Over the course of the 2017-18 academic year, there have been a great deal of student-athletes that have impressed and put in a great deal of work throughout the school year to date — work that can certainly not be taken in a light manner.
So in the spirit of the holiday season, the occasion calls to honor a few of those student-athletes that have already excelled in a strong manner throughout the first half of the school year.
Before I go into all of the schools on this list, I want to thank Daily Times sports reporter Ben Spicer for his work here with the paper. We had so much fun together and it is truly an honor to have worked with him. I am lucky to call him more than a coworker, because we are good friends outside of the field as well and have hung out together. He keeps saying he’s going to beat me at 2K18, so we’re going to have to get in a game soon and see.
Ben is an unselfish, high-character young man who has harnessed his potential and will accomplish great things at MyTownTV and beyond. We’ll be seeing him on TV someday, no doubt!
Jensen Warnock. Without a shadow of a doubt, Warnock has been simply outstanding during her high school career so far, starring in not one, not two, but three sports (volleyball, basketball, softball). The 5-10 junior currently leads the Lady Panthers in points (15 per game) and blocks (four per affair) while garnering an average of 8.2 rebounds per contest.
When you add her 1,003 kills, .382 attack percentage, and 903 digs to the table on the volleyball court, along with an average that exceeded .500 as a sophomore on the softball diamond and her academic exploits, it is clear that Warnock is a student-athlete that colleges and universities should be tracking.
The 2017 football team, and its seniors. This is another one that is a no-doubter, not just because of the team success, but the personal successes of the group, as well.
Over the last two years, this group obtained a 19-4 overall record, obtained back-to-back SOC I Championships, and won the school’s first playoff game — on the road, no less — against an experienced and battle-tested Waterford squad that had vast experience going deep into the postseason. Individually, Blaine Scott, Brady Douthat, and Ethan Gifford are National Honor Society members, and their college and/or career paths are set in stone. Not much more can be asked out of James Gifford’s group than that.
To add onto the great news, Scott, Douthat, and Gifford will all be playing college football at one point or another. Scott, as mentioned, will obtain a full ride to West Virginia, while Gifford has committed to West Virginia State and plans to sign later in the winter. As for Douthat, he’ll be serving in the National Guard and will accept a walk-on opportunity to play under Luke Fickell at the University of Cincinnati.
Tanner Kimbler and Tayte Carver. While they have grown up under the wing of successful athletes in their own family, the pair have certainly wasted no time carving out a path of their own, not only contributing, but starring, as the No. 1 and No. 3-hole hitters on a Green baseball unit that went 12-0 in the SOC I last season. The duo have continued to star during the cross country and basketball campaigns, with the former putting up 38 points against New Boston last month. Watch out: it probably won’t be the last time we hear from these two.
The 2017-18 girls basketball team. Is there a girls basketball program that knows its roles better than the Minford Lady Falcons’ program does? It’s certainly a debatable subject, but at 10-0, the Lady Falcons have all the tools to make a postseason run.
They have a do-it-all point guard in Erin Daniels, a three-point specialist in Marissa Risner, a low-post technician in Ashley Blankenship, a junkyard dog in Caitlyn Puckett, and two steady presences up top in Zoe Doll and Livi Shonkwiler who fulfill a lot of the tasks that aren’t noted in the box score. When you add the unselfish presences of Marissa Watters, Hannah Tolle, Mackenzie Watters, and Hannah Thacker into the mix, the results add up to a team that can accomplish some special tasks.
Kade Conley, Ali Hamilton. Are there two seniors that mean more to their school than these two strongholds this season? If so, it’d be hard-pressed to find them. Conley, who scored the opening goal in a thrilling victory over South Point in the sectional semifinals on penalty kicks, has translated his success over to the basketball court, where the 6-1 point guard is constantly averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds per contest on a nightly basis. As for Hamilton, she’s already obtained over 1,000 kills and 1,000 points for her career and has been a major cog in turning the New Boston volleyball and girls basketball programs around.
The 2017 boys soccer program. Josh Keeney has truly built an amazing culture within the soccer and track programs that has helped his athletes reach new heights. In Evan Throckmorton, Tyler Webb, and Harald Rundquist, Northwest arguably had the most potent offense of any team in the Southeast District. Chase McClay, Mason Campbell, Austin Speer, and last, but certainly not least, Hunter Berry, all were gritty players who added speed to the middle and back ends of the field. The result? One of Northwest’s best athletic seasons in school history, regardless of sport, with an SOC II Championship, a Division III District Championship, and a regional appearance in its pocket.
Lexi Smith. Every year, it seems like it’s next-woman up for the Notre Dame Lady Titans, considering that Jen Arnzen, Brooke Pierron, Tori Harr, and Hagen Schaefer have continued to provide leadership skills across one or more sports. Smith’s success during the 2017-18 academic year, however, has been unbelievable.
