District 205’s top 20 moments/milestones of 2018

Lists are always a popular thing to compile and publish at the end of the year. It’s easy to forget the day-to-day triumphs as the weeks go by.

Every day, Rockford Public Schools athletes are getting up early and dedicating themselves to getting better. You can see it by the progress on the field and in the classroom.

The proof is in this list. Here are the 20 most important accomplishments and milestones of 2018.

Rockford East players celebrate after beating Harlem to win the NIC-10 baseball title.

No. 1 – East breaks 21-year title drought for RPS in baseball

The East E-Rabs rode a strong core of seniors to a 17-1 record in the NIC-10, winning the school’s first NIC-10 baseball title of any kind since 1996 and first outright title since 1993.

It was the first conference baseball title for any District 205 school since Guilford in 1997.

The E-Rabs had to work for it, winning four games over the final four days. East capped it off by beating Harlem, 5-4.

The E-Rabs dominated the NIC-10 all-conference team. Martavion Adams, Brandon Folk, Jordin Lee and Brandon Raum were named to the first team. Scott Gowan, who picked up the win in relief in the title-clincher, led the conference in hitting with a .544 average and was named conference MVP.

The title was even more significant because of how far District 205 baseball had fallen. RPS schools won four NIC-10 baseball titles in the 1960s, two in the 1970s, three in the 1980s and four in the 1990s.

In 2011, the district’s baseball teams won just 14 of 72 conference games. In 2018, East, Auburn, Guilford and Jefferson won more than 40 percent of their conference games.

Terry Ford looks to score against Chicago St. Rita in the 205 Tip-Off Classic.

No. 2 – Jefferson wins NIC-10 basketball title

Under coach Todd Brannan, Jefferson’s boys basketball team developed into a consistent contender. In his first nine seasons, the J-Hawks won three regional titles and topped 20 wins three times.

Brannan’s 2017-2018 J-Hawks were returning their top two scorers and were bolstered by Terry Ford, an all-conference guard, who transferred from Auburn. With Ford joining Quillin Dixon and My’Quion Garrett, the J-Hawks tied for first in the NIC-10 with a 13-3 record.

It was Jefferson’s first conference basketball title since the 2003-2004 season. The J-Hawks added another regional title and set a school-record with 26 wins before falling in the sectional finals.

Jefferson’s run was the capper to an outstanding season for District 205 basketball. Jefferson, Auburn, East and Guilford combined to win 65.6 percent of their conference games. It was the best season for Rockford Public Schools basketball since the 1999-2000 season.

No. 3 – Martinez named USA Boxing boxer of the year

Angel Martinez had a whirlwind 2017, winning three national amateur boxing titles in seven months, including becoming Rockford’s first national Golden Gloves champion in more than 25 years.

Those titles culminated in Martinez being named USA Boxing’s 2017 Youth Male Boxer of the Year in April. Martinez’s boxing schedule was so full this spring that he couldn’t make Auburn’s graduation ceremony.

Auburn faculty and staff decided to surprise Martinez with his own graduation ceremony when he got back from competition in late May. About 100 people showed up to watch Martinez accept his diploma and watch District 205 Athletic Director Mat Parker give him the district’s 2018 Male Student Athlete of the Year Award. He also received a certificate from the school’s National Honor Society – Martinez finished with a 3.9 grade point average – an honor from the Creative And Performing Arts Academy and a yearbook.

Martinez’s immediate goals are to make the U.S. Olympic boxing team in 2020 and then turn professional. He’s the 9th ranked amateur boxer at 114 pounds.

No. 4 – Guilford ends 20-year title drought in girls soccer

The Guilford Vikings rebounded from an early 1-0 loss to Freeport to go 8-1 in girls soccer and win a share of the NIC-10 title.

It was the first NIC-10 girls soccer title for District 205 since 1998.

“The girls who (were) in my senior class this year were my first group of freshmen when I began coaching, and this season has truly been all of our hard work, goal setting, and lessons from the last four years coming to fruition,” Guilford coach Katie Barnett said. “It’s been a long time coming and we only hope to elevate the future of the program from here.”

The Vikings appear ready for an extended run at the top of the conference. The team’s top two scorers – Courtney Hinrichs and Olivia Zedeker – are juniors.

Guilford has won shares of four NIC-10 titles since the sport was added to the conference in 1987. The other titles came in 1988, 1997 and 1998.

