Editor’s Note: This is the third of a three-part story that will be looking back at the 10 best stories of the 2011-12 high school sports season from the Ohio Valley Publishing area. Stories 8-10 appeared in the Thursday sports edition and 5-7 ran on Friday, making these final four recaps the top stories of this past school year.
On Thursday, I started my annual top-10 stories from the previous sports year — which led to the unveiling of stories 8-10 from the 2011-12 season. Friday, we talked about the middle of the pack events that made up the 5-7 spots.
And before sharing the four best stories of this past school year, let’s reflect on the previous half-dozen stories that have been previously discussed.
10. Rebels and Roundball.
9. A Runner’s World. Thrower’s too.
8. Diamond Gems.
7. No I in Team
6. Repeat Offenders.
5. Grappling Glory.
And now, what I believe to be the four best sports stories from the 2011-12 season in the Ohio Valley Publishing area. And a small note about the final four, each subject matter managed to make it to the state level.
4. Lady Eagles Soar to State
The law of averages says that if you do something long enough, you will eventually come away with the desired result.
The Eastern volleyball program had won only one game in six previous trips to the Division IV regional semifinals before this fall. The Lady Eagles had never been to a volleyball regional final before this fall. EHS had also never been to a state volleyball tournament before this fall.
Then came this fall.
The Lady Eagles practically rewrote their entire record book this past autumn after putting together one of the most dominant seasons in the storied program’s history.
Eastern joined the 2006 squad in going unbeaten in the regular season (22-0) and also picked up its 13th TVC Hocking championship in 15 years with a 16-0 league mark, then followed by earning the program’s 16th straight sectional title.
A pair of straight-game wins over Whiteoak and Waterford allowed the Lady Eagles to win their seventh district title in the last 10 years, and also gave this group a share of the school record for wins in a season (2006) with 25.
Then came the real test … trying to win a match at regionals.
The Lady Eagles played their only five-game match of the year in the regional semifinals against Shekinah Christian Academy, but EHS held on through 40 lead changes and 35 ties to win the program’s first-ever regional match and secure the program’s 26th win of the fall.
Eastern followed by beating Pike Eastern in straight games two days later in the regional final, earning Howie Caldwell and the Lady Eagles their first-ever appearance at state.
EHS didn’t need six tries to score their first game victory at the state level, jumping out to a 1-0 match lead against Tuscarawas Central Catholic in the Division IV semifinals. TCC rallied back with three straight wins to ultimately hand EHS its only loss of the season.
Eastern, which finished 27-1 overall in match play, won 79 of the 87 games it played in during the 2011 campaign. Eastern’s previous lone game win in six appearances at regionals also came against TCC during the 2009 postseason.
3. Case in Point.
Everybody familiar with the Point Pleasant football program knew coming into the 2011 campaign, the Big Blacks had a chance to be special.
With 17 seniors and 42 players returning from last year’s roster, fifth-year coach Dave Darst was chomping at the bit to get this fall started.
What followed was, well, truly something to watch.
The Big Blacks posted the program’s third unbeaten regular season in school history while also winning the Cardinal Conference title outright for the second time in four years (2008), doing so in a manner that landed PPHS its’ first-ever No. 1 seed headed into the Class AA playoffs.
With wins over Ritchie County and Oak Glen in the opening two rounds of the playoffs, the 2011 PPHS squad became the first team to ever win multiple games in a postseason and also post a dozen wins in a campaign. PPHS followed with its third straight home playoff win in the state semifinals following a 33-13 victory over Chapmanville.
Point Pleasant had beaten Wayne in the regular season, but the Big Blacks ultimately lost to WHS in their first-ever Class AA championship game to finish the season with a 13-1 overall mark — the new standard in the school’s storied history.
More impressively, it was how the Big Blacks went about getting to Wheeling for the first time that sticks out.
In its 13 victories, PPHS scored an average of more than 45 points and allowed just a shade over 10 points per contest — with roughly half of those wins coming by 20 or more points. The Big Blacks were plus-12 in turnover differential and allowed just 227 yards defensively, while the offense cranked out nearly 415 yards of total offense per outing.
