Thank you to our Golden Ticket sponsor, Hummel Group Insurance & Wealth Management, for their devotion and support of our area youth.
It’s time for OhioSportsTicket.com to present the highly coveted Golden Ticket of the Year Awards. This was another epic school year for high school sports in our coverage area with plenty of special moments. There were many great efforts by all, and it was a pleasure to promote the dedication, drive and talents of our local teens. The tradition continues here as we hand out our season accolades to the deserving individuals and teams who provided so much entertainment to their respective communities throughout the school year. So without further ado, here are your 2017 Golden Ticket of the Year honorees.
2017 Boys Player of the Year
Ty Hamsher of Garaway
Hamsher not only played football and basketball for the Pirates, he dominated in both sports.
In football Hamsher patrolled the defensive backfield for the Pirates, where he was an absolute ball hawk. Hamsher has a large frame for a defensive back and could out-physical wide receivers. On offense he proved to be one of RJ Jacobs’s favorite targets. He hauled in 47 receptions on 61 targets, averaging 103 yards receiving per game while snaring nine touchdowns. Hamsher also ran the ball six times for a whopping 23.2 yards per carry, adding another score, while he also assumed the punting duties, where he also was a weapon.
On the hardcourt, all Hamsher did was earn Inter-Valley Conference Player of the Year honors. He then went on to earn All-Ohio Third Team honors. Hamsher averaged 19.0 points per game, but his gifts on the floor were far beyond a scoring machine. He also was Garaway’s most proficient ball handler, a ferocious rebounder and oftentimes earned the honor of guarding an opposing team’s big gun.
2017 Girls Player of the Year
Angela Troyer of Hiland
What more needs to be said about Troyer other than that she was the OHSAA Div. IV Player of the Year in basketball. Well, one could tack on the fact that she scored 18 and 20 points in the Lady Hawks’ two state tournament games and was named the Div. IV Tournament MVP at state, helping Hiland earn the school’s fifth state championship. Or perhaps we could state that she added her name to the list of 1,000-point scorers for Hiland. IVC POY and Eastern District POY honors are a given.
However, stats and awards really don’t do justice for the smooth-shooting southpaw. Troyer went from being an outside threat to becoming a complete scorer who could drive to the hoop, bust a three and get to the free throw line. She hit almost 90 percent of her free throws her senior year. She also was a tremendous rebounder for a guard and added tons of steals and assists to her game, making her a tough player to defend. She joined Hiland Lady Hawks alumni Erin Hostetler, Hilary Weaver, Lindsay Stuckey and Launa Hochstetler as Ohio Div. IV Player of the Year.
2017 Game of the Year
Kennedy Schlabach for threeeee … It’s good! Hiland wins! Hiland wins!
That shot will forever be emblazoned in Hiland Hawks fans minds as Schlabach’s cold-as-ice 3-pointer from the corner in The Schottenstein Center in Columbus propelled the Lady Hawks to a stunning state semifinal win that almost made the finals an afterthought.
Facing elimination in what has been an absolute dream season, the Lady Hawks decided to fight for their lives rather than wilt away.
In the Div. IV state semifinal game on Thursday, March 16, the Lady Hawks dug deep, rallied from a 10-point deficit against an Ottoville team that was perhaps the toughest competition they had faced all season, and set the table for a most improbable victory when Kennedy Schlabach lit up the scoreboard from downtown with a buzzer-beating three-ball that sent Hiland into the finals to face Waterford with a 44-41 victory that had the Schott abuzz with excitement.
After trailing by 10 late in the third quarter, Morgan McMillen and Angela Troyer gave Hiland a huge boost of adrenaline, and Troyer’s jumper with 35 seconds left gave Hiland a two-point lead.
Down two, Ottoville knocked down two free throws, and with 7.8 seconds to play, the magic began.
Hiland inbounded to Tiffany Weaver, who quickly tossed it back to McMillen. McMillen drove up the center of the court and looked poise to heave a 25-footer as time wound down. Instead, she knew exactly where Schlabach would be waiting.
“I looked up, I had five seconds left and my immediate thought was ‘find my shooter,’” McMillen said. “I found her in the corner.”
As senior post Melissa Hostetler set a picture-perfect screen to free up Schlabach in the corner, McMillen whipped Schlabach the ball. Schlabach was unaware as to exactly how much time there was. She only knew she had to get off the shot in a hurry.
“I knew there wasn’t a lot of time left,” Schlabach said. “I honestly thought Morgan was going to shoot the ball. Once it got to me, I just let it fly. I had no other choice. It was unbelievable. Every kid dreams of hitting that shot.”
A dream shot gave the Lady Hawks a new lease on life, and with it they roared past Waterford 61-41 in the finals to claim the program’s fifth state championship.
2017 Coach of the Year
Dave Schlabach of Hiland
Sometimes when you have all of the talent in the world, you don’t receive the accolades you deserve, even when you win a state title.
