STRAIGHT OUT OF THE RANTOUL PRESS SPORTS VAULT STARTED BY FORMER SPORTS EDITOR MATT DANIELS, WE TAKE A LOOK BACK AT THE 2017-18 AREA PREP SPORTS SCENE AND A LOOK AHEAD TO THE 2018-19 SCHOOL YEAR
Male Athlete of the Year: Jaden Jones-Watkins, Fisher senior, football, basketball & track and field
What a year for Jones-Watkins. In the fall, the senior was the Bunnies’ workhorse running back for coach Jake Palmer and offensive coordinator Chad Mussleman in the first year of a brand-new option offense. Paired with quarterback Kade Thomas, Jones-Watkins rushed for 1,328 yards and 15 TDs on 202 carries and caught 12 passes for 185 yards and three TDs. Impressive numbers on the gridiron for the bell cow back, who toted the ball 42 times for 272 yards and three TDs in a huge 24-23 upset of Deer Creek-Mackinaw that paved the way for a potentially program-building playoff run. Jones-Watkins was the Rantoul Press Offensive Player of the Year in football and the Player of the Year in basketball, where the 6-1 guard shined on his way to becoming the latest Fisher product to score 1,000 career points.
His natural scoring ability was showcased most nights throughout an up-and-down 15-15 season, and the senior earned the right to play in both the Parkland College/The News-Gazette All-Area All-Star game and the Heart of Illinois Conference-Sangamon Valley Conference All-Star game. He will be continuing his basketball career at North Central College. He also began the outdoor track season with a personal record in the 400-meter dash and continued to progress his times in the 400- and 200-meter all year long in addition to nearly helping get the Bunnies’ 400-meter relay team to state.
Female Athlete of the Year: Sidney Hood, Fisher sophomore, golf, basketball, softball
It’s difficult to pinpoint which sport is Hood’s best. The sophomore golfer started the year with a bang, shooting a 94 at the Urbana Country Club to qualify for a Class 1A sectional along with teammate Kaitlin Marry (112). Then, Hood followed her individual success on the green up with more highlights on the basketball court. The Bunnies guard garnered a second-team All-Heart of Illinois Conference accolade, showing off her prowess as a marksman from deep and her ability to drive and finish in the lane.
And to put the cherry on top of a remarkable year, Hood became one of Fisher’s premier offensive bats on the softball diamond, hitting .350 with 28 RBI and 21 runs scored and one of the team’s best defensive players at shortstop. Hood earned a unanimous first-team all-HOIC selection for her work during a 21-8 season that saw the Bunnies finish 11-0 in the HOIC to win a conference championship. Ken Ingold, who coaches the youngster in both basketball and softball, is surely glowing about the opportunity to coach her up for two more seasons.
Rantoul football: Four straight dismal seasons for the Rantoul football program finally gave way to the Eagles ushering in a new voice to lead the locker room. In Tom Hess’ first season as head coach (he previously spent time as the team’s offensive coordinator and an assistant coach) he established a positive order of operations and got a noticeably larger number of participants to try out. On the field, it paid off for the Eagles as they captured the program’s first victory in more than two years, snapping a 19-game win streak by defeating Olympia and then dismantling St. Thomas More, 54-7, two weeks later. Angelo Brown, DeAndre Walker and Jerry Harper are all projected to return as key contributors in 2019.
Rantoul volleyball: It was not a great year for the Rantoul volleyball program, especially when expectations were sky high entering the year. The Eagles ran into some bad luck, and it rolled downhill quickly during a 5-26 season. Rantoul started the season 1-8 and won just 11 sets throughout the difficult Illini Prairie Conference slate.
Rantoul soccer: It was a rough start for the Eagles and first-year coach Michael Masters, as the club was outscored 18-2 across its first three matches, all losses to top-tier programs. Rantoul did rebound to capture seven victories, outscoring its opponents, 24-6, in those matches. But a 3-0 loss to Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley and a 3-2 overtime loss in a shootout to St. Joseph-Ogden were a couple of turning points. The Eagles had to establish several new playmakers, and almost all of them graduated (Garet Kinnett, Jacob Swiney, Jared Motley, Juan Aguayo), but Martin Sebastian and Reyes Hernandez are projected to be the club’s top one-two punch in 2019.
