Sifting through the list of the top sports stories in the CourierTraveler coverage area for 2016 was the toughest chore yet among the year-end nominations we compile on an annual basis.
Simply put, our coverage area more than doubled.
The Arkansas City Traveler had one local high school, three area high schools and one junior college to sift through. But when the Traveler merged with The Winfield Courier to create The Cowley CourierTraveler, the coverage area grew to include two local high schools, five area high schools, an NAIA university and a junior college.
Many noteworthy sporting events were squeezed out of the Top 10 and into honorable mentions. Several other worthy contenders hit the cutting room floor altogether.
While it’s impossible to fully comprehend every event, every month and gauge its importance without missing any, we’ve done our best. So without further ado, here are the Top 10 sports stories of the year in the CourierTraveler coverage area.
Class 5A State Champions
Arkansas City High School’s No. 1 doubles team of junior Chassidy Weathers and sophomore Kelsie Burr had high expectations entering the 2016 girls tennis season.
The Lady Bulldogs finished third as a team at the KSHSAA Class 5A State Championships two years running. They also compete in the toughest league and Regional, which have included state powers Bishop Carroll, Kapaun Mount Carmel and Andover.
Weathers and Burr were also coming off a second-place finish themselves in 5A State doubles, having fallen to a pair of Carroll seniors in the title match.
Every aspect of Ark City’s season came to a pinnacle on Oct. 15 at the Louderback Family Tennis Center, the home courts of the Lady Bulldogs.
Weathers and Burr upset top-seeded Kelly House and Eleanor Baldwin of Kapaun 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 for the State title, ending a spectacular season with a 36-3 record.
The Lady Bulldogs, who qualified both doubles teams, along with senior Brittany McBride in singles, captured the 5A State team title, as well, with every player earning an individual medal.
Juniors Bailey Benton and Beth Walker earned the sixth-place medals in doubles, while McBride collected the medal for ninth place in singles.
Arkansas City High School senior Tyler Shannon and junior Marcus Robinson captured State gold Feb. 20 at the KSHSAA Class 5A State Wrestling Championships at Hartman Arena in Wichita.
Shannon defeated Tylen Wallace of Kapaun Mount Carmel 2-1 in sudden-death overtime to win the heavyweight title to cap his junior season.
Robinson became a two-time 5A State champion when he recorded a 5-3 decision against Logan Treaster of Newton at 113 pounds in his sophomore campaign.
Sophomore Jake Beeson advanced to the finals at 132, but settled for second place.
Senior Bryson Nuckles (138) and freshman Gabe Buckbee (106) finished third, while junior Colton Watters (152) placed fourth. Senior Kendall Biddle (160) and freshman Montez Robinson (120) finished fifth, and senior Shawn Dent (220) placed sixth.
The Bulldogs took home the second-place team trophy, losing to AV-CTL D-II nemesis Goddard.
New Sports on the Horizon
Southwestern College president Brad Andrews and athletic director Matt Shelton announced in August that the board of trustees has voted to approve the addition of baseball as a varsity sport in the Spring of 2018.
“Baseball has been ‘on its way’ to Southwestern for some time,” Andrews said at the time of the announcement.
Two months later, Cowley College athletic director Shane Larsen announced that the board of trustees would add wrestling to that school’s varsity schedule, beginning in the Fall of 2017.
“Wrestling would be my first option. I did find out very quickly how important wresting is in this community and what a large group of supporters we have in this area,” Larsen said at the time. “You could invest locally and get a good team. Currently, I know of seven students from Ark City who are attending institutions other than Cowley College, simply because wrestling opportunities were not here.”
Andrews added that the baseball team will likely have fall contests in 2017. He also said Southwestern is also researching an additional varsity women’s sport to begin competition in 2019.
“I’m extremely excited that baseball will be coming to Southwestern in the spring of 2018. The sport has deep roots in south-central Kansas, which makes it a natural fit for the location,” Shelton said at the time.
