As always, the annual look back at the top 10 sports stories in the Post Register coverage area include various sports from various levels.
A handful of Olympic sports made the cut. The entire ‘Best of 2015’ article published in today’s Post Register and on prpreps.com is below. For additional photos and a list of this year’s District 6 state champions, see the prpreps.com post.
And with that, we will see you in 2016.
The Best of 2015 in sports
Excellence, dominance and new ventures were in abundance among athletes in the Post Register’s coverage area in 2015.
Before turning the page to 2016, the Post Register sports staff takes a look back at the top 10 stories that stood out to us from the local to international levels and across the courts, diamonds, fields, arenas, tracks, courses and stadiums.
1. Classification fluctuation
In August, Skyline and Idaho Falls high schools decided to drop from the 5A classification to the 4A classification starting in the fall of 2016. The schools’ enrollment numbers — finalized by the Idaho High School Activities Association in the summer — were each around 1,230, or 50 below the 5A minimum. With no signs of dramatic student body increases in the next couple of enrollment cycles, coaches from both schools voted to move down. This will be the first time both schools will participate below the highest athletic classification in their histories.
Skyline and I.F. will join Blackfoot, Century, Pocatello and Preston in 4A District 5-6, but the conference might change during the next classification cycle thanks to a new high school in Bonneville Joint School District 93 projected to be built by as early as 2018. That could drop the new school, Bonneville and/or Hillcrest down to 4A.
Skyline and I.F. aren’t the only ones shifting classifications. Rigby will move up from 4A to 5A in 2016, and Butte County will move down from 1A Division I to 1A DII.
2. Eastern Idaho volleyball raises standards
With 35 state titles and endless college recruits since the 1970s, it’s no secret that District 6 owns Idaho high school volleyball. At least one District 6 team has brought home a coveted blue trophy every year since 2003, but October’s state tournament featured something that has not happened in recent memory, if ever.
Two of the six state championship matches pitted District 6 teams against each other, with Idaho Falls outlasting Bonneville in five sets to repeat as 5A state champions and Shelley sweeping Sugar-Salem in three for its first 3A state title since 2004. Salmon also brought home a trophy, placing third in 2A in its first state tournament appearance since 1990.
Five weeks after state, I.F.’s Maya Taylor was named Idaho’s Gatorade Player of the Year for volleyball. She is the first from District 6 to receive the honor since 2007 Skyline graduate and former University of Utah standout Keisha Fisher. The junior outside hitter received letters from more than 60 schools and committed to St. Louis University over the summer among five other full-ride Division I offers.
3. Successful seasons for Chukars (and former Chukars)
The Idaho Falls Chukars finished dead last in the Pioneer League for the first half of the season with a 13-25 record. They flipped that record in the second half and advanced to the Pioneer League playoffs. Under the helm of first-year manager Justin Gemoll, I.F. reached the Pioneer League championship. The Chukars, however, lost in three games to the Missoula Osprey.
I.F.’s MLB affiliate, the Kansas City Royals, won the 2015 World Series in five games over the New York Mets. The Royals had five players on the playoff roster who played for the Chukars in some capacity in their careers — Danny Duffy (relief pitcher), Eric Hosmer (first baseman), Raul Mondesi (shortstop), Mike Moustakas (third baseman) and Salvador Perez (catcher).
Austin Stewart of Shelley expands his lead during the boys race at the 3A District 6 cross-country championship meet on Oct. 21 at Fremont County Golf Course in St. Anthony. Stewart won in 15 minutes, 31.49 seconds. To view and purchase photos from our gallery, visit http://tinyurl.com/3A-CrossCountry. Pat Sutphin / firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Running down history
Local runners etched their names among Idaho’s all-time greats and ended several droughts this fall.
Shelley senior and Weber State signee Austin Stewart added to his impressive career by becoming Idaho’s first three-time individual 3A state cross-country champion, his seventh win in a senior season that featured a personal best time of 15:31.5. The Russets took second in the boys team standings by six points to conference foe Sugar-Salem and repeated as girls team champions thanks to a 1-2-3 finish by LeAnn Larkin, Klarissa Andersen and Paytin Drollinger. The Sugar-Salem girls placed second.
Madison’s Rachel Morrin became the first District 6 girl to win the 5A individual state championship since Hillcrest’s Karley Meikle in 2001, leading the Bobcat girls to fourth place for their first trophy since 2003. Morrin concluded an undefeated season with the win, something that hadn’t been done by a female District 6 runner since 1996 Idaho Falls graduate Christine Kohler. The Skyline boys also placed fourth, winning their first trophy since 2003 thanks to top-40 finishes by underclassmen Ryan Barna, Nick Barna, McKay Harms and Harrison Roberts. Idaho Falls got two top-10 medalists in Ashlyn Dyer (sixth) and Isaac Kunz (ninth) and Bonneville’s Coen Haroldsen was third.
Locals were also solid in 4A as Blackfoot’s Michelle Pratt placed second in the girls race and the Rigby boys placed third and in 2A, where Salmon, West Jefferson and Firth went 2-3-4 in the girls standings and West Jefferson freshman Alexa Ahnder took runner-up.
