SIDNEY — Area high schools accrued several state championships in 2017, and plenty of other conference, district and regional titles were earned as well. There were many firsts during the year — and not all on the playing field.
The Sidney Daily News editorial staff determined the following sports stories as the area’s top from 2017.
1. New Bremen volleyball wins school’s first state title
New Bremen’s volleyball team packed gyms in 2016, but the Cardinals’ loss to Jackson Center in a regional final erased hopes of a state title.
Well, postponed hopes is more like it.
The Cardinals were back and better than ever in 2017 and captured the Div. IV state title on Nov. 11 with a dominating 3-0 win over St. Thomas Aquinas.
It was the school’s first state title in any sport. And while that would be a big deal for any school, it’s an even bigger deal for the Cardinals. New Bremen plays in the Midwest Athletic Conference, which had produced over 120 state champion teams before the Cardinals’ title.
New Bremen spent decades watching fellow MAC members accrue state titles — including their neighbors three miles south in Minster, which has 32 championships to its credit.
What the title run meant to the town was evident in Wright State’s Nutter Center during the championship game and the team’s semifinal on Nov. 9. New Bremen brought over 3,000 fans each day — more than the Raiders draw for some men’s basketball games.
“When you look up at the crowd, you see the entire side is just packed,” New Bremen coach Diana Kramer said after the title game. “The entire town is here. The entire town’s been behind us the entire season… everyone in the MAC is here. That’s kind of comradery we have.”
The Cardinals finished 28-1, with their lone loss coming to Fort Recovery in a MAC game in September. New Bremen rattled off 20 consecutive wins after the loss.
The title run wouldn’t have been possible without senior outside hitter Paige Jones, who finished the season with 656 kills. Jones, who had a state tournament record 47 kills in New Bremen’s semifinal win over Buckeye Cardinal, signed a national letter of intent to play volleyball with Michigan on Nov. 13.
The team will lose three seniors to graduation: Jones, Julia Goettemoeller and Tara Springer.
2. Sidney football amasses best record, first playoff appearance in decades
Sidney went 6-4 in 2015 and was anticipating a historic season in 2016. Multiple injuries prevented that from happening, but the Yellow Jackets stayed healthy in 2017 and had the program’s best season in decades.
Sidney finished 10-2 overall and made the playoffs for the first time since 1989. It was also the program’s first 10-win season for the program since ‘89.
The season was full of exciting games, starting with a 39-32 come-from-behind win over St. Marys on Aug. 25. The Yellow Jackets also won thrillers against Bellefontaine (42-33), Xenia (55-48), Piqua (34-33), Tippecanoe (49-42) and Belmont (46-33).
Sidney’s win over Belmont was the first home playoff game in program history and gave the team’s seniors redemption at Sidney Memorial Stadium following a 48-21 loss to Troy in the regular-season home finale.
No win may have been bigger than the Sept. 29 victory over rival Piqua, though. Sidney jumped out to a 21-7 lead but had to fight off a rally by the Indians.
It all came down to a two-point conversion try with 45 seconds left, which eneded when Isaiah Bowser tackled Piqua’s Ben Schmiesing behind the line of scrimmage.
The win was a statement according to Bowser and Sidney’s other players. Though the Yellow Jackets entered the game sixth in Division II in state Associated Press poll, it was a chance for the team to disprove naysayers.
“We talk with our kids all the time about what people perceive of our town,” Sidney coach Adam Doenges said after the win over Piqua. “We brought it up back in May and brought it up again this week. Those kids took it upon themselves. They want to change that perception.
“They took it on their 16, 17, 18-year shoulders to change the perception of this town. We said it back in May and we said it again this week about being resilient, not falling under pressure, and being able to handle adversity through life. Those are all things people have said about our community, but our guys showed what we have tonight and backed us up.”
Bowser and defensive lineman Devan Rogers were both named first team all-state in Division II after the season.
Bowser, who signed with Northwestern for football on Dec. 20, finished with 5,471 rushing yards, 6,814 all-purpose yards and 77 total touchdowns. Rogers, who signed with Toledo the same day, finished with 291 career tackles, 11.5 sacks and five fumble recoveries.
Rogers and Bowser are among 18 seniors the team will lose to graduation.
The Yellow Jackets were 2-8 in 2014 and lost every conference game by at least 17 points.
“This was a great class,” Bowser said of Sidney’s seniors after signing with Northwestern. “We came in freshman year and didn’t do too good prior to that, but we came in and finished our senior year doing something that hasn’t been done in a long time. Something to be proud of not just by us, but the whole city.”
3. Minster wins Div. IV state baseball title against Russia
Many of 2017’s best feats will be hard to recreate, but perhaps none more so than Minster and Russia facing off for the Div. IV state baseball title.
The schools are separated by 12 miles, but luckily for them the Ohio High School Athletic Association divides the Northwest District and Southwest District at the Shelby and Auglaize County line. That allowed both the Raiders and Wildcats to avoid playing each other on their way to regional titles, and both won state semifinal games on June 2 to set up a state title matchup a day later.
Jon Niemeyer hit a fly ball to left field in the seventh to score Jared Huelsman from third to give Minster the 2-1 victory.
The Wildcats finished with a 25-7 overall record, while Russia was 24-7.
A couple of weeks later, Russia shortstop Dion Puthoff gave drove to Minster and returned the ball Niemeyer hit.
4. Minster football captures second state football title in four years
Anyone who was discounting Minster after a four-game losing streak in MAC play in regular season this year likely wasn’t paying attention last year.
