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Thinking back on the cheers, tears and titles

Local IHSA participation concluded this past Monday when two baseball teams and one softball team fell short in their small-school super-sectional games.

Those results put the finishing touches on a busy and largely successful 2018-19 school year, from an area athletic standpoint.

Before we get into spring All-Area packages and prepare for a fast-approaching 2019-2020 school year later this month, it seems appropriate to take a look back at my school year that was.

I covered 134 high school sporting events in person between mid-August 2018 and late-May 2019. I'm going to offer my thoughts on 20 from each season — fall, winter and spring.

Just a few initial observations about my travels this school year, before we roll into specific showcases:

— I either drove or sat shotgun for 4,951.4 miles to cover prep sports events alone. This doesn't include travel for any feature stories or photographs.

— From all these events came 116 video highlights packages, put together by either myself or Anthony Zilis. The first was from an Aug. 21 volleyball match between Mahomet-Seymour and Champaign Central.

The last was from last Monday's Class 2A baseball super-sectional game between Tuscola and Pleasant Plains.

— Centennial appeared 20 times on my coverage list (not including any individuals in cross-country/wrestling/track and field meets), while Champaign Central popped up 18 times.

Now, let's get to the nitty gritty.

— Uni High at Champaign Central boys' soccer, Aug. 28: Still disappointed I was looking down at camera, assessing previous goal, when Illineks' Albert Lee found the back of the net from center-pitch in Maroons' win.

— Arcola at Tuscola football, Aug. 31: Warriors rolled in resumption of Cola Wars, while I enjoyed both sides' appreciation for our prep football special section, cover of which included two alumni from each program.

— Champaign Central at Centennial football, Sept. 1: 8 a.m. start brought on by shooting death of 16-year-old Maroons student made for quiet, somber atmosphere in the Chargers' revamped Tommy Stewart debut that Central won.

— St. Thomas More at Paxton-Buckley-Loda volleyball, Sept. 4: Hottest gymnasium I was in all school year. Sabers also showed they intended follow-up to 2017 state appearance, sweeping solid Panthers.

— Monticello at St. Thomas More football, Sept. 7: Annoying drizzle necessitated debut of my notepad-protecting device made of folders, rulers, clipboard and duct tape during Sages' win.

— Centennial vs. Champaign Central girls' swimming and diving, Sept. 18: Reminded how much sport's athletes, fans appreciate live coverage, how good Chargers' Lizzie Gile and Lauren Feddersen are despite Maroons' win.

— St. Joseph-Ogden at St. Thomas More volleyball, Sept. 20: Best event I'd attended up to this point, especially when deafening crowd got into four consecutive Spartan points that capped three-setter in SJ-O's favor.

— Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley at Fisher football, Sept. 21: Falcons cruised, and I received rogue foot below belt when Bunnies player flew out of bounds. Not filed under "perks of the gig."

— Centennial vs. Peoria Notre Dame football, Sept. 22: One of four games at UI's Memorial Stadium this day — I'm all for more of them — ended in thrilling overtime fashion, though Chargers fell short.

— Armstrong-Potomac at Oakwood volleyball, Sept. 25: Trojans star Sarah Porter noted team's motivation from not being included in my top 10 while Comets were. It showed in three-set win by A-P.

— Centennial at Urbana football, Sept. 28: I recall trick play of receiver Tyson Burton hitting receiver Devyon Coleman for Chargers score in win, Tigers coach Ordell Walker's disappointed but passionate postgame interview.

— Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin at Salt Fork football, Oct. 12: Parts of field were swamp, yet Evan Walworth booted last-second field goal after penalty on previous try to lift Blue Devils.

— St. Teresa vs. Judah Christian boys' soccer, Oct. 20: Field goal posts at Field of Dreams bent unnaturally, ball flew backward 35 yards on fly, Tribe couldn't find winning formula in sectional final.

— Champaign Central vs. Jacksonville boys' soccer, Oct. 24: Pablo Diaz wowed with boot, Peter Wagner impressed in net during sectional semifinal win. I appreciated Maroa-Forsyth playing "Chelsea Dagger" after goals.