Rantoul cross country: Rantoul returned four letter winners, Elijah Hall, Peter McCusker, Jonathan Gossett and Hope Russell. Hall, McCusker and Gossett turned it up at the Class 2A Crete-Monee Regional, advancing to the sectional for the first time in seven years. Hall took fourth in the 3-mile race, earning a medal as a top-five regional winner, while McCusker finished 10th, and Gossett finished 11th. Russell, the lone Lady Eagle, finished 29th at the regional by eclipsing her personal-best time by 20 seconds to advance to the sectional. At the sectional, the boys team placed 13th overall, and Russell finished with one of the best times of her career (21:45.8).
Rantoul/PBL golf: Trey VanWinkle was just five strokes away from becoming the first Rantoul/Paxton-Buckley-Loda golfer to advance to state since Broke Peavler in 2012. The sophomore shot an 82, and teammates Noah Shields, Mitch St. Peter and Luke Jones all helped the Eagles advance to the sectional round as a team with top finishes at the Mahomet-Seymour Regional. VanWinkle took ninth place overall at the sectional with an 82, Shields finished 15th, and St. Peter and Jones tied for 17th. The Eagles also finished third at the Illini Prairie Conference meet.
Rantoul boys basketball: As expected, it was rough season for Rantoul basketball. After losing almost all of their offensive production from a historic 20-9 season in 2016-17, it was an up-an-down start. The Eagles began 7-9 following back-to-back wins over PBL and Mattoon, which provided coach Brett Frerichs with plenty of optimism heading into the second half of the season. But things quickly spiraled out of control as Rantoul suffered a 12-game losing streak with turnovers being the main backbreaker. The Eagles defeated Mattoon in a regional game and came fairly close to upsetting Mahomet-Seymour in a regional semifinal, but it was ultimately a disappointing year for Frerichs’ crew.
Rantoul girls basketball: Rantoul started positively, with a 3-2 finish at Oakwood’s Comet Classic providing some optimism at the outset. But the team was unable to put together any consistent performance on the court, losing 22 consecutive games to end the year.
Rantoul wrestling: The Eagles grapplers made up for Rantoul’s lack of success on the basketball court. For the second straight year, Rantoul had a state medalist as Peter McCusker finished fourth in Class 2A at 145 pounds, and Nolan Roseman made it to state at 138 pounds. Roseman finished the year 40-8, and Seth Sprandel and Kameren Goodell each reached 20-plus wins and came up just short of advancing to state. McCusker and Roseman will most likely remain in the top 10 individual state wrestling rankings in their respective weight classes in 2019.
Rantoul baseball: The season’s most notable moment came following a 10-3 loss to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley. Head coach Jon Donovan directed his team to get right back on the field for a nearly two-hour practice session. Along with several other factors in addition to that practice, the Eagles caught fire after that, winning nine of their next 10 games. After four straight losses to close the season, Rantoul won in thrilling walk-off fashion, 6-5, over Centennial in a first-round regional game.
Rantoul softball: Unfortunately for Rantoul, the most notable moment came in the season’s final game. Holding a 4-0 lead over host Mahomet-Seymour in a regional semifinal game, the Eagles let that advantage slip away, as the Bulldogs closed the gap to 4-3 in the sixth. The Eagles added another run in the seventh, but M-S brought the deficit to within one before a two-out, two-RBI walk-off hit sealed Rantoul’s postseason fate.
Rantoul track and field: Jerry Harper stole the spotlight on the track for Rantoul by winning a conference championship and a fifth-place Class 2A state medal this season in the 400-meter dash. Harper and his teammates (Garet Kinnett, Kayon Cunningham and Elijah Hall) also took an eighth-place finish at state in the 1,600-meter relay. Easily the most notable moment of the Eagles’ season was when Myejoi Williams became the first Rantoul Township High School girl to capture a state medal in a throwing event. The sophomore shot putter, who also won a conference title in the event, took fourth place in Class 2A.
