In taking a look back at the year that was 2018, there were so many great stories that occurred in the world of Darke County sports.
From state championships to players and coaches reaching career milestones to the numerous new faces that have come into the fray, it was hard to choose a list of just 10, but here is The Daily Advocate’s list of the Top 10 local sports stories from 2018.
1. Versailles girls volleyball wins second straight state championship
For the second consecutive year, the Versailles girls volleyball team stood alone as the Division III state champions.
The Lady Tigers swept Independence in three sets 25-23, 25-23, 25-19 in November at the Wright State University Nutter Center to cap a season filled with challenges.
With Versailles leading 23-19 in the third game, senior Elizabeth Ording took a set from senior Kelsey Custenborder and pounded it for a kill. At match point, on senior Alexa Didier’s serve, it was again the Custenborder to Ording connection to end the match.
“You couldn’t have a better ending than that — senior to senior,” Ording said with a big smile in the interview room afterwards. “That was incredible.”
And it completed an amazing turnaround for the Tigers, who at one point were 10-10 and finished sixth in the Midwest Athletic Conference standings before winning their final 10 matches.
Ording had no trouble pointing out the turning point. In the final regular season match of the year, the Tigers defeated state-ranked Fort Recovery.
“It was Senior Night,” Ording said. “I think we all kind of looked at each other after that match and said ‘It is a new season. We are 0-0. This is a fresh start. Let’s do this’.”
Versailles coach Kenzie Bruggmam has now lost just one postseason match in three years and has coached the Tigers to back-to-back state titles.
“I felt like they all played well,” Bruggeman said. “It felt like a really intense match. Independence had some amazing digs on balls I thought were on the ground. It seemed like a long match. I would think the score had to be around 18 and would look up and it would still be under 10. That team is a really good team and I can’t believe we won in three sets.”
2. Joe Spitzer wins state track title
Joe Spitzer made it look easy.
The Versailles senior had qualified for the Division II state meet in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, but he gave up the 1,600 to put all his effort into the longer 3,200, and it paid off.
Spitzer crossed the finish line nearly eight seconds ahead of Buckeye Valley’s Zach Kreft to claim the state title in 9 minutes 14.97 seconds back in June at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus. He stayed with the front runners for most of the eight-lap race and made his move on the final few laps.
“I still can’t believe it,” Spitzer said. “This is such an amazing end to my career. In my whole high school career I had that dream of getting a state title, and the last race of my career I finally did it. It’s just amazing and such an honor.”
Spitzer said he knew after last week’s regional meet that he was not going to run in the 1,600 even though he qualified in it. It was all part of his plan.
“Zach Kreft is an amazing miler, and I was hoping he’d run that and then would have that race on his legs,” Spitzer said. “I just wanted to stay with the lead pack in the 2 mile for about five or six laps and then begin to put some distance on them and then give whatever I had left on the final lap. This is just amazing. I can’t believe how good this feels.”
There were multiple other Darke County athletes who also reached the podium at the state track meet.
In Division I, Greenville sophomore Riley Hunt placed sixth in the girls pole vault, while senior Ryan Trick placed eighth in the boys pole vault for the Green Wave.
In Division II, Versailles sophomore Lucy Prakel claimed third place in the girls pole vault and the Versailles girls 1,600 relay foursome of seniors Kenia McEldowney and Ellen Peters, junior Liz Watren and sophomore Lindsey Winner also earned a third-place finish.
Versailles senior Josh Steinbrunner placed fourth in the 110-meter hurdles and fellow senior AJ Ahrens finished sixth in the boys shot put.
The Versailles girls 800 relay squad of seniors Cassie Peters and Ellen Peters, junior Liz Watren and freshman Ali Moran finished in sixth place and the 400 relay team of senior Ellen Peters, junior Ava Moran, sophomore Lucy Prakel and freshman Ali Moran took eighth place.
In Division III, Ansonia sophomore Brock Shellhaas placed fifth in the boys pole vault, and Franklin-Monroe sophomore Selene Weaver finished sixth in the girls pole vault.
