I finished my coverage of the 2018-19 prep sports season at the ideal location: The WIAA State Track and Field Meet, held annually in La Crosse.
I witnessed a senior cap his career by winning a state title (Jo'Vontae Coleman). I witnessed a freshman begin her career with a state title (SylJo).
While those two titles were incredible to witness, it also made me reflect on just how difficult it is to finish on top.
Think about this year alone: The Hononegah girls basketball team fielded its best squad in program history and finished third.
The Beloit Turner baseball team finished undefeated in Rock Valley Conference play and was ousted in the regionals. Same for the Hononegah baseball team, though they did have a single conference loss.
The Beloit Memorial softball team had an outstanding postseason run, before they fell a game short of making it to state. Hononegah's football team was undefeated in the regular season, again, before being unable to scale that dastardly second round that has plagued them for so many years.
The point of this is not to say what a disappointment this year was. In fact, it was a fantastic season in many regards, thanks mostly to the regular season accomplishments of the aforementioned teams.
It's to say that players, coaches and even media members would do well to focus on the successes along the way, instead of the result of the final game, which will almost certainly end in an 'L' on the ledger.
The class of 2019 put up plenty of 'W's" in their time on the prep sports scene, and I can't start anywhere in my annual column but with the Hononegah girls hoops team.
Over her four years as a Hononegah star, and I do mean star, I've talked with Jordan King more than any athlete I've covered. We've chatted casually at other Hononegah events, DM'd on Twitter, texted and chatted on Instagram. I've gotten to know her family. I've seen her play a ton of games. And I can't wait to follow her career at Marquette.
I still remember my first interview with Cali Schmitz. She was a freshman, and for the life of her couldn't figure out why I wanted to talk to her. We've come a long way since then.
The run to state that the Indians made in the spring was one of the highlights of my career. I'll never forget that group, and Jordan, Cali and their families are a huge reason why.
Ryan Van Schelven was the Hononegah starting quarterback for three years, led the team to unprecedented regular season success and is one of the best leaders I've been around. He's one of those people, like basically everyone in this column, that is simply a winner, on and off the field.
Back in the fall of 2015, I saw my old friend Andy Frommer at a cross country meet in Rockford. As it turns out, it wasn't a mere coincidence. His daughter Taylor was a freshman and actually going to run on the varsity squad that day. Impressed, I waited to see how she would do. She finished fourth that day, beginning a career filled with state appearances, MVP awards and academic achievements.
Over at Beloit Memorial, I likewise remember the first time I met Matthew Wedig. He was a tall, gangly eighth-grader, shagging balls on the sideline for his dad Rodney's football team.
I struck up a conversation with Matt, and was so impressed with him, right away. He played football sure, he told me, but he really loved basketball. I still haven't seen Matt on the hardwood, but boy did he turn out to be a beast on the gridiron. Matt was also known, along with Jaron Coleman, to show up at any solid high school event in the area. I can't wait to follow his success at Illinois State.
Corbin Ovist is a guy I'd follow any day of the week. He has great character and never stops leading. Like so many on this list, Corbin has become a friend who just happens to play sports. Eric Bridges is another guy that I respect so much, and someday I'll get over his injury that cost him the final month of the track season.
At Clinton, Riley Anastasi is the same way. Riley is simply a fantastic ambassador for the school and a great role model for younger kids in the community. As a dad of three wanna-be future athletes, I look at Riley and hope they compete the way he did, with the sportsmanship and leadership that he showcased.
The culture at Beloit Turner has changed so much for the better since I started at the paper seven years ago. Guys like Cory Walker, Steve Dillard, Nano Reyes, Coleman and many others won't be forgotten for their contributions in that regard.
Logan Eischeid was a terrific athlete for Big Foot and someone who's career I will follow closely at Beloit College. There's still time for that #picwithFlick, Logan!
Abbey Johnson and Lexi Oliver of Brodhead are two fantastic kids who are great athletes as well. I don't think I've ever had more fun watching someone play volleyball than I have watching Abbey over her time with the Cardinals. Lexi has a near-permanent grin on her face and was one of the area's top three-sport athletes.
I loved watching these and so many other senior athletes compete over the past four years. But the thing that I never would've guessed when I started in this crazy venture seven years ago is that the games, the wins, the losses, the game-winning shots and the ones that hit the back of the rim and bounced off, those aren't the memories that I will hold dear.
It's all the conversations, the laughs, the kind words that I occasionally receive, those relationships that make this such a special job.
It's been real, class of 2019. And oh yeah. Keep in touch. You won't be forgotten.