St. Joseph-Ogden volleyball wins regional title on Halloween

In high school volleyball it is pretty hard to beat a good team twice in a row.

The trick for St. Joseph-Ogden was to win the Oakwood regional title on Thursday and do it again against Monticello, who they played a week earlier in the last match of the Illini Prairie Conference regular season. The Spartans got the treat they were looking for and the first of a few more to come in the postseason after clipping the Sages in two sets, 25-17, 25-14.

SJO setter Emily Bigger
Setter Emily Bigger passes the ball during St. Joseph-Ogden's first set against Monticello at the Oakwood Regional on Thursday. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
The hard work the team has put in showed throughout the season showed in SJO's seemingly stress free, effortless play. One of things that senior Lacey Kaiser says the team had to do reach their currently level of play was talk more.

"Our communication has improved since the beginning," she said. "It was hard for a lot us because not many of us are super outgoing."

Kaiser led the team with three aces from the service line. She padded her stats with three kills and a trio of digs against the Sages.

"I believe in my teammates," she said. "If we get down, I know we can pull through and get back to win."

The Spartans were up 19-9 in the first set, but didn't close it out right away. Monticello dug in their heals and won eight of the next 13 points before SJO shut the door.

"I think we have definitely improved on capitalizing on certain points, and pushing whenever we should," said fellow senior Rylee Stahl. "We've worked a lot on siding out on the next point and not giving teams consecutive points in a row."

The Sages took a 4-1 lead in the second set before the Spartans reestablished control of the momentum going up 7-5 behind the pile driving swings of Katelyn Berry, Payton Vallee and sophomore Kennedi Burnett.

Berry finished the contest with a team-high nine kills and five digs. Vallee, a junior and outside hitter, contributed four kills and Burnett, who played strong defensively, had four kills and 10 digs.

Thursday's victory would not have been possible if it wasn't for the passing accuracy of Emily Bigger who took credit for 23 assists. She also scored a rare kill and contributed seven of the team's 45 digs.

"I think this win means a lot, but we are not super, super, super excited about it because it is just regionals," said Stahl, who like the rest of team, has her sights set on the king size of postseason candy, a state trophy. "We have a lot more to accomplish this season."

While teammate Lacey Kaiser (on the left) looks on while teammate Emily Bigger holds the team's new regional plaque for Payton Vallee to kiss. After beating Monticello 2-0, the Spartans advance in the IHSA volleyball postseason to face Seneca on Monday. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

The Spartans advance to Monday's sectional semifinal against Seneca at Watseka.

The Lady Irish defeated Manteno in both sets 25-22 to win the Peotone Regional. On Tuesday, they dropped the first set of their semifinal to Manteno 20-25 and came back to take the last two, 25-21, 25-21. The two teams are scheduled to start at 6pm.

It will be back to work analyzing the Lady Irish for SJO, but in the mean time, Kaiser and the Spartans will savor the new regional hardware.

"It feels awesome," Kaiser said. "We knew we wanted to get this."

So good they're scary, SJO volleyball team wins regional title

St. Joseph-Ogden wins regional volleyball title
Right to left: Emily Bigger, Katelyn Berry, Jenna Albrecht and Rylee Stahl step forward to receive St. Joseph-Ogden's regional championship plaque from Oakwood principal Tim Lee after defeating Monticello, 2-0. The Spartans advance to the Watseka sectional semifinal on Monday to face Seneca in the 6pm match. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

#TBT: Spartans shut the book on Williamsville's class 3A title run

Ryan Koss, Wesley Kibler and Nick Poe Saturday, the St. Joseph-Ogden football team will meet Williamsville in the IHSA postseason for the second time in the Class 3A playoffs. This week's Throwback Thursday feature is a look back at their first meeting back on November 16 in 2013, when the Spartans defeated Williamsville in the quarterfinal matchup on their home turf, 38-26. In the photo above, SJO's Ryan Koss (54), Wesley Kibler (51) and Nick Poe (32) run through the team banner during team introductions. The trio, just a small part of the hard-hitting, determined Spartan team that season that went on to play in the state title game that season.

(Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Quarterback Dalton Walsh makes a pass Quarterback Dalton Walsh makes a short pass in the second half. The Spartans notched their first quarterfinal victory since 2006. The team advanced a semifinal road game in Greenville on the following Saturday. This Saturday, Walsh hopes to earn a second win against the Bullets, this time as one of SJO's assistant coaches. See more photos from this week's Throwback Thursday here . . .

(Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Left: Kicking it into high gear, St. Joseph-Ogden's Orion Ciota runs the football for second half touchdown. Follow this link to see more photos from Ciota's football career at SJO. Right: St. Joseph-Ogden fans packed the stadium for the Williamsville. Despite a light drizzle during parts of the game, the majority of loyal fans hung around to watch the Spartans celebrate their quarterfinal win on Saturday. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Seth Griswell and Nolan Woller Linemen Seth Griswell and Nolan Woller provide an impenetrable wall on a pass play to protect their quarterback from Bullets defender Nathan Jerome. See more photos of Griswell here and more of Woller here.

(Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

For more St. Joseph-Ogden Football coverage from
The Sentinel

SJO fans cheer for their team Despite chilly temperatures and drizzle, hundreds of St. Joseph-Ogden fans were on hand to watch the Spartans win their quarterfinal football game. An equally as large of group of fans made the trip the following weekend to the semifinal game in Greenville.

(Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Loyal SJO fans cheer for their team Hunter Hart celebrates SJO TD
Left: Student fans were loud in their support for the Spartans. Here, Maroon Platoon members rally behind their team. Right:Hunter Hart celebrates another touchdown for his team in the second half. The receive made key catches in the game to help SJO march the ball down the field. A three-sport athlete, Hart continued his athletic career at the college level playing baseball. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Jordan Hartman gets a sack
The Williamsville quarterback rolls to the ground after being sacked by Spartan linebacker Jordan Hartman in the second quarter. The St. Joseph-Ogden defense was relentless and unyielding in their contribution to the playoff win. The Spartans improved to 10-2 on the season after the victory. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Jacob Buoy congratulates teammate Dylan Koss Jacob Buoy congratulates teammate Dylan Koss as the final 15 seconds tick off the game clock. Buoy, who suffered a season-ending injury, was on the sidelines assisting whenever necessary in Saturday night's home game. See more photos from this game here. . . (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

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Spartans volleyball team aces postseason win over Oakwood

The St. Joseph-Ogden volleyball team opened their postseason play with an unusual victory on Tuesday. The Spartans served 16 aces across two short games to beat regional host Oakwood, 2-0.

Emily Bigger serves up an ace
Emily Bigger serves one of her nine aces against the Comets in the St. Joseph-Ogden High School's regional volleyball game on Tuesday. The Spartans won 2-0 and advance to Thursday's title game against Monticello. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
In the opening set, the Spartans tallied the first 17 points largely thanks to the serving prowess of senior Emily Bigger. The setter served 17 unanswered points before Oakwood finally lit up the board with a tipped ball.

"I didn't feel nervous. I was pretty confident," Bigger replied when asked if she experienced any stress from having to serve as many points as she did. "I just had to get the ball over the net."

Tuesday wasn't the first time in Bigger's volleyball career that she serve a high number consecutive service points. In a junior high game against Schlarman years ago, she vividly remember serving all 25 points.

"It takes a lot of mental toughness for Emily to stay back there that long," said head coach Abby McDonald. "It was a good start."

Nine of the 16 aces were courtesy of Bigger. Rylee Stahl had four, Kennedi Burnett added two and Lindsey Aden chipped in one for good measure.

After the Comets scored their first point at 17-1, the Spartans took advantage of the next side out to go on a five-point mini run advancing the count to 22-1. SJO casually allowed four more points to take the first set, 25-5.

The second set featured much longer rallies that kept the Comets back up against the wall from the opening point. St. Joseph-Ogden jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never had look over their shoulder once on the way to a 25-8 finish.