Yes, Hiland head girls basketball coach Dave Schlabach had some pretty big guns to employ on both ends of the court. But coming off a campaign in which to a person every single member of the girls team felt it should have won a state title a year prior, there was loads of expectations. With all of that talent back, the pressure was squarely on the Lady Hawks. It was a win-or-bust season for Hiland.
While the players had to perform, the head coach must deal with the pressure of helping his team deal with that kind of pressure. Schlabach made sure they were able to do that, scheduling some seriously tough competition to prepare them for the rigors of what he knew would be a tough regional and final slate of games.
He also had the foresight to bring in Ryan Taggart, a sports team guru who helps teams learn how to deal with the mental aspect of the game.
However, the one thing that makes Schlabach stand out more than any other is his willingness to work. He asks a great deal out of his players. He expects even more from his coaches. But he demands more out of himself than he does from anyone else, and that alone is the key. If he asked his players to give everything they had without doing so himself, the plan would fail.
The Lady Hawks saw the commitment in their head coach, and that one factor may have been the biggest part of what turned into a state championship season for Hiland.
2017 Play of the Year
Joel Honigford will be attending the University of Michigan this fall as a member of the Wolverine football team. The highly recruited big man was on just about every single Big 10 school’s list of recruits. The enormous lineman will be asked to protect Wolverines quarterbacks for the next several seasons.
However, it wasn’t Honigford’s football skills that landed him on this list, but rather his basketball acumen.
Honigford had a tremendous year in the paint for Garaway, serving as its inside presence on offense and a monster shot-blocker on defense. But on a cold night on Feb. 17 on The Hill in Sugarcreek, Honigford heated up the gymnasium at Garaway High School by about 1,000 degrees when he hit a 15-footer as time expired to give Garaway a wild 48-47 win.
In a packed house, Garaway had scraped and clawed its way back into the action despite Hiland dominating play at times and playing in a manner that would normally win many ball games.
Yet the Pirates stood under their own bucket with seconds left to play and had a shot at victory.
The Pirates didn’t blink.
With Ty Hamsher inbounding the ball under their own bucket with 6.1 seconds to play, the goal was to inbound the pass and get it right back to Hamsher, their star, on the right block.
However, the best laid plans of mice and men …
Hamsher inbounded to Ben Mason, who quickly fired a bounce pass right back to Hamsher. Hamsher dribbled right along the baseline, but Turner Horn made a great defensive play, stepping in and forcing Hamsher to improvise. The Garaway guard lost possession, the ball careening toward the baseline. Hamsher frantically reached out, grabbed it with his right hand and diving out of bounds found the only guy he could see: Honigford, standing 15 feet from the bucket.
Known more for making two-footers, Honigford knew he didn’t have time to think. All he could do was get off the shot. Chris Kline charged at Honigford, and the Hiland guard said he even tipped the high-arching shot.
After the ball hung in the air and the game hung in the balance for seemingly what was a lifetime, Honigford’s jumper nestled into the net, setting off a jubilant Pirates celebration that looked as though a dam had burst and spewed forth a torrent of Pirates fans.
“I’m a pick-and-pop kind of guy,” Honigford said jokingly after the madness had finally subsided. “I really didn’t have any time to think. In that situation you don’t have time to process anything in your mind. It’s just get off the shot because time is running out.”
After making the shot, Honigford looked like the only guy wearing Baby Blue and Red who looked calm. As everyone else went nuts, he looked like a guy out for an evening stroll.
It all happened so fast that he said he didn’t have time to think about the ramifications of what he had just done.
“I shot it, I saw it swish and I didn’t even react. I just stood straight up,” Honigford said. “Then after a second it hit me, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I just hit the game-winner.’”
He may be on a scholarship to play football for the Maize and Blue, but Honigford will live on as a basketball legend in the minds of Pirates fans.
2017 Boys Athlete of the Year
Derek Miller of Hiland
Not to be confused with the Player of the Year, this award goes to the student-athletes who showed they can perform on differing fields and courts of play while giving a very high level of effort.
The boys honor goes to Hiland’s Derek Miller, a multi-talented athlete who not only has been gifted with great athletic abilities, but also has an ingrained attitude that drives him to push himself hard.
He did so on the soccer field this past year, where his aggressiveness and quickness led Hiland to a sparkling 15-3-2 record and a district runner-up finish. Miller proved to be a relentless attacker on offense, presenting major match-up issues for opposing teams who oftentimes would double-team him to try to stop him. His prowess on the field led to him earning First Team All-Ohio honors.
In baseball Miller patrolled center field with great aplomb for the Div. III state runner-up Hawks, who finished the year with a school-record 31 wins against just one loss. Miller’s explosive athletic ability allowed him to chase down anything and everything in the outfield, and he also served as the closer for the Hawks, a chore that requires nerves of steel. He came in to the mound to finish a number of high-leverage games for the Hawks.
2017 Girls Athlete of the Year
Kacie Leppla of West Holmes
True three-sport stars are not easy to come by these days. With more and more athletes opting to focus on one sport, the days of the three-sport star are in decline. That is why Kacie Leppla is so impressive.
