The 2015-16 Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs Division III Final Four banner. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
The 2015-16 Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs Division III Final Four banner. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
(Editor’s Note: There were many more accomplishments achieved for Highland County athletics. With that, we offer our apologies for anything that we may have missed.)

Since the very first game was played in 2016 for Highland County high school teams, there was a different feeling in the air, a feeling the area hasn’t seen in quite some time, and for the five schools in the county, they each brought special moments and memories for this past calendar year.

There were three regional champions, with the Fairfield boys cross-country, the Lynchburg-Clay boys basketball and Lynchburg-Clay girls soccer teams all reaching the state tournaments. The Hillsboro boys bowling team were also state qualifiers, winning their district championship. Plus, the Fairfield softball team finished as regional runners-up, reaching the Elite 8, while the LC girls basketball team qualified for the Sweet 16.

This past calendar year also included McClain’s Kaylee Hurley winning three state championships in three various seated
state track and field events, and Hillsboro’s Austin Goolsby was the Division II state runner-up in the pole vault event.

The track and field season also saw relay teams from Fairfield and Hillsboro race at state, while Lynchburg-Clay’s Bailey Leininger (discus) and McClain’s Cody Hardesty (800-meter run) were state placers. McClain’s Jhaela Coleman and Alex Hollar raced in individual events at the state meet, as did Hillsboro’s Mackenzie Conlon, but more on all of them later. In wrestling, Dawson Carter of Hillsboro was a state qualifier for the first time, as was Hillsboro golfer Kristin Jamieson.

There were also more district and league championships, great individual performances (including two 1,000-point scorers), a Rotary Bowl for the ages and the beginning of the end (for the third time) to one of Ohio’s oldest leagues, but the welcoming by some for a brand-new start.

Much happened in 2016 when it comes to Highland County sports, so let’s take one more look at all that occurred this past year.

There was big news concerning multiple counties this past year with the South Central Ohio League disbanding in an announcement made this past February. Five member schools of the current SCOL (including Hillsboro and McClain) will join the newly formed Frontier Athletic Conference (FAC) next fall.

The most success for teams this past winter begins with the LC Mustangs achieving a feat just over two decades in the making when they had a tournament run for the ages by qualifying for the Division III Final Four, finishing with an overall record of 25-3, along with a regional championship, district championship and a Division I Southern Hills Athletic Conference championship. They reached the Final Four by defeating Marion Pleasant by a 68-50 score.

Also for LC that basketball season, then-senior Devin Pierson became the No. 2 all-time leading scorer in LC boys basketball history (1,600-plus points), plus the fourth all-time leading scorer in SHAC history. In December, Lynchburg-Clay retired his No. 23, becoming just the fifth LC athlete to have a number retired. Pierson was one of two Highland County boys basketball players to be selected Associated Press All-Ohio last year, with Pierson being named in Division III.

The second player named AP All-Ohio was then-Fairfield senior Ethan Putnam for Division IV. Putnam also made a dramatic 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Lions to a sectional win over Manchester last season, being one of the top moments of the year in Highland County athletics.

That same basketball season, the LC Lady Mustangs qualified for the Sweet 16, winning a SHAC and district championship along the way. They finished with a 24-2 overall record, went undefeated in conference play and saw then-junior Hannah Binkley score her 1,000th career point during the district championship game.

Another player, then-Hillsboro senior Madison Snyder, collected her 1,000th career point, plus she was named the Div. I/II District Player of the Year by the coaches of the Southeast District.

McClain’s Taylor Polley (Div. II), Lynchburg-Clay’s Ali Little (Div. III), Hannah Binkley (Div. III) and McKayla Binkley (Div. III), Fairfield’s Grace Shope (Div. IV) and Whiteoak’s Emma Wardlow (Div. IV) all were named AP All-Ohio. Also last season in early January, Shope set an FHS girls basketball record with 39 points in a game, plus a quarter scoring record of 18 points in the first quarter against Manchester.

Wrestling was on high display last winter too with Hillsboro’s Dawson Carter qualifying for the Div. II State Wrestling Championships, ending his season with a 43-5 overall record in a year that included being a district runner-up, a sectional champion and an SCOL champion.