"Our kids kept fighting and stayed rather stable to the end," said McDonald, who watched her team pound 24 kills. "We are playing really complete volleyball right now."

Burnett, a sophomore, led all hitters with nine kills and five digs. Payton Vallee lumped on another six. Katelyn Berry had six.

"This time of year brings out a different level of play," McDonald said. She likes the level of cohesiveness that her team is bringing to the floor. "They are really dialed in right now."

Bigger is eager to play for the title on Thursday.

"I feel like our bond is stronger than any other team," she said. "We've worked just as hard as we can to get where we want to be in the end."

The Spartans will face Monticello in an Illini Prairie Conference rematch at 6pm on Thursday.

The Sages, who advanced to the championship game after escaping a 25-21, 32-30 scare from the Tuscola Warriors, dropped the final match of the regular season to the Spartans, 25-17, 25-19.

266 SJO students named to first quarter Honor Roll

On Tuesday, St. Joseph-0gden High School announced that 266 students earned Honor Roll status for their work during the first quarter of classes this academic year.

The senior class led in number of honors with 73 students achieving a 3.75 or higher average grade during the period. The sophomore and junior classes boast 42 high honor receipients, followed by the senior class with 41 honor roll students and the class of 2024 with 39.

Students named to the High Honors earned GPAs of 3.75 or higher on a 4.0 scale. Those attaining GPAs of 3.25 to 3.74 are recognized as Honor Roll students.

Freshmen High Honor Roll

McGwire Atwood, Kaytlyn Baker, Olivia Baltzell, Maddux Carter, Yamilka Casanova, Ariana Chambers, Cale Coursey, Aiden Cromwell, Zachary Dahman, Emily Elsbernd, Leah Finley, Joselyn Frerichs, Alex Funk, Kennedy Greer, Andrew Guelfi, Mikyla Haley, Maya Hewkin, Taylor Hug, Emily Jeffries, Cameran Kelley, Jacob Kern, Aaron Lane, Aidan McCorkle, Kyle Meccoli, Teagan Miller, Jacob Newman, Allegra Pearman, Ty Pence, Ellen Place, Jack Robertson, Kirsten Schaefer, Johanna Schmitz, Jack Setterdahl, Paige Siegmund, Trinity Tapia, Taylor Voorhees, Alayna Wagle, Mallory Wagner and Maggie Ward.

Freshmen Honor Roll

Hayden Henkelman, Tyler Burch, Canyon Alwes, Ethan Blackburn, Caleb Nemecz, Ava Northen, Peyton Jones, Carter Mabry, Emma Rydell, Sylvia Bills, Shayne Immke, Eleni Krall, Emma Ward, Abigail Dow, Collin Livesay, Haleigh Maddock, Jade Kelley, Blake Morgan, Alyssa Acton, William Page, Hunter Ketchum, Madison Adams, Isabel Sexton, Katharine Short, Katherine McDermott, Bryce Collins and Joseph Gherna.

Sophomore High Honor Roll

Addison Allen, Kailyn Anderson, Ella Armstrong, Madison Atwood, Abigail Behrens, Alanna Bensyl, Ella Besson, Andrew Beyers, Brandie Bowlin, Mara Burkhalter, Kennedi Burnett, Angela Chahine, Braden Clampitt, Anastasia Conerty, Deanna Cummins, Benjamin Cunningham, Sidney Davis, Zander Dressen, Ashley Eldridge, Jared Emmert, Hannah Fox, Mackenzie Fulk, Zella Fuqua, Brennan Haake, Liam Hamer, Lauren Harper, Claire Huffman, Payton Jacob, Ava Knap, Sophia McDade, Elijah Mock, Jessica Palmer, Hope Rajlich, JoLeena Reynolds, Kendra Riddle, Taryn Sexton, Alyssa Shoviak, Luke Stegall, Rebecca Steinbach, Mackenzie Trame, Ethan Vanliew and Taylor Wells.