To lead Notre Dame to its first-ever regional tournament victory, obtain 1,655 kills, a .477 hitting percentage, 810 digs, and 327 blocks for a single career, sign with a Division II national powerhouse in Wheeling Jesuit, and start out the first 10 games by obtaining team-highs in points per game (14.4) and rebounds per game (8.6) while shooting 58 percent from the floor and eclipsing the 1,000 point barrier in the process for a team that currently sits at 10-0 (as of Thursday) puts Smith on a stratosphere that very few Scioto County student-athletes, let alone past Notre Dame greats, can say.
Gene Collins and the Portsmouth basketball program. As far as basketball programs go, it is clear that very few reload as effectively as the Portsmouth Trojans do. Despite losing six seniors from a team that went to the Division III District Semifinals last year, Portsmouth is off to a 6-2 start — a year after the Trojans unexpectedly went 15-8 in the first year without Kyre’ Allison in the lineup since the 2011-2012 season.
Two big OVC games with Chesapeake and Fairland loom on Friday and next Tuesday (Jan. 9), but it is clear that the Trojans will be near the top of the OVC standings again barring massive changes.
Shiloah Blevins and Sam Holstein, Ellie Jo Johnson and Madison Cook. Dynamic duos are always a great thing to happen, and at South Webster, they’re evident in spades.
Blevins, who has been a dynamo in soccer and basketball throughout his high school varsity career, put up 21 goals and 11 assists during the 2017 campaign on the soccer pitch and hasn’t slowed down since, scoring at least 13 points or more in every game to date on the basketball floor during the season with a 33-point effort against West sprinkled in the mix. Holstein, who like Blevins, is a junior, notched a team-high 27 goals and added three assists for a unit that advanced to the Division III Regional Finals despite losing senior strongholds Alek Blevins, Shane Zimmerman, and Trevor Coriell from the year prior, and has provided a great deal of toughness and grit to the basketball program after coming back out for the team in 2017-18.
As for Johnson and Cook, the pair have been outstanding throughout South Webster’s 8-4 start to the 2017-18 girls basketball campaign, with the duo routinely eclipsing the 20-point, 10-rebound and 13-point, eight-rebound barriers, respectively. Johnson, who has signed with Morehead State to play college basketball, can play all five positions on the floor, while Cook has continued to grow as an inside-outside threat who can finish at the basket or from 20-plus feet out. As their numbers suggest, both are excellent rebounders with great court vision.
Gabe Streeter. There are a litany of strong playmakers in the offensive and defensive backfields who also impact the special teams aspect of the game in the Southern Ohio area. None of them impact all three areas as much as Gabe Streeter has. The junior, who has truly dynamic burst and talent, obtained 77 tackles, nine pass breakups, and six interceptions as a safety — returning two of the six picks for scores. The all-purpose talent also obtained Valley’s only score against Portsmouth on a kickoff return. Watch for Streeter to continue to pave the way to a potential next-level opportunity as a senior.
Garrett Hurd, Josh Berry, Cody Staggs. Yes, the aforementioned trio are pretty dang talented when it comes to the pigskin. But more than anything, their heart, their desire to win, and the way that they represented the West Portsmouth community in 2017 is truly a mirror image of what the West Side wants its players to embrace.
Staggs, who was a team captain this year, picked off a team-high five passes and added 77 tackles as the unit’s top cover corner. An effective receiver as well, Staggs also obtained 423 yards receiving and four touchdowns on 20 receptions to lead the unit, obtaining a 21.2 yard-per-catch average in the process. Berry, who was a producer every time the ball was in his vicinity, made 63 tackles on defense and added four sacks and three interceptions as a roving linebacker while adding 666 total all-purpose yards. The junior obtained five touchdowns in all. As for Hurd, his first full season as the primary back was a fruitful one, obtaining 1,345 yards and 11 touchdowns on 229 carries.
Their efforts, however, also come off the backs of what proved to be an immensely effective line on both ends of the floor, with Jakeb Guilkey, Brandon Weaver, and Kane Lewis leading the charge there. Drew Cassidy’s strong and accurate leg didn’t hurt, either, in West obtaining its first playoff victory since 2008.
While Staggs graduates, he’ll still have a baseball campaign left to play for Chris Rapp, while Berry (basketball and football) and Hurd (baseball and football) still have plenty of balling out left to do.
The entire senior class. What can you say so far? It’s really impossible to single any one sport out — because the performance has been outstanding across the board. That goes back to leadership.
For starters, Ellie Ruby and Mia Darnell overachieved — with the former obtaining 1,000 digs — as the Lady Pirates went to the Division III Regional Tournament under first-year head coach Allen Perry. Then, there’s the girls soccer program. With its 13 seniors, the Lady Pirates made back-to-back appearances in the regional tournament and was ranked as high as No. 7 in the OSSCA Girls Soccer Poll under Todd Jarvis. Then, of course, there’s the football program — who won two of its five playoff games by seven points or less and came back from halftime deficits in three of the five affairs to make history with the school’s second state title behind its 20-man senior class.
It’s safe to say that the high standards were met.
Look for a second edition soon!
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT