Dec. 31—The year 2022 was filled with plenty of amazing stories in the local sports scene. Some stood out above the rest, though, according to me, Goshen News sports editor Austin Hough.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 stories from the 2022 local prep sports scene.
1. Area girls swimmers shine at state — It was hard to just pick one school for this entry, as three shined in their own ways.
Concord took the top billing with its fourth-place finish as a team, its best in school history. Senior Grace Brenneman placed in four events (two third-place showing and two fifth-place finishes), helping her earn the IHSAA Mental Attitude Award selection for the sport. Concord ended up scoring in 10 events, accumulating 162 team points in what was an historic day for the Minutemen program.
While Northridge wasn't as deep of a team as Concord, the Raiders' top-end talent was special. It was highlighted by three divers finishing in the top six: Jiselle Miller second, Kaitlin Simmons third and Evie Long sixth. Miller came within five points of winning the state title, taking the lead into the final dive before Center Grove's Mia Prusiecki edged her at the end. All three Northridge divers are competing in college currently at Louisville, Purdue and Bowling Green, respectively. Along with swimmer Syd Nethercutt's big performances in the 500- and- 200-yard freestyle races, the Raiders finished ninth as a team at state.
Wawasee also had a strong showing at state, placing 12th. Sisters Alexis and Julie Mishler placed in multiple events, allowing the Warriors to have its best finish at the state meet in its program history so far.
2. Fairfield GBB comes within seconds of the state title game — Fairfield was the top girls basketball team in the area back at the beginning of the year, coming within moments of making it to its first ever state championship game. The Falcons overcame an injury to senior starter Brooke Sanchez to win sectional and regional championships, advancing to the Class 2A semi-state game. Locked in a defensive battle with Frankton, Fairfield led late in the fourth quarter before Eagles senior Bailee Webb made a shot with 16.9 seconds remaining. The Falcons couldn't muster up a shot on its final possession, ending Fairfield's season one game short of state. Despite the bitter ending, the Falcons finished 24-4 on the season, tied for the most wins in a season in program history.
3. Fairfield baseball wins sectional title in honor of Kadin Schrock — Probably the most emotional story of the year, Fairfield sophomore baseball player Kadin Schrock died in an accident on May 15. Two days later, the Falcons honored Schrock before a game with their rivals, Westview, in what was a stirring scene in Emma.
Thirteen days later, Fairfield returned to that same field, this time beating the Warriors to win a Class 2A sectional championship, the program's first since 2010. All the players on the Falcons' team wore the sleeves rolled up on their jerseys in honor of Schrock that day, and they dedicated their entire season to their teammate who passed away too soon. Although Fairfield's season would end in its next game, the 2022 Falcons will always be remembered for how they handled such a tragic event with grace and courage.
4. Alexys Antal pitches Westview softball to its first-ever sectional title — You'll be hard pressed to find a better single-day performance than the one Westview senior Alexys Antal had on May 28.
With the weather forcing the sectional semifinals and final onto the same day, Antal knew she'd have to pitch at least 14 innings for the Warriors that Saturday. Naturally, both games decided to go extra innings, as the Warriors' semifinal game against Fairfield and championship contest against Bremen went 10 innings each. Over that span, Antal pitched all 20 innings, throwing 274 combined pitches, striking out 40 batters and allowing just one earned run. Westview beat Fairfield, 3-2, and Bremen, 1-0, to win the program's first-ever sectional championship, cementing Antal's legacy in the Westview softball history books. She nearly pitched the Warriors to a win over Eastside in the regional as well, losing 1-0 against a Blazers team that went on to win the Class 2A state title two weeks later.
5. Noah Bontrager breaks onto the XC scene — One of the better debut seasons in recent memory, Westview freshman Noah Bontrager made his presence felt in the cross country world this fall. Along with countless regular season race wins, Bontrager won individual sectional, regional and semi-state titles — the latter of which set a new school record with a time of 15:20. He backed up his historic performance the next week with a 12th-place finish at the state meet, earning all-state honors in the process. With three more years left in high school, it feels like the sky's the limit for what Bontrager could achieve in the sport.
