1. Sterling volleyball finishes off dominant season with Class 3A state championship
For years, the Sterling Golden Girls 1977 first-ever basketball state championship banner has hung in the rafters at Musgrove Fieldhouse as a lone beacon of likely the proudest and happiest moments in a long & stellar tradition of Golden Warrior athletics.
Well, it’s going to have some company now.
A new group of Sterling girls became golden this fall, as the Golden Warriors volleyball team dusted the field on its way to the Class 3A state championship last month at Redbird Arena in Normal.
The Warriors won their first 30 matches of the season before suffering the lone loss of a 41-1 campaign to Class 4A St. Charles North in the Plainfield tournament on Oct. 13.
But that proved to be just a blip on the radar. Sterling bounced back with its fourth – and final – three-set win of the season (to finish off a 4-0 record in such matches) to kick-start an 11-match win streak to close out the season.
With senior Josi Borum as a security blanket on and off the court whenever times got tight, and classmates Gretchen Gould, Genea Garza and Jaylynn Razo providing key contributions at just the right time, a talented trio of sophomores – hitter Brook Borum, hitter/setter Bree Borum, and libero Lexi Rodriguez – followed up club volleyball national championships over the summer with varsity gold medals.
With so many weapons, it was no wonder the Golden Warriors went all the way. Five players finished the season with at least 100 kills, two had more than 500 assists, five had at least 100 digs, and four finished with at least 30 aces in an impressive show of balance that lasted the entire season.
After a 25-21, 25-20 win over rival Dixon in a regional semifinal on the Duchesses’ home floor at Lancaster Gym, the Warriors found a renewed sense of focus and determination
that lasted the rest of the way through a dominant postseason run.
Rochelle stood little chance in the regional final, as Sterling cruised to a 25-14, 25-10 win. The Warriors got another host team in the sectional semifinal at Woodstock North, but dispatched the Thunder 25-11, 25-14. Fellow NIB-12 team Kaneland came next, but Sterling was methodical and businesslike in its 25-18, 25-18 win to claim the sectional title for the third time in 5 years.
Morton visited Musgrove Fieldhouse for a supersectional, but the environment was as festive and loud as any in a long while at the Homer Dome, and the Potters left with a 25-12, 25-7 loss as Sterling finally celebrated getting over the supersectional hump.
The tone was set at the state tournament in the Warriors’ semifinal win over Joliet Catholic, as Sterling fought through four set points, rallying from a 24-21 deficit in the first set to win 27-25, 25-20 and put itself on the precipice of school history.
Not surprisingly, the scene didn’t prove to be too big for the Warriors. They trailed for just one point in the first set, then rallied from a 15-13 deficit in the second set to defeat Belleville Althoff 25-21, 25-22 and set off a wild celebration and bring home the second state title in school history.
2. Mike Papoccia retires after 39 years, 340 wins
Never one to shine the spotlight on himself, Mike Papoccia would have probably just as soon his announcing his retirement stay among the people at the Comets’ annual postseason awards banquet. But that’s not really possible when you’ve coached or four decades and led your alma mater to five state championships. Ever the class act, Papoccia left an indelible mark on the Sauk Valley’s football scene, and the legacy he leaves on the sideline will last beyond the next four decades.
3. Easton Bianchi wins 100 & 200 state titles again
All season long, Newman sprinter Easton Bianchi struggled to stay healthy. With a lot of people questioning whether the senior could defend last year’s 1A state titles in the 100 & 200 dashes, Bianchi’s answer was a resounding one. He won the 100 by .29 seconds, then smoked the field in the 200 to win by a stunning .68 seconds. In fact, Bianchi was so dominant at rthe 1A level that his times would’ve won both races in 2A, & placed in the top 4 in 3A.
4. Tayla Schwarz wins 3rd straight discus state title
If anybody was wondering before last spring’s track season who the greatest thrower in the history ofSauk Valley track & field, Dixon senior Tayla Schwarz threw her hat into the ring – literally. After easily winning the Class 2A discus state title in her sophomore and junior seasons, Schwarz refused to let nerves or pressure get to her on her final day as a Duchess. Leading by 1 inch after Friday’s prelims, her mark stood up as she finished off a historic and impressive three-peat.
5. Track athletes dominate at state
The medal haul from this year’s boys & girls state track finals will go down as one of the best in Sauk Valley history. Fulton’s Chloe Lindeman & the Bureau Valley 400 relay team won titles as part of 25 medals for the girls, while EP’s Kyle Kruthoff & the Morrison 3,200 relay team were among 21 boys medal-winners. Sterling’s Nyrel Sullivan left his mark in 2A, placing second in the long jump, 100 & 200.
6. Rock Falls girls 2nd at state cross country
Having heard from their coach all season that they were an engine ready to rev for the biggest race of the year, the Rockets proved him prophetic at Detweiller Park. Running as a pack near the front of the main group of runners, Rock Falls put a smile on coach Mark Truesdell’s face with a runner-up run in Class 1A.
T-7. Comets 3rd at 1A state basketball
Looking to bounce back from a frustrating loss in the Class 1A state semifinals, the Newman boys basketball team came out in control from the start in the third-place game against Goreville, jumping out to a 10-point lead after the first quarter en route to a dominant 65-50 win to cap the program’s first-ever trip to state.
T-7. Sterling gets back to 5A football semifinals
For years, it seemed as if the Sterling football program had found a stumbling block in the state football quarterfinals. Then least year’s team broke through with a trip to the Class 5A semifinals. That set the tone for this year’s squad, which made it two in a row – leaving quite the legacy for future Warrior teams.
9. Caleb Carlson swims to 2 medals
Already the most decorated Dixon swimmer ever, senior Caleb Carlson finished his career in style at the state swim meet. He placed third in the 100 backstroke and fourth in the 50 freestyle to win his fifth & sixth state medals in a 3-year span – with five of those medals for top-4 finishes in the state finals.
10. Missile boys win first regional
With their sights set on making history, the Milledgeville boys basketball team wasn’t about to be denied. SVM Player of the Year Kyle Ottens scored a career-high 47 points, Cade Schave added 14, and the Missiles claimed the program’s first-ever regional championship with a 68-63 win over Indian Creek.