As we begin 2017, we take a look back at the highlights of central Ohio high school sports for 2016.
As we begin 2017, we take a look back at the highlights of central Ohio high school sports for 2016.
There was plenty to celebrate over the course of the year, as area teams won state championships in baseball, basketball, field hockey, football, golf, indoor track and field, lacrosse, softball, swimming and diving and water polo, and area athletes won individual state titles in bowling, cross country, golf, swimming and diving, track and field and wrestling.
There also was tragedy, as members of the Worthington Kilbourne girls water polo team were involved in a deadly crash.
Here's how the year stacked up through the eyes of the ThisWeek sports staff and our readers, who voted in an online poll:
1 HAWKS SOAR ... AGAIN: The Hartley football team won the Division IV state title for the second consecutive season, beating Steubenville 24-21 on Dec. 2 at Ohio State.
The contest was a rematch of the 2015 state final, which the Hawks won 31-28.
Hartley is the first Central District football team to win back-to-back state titles since Amanda-Clearcreek in 1999 and 2000 in Division V.
"One of the goals we had at the beginning of the year was to be one of the best classes to ever walk through Hartley, and we're going to be the only ones to say we've won back-to-back titles," senior linebacker and offensive lineman Cody Kirkbride said. "It's one of the best accomplishments in the school's history."
Kirkbride was involved in what might have been the biggest play of the rematch.
With 1 minute, 32 seconds left and the game tied at 21, Steubenville lined up for a 41-yard field-goal attempt. However, the kick went only 6 yards past the line of scrimmage and into the arms of Kirkbride at the Hawks' 18.
Kirkbride returned the ball 59 yards to the Steubenville 23, setting up a 31-yard game-winning field goal by sophomore Matteo Agriesti as time expired.
Hartley finished 13-2 and won its fourth state title overall. The only area program with more is Newark Catholic, which has won eight championships.
2 REACHING THE SUMMIT: Senior guard Jordan Humphrey scored on a jump shot in the lane with 1.8 seconds remaining to give the Westerville South boys basketball team a 57-55 win over Lima Senior in the Division I state final March 19 at Ohio State.
It marked the first state title for 29th-year coach Ed Calo and the program.
"It's a tough journey," said Calo, whose team had lost to Huber Heights Wayne 65-57 in the 2015 state final. "It's so hard to get back here, let alone win it. It means so much for me because I'm so proud of our kids."
After Humphrey scored, Lima Senior's Xavier Simpson -- the state Player of the Year -- missed from just inside midcourt as time expired.
"This is very big," Humphrey said. "We talked about it ever since the game was over last year. We knew we had to get back and work hard every day. We had to outwork our opponent every night."
Humphrey led South with 19 points, followed by senior wing player Andre Wesson with 14. Junior post player Kaleb Wesson, Andre's brother, was in foul trouble for most of the game and finished with seven points.
The Wildcats, who finished 26-4, led by as many as 12 points in the first half before Lima Senior rallied and tied the game at 55 with 28 seconds remaining. The Spartans finished 29-1.
Andre Wesson now plays for Ohio State, and Kaleb Wesson will be joining him there next season after signing with the Buckeyes in November.
Also in basketball, the Africentric girls won their second state championship in three years and fifth overall, defeating Marion Pleasant 59-37 in the Division III final March 12 at Ohio State.
Junior Kynnedy Azubike had 15 points and five rebounds, junior Leah Morrow had 12 points and nine rebounds and freshman Jordan Horston added 11 points and seven rebounds to lead the Nubians, who outscored Pleasant 16-3 in the third quarter and 24-11 in the fourth.
Africentric, which forced 36 turnovers for the game, finished 24-5.
The Nubians also blew out previously undefeated Ironton 63-34 in a state semifinal March 10.
"It's amazing to be at Africentric," Horston said. "Everyone at the beginning of the season had the same goal. I knew this team was going to be special. We had a bond and we all came together in the end."
3 KILBOURNE TRAGEDY: On Aug. 12, members of the Kilbourne girls water polo team were involved in a deadly crash on their way to compete in the Sprint Off Classic at Napoleon.
Volunteer assistant Courtney Fisher, a former team captain and a 2015 graduate who was preparing for her sophomore year at Marist College, was killed. The 19-year-old was a passenger in a van driven by her mother, Vicki, who pulled into the path of a semi-truck at the intersection of Routes 281 and 65 in Henry County, west of Bowling Green.
Vicki Fisher was injured in the crash, as were the other four passengers: senior Betsey Fisher, sophomore Sami Fink and freshmen Melanie Fisher and Sydney Zulich. Betsey and Melanie are Courtney's sisters.
