WARSAW – A pair of top-ranked programs, and a trio of perennial contenders headline our All-Ink Free News Top 10 teams. Wawasee’s wrestling run from start to finish, opening the year ranked No. 1 and ending with three of its wrestlers fighting for state championships moved the Warriors to the top of our list. Let’s find out what makes some of our top teams so good with the top five teams for the 2018-19 season.
5. New Talent, Who Dis? — If any girls track and field teams in either the Northern Lakes Conference or the Warsaw Sectional field were going to take a shot at snapping the Lady Tigers’ championship streaks, this might have seemed like the year to do it. Of the 63 girls on the squad, nearly half of them were freshmen. But if any teams were hoping to upend Warsaw, they wound up sorely disappointed as the team ran off its 14th straight NLC and 13th consecutive sectional title. And it wasn’t really close, either, as the Tigers backed up an unbeaten run through the conference round robin with a dominant 169 points at the NLC championship meet, then turned right around and tallied 134.5 points in an even more commanding championship finish at their home sectional. Sure, the team was helped along by a distance crew boasting some carryovers from a state finals-qualifying cross country squad — a pretty young team in its own right — but this year’s track team was strong pretty much everywhere. Distance star Wini Barnett did her thing in the 3200 meters on her way to a state championship berth there and the Tigers’ 4×800 relay would have earned a second distance berth to state if not for an unfortunate disqualification at regionals, but Warsaw sent a pair of athletes to the state title meet in the field, too, as Grayson Kilburn earned a regional runner-up finish in the high jump and Caitlin Kehler did likewise in the pole vault.
4. Panthers On The Prowl – NorthWood became what Nate Andrews had envisioned when he took over the program in 2014. A tough, hard-nosed and dynamic football team that had a full roster bought into a plan that put the Panthers atop the Class 4-A polls. NorthWood stood as the No. 1 team in Class 4-A entering the IHSAA sectional round, largely in part to a dominant regular season that had the team outscore its nine opponents 408-91, going 9-0 in the process. A thrilling 14-13 win over Warsaw in week eight maintained the unbeaten streak, but also was the closest a team got to NorthWood until the sectional final. The Panthers fell short to Angola, 27-26, losing on the final possession in the sectional championship. NorthWood, however, was lauded in and around the area for its 11-1 season. Ten Panthers were named All-NLC and Andrews was tabbed as the Coach of the Year. Bronson Yoder, Braden Mikel and Nic Bontrager were also named All-Region, Yoder, Jake Lone and Jaden Miller were named All-State, and Yoder, who amassed a few steps short of 3,000 combined yards this past season, was a finalist for Mr. Football. Yoder’s accolades weren’t done, as he, Mikel, Hayden Snider and Kyler Hauptli were all named Academic All-State, and Yoder later signed with Division 1 William & Mary to continue his football career while Mikel signed to play at Anderson University.
3. Maintaining The Status Quo – Coach Adam Yoder wasn’t surprised his team had the season it did. But the NorthWood girls golf team forged a new level of success during a sterling 2018 campaign. The Lady Panthers set a myriad of team and individual records, all while playing one of the toughest schedules in the state. The team either matched or set 17 program marks and its individuals achieved a combined 14 personal records. Among the team records included its Northern Lakes Conference team score (339), where a 7-0 round robin pushed NorthWood over the 50-straight NLC-win plateau. The team also scored 309 in the regional to reach the state finals, where it’s two-day score in Carmel of 697 had the team finish with a program-best 10th place in the standings. Over the course of the season, NorthWood won titles at the Harrison and Culver Academy Invites as well as the NLC and sectional, the seventh straight NLC and the third sectional title in five years. On the individual side, Cybil Stillson jumped into the high school circuit on fire, winning three tournaments before grabbing medalist at the NLC and placing 13th at the IHSAA State Finals. Stillson was part of 10 individual or program records and was an All-State honoree. Mackenzie Weaver completed her career as the only Panther golfer to appear in three state finals, and also won her fourth All-NLC award and golfed in her fourth regional, which Abby Slabaugh also made her fourth regional.
2. Squad Goals — Although cross country is typically considered an individual sport, this year’s Lady Tigers squad challenged that notion. Warsaw adopted a slightly different approach in head coach Jason Fleming’s first year at the helm, and the emphasis on pack running paid big dividends for the program, which extended championship streaks in the Northern Lakes Conference, as well as the Culver Academies sectional and regional en route to its fifth appearance at the state finals in the past six years. Wini Barnett and Adree Beckham traded back and forth as the Tigers’ pace setters for the season, while Angie Sanchez-Vijil, Remi Beckham, Ava Knight, Amslie Howett and Alexandra Hermann could often be found finishing one after another. This pack mentality helped earn the team a seventh straight NLC title, eighth straight sectional championship and sixth straight regional crown. If one runner was having a rough day, her teammates would help pick her up, and with such a balanced cast, Warsaw could be seen adjusting its lineups from meet to meet. For perspective, the Tigers were unable to score a single top 20 finish at the New Prairie Semi-State on Oct. 20, but each of the team’s top five finished within under a minute of one another, garnering a fifth-place finish and a trip back to the state finals, where they ultimately placed 21st among the state’s elite.
1. Program Still On The Rise – For as much as Wawasee accomplished this past winter on the wrestling mat, coach Frank Bumgardner is still not satisfied. “We didn’t win the NLC. We’re still looking for a state champion. While we did accomplish a lot of our goals on and off the mat, we still have things we can shoot for.” It is still to be spoken, however, what the team was able to put together this past season, and for the myriad of reasons, they take over the top stop as our IFN Team of the Year.