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Area teams, athletes and coaches featured in this year’s News-Gazette Preps Year in Review:

Teams of the Year

— Paxton-Buckley-Loda volleyball. One of several very good area programs this spring (Champaign Central, Mahomet-Seymour, St. Joseph-Ogden, St. Thomas More), Panthers dropped just six sets on their way to 16 victories and a 12-0 Sangamon Valley Conference record.

Future blue-chippers

— Ryder James, Paxton-Buckley-Loda. Most recent All-Area boys’ track and field Runner of the Year, as a junior, keeps dropping time in the grass and on the track while forging valuable connections along the way.

— Aidan Laughery, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley. Junior recently gave his verbal commitment to Illinois football on live television and could win a track and field state title or two as a senior.


— Joey Hoopingarner, 18, died May 16, 2021. The Paxton-Buckley-Loda senior died suddenly of COVID-19 and was remembered as a “funny, outgoing and great kid” by those closest to him.

Coaches of the Year

— Lindsay Stalowy, Paxton-Buckley-Loda. In a cutthroat local volleyball scene, Stalowy propelled the Panthers to 16 victories — including one over Champaign Central — and a Sangamon Valley Conference crown.

State Champions

— Isaiah Chatman, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley boys’ track and field (Class 1A 300-meter hurdles).

Top student-athletes

— Ethan Garard, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley. A four-year participant in golf, basketball and baseball, Garard was part of the National Honor Society while receiving co-team MVP recognition in golf.

Top comebacks

— Isaiah Chatman, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley. Football player and track and field athlete experienced the deaths of his grandfather and step-father in addition to battling COVID-19 but wound up winning the Class 1A boys’ 300-meter hurdles race.

Super sophomores

— Katie Steidinger, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley. She’s Falcons girls’ tennis’ No. 1 singles player and half of its No. 1 doubles tandem while also being involved in dance, choir, Future Business Leaders of America, student council and school musicals on top of working a job.

Fantastic freshmen

— Natalie DeSchepper, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley. Qualified for the Class 1A girls’ track and field state meet in the 400-meter dash and 800 relay, ranking 20th in the former race.

Assistant coaches of the year

— Ali Sizemore, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley. Stepped up to aid the Falcons’ track and field hurdles group, including eventual Class 1A boys’ 300-meter hurdles state champion Isaiah Chatman.

Deserved more pub

— Kaylenn Hunt, Tri-County. The future Bradley volleyball athlete may’ve gained a few more headlines if she’d have followed up her three-medal performance at the 2019 Class 1A girls’ track and field state meet.

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