Year in Review - Sports

·21 min read

Lady Cardinals finish 11th at state bowling championships

In the schools first-ever trip to state in bowling, Sandy Valley finished 11th at the Division II Girls State Championships.

The Lady Cardinals were tied for ninth after an opening game of 777, and fell to 11th with a 724. They bowled much better in the third individual game, rolling an 857 to move up to tenth, 25 pins out of the eighth and final qualifying spot to the bracket finals.

Any hopes of competing for a state title were dashed as Sandy Valley struggled in the three baker games, posting scores of 137-131-149 for a 417, the 14th best total out of the 16 teams.

Miah Delaney had the best showing on the day for the Lady Cardinals. She finished 35th with a score of 501. The sophomore had games of 150-143-208.

Joey Boyer was 41st with a 484. The sophomore rolled games of 171-160-153.

Hannah Deford placed 42nd with a 480. The senior recorded games of 161-146-173.

Lilly Shepler was 50th with 463. The senior had games of 146-144-173.

Sarah Deford finished 68th with 430. The sophomore rolled games of 149-131-150.

Sophomore Raven Cordia competed in the baker games.

Wizards fall in district final to Western Reserve

Western Reserve dominated play the first three quarters and cruised to a 50-26 win over East Canton in a Division IV district final.

This was the third straight year the Wizards made it to the district championship game, and unfortunately, the third straight defeat.

The Lady Blue Devils led 9-3 after the opening eight minutes, 29-10 at the break, and 46-15 entering the final stanza.

Kammi Lebo led the Wizards (14-8) with seven points, and Audrey Wade and Bella Kline both had six.

It’s been quite the three-year run under Head Coach CJ Julian.

Since his arrival, Julian has led the girls to an overall record of 43-30, and a league mark of 23-13. The Wizards have won three sectional titles, and have reached the district finals in all three years. Their playoff record is 8-3.

East Canton - 52

Jackson-Milton - 44

The Wizards dominated the first and fourth quarters as they opened districts with a home win against the Lady Blue Jays.

Tori Reichard hit two 3-pointers and Kline netted four points as East Canton jumped out to a 12-2 first-quarter advantage.

Kline had back-to-back steals which she converted into layups, stretching the lead to 17-6.

Jackson-Milton did not go away, and instead closed out the half on a 13-1 run to lead by one, 19-18.

The visitors maintained a slim lead throughout the third stanza, taking a 30-28 advantage into the final eight minutes of regulation.

Reichard started the final stanza with a 3-pointer from the left corner, Kline scored on a nice left-handed drive, and Saylor Bachman’s deep 3-ball made it 36-32. East Canton would never trailed the rest of the way as it slowly pulled away to the eight-point victory. Kline had nine points and Breyana Buxton had seven in the decisive fourth quarter.

Kline finished with 19 points, and Buxton and Reichard both had 14.

Moyer, Blair medal at state championships

Wyatt Moyer’s fifth place this past weekend at the Division III State Wrestling Championships should give him lots of confidence heading into his senior season.

Moyer displayed his talents as he went 4-2 at Marion Harding High School, ending his junior campaign with a 31-5 record.

Things did not start like he had wanted when Moyer was pinned in the first round by Cade Limes of Otsego at 4:48. Limes would go on to finish second.

Sent to the consolation bracket, Moyer pinned Caden Weekely of Wellsville in just 55 seconds, decisioned Kaden Kidd of Norwayne 5-2 in overtime, and pinned Chase Cottrell of Grand Valley at 2:14.

In the consolation semifinals Moyer dropped a 3-2 decision to James Clause in a match that wasn’t decided until the ultimate tie breaker.

With fifth place on the line Moyer major decisioned Brayden Keihl of Versailles 14-4.

“Wyatt dug deep this weekend, having to wrestle in some tight matches going the duration plus overtime,” stated Head Coach Greg Donahue. “Wyatt showed a lot of heart with relentless effort. He was able to remain focused even after dropping a tough match. It showed his maturity and growth from last season.

“Wyatt will continue to work hard in the offseason and become a leading force in the room.”

