Top student-athletes

Jason Craig, Schlarman. One of the Hilltoppers’ better boys’ soccer and boys’ basketball players, the class valedictorian and National Honor Society member will take his academic talents to the University of Illinois.

Jacob Duzan, Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond. Played a meaningful role in Knights placing second in the Class 1A boys’ cross-country state meet, also ran track for ALAH and wound up as his class valedictorian.

Drew Fehr, Prairie Central. Standout football/boys’ basketball player and pole vault state medalist crafted a 4.0 grade point average and was named academic all-state by the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association.

Landon Freeman, Hoopeston Area. Aided a football offensive line that helped the Cornjerkers end a playoff drought that dated back to 1993, and he also received All-Vermilion Valley Conference recognition in scholastic bowl.

Renni Fultz and Joey Sprinkle, Monticello. Fultz held a 3.96 GPA while playing four sports, Sprinkle kept a 4.0 GPA while playing three sports and both were named Illini Prairie Conference Scholar Athletes.

Raegan Gooding and Jordan Schroeder, Watseka. Gooding played three sports, was class valedictorian and earned IHSA academic all-state honorable mention. Schroeder was a three-sport athlete and Illinois State Scholar.

Gentry Howard, Georgetown-Ridge Farm. Volleyball and softball athlete held a 5.0 grade point average to become class valedictorian, and she also was named an Illinois State Scholar and Danville Area CC Presidential Scholar.

Cadi Hu, Henry Laufenberg and Sally Ma, Uni High. Hu will attend Columbia after qualifying for state in cross-country and track and field. Laufenberg is a star distance runner who earned Uni High Male Athlete of the Year and will attend Princeton. Ma was the 2021 All-Area girls’ swimming and diving Athlete of the Year and also will attend Columbia.

Payton Jacob, St. Joseph-Ogden. Future Illinois Wesleyan student-athlete played a key role for the Spartans’ girls’ basketball and softball programs all while making grades to finish as class valedictorian.

Kyle Johnson, Champaign Central. In the running for All-Area boys’ soccer Player of the Year last season, Johnson maintained a 4.0 grade point average and cracked academic all-sectional and All-Big 12 teams.

Brynlee Keeran, Salt Fork. Balanced softball and track and field in the spring, garnering Class 1A all-state status in pole vault and triple jump and becoming valedictorian of her class.

Avery Kessler, Arcola. An all-conference softball honorable-mention pick and a contributor for Purple Riders girls’ basketball, she booked a 4.0 grade point average and graduated as class valedictorian.

David Navarra, Centennial. Captain for Chargers football and a top wrestler, Navarra is an IHSA Scholastic Achievement winner and all-conference Scholar Athlete who speaks English, French, Kikongo, Lingala and Spanish.

Rajan Patel, Tuscola. Despite being undersized at 5-foot-9, he helped Warriors boys’ basketball to 28 victories on top of achieving the highest SAT score in his class, a 4.0 grade point average and class valedictorian honors.

Tayon Swift, Rantoul. Four-sport competitor will attend the University of San Francisco beginning later this year after achieving a 5.4 GPA as a senior, also sang the national anthem at the IHSA boys’ basketball state tournament.

In memoriam

Dick Duval, St. Joseph-Ogden. Longtime Spartans football coach, 64, died on Aug. 26, 2021, after a battle with cancer. The SJ-O and Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer won 251 games and also was a math teacher, baseball coach, athletic director and scoreboard operator.

James Cotter, St. Joseph-Ogden. Freelance writer and Spartans team parent, 55, died on Aug. 30, 2021. He covered University of Illinois and local high school sports, and one of his three children was 2022 SJ-O grad Austin Cotter.

Jelani Day, Danville. The 2014 Vikings graduate, 25, died on Sept. 5, 2021. He was a boys’ track and field sprinter who was working to obtain his master’s degree from Illinois State.

Linden Swango, Monticello. Former Sages football and golf coach, 90, died on Dec. 26, 2021. He also served as a teacher, sports reporter, author, photographer and IHSA state track and field meet volunteer.

