October 25, 2014

Medina
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Top 10 sports stories of 2012 in Medina County

Wadsworth's Nick Tavanello wins his third state wrestling title, becoming the first Medina county wrestler to accomplish that feat. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

Another year is in the books. Now it’s time to put 2012 on paper.

There were many great accomplishments over the 366 days — it was a leap year, remember — when it came to high school sports in Medina County.

Some were recorded by individuals, others by teams. Some were total shocks, some were mild surprises and some were almost expected.

Narrowing such a diverse list down to 10 was difficult, but The Gazette sports department gave it its best shot.

Here is our countdown of the best sports moments of 2012:

10. Run, run, run

It wasn’t quite the story it was in 2011, when the Brunswick girls program won the Division I state title, but a number of county cross country runners and teams still put up lofty accomplishments.

The Brunswick and Medina boys programs qualified for the state meet, as did the Brunswick girls once again.

Individually, Buckeye’s Ryan Gallagher, The Gazette’s MVP, and first-team all-county selection J.J. Grzincic stole the show. Gallagher finished seventh in the state in the D-II race, while his teammate was right behind in 10th, marking the first time the Bucks had two first-team All-Ohio picks in the same year.

The track season also didn’t feature the overwhelming success it had in 2011, but area athletes still brought home some hardware from the state meet.

Liverpool Township’s Anthony Young, running for St. Edward, won his second straight D-I state title in the 200-meter dash. Coupled with his exploits on the football field, it earned Young a full ride to participate in both sports at Indiana University.

The most riveting local story of the state track meet, however, was provided by the title-winning 4×800 girls relay team from Medina.

In that memorable race, Alexis Smith, Sarah Pack, Taylor Wickey and Penn State recruit Anna Boyert rallied to edge Cincinnati McAuley by an incredible 0.02 seconds, finishing in 9:08.09.

Victory was not secured until Boyert, who also placed third in the open 1,600, used a sprinter-like lean at the tape.

“When I crossed, I was like, ‘Did we win?’” Boyert said. “Then one of the ladies (in charge) said, ‘Yeah, you did,’ but I was a little sick to be too excited.”

The race was so close — Sylvania Northview and Brecksville also finished in 9:08 and change — that McAuley was listed as the winner on the scoreboard at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium for several minutes.

“On the backs of our shirts it says, ‘Finish what we started,’” Smith said. “We’ve always had the dream of winning state.”

9. Spiking the competition

The Wadsworth and Brunswick volleyball teams took different routes to the same destination, as both reached the D-I regional tournament.

The Grizzlies won the Suburban League for the third straight season, improving their league mark to an amazing 42-0 in Jill Quayle’s three years as coach.

Wadsworth then marched to a district championship before falling to Kenston in regional semifinal action to finish the year 23-3.

Brunswick took a different approach, finishing fourth in the rugged six-team Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division before putting it all together in the postseason.

Led by 6-foot-5 Gazette MVP and Michigan recruit Gabrielle Bulic, who had a school-record 348 kills while earning first-team all-district honors, the Blue Devils advanced to the regional tournament for the first time since 1983.

Brunswick lost to fellow NOC Valley member North Royalton to finish the season 18-8.

8. Making a pitch

The Medina boys soccer team stormed out of the gate, winning its first seven matches. Then the Bees fell into a slump and had won just twice in their last six outings heading into the postseason.

Facing make-or-break time, Gazette MVP Nate Libertowski and his teammates regrouped and won a D-I district championship before falling 3-0 to Westlake in regional semifinal play.

Under veteran coach Mark Malikowski, the Bees also atoned for a tournament loss to Copley the year before en route to finishing 12-5-2.

Racked by early-season suspensions and injuries and facing an extremely difficult schedule, the Medina girls team took a different approach.

A dozen matches into the season, the Bees were just 6-5-1, but Doug Coreno’s young team put things together — perhaps a year earlier than some expected — and came within one victory of reaching the state tournament.

Led by Gazette MVP Marisa Scullin, Medina (13-6-2) advanced to a regional final, where it fell to eventual state champion Perrysburg.

7. Trailblazer

Cynthia Berry wasn’t trying to be a trailblazer, but there was no avoiding it when she was named the varsity boys basketball coach at Black River over the summer.

The 45-year-old Berry, a 1985 graduate of the school, became the first woman to be a head varsity boys basketball coach in Medina County.

“It’s neat, but I have to say up front it’s not my motive,” she said.

Berry assumed the reins of a program that was on a 20-game losing streak and did not have a lot of talented players returning in 2012-13, but she was willing to take on the challenge.

“It’s very exciting for me because Black River — and most specifically Black River basketball — has had a very special place for me,” she said. “I’ve sat back and watched and I have a special rapport with student-athletes.

“Sometimes you think of the ‘What ifs?’ and then you get a little wise and say, ‘Go for it.’ It’s a thrill to lead these young men.”

6. Three-peat

The Medina girls lacrosse team must be giving Upper Arlington nightmares about now.

For the third straight year, the Bees defeated UA for the Ohio Schoolgirl Lacrosse Association D-I state title, this one a thrilling 10-9 decision at the Mason Multipurpose Field.

The Bees (16-3) had lost 9-7 to UA at Kenneth Dukes Stadium during the regular season, but Sierra Thomas, Megan Wolfgang, Carrie Kubasta and Co. would not be denied when the stakes were highest.

“We put it all together today,” second-year coach Amanda Wilson said after the state final. “Any team that has a chance to make the final, it’s about dictating the outcome. We outworked them, played together and grinded it out.”

5. Nothing but net

Starting with its first and only D-I state title in 1996-97, the Wadsworth girls basketball program has reached the state tournament five times.

