While members of The Gazette’s sports staff don’t often get to see exotic sites while covering sports in Eastern Iowa or of interest to Eastern Iowans, they do find gems every year.
Here are some of the staff’s favorite events from 2017:
1. GIRLS SOCCER: I saw Xavier High’s girls’ soccer team beat Waterloo East last spring, 17-0.
East’s team went the whole season without scoring a goal. Yet, the players and coaches kept showing up, never quit. That’s supposed to be at the heart of all this sports stuff, right? It was appealing to me. Inspiring, even.
2. NCAA BASKETBALL: At Iowa State’s first-round NCAA tournament win over Nevada in Milwaukee ...
What I remember about the game itself isn’t much. The game didn’t start until about 9 p.m. and I was sick with what turned out to be bronchitis. I was hoping no one would have to sit next to me in the auxiliary press area because of my coughing and whatnot. But I was joined by Javier Hernandez of the University of Nevada’s student newspaper, the Nevada Sagebrush, and that was a good thing.
Wearing a jacket and tie, Javier looked like a professional. But more importantly, he acted like one. Though he understandably wanted his school’s team to win, he did no cheering during the game. I asked him about the Wolf Pack’s players and head coach, and he happily gave me useful information.
Later, I learned he is pursuing an accounting degree, and is involved in his school’s Business Student Council and Journalism Student Council while covering Nevada sports for the Sagebrush.
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Javier and his family migrated from the Philippines to Reno in 2008. Javier wrote it was done “in pursuit of a better education for my sister and me.” It appears he is seizing the opportunity.
It was past midnight and I was still typing when I happened to look up and see Javier leaving the press room as he began exiting the arena. He gave me a friendly wave, and off he went. I thought “I’d like to be like him when I grow up.”
1. REGINA WINS TITLE IN A LONG, LATE 2A SOFTBALL FINAL: Morning rain showers delayed the final day of the state softball tournament, then the Class 2A final moved it back even further. In the longest championship game in tournament history, Iowa City Regina rallied past Eddyville EBF, 5-4, in 16 innings. The Regals scored four times in the bottom of the inning, after EBF seemed to have won it with three tallies in the top of the inning. The game lasted 3 hours, 24 minutes.
2. JEFFERSON BREAKS THROUGH: The match itself wasn’t memorable. But it signified a volleyball resurgence. Cedar Rapids Jefferson ended a 20-year state tournament drought with a Class 5A regional final sweep of Johnston. A year after finishing 18-18, the J-Hawks went 39-7 and return most of their key pieces for 2018.
3. DISTERHOFT SURPASSES HAUGEJORDE: Ally Disterhoft became the University of Iowa women’s basketball all-time leading scorer in a WNIT first-round game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Disterhoft completed her career with 2,102 points. This brings us to ...
4. GUSTAFSON BLOSSOMS INTO A SUPERSTAR: Most likely, Disterhoft is keeping the scoring throne warm for Megan Gustafson. Now a junior, Gustafson developed into a force in the paint last season, and more than picked up where she left off. She has earned Big Ten player-of-the-week or honor-roll accolades in each of the first seven weeks of the season and is averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds per game while shooting 70 percent from the floor.
5. SPRINGVILLE REPEATS: Springville claimed its second straight Class 1A girls’ state basketball championship with a 45-36 win over Turkey Valley. The Orioles also edged the Trojans for the 2016 title. “It’s just a deep feeling of satisfaction,” Coach Nate Sanderson said. Sanderson departed in May to take the Linn-Mar job as was succeeded by Christina Zaruba. Springville is ranked No. 1 again and favored to win its third title in a row.
1. IOWA VS. OHIO STATE FOOTBALL: This kind of had to be No. 1 for me because of the sheer unexpectedness of it all. What Iowa did in that game wasn’t really duplicated before or after, except maybe the second half of the Nebraska game ... and the Huskers were not the Buckeyes. It’s a game you remember being there for forever.
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2. IOWA WINNING AT WISCONSIN IN BASKETBALL: This was interesting to me on a number of levels. To start, Iowa hadn’t won much on the road last season. Then there was the fact that the guy who hit the game-winning shot, Jordan Bohannon, got spurned by the host school in recruiting — the same school that welcomed two of his older brothers. His reaction to that game-winner was as memorable as anything all season.
3. JANE MEYER TRIAL: This wasn’t state-stopping news, but it’s going to have some far-reaching effects on top of the $6 million Iowa athletics had to pay Jane Meyer and Tracey Greisbaum. It put Gary Barta on trial, essentially, and saw testimony from Kirk Ferentz and Tom Brands not really have much of an impact. Their large-looming voices being met with disinterest was surprising at the very least, as was the UI being handed such a swift defeat.
4. PETER JOK INVITED TO NBA COMBINE: Jok wasn’t drafted and isn’t in the NBA, but this was an interesting trip over the summer because it put his deficiencies on display against some of the top talents. The gathering of basketball minds there was vast, and none had glowing reviews publicly. It was an interesting window into the process of professional basketball.
