By Rich Torres and Jim Ayello
Daily Reporter sports staff
Daily Reporter sports editor Rich Torres and sportswriter Jim Ayello select their favorite players, teams and moments from the 2014-15 high school sports year.
Best Male Athlete
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Rich: Chad Red
Domination can often play like a broken record, but what Chad (C.J.) Red is doing is simply historic. Undefeated through his three-year high school career at a flawless 139-0, the incoming New Palestine senior wrestler is three quarters of the way toward joining an elite fraternity. Since the Indiana High School Athletic Association started crowning individual state champions in 1932-33, only eight wrestlers have emerged victorious four consecutive years. Of those “Great Eight,” just two have done so without a loss (Lance Ellis, Cathedral, 172-0 and Alex Tsirtis, Griffith, 236-0). Red is positioned to become the third. Winning two of his four state finals matches by pin this past February at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Red completed the sweep by scoring 20 points and surrendering six in back-to-back decisions to claim the 126-pound championship. He finished the year at 47-0. Red was 44-0 as a state champion at 120 in 2014 and 48-0 at 106 in 2013. Already ranked No. 1 in the nation by FloWrestling at 132 pounds, the All-American carries the moniker of national champion and “man to beat” as he enters his final prep season.
Jim: Christian Noble
Two sports, two state finals appearances, two all-state finishes. In his junior season, Mt. Vernon’s Christian Noble established himself as Hancock County’s preeminent runner. With his 16th-place finish in this fall’s cross-country state finals and his seventh-place finish in the 3,200-meter run at track and field state finals, Noble’s name has begun to decorate the Marauders’ record books. His 15:42 at the sloping LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute not only earned him one of 15 state medals ever won by a Mt. Vernon cross-country runner, but also was the sixth fastest time in school history. He also broke the 30-year school record in the 3,200 twice this season, resetting the bar at 9:14.83 at the State Finals. Oh, and for good measure, he also secured a pair of sectional and regional crowns this year along with a host of other victories.
Best Female Team
Rich: New Palestine girls golf
There was talk of a special season unfolding in southern Hancock County long before the Dragons teed off to open the year in the Center Grove Invite this past fall. Coach Gregg Greene had his entire lineup back intact, senior Abby Poole already gave the team championship swagger and the addition of freshman Mackenzi Black, a decorated Indiana Junior Golf Foundation player, put them in contention for greatness. The Dragons lived up to the hype. Winning its first sectional team title at Old Oakland with a 341, New Palestine made the cut at Westwood Golf Club to take third at regional —knocking off Fishers by one stroke — and advance to its first state finals. Poole won sectional medalist for a third time in her career with a 73 and was fourth-best overall at regional with a 73. Black became the team’s second-best golfer in a deep and talented lineup as the group powered the Dragons to a 12th-place finish at state. Poole shot two-day score of 171. Black posted a 178. Overall, New Palestine narrowly missed a top-10 team placement at state by four strokes.
Jim: Mt. Vernon girls tennis
Other than New Palestine’s football team, no team ran roughshod through their opponents quite like the Marauders this season. Thirteen of their program-record breaking 17 victories came in crushing 5-0 shutouts, including their second consecutive Hancock County championship. During the season, the Marauders had grown so accustomed to blanking their opponents, that when they won their second straight sectional crown 4-1 against the county rival Dragons, they were actually a little disappointed it wasn’t a sweep. The Marauders’ success continued into the postseason, as they advanced to the regional final with a 3-2 win against Lawrence North before falling to state semifinal qualifier and second-ranked Indianapolis Cathedral. Not normally a man at a loss for words, head coach Gabe Muterspaugh come only come up with one when describing the Marauders’ season: “Dominant … dominant … dominant … dominant.”
Best Girls Coach
Rich: Jason Stewart
With a freshman, five sophomores, three juniors and one senior in the everyday lineup, coach Jason Stewart’s squad played well beyond its years this past spring. Not quite old enough to be considered a threat, and still young enough not to care, the Greenfield-Central Cougars played fearless and as a result shocked the softball landscape. Winning a single-season best 27 games, the “cardiac cats” were relentless on the diamond. Stewart’s team came through in the clutch repeatedly, winning six games by one run and 17 by three runs or less. Greenfield-Central claimed victory in 12 of its first 13 games, riding the momentum to the program’s first share of the Hoosier Heritage Conference crown. The team’s 27th win secured coach Stewart’s third sectional title in seven years and one more win than the regional championship team of 2010. Surprising as it was, the Cougars’ run was far from for coach Stewart, who notched his fifth 20-plus win season in his 10-year tenure at the helm. With the return of Darci Huber, the Daily Reporter Player of the Year, next season, this could only be the beginning.
Jim: Emily Logan
From recruiting state-qualifying diver Shyanne Milne out of gym class to leading the Greenfield-Central girls swimming to their second consecutive sectional championship, Emily Logan has made a huge splash in her first few seasons as Cougars coach. Last season, she ushered the girls to the program’s first ever sectional title but was unable to help send anyone to state. This year, with state-advancement her stated mission, she not only repeated as champion but sent three sophomores to the state finals for the first time in their careers. With Logan at the helm, it’s not hard to imagine the Cougars girls creating a dynasty to match the boys. They are well on their way.
