Another memorable year in prep sports is in the books. Sayonara, 2021.
This last year offered plenty of storylines to look back on. It was one year out from the coronavirus cancelling sports across the country and things were mostly back to normal. Even Illinois returned to action in a strange spring-only sports year.
In the last year, sports have tried to return to normal. Professional affiliated baseball was cut from Clinton, only to return in a different form. One former sports editor left, and an old one returned to take over the reigns for the 2021-2022 school year. Camanche retired their long-standing team name and was rebranded. New coaches, graduations, injuries, breakout newcomers and more littered our teams. Fulton played their last season in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference and Central DeWitt played their first in the Mississippi Athletic Conference.
By no means can we put them all in one section. We don’t have the space to print every important thing that has happened.
Here’s a look back at just a few of our biggest moments in area sports over the last 365 days:
Three different teams made their appearances at Wells Fargo Arena this March.
The Camanche boys were on their second consecutive state appearance, and finished fourth as a team for a second year as well.
“It means a lot to get out here,” senior Zayne Feller said. “I’m so proud of our guys. We worked our butts off the whole time, no matter if we were down — we just played hard the whole time so I’m really proud of all our guys.”
Easton Valley punched their ticket to Wells Fargo in 2021 after two years of conference titles and postseason upsets. They fell in overtime in their first game to No. 4 seeded Martensdale St. Mary’s.
“It drove me a little more, getting that close in football and not quite making it, to just come in and take care of business, go out and make a run to state finally,” senior Porter Fuegen said. “It’s a super good feeling to finally punch our ticket, break through and make it out there after missing in basketball last year and football the last two years.”
The Central DeWitt girls team also earned their own state spot in 2021, led by DI recruits Allie Meadows and Taylor Veach. The Sabers fell in the quarterfinals to North Scott.
Central DeWitt’s Keaton Zeimet proved himself once more to be one of the best and one of the most resilient wrestlers to come out of our area.
Zeimet was the first ever program state qualifier as a freshman and he had placed at state every year. As a senior, he had high hopes for a title but that was dashed with a loss to the eventual state champion.
Wrestling coaches will all tell you one of the hardest matches to compete in is the one after that loss – when you know there’s no chance to get first. Yet, year after year, Zeimet impressed in that third place match. Senior year was the same.
“It was tough coming back because obviously it’s a big loss — I’ve always wanted to be in the finals and get first, but I knew I had to come back and compete to the best of my ability the next day. I’m not going to have my last senior matches be ruined by one match — you’ve always got to keep looking for the next best opportunity and that’s what I did.”
Camanche had a third place finish from junior Eric Kinkaid at state at 145-pounds. Senior Jaxon Bussa and Logan Waltz also placed, Bussa fifth and Waltz eighth.
It’s never any doubt that bowling postseason is going to be an exciting time, and 2021 was no exception.
The Clinton River Kings came home with a double state win. The team won the Class 2A State title, and sophomore Cooper Kohl brought home the individual title with a 520 series.
“It was incredible,” senior Dominick Judge said. “Considering the majority of us are seniors, it’s something we’ve wanted since freshman year and we were able to achieve it this year.”
Also placing as a team were the Storm over in Camanche. The boys took home a state runner-up trophy in Class 1A. Seniors Jacob Hartman and Troy Edmunds placed fourth and sixth respectively as individuals.
The Camanche girls also were state runner-ups, with Michelle Steward earning the second individual spot.
“It was a big achievement for me,” Stewart said. “Last year, I didn’t even place, so the fact that I even placed this year was a big thing for me and my team.”
The Central DeWitt girls came in third place as a team in that same state meet.
Two state baseball teams made it to the state semis before a loss this season: Central DeWitt and Camanche.
DeWitt, a repeat offender at the state baseball tournament, fell to Marion to end their season in fourth this year.
“Most people would be sad after a loss, but I’m just happy to be here,” Sabers’ senior Boomer Johnson said. “Most people didn’t expect us to be in the state tournament this year, so to make it and prove some of them wrong is just a great thing to do.”
Playing their last sport as the ‘Indians’, Camanche picked up their first state berth since 1996 in dazzling fashion – with a walkoff in the bottom of the seventh. Mike Delzell his a game-winning RBI to score Kyle DeWeerdt and beat Beckman Catholic 12-11.
“I’ve been playing with these guys since I was five or six years old, so this feels super special to us, especially to do it for our school,” DeWeerdt said. “Twenty-five years — it feels great.”
The Indians ended up falling to Centerville in extra innings.