No. 5 – Auburn sophomore wins state chess title

Auburn sophomore Vincent Do made District 205 history in February by becoming the first to win the IHSA chess state title.

Do was one of three players to go 7-0 on the top board in the two-day tournament, but Do defeated higher-caliber players, earning him the title out of 128 players on Board 1.

The IHSA has been holding a chess championship since 1975 and Do’s individual title was the first ever by a NIC-10 player. Before this year, the highest individual finishes ever by Rockford Public Schools students were turned in by Auburn’s Doug Lundquist, who finished second in 1988, and a third-place finish by Zack Beach in 2004.

It’s only the beginning for Do and the Auburn program. Vincent was a perfect 17-0 in matches last season and is the 86th ranked 16-and-under chess player in the United States, according to chess-db.com. Auburn reestablished its program for the first time in 10 years.

It was a remarkable showing overall for District 205’s top players. Guilford freshman Jeremiah Davis went 5-1-1 and finished 13th on Board 1, and Jefferson senior Daniel Ojeda also went 5-1-1 and was 15th.

No. 6 – Brother/sister combo powers Auburn in tennis

In May, the Auburn boys tennis team won the first NIC-10 title in school history and in October the Knights’ girls tennis team narrowly missed out on winning the school’s fourth NIC-10 title.

Both teams were powered by Nevenhovens.

Older brother Quinten Nevenhoven, a junior, won his third straight No. 1 singles title to lead the boys team. Quinten went on to qualify for the IHSA state tournament and this fall he signed a letter of intent to play NCAA Division 1 tennis at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Little sister Belin Nevenhoven, a sophomore, breezed through the NIC-10 for her second straight conference title. She then played her way to fourth place in the IHSA Class 2A state tournament. That matched the best finish ever by a District 205 girls tennis player. Tonya Bogdonas finished fourth for Guilford back in 1987 when it was still a one class tournament.

No. 7 – Friske extends East cross country title streak to three

East’s Noah Friske struggled with injuries this past cross country season, he rounded into form in time to run away with the NIC-10 boys cross country title for the second straight season.

Friske beat Belvidere North’s Max Beutel by nearly seven seconds. Powered by Friske’s showing, the E-Rabs took third overall in the conference. The E-Rabs also finished third in 2015, Friske’s freshman year. Friske was named conference MVP.

Friske topped North’s Alec Scott by nearly 15 seconds in 2017. He also finished second in the 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters at the 2018 NIC-10 track meet.

Thanks to Jordan Van Barriger’s win in 2016, East runners have now won the past three NIC-10 cross country titles. Before Van Barriger, the last time an E-Rab had won the NIC-10 cross country title was David Johns in 1989.

In 2019, the best hope to keep the NIC-10 cross country title within District 205 rests on Auburn’s Jonah Garcia. The junior was fourth at this year’s NIC-10 meet.

No. 8 – East star wins Register Star male athlete of the year

DeVontae Sims was a man among boys in three sports in 2018-2019 and was honored by the Rockford Register Star as its Male Athlete of the Year in June.

The award, given out since the early 1970s, is even more significant now because it includes all conferences in the Register Star area, not just the NIC-10.

Sims certainly was deserving. He was the NIC-10 defensive MVP for the 2017 football season, the NIC-10 leader in rebounding and all-conference in basketball and won the NIC-10 title in the shot put.

What’s more remarkable is the focus he showed the year before. Sims was ineligible as a junior after his mom moved from the Auburn district into East’s zone in September of 2016.

“I couldn’t let that stop me,” Sims told the Register Star. “That was just an extra year for me to make myself better. I used it to my advantage.”

Sims now is attending Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa, where he’s playing basketball and averaging 8.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

East High School soccer players from left, Poe Reh, Leonard Ngongo, Francisco Zaragoza and Robert Davila in this photo by Arturo Fernandez of the Rockford Register Star.

No. 9 – East has strongest boys soccer season since the 1980s

Perhaps no team had a stronger turnaround than the East boys soccer program. A year after going 5-14, the E-Rabs went 15-7-1, including a 7-2 mark and second place in the NIC-10.

It was the best conference season for East since 1986.

