As the calendar turned from December to January and from 2017 to 2018, The Madison Press sports staff takes a look back at the biggest local sports stories from the past 12 months. Instead of trying to put them in a numerical order and placing one accomplishment above another, the staff will let the athletic achievements and stories stand on their own.
Alder’s Aziza Ayoub repeats as 800-meter state champ
Aziza Ayoub didn’t really have a peer when it came to running the 800-meter. At least that was the case when competing in Division II at the state track and field meet at Ohio State University in June.
The Jonathan Alder standout entered the 800-meter final as the defending state champion, but as she saw it the only real competition was racing against the clock and the fact that her high school career would officially come to an end the moment she crossed the finish line.
Ayoub, who is currently a freshman at OSU, finished the season and her high school career in impressive fashion by winning her second straight state championship, doing so in a personal best time of 2:09.11. The time however was just shy of the state meet record (2:08.91) and much slower than the 2:05 she was aiming for.
“In my mind, there was no way I was losing this,” Ayoub said afterward. “After winning it last year, to come here and not win wasn’t an option.
“I really didn’t get my time goal. Running against some of the boys in practice I’ve been able to be on that pace for 650 meters or so, but when you’re running alone, it’s really difficult to keep that pace up. I tried, but you know in the end, a win is a win. I’m really happy for what I’ve been able to accomplish.”
London’s Kronk signs with Army
One of the state’s best place kickers and one of London’s best young adults, signed a National Letter of Intent to play football at The United States Military Academy at West Point last month.
Kronk was a four-year letterwinner with the Red Raiders football team, he also earned varsity letters with soccer (two) and track (one). He owns the school record for longest field goals (51). He was a first team All-Mid-State League and All-Central District selection (2016, 2017), an All-Ohio special mention as a junior (2016) and this season he earned first team Division IV All-Ohio honors. He’s also a three-time Academic All-MSL.
The decision to look at the military academies as a college option wasn’t always at the front of Kronk’s mind, but during the last year he really did his research and made the decision.
“This is the beginning of the rest of my life, this chapter is coming to an end and I’m really looking forward to the future,” Kronk said. “It hasn’t always been what I’ve been striving for but this past year I did a lot of research on schools and definitely I thought it was the pinnacle of all academic institutions. Athletics, leadership it was everything I ever wanted all in one.”
The support from the London community is something Kronk greatly appreciates.
“London has really been a big part of my development,” he said. “It’s a humble town, it’s helped shape me into the person I am today. Especially the football team, those are my teammates and my brothers. They’ve been through it all.”
WJ Cheer wins fourth straight state crown
Without question it’s Madison County’s premier athletic program.
The state powerhouse program that West Jefferson High School cheerleading coach Melissa Jester has built isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact if anything the Roughriders competition cheer squad is getting better and better.
The team claimed the school’s fourth straight OASSA Division IV Mount state championship during a competition held at Ohio State University in March.
The team has committed to working hard and getting stronger and the results are definitely showing.
The ladies in the Roughriders program are doing things that most wouldn’t associate with cheerleading. There is a off-season conditioning program and a weightlifting regime. Both of which are contributing to creating stronger, more confident athletes capable of pushing themselves.
“Our season is 10-months,” Jester said. “We hold tryouts in the spring for the following year. In June we begin conditioning which is 2-3 days a week, typically at 6 a.m. in the morning. We run a mile each practice and then head to the weight room for strength training. This is such an important aspect of our program, and something that we continue throughout the school year.
“In addition to the increased strength and stamina, we are seeing better flexibility and a reduction in the number of overall injuries. I am also convinced that it benefits the mental toughness of our cheerleaders. The stronger the athlete, the more confident she is. You can tell the girls that take the strength training seriously. They are the ones that are improving in every aspect of our sport. Their jumps are higher, they are adding new tumbling skills throughout the year, and taking the lead on our stunts.”
London moving to CBC
For the past few years the London High School athletic department watched as the world around it continued to change.
Three of the other high school programs in Madison County announced they were moving to new athletic leagues, but the Red Raiders insisted on staying where they were.
However that changed in July when the London School Board approved a move to the Central Buckeye Conference. London has competed in the Mid-State League Ohio Division for four years but will begin the move to the new league in the fall of 2018. All sports except football will make the switch in the fall with football following in the fall of 2019.
The idea of jumping leagues was spurred by the changes that have occurred in the last couple years with conferences realigning and expanding. London High School director of athletics Jim Wolverton who said a year ago his school was happy with where it was, but started to explore other options last winter.
“We sent out a survey to our coaches to get feedback back in late-January to early-February,” London High School director of athletics Jim Wolverton said. “We wanted to start a discussion of what was the best fit for our school and our community.
“I informed our league commissioner that we would be looking around and trying to find what was the best place for our student-athletes. We liked what we saw in the CBC but we couldn’t make the move without a second school joining us.”
North Union turned out to be the dance partner London needed and both squads were accepted into the new league.
“The CBC is a great conference, it gives us a chance to compete against schools like us,” Wolverton said. “It also gives us a chance to build new rivalries. It’s kind of hard to do that with some of the MSL teams. Those schools for some reason or another don’t travel well to our place.
“The CBC is a quality league, we won’t be going there to dominate. But in our current league it’s really hard for us to be competitive in some of the more affluent sports.”
3 county teams make football playoffs
It was a banner year for high school football in Madison County as a record number of squads qualified for the OHSAA state playoffs.
