July 1, 2016

Intermittent clouds

2013 a banner year for local sports

Highland's Bruce Kinsey, the only 2 time Gazette MVP in the sport, led the Hornets to a 24-21 victory over Avon in the D-II Region 4 championship game to become only the 3rd team in county history to advance to the state touramment. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

Rick Noland

The Gazette

There was no shortage of big local sports stories in 2013. Whittling them down and ranking them one through 10, however, was a story in itself.

Feel free to agree or disagree, because that’s part of the fun, but here are The Gazette sports staff’s top-10 Medina County-related stories for the year:

1. Juszczyk goes pro

Cloverleaf graduate Kyle Juszczyk fulfilled a dream by being drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens, making the team’s roster and playing every special teams snap in a 24-18 loss to the Browns on Nov. 3 at FirstEnergy Stadium.

“I am past being mesmerized by these games at this point, but this was really cool today playing in front of my friends and family,” Juszczyk said after the game. “Being a kid who grew up near Cleveland and having gone to Browns games, to go from seeing them from the stands to actually being on the field against them was pretty cool.”

The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Juszczyk, who had an outstanding career as a tight end, H-back and fullback at Harvard and also played multiple positions during a standout career at Cloverleaf, was the 130th player taken in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Wearing No. 40, he played extensively on all Ravens special teams and saw spot duty at fullback during the regular season for the defending Super Bowl champs.

“Knowing there were about 40 people here cheering for me — a lot of them guys I played with in high school — made the whole experience really special today,” Juszczyk said after his first game in Cleveland. “I’ll never forget the great times we had together.”

2. Hornets make history

With a seventh division added to the state football playoffs, a county-record five teams —Wadsworth, Brunswick, Highland, Buckeye and Black River — reached the postseason in 2013.

All lost in the first round but Highland, which won three games to reach the Division II state semifinals, where the Hornets fell 41-13 to eventual state runner-up Glenville. Among county schools, only the 1995 and 2007 Brunswick teams went that far in the postseason.

“You conducted yourself with dignity and you conducted yourself with humility,” Highland coach Tom Lombardo told his players following the Glenville game. “That’s the biggest victory of all.”

As Lombardo pointed out, more memorable than the Hornets’ 13-1 overall record, Suburban League title and D-II, Region 4 crown was the way they played together as one, devoid of ego and selfishness.

“It’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life,” said senior quarterback Bruce Kinsey, who became the first player to earn two Gazette MVP awards in football. “I love these guys.”

There were also a number of noteworthy individual accomplishments on the gridiron, topped by the performance of Black River running back Andrew Vaughn, who finished his career with county records for rushing yards (6,097), points (530) and touchdowns (82).

As a senior, Vaughn rushed for 2,342 yards and scored a county-record 218 points.

3. League changes

Three county schools will play in different leagues beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

Cloverleaf, which left the now-defunct Pioneer Conference for the SL in 1997, will join the Portage Trail Conference, where it is projected to be the biggest school from a total enrollment standpoint.

Barring any defections or additions between now and 2015, the Colts will join Coventry, Crestwood, Field, Norton, Ravenna and Springfield in the PTC’s Metro Division, which consists of the league’s biggest schools

Two other schools that used to be in the PC, Brunswick and Medina, will leave the disbanding Northeast Ohio Conference, which was formed in 2007, for the Greater Cleveland Conference.

The Blue Devils and Bees will be joined by Brush, Elyria, Mentor, Shaker Heights and Strongsville, with the possibility of an eighth school being added down the road.

4. Dunbar dominance

In the spring, Cloverleaf junior Jacob Dunbar became the first county player, male or female, to win a state singles crown when he defeated Walsh Jesuit’s Aaron Sandberg 6-1, 6-1. The next day, the likable redhead graduated from high school a year early in order to join older brother Ethan on the University of Richmond tennis team.

“The best part, though, wasn’t winning the state final or the graduation ceremony,” he said. “It was having my brother, sister (Emily), parents (Keith and Vicki) and so many more family and friends with me to share it with. Really, I couldn’t have asked for anything more special.”

A three-time Gazette MVP — Ethan won the award the four previous seasons — Dunbar finished his career with a 97-5 record, including 36-0 in his final season.

“You’re not going to find a more well-deserving champion than he was this season,” Colts coach Mike McGee said. “It’s rare that opposing teams feel good about another school winning the title, but that’s honestly what happened with Jacob.”

The Dunbars aren’t done yet. In the fall, Emily continued the family’s rich tennis tradition —Vicki was a professional player and Keith has taught the sport in 26 countries — by earning second-team All-Ohio and Gazette MVP honors as a freshman.

Dunbar finished 28-3, winning 21 matches by the score of 6-0, 6-0, and will be a state title contender the next three seasons.

“There are endless possibilities for her,” Cloverleaf coach Brenda Hewit said. “I can definitely see her winning state and going on to play in college and professionally.”

5. Strikeout queen

Dagmar Smith knows strikeouts. The 2013 Black River graduate finished her career with a county-record 810 of them.

“That was a big milestone, that’s for sure,” she said after breaking the mark of 754 set by 2006 Brunswick graduate Amanda Macenko. “It definitely feels good. I’ve been working for four years for this.”

Now playing at D-II Ursuline College, Smith was a four-time All-Gazette pick. She struck out 233 batters as a senior to earn second-team All-Ohio honors and led the Pirates to a D-III regional championship game appearance as a junior, despite missing a chunk of that season with a back injury.