3. Bradford softball reaches state semifinals
Bradford showed it belonged in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division IV softball state semifinals back in June after forcing extra innings before losing 1-0 to six-time state champion Hillsdale.
The Railroaders were on the big stage for the very first time and led by four freshmen, didn’t let the moment overwhelm them.
“It was a heck of a game. It was like looking in the mirror at each other,” Bradford coach Shon Schaffer said after the game. “Both teams had great pitchers and great hitters, and I’m sure if you look at the stats everything was probably fairly close.”
In the bottom of the eighth inning with one out, Hillsdale senior Kaylee Cline coaxed a walk from Skipp Miller. Then Hillsdale senior pitching ace Sydney Long singled to put runners on first and second.
Then things got weird as Emily Crossen hit a popup to second base, which was called an infield fly rule by the umpire that no one seemed to hear. The ball popped out of the glove, and the runners took off, not realizing the call, and what potentially could have been a double play by tagging the runner heading to second turned out to be fortunate for Hillsdale as both runners were able to advance to second and third base.
Miller, who has been in pressure packed situations more than a few times already this year as a freshman, was able to work the next batter to two strikes. But a change-up pitch that got away from her and the ball went into the dirt past catcher Elisa Martinez far enough to allow Hillsdale runner Kaylee Cline to come home from third base, scoring the game’s only run and giving the Falcons the 1-0 win.
“We had opportunities to win it, and people can say that play cost us the game. It just happened to end the game. It didn’t cost us the game. If that run was scored in the third inning no one would have said that … or if we could have scored a run in one of the earlier innings. A game is played out over many innings and not just one play wins or loses it,” Schaffer said.
“We had base runners in scoring position a bunch of times, and they did as well. It was just back and forth. I told the girls probably at least 100 times it was one of the best games I have ever seen, not just us playing, it was just a big-time effort. We kept our composure and kept battling. I told them I was real proud of them and so glad we all got to experience this and be a part of it,” Schaffer said.
Shaffer’s team finished 22-4 and advanced further than any other Bradford softball team with a sectional, district and regional championship and a state final four appearance.
4. Clayton Murphy wins national championship, Sam Prakel seventh
Tri-Village graduate Clayton Murphy won a national championship back in June in the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.
Murphy won the men’s 800 meter run with a winning time of 1:46.50, 0.61 seconds ahead of Isaiah Harris for the national championship.
Murphy, a bronze medalist in the 800 meters at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, began the weekend at the USATF Outdoor Championships by winning his opening round heat with a time of 1:47.17 – the second-best time among the runners in the first round.
In the semifinals the 2013 Tri-Village graduate finished second in his heat with a time of 1:47.51, 0.44 seconds behind Harris and the eighth fastest overall in the semis.
Murphy, a former University of Akron athlete who represents Nike, then won the national championship race with his time of 1:46.50.
Versailles graduate Sam Prakel also recorded a seventh-place finish in the 1,500 at the USATF Outdoor Championships.
Prakel, a 2013 Versailles alumnus, started out his weekend with a second-place finish in his heat of the 1,500 meter run. His time of 3:43.49 was just 0.01 seconds behind Patrick Casey in the heat and the fifth best overall in the first round.
Prakel, representing the University of Oregon for the final time, led going into the final turn of the 1,500 meter final but dropped to seventh down the stretch. His time of 3:44.01 was 0.64 seconds behind national champion Matthew Centrowitz – a fellow Oregon alumnus.
5. Greenville joins new Miami Valley League
In mid-May, Greenville announced it will transition to a new conference for its athletics teams – the Miami Valley League – during the 2019-20 school year.
Greenville along with Fairborn, Piqua, Sidney, Stebbins, Tippecanoe, Troy, Vandalia-Butler, West Carrollton and Xenia will form the new 10-school conference after playing one final year in the Greater Western Ohio Conference during the 2018-19 school year.
The Miami Valley League was first charted in 1926 with Greenville, Piqua, Sidney, Troy and Xenia as charter members. Greenville remained in the conference until 1972 when it left to join the Southwestern Buckeye League.