The Wildcats lost four games in MAC play in 2016 but advanced to the Div. VII state championship game, where they lost to Warren JFK.
Minster lost four consecutive conference games again in this year from weeks four to seven, but they were never out of playoff contention during the streak thanks to starting the season with wins over Fort Loramie, Covington and Delphos St. John’s.
Minster rebounded from the losing streak again this year and won its last three regular season games. The Wildcats then won four playoff games (including a 35-32 thriller over Convoy Crestview on Nov. 10) to return to the Div. VII state championship game.
There was no letdown in the title game this year. The Wildcats jumped out early and pulled away in the second half to a 32-7 win over Cuyahoga Heights to capture the D-VII crown. It’s the second state title the program has earned in the last four years.
The title run likely wouldn’t have been possible without quarterback Jared Huelsman, who had 362 yards of offense and four touchdowns in the championship game. Huelsman finished the season with 3,930 yards of offense and 43 touchdowns.
5. Anna edges Minster for Division III state girls track title
Despite winning two events and finishing second in another, Anna still trailed Minster by four points going into the final event of the Division III state meet on June 3: the 1600 relay.
But the same four girls who dominated on the track the rest of the day — seniors Krista Gehret and Kennedy Glover, junior Rachel Shoemaker and her sophomore sister Hannah — came through when it mattered most, taking first in the event.
Anna got 10 points for winning the 1600 relay and finished the meet with 38 points, but still needed Minster to finish fourth or worse to take the team title. Minster was fifth to earn four points and finish with 36.
6. Jackson Center girls return to Division IV state semifinals
Jackson Center’s girls basketball team made the state finals for the second consecutive season in 2017.
The Tigers beat No. 2 ranked Tri-Village 42-29 in a regional semifinal and defeated Minster 39-35 in a regional final to advance.
The Tigers trailed by 14 points to tie defending state champion Waterford in a state semifinal, but the Wildcats got a layup at the buzzer to defeat the Tigers 37-35.
7. Nathan Lessing caps off tremendous season
Fairlawn’s Nathan Lessing capped off a terrific career in 2017.
Lessing was named first team all-state in Div. IV and was named the Southwest District’s D-IV player of the year. He scored 692 points during the season (a Shelby County Athletic League record) to help lead the Jets to a 21-4 record.
Lessing, who is now playing for the University of Northwestern Ohio, finished with an SCAL-record 2,223 career points.
8. Fort Loramie loses two coaches
Two longtime head coaches aren’t at Fort Loramie anymore — which neither anticipated coming into the year.
Baseball coach Bill Sturwold was notified on Aug. 11 by Fort Loramie’s Board of Education that he was not going to be rehired.
Sturwold was with the district for 19 years with a career record of 471-219 with 14 league titles, 11 district titles, four regional titles and two state titles.
After accusations that Sturwold did not follow some rules and regulations, the board investigated gave him a negative review. Dozens came out to a board meeting in mid-July to defend him.
Loramie won about 70 percent of its games while Sturwold coached. He said he was not given a reason as to why he was not rehired.
“I have had more problems in the last two years with administrators and athletic directors than in my previous 23 years of coaching,” Sturwold said in a statement. “I would like to thank my players and previous athletic directors and administrators for their support.”
Whit Parks resigned as Loramie’s football coach in early December, citing negative feedback from an anonymous online survey the district conducted in November.
School administrators shared the results of the survey with Parks, and he said he was surprised by the input.
“I really had no intentions of resigning after this season,” Parks said. “… But it was pretty apparent from that survey and the comments that were made that they really don’t want our program there anymore. So I thought it was best that I move on.”
Parks said Fort Loramie’s administration told him he had their full support even in light of the survey results, but he felt it was better to resign.
Fort Loramie finished last season 8-3 and advanced to the playoffs for the second time in Parks’ tenure. The Redskins started the season 2-2 but rattled off six consecutive wins in Cross County Conference play before losing to eventual state champion Minster 40-24 in an opening round playoff game.
Fort Loramie lost one CCC game in regular season (27-26 to Miami East) and also lost to Minster 20-0 in a Week 1 nonconference game.
Parks has a career coaching record of 213-158-3. He started his coaching career in 1975 and has coached at Zanesville, Marysville and Minster among other schools.
9. Jared Hoying returns in majors
Fort Loramie native Jared Hoying was back in the MLB in 2017.
Hoying played in 36 games for the Texas Rangers and had a .222 batting average in 72 appearances at the plate. He went 4-for-4 in a game against Philadelphia on May 17, including two-run home run in the fifth. It was Hoying’s first career home run.
Hoying was released by the Rangers after the season and signed with the Los Angeles Angels. He was released by the Angels soon after, though, so he could pursue an offer with the Korea Baseball Organization.
He signed with the KBO’s Hanwha Eagles on Dec. 18 and will leave for spring training in early February.
10. Jackson Center native makes MMA debut
Chelsea Faulder made her Mixed Martial Arts debut in August.
Faulder, a 2009 Jackson Center graduate who lives in Piqua, compiled a 7-1 record as an amateur fighter and made her professional debut.
She competes in the Strawweight Division (106-115 pounds) and amassed a 1-1 record this year. Faulder was disqualified in the third round of her debut fight on Aug. 5 but beat Heather Denny of Colorado in one round in the King of the Cage Unstoppable II event on Nov. 10.
Faulder said she competes for her six-year-old daughter Cheyenne.
“Cheyenne pushes me to succeed in doing what I love doing,” Faulder said. “I need for her to see that by facing life’s problems with self-confidence, she can achieve anything she wants. It’s so important to me that I send her that message.”
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.