"We came together as a team the next day and had an open conversation about how we could move forward," coach Olivia Miranda said a few weeks after the crash. "The girls decided that Courtney would've wanted them to compete. It was an emotional meeting and the girls are still dealing with (the loss) in many ways. I am so proud of them for the way they've handled it all. It was an extremely difficult week and we spent a lot of time together as a team, as a family."
Betsey Fisher and Fink returned to the team late in the season, while Melanie Fisher and Zulich had returned earlier.
"We got Betsey back for senior night against Thomas (Worthington on Oct. 4)," Miranda said. "She broke her pelvis and has a permanent plate, but she made it back and scored five goals (in a 9-7 loss). It was such a wonderful night to see her perseverance pay off. It was just remarkable. For her to overcome adversity, and all that surrounded it, is astounding.
"I feel that way about the whole team. We had some girls step up after the crash to join the team and make sure we had a full team. The support we received from the school and entire Worthington community and those in central Ohio was fabulous."
4 GOING THE DISTANCE: Hilliard Davidson senior cross country runner India Johnson capped a stellar prep career by placing fourth of 40 runners in the 38th annual Foot Locker Cross Country Championships National Finals on Dec. 10 at Balboa Park in San Diego in 17:45.4.
Johnson, a Michigan State signee, also competed in the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) on Dec. 3 at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Oregon, finishing ninth (17:53.6) of 199 runners.
The events were her first two national races.
"I couldn't ask for a better ending," Johnson said. "I would never in 100 years thought that I would be able to say that I could finish in the top 10 in both NXN and Foot Locker. It's been really awesome to experience this firsthand and not being an outsider looking in like I have been the past few years.
"I'm really happy that my coaches and parents were able to make the sacrifices they did to support me along the way."
Johnson won the Division I state title Nov. 5 at National Trail Raceway, finishing first of 178 runners in a course-record 17:28.6. She also won regional (18:36.2), district (17:55.5) and OCC-Central Division (19:15.27) titles.
5 ON THE RUN: It was a record-setting season for Harvest Prep running back Daniel Bangura.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior set state records for rushing yards (4,128), total touchdowns (57), rushing touchdowns (54) and points (348) while leading the Warriors to a 10-4 season that ended with a 48-7 loss to Warren JFK in a Division VII state semifinal Nov. 26.
Bangura was named first-team all-state and district Offensive Player of the Year.
According to maxpreps.com, he was the second-leading rusher in the nation behind Riverside (California) Norte Vista senior running back Eric Melesio, who had 4,459 yards in 14 games.
6 JETTING TO THE NFL: Former New Albany and Ohio State football standout Darron Lee was selected in the first round of the NFL draft April 28 by the New York Jets with the 20th pick.
The 6-1, 231-pound linebacker played two seasons at Ohio State, helping the Buckeyes win the national championship in 2014 as a redshirt freshman.
Lee, a 2013 New Albany graduate, played quarterback and safety for the Eagles before being converted to linebacker at Ohio State, where he recorded 147 tackles, including 90 solo, as well as 27.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries in 28 games.
Two other central Ohio and Ohio State products, Joshua Perry and Nick Vannett, were selected in the draft. Vannett, a 6-6, 257-pound tight end, was taken by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round (94th overall) and Perry, a 6-4, 254-pound linebacker, was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the fourth round (102nd overall).
Vannett is a 2011 Westerville Central graduate, while Perry graduated from Olentangy in 2012.
7 HOOP DREAMS: Former Pickerington Central boys basketball standout Caris LeVert was selected in the first round of the NBA draft June 23 by the Indiana Pacers with the 20th pick.
The Pacers then traded the rights of the 6-7 guard to the Brooklyn Nets.
"I'm blessed to be here," LeVert said during his post-selection press conference. "Through all the adversity I went through the last couple of years, I'm lost for words right now to be here."
LeVert averaged 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists during the 2015-16 season for the University of Michigan, but was limited to 15 games because of a nagging foot injury. He underwent surgery to repair a fracture in his left foot March 22 and was unable to participate in the NBA draft combine in May or individual team workouts.
The same foot injury limited LeVert to 18 games his junior season.
LeVert, who also overcame the death of his father, Darryl, to a heart attack in 2010, led Central to the Division I state title as a senior in 2012. He averaged a team-high 22 points that season and was named second-team all-state.
8 GOLF CLAP: The Olentangy Orange girls golf team won the Division I state championship, ending Dublin Jerome's streak of five consecutive titles.
