Boys’ Cross Country
Last fall, Will and Andrew O’Keefe were a dynamic duo for the Granite City boys’ cross country team.
The O’Keefe brothers combined for six victories and earned first-team all-Southwestern Conference honors. Will won titles in the Southwestern Conference, Madison County and Class 3A regional championships; Andrew qualified for the state cross country meet in Peoria.
This fall, the O’Keefes are looking to turn in another outstanding year.
“They’re both phenomenal and talented,” Granite City coach Richie Skirball said. “They work very hard. They’re excellent kids and excellent students in the classroom and in the sport. So that translates into amazing things.”
The O’Keefe brothers will compete as teammates for the last time this fall. Will is a senior and is back for his fourth and final year with the squad. Andrew, a sophomore, returns for his second season with the Warriors.
With Andrew qualifying for state in 2015, the Warriors have at least one state qualifier for four consecutive years. Will competed at state in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“It’s been a great run for the cross country team,” Skirball said. “We just keep trying to reload and have that cult of kids that want to do the right thing. It’s fun to be part of it. It makes my job and our job as a coaching staff really easy and really fun and really enjoyable to come to practice.”
Seniors Leo Nikonowicz and Kariem Ali are the other top returners for the Granite City boys, which finished third in the Southwestern Conference meet and qualified for sectionals last fall.
Juniors Alyssa Comer, Alex McLaren and Tara Khousana are the top returning runners for the girls’ team. Last year, Comer, McLaren and Khousana qualified for sectionals.
The Warriors begin their season on Sept. 3 at the Granite City Invitational at Wilson Park. A year ago, Granite City finished ninth in the boys’ race and 20th in the girls’ race.
Granite City will host the Madison County championship meet on Oct. 4 at Wilson Park.
Skirball is back for his fifth season as Granite City head coach.
Last fall, the Warriors accomplished history.
Granite City finished with its first winning season in program history. The Warriors went 10-3 after starting off 7-0.
With Megan Keel, Phoenyx Derner and Ashley Richey returning, the Warriors are setting their sights on finishing with their second straight winning season.
“I expect big seasons out of them,” Granite City coach Karen Greenwald said. “I think they’ll be much improved.”
Keel, a junior, was the Warriors’ lone sectional qualifier and earned first-team all-Southwestern Conference honors in 2015. Derner and Richey will lead a senior class that includes first-time players such as Emma Sturdivant and Niya Wilson.
Granite City has 12 golfers on its team. When girls’ golf began at GCHS in 2000, the Warriors had just one golfer.
The Warriors were scheduled to compete in triangular matches against Roxana and Litchfield on Monday at Belk Park Golf Course and Waterloo and Mascoutah on Tuesday at the Legacy. They will play a dual match against Civic Memorial at Belk Park on Thursday.
“I’m excited for the season,” said Greenwald, who has been the Warriors’ coach since 2007. “I think we’re going to be competitive.”
With a large group of seniors, the Warriors hope to improve upon their record of 7-21-2 from last year.
Granite City has nine seniors; four of them saw time on varsity last year. Seniors Megan Burge, Ciara Yon, Madeline Sheridan and Skylar Dipple are the returning varsity players.
Yon, a libero, was the Warriors’ lone representative on the Granite City Fall Classic all-tournament team.
Neeley Wiehardt, Bailey Barrington, Mona Zubi, Hannah Barrett and Kasey Stewart round out the senior class.
“Each represents something that deserves to be a part of our program,” said Ginger Harrison, who returns for her fourth season as head coach. “I have spoken to each of them and they are all aware of the role they will hold with the team. They were accepting of this and promised to keep working and being a positive team member. What more can I ask for?”
Juniors Donyai Garrett and Morgan Tanksley also return for the Warriors, who will start their season on Sept. 1 against Highland at Memorial Gymnasium.
Granite City will have its Fall Classic on Sept. 17. Defending champion Highland, Civic Memorial, Red Bud and Piasa Southwestern are the other teams in the tournament.
With Lucas Rainwater, Sam Ortiz and Nathan Tanthavong leading the way, the Warriors will look to celebrate their first winning season since 2008.
Rainwater, Ortiz and Tanthavong are Granite City’s top returning scorers. Last year, Rainwater had a team-high seven assists and earned all-conference honors, Ortiz finished with four goals and Tanthavong had three goals and two assists.
