2016’s Top 10 sports stories

A state champion, two state runners-up, a state medalist, a national finalist and a retiring NASCAR driver made big news in Columbus this year. They lead The Republic’s Top 10 Sports Stories of 2016.

1. Columbus North state gymnastics title; sophomore Claire Thompson wins two individual events and all-around competition

Columbus North not only claimed its third state gymnastics title and its first since 1974, the Bull Dogs broke the state-meet points record with a 114.85 on March 12 at Ball State. That was good enough to unseat two-time defending champion Valparaiso, which scored 113.25.

Claire Thompson, then a sophomore, won the bars and beam on her way to taking the all-around championship. Then-senior Katrina May finished second on the floor and third on the beam and tied for second in the all-around; while then-junior Ashley Holliday tied for second on the vault and third on the floor and finished fifth in the all-around.

2. Columbus East football makes run to Class 5A state finals

A Columbus East football team that some thought might be a year away from contending, reached the state finals before falling to Westfield 16-13 on Nov. 26 at Lucas Oil Stadium. Along the way, the Olympians went on the road to upset 5A No. 2 New Palestine in the first round of the sectional and 5A No. 3 Bloomington South in the semistate.

3. Columbus North girls basketball makes return trip to Class 4A state finals

Despite losing Miss Basketball and McDonald’s All-American Ali Patberg from a team that won the 4A state title the year before, the Columbus East girls won their first 19 games of the season and were back in Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Feb. 27. But with starting point guard Ashlyn Huffman having torn her meniscus in the regional two weeks earlier, the Bull Dogs fell to Penn 68-48.

4. Tony Stewart honored with dirt track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, makes Chase in final season

Columbus native Tony Stewart’s farewell season on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit was highlighted by a June 26 win at Sonoma, California, which led to his qualification for the Chase. Stewart was presented gifts in his final trips to several tracks, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles honored him with a dirt track in the infield.

5. Columbus East’s Cortney VanLiew selected as national finalist for Wendy’s High School Heisman

First, Cortney VanLiew was Columbus East’s nomination. Then, she was a state winner. Finally, she became one of five girls national finalists for the Wendy’s High School Heisman Award. The senior volleyball, swimming and track and field standout traveled to New York City Dec. 8-10 for the ceremony, which was televised Dec. 11 on ESPN2.

6. Holly Anderson wins girls golf state medalist honors, leads Columbus North to third-place team finish

Holly Anderson fired rounds of 75 and 71 Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at Prairie View Golf Club to become Columbus North’s first state medalist in girls golf, beating Chesterton’s Elyse Stasil by two shots. The senior, along with junior Danbi Kim, who tied for fifth with a 150, led the Bull Dogs to a third-place team finish behind Evansville North and Westfield.

7. Columbus North graduate Josh Speidel goes to Vermont

Eighteen months after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car accident near Taylorsville, Josh Speidel headed off to the University of Vermont. Columbus North’s all-time leading scorer is taking classes and practicing and traveling with the Catamounts basketball team, but isn’t playing in games. He was granted a special waiver by the NCAA to participate with without losing one of his four years of eligibility.

8. Columbus athletes win IHSAA Mental Attitude awards

Three Columbus seniors whose teams competed in the state finals won the IHSAA Mental Attitude for their respective sport. Columbus North’s Paige Littrell won in girls basketball, North’s Katrina May was honored in gymnastics and Columbus East’s Harry Crider won the award in football.

9. Hauser softball goes undefeated in the regular season and is ranked No. 1 in Class A, but falls one run short of a return trip to state

One year after winning the Class A state championship, the Hauser softball team put together another big season. Led by the state’s all-time stolen base leader, Leslie Sims, the Jets went 21-0 in the regular season, won sectional and regional titles and advanced to the final four in Class A before falling to eventual state champion Borden 4-3 in the the North Daviess Semistate finals.

10. Columbus North wins four regional titles

Oct. 14 was a big day for Columbus North athletics. The Bull Dogs won regional championships in four sports that day. The girls and boys cross-country teams won the Brown County Regional in the morning. Then, the boys soccer squad won its own regional in the afternoon, and the girls soccer team won the East Central Regional that night.

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.