The Pioneers and Medina Highland both shot 311 on Oct. 22 at Ohio State's Gray Course, but Orange won the fifth-score tiebreaker to capture the school's first state team title in any sport.
Sophomore Ashley Au led the Pioneers, carding a 72 to place third. Also competing were sophomore Riley Dean (77, tied for 12th), junior Alyssa Kim (78, tied for 15th), senior Brittany Miller (84, tied for 34th) and junior Emily Fisher (89, 52nd).
Highland's fifth score was a 90.
"It's just amazing," Pioneers coach Cari DeAngelis said. "What the girls have come out and done is so great."
Although Jerome had to settle for fifth (326), Celtics junior Abby Kiefer shot a 71 to share medalist honors with Highland's Madison Butler.
In the Division I boys state tournament Oct. 22 at Ohio State's Scarlet Course, St. Charles senior Evan Yakubov carded a 71 to share medalist honors with Cincinnati St. Xavier's Cameron Frazier.
The Cardinals shot 307 to finish second behind St. Xavier (303).
9 GRIDIRON SUCCESS: For the fourth time in the 45-year history of the Ohio High School Athletic Association football playoffs, six teams from the Central District reached the state semifinals.
In addition to Division IV state champion Hartley, Olentangy Liberty (Division I), Pickerington Central (Division I), DeSales (Division III), Newark Catholic (Division VI) and Harvest Prep (Division VII) made it to the semifinals. Hartley was the only team to reach the finals.
The district also had six state semifinalists in 2003, 2007 and 2008. But in those seasons, there were only six divisions. The OHSAA added a seventh division in 2013.
This also marked just the second time two Division I teams in the district reached the state semifinals. The first was 1999, when Pickerington and Kilbourne accomplished the feat.
10 BOUT WITH CANCER: Longtime central Ohio football coach Mike Golden, in his third season at Delaware, was diagnosed with lung cancer Sept. 23. He was hospitalized that same day and received his first round of chemotherapy Sept. 27.
Assistant coaches Justin Malivuk and Ed Golden, Mike's brother, shared head coaching duties for the final six games. The Pacers won their first three games but lost six of their last seven to finish 4-6.
Mike Golden, whose 28-year coaching career also includes stints at Watterson, New Albany and Upper Arlington, has a career record of 214-91.
11 NO HIBERNATION FOR BEARS: The Upper Arlington boys and girls lacrosse teams both won Division I state championships.
The boys rolled to a 17-5 win over Cleveland St. Ignatius on June 4 for their fourth state title in five seasons, fifth in seven years and 16th overall. Senior midfielder Danny Logan had five goals and two assists to lead the Golden Bears, who finished 20-3.
On July 21, coach Ted Wolford announced his resignation after 25 seasons. He guided the Bears to a 460-61 record and all 16 of their state titles.
The girls team beat Massillon Jackson 9-6 in its state final June 4 to capture its second state title in a row, third in four seasons and seventh overall.
Senior attacker Mary Nicole Scott had six goals to lead the Bears, who finished 22-0 and will enter the 2017 season on a 41-game winning streak.
Also on June 4, the Kilbourne boys team won its second state title, defeating Toledo St. Francis 11-7 in the Division II final, and the DeSales girls team won its first, beating Chagrin Falls 10-7 in the Division II final.
12 UNEXPECTED RUN: The Pickerington North baseball team's run to the Division I state championship was unexpected considering it was seeded eighth of 46 teams in the Central District.
Led by a complete-game performance by senior pitcher Justin Grubb, North defeated Cincinnati La Salle 2-1 on June 4 at Huntington Park to cap its title run, finishing 23-9.
The Panthers, who beat St. Ignatius 5-3 in a state semifinal June 2, scored all seven of their runs in the state tournament with two outs.
"It's that mentality, 'Why not us?' " coach Tim Thomas said. "That means something to (the players). Do your job, be the champions. They bought into it."
Also in baseball, Newark Catholic won its second consecutive Division IV state title, beating North Lewisburg Triad 5-4 on June 4 to finish 24-10.
13 NO SPLASHING: Liberty senior Cameron Thatcher won his second consecutive Division I title in boys diving in the state meet held Feb. 24-27 at Branin Natatorium in Canton, and he did so in record fashion.
Thatcher, who now competes for Stanford University, scored 633.8 points to improve on his own state-meet and pool records that he set in 2015 when he won the title with a score of 630.9.
"I was chasing myself," Thatcher said of breaking his own records. "I was watching my online scores. It was a similar spot that I was in last year. ... I had to do what I had to do."