Greenville left the SWBL to join the Greater Miami Valley Conference, which it was a part of from 1982–2001. Greenville then joined the GWOC from 2001-05 before it left that league to join the Mid-Miami League in 2005–06.
After the Mid-Miami League disbanded, Greenville was a conference independent until it rejoined the GWOC during the 2010-11 school year.
The MVL will be split into two five-team divisions with Greenville in the Miami Division along with Butler, Piqua, Tippecanoe and Troy while the Valley Division will be comprised of Fairborn, Sidney, Stebbins West Carrollton and Xenia.
While the league will be split into two divisions, MVL schools don’t anticipate it hurting existing rivalries such as the one between Greenville and Sidney.
In football the MVL will play a nine-game conference schedule with each member school playing every other member school plus one non-conference game. Some schools will not play a full nine-game MVL schedule during the 2019 football season as they honor contracts signed with non-conference opponents prior to joining the new league.
There will be 18 league games – nine home-and-home matchups – in many of the other sports.
6. Versailles girls basketball state runner-up
For a second consecutive season Versailles fell just one win short of its goal, losing 53-47 to Columbus Africentric in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III state championship game.
Versailles trailed for most of the game at The Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center in Columbus but erased a double-digit deficit to take a lead in the fourth quarter. The Tigers couldn’t quite pull it out, though, as they finished as the state runner-up to the Nubians.
“These girls, they’re tough cookies,” Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker said of her team. “They’re not going to break. I don’t know what the score was at the time – this arena it’s hard to figure out what the score is when you’re coaching a game – but I felt like it was double digits, and they looked at me and they just said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go. We’ve got this. Let’s keep going.’ And they did.”
The fourth quarter began with Lindsey Winner taking over inside as the Versailles sophomore scored the first 6 points of the period to put the Tigers up 43-42 with five minutes to go.
Africentric used a timeout to regroup and then forced a pair of Versailles turnovers that led to points for the Nubians.
Versailles kept the game within reach with a free throw from Danielle Winner then with just 37 seconds remaining Caitlin McEldowney drained a 3-pointer that pulled the Tigers within 2 points, 49-47.
However, that was as close as Versailles would get down the stretch as Africentric scored the game’s final 4 points to win 53-47 and claim the Division III state championship.
Kami McEldowney led Versailles with 16 points in Saturday’s loss. Also for the Tigers, Lindsey Winner scored 8 points, Caitlin McEldowney scored 7, Danielle Winner scored 7, Elizabeth Ording scored 5, and Ellen Peters scored 2.
Versailles finished the season with a 28-2 overall record. The season ended with the Tigers’ third state runner-up finish in the past five years, a span that also includes a state championship in 2015.
The loss also marked the end of the high school basketball careers for five Versailles seniors – Mallory Marshal, Hailey McEldowney, Kami McEldowney, Ellen Peters and Danielle Winner – a group that won 101 varsity basketball games in their high school careers.
“It’s pretty incredible what they’ve done in their career, not just basketball-wise but athletically across the board – softball, basketball, volleyball, track and cross country,” Stonebraker said. “They’re great, great athletes.”
The senior group won one state championship and also had two state runner-up finishes in their high school basketball careers, memories they’ll have the rest of their lives.
7. Ahrens reaches 2,000 career points
Justin Ahrens surpassed the 2,000 point milestone in the Versailles boys basketball team’s 66-23 sectional tournament victory over Milton-Union in early March.
Ahrens, the all-time leading scorer in Versailles and Midwest Athletic Conference history, eclipsed 2,000 career points on a basket at the rim with 5:16 remaining in the fourth quarter. That basket gave the Versailles senior 21 points on the night and 2,001 for his high school career.