Fisher football: Even though it was over a struggling program, Fisher’s 77-6 blowout victory over Edwardsville Metro-East Lutheran was exactly the explosive start to the season the Bunnies needed to grab some early-season momentum and confidence. But after losses in Week 2 and 3, Fisher won five of its next six, including a gigantic upset win over Class 2A’s then-No. 2-ranked team in the state, Deer Creek-Mackinaw. The win over the Chiefs turned out to be the turning point the program needed in reaching the playoffs for the first time in four years. Unfortunately for Fisher, the team was on the short end of a thrilling first-round playoff loss, 30-27, to Freeport Aquin on a last-second field goal.
Fisher volleyball: There were not too many great moments for Fisher’s volleyball program, which started 2-1 at the Cissna Park Tip-Off Classic but lost 25 consecutive matches to end the season.
Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley soccer: Another fantastic season for the Bunnies soccer program, which allowed a mere 20 goals (!) all season during an 11-5-4 season that ended with a loss to Bloomington Cornerstone in a regional semifinal match. One of the season’s most thrilling moments came early in a 2-2 draw against Judah Christian in the second game of the year. Trailing 2-1, a Bunnies steal and Alec Johnson through-ball to Caleb Bleich led to Bleich’s game-tying goal with less than 10 seconds remaining. Fisher/GCMS’ defense kept it in almost every match all year for one of the best seasons in program history. Robbie Dinkins will lead the program in 2019 with the departure of head coach Levi Horsch.
Fisher golf: With respective scores of 94 and 112, Sidney Hood and Kaitlin Marry each advanced to a Class 1A sectional for the Bunnies. Hood also finished eighth at the Heart of Illinois Conference meet with a score of 100 through 18 holes. Sean Ward was unable to advance for the boys team despite shooting a 97 at the St. Thomas More Regional. The cutoff score was 91.
Fisher boys basketball: Two of the season’s best moments were the Bunnies’ 4-0 start to the season in which they claimed a championship at the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Thanksgiving Tournament and the night Jaden Jones-Watkins scored his 1,000th career point. The Bunnies also won fifth place at the BSN Classic, nearly took down Cissna Park in a regional semifinal game and watched Ryan Meents become one of the Heart of Illinois Conference’s top scoring threats.
Fisher girls basketball: After making the championship game of their own season-opening tournament, the Bunnies reached 9-5 heading into the Blue Devil Classic in late December. But Fisher lost three straight games in the tournament, and the season’s second half was an up-and-down one for Ken Ingold’s crew. Perhaps the Bunnies’ best performance of the year came in a 40-34 loss to a supremely talented Ridgeview team.
GCMS/Fisher wrestling: Cale Horsch became the pride of the Falcons’ wrestling team this season, as the freshman caught fire during the Class 1A state tournament, making it all the way to the state championship match and finishing second at 106 pounds. Cale and Jacob Horsch were each ranked in the top 10 of their weight classes nearly the entire season, though Jacob was unable to make it to state for a second consecutive season.
Fisher baseball: It’s unfortunate for Fisher that two of the two standout moments of its season were negative. A walk-off loss to Blue Ridge marked with controversy from the umpires and a nasty ankle injury to Chris Hess in a loss to Eureka were both indicative of the misfortune the Bunnies suffered in 2018. Both losses proved to be negative turning points during a 6-16-1 campaign.
Fisher softball: The Bunnies took fans on a thrill ride all season during an 11-0 Heart of Illinois Conference championship season. Defeating Rantoul and Tuscola back-to-back, a 2-1 walk-off win over Tri-Valley, a 6-4 defeat of Heyworth, a 1-0 pitcher’s duel victory over Fieldcrest and an 11-0 dismantling of Tremont in a de facto conference title game were all highlights of a successful year that did not end the way these girls hoped it would — Fisher was no-hit in a regional title game by Heyworth.
Fisher track and field: Alayna Stalter headlined the Lady Bunnies’ season, medaling for the third consecutive season in the 100-meter hurdles in Class 1A. The Murray State signee was unable to achieve her goal of a state championship, but she left an impressive mark on the girls program.