The seniors on this 2011 squad are also the only Point Pleasant athletes to ever play in the playoffs for four consecutive seasons. The Big Blacks were previously 1-8 alltime in the postseason — with the lone win coming in 1979 — before this past fall.
2. Better Than Par for the Course.
It’s one thing to win a lot of golf matches throughout the course of a season. It’s something entirely different when you don’t lose many golf matches over the course of that same given time frame.
The Gallia Academy golf team started the season by winning the Ironton Invitational and gradually improved its season record to 75-0 through 16 matches and sectional tournament play, something completely unheard of in a sport that is probably more inconsistent than any other at the high school ranks and beyond.
In fact, Unioto — in the 17th match of the season — was the first team to get a win over Gallia Academy on the links, an event that happened to take place at the district meet. The Blue Devils, which finished second at districts, also qualified for their 11th state golf tournament in school history on that day.
A week later, GAHS managed to avenge Unioto by finishing ahead of them in the team ranks at the Division II state tournament. The Blue Devils finished third overall — the best ever for the program at the state level — and also came away with a pair of All-Ohio golfers in Nick Saunders and Boeing Smith.
The Blue Devils won the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship with a perfect 30-0 mark, and Gallia Academy also completed its historic campaign with a 92-3 overall mark. The other two programs to beat GAHS this fall were D-2 state champion Springfield Kenton Ridge and Canton Central Catholic.
GAHS won the school’s 18th SEOAL title this fall and the program’s first sectional championship since the 1999 campaign.
Gallia Academy, however, was not the only school to have some success at the state level.
Point Pleasant senior and 2011 Cardinal Conference medalist Opie Lucas completed his prep career by earning his second straight all-state honor in four state appearances for golf. Lucas placed fourth this year and was third during the 2010 campaign.
PPHS junior Erik Allbright also finished 10th overall at the state golf meet this fall, Allbright’s second consecutive appearance at the WVSSAC links.
1. State Champions.
In this business, there is nothing better than writing about a state championship. And since the competition cannot beat a state champion, neither can another story about another state champion.
Rather it be an individual title or a team crown, the thrill of being a state champion only comes to a handful of blessed people in high school. And regardless of the sport, they are all equally worthy of top billing.
There were a total of eight state championships won in the OVP area this sports year, all of which occurred in Mason County over the last six months. Point Pleasant came away with seven state championships, while Wahama earned the remaining state title.
Point Pleasant wrestling team won its third consecutive Class AA-A team title in record fashion, scoring a school-best 224 points while having a dozen grapplers finish on the podium (top-6) in their respective weight classes.
The Big Blacks tied a school-record by having three individuals — Noah Searls, Zach Nibert and Josh Hereford — win state titles at the same meet, and PPHS also became just the third AA-A program to score over 200 points as a team and also win three consecutive state crowns as a team.
Point Pleasant — which claimed the 2012 title by a school-best 85 points over the field — also set a school record by qualifying an athlete to the state meet in all 14 weight classes. Josh Hereford’s title in the 170-pound weight class also gave the Big Blacks their first set of sibling state champions (Brent Hereford, 2006) in the program’s illustrious history.
The three individual champions from this winter — Hereford, Searls and Nibert — were all first-time winners of state titles. PPHS now has 18 state championships from 11 different athletes in wrestling.
Point Pleasant also used a little teamwork in the spring to bring home three more state crowns in track and field, as a trio of relay teams combined to earn gold at Laidley Field in late May.
Zach Canterbury, Marquez Griffin, Anthony Darst and Chase Walton earned state titles in both the 4x100m and 4x200m relay events, while Walton, Darst, Canterbury and Caleb Riffle combined to win the 4x400m relay contest in Class AA.
It was the first time since the turn of the millennium that the Big Blacks won multiple state titles at the same meet.
Last year, Wahama earned its first-ever state championship in track when Kelsey Zuspan won gold in both the 100m and 200m dashes. This spring, the boys got in on the act by earning the White Falcons’ first-ever gold medal at the Class A state track meet.
The quartet of Jacob Buzzard, Benny Youkers, Jacob Ortiz and Crandale Neal came away with first place in the 4x100m relay event. The state championship also gives Wahama a total of five in school history, joining both Zuspan and the 1996 and 1998 baseball teams with top honors.