Wyatt now shares bragging rights with his father, Ryan, who was Sandy Valley’s first state placer when he finished fifth in 1994 at 171 pounds under legendary coach John Groff.

Cameron Blair will remember the final escape of his wrestling career at Sandy Valley for the rest of his life.

The senior got to his feet and in neutral position to earn a 3-2 win against Tyler Knight of Mogadore in the 195-pound third-place match at the Division III State Wrestling Championships at Marion Harding High School.

“Cameron is a warrior,” commented Head Coach Greg Donahue. “His drive to succeed and athleticism were on full display this weekend.

“He dropped his first match of the tournament and battled all the way back to take third place. He knew it was ‘go time’ after the opening loss and the effort was amazing.”

Blair (26-5) took the hardest route to third when he dropped his championship opener to Chandler Keener of Smithville 7-3.

The All-Ohioan in both football and wrestling then reeled off five straight wins.

Blair started his consolation charge with a pin in just 54 seconds against Adam Waller of Mechanicsburg. He decisioned Max Hoffman of Delta 11-6 and Nathaniel DiRe of Liberty-Benton 10-6 to reach the consolation semifinals, where he major decisioned Ezra Jones of Columbus Grove 11-0.

In the third-place match Blair and Knight found themselves tied 1-1 at the end of regulation. Neither scored in the first overtime, and both recorded escapes in the 30/30 periods.

In the ultimate tie breaker Blair was in the down position. He needed an escape or reversal to finish third. Knight needed to ride the 30 seconds out for the win.

Blair was able to get the escape to secure the third-place medal.

“Cameron is great person all around,” noted Coach Donahue. “He is a leader in the classroom and in every sport he participates in. He is a fantastic example of a student-athlete that many can learn from. Our program will surely miss Cam.”

Blair earned his 100th win over the weekend, and ends his three years of wrestling with a 102-23 record.

East Canton advances to regionals with 5-1 win over McDonald

Dominate pitching and the long ball are big reasons why the Lady Hornets have won 21 games.

This recipe for success was never more evident than in the Division IV Northeast District final against McDonald at Jackson-Milton Middle School.

Kaley Steigerwald and Tori Hankins provided the home runs, and Marisa Hall was in control of her pitches for all seven innings, in leading East Canton to a 5—1 victory and its second district championship in four years (three seasons).

“This win means everything to the girls after missing out on last season,” stated Head Coach Jason Hall. “This is all they have been thinking about.”

It wasn’t until the fifth inning when a runner would cross home plate.

Hannah Spencer led of the top of the inning with a base hit. Steigerwald followed with a two-run homer to center, giving the Lady Hornets a 2-0 advantage.

East Canton added another run in the inning when Hall singled and later scored on an error.

The Blue Devils scratched out a run in their half of the fifth when Lucia Wolford doubled, stole second, and scored on Alivia Morrison’s sacrifice fly.

The Lady Hornets added two more runs in the seventh. Alyssa Wahl singled to right and scored on Hankins’ two-run blast to center.

Hall closed the door on McDonald, striking out the side in the sixth and recording a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

“It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to coach these young ladies,” commented Coach Hall. “They have earned every single thing they have done. It's a season I don't want to end.”

Hall scattered four hits for the complete-game win, striking out 10. She is 13-1 with a 0.67 ERA and has struck out 166 in 94 innings.

Coach Hall has been able to enjoy the season with his two daughters, Marisa, a senior; and freshman Ally.

“There are no words that can convey the pure joy I get from coaching my daughters,” noted Coach Hall. “It is an experience not all dads get and I am fortunate enough to be with them.”

Mason Tucci earns first-team All-Ohio honors in two sports

Mason Tucci set a personal record in the long jump to earn All-Ohio honors at the Division II State Track and Field Championships.

The Sandy Valley junior placed eighth in the field event with a leap of 21’6.75.

Tucci opened the meet with a 20’10, and followed with a 21’2.25 and a 21’5.75. He sat seventh heading into the finals.

He fouled on his first attempt, but regrouped to soar 21’6.75. His final jump was 21’.

At the conclusion of the football season, the All-Ohio football teams were announced by the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association.