Armstrong-Potomac volleyball: The Rantoul Press area’s most successful volleyball program in 2017 finished 19-14 and made its way to a second consecutive regional championship match. But for the second straight time, the Trojans fell victim to Blue Ridge in the title contest. The Trojans also defeated Georgetown-Ridge Farm in the third-place match of the Vermilion County Conference tournament. A-P’s biggest win of the season came when it took down one of the area’s top teams, Oakwood, in a riveting upset win.
A-P boys basketball: The Trojans’ fifth-place finish with a win over Westville at the Vermilion County Conference tournament was their biggest accomplishment of the season. And a 66-point loss in a first-round regional game to offensive juggernaut Judah Christian put the final stamp on a 7-22 season.
A-P girls basketball: Nick Hipsher’s squad finished 11-15 this season, and a regional loss to Milford was the final nail in the coffin of the season. That loss came when most of the Trojans’ key players were on the bench with injuries or illness.
A-P baseball: The biggest highlight of a 4-19 season came when the Trojans handed Salt Fork a 1-0 loss on a walk-off hit by Austin Keen down the third-base line. It was a potentially momentum-shifting win for the Trojans, but they were unable to capitalize as they lost their final nine games following the victory.
A-P softball: The Trojans’ softball program also saw limited success in 2018, finishing 4-19 as well. Too many big innings allowed by A-P’s pitching staff and defense led to a nearly 20-loss season.
Headline: Kelly to return as Fisher baseball head coach
Synopsis: Milt Kelly was the Bunnies’ head baseball coach for 12 years, from 1994-2005. When he surrendered the position to his son, Jon, in 2005, Kelly remained on staff as an assistant. Jon resigned last spring to focus on his new role as principal, and without any candidates who stood out in the hiring process, Milt Kelly agreed to take back the head coaching duties.
The quote: "Since I have been around the program since its reinstatement in 1990, I have a strong desire to see it go forward and improve in a way that meets the needs of the young men who play the game. Jon and I felt that this would make the smoothest transition going forward, and conversations with some of our players over the summer convinced me that was the best option for now. The head coaching experience from the past is extremely helpful, of course. I still love the game and, more importantly, kids who wear the uniform for FHS." — Fisher baseball head coach Milt Kelly
Headline: DeLa Garza OK after scare on sidelines
Synopsis: In the midst of the football program’s first victory in 19 games, Rantoul’s Jacob DeLa Garza passed out on the sidelines in the second half. DeLa Garza was unconscious and unresponsive, reportedly not breathing for several moments as trainers and Olympia medical personnel stripped off his helmet and shoulder pads. DeLa Garza regained consciousness, breathing and opening his eyes and was eventually carted off the field. Reports were that the Rantoul junior was doing well after the 15-minute scare, being released from the hospital Friday night.
The quote: "That was a scary moment. We’re always talking to the kids about every opportunity. You never know when your last chance to play is, whether you get hurt or something happens. We talk about love in our families and our team because every moment and every day is not promised. (Friday night) they saw that. I think he stopped breathing for a while. We thought we were going to lose him right there. It was a very scary situation, especially in the middle of a football game. But he was OK, and it was an opportunity for our guys to see, ‘Hey, that really does happen. You never know what could happen.’ It puts things in perspective, and I think you could really tell whatever stress was going on was gone right then when you’re talking about things that are bigger than football." — Rantoul football head coach Tom Hess
Headline: Game of inches
Synopsis: In a wild, back-and-forth game that turned out to be one of Class 1A’s most thrilling first-round playoff games, Freeport Aquin edged Fisher 30-27 on a field goal with less than five seconds remaining on a ball that crossed the bar by inches.
The quote: "I’m proud of our guys. I think we’ve laid a really solid foundation to build from. It’s going to be up to these younger guys to see where we go from here because, obviously, it was a positive year and something we can build on. I hope we’re not satisfied. These seniors were a special group. I’m going to miss them a lot just with the type of effort and energy and emotion that they play with. It’s a very special group, and I don’t think you can replicate what they did this year." — Fisher football head coach Jake Palmer
Headline: The Replacements
Synopsis: Both the Rantoul and Fisher boys basketball team had big gaps to fill when each program graduated some of its top playmakers from 20-plus-win seasons in 2016-17.
