By Rich Torres and Kris Mills
Daily Reporter sports staff
Daily Reporter sports editor Rich Torres and sportswriter Kris Mills select their favorite players, teams and moments from the 2015-16 high school sports year.
Best Male Athlete
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Rich: Chad Red
Unstoppable. Loathed. Beloved. Chad (C.J) Red was all three this season and in his career, but the only thing the wrestler really cared about was winning. That’s what made the New Palestine senior dominant from beginning to end during his historic four-year run. Capturing his fourth consecutive state championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse amidst a roaring mixture of applause and boos, Red found motivation in adversity and never flinched. Instead, he stood in the spotlight unbeaten, unfazed and unmatched. The University of Nebraska recruit, ranked first in the nation at 132 pounds, finished his high school career without a single loss (183-0), only the third in state history (Cathedral’s Lance Ellis and Griffith’s Alex Tsirtsis) to boast such a record. Even with the possibility of his streak ending at win No. 182 against his toughest foe in Evansville Mater Dei’s Nick Lee, Red conquered doubt with competitive greatness. Lee, ranked third in the nation, set out to end Red’s run in what many called a vision quest. Taking a 4-1 lead against Red, it appeared possible, but the national champion, as he’s always done, dug deep to win 6-5. Red’s title secured his place in the record books as the ninth four-time state champ in Indiana and just the second to reach the accomplishment in four different weight classes. Presented with the only medal he’s come to know, gold, this past February, New Palestine’s most decorated wrestler shared the moment with his coach and father, Chad Red Sr., and the Dragon faithful. “Not many people thought I could, but here I am. … This is by far the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Kris: Alex Neligh
Hancock County might not see another dual-threat quarterback quite like New Palestine’s Alex Neligh. Shattering his stats from his junior campaign, Neligh led the Dragons (13-1, 7-0 Hoosier Heritage Conference) back to the IHSAA State Finals only to fall just short against Fort Wayne Snider in arguably one of the greatest games ever in Indiana high school football history. The University of Indianapolis gunslinger, who finished with 2,852 passing yards and 36 touchdowns to go with 2,087 rushing yards and 37 scores, could literally do it all on the field. Even more impressive, Neligh is a better person than football player. Volunteering his time to youth football and leading his team in community service hours proved just that. On a personal note, as well, Neligh was probably the easiest athlete to interview this year. When asked a question, Neligh would answer like a seasoned NFL veteran. And most importantly — he would always mention his teammates and coach first. Neligh is the definition of a true, first-class winner. His best game of the season, statistically speaking, was in the loss to Snider at Lucas Oil Stadium. He led the Dragons from four scores down and finished with four passing touchdowns and four more rushing touchdowns (667 total yards).
Best Boys Team
Rich: New Palestine football
Leaving a legacy. Those words drove the New Palestine football team this past season, and the players and coaches punctuated it to the final whistle. No, they didn’t win state, falling short of a repeat bid in a historic heartbreaker at Lucas Oil Stadium against Fort Wayne Snider, 64-61, last November. What they did do, though, was put the Dragons on the map for good. Once again, New Palestine was prolific, leading the state in points per game, margin of victory and setting another state record in yardage. Coach Kyle Ralph’s Dragons won 28 straight games before their loss at state. And they won the last 13 while playing up a class from their state championship season in 2014-15. New Palestine sat perched at No. 1 in the state rankings in 5A, and rightfully so, as they won a third straight Hoosier Heritage Conference, sectional and regional championship. Their semistate title was the school’s second consecutive while their thrilling sectional final win eliminated No. 2 Columbus East for a second year in a row after the teams met for a third year in the postseason. The state championship, while difficult to digest, was the exclamation point. Down 21-0 after the first quarter and 28-0 in the game, the Dragons reclaimed the lead twice in the fourth quarter in the instant classic. The teams combined to produce the highest scoring championship game in Indiana history. New Palestine’s Alex Neligh set an overall state record with 501 yards passing with four touchdowns and four rushing scores. Duke Blackwell set a finals record with 328 yards receiving and three TDs. The Dragons 757 total yards crushed their previous state finals record from the year prior. Nine team records and six individual records fell in the game. A victory would have capped their season, but the Dragons showed exactly what they were made of, even in only their second loss in three years and 43 games.
