Best Female Athletes

Fall Sports: Cleo Mills, Mt. Vernon Soccer

• Slowed by a concussion as a freshman, Mt. Vernon sophomore Cleo Mills was healthy in 2016 and it showed. The forward was dominating from start to finish for the Hoosier Heritage Conference champion Marauders, scoring a county-best of 27 goals with three assists.

The 2016 Hancock County Girls Soccer Player of the Year kicked off the year with five goals in two games and finished with a goal in the team’s finale in the sectional title match against Greenfield-Central. She only went four games without converting at least one goal and started 17 contests overall.

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Mills earned Indiana Soccer Coaches Association All-State honorable mention and ISCA All-District honors. She was also named All-HHC.

Winter Sports: Madison Wise, Greenfield-Central Basketball

• All eyes were on Madison Wise this season as a 2016-17 Indiana Miss Basketball Candidate, and she made sure every spectator got their money’s worth. Finishing third in the race for Indiana Miss Basketball, Wise netted 62 votes behind runner-up Dana Evans of Gary West and Homestead’s Karissa McLaughlin.

Wise, a 6-foot-1 forward, ended her career as only the fifth player in girls basketball state history to surpass 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. She averaged 23.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a senior. She also became the county’s most prolific scorer in girls basketball history with 2,109 points and 1,091 rebounds in four years.

The Iowa State recruit was only the third girls basketball player in Greenfield-Central history to be chosen as an Indiana All-Star and first since Janet Meeker in 1989. Wise was named ICGSA All-State and to the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association’s Supreme 15 All-State Team. She was selected All-Hoosier Heritage Conference. Wise broke at least seven program records en route to Hancock County Girls Basketball Player of the Year honors.

Spring Sports: Ashley Prange, New Palestine Softball

• This spring Ashley Prange found her comfort zone, and it pushed her to new heights during a breakout junior campaign. A unanimous All-Hoosier Heritage Conference selection, Prange, nearly swept the votes for Hancock County Softball Player of the Year.

An Ohio State recruit, Prange approached hitting with a simple and direct philosophy of see ball, hit ball, and as a result Prange crushed a historic, state-record 21 home runs and drove in a state-record 67 runs.

Prange’s final home run during the Class 3A state title game helped New Palestine erase an eight-year championship drought as the Dragons beat Kankakee Valley 13-6 to secure the program’s fourth title since 2004.

A projected 2018 Indiana Miss Softball candidate, Prange was named 2017 First Team All-American by Fastpitch News and First Team All-State by the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association in Class 3A/4A.

The star shortstop hit a career-best .552 and broke the school’s career home run record with 29 to date and another season ahead.

Best Female Teams

Fall Sports: Greenfield-Central Soccer

• Greenfield-Central head coach Erin Clark circled 2016 as the year. She was right on the money. With intangible swagger, a strong mix of youth and experience and a persistent knack to win, the Cougars exceeded expectations to secure their first sectional title since 2012.

The team finished 7-8-2 despite losing team captain Katie Helgason to a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the year. Able to regroup, the Cougars’ defense locked in during the postseason, limiting their opponents to three goals. They upset Hoosier Heritage Conference champion Mt. Vernon in a 4-3 shootout to win their sectional title, avenging a 3-0 loss during the regular season.

A 2-1 victory against Roncalli marked the program’s first regional game win before Franklin Central ended their run 1-0 in the title match.

Winter Sports: Eastern Hancock Basketball

• There was doubt, inconsistency and injuries. At one point, the Eastern Hancock Royals lost five in a row and six of seven during the regular season before putting it all together for a memorable run when it mattered most.

Finishing 15-11, the Royals’ senior leaders (Emiley Carlton, Peyton West and Kaysi Gilbert) and third head coach in three years, Andy Meneely, hit their stride late and erased a 16-year sectional title drought in the process.

Eastern Hancock defeated top-ranked and heavily-favored Triton Central 57-50 in the Class 2A sectional championship, avenging a 52-35 loss suffered three months prior. At the regional, the team beat South Putnam 54-42 before narrowly falling to Covenant Christian 52-44 in the title game.

Spring Sports: New Palestine Softball

• There wasn’t anything the 2017 New Palestine Dragons couldn’t do, especially in big games. Finishing 31-2, a program record for wins, the Class 3A Dragons rode a 23-game steak en route to their fourth softball state championship since 2004 and first in eight years.

The team hit .437 on the season, tied the program’s single-season record with 83 doubles and set five team state records, including most home runs in a single season (57), runs batted in (355), runs scored (383), hits (465) and at-bats (1,064).

The Dragons set three 3A state championship records for hits (17), runs (13) and runs batted in (10) and featured the state’s most productive hitter in Ashley Prange, who set single-season state marks in home runs (21) and RBIs (67). New Palestine outscored their state tournament foes 104-14.