Looking back at wrestling, McClain’s then-senior Jake Badgley passed the coveted 125 career-win mark on the mat. When he achieved that feat, he was on a 13-match winning streak and an 11-match pin streak at 160 pounds.

In all for wrestling last winter, Hillsboro and McClain totaled four wrestlers who either won or were runners-up at the SCOL tournament, including Hillsboro’s Curran Butler (second place, 170 pounds) and JJ Goldick (second place, 220 pounds) and McClain’s Badgley (second place, 160 pounds), along with Carter’s aforementioned win.

Also last winter, Highland County had 15 swimmers reach the district tournament. One of those swimmers was Tommy Henry, who during last season broke a 52-year-old record with a time of 1:58.5 at the district meet in the 200-freestyle event. Other district qualifiers included: (Hillsboro): Braden Wildey, Michael Rose, Micah Pinney, Jonah Humphries and Ty Alexander. For McClain, district qualifiers included: Henry, Ethan Johnson, Avery Voss, Ryan Wilkin, Johnny Free, Ryan Page, Lauren Fabin, Anna Ehlers, Maria Onusko and Emily Parker.

The Hillsboro boys bowling team placed sixth at the Division II State Tournament. That season, the HHS bowlers went 18-0 en route to an SCOL championship and district title.

The Hillsboro girls bowling team won the SCOL championship as well, which was their second consecutive championship.

At LC, the following bowlers qualified for districts: Hannah Burns, Brittany Davis and Grace McKnight for the girls team, and for the boys, it was Logan Dye.

During the OATCCC State Indoor Track Meet last winter, McClain’s Tristan Pitzer placed seventh in the triple jump event with a 40-1 1/4 jump.

A few months later, in the 2016 spring sports season, the spring season had more success with freshman Kaiti White pitching a no-hitter in the game the Fairfield Lady Lions clinched the Division II SHAC championship, with an undefeated conference record. The Lady Lions finished as Division IV regional runners-up with a 21-5 overall record, as they also won their second consecutive district title and a Div. II SHAC championship.

Also during the spring, Whiteoak’s Evan Brill tossed a no-hitter against Western Latham. The no-hitter consisted of just two walks and nine strikeouts. Also with a no-hitter was Fairfield’s Hunter Dixon. His no-hitter against Georgetown consisted of seven strikeouts and two walks.

The Lynchburg-Clay baseball team won the Division I SHAC baseball championship for the third straight season by defeating Peebles, 4-1. It was also their fifth conference title in six seasons. They finished with an overall record of 18-6 and 11-2 in the SHAC.

As for coaches All-Ohio, selections included Pierson in Div. III baseball and Fairfield’s Grace Larrick in Division IV softball.

Hillsboro won the boys track and field championship for the first time since the 2012 season. Conlon won four SCOL titles in two hurdles and two relay events (4x200 and 4x400). Also on the 4x200 team were: Luke Gallimore, Anthony Anderson and Wildey. The 4x400 team included Gallimore, Anderson and Ty Alexander. Wildey was also first in the 200m dash.

SCOL champions in individual events for McClain were Hollar, Hardesty, Henry, Pitzer and the 4x400 relay team of Pitzer, Jensen Knaff, Tyler Jackson and Hollar. The MHS girls had one SCOL champion in Chayden Pitzer.

In the SHAC track and field championships, the Fairfield boys were champions. Earning SHAC titles for the Lions were the 4x800-meter relay (Matthew Mangus, Swisher, Richmond and Duffie), 3200m run (Mangus) and 4x400m relay events. The FHS 4x4 relay team consisted of Wyatt Evans, Wyatt Fent, Bennett Hodson and Zachary Bolender.

The Whiteoak Wildcats had three first-place spots, all by Derrick Ison. Ison won the 100m dash, the 400m dash and the 200m dash.

For LCHS, their first-place finishes came in the field events, with Johnny Lewis winning the discus, while Zac Carter had two first-place finishes, including the high jump and the long jump.

Fairfield’s 4x800m relay team was a SHAC champion with a team of Chloe Barber, Alexis Swisher, Dakota Haynes and Maggie Donahue. Blake Adams won the shot put for the Lady Lions.