Kris: Greenfield-Central swimming
Pure domination. With a stranglehold on recent sectional swimming titles, Greenfield-Central showed no sign of slowing down en route to its sixth-straight sectional championship at New Palestine last winter. The Cougars also earned their sixth Hoosier Heritage Conference meet win in a row as head coach Mark Logan, who completed his fourth season with the team, has kept the winning tradition alive. Behind seven school marks and four sectional records, Greenfield-Central scored a program record 506 points — 138 ahead of the next team at the sectional meet. Senior Jordan Cermak, sophomore Zach Cook and junior Allen Forbes each qualified for state in four separate events. Greenfield-Central finished 17th at the state finals with 38 points as Cook finished fifth in both the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke. The Cougars also won the Hancock County meet.
Best Boys Coach
Rich: Bruce Kendall
Deflection is Bruce Kendall’s go-to move. When asked to comment on his cross-county and boys track team’s successes, he’s always quick to list the efforts of his outstanding assistant coaches and his athletes sacrifices, heart and work ethics. All true and deserving, but when you’re the man in charge, some of that praise needs to rise to the top. And no more than this school year as Kendall guided his boys cross country team and a trio of medalist to the IHSAA state finals. The Marauders’ were pace setters this fall, defending their Hancock County team title, finishing runner-up at the Hoosier Heritage Conference Meet and winning sectional for a third straight year by vanquishing rival Pendleton Heights. Second at regional and third at semistate, the team pushed on to the state meet where they placed 18th as a team. For the first time since 1984, two runners were awarded the distinction of all-state in Christian Noble (fourth) and Aaron Rush (19th). The tandem powered Kendall’s track team in the spring with the Marauders repeating as HHC champs. Noble, Rush and Brisco Wood each advanced to the state finals, marking the first time in program history a trio of distance runners had achieved the feat in the same year. In the finale, all three placed in the state with Noble taking runner-up in the 3,200-meter run and Rush (1,600) and Wood (800) both coming in ninth — another program first. Overwhelmed with emotion and pride at the end of his runner’s historic runs, Kendall, who has coached generations of families in his tenure at Mt. Vernon had only one thing to say. “You didn’t cross the finish line today, you crossed the starting line. This is the start, not the end. You are all going to move on and do wonders.” Just like their coach.
Kris: Matt Mayhew
Coaches are constantly making adjustments — it’s just a part of sports. However, no coach shook things up more than Matt Mayhew last season for the Mt. Vernon boys’ soccer team, which earned its first sectional title since 2012. Also winning the Hoosier Heritage Conference in Mayhew’s first season at the helm (tied at 6-1 with New Palestine), the Marauders (16-3-1) increased their win total from seven to 16 in just one season. But the biggest adjustment from the year before? Putting junior Josh Powell in goal full time and moving former keeper Luke Yeadon to midfield. And it worked to near perfection. Powell was named Hancock County Player of the Year after collecting 204 saves and 11 shutouts. Yeadon adjusted well, too, finishing with nine goals, which was third on the team. He also added five assists. Mt. Vernon started its season strong, winning nine of 10 games. After topping New Palestine for the sectional championship, Mayhew — who is also a super-nice guy — led the team to a regional win over Perry Meridian before falling to Center Grove, 4-1, in the regional title game. The Trojans were eventually crowned Class 2A state champions. Mayhew and the Marauders lost five seniors but a strong core — including Powell — return next season.