“It’s a great individual accomplishment, but you know the cool thing is he came over and told the guys that he couldn’t have done it without them as well,” Versailles boys basketball coach Travis Swank said. “And that’s the God-honest truth – is that he needs everybody else around him to help him get the ball. He’s not our point guard, hasn’t been a point guard for us, so those guys are facilitating him the ball, and he’s got to move and cut, and he’s done a lot of good individual stuff to prepare himself, but he’s had a lot of good teammates throughout the years that have helped him accomplish that as well, and he recognizes that. It’s a great thing for our kids to kind of see him get that accomplishment, but you know I hope he has a few more points in him to help lead us down the road.”
Ahrens completed his high school career with 2,046 points and was named the All-Ohio Player of the Year in Division III.
8. Isabella Gable second at state swimming
In late February, Arcanum junior Isabella Gable earned a spot on the podium in both of her events at the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division II state swim meet at C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Gable finished as the runner-up in the girls 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:48.93. After recording the best time in the preliminaries, Gable finished just 0.12 seconds behind Cincinnati Seven Hills senior Lucy Callard for the state championship.
In her second event, Gable finished fourth in the girls 100-yard backstroke with a time of 56.09. She finished behind Gates Mills Hawken senior Portia Del Rio Brown (54.47), Cincinnati Seven Hills junior Emma Shuppert (54.54) and Bellefontaine junior Amy Fulmer (55.20) in that event.
9. Tanner Delk fourth at state cross country
Arcanum senior Tanner Delk made his second and final trip to the Division III state cross country meet count as he stayed right near the front the entire 5,000 meters and finished in fourth place with a time of 16 minutes, 43.3 seconds back in November at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
“Fourth place is awesome,” said Delk, who qualified in third place at the regional meet. “I was just hoping to make top 10 or even have a chance to make top 5 and I got fourth so I’m super happy with that. I couldn’t ask for a better spot. It was a great way to end my senior year and my career. I am really happy with it.”
Delk was competing in the race for the second straight year. In 2017, he placed 42nd overall in Division III. This year he had his mind set on reaching the podium.
“My goal was just to stay with the Fort Loramie guys (Joseph Ballas and Jake Rethman) because I knew that would get me to where I wanted to be,” Delk said. “Right when I started the race I felt great and I felt confident and I knew I could hang on near the front. At districts, I beat the Rethman kid so I knew I could do it again, but they both run really great so you never really know what is going to happen with them. My mindset was just be close with them and see what I can do and I was able to kick past Rethman right before the finish line.”
Not too terribly far behind Delk was Franklin-Monroe senior Cole Good. He ran the D-III race in 17:14.9 to place 28th overall, higher than he placed in either of his two previous appearances in the state meet. He was 54th last year and 50th as a sophomore.
“I’m pretty happy with the way I ran,” Good said. “My goal was to be higher than 50th so I am pretty happy with that. It was a fun run, but just cold. I liked the course more this year. I thought it was more competitive and a faster pace.”
Delk and Good were the only boys from Darke County competing at the state meet. Over on the girls side, however, both Bradford and Versailles competed as teams in Division III, and Greenville sophomore Isabelle Rammel qualified for the Division II state race as an individual.
“My goal was just to get here, so I tried to enjoy the race and enjoy the whole experience which I did,” said Rammel, who placed 61st overall in a time of 20:24.4. “I am happy with my time and where I finished. I didn’t really care how I did, I was just happy to be here. But next year will be different. I want to place top 20 and break the school record next year.”
In the Division III girls race, Bradford totaled 299 points to finish 11th out of 20 teams. Versailles scored 370 to place 15th as a team.
Individually, senior Karmen Knepp was the lead runner for Bradford placing 28th overall in a time of 20:13.2. She was followed by Skipp Miller (21:00.2) in 64th place, Austy Miller (21:23.7) in 81st place, Olivia Daugherty (22:110.1) in 120th place, Mercedes Smith (23:17.8) in 153rd place and Alexis Barhorst (24:47.5) in 172nd place.
Individually for Versailles the top placer was freshman Madelyn Holzapfel. She was 84th in a time of 21:29.1. She was followed by sophomore Maria Mangen (21:50.5) in 105th place, senior Liz Watren (22:04.2) in 112th place, senior Kara Spitzer (22:14.4) in 123rd place, sophomore Lauren Menke (22:41.3) in 140th place, freshman Delaney Barga (23:36.1) in 158th place and junior Emma Peters (23:47.5) in 160th place.