5. RICHIE GUSTIN WINS IMCA SUPER NATIONALS: It wasn’t a first for the Gilman driver, but what made his victory interesting there was that he wasn’t in a racecar that had a massive amount of R&D. He’d won the event before, but did so in 2017 as the only entrant with his chassis make — Wheatland-based Gheer’d Up Chassis. He also had to beat one of the best Modified drivers in the country in Ricky Thornton Jr., too.
1. DYERSVILLE BECKMAN BASEBALL TEAM WINS STATE TITLE: With the Blazers one out from the Class 2A title, I walked over to the Principal Park suite where Tom Jenk and his wife, Pam, were watching the game. Jenk had been driven from Dyersville to Des Moines in a medical RV, and this movie-like script was playing out perfectly. Will never forget the dying coach’s reaction when the third out was recorded. He raised his right fist in the air, pounded his hand on a table and gave a thumbs-up sign to Blazers players and coaches on the field. An unreal moment.
2. CEDAR RAPIDS XAVIER WINS FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: I approached Xavier Coach Duane Schulte in the UNI-Dome media interview room after the Saints rolled past Pella for the Class 3A title. He was scrolling through his cellphone and watching son (and quarterback) Quinn being interviewed by multiple people. Schulte eventually found what he was looking for on his phone and shared it with me. It was a photo of him holding a very young Quinn while celebrating Xavier’s 2006 4A title on the UNI-Dome field. Things had come full circle.
3. XAVIER, IOWA CITY WEST WIN BASKETBALL TITLES: It’s fun to cover championship teams, so the 2016-17 boys’ basketball season was double fun. Xavier won the Class 3A championship for a second consecutive year. An overtime win over Waverly-Shell Rock was an absolute war and particularly memorable. West’s 4A title was a fitting end to the fine careers of senior stars Connor McCaffery and Devontae Lane.
4. ROYCE LEWIS JOINS C.R. KERNELS, GETS 4 HITS IN FIRST GAME: A first-overall draft pick had never played for Cedar Rapids’ professional baseball team until Royce Lewis joined the Kernels in mid-August. The teen shortstop from California was taken No. 1 overall by the Minnesota Twins in June and tore up the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, prompting a promotion to the low-Class A Midwest League. The kid lined a single to left in his first C.R. at-bat, following that with three more hits. This game is easy, right?
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5. DARIUS MOORE TARGET OF RACIST SOCIAL MEDIA POST: This was memorable in a bad way, representing what has seemingly become a more and more divided country. Athletes kneeling before the national anthem as a silent protest of racial injustice and inequality was a national story during the NFL season. It trickled to the prep level, too. Clear Creek Amana’s Darius Moore knelt covertly before one of his team’s games, with a classmate posting a photo of him that included a racist comment during CCA’s next game.
1. BECKMAN'S STATE TITLE SEASON: The story is a perfect script for a movie. Few programs are synonymous with a coach like Beckman baseball and Tom Jenk. When he was unexpectedly stricken with glioblastoma, the Blazers (old and young) rallied around the longtime skipper. Former Blazers came back to help Jenk’s right-hand man, Fred Martin, run the team. Beckman ran the postseason gauntlet, beating Monticello in the district final and then avenging a loss to rival Cascade in the substate final. The Blazers capped the season with the 2A state title with Jenk in attendance for the championship. Jenk died three months later.
2. SOLON WINS CLASS 2A STATE WRESTLING TITLE: The Spartans produced one of the most exciting state championship finishes in Iowa wrestling history. Solon edged New Hampton by a half-point, receiving a major decision from transfer Bryce West in the 120-pound final and clinched it when Davenport Assumption’s Julien Broderson beat New Hampton’s Ryan Gorman for the 160 title. Solon finished with five medalists and two in the finals. All eight qualifiers scored points, including 152-pounder Graeson Dall, who had an opening-round fall despite wrestling on a broken leg.
3. XAVIER WINS CLASS 3A STATE FOOTBALL CROWN: Cedar Rapids Xavier claimed its second state football title. In doing so, the Saints stopped Pella’s three-year title run. Xavier’s run was unexpected, revamping almost all of its starting lineup. The Saints fielded one of the top defenses again, complementing a good offense and solid special teams. Xavier Coach Duane Schulte shared the celebratory moment after the game with son, Quinn, who was quarterback and the third son he coached I the UNI-Dome.
4. CORY CLARK WINS NCAA TITLE: Cory Clark was an enigma in is senior season. Was he hurt? If so, how bad? Why was he in and out of the lineup? Would he be able to make a run for an NCAA title or even be able to finish the season. All those were answered when Clark managed one of the gutsiest NCAA tournament runs, beating former Ohio State NCAA champ Nathan Tomasello in a thriller and winning the 133-pound title over former teammate and South Dakota State foe Seth Gross. Who can forget him launching Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands, regardless of the circumstances. Clark had shoulder surgery after the season.
5. PARITY HITS MVC SUPER MEET: The Mississippi Valley Conference is one of the toughest wrestling conferences from top to bottom in the state and has been for years. The 2017 tournament demonstrated that in the individual results. Amazingly, 13 of the 14 schools crowned at least one champion. Cedar Rapids Prairie, which won its fifth straight team title, was the only team with two titlists and Linn-Mar was the lone school without one, even though the Lions had a runner-up. The likelihood this happens again is rare.