At the end of each athletic season, the NewsTribune hands out all sorts of awards —player of the year, coach of the year and all-area — but in some sports, we don’t have an award for coaches.
So today, I’m going to acknowledge some coaches who have done an excellent job in the fall season.
Beatty has taken a girls program that just four years ago had only one runner and turned it into a very competitive team.
This season, the Lady Cavaliers had strong finishes at several big meetings, including team titles at the Morris Earl Bird Invitational and the La Salle County Meet, along with an area-best second-place finish at the Princeton Invitational.
To cap off the season, L-P sent a pair of runners to the state meet and had its first all-state runner in junior Lesly Rocha.
Jason Bird, Princeton boys soccer
Bird was involved in Princeton boys soccer for a long time. He served as an assistant coach for eight years then served seven as the head coach before announcing his resignation after the season.
He went out on top as he guided the Tigers to an 18-4-1 record and led PHS to a sectional final for the first time.
Eric Ciucci, Putnam County girls golf
Four years ago, Ciucci agreed to coach four girls who wanted to form a girls golf team at PC. That first year, Ciucci and the foursome spent the fall practicing.
Since then, Ciucci has molded the Lady Panthers into one of the top programs in the area.
Ciucci has helped build the program’s numbers - so much, in fact, that the Lady Panthers had more golfers than any other area squad this fall, despite PC being the third-smallest school.
He’s also helped PC get progressively better. After advancing as a team to the sectional last season, the Lady Panthers claimed a regional championship this fall and nearly had their first state qualifier as Stephanie Wilson fell only one stroke shy.
Steve Johnson, Ottawa girls tennis
Johnson’s squad did not have the top sectional seed in either the singles or doubles bracket this season, but that did not stop Johnson from helping the Lady Pirates to another sectional title.
The Lady Pirates won their seventh sectional championship under Johnson since 2006 and had its doubles team of Bailey Bradish and Mariah Cavanaugh win three matches at state.
Clark Owsley, Henry-Midland cross country
With his girls team, Owsley doesn’t have that one elite runner to rely on, but he has trained the pack well enough to lead the Lady Timberducks to a second consecutive state appearance.
He also started to turn the H-M boys program around. The Timberducks were state regulars earlier this decade with appearances in 2005, 2006 and 2007, but have since experienced a drought.
This season - behind star runner Alex Pettis - Owsley coached H-M back to the sectional as a team for the first time since 2008.
Kevin Chlum is the NewsTribune Sports Editor. He can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.