10. Matt Light inducted into New England Patriots Hall of Fame
The New England Patriots announced in mid-May that former offensive tackle Matt Light has been voted by the fans as the 27th person to be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
Light, a Greenville native, spent his entire 11-year career (2001-11) with New England and played a major role in leading the Patriots to 11 consecutive winning seasons, including nine division championships, five conference crowns and three Super Bowls titles. He joins Kevin Faulk (2016), Troy Brown (2012) and Tedy Bruschi (2013) as the fourth player to enter The Hall as a career Patriot with three Super Bowl rings.
Light was selected by New England in the second round (48th overall) of the 2001 NFL Draft out of Purdue and anchored the offensive line at left tackle while protecting Tom Brady’s blind side for more than a decade. He played in 155 regular-season games with 153 starts, as well as starting all 20 postseason games during his career. Under his stewardship, the Patriots’ offense ranked among the top 10 seven times. As a rookie, he helped the Patriots claim their first Super Bowl title in franchise history. In 2011, he bookended his career with his fifth Super Bowl appearance, starting at left tackle in Super Bowl XLVI in the final game of his career. With that start, he joined Brady (8), Cornelius Bennett (5), John Elway (5) and Charles Haley (5) as the only players in NFL history to start in at least five Super Bowls.
“For 11 seasons, Matt’s many accomplishments, both on and off the field, made him the consummate Patriot,” Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said. “His contributions helped the Patriots become champions on the field and in the community. For more than a decade, Matt fearlessly protected Tom Brady’s blind side and played an immeasurably important role in delivering three Super Bowl titles and five conference championships. As proud as I am of Matt’s many contributions to those championship teams, I truly believe that his lasting legacy will be measured by the many positive things he and his wife, Susie, have done to help others in the community. Their investment in the lives of children will pay dividends for generations to come.”
• Jerrod Newland earns 400th win – Greenville softball coach Jerrod Newland guided the Lady Wave to a 5-3 victory against Miamisburg in early April to earn the 400th win of his coaching career. Newland is the all-time wins leader in Greenville history. He also tied his father, Greg Newland, who led the Springfield South softball team to 400 wins from 1984 through 2002.
• Jacki Stonebraker earns 300th win – The Versailles girls basketball team overcame a 20-point first half deficit and for the second night in a row found a way to defeat Tri-Village 58-48 in overtime to claim the 31st annual Patriots Bill Burkett Holiday Tournament title for the second year in a row. The win also marked the 300th career win at Versailles for coach Jacki Stonebraker. “Those wins are a direct result of the girls and great athletes who have come through this school, they just know how to win, and I credit them for that. I’m not doing anything but guiding them along,” Stonebraker stated.
• Greenville opens new track complex – Greenville officially opened its Jennings Center Track and Field Complex in mid-April. The project began three-and-a-half years ago with Greenville alumni Matt Light and Jon McGreevey seeking to improve Greenville City Schools’ athletics facilities. Friends of Harmon Field was created to lead the efforts with Dave Ernst, Dustin Leis, Mike Henderson, Aaron Shaffer, Ron Holzapfel, Marv Stammen, Jim Poeppelman, John Swallow, Jeff Kniese, Dusty Yingst, Mike Stegall, Larry Ullery, Kyle Kagey, Carla Surber and Rob Winner leading the committee. Numerous individuals, families and businesses contributed to the project with Greenville alumnus Brad Jennings and his family donating $800,000 for the track and field complex.
• Ansonia returns to football playoffs – The Ansonia Tigers completed their 2018 football regular season by earning a second straight playoff berth, this time qualifying as the No. 4 seed in the Division VII, Region 28 rankings to get a home game. Ansonia dominated Sidney Lehman Catholic for most of the game, but lost in the final minutes 29-28 to finish with an 8-3 record.
The Daily Advocate sports editor Skip Weaver can be reached at (937) 569-4316 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at @skipweaver65.