The quote: "Patience. It’s going to take patience, learning, developing and consistently improving. And it’s not easy when you’re facing the guys we face. You have to be patient and let the system take over and have the confidence that we are going to get better as a team. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to be a better team in February than we are in the Galesburg tournament. It’s going to look like night and day. It really will. You can’t lose faith." — Rantoul coach Brett Frerichs
Headline: Making history
Synopsis: Fisher girls basketball senior forward Alivia Spenard scored 19 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in a 45-31 win over Tri-Valley in mid-December. The 22 boards set a single-game program record for most rebounds in a game. A week later, head coach Ken Ingold grabbed his 150th career victory.
The quote: "In all my years of coaching boys or girls basketball, I’ve never had a player get 22 rebounds in a game. That was quite a deal for Alivia. … I didn’t even know that (was my 150th win), but I started getting messages on Twitter and all that. That’s great. It’s 150 wins for this program over the last several years. And I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. I’ve coached boys and girls basketball and softball, in one regard or another — either as a head coach or an assistant coach — and I just enjoy being with the kids. (Saturday’s win) was rewarding because we battled and battled and battled and were able to eke out a win. But it was also kind of excruciating to watch because both teams were defending so hard. It just wasn’t a very pretty basketball game." — Fisher girls basketball head coach Ken Ingold
Headline: Grand achievement
Synopsis: Fisher boys basketball senior guard Jaden Jones-Watkins netted his 1,000th career point in a Dec. 28 win over North Vermillion (Ind.) to become the fourth Bunnies player since 2005 to hit the mark (Mitch Elkins, Grant Pointer, Zach Griffith).
The quote: "I’ve thought about scoring 1,000 points when I was little because I saw some other high school players do it that came through (Fisher). It means a lot. I played with Grant and Zach, so it means a lot to me to be up there with those guys. It’s pretty exciting, but I just want to keep winning games." — Fisher’s Jaden Jones-Watkins
Headline: Two for the money
Synopsis: This headline centered around Rantoul’s Peter McCusker and Nolan Roseman, each of whom advanced to the sectional (and eventually state) in Class 2A wrestling, with McCusker finishing in fourth place at 145 pounds. But Fisher freshman Cale Horsch also advanced to state, taking second place at 106 pounds in 1A.
The quote: "I got a little nervous. I was able to get away right away. At the beginning of third period, I got another escape point, and from there, I wanted to try to wrestle smart. I wasn't trying to do anything crazy. I wanted to control him and not let him get anything or make any crazy moves at the end. — Rantoul’s Peter McCusker on his strategy during the third-place match
Headline: Expect … not hope
Synopsis: Rantoul baseball coach Jon Donovan told his players at the beginning of the year that they need to expect to win. Not hope to win. The Eagles rebounded from a so-so start to finish 16-13, including a seven-game win streak and winning nine of 10 games in late April/early May.
The quote: "In our classroom meetings, we have talked about our vision for this year. I told the guys where I see this team going, and then I wanted feedback from them. We talked about the difference between hope and expect. We do not use the term hope in this program. Hope is not a strategy, and it simply means ‘I am kind of prepared.’ In some ways it acts as a security blanket when we do not have success. We expect to do great things this year because the mentality is we prepare only for victory in everything we do, whether it be a drill, game or taking a test in the classroom." — Rantoul baseball head coach Jon Donovan
Headline: The Return
Synopsis: Rantoul junior Jada Mosley suffered a devastating ACL tear in August 2016 but made the long road back and thrived as one of the Eagles’ top hitters and defenders all season and was one of central Illinois' fastest players.
The quote: "My physical therapy was the hardest part. Right after the surgery, I had to get my movement back. It was painful. Training was actually easier because it moves faster, and you can do more things. Physical therapy was really slow because it was hard to do the things I was supposed to do. I couldn’t because I couldn’t move my knee like I wanted to." — Jada Mosley, Rantoul junior
Headline: Making a mark
Synopsis: Rantoul sophomore Jerry Harper sprinted his way to a fifth-place finish in the Class 2A state 400-meter dash race, and the Eagles’ 1,600-meter relay team placed eighth, medaling for the second straight year. The week prior, Rantoul sophomore Myejoi Williams became the first Lady Eagle in Rantoul Township High School history to medal in state with a fourth-place finish in the shot put.
