From individual and team state championships to the resignation of longtime coaches to an unbelievable comeback, 2011 featured a bit of everything when it came to Medina County sports.
There was success on the links, the pitch, the hardwood, the mat, the diamond, the gridiron and the track in what turned out to be a very memorable year locally.
Therefore, in keeping with the calendar year, we present, in reverse order, The Gazette sports department’s rankings of the top 11 stories of 2011:
11. Repeat champions
Though the sport was not officially recognized by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, the Medina girls lacrosse program continued to make quite a name for itself.
Led by the likes of Ellie Hudson-Heck, Katherine Doraty, Sydney Thomas and Megan Wolfgang, the Bees (16-2) defeated Upper Arlington 14-13 in overtime to win their second straight Division I state title.
Twice down two goals, coach Amanda Wilson’s squad refused to quit and ultimately established itself as the best girls lacrosse program in Ohio.
“To be holding this (state championship trophy) and to see all the hard work pay off,” Wilson said, “is the epitome of what high school sports is all about.”
10. Par takes beating
Highland junior Jessica Porvasnik, who led the Hornets golf team to a county-record third-place finish at the D-I state tournament, did much more than earn her third straight Gazette MVP award.
The 16-year-old, who is being recruited by a ton of top-notch college programs, shot a county-record 6-under-par 66 at the Sweetbriar Invitational and, almost unbelievably, entered the state tourney a cumulative 7-under for the season.
Porvasnik struggled to an 11-over 81 on the first day, but rebounded with a 72 to earn second-team All-Ohio honors.
On the boys side, Medina’s Austin Schreiber became the first person in county history to play in four state tournaments, helping the Bees to a sixth-place team finish en route to Gazette MVP honors.
9. Drought over
Led by hard-hitting Gazette MVP Ally Peters, a University of Alabama at Birmingham recruit, the Medina volleyball program ended a 27-year drought by reaching the D-I regional tournament for the first time since 1984.
The most successful season in school history ended when Magnificat, playing at the regional level for the 22nd straight season, ousted the Bees in three games in the semifinals, but that did not detract from the accomplishments of Peters, Kaitlyn Witsaman, Mallory Gustincic and Co.
Included in Medina’s run was a thrilling, five-game win over county rival and Suburban League champion Wadsworth in the Barberton District championship.
“(Reaching regionals) is more than we could have asked for,” Gustincic said. “Even though we lost, we came a long way as a team. This was our goal — to get past districts. We made it to regionals, and I’m happy for that.”
8. Nothing but net
The Wadsworth girls basketball program is like snow in February or taxes in April. When it comes to SL championships, the Grizzlies are always there.
Led by Gazette MVP Taylor Woods, Wadsworth won its 18th SL title in 20 years, then advanced to the Canton D-I Regional semifinals after a one-year hiatus.
The Grizzlies dropped a 45-43 heartbreaker to eventual state champion Twinsburg to end the season with a 20-5 record, but once again showed they were one of the most consistent and established programs in Ohio.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Medina girls program won its first league title in 15 years behind coach Chris Hassinger and Northeast Ohio Conference River Division Player of the Year Dev King.
7. Unchartered waters
Unlike the school’s girls basketball program, the Wadsworth girls soccer team had never won a district championship or played in a regional game.
That changed in 2011, as the Grizzlies used a defense led by Gazette MVP Grace Campbell and the scoring of sophomore Leah Runkle (32 goals) to advance to the D-I regional finals, where they were eliminated by Sylvania Northview in a gut-wrenching penalty kick shootout.
Making a sweet season even sweeter for the Grizzlies, they won their first SL title in 10 years and defeated longtime county rival Medina in the Brunswick District semifinals.
“I let them know that if that’s the way we had to go out, that’s the way it should be,” first-year coach Paul Williford said after the regional championship. “It was a heck of a game. Both teams played their hearts out.”
6. The G-Men
It was another great year on the mat for county wrestling programs, particularly at Wadsworth and Medina.
John Gramuglia, called “G” by his wrestlers, led the 2010 D-I state champion Grizzlies to a third-place finish at the state meet and their 19th straight SL title.
Ohio State recruit Nick Tavanello won his second straight state title at 215 pounds and will try to make it three in a row as a heavyweight in 2012. Also placing for the Grizzlies were Sheldon Brandenburg (2nd, 160), Kagan Squire (2nd, 125), Nate Ball (2nd, 140) and Alfredo Gray (5th, 130).
Another “G,” coach Chad Gilmore, led Medina to its third straight NOC River Division title. The Bees also had their highest team finish at the state tournament (7th) and a school-record four state placers in Teddy Hammer (2nd, 152), Ryan Hornack (4th, 103), Mike Griffith (7th, 135) and Matt Hammer (7th, 140).
5. It ain’t over
There are comebacks, and then there are comebacks.
The Medina baseball team trailed Solon 10-0 with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning of the Hudson D-I District championship and was on the verge of having its season end due to the 10-run mercy rule.
The Bees managed to scratch across two runs in the sixth to extend the game, then exploded for nine more in the bottom of the seventh for an improbable 11-10 victory.