In Division V, Sandy Valley’s Mason Tucci earned first-team honors at wide receiver. The senior had 61 receptions for 875 yards and 11 touchdowns.

East Canton boys win fourth straight district title

Head Coach Tom Loy expected this to be a rebuilding year for the East Canton boys track and field team.

Having won three straight state, regional and league titles from 2017-19, the Hornets started the 2021 season with one of their least experienced teams in recent years.

Coach Loy’s philosophy was to get better with each meet, and peak heading into the post season.

The boys did just that.

Coming off its fifth straight league title a week earlier, East Canton won the Division III East District Championship by 10 points over Dalton.

It was a three-team race heading into the final two events, the 3200 and 4x400. Norwayne led with 70.5 points, East Canton had 68, and Dalton had 66.

The Hornets scored 11 points in the 3200 as Gabe Shilling (10:08) finished second and Alex Yarian (10:31) was sixth. This vaulted East Canton eight points ahead of Dalton and 8.5 points in front of Norwayne.

With just the 4x400 remaining, the Hornets had to finish seventh or better to claim their fourth straight district championship.

The foursome of Nick Martino, Austin Jones, Andrew Wade and Landen Demos clinched the team win, placing second with a time of 3:31, while Dalton was third (3:32).

Shilling captured two district championships. He was first in the 1600 in 4:26, and was a member of the winning 4x800 (8:13) along with Demos, Martino, and Brylan Holland.

Also qualifying to regionals are Connor Groghan, third in the pole vault (12’4); Martino, fourth in the 800 (1:58); Mario Snellenberger, fourth in the high jump (5’10); and the 4x100 consisting of Brennan Betz, Dylan Stoffer, Jake McCullough and Jones - fourth in 45.48.

Missing a trip by one spot were Demos, fifth in the 800 (1:59); McCullough, fifth in the long jump (20’1.75); Betz, fifth in the 110 hurdles (15.82); and Holland, fifth in the 1600 (4:35).

Wade was sixth in the high jump (5’10); Jonathan Randulic was sixth in the 400 (53.65); the 4x200 consisting of McCullough, Stoffer, Groghan and Jones was sixth in 1:35; Ashton Strauss was seventh in the pole vault (10’6); and Jones was eighth in the 400 (55.86).

East Canton topped the field with 87 points. It was followed by Dalton with 77, Norwayne with 70.5, Smithville with 55, St. Thomas with 52.5, Rittman with 46.5, Canton Central with 46, Columbia with 38, Mogadore with 31, Hillsdale with 29, Mapleton with 24.5, Wellington with 20, Windham with 20, Open Door with 19, Loudonville with 15, Lake Ridge with 12, Lake Center with 10 and Oberlin with 10.

Girls Track and Field

Audrey Wade qualified to regionals in two events.

She was third in the 1600 with a time of 5:25 and fourth in the 3200 in 12:10.

Also scoring was the 4x800 consisting of Annie Carter, Wade, Breyana Buxton and Kloe Sethman, eighth in 11:06.

Rootstown won the girls title with 90 points. It was followed by Dalton with 82, Orrville with 62, Rittman with 62, Waynedale with 51, Lake Center with 46, Smithville with 44, Mogadore with 43, Loudonville with 30, Canton Central with 21, Columbia with 18, Black River with 18, St. Thomas with 17, Mapleton with 16, Lake Ridge with 16, Wellington with 15, Northwestern with 12, East Canton with 12, Windham with 4 and Hillsdale with 3.

Connor Ritter captures Division II state title

A young man’s dream turned to reality last weekend on the 18-hole course at NorthStar Golf Club.

Sandy Valley’s Connor Ritter shot a 1-over-par 145 to capture the Division II State Golf Championship.

“I am so happy and proud of Connor,” stated Head Coach Gary Offenberger. “Hard work and dedication definitely pays off.”

It seemed inevitable Ritter would reach the top of high-school golf when he first took to the game as a youngster, winning on the junior circuit against much older competitors.

He qualified to state his first two years in high school, but his third trip is one for the ages.

Ritter opened the two-day event with a 3-under 69. He maintained a multi-stroke advantage over the course of second day, carding a 76 in less than ideal conditions.