The quote: "With about 120 meters left in the race, the hamstring in my left leg was really hurting. It felt like my leg was going to tear apart. I was pretty happy with fifth place. They had us standing at the starting line for a long time before we got set. It was nerve-racking, because all eyes were on us. It made me a bit nervous." — Jerry Harper, Rantoul sophomore
"At the beginning of the year, I fully expected Mye’Joi to make finals. I knew that she was capable of throwing 38-0 this year, and that is what it would take. She improved by 6 feet over last year when she threw over 43-0." — Ben Hankes, Rantoul girls track and field head coach
Headline: Changing lanes
Synopsis: Fisher senior Alayna Stalter, who medaled in Class 1A state in the 100-meter hurdles, will continue her career at Murray State University.
The quote: "I am really excited to start a new challenge and a new chapter in my life. I am really looking forward to having a larger team as well as having teammates push me every single day in practices and meets." — Alayna Stalter, Fisher senior
TOP THREE PROGRAMS
MOST BOYS’ WINS
How Rantoul, Fisher and Armstrong-Potomac stack up based solely on combined wins from football, boys basketball and baseball during the 2017-18 school year.
1. Fisher — 27 (football: 6-4; boys basketball: 15-15; baseball: 6-16-1)
2. Rantoul — 26 (football: 2-7; boys basketball: 8-22; baseball: 16-13)
3. A-P — 13 (*football: 2-7; boys basketball: 7-22; baseball: 4-19)
*Co-op with Hoopeston Area/Schlarman Academy
MOST GIRLS WINS
How Rantoul, Fisher and Armstrong-Potomac stack up based solely on combined wins from volleyball, girls basketball and softball during the 2016-17 school year.
1. Fisher — 36 (volleyball: 2-25; girls basketball: 13-17; softball: 21-8)
2. A-P — 35 (volleyball: 19-14; girls basketball: 12-15; softball: 4-19)
3. Rantoul — 23 (volleyball: 5-22; girls basketball: 3-24; softball: 15-19)
TEN SENIORS WE’LL MISS
Taveous Bell: After sticking with the Eagles football program for so long, through the highs and lows, the senior running back deserved some positivity. Bell was electric in both of Rantoul’s victories this season, and he left his mark despite missing most of the 2016 season with an injury.
Becca Clanton: Every time the Fisher catcher stepped to the plate, opposing pitchers knew the danger she posed in terms of power and run production. On the basketball and volleyball courts, Clanton was also a force.
Madi Gayheart: Armstrong-Potomac coaches Candy Franzen (volleyball), Nick Hipsher (basketball) and Gary Duden (softball) will also be missing the production and leadership from the senior, who is off to Eureka College to continue her volleyball career.
Bailey Hadden: A leader on and off the field (and volleyball court), the Bunnies senior’s absence in 2018-19 will surely be felt at Kellar Field, where she was almost always the most vocal player during any given game.
Lindsay Jordahl: Rantoul softball coach Travis Flesner couldn’t help but glow about Jordahl’s leadership, work ethic and on-field ability when the Eagles’ season concluded in May. Easily one of the hardest-working Rantoul players Flesner has ever worked with by his own admission.
Jaden Jones-Watkins: As a running back and point guard, Fisher’s Jones-Watkins was incredibly fun to watch over the past two years. He helped revive the Bunnies’ football program, and his array of offensive moves on the court was thrilling to watch night in and night out.
Garet Kinnett: Soccer, wrestling, baseball, track and field. The Vincennes University signee did it all for Rantoul and will look to be a success on the track in college.
Shawn Reardon: The Armstrong-Potomac guard could dunk easily. We wish he would’ve gotten a few more opportunities during his four-year career.
Kade Thomas: Fisher’s quarterback and one of the Bunnies’ three 6-1 senior guards, Thomas displayed leadership and natural ability in both sports. He still has one of the best arms in the Heart of Illinois Conference.
Kaylie Wilson: Always well-spoken and, as her coaches described her, a great person who was always respectful and coachable.
