In a lot of ways, 2016 sucked.
Beloved Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez left this earth in a tragic boating accident. Prince, Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, John Glenn and David Bowie were among the big names who also left for greener pastures.
We endured the most negative presidential election ever seen as racially charged tension split our country like a hot knife, no, machete, through butter.
Rallies turned riots, police shootings and fear were constantly flashed in our face.
Fake news became a thing. The only thing worse than being uniformed, is being misinformed.
Harambe become the most famous gorilla/martyr ever because a parent was unable to prevent her child from entering an exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo.
I haven’t even mentioned the tragedies Dallas and Orlando. So yes, 2016 was a bummer.
It wasn’t all bad though, right Cubs fans?
LeBron James gave people in Cleveland a reason to smile.
The most pointless show on television, ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians,’ was reportedly getting cancelled, although those reports have yet to be confirmed. The idea alone is reason for celebration.
Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar.
And YouTube viewers worldwide rejoiced as Giant Pandas came off the endangered species list.
There were lowlights, yes. And there a lot of them. That doesn’t mean the year went without positives. Either way, headlines were made.
Scale it way down to Rail City athletics and the same rings true.
Here are the five biggest Sparks-area prep storylines of the past year:
1. Down goes Reed (football)
This was likely filed under the ‘bad’ of 2016 for many in Sparks.
Reed’s run of five-straight regional titles came to a climactic close in November as Damonte erased a 31-7 halftime deficit to come back and stun the Raiders, 49-45, in the 4A North title game at McQueen.
The defeat ended a handful of streaks for Reed, along with five consecutive regional titles. It also ended the Raiders’ string of 26 straight wins against regional competition, 20 wins in the regional tournament and 11 wins in the season.
Reed allowed the second half’s opening kick to be returned for a touchdown and two fumbles turned into touchdowns, including the game winner with less than three minutes left.
The regional title was Damonte’s first. The Mustangs fell to Liberty the following week in the state semifinals.
2. Spanish Springs (softball) completes unlikely run to state title
Raise your hand if you thought the Cougs would win it all midway through last spring.
Is your hand up? Put it down. You’re lying.
After losing one of its best players, Bailey Ivory, to a season-ending injury, battling off-the-field adversity, and grinding out a 13-9 start to the season, expectations justifiably lowered for the Cougs.
They proved everyone wrong as they used two comeback victories in the regional tournament to eventually punch a ticket to state. They entered the state tourney with almost as many losses (14) as the rest of the field combined (15).
They nearly blew a 4-1 seventh-inning lead in the opener against Shadow Ridge, solved Reed in the semifinals, 6-2, then pinch hitter Cami Moore delivered a two-run home run to give the Cougs a 2-1 win over Rancho in the state championship.
3. Sparks (boys soccer) solves state troubles
The Railroaders have been one of the most consistently successful boys soccer programs in the state – regardless of classification. That is, until state.
Sparks won its third straight regional title this year and advanced to state for the sixth consecutive season. It’s last title, however, came in 2011.
The trips to state had been brief of late as the Railroaders fell in three consecutive semifinal matches.
This year, Sparks got off the schnide. Led by first-year head coach Jose Espana (who was the head assistant at Sparks for several years), the Railroaders beat Chaparral in the semis, 4-1, then won it all with a 2-0 victory over Western.
Genaro Vazquez and Jesus Partida made up the most feared tandem in the state.
4. Ozoude sprints past everyone
The argument debating the fastest girl in Nevada is a short one.
It’s Jessica Ozoude. Argument over.
Ozoude swept all three sprinting events at the state meet in May at Carson to earn the unofficial title of fastest girl in the state.
She set stadium records in the 200 meter (24.29) and 400m (55.35). Her 100m title came in a time of 12.29 seconds.
The then-junior accounted for 30 of Spanish Springs’ 40 team points at the meet, which was good for fifth.
Her domination of the entire state earned her the honor of Nevada Gatorade Female Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
5. Cougars (wrestling) close the gap
Spanish Springs’ dominance in Northern Nevada is no secret.
The Cougars won their fourth straight regional title last winter. It was their seventh in the last eight years.
The bigger story was what they did the following weekend. They put together their best finish ever at state, taking second, just 23 points Behind Green Valley, which won its fifth consecutive state title.
Six of the Cougars’ nine state qualifiers finished in the top three of their respective classes. Blake Boswell won the 145-pound state championship while Cole Drescher (152), Jacob Dye (160) and Casey Preston (195) all advanced to championship matches.
The impressive finish set the table for what will be a legitimate run at the program’s first state title this winter.
Nathan can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His weekly column, ‘Shoup Shots,’ was named the best column in the state of Nevada (community division) by the Nevada Press Association. It runs in the hard copy of the Sparks Tribune every Tuesday morning.