6. Armen Koltookian dominates on the mat — There was no doubt Koltookian was one of the better wrestlers in the area going into the postseason in January, as indicated by his 31-6 record. Few forecasted what he'd do in the postseason, however, rolling to sectional, regional and semi-state championships in the 195-pound weight class. The then-junior then lost a tough first round match at the state tournament, concluding his season with a 41-7 record. Given he's already off to a strong start in his senior season, it'll be intriguing to see what the now-senior does here on the mat to start the 2023 calendar year.
7. Northridge football wins its second-straight sectional title —The "Why Not Us" sequel wasn't as long as 2021, but Northridge still found a way to win another sectional title, only its third overall in program history. The Raiders upset previously-unbeaten NorthWood, 34-17, in the sectional championship game in Nappanee, with senior wide receiver Jethro Hochstetler having a career night — 10 catches, 209 yards and three touchdowns. Northridge head coach Chad Eppley now has an 8-2 postseason record over two seasons, turning two, 5-4 regular seasons into playoff success both years.
8. Westview boys soccer reaches No. 1 in 1A poll — Coming off a Class 1A state title in 2021, expectations were high for the Westview boys soccer team in 2022. They somehow exceeded them, putting together a dominant regular season and playoffs before losing in the semi-state match to Park Tudor. The Warriors went 19-2-1 overall, with 16 of those wins coming in shutout fashion. They outscored their opponents 131-10, with junior Teague Misner becoming the program's all-time leading goal scorer along the way. They were the No. 1 team in the Class 1A coaches poll for the majority of the season, with its only losses coming against Class 3A Northridge and aforementioned Park Tudor — who won the Class 1A state title game, 9-0, a week after beating the Warriors. Although the season didn't end with a state championship, it was truly one for the history books for Westview.
9. NorthWood boys basketball reaches No. 1 in 3A poll — One of the more accomplished boys basketball programs in the area achieved something it had never done during the 2021-22 season: be ranked No. 1. NorthWood reached that milestone with the Jan. 18 poll, which followed after a 49-48 win over Northridge the week prior. The Panthers ultimately headed into the postseason ranked No. 3 in the Class 3A poll, where they won their third-straight sectional championship before losing to Leo in the regional championship game. NorthWood finished the campaign with a 25-3 record, going unbeaten in the Northern Lakes Conference for the first time as well.
10. Beck Willems, Austin Cripe make history at respective schools — Is it cheating to put two similar, yet different things as one entry here?
The fun thing about the basketball season is that two things can happen in the same year, yet happen in different seasons. That happened here, as Willems and Cripe both became the all-time leading scorers at Bethany Christian and West Noble, respectively.
Willems accomplished the feat in a game on Feb. 18 against Trinity at Greenlawn, making a free throw with 1:17 left in the game to let him pass 1997 graduate Elliot Friesen atop the school's scoring list. The now-Albion College freshman finished with 1,186 points in his prep career, 39 ahead of Friesen.
Cripe's accomplishment was much more recent — in fact, it happened last Wednesday, Dec. 21. In the middle of a 36-point performance to knock of Prairie Heights, Cripe became the West Noble all-time leading scorer, passing 1990 alum Doug Targgart. As of Dec. 29, Cripe has career 1,303 points. With two-plus months to go in his senior season, time will tell just how many points the Bethel University commit finishes with.
Honorable mentions (in chronological order): Northridge's Jack Moore and Concord's Anthony Roberts break their respective school's 1,600-meter race records in the same race at a meet in April; Fairfield freshman golfer Brayden Miller earns all-state honors; both the Fairfield girls tennis and Goshen boys tennis teams go undefeated on their way to semi-state appearances; NorthWood volleyball wins first regional title since 2010.
Austin Hough can be reached at email@example.com or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.