Kenny Jackson, back for his third season as Granite City head coach, has high hopes for Rainwater, a midfielder.
“He’s going to be the engine who is going to run us in the middle of the field,” Jackson said.
Granite City finished 3-15-3 in 2015; two of the wins came in the CYC Tournament. The Warriors were 0-7-3 in their first 10 games before picking up their first win.
This year, the Warriors are not playing in the CYC Tournament and have added a pair of non-conference matches against Althoff (Sept. 21) and Gibault (Sept. 22).
The contest against Althoff will be at GCS Park in Sauget. Skip Birdsong, who headed the Granite City boys’ soccer program from 2007-2009, takes over head coaching duties at Althoff this year.
The Warriors were scheduled to start their season on Tuesday with a road match against Columbia. They will play their home opener at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against Edwardsville at Gene Baker Field.
The Warriors turned in a strong season last fall, going 10-5 in dual matches, qualifying three golfers to sectionals and having one of their players hit a hole in one.
With five returning golfers, Granite City is shooting for another strong season in 2016.
Seniors Riley Brown and Andrew McMichael, juniors Drew Wielgus and Grant Beanland and sophomore Sam Stegemeier are part of a team that has 11 new golfers.
“We got a lot of young golfers and first-year golfers who are going to give us a chance to compete probably this year and another few years to come,” said Jeff Ridenour, who is in his seventh season as Granite City coach.
Last year, Brown was one of the Warriors’ three sectional qualifiers and Beanland became the first Granite City golfer since 2010 to shoot a hole-in-one after he hit the ace in the 12th hole in the Centralia Orphan Invitational.
Granite City began its season on Aug. 16 with a 20th-place finish at the Alton Tee-Off Classic. The Warriors placed fifth in the large-school division of the Madison County tournament two days later at Wood River.
The Warriors were scheduled to have a quadrangular match against Highland, Civic Memorial and Triad on Aug. 23 at the Legacy.
The Warriors got off to a blazing start in 2015, winning their first two games against Jerseyville and Riverview Gardens.
Then, Granite City hit a slump, losing its next seven games to finish 2-7. All of the Warriors’ losses were in conference play.
Seniors Kyle Thompson and Tamojia Johnson will look to help the Warriors avoid their fifth straight losing season this fall. Last year, Thompson earned all-conference honors on both sides of the ball after catching for 334 yards with two touchdowns and a team-high 60 tackles. Johnson received all-league notice at offensive line after helping the Warriors record more than 2,100 yards on offense.
Other seniors include quarterback Kendrick Williba, Brandon Bettag, Steve Jenkins, Ryan Earney, Torrey Deal, Jacob Spears, Trevor Corey, Chase Gansner and Jon Bloomquist.
The Warriors start their season with three straight road games, including their season opener against Jerseyville on Aug. 26. Granite City has six road games and just three home games.
Granite City replaced Riverview Gardens for Carbondale this year. The Warriors play at Carbondale on Sept. 2.
Carl Luehmann, who is back for his seventh season as Granite City coach, said his team needs to improve on its defense to have a successful season. Last year, the Warriors allowed an average of 42 points per game.
“We’ve got quite a bit of work to do still, but we’ve got to get better in defense in tackling people and covering people,” Luehmann said. “That’s the name of the game.”
The Warriors return two players from last year’s starting lineup — juniors Kourtney Singleton and Maya Ware.
A year ago, Singleton earned third-team all-conference honors in singles and turned in Granite City’s best finish in the SWC tournament, placing sixth in No. 2 singles and No. 3 doubles. Ware played No. 6 singles.
“It will be interesting to see how Kourtney steps up. Kourtney played a lot of tennis during the off-season,” said Granite City coach Linda Ames, whose team finished with four wins last year. “I kind of see Maya filling that No. 2 role right now. That would be a big step up for her.”
Seniors Ashley Peck and Haylee Winn, junior Sara Schnefke, sophomore Olivia Brinker and freshman Emma Van Buskirk also will be playing varsity for the Warriors, who start their season on Aug. 30 with a home match against Triad.
Ames is in her second stint at GCHS coach. She has been coaching the Warriors since 2013. Ames was head coach from 1994-2004.
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