Katelyn Moore, Unity. Rockets sophomore, 16, died on March 5, 2022. Moore was a volleyball, basketball and track and field athlete who posthumously earned All-Area girls’ basketball recognition.

Ross Booker, St. Joseph-Ogden. The 2020 Spartans alumnus, 20, died on March 6, 2022, while on the job as a tow-truck driver. Booker played football at SJ-O and was preparing to start an internship as a diesel mechanic.

Dave Fauble, Urbana. Former Tigers boys’ tennis coach, 67, died on March 8, 2022. The Quincy resident served in that capacity between 1993 and 1997 and was a longtime tennis pro at Urbana Country Club.

Colin Bane, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley. Falcons junior, 17, died on May 18, 2022, in a motor vehicle crash. Bane was a defenseman for the 2021 Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley boys’ soccer team that won 19 games, and he also played basketball.

Lucas Otto, Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond. The 2020 Knights alumnus, 20, died on June 29, 2022, in a motor vehicle crash. He was an All-Area football and baseball honoree and Lake Land College baseball pitcher playing summer baseball for the Springfield Lucky Horseshoes.

All-interview team

Jackson Gilbert, Urbana. Star sprinter and solid soccer player seems to march to the beat of his own drum, leading to unique observations even after earning a pair of Class 2A boys’ track and field state medals.

Caroline Kerr, St. Thomas More. Setter and most recent News-Gazette All-Area volleyball Player of the Year was a star from Day 1 with the Sabers, meaning she became very comfortable with cameras in her face.

Oran Varela, Unity. Life of the party for Rockets wrestling returned from a significant injury to make his senior year great with both that program and Unity football, and he was gladly willing to dish on either of those teams.

Alyssa Williams, Tuscola. The latest in a line of local prep track and field competitors with interesting insights, the two-time girls’ Athlete of the Year always offered measured and thought-out responses to questions.

Karley Yergler, Mahomet-Seymour. Strikeout machine earned News-Gazette All-Area softball Player of the Year status and was glad to open up about the sport, even after the Bulldogs’ pair of state tournament losses.

Deserved more pub

Avontay Anderson, Rantoul. A mid-relay runner for Eagles boys’ track and field, he earned a Class 2A fourth-place medal in the 1,600-meter relay after being a leader for Rantoul boys’ basketball in the winter.

Payton Armstrong, Hoopeston Area. Now a Danville Area Community College golfer, Armstrong holed a ball from 75 yards out in August 2021 and qualified for an IHSA girls’ golf sectional for the second time in three years.

Andrew Beyers, St. Joseph-Ogden. A golfer, basketball player and baseball athlete, Beyers was a two-sport team captain in his senior year who aided the Spartans in winning 23 basketball games and 35 baseball games.

Awstace Grauer, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley. Suffered an injury late in his junior track and field season that prevented him from running in the Class 1A boys’ state meet, but bounced back to qualify in this year’s 400-meter dash.

La Salette cross-country/basketball. The 2021-22 school year was the Lions’ first with IHSA postseason eligibility, and they qualified as a team for a boys’ cross-country sectional and won a boys’ basketball regional game.

Alexa Miller, Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond. Soccer player, basketball athlete and track and field competitor was a News-Gazette All-Area second-teamer on the hardwood and a Class 1A girls’ triple jump state finalist.

Reef Pacot, Salt Fork. Sometimes overshadowed by Mahomet-Seymour and Unity athletes, Pacot earned a Class 1A state wrestling 132-pound fifth-place medal and also was a leader on an 18-win Oakwood/Salt Fork soccer team.

Karson Richardson, Unity. News-Gazette All-Area special-mention offensive lineman in football and 50-win state qualifier in wrestling was a big reason Rockets garnered state trophies in both sports.

Allison Thompson, Danville. Vikings’ distance-running standout raced in the Class 2A girls’ cross-country state meet as a junior and recorded top-five finishes in the Big 12 Conference 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.

Matthew Winterbottom, Champaign Central. Stepped up during his freshman and sophomore seasons with Maroons boys’ soccer, helping it to 24 wins in that stretch and earning all-sectional honors last fall.

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