Also in swimming and diving, the Upper Arlington girls team won its second consecutive Division I state title and 11th overall, scoring 239 points to edge runner-up Mason (229). The Bears were led by junior Katie Trace, who won the 200 freestyle (1:47.23) and 500 free (4:49.5) and teamed with Sarah Dilz, Dakota Elliott and Anna Linzell to win the 200 free relay (1:34.07).
Other state champions included Grove City senior Kalvin Koethke, who won the 50-yard free in Division I in 19.97 to break the 25-year-old record of 20.01 set by Joe Hudepohl in 1991, and Columbus School for Girls junior Miranda Donley, who won her second consecutive Division II title in the 50 free (23.12).
14 RIGHT ON TRACK: Central Ohio athletes earned 21 first-place finishes in the state track and field meet, highlighted by the performance of Dublin Coffman sophomore Abby Steiner.
Steiner won the 100 meters (11.87) and 200 (23.92) in the Division I state meet June 4 at Ohio State. That same day, she anchored the first-place 800 relay (program-record 1:38.53), running down Mercedes Smith of runner-up Cincinnati Withrow at the finish line to give the Shamrocks the win by .01 of a second.
Shannon Downie, Shaunqueza Stevens and Wambui Watene also were on the relay.
Steiner also ran a stadium-record 11.6 in a 100 preliminary June 3.
"It was easier in the postseason because I knew what to expect this year instead of last year when it was all new," she said. "I was confident because I knew how many people would be there and who I would be going up against."
Also at state, Linden-McKinley senior Jeffery Floyd won his third consecutive Division II title in the high jump, clearing 6 feet, 10 inches on June 4.
Among the other highlights were the performances turned in by Jerome senior twins Brad and Carly Davis. The distance runners had more on their minds than reaching the Division I awards podium, as their mother, Lori, had died May 30 from complications from colon cancer.
Both of the siblings ran personal-best times in the 3,200 on June 4, with Brad finishing fifth (program-record 9:03.68) and Carly placing sixth (10:50.58).
"We have had a very tough week after my mom passed away after battling colon cancer for a year and a half," Brad said. "We had a lot of support this week and had a lot of fans down here cheering us on. It helped more than you can possibly imagine."
15 COACHES SUSPENDED: Two area football coaches, Bruce Ward of Gahanna and Mark Crabtree of Coffman, both were suspended for two games as a result of unrelated incidents.
Ward served his school district-imposed suspension in the first two weeks of the season. According to the school district, he engaged in what it deemed as "unprofessional behavior that resulted in property damage" during a summer golf outing benefiting the school's athletics programs.
In addition, the OHSAA took away four of Gahanna's 10 coaching days next summer.
The Lions won their first two games without Ward, beating Westerville Central 39-10 on Aug. 26 and Westerville South 23-6 on Sept. 2, but finished 5-5.
Crabtree was suspended for the first two games of the Division I, Region 3 playoffs by the OHSAA for a recruiting violation involving an intra-district eighth-grader.
In addition to enforcing the suspension, the OHSAA reduced Coffman's coaching days next summer from 10 to seven.
The Shamrocks, seeded fourth, defeated fifth-seeded Davidson 24-3 in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 4 before losing to second-seeded Huber Heights Wayne 52-10 in a regional semifinal Nov. 11 to finish 9-3.
16 CARDS COME UP ACES ... AGAIN: The Thomas Worthington field hockey team won its second consecutive state title, defeating Shaker Heights 3-0 on Nov. 5 at Upper Arlington.
"I'm still not sure if it really happened," coach Terri Simonetti Frost said. "We weren't supposed to be here this year because we're so young."
Senior attacker Ashley Trank scored two goals, junior attacker Maya McDaniel had a goal and an assist and sophomore attacker Sarah Charley had two assists. All three goals came in the final 7:27.
The Cardinals, who finished 18-3, had nine shots on goal while Shaker Heights had only one.
Thomas defeated Hudson 3-0 in the 2015 state final.
17 PERFECTION: The Lakewood softball team posted a perfect record while winning its fourth state title since 2008.
The Lancers defeated LaGrange Keystone 7-4 in the Division II state final June 4 at Firestone Stadium in Akron to finish 29-0.
Senior shortstop Kaitlyn Peacock had three RBI and junior third baseman Courtney Knepper drove in two runs for the Lancers, who scored six runs in the second inning.
Junior pitcher Courtney Vierstra, who was 21-0 with a 0.50 ERA, and junior first baseman Brenna Brownfield both were named first-team all-state.
18 WRESTLEMANIA: Five area wrestlers captured championships in the individual state tournament held March 3-5 at Ohio State.