Best Breakthrough Athlete
Rich: Madison Wise
It wasn’t a question of if, it was a matter of when. Madison Wise decided there was no better time than the present, elevating her game to an elite level in 2015-16. Her talent was already undeniable after averaging 19.0 points and 12.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore. That same year, she shattered Beth Davis’ single-season rebound record (243) set in 1986-87 by hauling in 293. Yet, her toughness was questioned by some. Could she absorb contact inside, penetrate and create off the dribble? Could the four-star prospect lead a team deep into the state tournament? She answered all of her doubters with an All-State junior campaign which led to snapping the Cougars’ 12-year sectional drought. Through 28 games this season, Wise averaged 22.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.5 steals and 3.0 blocks. She now has 1,450 points in her career, ranking her third on the program’s all-time list and fourth in the county. Her 809 career rebounds are unmatched in girls basketball school history. She singed the opposition with four 30-plus point games and 17 of 20 points or more. Eager to draw contact inside, Wise shot 224 free throws and converted 145 while expanding her game beyond the arc with 31 treys. When her junior season concluded one-point shy of a regional crown against Class 4A No. 5 Roncalli, 46-45, she established a new single-season scoring record with 636 points. To top it off, she was named an Indiana Junior All-Star core player and catapulted herself into the 2016-17 Indiana Miss Basketball discussion.
Kris: Morgan Scruggs
The scoop is all behind the statistics for Morgan Scruggs. After not scoring a single goal her freshman season, according to MaxPreps, Scruggs lit up the nets in 2015, finishing with a county-high 20 goals to be named Daily Reporter Co-Soccer Player of the Year with teammate Alexie Hardie. Scruggs was also named Second Team All-District (5) and helped the Marauders capture their first sectional title in nearly two decades. Winning six of its last eight contests, Mt. Vernon fell to No. 13 Center Grove in the regional final in overtime, 1-0. Scruggs also dished out five assist and led her team with 45 total points as the Marauders finished second in the Hoosier Heritage Conference. Against Muncie Burris, she scored a season-high four goals and completed three hat tricks on the season.
Most Memorable Game
Rich: New Palestine blasts Royals in comeback
There were a litany of games this season to pick from for this category. From Mt. Vernon football’s lightning delayed overtime mud bowl victory at Greenfield-Central last fall to New Palestine football’s triumphant come-from-behind sectional final win at rival Columbus East. I also considered Mt. Vernon baseball’s upset sectional performance against state-ranked Cathedral. All of those, among many others, remain memorable, but one continues to stand above the rest because of its improbability. Down 10-0 after the top of the first against visiting Hamilton Southeastern during the regular season, the Dragons softball team refused to quit. Instead, they plain knocked it out of the park, quite literally. Chipping away with 20 hits and a state record six home runs, New Palestine charged back to win 18-10. Oddly enough, as the players’ parents and I joked in the press box that night how the Dragons would storm back, we were right. Ashley Prange, Casey Lehman, Issy Hoyt, Madison Whitaker, Abby White and MacKenzie Jones accounted for 12 runs with one swing of the bat. Elisha Barker came in as a reliever and limited the Royals to four hits in 6 2/3 innings of work the rest of the way as the win kicked off an eight-game streak. The game defied logic and defined the Dragons’ resolve. “It was awesome to see. I’ve never been part of a game like this,” head coach Ed Marcum said afterward.
Kris: Eastern Hancock edged by Evansville Mater Dei
The New Palestine football state title game had me on the edge of my seat and so did Greenfield-Central’s basketball game against Roncalli for the regional title — but none were as intense from the start as Eastern Hancock’s loss to No. 2 Evansville Mater Dei. Maybe it was the fact that the Royals beat the No. 1 team in the state in Henryville just hours before, but it truly was a game to remember. Eventually losing 3-2 in eight innings, Eastern Hancock tied the game in the bottom of the seventh inning — after a weird play at fist — with two runs to force extra innings. Facing an opposing pitcher headed to Indiana State, the Royals actually outhit Mater Dei 7-6 but fell just short. Each committed just one error in a clean game and both knocked a home run. When thinking back, the tension seriously built as each pitch was thrown. Senior Jordan Pierson had two hits in her final game and classmate Darby Shaw lost just her third game of the year after striking out three and allowing one walk. Mater Dei eventually won the state championship.