earned their fifth title in six seasons and ninth all-time. Coldwater was making its eighth-straight trip to the title game and 13th of all-time. It was Minster's first loss in three state title appearances.
The MAC has had at least one team playing in a state finals every year since 2003. Only once during that stretch did the conference not produce a champion (2009).
Mighty MAC, indeed.
2) Minster Golden Again
History was made in Hebron.
The Minster girls' cross country team became the winningest program all-time, reaching a record 10 state titles with the lowest score ever in a Division III state meet (38 points) at National Trail Raceway.
The Wildcats were led by a trio of All-Ohioans (freshman Emma Watcke, sophomore Kaitlynn Albers and senior Morgan Pohl) en route to claiming their first state championship since 2010.
The victory ended a series of second-place finishes for coach Jessie Magoto's bunch at the state track and field and XC meet. St. Thomas Aquinas had defeated Minster at the last two state track meets and at the 2015 state XC meet. But this time, the Wildcats were head-and-shoulders above the rest - leaving Aquinas in the dust as they finished off an unbeaten run through the season against Division III competition.
The St. Henry girls made some history of their own that day, too. The ninth-place finish was the best all-time for the Redskins.
3) The Fall of Celina
A 20-game winning streak, a Western Buckeye League title and a state semifinal appearance for the boys' soccer team. A regional appearance for the girls' soccer team. And another league crown/ regional showing for the volleyball team.
The fall season couldn't have been much better for Celina athletics.
The Bulldog boys went on a 20-game winning streak after having dropped their season opener to Findlay. Led by WBL Player of the Year Brennen Piper, Jarren Casto and a cast of 13 seniors, Celina earned a trip to the Division II state semifinal for the first time in program history. In that game, the Bulldogs fell to Richfield Revere 2-0 at Frost-Kalnow Stadium in Tiffin.
A season after having earned their first trip to the state semis, the Celina girls' soccer team secured a spot in the Sweet 16 with two overtime victories in the district round. The magic, however, ran out there for the Bulldogs, who were defeated by Bay Village 7-0 at Lexington High School.
The Bulldog spikers upended defending league champion Ottawa-Glandorf and went unbeaten through WBL play to earn a piece of the title for the first time since 2013. The Bulldogs went on to secure a place in the Division II regional semis - also the first time since 2013 - where they fell to the Norwalk Truckers in three sets at Ontario High School.
4) Indians Make Return to State
More than sixty years had passed before the Fort Recovery baseball team made a run to state in 2015.
The Indians didn't wait long to get back again.
Using the arms of aces Jackson Hobbs and Nick Thwaits, Fort Recovery reached the Division IV Final Four for a second consecutive season, landing a date with the Newark Catholic Green Wave, who had defeated them in 2015 on their way to a state title. But on that day, Fort Recovery made too many mistakes in a 7-3 loss at Huntington Park.
It was the last game played in a Fort Recovery uniform for five seniors. Over the course of two years, those players helped the Indians go 47-16 and claim two regional titles.
5) Keck Back on the Podium
Coldwater diver Caleb Keck capped his junior season by earning All-Ohio honors for a third straight year with a third-place finish at the Division II state diving championships in Canton.
It was the best overall finish for Keck, who had placed fifth as a freshman and fourth as a sophomore. He was seeded fourth entering the competition but bettered his district score of 466.45 and finished the 11-dive state contest with a score of 472.85.
Keck will try to earn a fourth straight All-Ohio performance - possibly even a state title - when he suits up this winter for the Cavaliers. He will then continue his diving career at West Virginia University.
6) Summer of Seth
A perfect game - with 20 strikeouts - against Marion Local, 12 straight Ks against Coldwater and an MVP performance in front of home fans at the Dale Harter Memorial state ACME tournament.
The summer of Celina left-handed pitcher Seth Lonsway was a great one.
Lonsway led the Bulldogs to a spot in the ACME state title game against Archbold. But Lonsway eventually reached the state-maximum 10-inning limit over three days in the sixth inning against the Blue Streaks, and they rallied with him off the mound in the seventh for a 3-2 win.
Celina came within one inning of winning its first state ACME title since 1988. During the tournament, Lonsway didn't allow a run in 10 innings and struck out 17 while also adding five hits, including an RBI triple in the final.
We'll find out soon enough if Lonsway and the Bulldogs can stage a big encore this spring. But this past summer, we were all witness to the Summer of Seth.
7) Cardinals Soar to Elite 8
New Bremen ventured into unchartered territory this season under the direction of first-year coach Diana Kramer.
