Nicholl Commentary -- A look back on the last nine months
1I covered the Mid-Continent League track meet in mid-May, one of the best events on the calendar. As expected, the Phillipsburg boys won the team title. As the host Panthers gathered for a team photo on the football field, I started to talk with Kylah Ellis, a former standout Panther trackster now at Fort Hays State University.
Ellis beamed with happiness for her brother, Trey, a senior and one of the biggest improvements for Phillipsburg this year.
She talked about how hard Trey worked, including running the warmup laps when other athletes jogged. Trey Ellis had been a complementary player in football, but everything had come together on the track this spring.
Two weeks later, all the work again paid off. Ellis ran the anchor leg on the 1,600-meter relay, the last event of the Class 3A state meet at Wichita State University's Cessna Stadium. Ellis had to finish in at least fifth place for the Panthers to tie with Beloit for the team crown. Ellis ran a 51.03 leg, the fastest of any anchors, and led Phillipsburg to a relay championship and clinched the team crown.
Around 45 minutes after watching the relay, I walked out of the stadium and immediately saw Galen Wickham, father of Garrett, Gabe and Grant Wickham. Grant, the youngest of the three boys, helped Phillipsburg win the track title with a third-place finish in the triple jump and second in the long jump despite a bothersome quad injury.
Galen had seen many great Panther athletes come through, but, until last Saturday, no one had won a state title. Phillipsburg had just one state title in the last 40 years, a 3-2-1A wrestling crown in 1987. Since 2007, Phillipsburg has had runner-up showings in wrestling, volleyball and track in '12 and '13, plus five football teams that have made at least the Round of 16 since 2002.
After the runner-up showing last season, Phillipsburg graduated standouts Sean Newlan and Seth Derr. But big performances from sprinter Stuart Lennemann -- the fastest starter I've ever seen -- and huge improvements from Ellis and sprinter Eric Townsdin, helped the Panthers collect the elusive title. Lennemann finished with 38 points, including relays, one of the best performances ever by a northwest Kansas track athlete. Phillipsburg collected 69 points, five more than Beloit.
Male Athlete of the Year: Skyler Tebo, Ellis. Several males were in the mix here, but Tebo's 66 to win the Class 2A title by six shots sealed the award. Tebo had never won a state golf title, but had finished top-five his first three years. Tebo also placed fifth at state wrestling and was Ellis' best football player. He is headed to Garden City Community College to golf next year. Ellis' Riley Hunsicker was my male athlete of the year two years ago.
Others considered: Wickham, Phillipsburg's Michael Dusin, Plainville's Hadley Gillum, Natoma's Jackson Meiers, Wallace County's Luke and Clay Schemm.
Female Athlete of the Year: Hoxie's Carly Heim. Heim captures the honor for the second straight season and keeps it in the family for the third straight year after her older sister, Shelby, won in 2012.
Heim was a starter on Hoxie's state runner-up volleyball team, and collected Class 1A Division I Player of the Year honors in basketball as Hoxie won its third straight crown and ran its winning streak to 73 contests. Heim did foul on all three of her attempts in the regional long jump and didn't repeat as long or triple jump champion, but did have a strong track season.
She finished as triple jump runner-up by a quarter of an inch, was third in the 200 dash by .15 seconds and helped the Indians to an eighth-place showing in the 400 relay. It was closer than last year, but Heim was still the area's most successful athlete this year.
Hoxie also takes home my team honor for continued success across the board. No one else matches Hoxie's run of success in boys' and girls' sports. In addition to the girls, the Indian boys advanced to the sub-state championship in football, earned state runner-up in basketball and won the 3,200-relay in boys' track. Osborne also had great team success in boys and girls sports.
Others considered: Hoxie's Kristina Farber, Winona-Triplains' Shayna Rogge, Ellis' Alexcia Deutscher, Phillipsburg's Mattison Dusin, Smith Center's Drew Mann.