Collier is a National Champ
Southwestern College junior Bailey Collier captured the NAIA National Indoor title in the women’s high jump. Teammate Taylor Needham, a sophomore from Cheney, was runner-up in the women’s 600-meter run.
On March 5, the final day of the NAIA Indoor National Championships in Johnson City, Tenn., Collier, a native of Bixby, Okla., cleared 1.74 meters (about 5 feet, 7 inches) on her second attempt to win the title.
Collier set school and meet records with a leap of 5-11 1/4 inches earlier in the season at the Southwestern Relays.
Needham set a school record while finishing second in the nation in the 600-meter run, finishing in 1 minute, 33.19 seconds. She was less than two seconds off the pace of national champion Monique McPherson of Wayland Baptist University.
At the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in June in Gulf Shores, Ala., Needham was again a National runner-up, this time in the 400-meter hurdles. Needham raced a personal-best 59.23 seconds, just .19 of a second behind National champ Tiana Thomas of the College of Idaho.
Both Moundbuilder athletes earned All-American status for their efforts.
Blubaugh is Golden
What better way to end your high school career than with a State championship?
Arkansas City High School senior Brock Blubaugh did just that, capturing the 5A boys State title in the discus in the early morning on May 27 at the KSHSAA Class 5A State Track & Field Championships at Cessna Stadium in Wichita.
Blubaugh wasted little time, either, hitting the wining mark of 165 feet even on his first try.
“He worked very hard for this moment and absolutely deserves it,” ACHS head coach Matt Kmiec said at the time. “He has led by example all season and this is another example of his setting the tone for these younger kids who compete.”
Next stop: JUCO World Series
The Cowley College baseball team outscored the opposition 54-5 en route to the Region VI championship May 16 in Wichita.
With an 8-2 victory against Johnson County in the title game, the Tigers punched their ticket to the JUCO World Series on May 28-June 4 in Grand Junction, Colo.
Earlier in the season, Cowley head coach Dave Burroughs became the winningest head coach in the history of the school.
The Tigers swept Independence 5-0 and 16-0 in a doubleheader April 9 at home, giving Burroughs win No. 1,146 of his 29-year Hall-of-Fame career. That surpassed the record set by legendary softball head coach Ed Hargrove.
“I didn’t get here by myself,” Burroughs said at the time. “I have been fortunate to work with a lot of great players and coaches and to have had the support from the administration. I have had a lot of people share in this.”
A New Chapter in Oxford
The Oxford High School football team stumbled to a 1-8 record in the 2015 season with a young but eager squad willing to learn.
The Wildcats learned quickly.
Oxford stormed through 8-man and South Central Border League play in 2016, compiling a 7-2 record en route to the 8-man Division I District 2 championship Oct. 28 with a 46-0 shutout against Central of Burden.
Junior Callen Shimkus settled in at quarterback after an early-season battle and juniors Dalton Silhan and Dylan Hills took over the brunt of the running back duties.
“Last year we were playing all sophomores and two juniors. This year we’re playing two seniors and all juniors,” coach Shawn Burkes said at the time. “I had a core of about 14 to 15 of them that didn’t really miss in the weights this summer. They all made pretty good improvements.
“It takes a good team and a little bit of luck.”
The Winfield High School boys soccer team captured its second consecutive Class 4-3-2-1A Regional title Oct. 27 with a 2-1 victory against Buhler at Richard L. Jantz Stadium.
The Vikings advanced to the KSHSAA Class 4-3-2-1A State quarterfinals as the No. 2 seed, securing another home game in the process. But their season came to a heartbreaking end on Halloween night with a 2-0 loss to third-seeded Andover Central.
A victory against the Jaguars would have sent Winfield to the Final Four and a trip to the Hummer Sports Complex in Topeka.
It was a bitter end to the high school careers of WHS seniors Reuben Bowling, Jacob Lange, Xavier Morris-Lolar, Aryn Setzkorn, Isaiah Washington, Jarrod Chrisman, Rigan Stoll, Spencer Myers and Brandon Love.