Northeast repeatedly impresses in track and field, but the 2021 state meet was one for the books for the Rebel girls.
New state record. State champ relay team. State champ individual x 2.
All of that led to a state-runner up team finish for the Northeast ladies in Class 2A this spring.
The ladies clocked in at 49.29 to top off their performances at Drake Stadium in the 4x100 and solidify their team finish.
“There’s not a lot of us, but when we work together, we can accomplish a lot and it’s so amazing to bring a trophy back to our small town — it’s crazy,” Madison Tarr said. “We were all really nervous. We just talked about running our best, getting our handoffs down and just let the rest take care of itself.”
They also picked up a third place finish in the 800 Sprint Medley.
Individually, Ellie Rickertsen came home with two different titles. The junior won the 100-meter hurdles and the 400-meter hurdles.
Neveah Hildebrandt took home sixth in two events, and Elizabeth Chambers was a state runner-up in the high jump.
The boys also came away with a state title. The Rebel boys won the event in 8:15.69.
Clinton’s Joe Simpson took home a third place finish in Class 4A in the shot put, throwing 54-03.50 at state.
Central DeWitt’s Lucas Burmeister finished second in Class 3A in the 200-meter dash.
A local doubles team and one individual competed at the IGHSAU State Girls Tennis Tournament this season, one from Camanche and one from Clinton.
Mackenzie Lange and Emily Manemann from the River Queens qualified as a doubles team this season, falling in the Class 2A doubles bracket.
“Emily Manemann and Mackenzie Lange reached their goal of going to state in girls doubles,” Clinton coach Cindy Rasche said. “They had a great run at those girls in the second and third sets, but came up short.”
Maci Sloane from Camanche also competed, falling in the first round. She picked up a win in the consolation bracket later on.
Four different teams made the playoffs this season, but no one can question the pure dominance of state runner-up Easton Valley.
The River Hawks cruised undefeated to the state final, where a back-and-forth game thrilled the entire crowd. It was exactly what you wanted from a state final with thrills and excitement, but Easton Valley ended up just short of the title.
“Championships don’t define us,” Easton Valley football coach Tony Johnson said. “We were really proud going into the game. Obviously, it would have been the cherry on top to get it but I’m just so extremely proud of the guys to get this far and get this close.”
The River Hawks finished the season 12-1.
“Going through all the adversity, we battled through a lot of adversity,” Hayden Felkey said. “Everyone stepped up. What we had to fight through to get to this moment, it was the best of what we did.”
The Fulton Steamers returned to playoffs for the first time since 2019 because of Illinois’ no-postseason mandate in 2020. Through tragedy, the Steamers fought their way to the state quarterfinals where they were beaten by the eventual state champion, Lena-Winslow.
“I don’t think anybody thought we were going to do what we did this year,” senior Brock Mason said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates, my coaches, the fans everything about this football team. We proved everybody wrong this year.”
Northeast was one of the most fun teams in the area to watch with a complete turnaround season. The Rebels qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Camanche also returned to the playoffs for another year, falling in the second round. They beat Wahlert Catholic in comeback fashion in the first round at home.
“It felt so good,” Mike Delzell said. “Especially being down right away … I knew we could do it the whole time if we stayed up, kept fighting and stuck to our football. I’m so proud of my guys, it feels so good.”
As usual, there were a handful of state cross country qualifiers this year.
Clinton’s Camryn Sattler continues to impress, now heading into the second half of her high school career. She earned her second straight state berth as a sophomore in 2021. Sattler improved her finish from her freshman year by 22 places, finishing 33rd in Class 4A.
“I would take into [next year] just how much I want it,” Sattler said. “Going back each year, it just keeps reminding me why I put so much work in every single day. It’s motivating every year
Northeast sent two athletes out to Fort Dodge. Carter Jargo made his first appearance and junior Cenady Soenksen was on her third. Both finished in the top 50.
Prince of Peace’s Marcus Blount competed in the Class 1A meet for the third time. He finished 28th this year as a junior
“I’m not fully satisfied on my place or my time,” Blount said after his race Saturday. “But I’m excited to end in Fort Dodge. The results are the results.”
Easton Valley’s Aidan Gruver made his return to the state meet after narrowly missing in 2020. More impressive than that, Gruver played football with the River Hawks this year. He competed in a state playoff game with the football team the day before he ran the Class 1A state race.
“There is no better feeling than knowing that all the work you have put into a sport pays off in you going to state,” Gruve said.
There’s plenty going on in the thick of winter sports season to keep an eye on. So here’s to the next year of high school sports!