The Cardinals earned their first district title in nearly two decades with a sweep of rival Minster. A second sweep of Fort Loramie sent them to the regional final, where they were upended by eventual state champion and unbeaten Jackson Center.
New Bremen had won 17 consecutive games leading up to the regional finals. Most of the team, including Michigan commit Paige Jones, will be back next season as the Cardinals try to make another tournament run.
8) Luebke Returns to Majors
Cory Luebke battled through injuries. He then continued to work and wait for four years until another shot in Major League Baseball presented itself.
The Marion Local graduate finally got that shot last summer when the Pittsburgh Pirates made him an offer.
Luebke overcame a series of arm injuries to make it back to the bigs. He was 0-1 with a 9.35 ERA in 8 1/3 innings with the Pirates but went on to have a successful stint with Triple-A Indianapolis, going 1-0 with one save and a 2.45 ERA in 18 1/3 innings.
The left-handed pitcher was released by the Pirates on June 26 after he had been designated for assignment. He then agreed to a minor league contract with the Miami Marlins in early July.
9) Stechschulte, Lee Step Down
The end of two eras at Minster.
Coach Nann Stechschulte spent 27 seasons on the sidelines at Minster.
During that time, her teams won 440 games, 18 sectional titles, nine district titles, three regional crowns and a couple of state championships.
After Minster's run to a MAC title and a regional appearance last season, Stechschulte decided it was time to call it quits - ending a 36-year coaching career that also included a stint at Cincinnati Oak Hills.
Just days before, Mike Lee, the longstanding Minster boys basketball coach, announced his resignation after having compiled 314 games in 23 seasons with the program.
10) Goin' Bowling
Two Grand Lake area alums (Brody Hoying and Mike Bath) got to spend the holiday season in warmer weather as their college football teams traveled for bowl games. Brothers from Minster, Eli and Ethan Wolf, are gearing for battle in the Music City.
Hoying (Coldwater), a redshirt freshman defensive back for Eastern Michigan, spent Christmas in the Bahamas for the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl. After going 7-5, Eastern Michigan earned its first bowl appearance in nearly 20 years. The Eagles lost to Old Dominion 24-20.
Bath (Celina), a running backs coach for Wyoming, traveled with his team to San Diego for the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 21. The Cowboys lost to Brigham Young University 24-21.
The Wolf brothers (Minster) are both tight ends for the Tennessee Vols and are set to travel with the team to Nashville for the Music City Bowl with Nebraska on Dec. 30. Eli and Ethan are both tight ends for the Vols, who finished 21st in the final College Football Playoff rankings.
It was also a memorable basketball season for Ryan Mikesell (St. Henry) and Wade Gelhaus (Fort Recovery). Mikesell went to the NCAA Tournament with the University of Dayton Flyers for the first time in his career. The Flyers lost to eventual final-four qualifier Syracuse, 70-51, in the Round of 32.
Gelhaus and the Saginaw Valley Cardinals had a historic season. They went 25-8 and earned their first Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title since 1984 and first postseason berth since joining NCAA Division II. Once there, SVSU made a run to the Elite Eight before losing to Western Oregon, 81-68.
Schmitmeyer Sensational at State
St. Marys junior Jill Schmitmeyer went into her second consecutive state golf tournament hoping for a top-10 finish.
She did a little better than that.
With a fifth-place finish, Schmitmeyer earned All-Ohio honors for the first time in her career. As a sophomore, she became the first female Roughrider to ever earn a trip to the tournament. In 2016, Schmitmeyer improved 14 spots from her sophomore-season finish and knocked off 23 strokes, shooting a two-day total of 150.
Roughriders Return to Playoffs
St. Marys went 9-1 during the regular season to claim a share of the WBL title and make a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Along the way, the Roughriders knocked off rival Celina and ended Wapakoneta's 33-game WBL winning streak. They had a chance at claiming the outright league title but were defeated by Ottawa-Glandorf in Week 10. The championship was split among St. Marys, O-G and Wapak.
The Roughriders rolled to a romp of Belmont in Week 11 and defeated top-seeded Franklin the following week. Eventual state runner-up Trotwood-Madison ended St. Marys' season with a 34-27 defeat in the regional final.
Cav Bowlers Take 2nd
The Coldwater boys bowling team took runner-up honors at the Division II state bowling tournament at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
The Cavs rolled a D-II state record 3,367 in the three-regulation and three-baker game format to earn the top seed in the finals. Once there, Coldwater was handed a four-game loss by Urbana. Three bowlers from Coldwater earned All-Ohio honors in Cory Whitacre (first team) and Ben Schmitmeyer and Tyler Wenning, both third team.
- Sportswriter Gary R. Rasberry also contributed to this report.