Looking back over the 2015 calendar, I quickly realized it was quite a year for sports in the Greater Alton area.
From Bryan Hudson being selected in the MLB Amateur Draft, to LaJarvia Brown winning a second state title, to the passing of an icon in Roxana grad Harry “The Horse” Gallatin, there is plenty to remember from ‘15.
Let’s rewind back to the beginning of the year. As we close the book on 2015, we’ve watched Blake Marks join the 1,000-point fraternity at East Alton-Wood River High, but he’s the second Oiler to join the elite club from ‘15. Mike Stimac, who graduated from EA-WR in June, was initiated into the elite club on Jan. 31. Marks made it on Dec. 16. There are now 14 members of the 1,000-point club for the Oilers with the two newest and welcomed additions.
Talking about 1,000-point clubs, Civic Memorial’s Allie Troeckler crossed that threshold on Feb. 9. She became the seventh member of the girls’ club for the Eagles. Just now in her junior campaign, Troeckler has a shot at Katie Broadway’s all-time record (2,079).
Staying in February, the state wrestling tournament was a big one for the Greater Alton area. Alton, CM, EA-WR and Roxana all enjoyed individual state qualifiers. Alton’s Phyllip and Nicholas DeLoach, CM’s Drake Boverie and Brayton Williams, along with Roxana’s Dalton Brito and James Henesler, all finished with medals.
The sport of bowling had some successes in January. Lucas Pejakovich of Alton finished seventh individually at the boys’ bowling state tournament, while the CM boys’ squad qualified as a team for the first time in school history.
March brought plenty of basketball success stories. The Roxana Shells and CM Eagles each won boys’ basketball regionals. Roxana had just secured a regional crown in ‘12-13, but the Eagles hadn’t earned one since ‘92-93.
The Alton boys and CM girls went even a little further. Both advanced to sectional finals but came up a little short from grabbing sectional crowns.
May belonged to Alton’s Brown, as she secured her second 3A state title in the triple jump. Her leap of 41 feet, 2 inches, was the third best in state history. Brown had already set the state benchmark earlier in the season.
Her prep success led her on a whirlwind summer that saw her travel to New Mexico; Cali, Colombia; and Virginia for national and international competition with even more success. All of it culminated in her November announcement that she would continue her track career at Texas A&M University after her time at AHS.
Her state showing helped the Redbirds to an eighth-place finish as a team at the 3A state meet. It’s the best finish for an Alton girls’ track and field team in school history. Brown brought home three medals (triple jump, long jump, 300-meter intermediate hurdles), while Jewel Wagner (shot put) and Katie Manns (high jump) also secured medals. All will be back in 2016 for the Birds.
The Marquette Catholic girls’ soccer team made a valiant effort for their first state tournament appearance since 2013, when they finished third. The Explorers lost 2-1 to Rochester in the 1A University of Illinois-Springfield Super-Sectional.
June brought about the biggest story of the year, as Hudson, Alton’s phenom lefty pitcher, was selected by the Chicago Cubs with the 82nd overall pick in the third round of the MLB Amateur Draft. The area was affixed on Hudson’s future, watching intently to see where the 6-foot-8 hurler would land.
Even Cubs President Theo Epstein showed up at Lloyd Hopkins Field inside Gordon Moore Park during Alton’s season to ogle at Hudson’s skills. Talent of that level only comes through a program every once in awhile.
The rest of the summer had some excitement, with former Alton hockey standout Dakota Mermis signing a free agent deal with the Arizona Coyotes organization in July. Mermis is the first AHS grad to ink a deal with an NHL team.
In August the Great Lakes Regional for American Legion baseball took place inside Moore Park. It was the first of a two-year contract to be played in Alton.
The host team earns an automatic bid to the tournament, but to the delight of local fans the Metro-East Bears, composed of players from Alton, CM, Roxana and Edwardsville, made it to the finals. The Bears came a win shy of qualifying for the Legion World Series, not too shabby.
Heading back to school in the fall brought more newsworthy stories. October was a month of highs and lows.
Gallatin, a Roxana grad and local icon, passed away at the age of 88 early in the month. A 1944 Roxana grad, he is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his time as a NBA player. He also went on to coach basketball in the NBA for the St. Louis Hawks and New York Knicks before heading SIU Carbondale men’s hoops and later SIUE.
Gallatin touched many lives at the local and national levels and is still sorely missed by many.
As October continued though the postseason began and brought about fantastic runs by the Marquette boys’ golf squad, Explorer boys’ soccer and three playoff football teams in Marquette, CM and Roxana.
The Explorer linksters advanced to the 2A state tournament where they finished in seventh place. They return the entire team for next season.
CM’s Sara Gwillim had golf postseason success also, becoming the first Eagle to finish in the top 10 at state. Gwillim finished in a three-way tie for 10th place, the first state medal for a CM linkster.
Marquette’s booters had a surprise run to the 2A Columbia Sectional finals. The Explorers secured the Jacksonville Regional title with wins over Jacksonville and Chatham Glenwood and then knocked off the defending 1A state champion Columbia Eagles in the sectional semis in Columbia. Waterloo halted Marquette’s run before going on to win the 2A state championship.
All three gridder squads fell in the opening round of the playoffs, but it was still impressive to see a trio of Greater Alton postseason qualifiers for the first time since 2006. CM running back John Whitworth highlighted the fall by setting the single-season rushing record for the Eagles. Whitworth surpassed the previous benchmark set by phenom Joe Odom in 1998. Odom went on to play in the NFL for a short time with the Chicago Bears.
Lewis and Clark Community College grabbed headlines in November, advancing to the JUCO national tournaments in both men’s and women’s soccer for the first time in school history. It’s a definite highlight on the resumé of the Trailblazers’ illustrious head coach Tim Rooney. Rooney heads both programs and did a great job of intertwining local, regional and international flare to find success.
Finally, December hit with Mike Parmentier’s hiring at CM to replace Justin Winslow as head football coach. Winslow resigned in November after an excellent 7-3 season. Parmentier had been an Eagles assistant coach for the last two seasons and previously coached at Staunton and Girard.
The announcement of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association HOF class for 2016 saw a couple of local hoops icons get honored. Former Alton standout Larry Smith will enter as a player and longtime CM/Roxana head coach Mike Harmon goes in as a coach. Smith’s IBCA nod came on the heels of his addition to the Alton Athletics HOF in November. Congrats to Smith and Harmon; that’s quite a distinction.
There you have it, a review of 2015. Let’s hope 2016 brings about as much to remember as this past unforgettable year.
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