Scott Sency, Matt Ellenbest and Co. fell 1-0 to Willoughby South in a Canton Regional semifinal, but the comeback is something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
“We still talk about it every day,” Ellenbest said prior to the regional game. “We look at each other and say, ‘Wow, how did we do that? How did we score nine runs in the bottom of the seventh to win that game?’ It’s still amazing. It’s a jaw-dropper to us. It’s hard to put into words.”
4. Saying goodbye
A number of prominent coaches resigned in the past year, with longtime Medina boys basketball coach Jody Peters, Wadsworth softball coach Mike Schmeltzer Sr. and Bees cross country coach Milt Place topping the list.
Peters, a former Gazette MVP in the sport, coached his alma mater for 13 seasons and is the only person in county history to take two boys teams to the regional tournament (2000, 2004). He had a 164-123 record at Medina, making him the second-winningest coach in school history.
“It’s hard to believe that 13 years have passed … but it just shows how fast time flies when you’re doing something you love,” Peters said.
Schmeltzer also coached softball for 13 seasons at Wadsworth, compiling a 249-103 record. The Grizzlies reached the regional tournament in 2000, won an SL title in 2002 and advanced to the district championship in 2011.
“I think I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish,” the 61-year-old said. “We were competitive every year, both in the league and at the district level.”
Place was Medina’s boys cross country coach for 14 years and led the Bees to the 2007 D-I state title. In 2010, Medina was second in the state, one point out of first.
Place, 59, will be inducted into the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame in January after spending 37 years in the sports. He coached 10 All-Ohio runners in cross country at Medina and 26 others over a lengthy track career.
“It’s time to let someone else take over,” said Place, who will continue to direct the Medina Relays and Medina Festival. “I’ll miss it, especially on Saturday.”
3. Going the distance
Highlighted by a D-I state title by Brunswick, the girls cross country season was one for the record books.
Led by 2009 Gazette MVP Loren McDaniel and High School Heisman winner Selena Pasadyn — yet seemingly having a different runner step up every week — the Blue Devils finished with 113 points at the state meet to edge Beavercreek and Mason for the title.
Kristine Camper, Alexis Uber and Tara Horton also came up big for coach Kerry Hunter, who led Brunswick to the 1999 boys state title, but the Blue Devils weren’t the only success story in the sport in 2011.
Wadsworth’s Paige Szabat, who suffered a broken leg as a junior, came back to dominate most of her senior season en route to All-Ohio and Gazette MVP honors, while Medina’s Anna Boyert, The Gazette’s MVP in 2008 and 2010 and a three-time All-Ohio pick, capped one of the most storied careers in county history with a fourth-place finish at the state meet.
“We knew Medina County was in for something special three years ago when this group came to the high school level as freshmen,” Wadsworth coach Michelle Farr said. “They’re the best. All of them have been on their game for the last four years.”
2. Snowball’s chance
In 2010, the Wadsworth football team went 3-7. In 2011, behind record-setting tailback Jack Snowball, who missed virtually all his junior year due to injuries, the Grizzlies went 11-2 and advanced to the D-I, Region 2 championship, where they lost 37-0 to Toledo Whitmer.
Snowball, the state’s Division I co-Offensive Player of the Year, set county single-season records with 2,595 yards rushing, 194 points and 32 touchdowns while never fumbling.
However, as Snowball was always the first to admit, the blue-collar, senior-laden Grizzlies were far from a one-man team, as they worked hard every day to ensure their season was a memorable one.
“I’m happy for our seniors,” coach Greg Dennison said after the regional final. “They earned it. They deserved to be here and they worked for it. It just didn’t happen by accident.”
1. A golden weekend
Six state championships, 11 state placers and 77 points scored made the state track meet the best in history for county athletes — and an easy choice as the top story of the year.
In many years, Cloverleaf’s Jennifer Foster would have garnered all the headlines after taking second in the D-I pole vault and third in the high jump.
But this wasn’t most years.
The county had two pole vault state champs in Medina’s Alex Wasik (D-I) and Black River’s Becca Herte (D-II).
Liverpool Township resident Anthony Young, running for St. Edward, captured the 200 meters in D-I, while Brunswick’s Brianna Neitzel, a junior, won the girls 400 and was fourth in the 100.
Not to be outdone, Medina’s 4×100 relay of Sam Chester, Jason Suggs, Walter Bailey and Gazette MVP Malik Tuck also captured a state crown.
The biggest story of a very big weekend, however, was Medina high jumper Taylor Burke.
Competing on her 18th birthday, the 2011 Gazette Athlete of the Year — and arguably the greatest female athlete in county history — won her third straight D-I state title with a leap of 6-1 1/4.
Not only was the jump an Ohio high school record, it would have matched the winning leap at the 2010 NCAA Track and Field Championships and set a school record at the University of Florida, where Burke is now playing soccer and high jumping.
All the above accomplishments — and a number of others that didn’t even make the list — will make 2011 a difficult year to top, but check back in 12 months.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.