Best Female Coaches

Fall Sports: Kelli Whitaker, New Palestine Volleyball

• A 2006 New Palestine graduate and former volleyball standout, Kelli Whitaker, who played at Indiana State, guided the Class 3A Dragons to new heights in her fourth year at the helm.

The team finished 27-11 overall en route to capturing the program’s first sectional title in 27 years and first regional championship. At the Jasper Semistate, the Dragons notched their first-ever semifinal victory against powerhouse Northview 3-2 before losing to state runner-up Providence 3-0 in the finals.

The team’s final four appearance was the best tournament run in program history and increased Whitaker’s four-year coaching record to 81-55. She was honored as the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association’s 3A South Coach of the Year and the ICGSA’s 3A/4A All-Stars head coach.

Winter Sports: Doug Laker, Greenfield-Central Basketball

• After claiming the program’s first sectional title in 12 years last season, expectations for 2016-17 were astronomical. Greenfield-Central head coach Doug Laker had one of the state’s top players on his roster in Iowa State recruit Madison Wise and a solid core group of experience, youth and athleticism.

Then the first big blow surfaced in the preseason as star senior point guard Katie Helgason suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during soccer. Losing the 2015-16 Indiana Junior All-Star and Ball State recruit until mid-December, the team sputtered early until they regained their footing.

The Cougars were runner-ups in their own holiday tournament and won the Hall of Fame Classic Tournament at New Castle in late December.

In the postseason, however, the team was dealt another devastating blow with the loss of Kate Real, which compounded the team’s woes after a season-ending injury to Jessica Farrell at the start of the year.

Despite the hardships, the team fought to the end before losing against New Castle in the sectional finals, halting the Cougars quest at a repeat. Laker concluded his ninth season with 129 wins, including a 17-11 record this season. The most winningest coach in Greenfield-Central basketball history, Laker averaged 14 wins per year.

Spring Sports: Ed Marcum, New Palestine Softball

• After winning a state title in his first year as head coach in 2004, Ed Marcum led the New Palestine softball program to back-to-back state championships in 2008 and 2009. Since then, the team has been searching for another opportunity.

In Marcum’s 13th year at the helm, the Dragons broke through and obliterated five single-season offensive team state records to win the program’s fourth state title in 2017.

Few teams could match their production nor their prowess to win, collecting 23 straight victories down the stretch, the program’s longest winning streak in a single season.

Marcum, a 1979 New Palestine graduate, guided the Dragons to a fourth straight Hoosier Heritage Conference title with an outright 7-0 run. His career record is now 357-58 with the team’s sectional title marking his eighth to go with seven regional crowns and a semistate title.

Female Rookie of the Year: Jordan Reid, New Palestine Sports

• Few athletes made the impact freshman Jordan Reid did in 2016-17. A three-sport standout, Reid was a key contributor for the Dragons’ soccer team, finishing with six goals and four assists for the Hoosier Heritage Conference runner-ups.

The 5-foot-9 forward chipped in 2.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game for the HHC runner-up Dragons, who turned a 1-3 start into a nine-game winning streak.

Once spring rolled around, Reid took off as a state-qualifying sprinter. She finished 12th in the state in the 100-meter dash with a time of 12.39 seconds. She was 10th in the 200 at 25.52, which tied a school record.

Her 12.35 run in the 100 at sectional set a new school record, and her versatility as a relay runner helped the Dragons capture both the HHC and Hancock County teams titles.

Breakout Performer: Emily O’Connor, New Palestine Softball

• Often forgotten in a prolific lineup, Emily O’Connor, a sophomore, had a season to remember. In her first full varsity season, the third baseman provided ample protection hitting behind record-setting junior Ashley Prange in the Dragons’ lineup. Preventing opposing teams from pitching around Prange, O’Connor took advantage of her at-bats, posting the county’s best batting average at .558.

Her 14 home runs broke the team’s single-season homer record, which Prange also rewrote. The Eastern Michigan commit had 59 RBIs, the first time New Palestine had a pair of hitters exceed 50-plus in a single season.

Breakthrough Team: Mt. Vernon Tennis

• Hardly a surprise, the Mt. Vernon girls tennis team dominated once again this spring. This time, however, head coach Gabe Muterspaugh’s group broke new ground, losing just one match in the regular season and their final duel in the regional semifinal against Cathedral to finish 20-2.

The Marauders’ win total set a new program record and put them on the map as a consistent Top 25 team in the state in the weekly rankings. The Marauders won their fourth straight sectional title and seventh in nine years.

They registered 10 victories by a 5-0 margin and defended their county team title by winning a fourth straight with four individual champions. The Marauders became the first team to win four consecutive county team championships.

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.