Final Point: Awesome autumnal athletes thrive in team, individual roles
     2012-11-15      By Terry Gaston   
This time last year I passed out a few awards to some of the best teams, athletes and coaches who helped to make their fall-season sports successful not only in the Panhandle, but also at the state level.

We are back to do that again. Let’s start with the best athlete. But really, is it fair to name just one for boys and one for girls?
For example, football, softball and volleyball are true team sports. On the other hand, cross country, golf and tennis are where team results are based on individuals’ performances, and also the individuals compete for personal awards.

In talking about the best boys’ athlete of the fall, is it fair to select Scottsbluff sophomore and Class B state cross country champion Matthew Barraza over Bearcat senior football player Matt T. Klein, just because Barraza won his individual state title?
Comparing a speedy guy like Klein — who has a track gold medal in his own collection, along with those earned as part of the Bearcats’ state championship basketball and track teams from last year — to a long-distance runner is like comparing apples to pineapples.

They both carry the same school name, but the fruit is different. Klein is a formidable talent, and so is Barraza. But Klein cannot succeed in football without 10 teammates on the field with him.

Although the Scottsbluff cross country program is deep with talent and the Bearcats earned second place in the team battle this season after winning it last fall, Barraza competed both individually and as a team member.

I hope I have proven my point here. So for the Best Boys’ Athlete in a team sport, Klein is as much of a runaway choice as Barraza is for the same honor in a primarily individual sport.

Klein’s statistics speak volumes as to why the Bearcats won a third straight District B-6 title and went undefeated in the regular season at 9-0 for the first time since 2001 and the third time in school history.

Klein finished his senior year with 1,405 yards with 18 touchdowns on the ground, completed 6 of 8 passes for 109 yards with two touchdowns and caught six receptions for 52 yards for one TD.

Defensively, he had one fumble recovery, an interception he turned into a 49-yard touchdown return, 45 total tackles (35 solo), with six for lost yardage, and five quarterback sacks.

Sadly, for Bearcat fans and especially the players — as well as for the sake of the entire Panhandle — Scottsbluff saw its season ended abruptly in the first round of the playoffs by a very underrated York team, 28-9.

But we might as well name the best Boys’ Team of the Season while we are talking about Bearcat football. From the reporter’s standpoint, the Bearcats were a joy to watch every time they took to the field.

Whether it was quarterback Eric Moreno running the offense or Klein running it out of the Wildcat formation, or with big guns Jon Maag and Ty Dunkel ready to pounce on opponents from their defensive tackle spots or Klein, Tim Magdaleno, Luke Worden, Taylor Winkler or other Scottsbluff defenders alert in their coverage of offensive attacks, every member of the 2012 Bearcat football team and coaching staff — led by a high-spirited Joe Benson — should be very proud of the season they achieved.

Back to the individual boys’ athlete honor, Barraza sealed this award by winning state. But the award, and the state title, could have easily gone to junior teammate Anthony Parra, who finished second to Barraza in the District B-4 race and third in the state event.

You see where this is headed if you are wondering about the best Boys Team of the Season in an individual-based sport.

Although the Bearcats were disappointed with their second-place finish at state after having won the team title in 2011, nevertheless Scottsbluff carried the mantle well for the valley at state while the Bearcats brought home the second-place hardware and lots of medals, team and individual.

Joining Barraza and Parra in the top 15 of Class B was junior Brendan Taedter in 11th place, while junior Ben Willis-Teff came in 21st. With just two seniors in Tayler James (18th) and Justin Pritchard (23rd), the Bearcats will return a strong core group next fall and will be looking for a return trip to the top step of the podium in the team standings.

Wow, Scottsbluff really dominated the boys’ awards. Maybe the same could be said for another school in the girls’ honors? Let’s see what happened at Gering High School during the fall sports season.

In first sticking with the team element, the best Girls’ Team of the Season was easily Molly Bonuchi’s Gering Bulldog softball team. The Bulldogs went 21-7, earning a No. 1 seed in the District B-6 tournament by completing the program’s first 20-win season since 2002.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, their performance and competition in the district tournament left them two games away from qualifying for the state tournament, again for the first time since 2002.

And the best Girls’ Team Player of the Season? Gering senior pitcher Jennifer Barge hurled her way to a 16-5 record and kept the Bulldogs’ opposition at bay for most of the season. Barge also carried a big bat, as did many other Gering players who contributed to the success of the Bulldogs’ season.