Not only did Leppla play volleyball, basketball and track, she excelled in all three sports.
In volleyball Leppla waited patiently in the wings behind All-Ohio setter Cara Park. As a junior Leppla earned plenty of playing time, but as a senior this past season she stepped into the role of leader and setter and claimed her own role as the go-to player for the Lady Knights. She was the one who distributed the volleyball where it needed to go, and her defense played a huge role in the ongoing success of the Lady Knights program.
On the hardwood Leppla did what she always has done. While not intimidatingly big inside, Leppla again showed she can bang with the best of them in the paint, where she hauled down rebound after rebound, her ability to snag offensive rebounds giving the Lady Knights plenty of second-chance opportunities. She seemed to post double-doubles every night, and her intensity and drive to lay defense against much bigger foes was a huge part of West Holmes winning yet another Ohio Cardinal Conference title.
In track and field Leppla used her strength to carve herself a successful niche as both a shot putter and a discus thrower. She consistently put herself in the top three at dual meets and almost always earned her team points when the Knights went to bigger meets. She fell just shy of earning a regional berth in both events. On top of all of her success on the field, she was truly a four-sport star if you count academics as the most important sport, where she excelled in the classroom too.
2017 Boys Rookie of the Year
Cael Woods of West Holmes
Woods might be tiny, but his heart is huge, and his impeccable technique on the mats is far beyond his freshman status. The West Holmes wrestling sensation took to the varsity level quickly, and despite giving up a lot of pounds and wing span to just about every wrestler he faced this season, he proved his worth in plenty of ways.
Wrestling at 113 pounds, Woods carved up the competition in the OCC and then went on a tear in the tournament to battle his way to a state berth. Coming into the big show at 41-7, Woods won his first two matches and thus secured a spot on the podium. He ended up placing eighth, becoming the first West Holmes freshman to ever be named All-Ohio.
2017 Girls Rookie of the Year
Maddie Woods of West Holmes
Woods stepped up a notch in basketball, where she ended up playing a little varsity action as a freshman for Lisa Ogi’s crew, but it wasn’t until the spring that she got to flaunt her incredible athleticism for all to appreciate.
Woods started at second base from day one for coach Jaime Chenevey and made quite an immediate impact. Her first varsity game she went 2-for-3, scored twice and drove in a pair. Her second game saw her go 4-for-5, driving in two more with a double and triple. It only continued from there. Woods would go on to lead the district runner-up Lady Knights in plate appearances, hits, runs, RBIs, doubles, triples and home runs, all of this while striking out only three times on the season.
2017 Girls Lifetime Achievement Award
Michelle Hostettler of West Holmes
Most student-athletes come into their high school careers hoping to have an impact and to help their team win. Along the line, the really good ones collect a few awards and honors.
Then there are the athletes who somehow extend beyond the simple pleasure of winning and hauling in hardware for themselves and their school.
Those are the athletes who work diligently, reach farther and strive for greatness to the point that they become the player whom other youngsters hope to some day become.
Michelle Hostettler is one such student-athlete. The West Holmes graduate parlayed all of her skill, desire, work ethic and will and poured it into making herself someone whom youngsters should want to be like. Quiet and unassuming, Hostettler became an All-Ohioan as a sophomore in track. That same year she suffered a devastating turn of events at cross country regionals, where she led the race and seemed well on her way to a regional title and a berth at state, only to collapse from exhaustion less than 800 meters from the wire.
Like all greats, rather than let that define her, she only used it to drive herself to greater heights. She picked herself up, worked that much harder and came back to qualify for state the next two years and earn All-Ohio in cross country.
While many youth earn awards and honors, it is rare to see a student-athlete earn the respect of everyone around her and to become that kid who youngsters want to be.
2017 Boys Lifetime Achievement Award
R.J. Jacobs of Garaway
There were times throughout his career when Garaway quarterback R.J. Jacobs looked almost poetic in the way he took a snap, cruised back into the pocket, purveyed the field and located a target zipping across the field. So many times those pin-point passes turned into touchdowns as the 2017 Pirates graduate ended his four-year career as a starter at the helm of the Pirates program and its most heralded quarterback of all time.
Not only did Jacobs rewrite the Garaway record book, his achievements extended all the way into the OHSAA state records, where he settled in as the third most prolific passer in Ohio high school history in terms of passing yardage.
Jacobs, a First Team All-Ohioan, also took huge strides late in his career in exhibiting leadership skills that only made him that much more valuable to Jason Wallick’s program.
As a freshman Jacobs took over the controls of Garaway’s spread offense and led a young team to a 6-4 mark. The next year saw Garaway earn a state playoff berth and led to an impressive 11-1 record and an IVC crown. A 6-4 mark his junior year was followed by his finest season. In his senior year he helped the Pirates match the 11-1 record from his sophomore campaign.
His single-game, season and career numbers across the board may stand at Garaway for a long, long time.