West Jefferson qualified for the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, Jonathan Alder made the postseason for the third straight year and London made it’s first appearance in the postseason in 18 years.
The Red Raiders (8-3) put up a valiant fight before falling in their playoff opener 10-7 at Cincinnati Wyoming. Despite the outcome, coach Kyle Cutler was proud of his young team for making history.
“The effort tonight was tremendous,” Cutler said following the game. “When the first thing the opposing coaches who don’t know you, are from a different area and they’re commenting about how tough and how hard your kids fought that says everything about the program. And it’s probably the biggest compliment you can get as a head coach.”
London relied on a number of key seniors, but is expected to return many of the players who contributed to the memorable season.
West Jefferson (12-1) advanced all the way to a Division V regional final before dropping its only game of the season.
And even though the 42-7 loss at the hands of Middletown Madison was tough to swallow, the Roughriders had plenty to be proud of.
Jonathan Alder (8-3) made the playoffs for the third straight season, but like the two appearances prior it lasted just one game. The Pioneers were knocked off by state powerhouse Clinton-Massie 17-7.
Longtime MPHS coach passes away
Anyone who’s spent any time at a sporting event at Madison-Plains High School in the last 30 years or so likely had an interaction with Don Beatty.
The longtime Golden Eagles athletics supporter has coached multiple sports, volunteered his time in multiple different ways and was a true ambassador for the Madison-Plains High School athletic community.
Beatty passed away in his home back in May, sending a shock wave through the Madison-Plains High School community.
“He was about as classy a guy as you’re every going to find,” Madison-Plains High School director of athletics Matt Mason said.
Mason said Beatty, who always seemed to be in and around the school. Whether it was coaching, helping with concessions, socializing with Eagles fans or helping direct guests around to the school around, Beatty tried his best to help out wherever he was needed.
“Don didn’t miss an athletic event,” Mason said. “He supported all of our teams and our athletes. He developed relationships with student athletes for years.
“He was one of those guys I would reach out to if I needed something, and he was always there to say yes. He coached football and softball and was wherever we needed him and would help wherever he could. You can’t replace a guy like Don. There is a very small group of people like that out there. He was humble and helpful and would do anything for this school and community. You have to celebrate everything he did for us.”
Alder softball advances to state final 4
It was a run even those close to the program didn’t necessarily expect.
Jonathan Alder (22-5) went into the season with a number of question marks. The Lady Pioneers had a stud catcher, a returning pitcher and a collection of talented, wide-eye freshmen.
The Pioneers had their share of ups and downs during the regular season, but once the postseason arrived the squad was able to rely on that All-Ohio catcher (Kayla Fredendall), that solid pitcher (Katelyn Perkins) and those youngsters who quickly grew into not just contributors but into team leaders.
A 12-inning marathon win against Granville in the D-II district semifinal proved to be the launching point for Alder’s postseason ride. The Lady Pioneers scored four times in the bottom of the 12th, erasing a 9-6 deficit and giving them a wave of momentum heading into the district final.
A district title and an impressive regional semifinal win over Springfield Shawnee, put Alder one game away from the state final four. The squad battled Greenville into extra innings and then Fredendall delivered a hit for the ages. The Appalachian State University signee hit a towering walk-off home run to give Alder a thrilling victory and a spot in the final four.
“I couldn’t believe they pitched to her,” coach Dave McGrew said of Fredendall’s home run. “She hit two home runs in the regional semi. I really couldn’t believe they pitched to her. I mean you had first and second open. I thought for sure they were going to walk her, but I thought (Emily) Walker would have got the hit. And then if they had a mistake there they didn’t want (Jillian) Jakse. Our top three I’d put against anybody in the state. I love our team, man. I just love our team. Wow. I’m ready to go celebrate with them.”
The memorable run to the final four ended with a 14-6 loss to Lakewood at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
Pioneers bowling teams advance to state
Getting to the state tournament every year isn’t as easy as the Jonathan Alder bowling teams make it out to be.
Both Alder teams found themselves competing at the biggest meet of the season, the OHSAA state championships at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl in early March.
Neither team had the finish it had hoped. The Alder girls despite having state championship aspirations finished seventh, while the boys came in 11th.
WJ wrestlers make podium
There were no state wrestling champions from Madison County in 2017, but a pair of West Jefferson athletes finished on the award podium at the OHSAA state championships at Ohio State University.
West Jefferson seniors Josh Doherty (160 pounds) and Jake Burns (195) didn’t finish as high as they would have liked, but both finished their last high school wrestling careers on the coveted platform.
Doherty placed fourth at 160, not a bad spot at all considering his quarterfinal loss Friday morning required him to wrestle his way through the consolation round.
“My goal here coming in was as long as I place top four I wasn’t going to be disappointed,” he said. “Because coming in there are always going to be upsets and crazy things that go on.”
Burns also returned to the award’s podium with an eighth-place finish at 195 pounds.
Alder boys return to state cross country
The future is bright for the Jonathan Alder High School boys cross country program.
The Pioneers boys made the most of their first appearance at the OHSAA state championship meet Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron. Running at the state meet for the first time in more than a quarter century, Alder placed 12th out of 20, doing so with a team loaded with underclassmen.
Six of the seven state participants slated to return the Pioneers are set up nicely for a return run at the state meet.
On the girls side, a pair of freshmen also ran at the state and had strong showings. Freshmen Morgan Hicks placed 46th with a time of 19:27.5 and Maddie Davis was 56th in 19:46.3.
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.