Listen to this article

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, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

Prep Sports Coordinator

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