For the individual-based sports, the Gering girls’ golf team owned this category. With senior Kaitlyn Krzyzanowski earning her fourth state individual medal by finishing fourth and having sophomore teammate Sam Rahmig place 15th in her first state appearance, the Bulldogs finished fourth as a team.

Scottsbluff deserves plenty of mention since the Bearcats used a strong second-day effort to pass Gering in the team competition and finish third. Scottsbluff had just one medalist in junior Kim Moore, who placed in a tie for 11th.

We would be remiss if we overlooked some strong cross country outings from the Bulldogs as well. Gering senior Rachel Huffman placed ninth individually, and she and her Bulldog teammates finished seventh in the team battle.

That brings us to the coaches, who all have said at one time or another that their success is based on how the student-athletes perform, not in particular how they coach.

That withstanding, coaches should be honored, and their teams’ achievements have already been well documented above.

Best Boys’ Team Sport: Joe Benson, Scottsbluff. To get teenage kids motivated week after week and come out victorious nine weeks in a row is hardly a small chore. Coach Benson also is very cooperative on a week-to-week basis with ensuring that his players get the recognition in the Citizen that they deserve.

Best Boys’ Individual Sport: It’s easy to pick Scottsbluff coach Jim Barker for this honor for the second year in a row, based solely on his team’s performances. But what I really like about Coach Barker is where I run into him away from school and the practice and competition fields.

In October, we crossed paths at the Wyo-Braska Coin and Stamp Show at the Gering Civic Center. While I was stirring my interest in coins and stamps, Barker was into a delve of foreign currency that he uses as examples to teach his Social Studies students at Bluffs Middle School. Then just Monday night, we met again, this time at Goodwill, where a great-looking nutcracker soldier caught his eye and he even asked me if I thought it would look good in his classroom as these holiday months unfold. You bet it would, I said. Not just a great coach but a great teacher. Thank you, Jim Barker.

Best Girls’ Team Sport: Molly Bonuchi, Gering softball. This is a woman who not only coached the Bulldogs to a .750 winning percentage but on a daily basis carries out duties as the residence life and activities coordinator at Western Nebraska Community College, plus assists the Cougars’ softball team through its fall scrimmage season. Just listing all that wears me out, and she lives it.

Best Girls’ Individual Sport: Annie Boggs, Gering girls’ golf. More on her in a moment, but a strong honorable mention goes to Caleigh Barker, the Gering girls’ cross country coach. Just in case you didn’t know and were wondering, she is a chip off the ol’ block named Jim Barker. What a great pedigree and what success she has brought to Gering, qualifying her girls for state two straight years now.

Media’s Best Friend Award: This honor goes to two people, a coach and a community contributor, who help make the Citizen’s sports coverage the best it can be.

First of all is the coach who spent all season — well, the past two seasons — trying to deny that she had much to do with her team’s success and growth.

Gering’s Annie Boggs admits she was given a special treat for her first season when Kaitlyn Krzyzanowski decided to transfer to GHS from Scottsbluff after she had earned two state medals for the Bearcats. Between Boggs and Krzyzanowski, they inspired their younger players to aim high and improve, which all of them did. In fact, the Bulldogs all improved so well that they had a solid group of six that could have made districts and state, but only five can qualify.

The other honoree is Mark Rein, whose official title at WNCC is sports information assistant and photographer. Anyone who knows Mark and his work would say sports is more than a title, it’s his life, and not just at WNCC. He can be seen at many local and area athletic events; even if he is not covering them directly, he is there just to promote the youth, on and off the field, through his photographic passion.

Mark is great about promoting the achievements earned by Cougar athletic teams. Of course, the Cougar volleyball team’s success is a standard, and WNCC is in the NJCAA National Tournament for the 14th straight year and looking for its third national title in six years. Thanks to Mark, we will have the Cougars’ successes at nationals available to us next week.

More than WNCC athletics’ current successes, Mark helps us in announcing our student-athletes’ signings to earn athletic scholarships and participate in sports at the next level. If we have an unsung hero in this community, it truly is Mark Rein.

And now a final nod. We love the new Gering cursive G. It’s a great-looking change in Gering athletics. I will tip my cap, which is not adorned with a script G, to Gering football head coach Jimmie Rhodes and maintenance director/facilities manager Jack Martin for their work in making the new G very stylish and attractive.

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