1. Fisher football: Several former Fisher players dubbed this Bunnies squad as the best in school history. That may or may not be true, but it’s undisputable that Jake Palmer’s 2017 crew is at least in the upper echelon after getting back to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
2. Fisher/GCMS soccer: When the successful 2016 season ended, Bunnies head coach Levi Horsch said his group knew that winning was an expectation, a standard, now. It wasn’t supposed to be a surprise anymore for the wins to pile up. During an 11-5-4 season that featured some of the area’s best soccer being played, the Bunnies did not disappoint.
3. Fisher softball: The Bunnies fell short of their regional title standard and sectional title hopes and beyond. But they still had one of the area’s most impressive accomplishments by polishing off an 11-0 Heart of Illinois Conference title.
4. Rantoul baseball: Maybe it doesn’t stack up with the 2002 Oakland A’s, but the Eagles’ seven-game winning streak still proved to be one of the biggest storylines of the prep sports season.
5. Rantoul wrestling: Anytime a team advances two wrestlers to the state tournament at the University of Illinois (and chips in another pair of 20-plus-win grapplers), it’s time to take notice.
6. Rantoul boys track and field: It was expected that both the Eagles’ 1,600-meter relay team and Jerry Harper would advance to state. Both did. And both medaled. Mission accomplished.
7. Armstrong-Potomac volleyball: The Trojans once again found themselves in position to capture their first regional crown since 1999. Hopefully for Candy Franzen’s club, the third time will be the charm in 2018.
8. Fisher/GCMS wrestling: Cale and Jacob Horsch each found themselves in the top 10 rankings of their respective weight classes all year, and Cale Horsch took a second-place finish in Class 1A state at 106 pounds.
9. Fisher boys basketball: The potential for this team was never matched. Instead of winning 20-plus games for the second straight year, which could have easily occurred, the Bunnies tapped out at 15-15.
10. Fisher girls basketball: The Bunnies would be higher on this list, but after beginning 9-5, Fisher dropped to 13-17 by the end of the season.
1. Fisher vs. Freeport Aquin, football (October 28): Less than a foot of space separated the Bunnies from extending this one into overtime with the No. 5 seed Bulldogs. If the No. 12 Bunnies had taken down Aquin in this thriller of a first-round playoff game, which they lost 30-27, they would have set up a second-round home game against No. 4 Stockton. What could have been.
2. Fisher vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw, football (September 22): One of the biggest victories in Fisher football history this decade was the 24-23 upset win over the then-No. 2-ranked Chiefs in Class 2A.
3. Rantoul vs. Olympia, football (September 8): The Eagles snapped a 19-game losing streak with a 40-20 win. Good enough for us to include it on this list.
4. Rantoul vs. Prairie Central, boys basketball (February 9): It wasn’t the game that provided the electricity. Joel Pilarski, the Eagles’ senior manager, was able to suit up for Senior Night and buried a bank-shot bucket with less than 30 seconds remaining to send the crowd into an uproar.
5. Fisher vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw, boys basketball (January 9): A huge bucket from Kade Thomas to tie the game with less than seven seconds left in regulation helped lead to the Bunnies’ big upset over the Chiefs, 70-67, in overtime.
6. Rantoul vs. Monticello, baseball (April 18) This wasn’t the start of the Eagles’ big win streak, but when Rantoul took down The News-Gazette’s No. 1-ranked team, it was clear this club had something special working for it when it showed its true potential.
7. Fisher vs. Fieldcrest, softball (April 27): It may have seemed like just a ho-hum regular-season game, but Sidney Hood’s eventual game-winning run in the sixth inning helped lead to the Bunnies’ conference championship.
8. Armstrong-Potomac vs. Oakwood, volleyball (September 26): A regional title match appearance, a third-place finish at the Vermilion County Conference tournament and a gigantic upset win over the Comets were the Trojans’ season highlights.
9. Fisher/GCMS vs. Bloomington Cornerstone Christian Academy, soccer (September 30): The postseason match, also won by the Cyclones, did not quite live up to the hype set forth by it in the regular season matchup. The Bunnies fell 3-2 when the Cyclones sent a missile of a perfect pass from just past midfield to set up the game winner with less than a minute remaining.