The Grizzlies almost made it six in 2011-12, falling 55-51 to Toledo Notre Dame in a regional championship game.

“We all played our hearts out, but things just didn’t turn out the way we had hoped,” senior Jessie Gearhart said. “We might not have won this game, but I’m so proud of what we did all season.”

The Grizzlies won their 20th Suburban League title in 22 years and ran their SL winning streak to 33 games en route to finishing 22-4.

Wadsworth was led by Gazette Coach of the Year Andrew Booth and Gazette MVP Rachel Goddard, but its real strength was having 10 players who contributed and accepted their roles.

“I don’t have too many Division I (college) coaches coming to scout our girls, but I genuinely would rather have a team like this,” Booth said after the loss to Notre Dame. “They’re talented, they’re scrappy and they play with huge hearts.”

4. Full circle

The Medina softball program made history in 2012, and Black River almost joined the party.

Behind Gazette Coach of the Year Jessica Toocheck and Gazette MVP Bobbi Langlois, the Bees became the third county school and fifth team (Brunswick in 1980, ’81 and ’86 and Wadsworth in ’98) to reach the state tournament, falling 5-2 to two-time champ North Canton in a D-I semifinal at Firestone Stadium.

“We made a name for ourselves,” outfielder Nikki Casper said after Medina concluded the season with a 24-5 record.

Whether it was tiny but powerful shortstop Vanessa Scoarste belting game-winning homers, the defense and hitting of first baseman Madi Tata or the overpowering right arm of Langlois, the Bees provided their fans with tons of thrills.

Langlois, a Hampton University recruit, finished 22-4 in the circle and had 204 strikeouts, while her counterpart across the county, Black River’s Dagmar Smith, was equally good. The Pirates were 6-7 in games Smith missed due to injury and 16-3 with her in the circle.

Black River nearly joined Medina at the state tourney, falling 1-0 to Warren Champion in a D-III regional championship game that was still scoreless with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.

3. Cinderella arrives

On pure theatre, what the Medina boys basketball team did in the 2012 postseason would be the top story of the year.

Just 5-15 during the regular season, the Bees matched that win total in the tournament before falling to Toledo Whitmer 51-39 in a D-I regional championship.

“What they’ve done for this community is unbelievable,” first-year coach Anthony Stacey said. “They brought a complete community together and showed them what it means to be a team.”

Actually, that’s only part of the story. Accept for a cameo appearance on senior night, the Bees played the entire regular season without 6-9 Kenny Kaminski, a Michigan State recruit who had a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Stunningly, Kaminski made it back for the tournament, but no one expected too much — from him or his teammates.

“You don’t dream something like this coming off 5-15,” Stacey said. “It’s not your first dream. They’re usually nightmares.”

One by one, the victories built up, including triumphs over county foes Brunswick and Wadsworth. Some nights Kaminski was great; on others he played like a kid who had missed the entire season.

But even then, whether it was Mason Schreck, Dillon Wiesler, Billy Geschke or Logan Winkler, someone always stepped up.

When the Bees beat Elyria in a regional semifinal, they joined 1983 Class AAA state semifinalist Medina and 1981 state finalist Wadsworth as the only teams to reach the final eight.

The dream ended with the loss to Whitmer, but the memories remain.

“It’s a special thing,” Kaminski said.

2. Acing the course

Four-time Gazette MVP Jessica Porvasnik of Highland not only won a D-I state golf championship as a senior, she won by a whopping seven strokes and tied the division record with an even-par 140 over the two-day event at Ohio State’s Gray Course.

The Ohio State recruit, whose Hornets finished one stroke behind Dublin Jerome in the battle for the state team title, credited her success to an improved mental game.

“When I got over every shot, I thought, ‘This is going to be a birdie,’” she said. “I was trying to go as low as I could. I was just so confident.”

How low did she go? She played 21 events covering 315 holes in an incredible 11-under as a senior.

Porvasnik was not the only star at Highland. Led by Gazette Coach of the Year Mary Becker, the group of Porvasnik, Jessica McRae, Rachel Horvath, Karly Alexander and Chloe McKinzie held a two-stroke lead heading to the 36th and final hole of the state tournament, but could not hold on.

“It’s really frustrating and one of the worst feelings, but you have to look at the overall picture, too,” McRae said. “We all did a great job.”

1. Raising the bar

Prior to 2012, no county wrestler had ever won three state championships. Wadsworth’s Nick Tavanello changed that.

After winning D-I state crowns at 215 pounds as a sophomore and junior, the 5-11, 250-pound Tavanello made history by winning the heavyweight title as a senior.

“The first three years I wrestled, I didn’t win a match,” the Ohio State recruit said of his days in the sport as a youth. “That gave me the motivation to work harder and helped me build up my competitive streak.

“I just wanted to compete and get better. I’m sure there was a time when I wanted to quit, because most kids do when they’re not having success, but I stuck with it and eventually started winning.”

Started winning? Tavanello, also an outstanding football player who was named The Gazette’s 2012 Senior Male Athlete of the Year, won his last 117 matches against Ohio wrestlers.

He finished his career with a county-record 179 victories against only 10 losses, with six of those defeats coming as a freshman, when he was third in the state at 215.

The two-time county MVP and four-time All-Gazette choice also became just the third wrestler in the 75-year history of the state tournament to win three crowns at 215 or higher.

Tavanello the person — he was so big as a child he had to wrestle kids three years older than him — is equally impressive.

“He’s a grounded individual,” Wadsworth coach John Gramuglia said. “He’s a throwback. Him as a person is what made him so special. They don’t come along like him often.

“He loves the grandparents, loves his parents, doesn’t mind being around the coach or teacher. He probably should have been born in the ’60s.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.