— St. Thomas More vs. St. Joseph-Ogden volleyball, Oct. 31: I texted tweets from Watseka to copy editor Joe Vozzelli while Sabers got revenge in sectional final in Bismarck. WiFi can be fickle. Happy Halloween.

— State cross-country meet, Nov. 3: I walked all around Peoria-based course and chatted up every area personality I could, including boys' Class 2A champion and all-around nice guy Mathias Powell.

— St. Thomas More vs. Pleasant Plains volleyball, Nov. 9: Couldn't have assumed state semifinal, lost by Sabers at Redbird Arena in Normal, would be last I'd see of Stan Bergman coaching at STM.

— Carlinville at Monticello football, Nov. 17: Sight of Cully Welter, some of his assistants wearing shorts in 40-degree weather sticks with me. Sages pushed through to first state championship game with semifinal triumph.

— Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley vs. Maroa-Forsyth football, Nov. 23: Bryce Barnes earned UI walk-on offer with dynamic state-title game effort.

— Monticello vs. Byron football, Nov. 23: Entire Sages community packed lower west side of Memorial Stadium to witness history, many bought Zilis' video recap afterward.

— Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin at Schlarman girls' basketball, Nov. 29: Hilltoppers got to enjoy spoils of previous season's state title, raising banner in Shebby Gym rafters and receiving flashy rings before victory.

— Bloomington at Danville boys' basketball, Dec. 7: Still best game I covered all season as Vikings trailed by nine with less than minute to play, wound up winning state-ranked matchup in regulation.

— Blue Ridge vs. Salt Fork boys' basketball, Dec. 27: My first trip to Broadlands, and Hawks superintendent/principal Tom Davis couldn't have been any more accommodating during Knights' triumph.

— Danville at Urbana boys' basketball, Jan. 8: Absolute shootout in which upstart Tigers tried to keep pace with Vikings, teams combined for 163 points in Danville win.

— Champaign Central at Centennial boys' basketball, Jan. 11: My clip of Bryson Cowper's buzzer-beating, three-quarter-court shot made it into ESPN's Twitter stream, and bucket helped Chargers to success.

— St. Joseph-Ogden at St. Thomas More boys' basketball, Jan. 15: Chance Izard went wild, hitting eight first-half three-pointers, and I'm sure Sabers' student section directed another playful cheer my direction despite team losing.

— Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin vs. Hoopeston Area boys' basketball, Jan. 17: Return of Drew Reifsteck from injury saw him pour out 19 points in Vermilion County Tournament semifinal victory at Danville's Palmer Arena.

— Twin City Meet (boys' swimming and diving), Jan. 22: Probably most fun-spirited version of Centennial-Central rivalry — including Urbana here — went in favor of Maroons.

— Urbana at Champaign Central boys' basketball, Feb. 1: Tigers broke through in big way, snaring rare victory at Combes Gymnasium.

— Salt Fork vs. Unity girls' basketball, Feb. 5: Elyce Knudsen and Abbie Charleston put forth incredible scoring effort, notching all but one of Rockets' 44 points, but Storm prevailed in regional semifinal.

— Charleston vs. Mahomet-Seymour girls' basketball, Feb. 12: Ninth-seeded Bulldogs never let state-ranked Trojans get comfortable in eventual regional semifinal setback in Clinton.

— State wrestling meet, Feb. 16: Five champions this time around, with Urbana's Luke Luffman securing his third the highlight inside State Farm Center.

— Tri-County vs. Eastland girls' basketball, Feb. 22: First of two heartbreakingly close state losses for Titans showed importance of Harley Barry to team.

— Tri-County vs. Lewistown girls' basketball, Feb. 23: Maiya Eskew fervently rooting on Titans after fouling out late made for inspiring message.

— Schlarman vs. Eastland girls' basketball, Feb. 23: What's better than repeating as state champion? Dousing your coach with water in the locker room shower afterward.

— St. Joseph-Ogden vs. Hillsboro girls' basketball, Feb. 23: Nice to see Spartans play up to potential in third-place win after struggling night before versus Teutopolis.

— Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley vs. Bloomington Central Catholic boys' basketball, March 1: Crowd in Tolono for sectional final was electric from start to finish — best I saw outside a state showcase — as Falcons prevailed.