5. Ririe gets back into winner’s circle
Ririe won the 2015 2A state wrestling tournament by half a point over New Plymouth. It was the Bulldogs’ first state title as a program. But it was more than that. It was Ririe’s first state title in any sport since 1996, when the boys cross-country team took the crown.
Ririe had to rely on a wrestler from St. Maries to win the title. That wrestler, Nathan Masterson, took on New Plymouth’s Chase Bowen in the 182-pound title match. With the Bulldogs looking on, Masterson beat Bowen in a 12-4 major decision.
The 2014-15 wrestling season also ended with two other major local accomplishments. Skyline’s Kade Lincoln finished his freshman campaign with a 48-0 record (98-pound division) while coping with the deteriorating health of his father Mark, who died in March. Snake River’s Treyton Nilsson won his fourth individual state championship, becoming Idaho’s ninth 3A wrestler to accomplish the feat.
6. Diamond gems
Eastern Idaho isn’t known as a high school baseball hotbed, but it does have its moments. The first came on the opening day of the 5A state tournament, when District 5-6 runner-up Hillcrest overcame bad weather and a bad start to take down the top team in the state. Rocky Mountain entered the game 27-0, but couldn’t hold a 3-0 lead against the Knights, who got a dominating start from Klay Cornelison and clutch hitting in the sixth inning to earn a 5-3 win.
The second came two days later, when Blackfoot capped a dominating spring by shutting out Twin Falls 4-0 in the 4A state championship game to win a program-first state title in head coach Liam Pope’s first season. Senior Dylan Mansanarez (the Post Register’s baseball Player of the Year) tossed five shutout innings and fellow senior Andrew Hatch struck out five in the final two innings to close it out for Blackfoot, which finished 22-5.
To top off the successful weekend, Shelley claimed its first state tournament wins in 13 years, beating Emmett and Marsh Valley before eventually falling to Fruitland in the 3A state title game.
7. DeShon rides with the best
Kody DeShon’s final bull ride of the 2015 regular season wasn’t much, an average 76-point score that earned him a $489 check at the American Royal Rodeo in Kansas City in November. But those $489 secured the Idaho Falls native his spot in the top 16 of the PRCA world standings, earning him an invitation to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. DeShon’s NFR experience included just one qualified ride and a 14th-place finish in Las Vegas, but just getting there proved he can ride with the best. Rexburg native Garrett Smith missed out on the National Finals Rodeo, finishing outside the top 16 in bull riding and steer wrestling. But his solid summer led to a 14th-place finish in the PRCA all-around standings with winnings of $61,690.
After running in the junior women’s 400-meter hurdles finals at the USA Track and Field Junior Outdoor Championships at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, former Rigby sprinter Elsja Mecham met three-time Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix.
8. Mecham moves into top 15 in U.S.
An eight-time individual state champion who set two Idaho state records in two seasons at Rigby before moving to Bluffdale, Utah, in July 2014, Elsja Mecham finished the 2015 outdoor season among the nation’s elite. The current Summit Academy senior competed in the finals of two international qualifier meets this summer, the USA Track and Field Junior Outdoor Championships and the World Youth Trials. At Junior Outdoors at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, Mecham beat four collegiate runners en route to placing fourth in the women’s 400-meter hurdles finals. She competed in the 400 hurdles finals of the World Youth Trials four days later, when a clipped hurdle caused her to place seventh. Mecham ended her junior year sixth in the 400 hurdles (personal best 58.27) and 15th in the 300 hurdles (personal best 41.83) in milesplit.com’s national rankings and told the Post Register in July that she aspires to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. In November, she signed to a full-ride track scholarship from BYU. Nine other schools—Wisconsin, Arizona State, Washington, LSU, Texas Tech, Kansas, Ohio State, UCLA and Oregon—offered her full-rides.
9. Hawkins ends stellar career at World University Games
The Chari Hawkins era at Utah State University ended in July with numerous superlatives: three-time Mountain West Women’s Track and Field Student Athlete of the Year, five-time All-American, Utah State heptathlon record holder (5,750 points), 2013-14 NCAA Student-Athlete Sportsmanship Award recipient and the most decorated female athlete in Utah State history. Her final collegiate competition was also a first for the 2010 Madison graduate: her first international meet. One of two Americans competing in heptathlon at the World University Games, an international competition for college students that takes place every two years in a different nation, Hawkins placed fourth of 14 athletes at the meet in Gwangju, South Korea. She compiled 5,707 points, getting high marks in javelin (third), high jump (third) and the 100-meter hurdles (first).
10. Dearth of eastern Idaho football teams in state title games
Only one eastern Idaho football team made a state title game in 2015. That team was District 5’s Aberdeen, and it lost to Grangeville in the title game. That gave eastern Idaho football its first championship-less season since at least 1984, according to IHSAA records. The Post Register’s coverage area had at least one team make the state title game since 1984, as well, until 2015. In the 5A state semifinals, Madison lost to Mountain View and Highland lost to Rocky Mountain. Rigby lost to Sandpoint and Century lost to Bishop Kelly in the 4A semis. Sugar-Salem lost to Emmett in the 3A semis.