His two-day total was four strokes better thank second-place Davis Gotchenouer (149) of Kettering Archbishop Alter. Defending-champion Stephen Ma of Gahanna Columbus Academy was third at 150.

“Connor was able to post a 69 on the first day and never looked back,” commented Coach Offenberger. “Even though it was 75 degrees on the first day, the wind was a huge factor.

“Today he showed absolute mental toughness battling a 20-degree drop in temperature and 20-some miles an hour winds. He played patient all day and took what the course offered, and might I say the course was quite stingy.

“Every time somebody made a move on Connor, he was able to answer either with a key birdie or par. Even in the eye of adversity he kept his head up and kept on grinding.”

His opening-day 69 featured five birdies and two bogeys.

The scores were much higher on Saturday. Ritter recorded two birdies and six bogeys.

The junior did most of his damage on the Par 5s, going 4-under. He was 1-over on the Par 3s, and 4-over on the Par 4s.

“Connor knew he was in the lead on the last hole,” stated Offenberger. “After he hit the green in regulation, I just looked at him and told him to enjoy the walk young man. I wish I had a picture of the smile on his face.”

Sandy Valley is back-to-back league champions

Sandy Valley had four runners in the top 10 as it claimed its second straight IVC Cross Country Championship.

Kaydence Hoover was third in 20:38, Casey Russell was fourth in 21:05, Deana Petersen was ninth in 21:40, Kalia Sarver was 10th in 21:46, Peyton Nicholson was 30th in 23:46, Mckenna Burk was 41st in 25:11, and Madison Vickers was 57th in 27:41.

The Lady Cardinals totaled 51 points to best Garaway (62) by 11. Tusky Valley was third with 83, and were followed by Strasburg with 102, Indian Valley with 106, Buckeye Trail with 123, East Canton with 133 and Malvern with 197.

Pacmen are back-to-back state champions!

The East Canton cross country team completed their season in dominating fashion as the 2021 Division III State Champions, defending the title it won a year ago.

The Hornets used a strong third mile to hold off Mount Gilead and Ft. Loramie for the team title at Fortress Obetz.

“The challenge to repeat as state champions is one of the hardest things to do in sports,” stated Head Coach Lee Sternberg.

East Canton totaled 93 points for its the third state title in the past five years.

Mount Gilead finished second with 108, and Ft. Loramie was third with 109.

Coach Sternberg was a bit worried at the one and two-mile marks as the Hornets were announced in second place, more than 30 points behind Mount Gilead.

But in reality East Canton was actually leading by a slim margin at the two-mile marker.

It was learned after the race that Gabe Shilling’s chip was not registering, and therefore his placing was not included in East Canton’s team scores at the first two timing markers.

Heading into the final mile adversity hit as the Hornets found themselves down a runner.

Junior Andrew Wade, who was 55th at the 2-mile mark, was forced to drop out of the race.

“Andrew has been battling sickness for a couple of weeks, and was unable to finish the race,” noted Coach Sternberg. “As the team has the entire season, the other members stepped up and ran the best races of their lives.”

Senior Gabe Shilling finished a solid fourth with a time of 15:53.1, earning All-Ohio honors for the second time in his career.

The time was a personal best for Shilling, and the third fastest ever at East Canton.

Junior Brylan Holland and senior Braxton Ohman both ran their way to All-Ohio honors.

Holland finished ninth in 16:05.9, and Ohman was 23rd in 16:24.5.

“Brylan ran an incredible race and was the first underclassmen to finish the race with a lifetime best time,” commented Coach Sternberg. “Braxton ran maybe the most amazing race as anyone, improving from last year's finish by 50 places.

“This is the first time in the storied history of East Canton cross country that three runners from the same team achieved All-Ohio honors.”

Senior Landen Demos moved up seven spots over the final third of the race to finish 54th in 16:56.3.

“In true team-first mentality, and upholding the team’s mantra of nothing’s going to stop us, Landon heard at the 2-mile point that Andrew went down,” stated Coach Sternberg. “He knew he had to make up some places. He ran his fastest last 200 meters ever and finished with a lifetime best time.”

Junior Nathanael Martin rounded out the scoring for the Hornets, placing 78th in 17:10.5.