The strong showing earned Poe Reh, Leonard Ngongo and Roberto Davila spots on the all-NIC-10 soccer team. Coach Greg Fiorucci, who blended together diverse talents from a number of different countries – players on the team had seven different native languages – to form one strong unit, was named coach of the year.

Ngongo and Davila will be back for 2019 so the E-Rabs look to be contenders again.

No. 10 – Guilford has best boys swimming showing since 2007

A couple of seconds here or there in any one of a dozen races would have given Guilford boys swim team its first NIC-10 swimming championship since 2007.

In the end, the Vikings finished second to Hononegah, 256-254, in February. Still, it was the most points scored by a District 205 team at the NIC-10 boys swim meet since 2008.

Junior Treighton Hoang was the key performer. Hoang won the 100-yard breaststroke and finished second in the 200-yard individual medley. He teamed up with Blake Larys, Jacob Stroup and Alex Marshall to win the 200 medley relay and with Kyle Thurston, Stroup and Jackson Gehrke to finish second in the 200 freestyle relay.

No. 11 – East wrestler finishes sixth in IHSA tournament

East senior Dontrell Johnson etched his name on to several pages of the E-Rabs wrestling record book.

Johnson won his third NIC-10 title, this one at 132 pounds. He was the seventh East wrestler to win at least three NIC-10 titles.

Powered by Johnson, the E-Rabs took second in the NIC-10 for the second straight year.

Johnson then went on to finish sixth in the IHSA Class 3A wrestling tournament at 132, becoming the 25th E-Rab to place at state in wrestling and first since Zach Mutton in 2011.

No. 12 – Lake leads E-Rabs to football playoffs

East was the only District 205 school to advance to the IHSA playoffs this fall and the team’s offense relied almost entirely on TayVeon Lake.

TayVeon Lake breaks free for another big run.

Lake became the third E-Rab to lead the NIC-10 in rushing and his 1,635 yards on 203 carries broke the previous school record of 1,461 by Chris Appleton in 2005.

Only Deon Williams of Guilford has rushed for more in a season for District 205. Williams rushed for 1,697 yards in 2005 – ironically beating out Appleton for the rushing title.

Lake is only a junior and can make another run at Williams’ mark. He also can take aim at Guilford great Montell Clanton’s District 205 career rushing record of 2,806 yards set in 2002-2003.

Auburn’s Khamani Sanders also had an impressive season at quarterback. Sanders set a school record with 1,342 yards passing.

No. 13 – Four RPS players pass 1,000 career points

From left, My’Quion Garrett, Quillin Dixon, Terry Ford, Scott Gowan and Chris Burnell pose before the annual Rumble In The Rock at Rock Valley College. Garrett, Dixon, Gowan and Burnell all passed 1,000-career points in the 2017-2018 season. Ford, who played at Auburn and Jefferson, came up just short.

The 1,000-point milestone in high school basketball isn’t as difficult as it used to be. Coaches are much more aggressive in playing freshman and sophomores at the varsity level and good teams routinely play 35 or more games a season.

Still, District 205 had a record of sorts in 2018 when four players passed the mark in the same season. Scott Gowan and Chris Burnell of East and Quillin Dixon and My’Quion Garrett of Jefferson all topped the mark.

Dixon and Garrett were the 13th and 14th to pass the mark in J-Hawk uniforms. Antione Pittman, who played two years at Jefferson, passed the mark with Auburn.

Gowan and Burnell were the 11th and 12th to pass the mark for East. Burnell has continued his run this year, breaking the all-time East scoring record of 1,302 points by Skip Thoren this past weekend at the Collinsville Prairie Farms Holiday Classic.

All the firepower was necessary. Thanks to those four, plus Terry Ford of Jefferson and Yahmir Muhammad of Auburn, RPS had three of its schools top 20 wins (East, Auburn and Jefferson) in the same season for the first time in District 205 history.

No. 14 – Ali Cushing makes Auburn swimming history

In November, sophomore Ali Cushing became the first swimmer in Auburn history to qualify for the IHSA state meet.

Carrie Zarse was a three-time state champion for Auburn, but that was as a diver.

Cushing qualified for the state meet in the 200-yard freestyle a week after becoming the 10th Auburn swimmer or diver to win a NIC-10 individual championship, taking first in the 200-yard medley relay.