— Cissna Park vs. Central A&M boys' basketball, March 8: Happier of two state games for Timberwolves, with 6-foot-7 twins Christian and Julian Stadeli getting to show off in semifinal win in Peoria.

— Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley vs. Chicago Corliss boys' basketball, March 9: Ryland Holt played like man possessed, even with four fouls, in state third-place game that Falcons won in overtime.

— News-Gazette/Parkland College All-Star Game (girls' basketball), April 14: Schlarman's Sydney Gouard hit a buzzer-beating layup for the win. Who says exhibitions have to be tame?

— Villa Grove at Mahomet-Seymour softball, March 13: Weather didn't feel anything like spring, but still fun to watch strong small-school program take on solid big-school group. Bulldogs snagged the W.

— St. Joseph-Ogden at Tuscola baseball, March 19: Ervin Park kept up reputation as hitter-friendly when Warriors' Cade Kresin, Brayden VonLanken and Max Wyninger all homered in home triumph.

— Urbana vs. Centennial baseball, April 10: Game wasn't particularly close — Chargers persevered — but Tigers student-athlete Payton Sheen trash-talking Chargers' Dayton Coleman through fence with smile on face was entertaining.

— Unity at St. Joseph-Ogden softball, April 15: First Rockets victory over Spartans in coach Aimee Davis' six years, and Katie Poulter woke me up with hard foul ball right into my section of fence.

— Champaign Central at Centennial boys' tennis, April 22: Wish I would've gotten to more of these, especially for singles duels like Maroons' Nick Gunn versus Chargers' Thomas Scaggs. Centennial snared the victory.

— Centennial at Champaign Central girls' soccer, April 23: Important win for Chargers in which goaltender Jordan DeLuce stood on her head.

— Fisher at Mahomet-Seymour softball, May 6: Another small school/big school game featured Shorty Eichelberger cheering on niece Sydney of the Bunnies, though they fell short.

— St. Thomas More vs. Judah Christian girls' soccer, May 8: Intensity between rivals spread to sidelines, where coaches James Johnson and Lee Bergfield traded barbs during STM's regional semifinal success.

— News-Gazette Honor Roll Meet (track and field), May 13: Always fun to hand local athletes medals, and weather couldn't have been better in Urbana.

— Mahomet-Seymour vs. Danville girls' soccer, May 14: Vikings fell behind early in regional semifinal, but kept things light on bench to fight adversity.

— St. Joseph-Ogden vs. Villa Grove/Heritage baseball, May 15: Adam Rose and Evan Wilson dazzled on the bump, with Spartans' Rose inching ahead in regional semifinal in Tolono.

— Girls' state track and field meet, May 16: I left O'Brien Stadium at 6:30 p.m. and Class 1A discus preliminaries still were ongoing thanks to lightning from earlier in the day.

— Girls' state track and field meet, May 17: Ameia Wilson impressed in her final IHSA prelims, bringing more self-appreciative attitude to proceedings.

— Girls' state track and field meet, May 18: Cully Welter hoisting a state plaque? Where have we seen this before?

— Unity vs. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley softball, May 21: Great back-and-forth sectional semifinal went to Rockets, couldn't be heard 100 feet away thanks to vicious wind in rural Stanford.

— St. Joseph-Ogden vs. Bloomington Central Catholic baseball, May 22: Sectional semifinal lasted longer than Kyle Hendricks' 81-pitch effort for Chicago Cubs in early May, and Spartans prevailed.

— Boys' state track and field meet, May 23: Ridgeview/Lexington's Mason Barr was most confident kid on track — this day, or the following two. Proved why with two Class 1A hurdling titles.

— Boys' state track and field meet, May 24: Hunter Hendershot showed it'd take a lot to slow him in Class 2A throws. Mahomet-Seymour junior was unstoppable in next day's finals.

— Boys' state track and field meet, May 25: Salt Fork capturing Class 1A championship was surprising to some — just not those in black and white.

— Tuscola vs. Pleasant Plains baseball, May 27: Finale went poorly for Warriors, but VonLanken gave great interview to end prep career.

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

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).