“This group has won 25 games in the last two seasons, claimed two Regional championships and hosted six playoff games. I am not sure any other school can make that claim,” WHS coach Charles Osen said at the time. “They worked hard, they handled the constant changing landscape of our team, and they accepted the challenge. Very proud of them and I am sure they will do great things in the future. We did not achieve our goal of making it to Topeka, but this team will be judged by their journey, not their destination.”
The Arkansas City Post 18 Black Diamonds baseball team returned to the Class A State Tournament in the summer, winning a second straight State title.
The Post 18 Grays took home the 2015 Class A State title, and many of the players from that team returned a year older. Thus they became the Black Diamonds.
The Black Diamonds had their backs against the wall after a 12-2 spanking by Buhler in the semifinals.
Facing elimination, Ark City bounced back with an 8-0 victory against Salina to advance to the finals, but the Black Diamonds needed to beat Buhler twice to secure the title.
Ark City took the first championship game July 23, a 14-2 trouncing of Buhler, setting up the second championship game the next day.
The Black Diamonds wrapped up the title with a 10-5 triumph.
The Cowley College women’s basketball team returned to the NJCAA Division I National Championships for the first time since 1989 with a 67-57 victory against Seward County in the Region VI championship game March 3 at Hartman Arena in Wichita.
“To win a tournament like this speaks to the character of the kids we have,” Cowley coach Todd Clark said at the time. “Our team chemistry helped get us get over the hump.”
The Lady Tigers advanced to the title game by snapping Cloud County’s nine-game winning streak in the semifinals.
• Southwestern men advance
The Southwestern College men’s basketball team advanced to the NAIA Division II National Championships for the first time in 10 years, and the first time under head coach Matt O’Brien.
The Moundbuilders appeared in the NAIA D-II men’s Top 25 for the first time since the 2011-12 season, and advanced to the KCAC title game, falling 75-68 to Tabor.
• Cowley stuns No. 1
Freshman Atir Cherne drained a 3-pointer with two seconds left in the third overtime, lifting the Cowley College men’s basketball team to a stunning 113-111 victory Jan. 6 against No. 1-ranked Hutchinson on the Blue Dragons’ home floor.
“This has got to rank up there with one of Cowley’s biggest wins ever,” Cowley coach Tommy DeSalme said at the time. “It is pretty special stuff to come play the No. 1 team and beat them.”
The game featured 24 ties and 28 lead changes.
• Hollis a State runner-up
Former KSHSAA Class 5A State singles champion Berett Hollis returned to singles play after a year in doubles, advancing to the finals of the KSHSAA Class 5A State Championships at Maize South High School.
Hollis took the first set, but ultimately fell to Rodney Steven of Bishop Carroll 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Hollis, who entered the Big Show with a 29-5 record, advanced to the title match with a 6-1, 6-1 victory against Luke Howard of Goddard-Eisenhower.
Hollis captured the 5A singles State title as a freshman.
• Four medals at State
Cedar Vale High School junior Demetrius Adkins collected four individual medals May 27-28 at the KSHSAA Class 1A State Championships at Cessna Stadium in Wichita.
Adkins was runner-up in the 200-meter dash, finishing in 22.72 seconds, just two-hundredths of a second behind Bucklin senior Isaiah Warnke. He finished third in the 300 hurdles in 40.86 seconds and earned the fourth-place medal in the 100, finishing in 11.3 seconds.
Adkins took home the sixth-place medal in the long jump, hitting 19 feet, 10 inches.
• Revell, Biddle shine
Winfield High School junior Sadie Revell and sophomore Kenna Biddle pushed each other on the links during the 2016 girls golf season.
Revell earned a medal for eighth-place at the KSHSAA Class 4A State Championships on Oct. 17 at Hesston Golf Park, losing a playoff after a four-way tie for fifth place. Revell captured the AV-CTL D-III title two weeks prior to the State meet.
Biddle finished in a four-way tie for 11th at the State meet one week after taking home the Class 4A Regional title.