Cushing was joined in Evanston by Guilford’s Ella Gasparini. Gasparini qualified in the 200-yard individual medley. Gasparini finished second to Cushing in the 200 IM at the NIC-10 championships, but she shaved more than four seconds off her time to qualify for state.

The Auburn High School Scholastic Bowl team poses with its second place trophy at the IHSA tournament in Peoria. Front row, from left: Kodai Speich, Ethan Strombeck and Lilliana Chavez. Second row: Auburn Athletic Director Brad Pemberton, head coach Elisabeth Zorn, Leif Verace, Morad Suliman and assistant coach Amish Shah.

No. 15 – Auburn takes second in IHSA Scholastic Bowl

When you dominate something as thoroughly as Auburn dominates scholastic bowl, it’s easy to take success for granted.

Coming in to the 2017-2018 season, the Knights had finished in the top four in the IHSA Class AA tournament 16 straight years. Those were all under coach Linda Greene, as passionate an advocate for scholastic bowl as they come.

Greene finally passed the torch and under new coach Elisabeth Zorn the Knights showed they intend to continue to dominate, taking second in state for the sixth time in March. The Knights won the title in 2008 and 2015.

“I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next year,” Zorn told the Rockford Register Star. “These kids awe and amaze me every day. … They have a thirst for knowledge. Reading the textbook or having someone tell them the answer isn’t enough. They research and they question. They’re constantly driven to be better.”

No. 16 – Auburn runner wins National Merit Scholarship

Andrew Baxter was an excellent distance runner for Auburn. He was named special mention all-NIC-10 in cross country after finishing 12th in the conference and advancing to an IHSA sectional.

He was even better in the classroom. In May, he won a National Merit Scholarship, which annually goes to less than 1 percent of high school seniors in the United States.

Baxter now is attending Northwestern University in Evanston where he is studying engineering.

No. 17 – Guilford girls finish ninth IHSA bowling

Guilford’s girls bowling team finished in the top 10 at the IHSA state bowling tournament for the first time since 2010.

The Vikings, who finished ninth at the February tournament, were led by three seniors. Kayle Monestero scored 2,419 over 12 games to finish 19th in the state. Megan Peterson was 37th with 2,356, and Graci Cabello was 44th with 2,315.

It was the eighth time Guilford qualified for the state bowling tournament.

No. 18 – Guilford finishes sixth in IHSA cheerleading

The Guilford Vikings cheer team made District 205 history in February by finishing in sixth place in the co-ed division of the IHSA cheerleading championships.

Guilford was the first District 205 squad to place at state since the IHSA made cheerleading a competitive sport in 2005-2006.

What made the story even more remarkable was that the showing came a year after Guilford couldn’t field a team for the NIC-10 championships because of internal strife over a coaching change.

Kali Kupkowski was named NIC-10 coach of the year for getting her team to turn the page and become a cohesive unit. Miranda Brook, Joel Cordonnier and Tae Phomsopha were named to all-NIC-10 cheer squad and Jayden Downen earned special mention.

No. 19 – Joseph Pineda of Flinn wins IESA wrestling title

Joseph Pineda of Flinn after winning an IESA state wrestling title.

The Rockford School District is working hard to strengthen its middle school programs. If kids are getting excellent coaching at younger ages, it will translate into more success in high school.

Joseph Pineda of Flinn Middle School made District 205 history in March when he won an IESA wrestling title in the 215-pound weight class. It marked the first IESA state wrestling title in RPS history.

Pineda won his first two matches by pin and then showed mental toughness by beating wrestlers from Woodridge and Buffalo Grove by scores of 2-1 and 3-1 to win the title.

Pineda was one of nine wrestlers from Flinn and Lincoln middle schools to advance to the IESA tournament.

No. 20 – East dominates 205 Tip-Off Classic

East’s boys basketball team, which will end 2018 at 14-1, may well end up the top District 205 story of 2019. The E-Rabs served notice that this may be a special season by becoming the first Rockford Public Schools team to win the 205 Tip-Off Classic since the Thanksgiving week tournament’s first year in 2014.

East outscored its four opponents by 84 points, and that included handing Indiana powerhouse Pike High School of Indianapolis just its second loss in four trips to Rockford. Junior guard Sincere Parker set a Tip-Off Classic record with 115 points in four games, including a tournament-record 33 in the final game, and senior guard Chris Burnell became the tournament’s all-time leading scorer.

Posted on 12.30.18