Winning titles were Central Crossing sophomore Jaden Mattox (132 pounds), Central Crossing senior Kameron Teacher (heavyweight), Liberty junior Kyle Lawson (160) and Pickerington Central senior Joseph Terry (170) in Division I and Whitehall senior Ana Abduljelil (113) in Division II.
19 SHUT OUT ON THE PITCH: For the first time since 2013, central Ohio did not have any state champions in soccer.
Moreover, the only area team to reach a state championship game was St. Charles, which lost to St. Ignatius 2-1 in the Division I boys final Nov. 13 at Mapfre Stadium.
Senior defender Charlie Marshall scored for the Cardinals, who finished 21-1-1.
The DeSales boys team was seeking its third consecutive Division II state title, but lost to eventual champion Kettering Alter 2-1 in two overtimes in a state semifinal Nov. 9.
20 PLAY BALL: Former Grove City baseball player Mike Mayers made his major league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals on July 24 at Busch Stadium.
Making a spot start after the Cardinals had used seven pitchers in a 4-3, 16-inning win over Los Angeles on July 22, Mayers allowed nine runs on eight hits while striking out one and walking two in 1 1/3 innings. The Dodgers jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first inning on their way to a 9-6 win.
About 50 family members and friends from Grove City were in attendance.
"It definitely wasn't how I thought it was going to go, but it was a pretty special moment," said Mayers, a 2010 Grove City graduate. "There were tons of people from Grove City that made the trip. ... A lot of those people have helped me get where I'm at, and to be able to share that moment with them meant a lot to me."
Mayers, a right-hander, was sent back to the minor leagues the next day, but was recalled in September and made three more appearances, finishing the season 1-1 with a 27.00 ERA, two strikeouts and three walks in 5 1/3 innings.
21 MARCO POLO: The Upper Arlington girls water polo team won its third consecutive state title, sixth in seven years and 16th overall by defeating Napoleon 11-3 on Oct. 22 at Cincinnati Princeton.
The Bears, who finished 27-1-1, took a 4-1 first-quarter lead and stretched their lead to 6-1 by halftime and 8-1 after three periods.
UA went undefeated against Ohio teams for the fourth consecutive season. Its only loss came against Malvern (Virginia) Villa Maria Academy, 7-6 in a semifinal of the Ohio Cup on Sept. 18.
"It is hard to compare different seasons and different players, but I would probably say this is the most dominant group against their peers that I've had," 14th-year coach Dan Peterkoski said. "I don't know that I have ever had a team that was so dominant throughout the year."
22 IRONMAN: Delaware played host to the first Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Ohio, and Dublin native Mike Vulanich won it.
Vulanich, a 2004 Watterson graduate who lives in San Francisco, turned in the best time among the 1,908 athletes, including 1,131 men, who battled for the overall championship Aug. 21.
He finished in four hours, 12 minutes, 53 seconds.
"I moved out (to California) six years ago, but this was very much a hometown race for me," said Vulanich, who competed in cross country and track at Watterson. "I've been doing triathlons since when I still lived in Ohio, and when I saw this (event was coming to) Ohio, I knew I had to run it."
23 ALL-AMERICAN: Jonathon Cooper, who was named first-team all-state and Division I district Defensive Player of the Year for the Gahanna football team in the 2015 season, represented central Ohio in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 9 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Cooper, a 6-4, 235-pound defensive lineman who now plays for Ohio State, played for the East team in the game, which has been in existence since 2001 and was televised by NBC.
24 RIGHT UP HER ALLEY: Whitehall's Madison Stiffler, then a sophomore, won the Division I state title in girls bowling, and did so convincingly.
Stiffler rolled a 719 three-game series March 5 at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl to finish first of 98 competitors. She finished 38 pins ahead of the runner-up, Mentor's Rachel Strogin (681).
Stiffler, who had finished ninth (586) at state as a freshman, became the first state champion in program history.
"I thought this was possible," she said. "I just had to put all my work into it. This is the end of the season and this is where it comes down to it. The rest of the season didn't matter."
25 DECISION REVERSED: A joint proposal by the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association and the OHSAA to change from a two-region format to four regions in Division I was approved 9-0 by the OHSAA board of directors April 14.
The proposal, which went into effect for the 2016 season, effectively reversed an earlier decision. When the OHSAA added a seventh football division for the 2013 season, the state's 72 biggest schools were placed into two 36-team regions and the top 16 teams in each region made the playoffs.
Division I had been four regions from its inception in 1980 through 2012.
"(I'm) not sure who made the decision to do the two-region system to begin with, but I'll bet they didn't consult too many football people," Davidson coach Brian White said. "(I'm) glad to see they are correcting their mistake."