10. Armstrong-Potomac vs. Salt Fork, baseball (April 26): The biggest win in A-P baseball over the past two years was a 1-0 walk-off over one of the area’s top teams.
Cameron Colunga: Following games, it was always easy to get some good answers from the Armstrong-Potomac junior guard.
Bree Davis: The Rantoul senior was on this list last year and makes another appearance following an electric preseason interview with teammate Emily Schluter. The energy between the two was extraordinary.
John Frerichs: Rantoul’s senior shortstop didn’t make just great plays in the hole. He was also great to talk to the last two seasons following games.
Bailey Hadden: Probably the MVP of this list. One of the best interviews in the area.
Alec Johnson: Both Johnson and fellow Fisher/GCMS soccer teammate Ethan Kasper were great interviews this season.
Ryan Meents: Another repeat member of this list, the Fisher senior guard was great at giving some in-depth analysis, especially in the preseason.
Dawson Purvis: Even though it was just one interview for a feature story, the Fisher senior gave terrific in-depth answers both on the game and the impact of teammate Dylan Baker’s pitch-framing ability.
Nolan Roseman: Whether after a baseball game or a wrestling meet, the Rantoul junior almost always gave thoughtful answers. Have to love it when a player gives paragraph answers and writes your story for you.
Shawn Reardon: Always respectful and straight to the point.
Kade Thomas: Fisher’s senior quarterback used the term "bird-doggin’ it" during a preseason interview. Loved it.
1. Jenna Sanford: Don’t be surprised if Sanford finds herself on The News-Gazette’s first or second all-area team at some point during the next two years.
2. Kristen Fauser: Same goes for Fauser, who has the potential to be one of the area’s top power bats.
3. Lexi Sherrick: And uhh … same goes for Sherrick. The second baseman has found a niche as the Eagles’ No. 2 hitter.
4. Ethan Kasper: The Bunnies’ goalkeeper made the most out of a goalie camp in Wisconsin in the offseason. The sky’s the limit for Kasper.
5. Sidney Hood: In case you couldn’t tell, we’re very high on the Bunnies’ budding star, the Rantoul Press Female Athlete of the Year.
6. Myejoi Williams: It’ll be fun to see what Williams does for an encore during her junior campaign.
7. Jerry Harper: Ditto for Harper, who will also carry a big load for Tom Hess’ football program and will most likely see a bigger role for Brett Frerichs’ basketball team.
8. Kamrynn Rome: Rome is another who will need to step up for Frerichs. The coaching staff loves Rome’s ability. He and Maycoll Ramos should be able to team up for some much-needed production over the next two seasons.
9. Jonathan Gossett: Gossett advanced to the Class 2A sectional in cross country in 2017 and has two years left to build on his 11th-place finish.
10. Will Delaney: Delaney has all the makings of a potential star on the basketball court, but first comes the gridiron, where he will be expected to lead the Bunnies’ option offense under center.
TEN HEADLINES YOU’LL SEE IN 2018-19
— Bleich’s hat trick leads to Bunnies regional title (yes, we’re doubling down on this headline from last year)
— Rantoul football wins second straight game
— Bunnies capture second consecutive playoff berth
— Elijah Hall advances to XC state
— Ramos, Rome seal Illini Prairie win
— Franzen’s Trojans advance to third straight regional title game
— McCusker, Roseman advance to state title matches
— Hess’ grand slam sends Bunnies to walk-off win
— Harper, Williams repeat as conference champs
— Crites, Roseman combine for no-hitter
TEN HEADLINES YOU WON’T SEE IN 2018-19
— Poll shows majority of people satisfied with four-class system
— Roseman, Riddle regress at plate
— Eagles track fails to advance any to state
— Hood falters at regional golf outing
— Baker’s passed ball costs Bunnies HOIC victory
— Horsch fails to advance past 1A sectional
— Zero area athletes to pursue collegiate careers
— No complaints heard on IHSA regional, sectional seedings
— Record-low number of rainouts leads to on-schedule IHSA postseason matchups
— Rantoul fans praise local sports editor’s expanded coverage of Fisher athletics
Contact Zack Carpenter at email@example.com and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.