“A lot of those (strikeouts) are ours,” Wellington coach Tim Wulfhoop said after Smith broke the county record against the Dukes. “She’s one of the best.”

6. Coaching carousel

Not everything went smoothly at Black River in 2013, as major changes hit the school’s boys basketball and softball programs.

Cynthia Berry, the first woman to be head coach of a boys varsity basketball program in the county, resigned after going 0-23 in one season at the helm, which left the Pirates with a 43-game losing streak heading into this season.

Her replacement, Barry Balderson, was forced to resign after two games this season, with first-year athletic director Josh Calame taking over the team for the rest of the campaign.

Earlier in 2013, varsity softball coach Merle Simmons, who went 41-14 in two seasons at the helm, did not have his supplemental contract renewed after leading the Pirates to a D-III district title game appearance in 2011 and the regional championship game in 2012.

Simmons was replaced by Lauren Toth, who led Black River to a 13-12 overall record and 9-7 mark in the Patriot Athletic Conference in 2013.

7. Saying goodbye

The county said goodbye to some prominent former athletes in 2013, most notably former Highland wrestling and football star Don Tomko, Brunswick standout basketball player Sean Carlson and Wadsworth wrestler and football player Matt Randolph.

Tomko, who was nicknamed “Teddy Bear,” became the county’s first two-time state champion in wrestling when he won 185-pound titles in 1970 and ’71. Also an outstanding football player, he died of cancer in August at his brother’s home in Carson City, Nev. He was 60 years old.

Tomko, a 2006 Medina County Sports Hall of Fame inductee, earned a football scholarship to Kent State, where he played alongside Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert before leaving the team after one season. He finished his prep wrestling career with a 78-3-1 record.

“People would think he was loud, boisterous and mean, but he really wasn’t. He was just a real nice guy,” former Highland assistant wrestling coach Bob Burton said. “He never bragged about beating everybody, but the thing is he was not intimidated by anybody. He was a brute. He’d overpower everybody. He was a true state champion.”

The 6-foot-9 Carlson, who starred in basketball at Brunswick and earned a scholarship from Ohio University, died of a heart attack in January. He was 50.

As a senior in 1979-80, Carlson led the Blue Devils, who averaged a school-record 76.1 points, to a 21-3 record. Brunswick lost 55-53 in overtime to host Admiral King in a Class AAA district title game.

Carlson averaged 18.1 points and 16.9 rebounds as a Brunswick senior and went on to play in 97 games at Ohio U, where he averaged 2.5 points and 2.7 rebounds for his career.

“He was very much a competitor,” former Brunswick assistant coach Dick Christy said. “He wasn’t afraid to demand the ball from the guards. He wasn’t real beefy, but he had the height and the long reach.

“He had a tremendous outlet pass. He couldn’t jump real well, but he would turn in the air and that ball was at the half-court line before his two feet hit the ground.”

The fun-loving Randolph died in January at the age of 41 following a short illness. As a Wadsworth senior in 1989, he finished second in the D-I state tournament at heavyweight, then went on to become a two-time All-American at Heidelberg University.

“He should’ve been a salesman,” Wadsworth wrestling coach John Gramuglia said. “He would talk to all of these guys and they would think he was a nice guy. Then he would end up beating them. He would step on the mat and turn the switch on. They would all be surprised. That was his M.O. He would shake their hand and love them. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.

“When it comes to Matt, I never talk wrestling first, I talk person first,” Gramuglia added. “He was just a special kid. All the good ones are. He had a calmness to him and had a big heart. He was always happy.”

8. Almost a four-peat

Medina saw its string of Ohio Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association D-I state titles end at three, but not before the Bees once again advanced to the state semifinals, where they fell 10-3 to Sycamore to finish the season with a 14-1-2 record.

Still, Medina seniors Sierra Thomas, Erin Stacho, Halle Pittman, Megan Wolfgang, Allison Snyder and Amanda Ghetto finished their careers with one of the best four-year resumes in Ohio history.

“I don’t think anyone in the state — maybe even all athletics in the state — has been able to accomplish what this senior class has done,” coach Amanda Wilson said. “They will always hold a special place in my heart.”

9. Regional qualifiers

Some programs just keep going and going.

The Wadsworth girls basketball team reached the D-I regional tournament for the third straight year and currently has a 52-game SL winning streak. The Grizzlies have won the league title 21 of the last 23 seasons and are heavy favorites to make it 22 out of 24.

Wadsworth’s volleyball team, meanwhile, became just the second county school to win back-to-back district crowns. Current seniors will graduate with a 56-0 record in SL play and four league titles, as the Grizzlies will enter next season with a 57-match winning streak in SL play.

Not to be outdone, the Medina softball team advanced to the D-I regional tournament for the second straight year. The school’s boys and girls soccer teams also reached that level of postseason play, as did the Brunswick baseball team.

10. Still running

For the fourth time in five years, the Brunswick girls cross country team finished in the top 10 at the D-I state meet, this time coming in sixth behind Gazette MVP Vanessa Pasadyn, who finished 19th individually to earn All-Ohio honors.

With six of their top seven runners returning in 2014, the future looks bright for the Blue Devils.

“We came in saying sixth is the best we could do, and we did it,” veteran coach Kerry Hunter said. “I told the girls, ‘If we’re sixth, that’s like a state championship.’ It was huge.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.