In the LC girls first-place finishes, the 4x400m relay team of Alexa Cochran, Abby Blankenship, McKayla Binkley and Angela McLaughlin won their event, while Leininger was first in the discus throw and McKayla Binkley won the high jump. WHS had one first-place finish, coming in the 400m dash with Taylor Tackett winning the event.

Then came success at the state track and field meet, with Hurley of McClain winning three state championships and one state runner-up title. Then a junior, Hurley won the seated shot put event, the 800-meter and the 400m races. She was second in the 100m event. Later in the summer, in the junior nationals, Hurley won the championship in the seated shot put.

Hardesty of McClain placed third in Division II in the 800m run at 1:54.6, and in Division III, Lynchburg-Clay’s Leininger placed sixth in the discus event with a distance of 133-11. Both Hardesty and Leininger also won their respective regional championships.

There were also two relay teams that qualified for state, including the Division II Hillsboro 4x200 relay with Conlon, Gallimore, Anthony and Wildey. In Division III, Fairfield’s 4x800m relay team of Trent Swisher, Matthew Mangus, Noah Richmond and Brandtson Duffie all raced at the state event. Also at state was Coleman of McClain, who became a three-time state qualifier in the 100m dash. Conlon also raced in the 110m and 300m hurdles events.

This past fall sports season, the Lady Mustangs soccer team and the Lions cross-country team both competed at the state level.

The Lady Mustangs reached the Division III State Final Four by winning their first regional championship in girls soccer history, plus their fourth straight district championship and their sixth straight SHAC title. They finished 7-0 in the SHAC, plus improved to 43-0-1 in SHAC matches since the 2010 season. In the regional final game, they defeated Bishop Rosecrans, 1-0 and finished the season at 19-2-1 overall.

There were five players named to coaches All-Ohio soccer for the boys and girls teams, including: Polley (MHS), Hannah Binkley, Peyton Scott, Kyle Luneke and Austin Hilt (LCHS).

The Fairfield boys cross-country team had their best year in school history. They not only won the SHAC, district and regional championships, but they placed fourth overall at the Division III State Tournament. Racing in the event for the Lions were Mangus, Evans, Swisher, Richmond, Austin Setty, Duffie and Hodson. Richmond placed in the Top 16 in the Division III race, finishing 11th overall with a time of 16:09.5.

There was also the Fairfield girls cross-country team winning the SHAC, plus being the district runners-up.

This past fall, Hillsboro’s Jamieson, a sophomore, also qualified for the Division I State Golf Tournament by earning the third-lowest score in the Division I Central District Tournament with a score of 75 in an 18-hole event. At the state tournament, Jamieson placed 34th overall with a score of 84.

Jamieson was also a member of the SCOL champion Lady Indians golf team, who went 14-1 in the league and 18-1 in the regular season.

At McClain, on the links, Trevor Newkirk qualified for the district round, as did Hillsboro boys golfer Cameron Reed and Lynchburg-Clay’s Eric McLaughlin. The Lady Tigers had Veronica Olaker become a district qualifier.

This fall at LC also included the boys soccer team finishing as SHAC champions for the fourth consecutive year with a 7-0 conference record. They ended the season as district runners-up with an overall mark of 14-3-1.

Back on the soccer field for McClain, Polley entered the state record books with a 10-goal game against Washington. Polley also scored her 100th goal of her career during the fall.

On the football field, the Hillsboro Indians won a classic Rotary Bowl by defeating McClain, 43-40, as the game included a fourth-quarter comeback by the Indians as they began the final quarter trailing by 12 points.

Speaking of football, Hillsboro’s Gary Vincent and Austin Miller were selected as AP All-Ohio.

For volleyball, the LC Lady Mustangs finished as SHAC champions in Division I for a second straight season, this year with an SHAC record of 12-1 and overall record 17-6. They also had four individual milestones, including: Tyler Griffith (500th career kill), Makayla Creed (1,000th career assist), Brittany Ernst (750th career dig) and Shelby Marshall (500th career kill).

Currently, in the 2016-17 winter sports season, standout performances includes LC girls basketball scoring 95 points vs. West Union and having multiple 30-point scoring quarters this season.