Rich: Dragons slay the record book
The way Brian Harmon and Jim Ayello describe it, Black Friday was washed over in Red Rage at Lucas Oil Stadium last November. As the New Palestine Dragons put up a ridiculous 77 points in their march through, over and past New Prairie to capture the Class 4A football state title, counting the records shatter by coach Kyle Ralph’s undefeated team proved futile. Instead, keeping track of the survivors made much more sense. Scoring 35 points and five touchdowns in fewer than 15 plays and 15 minutes, New Palestine rewrote 23 team and individual state championship records overall by the end. For good measure they tied five more. Among the highlight watermarks left in their wake: most points (77) for 4A and any class; most touchdowns for 4A (11); most rushing yards in 4A (462); most passing touchdowns for 4A (5); and total offensive yardage for all classes (673). James Young set a record for individual rushing yards at 282 along with a new standard for longest touchdown and play from scrimmage at 98 yards.
Best Highlight Performance
Rich: Sydney Shelton goes ballistic
Call it her Reggie Miller moment. For those more contemporary hoops fans, Mt. Vernon’s Sydney Shelton flat out channeled her inner Stephen Curry. One of the first things I was asked when I took over the big chair in the sports department last month was: “Have you seen the YouTube video?” Put me down as No. 3,473. If you haven’t checked it out, you need to. Shelton, an Indiana Junior All-Star, put on a show for the ages, scoring 19 points (33 for the game) while carrying four fouls in one of the most memorable fourth quarters in recent Hancock County hoops history. The Kentucky recruit buried seven shots, dished out an assist for two points, wiggled inside for a pair of buckets and went ballistic from long range — I’m talking another time zone deep. Using the volleyball lines and half court as her guide, Shelton called net and singed it five times, nearly rallying the Marauders back from an 11-point deficit against Richmond in the sectional semifinals. Though, Mt. Vernon lost 69-63, the program’s all-time leading scorer cemented her legacy.
Jim: Enrique Ferrara lights up Shelbyville in sectional
The Greenfield-Central junior scored five goals in one game. Five. I shouldn’t have to say more than that, but for the sake of storytelling, I will elaborate. It was the opening game of the boys soccer state tournament, and he punched in two goals in the first 15 minutes to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead. Shelbyville rebounded by scoring about 20 minutes later to halve the lead, but Ferrara completed his first-half hat-trick with less than 30 seconds left on the clock. Ferrara headed in a fourth and added a fifth a few minutes later to help the Cougars hold to a 5-4 victory. Ferrara already was a shoe-in for Hancock County Player of the Year before that game, but he cemented the honor with this other-worldly performance. I, for one, cannot wait to see what he does for an encore next season.
Rich: Alex Neligh
Juniors often aren’t considered newcomers, but with the departure of New Palestine quarterback Blake Luker to graduation, Neligh had some large shoes to fill in his first season under center. He responded this past fall in record-setting fashion. The year prior, Luker accounted for 3,772 yards of total offense and 54 touchdowns. Neligh immediately picked up the torch with 47 touchdowns (28 passing and 19 rushing) and 3,654 yards of total offense to lead the Dragons to their first football state championship in school history. The gunslinger was named First-Team All-State by the The Associated Press, First-Team All-Hoosier Heritage Conference, Indiana Football Coaches Association Class 4A Junior All-State, Hancock County Player of the Year. In the state title game, he set a 4A record with five passing touchdowns and tied the overall mark for all classes. He rushed for three more in the game to give him a hand in eight of the Dragons’ 11 touchdowns en route to a record 77-42 victory.
Jim: Lydia Tierney
The younger sibling of Mt. Vernon standout Dixon Tierney, Lydia Tierney added additional luster to the family name by announcing her presence in the Hancock County swimming scene like she was cannonballing into the pool. The Marauders freshman finished her first year of county competition with four sectional titles, two conference championships, a school record in the 100 butterfly, a sectional record in the 200 individual medley and her first State Finals trip. Though she did not register the finale she was hoping for at the Indiana University Natatorium at IUPUI, don’t expect that to do anything but motivate her for next season.
Jim: Dragons’ revenge vs. Columbus East at semistate
Let’s be honest. This was the Class 4A football state championship. Sure, there was one more game on the docket before it was official, but trouncing whomever came out of the North was a mere formality. Everything came down to this heavyweight bout. Columbus East vs. New Palestine Round II. No.1 vs. No. 2. An all-state running game vs. an all-state defense with all of Hoosier-land watching. Everyone in attendance that cold November night knew what was at stake, and the stadium pulsated with every snap, every inch of ground gained or lost because of it. Whether it was the sea of Dragons’ red exploding after Garrett Kuhn’s game-changing forced fumble, or the collective holding of breaths every time Markell Jones touched the ball, the tension built in Kelso Stadium that night might never again be matched. And then there was the night’s crescendo. The overflow of intense emotion that followed Spencer Corey’s game-clinching kick was intoxicating. I’m not sure I’ll ever cover a game like that again.