YEAR IN REVIEW: Local athletes push through pandemic for big achievements

Jason Brown
The Leavenworth Times
Shown is the University of Saint Mary men's cross country team following its eight consecutive Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference championship in November.

As the year winds down to its final hours, it is easy to think the last 365 days were a wash due to the COVID-19 pandemic that occupied the majority of the calendar year. The pandemic wiped out various sports and annual events in the spring and created an entirely new environment for those sports to be played in later in the year.

At the local level, we saw the high school spring athletic season, as well as the end of the winter season, be canceled to stop the spread of COVID-19. Those decisions caused speculation that high school athletics would struggle to restart when school began in August. 

That was not the case. 

The Kansas State High School Activities Association worked throughout the summer to establish guidelines for high school teams to prepare for their upcoming season. The fall athletic season started on time with football, volleyball, cross country, girl’s golf and boy’s soccer all crowning champions across Kansas. 

Despite a mostly issue-free season in the fall, winter athletics were put in doubt as COVID-19 cases started to increase. KSHSAA once again acted, electing to continue with the planned winter athletics season – only adding a brief two-week holiday moratorium. Basketball, wrestling and bowling all started on time. 

Even with all of the doubt and surrounding issues caused by COVID-19, local athletes pushed through the adversity to have great seasons and racked up many achievements. Here are some of the top local sports moments of 2020:

Shown is the Lansing volleyball team following its second-place finish at the 5A state tournament Oct. 31 at Tony's Pizza Events Center in Salina.

n Lansing volleyball returned to the 5A state semifinals Oct. 30 in Salina under new head coach Lindsey Zych. The Lady Lions carried a 25-1 record into the tournament and took second-place after falling to champion St. Thomas Aquinas. Lansing looks to return the core of its team in Kamryn Farris, Caitlin Bishop, Skylar Weaver and Olivia Van Der Werff next season. 

n The University of Saint Mary cross country teams continued their dominance of the KCAC with the men winning their eighth consecutive title and the women capturing their third in four seasons Nov. 14 in Salina. Head coach Alstin Benton and assistant Nolan Ryan earned the conference’s coach of the year honors. The Spires placed 14 runners in the top 10 on both sides at the event.

Shown is the University of Saint Mary women's cross country team following its third Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference championship in four seasons.

n For the first time in Kansas high school sports history, girl’s wrestling held its first separate state championship tournament Feb. 28 at Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina. Four local wrestlers earned medals at the competition. Leavenworth’s Hannah Jackson took second place in the 191-pound class and Olivia Crutchley finished fourth in the 143-pound class. Basehor-Linwood’s Olivia O’Donnell took sixth in the 114-pound class and Mandy Wilson placed fourth in the 170-pound class. Wilson, O’Donnell and Jackson are all back for the respective teams and ranked in the latest Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association rankings. 

Shown is former Leavenworth wrestler Olivia Crutchley and junior Hannah Jackson at the first-ever girl's wrestling state tournament at Tony's Pizza Events Center in Salina. Crutchley placed fourth in the 143-pound class while Jackson took second in the 191-pound class.

n Leavenworth girl’s golfer Chloe Herring competed for her second state title in 2020 after qualifying for the state bowling competition in February when she played at the 5A state golf tournament Oct. 19-20 at Salina Municipal Golf Course. Herring was the United Kansas Conference Golfer of the Year and won the conference tournament. 

Shown is Leavenworth junior golfer Chloe Herring. Herring won the United Kansas Conference girl's golf tournament and was named the league's Golfer of the Year. She also qualified for and competed at the 5A state tournament.

n Shortly after the spring sports season was canceled, there were doubts that the Kansas Shrine Bowl – a high school football all-star game – would be played as the facilities that were to be utilized became unavailable. The 47th edition of the game was played July 18 at Hummer Sports Complex in Topeka. Former Basehor-Linwood quarterback Chase Torkelson was the lone local selection and completed 7-11 passes for 78 yards.

Shown is Basehor-Linwood head coach Rod Stallbaumer and former quarterback Chase Torkelson at the 47th Kansas Shrine Bowl July 18 at Hummer Sports Complex in Topeka.

n Basehor-Linwood boy’s basketball opened its 2019-20 campaign with plans to return to the state final four in March following a heartbreaking defeat to Andover Central the previous season. The Bobcats did just that as they amassed a 19-2 record and carried a 15-game winning streak to Emporia behind senior leaders Connor Younger and Cory Davila. They avenged their loss to Central with a 76-72 win in the quarterfinals behind Younger’s 29 points and another 29 from emerging sophomore guard Jordan Brown. With a shot to reach the state title right in front of them in a matchup with Hays, the remainder of the tournament was canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic made its biggest impact on the sports world. Basehor-Linwood’s shot at a state championship was wiped out but the Bobcats hit the court for this season behind Brown with their eyes on Emporia. 

Shown is Basehor-Linwood junior Jordan Brown at the Kansas 4A state tournament in March at Emporia State University. The Bobcats defeated Andover Central in the quarterfinals behind Brown's 29 points before the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.

Jason Brown is the sports editor of the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at jbrown@leavenworthtimes.com