Colin Likas on preps | The Oscar goes to ...

Colin Likas on preps | The Oscar goes to ...

February might be the calendar year's shortest month, but that doesn't mean things aren't busy in the local high school sports world.

Athletes, coaches, fans and media experienced a bevy of winter athletics action over a 28-day period — including state tournaments in girls' basketball, wrestling and boys' swimming and diving.

During this time, I covered 23 events at 10 different high schools and three college campuses across Illinois, accounting for 866.4 miles traveled.

In recognition of one of high school sports' most wild months — and with 90th Academy Awards on tap for tonight — let's hand out some "Oscars" for the best the preps scene had to offer in February 2018.

Best game: Monticello vs. Oakwood girls' basketball, Class 2A Georgetown-Ridge Farm Regional final

When Comets sophomore Katelyn Young tallied five points in the last minute, including a layup with 6.1 seconds remaining in regulation, it seemed as if Oakwood would end the Sages' regional-championship streak at four. But senior Tatum McCall rushed coast to coast for a buzzer-beating shot, forcing an overtime period from which Monticello came out victorious back on Feb. 9.

Also nominated: Schlarman vs. Annawan girls' basketball, 1A Pontiac Super-Sectional; Monticello vs. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley boys' basketball, 2A Hoopeston Area Regional final; Danville Area Community College at Parkland men's basketball.

Best individual performance: Benton Singleton, Monticello boys' basketball

It can be hard to stand out among four senior starters returning from a state-qualifying club, but this junior found a major way to do so on Feb. 23. Singleton secured a game-best 17 points, none bigger than his driving, off-balance layup to break a 43-all tie against Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley during the Class 2A Hoopeston Area Regional final.

Also nominated: Janiah Newell, Schlarman girls' basketball, in 1A state semifinals and finals; Drew Hoselton, Prairie Central wrestling, at 1A state tournament; Tommy Makabu, Centennial boys' basketball, in 4A Danville Regional quarterfinal.

Best moment: Suzet Sermersheim's shot, Class 1A girls' basketball state final

This mid-range jumper didn't change the Feb. 24 game's outcome beyond adding two more points to the scoreboard. But the freshman nailing just her fifth basket of the season to cap a historic Schlarman run to its first girls' state championship was just the icing on the cake for this 99-student institution.

Also nominated: Kendle Moore's shot that clinched Danville boys' basketball's Big 12 title; Urbana's Ethan Chow qualifying for the boys' swimming state meet in the 100 breaststroke; Monticello girls' basketball honors ill Tuscola athlete during the Sages' 2A postseason run.

Biggest surprise: Sullivan girls' basketball winning a Class 2A regional title

Throwing the records out the window was never more apt than when coach Sheri McCain's Redskins entered the postseason at 12-12 and proceeded to run off four consecutive victories — including three against better-seeded opponents. This was a strong Cinderella story that ran until the Sweet 16.

Also nominated: Prairie Central wrestler Brandon Hoselton winning a 1A 195-pound state title; Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher wrestler Cale Horsch placing second at 106 pounds in 1A as a freshman; Judah Christian boys' basketball winning a 1A regional title, the program's first ever.

Best student section: Unity, Monticello at Unity boys' basketball

When your team loses by a 54-23 margin, there's typically not a whole lot to celebrate. No one told this to the Rockets' rooters on Feb. 13 in Tolono. With recent Army football signee Steven Migut at the forefront, these fans were just as loud when the final buzzer sounded as they were during the opening tip. The Unity hoopsters had to feel the love during a difficult outcome.

Also nominated: Schlarman students at girls' basketball postseason games; St. Thomas More students at own 2A girls' basketball regional final; Mahomet-Seymour students during David Griffet's 2A 285-pound state semifinal match.

Best leader: Lane Wagner, Danville boys' swimming and diving

The word "leader" typically brings to the mind a senior star. But Wagner is offering a different brand of guidance in his sophomore campaign. After transferring from Bismarck-Henning before this school year, Wagner has created a buzz within the Vikings' pool-positioned program. This was only solidified by a state qualification in the 500-yard freestyle. Look out for coach Jeff Davis' squad in the future.

Also nominated: Sydney Gouard, Schlarman girls' basketball; Justin Cardani, Centennial wrestling; Luke Luffman, Urbana wrestling.

Best quote: Cody Miller, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin wrestling

Brutal honesty can be hard to find in the sports world. So when it arrives from someone not even in college, it's a breath a fresh air. After a second consecutive runner-up finish in the Class 1A 220-pound state wrestling division, Miller was candid but motivated. Anyone who can describe their prep career as "mediocre" and still exude confidence has a way with words.

Also nominated: David Griffet, Mahomet-Seymour wrestling; Zanna Myers, Monticello girls' basketball; Tom Cooper, Judah Christian boys' basketball coach.

Most likely to repeat: Luke Luffman, Urbana wrestling, and Schlarman girls' basketball

I had to go with a tie in this instance, because there's little to suggest either party is going to fall short in re-obtaining a state championship during the 2018-19 season. Luffman is now a two-time victor at Class 2A 220 pounds, while the Hilltoppers will return their entire roster from last weekend's success. Spirits have to be high within both programs.

Also nominated: Centennial's Alex Shilts and Champaign Central's Ryan Wierschem, returning to the state boys' swimming and diving meet; St. Joseph-Ogden boys' basketball, winning regional title; Prairie Central's Brandon Hoselton, winning state wrestling title.

Best atmosphere: Wrestling state finals at State Farm Center

This place was rocking from before the honorary Grand March on the last night of the three-day meet until the final state title match was complete. For the Illinois wrestling community, the state finals offers an opportunity for a sort of cathartic release after a strenuous and challenging season. That comes off pretty well to someone standing on the main floor, surrounded by the entire scene.

Also nominated: 1A girls' basketball state final; St. Joseph-Ogden vs. St. Thomas More girls' basketball in 2A St. Thomas More Regional final; Monticello vs. Oakwood girls' basketball in 2A Georgetown-Ridge Farm Regional final.

Best image: Justin Cardani, Centennial wrestling

The future Illinois grappler is all about having fun on the mat. So after securing his second consecutive state crown on Feb. 17, Cardani decided a celebratory backflip was in order. But he came up a little short, rolling it into a summersault before playfully sticking out his tongue at the crowd. That last image was captured by our Robin Scholz and made the next day's sports front page.

Also nominated: Schlarman's Anaya Peoples and Destiny Dye holding 1A girls' basketball state title trophy; St. Joseph-Ogden girls' basketball team hoisting 2A St. Thomas More Regional plaque; Monticello's Calvin Fisher hoists 2A Hoopeston Area Regional plaque.

Preps coordinator Colin Likas writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at clikasNG.