Prep Zone: Athletes' memories of 2013 will last a lifetime

At the end of each calendar year, some of the area’s athletes and coaches who provided us sports highlights are asked to provide their favorite personal sports memories of that year.

This is their Prep Zone …

Ben Murray, Jacobs (baseball, basketball): “Definitely winning the [Class 4A] regional and sectional in baseball. Nothing could top that. It was such a great atmosphere and a fun team. It was a great ride and journey we had. And it was the first regional title in school history, which makes it pretty cool.”

Danny Rygiel, Richmond-Burton (football, basketball): “It was our last [football] game against Evergreen Park. Even though we lost, they were a No. 1 seed and it was a two-possession game. I remember throwing a ball to Luke Brinkmann and he dropped it, but later I threw him another and he took it for a 60-yard touchdown. Our team never gave up, and you would have never guessed that we were the underdogs. I have never been prouder to be a part of the Richmond-Burton Rockets.”

Mark Anderson, Cary-Grove (girls track and girls cross country coach): “Joslyn Nicholson placing fourth in the Class 3A triple jump in the state track meet. She was sitting in 10th, just out of the medals, but her last attempt was the best she ever took as a Cary-Grove Trojan. She broke the school record and earned a state medal. Athletes dream about ending their careers like that, and she actually got to live it.”

Erin Wagner, Prairie Ridge (track, cross country): “My [Class 2A] state race was my favorite memory. I had my teammates there [cheering] and the guys’ team was there. I ran my personal-best time by 45 seconds [taking ninth place]. In the race itself, I just felt strong and really smooth all the way, and to have my best race made it even better.”

Tim Haak, Harvard (football and wrestling coach): “There were so many. Our football team beating Richmond-Burton, 21-0, to finish the regular season unbeaten was big. Only five teams in Harvard history, since 1923, have done that. Then Anthony Luis winning Class 1A state wrestling, beating a kid who was 47-0 and hadn’t been taken down. Anthony took him down three times. Then, the football playoff game against King where we scored 35 points in the first five minutes. I don’t ever remember seeing that before.”

Allie Sprague, Marengo (track, cross country): “[Class 2A] state cross country was my favorite. It was really exciting going as a team again. Going up that hill to the finish for the last time, I heard my coaches, parents, friends and teammates all yelling what place I was in – 29th, then 28th – that was the last one I heard. I just started kicking to the finish, ignoring the burn in my legs. All-State [top 25] has been a goal for me since I started high school cross country my freshman year, but different obstacles kept getting in my way. After crossing those blue mats at the finish, I knew I gave it everything, and even if I didn’t accomplish my goal, I would be happy. Once we finally heard it was 25th place I was ecstatic. I barely made All-State, but it was enough. I didn’t think it could have gotten any better until I found out we placed fourth as a team, the highest in Marengo’s history.”

Hunter Williams, Jacobs (football): “Winning the FVC Valley title. We started 0-2 and working as hard as we did to win the next seven games was amazing. We were really down at 0-2, but we came to practice and turned it up a lot. We kept thinking positive and started winning games.”

Avalon Nero, Crystal Lake South (volleyball): “It was definitely going downstate. I’ll remember winning every part from [Fox Valley Conference Valley Division] to regional to sectional. The feeling that we were one step closer every time was really exciting.”

Alex Ferguson, Woodstock (baseball, golf, basketball): “It had to be playing in the [Class 3A] regional title [basketball] game against Woodstock North in their gym. Playing in that atmosphere was awesome. It seemed like most of Woodstock was there. I was a reserve and we all got in to play because we were winning. I’ve never seen a gym so packed. I hope we can do that again this year.”

Matt Hughes, Cary-Grove (football, wrestling): “Our last game at home in the playoffs against Boylan. We lost, but I had a blocked punt and Emerson Kersten had an interception and it was a great game. I just remember everybody coming together one last time on the field with guys like Emerson and Matt Sutherland.”

Laura Watling, Marian Central (volleyball coach): “Our [Class 3A] regional championship match at Woodstock North against Johnsburg. We went on to win the sectional, but that regional was so emotional, and we had so much invested in it. Knowing we were able to do it again was really fun. We beat Richmond-Burton first, and they knocked us out last year, then we beat Johnsburg. I just felt like the regional was even more emotional because so many of the girls knew each other.”

Sam Franckoviak, Dundee-Crown (football, track): “We beat McHenry in the final regular-season game and clinched a playoff spot [for the first time since 1994]. I was hugging coaches and looking at the scoreboard as it went to 0:00. I also remember seeing my mom [Linda] crying because she was so happy.”

Evelyn Youel, Crystal Lake Central (tennis, basketball): “Jillian Wallace and I played a match in the regular season at Carmel against a doubles team that placed in the top eight at state last year. Watching them warm up was impressive. Our teammates were in awe. Jill and I went out and played our best match and beat them in a third-set tiebreaker. By the end all the other matches were done, so our whole team was watching.”

Steve Dixon, Johnsburg (football, basketball): “When we played Woodstock North in football and I intercepted a pass and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown. It helped my team get a win and ended our 25-game losing streak. One of my best friends, Bailey Stefka, was sick and couldn’t play, and coach Mike Maloney asked me to wear his jersey. He had returned an interception for a touchdown the week before. We went into the victory formation, and our students charged the field.”

• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.