“Nathanael became the all-important fifth man as he too saw Andrew go down and knew he had to step up,” noted Coach Sterberg. “Step up he did as he finished with a personal best time.”

Sophomore Lucas McCauley was not far behind Martin, running a lifetime-best 17:16.3 to finish in 83rd place.

“We had a target on our backs all season, and to be able to perform when it mattered most and to repeat as state champions is such a great achievement,” commented Coach Sterberg. “We had so many supporters who came to cheer us on. It was just incredible to share this with them. Seeing and hearing from former runners, seeing community members and the administration, along with the unwavering support of the parents - we appreciate them all.”

Lee Sternberg goes out on top

Only a handful of people knew this was the end of an era.

Lee Sternberg wanted it that way.

The East Canton boys cross country head coach did not want to be the center of attention at the state meet. This was about his runners celebrating atop the podium with another state championship trophy.

The scene marked a glorious end to a glorious career.

Sternberg announced his retirement two days later. He started the East Canton program in 1973, led the Hornets to four state titles and coached a countless number of All-Ohioans.

Sternberg told the team of his decision during a morning meeting at the school. The only people who knew he was going to step down were his wife Cheryl, his daughter Beth, and assistant coaches Tom Loy and Jason Wade.

"I didn't want the state championship to be about me," Sternberg said. "I wanted it to be about the kids."

Under Sternberg, East Canton won state championships in 1998, 2017, 2020 and 2021. His 1987, 1988 and 2006 teams were state runners-up. Twenty-three teams qualified for the state meet.

Sternberg left a lasting impression on runners spanning six decades.

"When I heard about this, it almost brought a tear to my eye," said Walsh University distance runner Josh Conrad, a member of East Canton's 2017 state championship team. "I was thinking about everything he has done for me personally, the program and East Canton as a community.

"He is just a great leader and a great role model. The amount of young men he has touched is just crazy."

Sternberg has thought about retiring for the past year. He has recommended Wade to become the next head coach.

"I did it long enough," Sternberg said. "I enjoyed it.

"The most important thing is the cupboard is not bare. I'm not leaving the program with nobody coming back. We have four of the top seven runners who ran at state coming back. We have a bunch of kids who will vie for the fifth, sixth and seventh spots.

"I wanted (the program) to be alright. I didn't want to go away with people thinking 'He knew there was nobody coming back. He's not going to coach anymore.'"

The legacy Sternberg leaves at East Canton may go unmatched.

"It's just amazing the way the program is," East Canton athletic director Doug Miller said. "The kids put the time and effort into it. They push each other.

"It's not a program that just came on the scene and achieved success. It has been a successful program for the entire time. It's just absolutely amazing."

Sternberg started the program when East Canton chose to add cross country over wrestling. Bernie Kauffman was the school's athletic director at the time.

"He told me 'I don't care what kind of coach you are. You have to have the horses,'" Sternberg said.

Sternberg had them. Mike Dorto was a two-time state runner-up in the 1980s. Chris Williamson and Mike Aukerman starred on the first state championship team in 1998. Nicholas Dysle and Gabe Henning contended for state titles in the 2000s. Demetrius Snellenberger and Josh Conrad powered the 2017 state championship team. Gabe Shilling and Brylan Holland led the Hornets to the 2020 and 2021 state titles.

There were many others along the way.

"I've been blessed to have kids who buy into the program and are athletically gifted," Sternberg said. "Not everybody is a distance runner when they first start out. They become distance runners when they put forth the work.

"Our kids are 12-month-a-year runners. If you want to be good, that's what it takes."

Sternberg also has spent many years as a boys track and field assistant coach. He will coach the distance runners and vaulters again this spring.

He is open minded about helping the cross country program beyond the current school year.

"I will do whatever they need me to do," Sternberg said. "Obviously the personal contact, the letters I've written, the cross country camp, going away to different places with the kids, that's all Jason now.

"I cannot commit to the whole season. I want to go on vacation with our RV and travel. My wife says 'You can go to any cross country meet you want to go to.' She knows I just can't give it up cold turkey."

This article originally appeared on The Alliance Review: Year in Review - Sports

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