Last season, Eastland senior Dalton Shaner caught the eye of media members around the state with his big-time performances during the Cougars' run to fourth place in Class 1A.
This year, his steady play all season and clutch postseason performances gained him even more notoriety, as he was named to the Associated Press Class 1A all-state first team Thursday.
"It feels good to get named one of the top five players in Class 1A," Shaner said, "but it's kind of a consolation prize after we missed out on the big prize."
Newman senior A.J. Sharp echoed those sentiments about his election to the AP all-state second team in Class 2A. He was joined on the 2A team by Bureau Valley junior Parker Neuhalfen, who earned honorable mention honors.
"It's a great honor, and it definitely attests to the work I put in during the offseason," Sharp said, "and everything I did to make this sort of dream become reality."
Shaner was a second-team selection in 1A last year, while Sharp was a 2A honorable mention pick in 2012-13. Both were pleased at moving up a level on the squad, but were quick to say it wouldn't have been possible without their teammates and coaches.
"Without the team success, none of this individual recognition is available to us," Sharp said. "It's a tribute to my team, and I'm just reaping the benefits of what we were able to accomplish as a unit this year."
"I owe it all to my teammates and coaching staff," Shaner said. "Without the team we've had the last couple of years, or the coaching staff behind us, I wouldn't have been able to score as much, and our defense wouldn't have been as strong. I can't thank those guys enough for making this possible."
The big prize both players were seeking was just out of reach, as the Cougars and Comets both finished one step short of the state tournament this season.
Eastland's 59-41 to Mooseheart in the 1A DeKalb Supersectional on Tuesday capped a 26-5 season, and back-to-back sectional titles.
Newman followed the Cougars at NIU's Convocation Center, and suffered a 77-65 loss to Bloomington Central Catholic in the 2A super. It was the Comets' second sectional title in 3 years, and finished off a 29-3 season.
"We accomplished a lot the last 3 years, with 76 wins overall," said Sharp, who plans on playing basketball at St. Ambrose or Aurora University next year. "We went to supers twice, and that says a lot about the kids in my class, those who came before us, and the guys who are coming up behind us. We've instilled putting in the hard work every offseason, and shown that it turns into a great reward with success during the season.
"It would have been great to go to state, but the Elite 8 isn't terrible. All-state is a good way to cap it off if it had to end where it did, and my teammates and I have a lot to look back on and be happy about."
Like Sharp, Shaner said he wasn't at all worried about seeing his name on that all-state list again. While Sharp said it never really crossed his mind at all in his focus on winning games, Shaner agreed that winning was the main concern, but said the inkling of all-state was there in the back of his mind.
"I basically thought if we had a good season and made a deep run in the postseason, that would be the biggest thing to make all-state happen," Shaner said. "The ultimate goal was to have another great season and finish strong in the postseason, and we did that … and that was a big part of me earning this honor."
Honored by AP
• Dalton Shaner, Eastland senior – Class 1A All-State first team
• A.J. Sharp, Newman senior – Class 2A All-State second team
• Parker Neuhalfen, BV junior – Class 2A All-State honorable mention
FYI: Shaner was joined on the 1A first team by Dakota's Brett Benning and Mooseheart's Makur Puou, while the Red Ramblers' Mangisto Deng was a second-teamer. … Aquin's Aiden Chang was a 1A honorable mention pick. … Rockridge's Ethan Happ was a unanimous first-team selection in 2A, and Bloomington Central Catholic's Nick Norton joined him as a first-teamer. … Happ's Rocket teammate Bryan Heath was a second-team pick.