According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2013 was the Year of the Black Snake.
For Tri-Cities high school sports fans, 2013 went down as the Year of the State Champions.
Batavia's football team made the final day of November a memorable one when it defeated Richards 34-14 to capture the Class 6A state title before a Bulldog-friendly crowd in DeKalb.
Senior tailback Anthony Scaccia capped off a remarkable 13-1 season as he rushed for 194 yards on 33 carries and scored 3 touchdowns while senior quarterback Micah Coffey completed 15 of 18 passes for 229 yards and a pair of touchdowns -- highlighted by his 6A record-breaking 96-yard TD pass to Michael Moffatt.
It was the Bulldogs' first state championship in more than a century since the boys basketball team captured the state crown in 1912.
The magnitude of the accomplishment wasn't lost on the players or coaches involved.
"To be able to bring this town its first football state championship, to be able to attach my name to that team, it's going to go down in history," said Coffey. "It's an amazing day."
Making it even more special was the fact that Bulldogs head coach Dennis Piron was a 1983 Batavia graduate.
Last May, Kaneland juniors Conor Johnson, Luis Acosta, Kyle Carter and Nathaniel Kucera combined to win the 4x800-meter relay title at the Class 2A boys state track and field meet in Charleston.
The quartet finished with a time of 7:50.26.
One week earlier, West Aurora junior Emma Spagnola nearly turned in a record-breaking day as she won the state long jump title with a leap of 18-9 ¼ and was a narrow second-place finisher in both the 100 high hurdles and 300 low hurdles at the Class 3A girls track and field meet in Charleston.
Spagnola hit the seventh hurdle in the 100 highs and was passed toward the end of the race by Danville's Alexus Jimson-Miller, losing by .04 of a second. She also finished just .22 of a second behind Peoria Richwoods' Brenna Detra in the 300 lows.
"This race (300) was real smooth," said Spagnola. "I'm a state champion so I'll get over finishing second (in the hurdles)."
In the day's final event, sophomores Allison Chmelik and Elizabeth Chmelik, junior Jordan Shead and senior Britney Williams pushed St. Charles East's 4x400 relay team to a first-place time of 3:50.07.
Williams withstood a furious late kick from Belleville West's Ni'Jia Williams to give the program its first relay state championship.
"You know they're coming for you," said Williams. "I tried to stay calm. I just never imagined this moment."
Aurora Christian earned titles in 4 events at the Class 1A state girls track and field meet, paced by junior Peyton Wade.
Wade took individual honors in the high jump (5-7) and 100 high hurdles (14.86) while combining with junior Alyssa Andersen and sophomores Meghan Hagerty and Natasha Brown to claim the 4x200 crown (1:43.51).
Meanwhile, senior Taylor Knauf earned pole vault honors (12-1).
Area wrestlers produced 3 more state champions last February.
Marmion's Johnny Jimenez (48-2) won the 120-pound title at the Class 3A tournament in Champaign with a 3-0 win over Sandburg's Sebastian Pique, while Cadets senior George Fisher (47-4) earned the 132-pound crown with a first-period fall (1:45) against previously unbeaten Larry Early of Oak Park.
In 2A action, Kaneland's Dan Goress (42-3) edged Montini's Michael Sepke 3-2 to capture the 145-pound title.
Along with the state titles, there were other noteworthy accomplishments.
I won't soon forget St. Charles East "Sectional Saturday" late last spring when the Saints turned a spectacular "double play" of sorts.
While coach Kelly Horan's softball squad held off Glenbard North 7-6 to claim its first sectional title since 1994, coach Len Asquini's baseball team rallied to defeat Wheaton North 5-3 for its first sectional crown since 2004 en route to a third-place Class 4A state showing.
St. Charles East saved its most dramatic softball moment for the 4A state semifinals last June.
Trailing Barrington 2-1 with runners on second and third and 2 out in the bottom of the seventh inning, senior Olivia Lorenzini had what should forever be referred to as "The At-Bat."
Faced with a full count, the left-handed hitting Lorenzini fouled off 6 consecutive pitches before she laced a walk-off, 2-run double to the base of the center field fence during the Saints' 3-2 victory.
"It was amazing," said Lorenzini. "I've had only one other clutch hit like that to win a game and it was early in the season. This one coming in a state finals game is huge."
Although the Saints dropped a 14-3 title decision to Minooka, their semifinal triumph highlighted a superb 33-6 season.
In early June, coach Todd Weimer guided St. Charles North's boys volleyball team to a third-place state finish with its 25-20, 25-20 victory over Glenbrook South.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the North Stars survived an emotional 25-22, 24-26, 27-25 state quarterfinal triumph over Oak Park-River Forest.
In November, freshman Grace Loberg and junior Kelsey Wicinski led Geneva to its first girls volleyball sectional title. Playing on their home court, the Vikings upset top-seeded Glenbard West in the semifinals before downing Upstate Eight Conference River Division champion St. Charles North, 21-25, 25-22, 25-22 in the finals.
Meanwhile, St. Charles East junior Jasper Koenen placed fourth in singles action at the boys state tennis tournament last May. Koenen also led the Saints to their second straight sectional title.
Led by second doubles winners Alexa and Carly Huskisson and the first-place 4th doubles duo of Katie Downing and Kelly Rinker, the Saints' girls tennis team captured its first conference title since 1999, edging 3-time defending champion Batavia and Geneva.
One week later, Geneva earned its first sectional girls tennis championship since 2006 behind singles standouts Kirby Einck and Grace Krueger.
Last March, legendary West Aurora basketball coach Gordie Kerkman earned his 12th sectional title as the Blackhawks edged Benet Academy 42-38.
Last week, Geneva pocketed its first holiday basketball tournament title since 2008 with a 61-52 victory over East Aurora at the Tomcats' own tourney. It also marked coach Phil Ralston's 100th win at Geneva.
There were a few heartbreaking defeats as well.
Perhaps none was tougher than St. Charles North's 82-74 triple-overtime loss to 4-time defending Class 4A state champion Simeon at last week's prestigious Pontiac Holiday Tournament.
Led by all-tournament senior guard Alec Goetz (career-high 36 points), the North Stars built a double-digit lead and still was up by 3 with 7.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
After the Wolverines had misfired on their first 12 3-point attempts, junior Jaycee Hillsman canned a coldblooded 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer to force overtime.
Simeon outscored St. Charles North 11-3 in the third OT.
"That game was crazy," said Goetz.
So was the rest of 2013.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org
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