Sophomore Honor Roll

Tyler Altenbaumer, Nicolas Anzelmo, Nolan Grindley, Alyssa Hamilton, Kailyn Ingram, KayLeigh Kamphaus, Alison Kearney, Olivia Klotz, Ashlyn Lannert, Jacey Lewis, Wyatt Loghry, Madelyn Mabry, Kelsey Martlage, Ava Meyer, Ava Miller, Coby Miller, Conrad Miller, Jett Morris, Keaton Nolan, Emma Parkinson, Jackson Place, Jonathan Poulter, Griffin Roesch, Colton Thompsen and Elijah Weinmann.

Junior High Honor Roll

Isabelle Brooks, Crayton Burnett, David Bytnar, Taylor Campbell, Kylie Duckett, Hanna Eastin, Nadirah Edwards, Emily Fisher, Dakota Franzen, Emily Froman, Isabella Getty, Atleigh Hamilton, Mariska Harshbarger, Emmyrson Houston, Lukas Hutcherson, Logan Ingram, Vania Kaenzig, Cailer Kellenberger, Shelby Kofoot, Spencer Lahners, Aiden Livesay, Madigan Loman, Alyssa Maddock, Tyson Madsen, Sophia Martlage, Flannery McCorkle, Garren Meeker, Abigail Moberg, Samantha Naylor, Alec Painter, Erin Patton, Aidan Roberts, Indira Robinson, Mazie Ronk, Jackson Rydell, Evan Schmitz, Max Shonkwiler, Tessa Smith, Payton Vallee, Nora Walden, Brayden Wendt and Logan Wolfersberger.

Ashlyn Lannert Drew Corsey Rylee Stahl

SJO Honor Roll Students

Sam Wesley Katelyn Berry Trevon Carr

Junior Honor Roll

Mason Behrens, Hunter Brooks, Brady Buss, Rylee Clements, Raegan Crippen, Makayla Duckwitz, Jacob Dwyer, Britney Evans, Alexandra Frerichs, Lucas Funkhouser, Izabellah Innes, Ethan Lane, Alyssa Lynch, Brandon Mattsey, Gunnar Olson, Brianna Reifsteck, AJ Wagner and Rachel Wilson.

Senior High Honor Roll

Lindsey Aden, Jenna Albrecht, Mallory Ames, Kendall Ayers, Taylor Barnes, Katelyn Berry, Emily Bigger, Kaylee Blackburn, Ginny Bytnar, Payton Cain, Brendan Cooperider, Kristen Costa, Drew Coursey, Kathryn Cramer, Andrea Cunningham, Faith Dahman, Hannah Dukeman, Robert Gebbink, Samantha Gonzales, Payton Grimsley, Erica Guelfi, Emily Hardimon, Cody Johnston, Danielle Kelso, Ava Mills, Carson Mills, Allison Monk, Nolan Peacock, Taddy Pettit, Eric Poe, Hannah Rajlich, Jenna Schaefer, Joshua Sexton, Rylee Stahl, Kenly Taylor, Stephanie Trame, Isabelle Vliet, Brayden Weaver, Samuel Wesley, Zoey Witruk and Jackson Wooten.

Senior Honor Roll

Joseph Acton, Michara Allen, Kolton Batty, Hailey Birt, Samantha Blobaum, Ross Booker, Erin Bridgewater, Trevon Carr, Payton Clements, Blake Dable, Bailey Dowling, Asjah Fonner, Clayton Frederick, Jaiden Freeman, Brayden Grimsey, Lucas Grindley, Ethan Hinrichs, Conner Hodge, Chance Izard, Tyler Jones, Lacey Kaiser, Aubrey Kern, Eliza Lewis, Nathan Maier, Keegan McCarty, Mason McLain, Alivia Norem, Luke Renfrew, Lexi Ribbe, Anna Tranel, Anna Wentzloff and Karsyn Wetzel.

Adapt, improvise and they'll overcome, SJO can win on Saturday

Above: SJO senior Jordan Hartman celebrates his 12-yard tackle-for-a-loss on Williamsville during their 2013 home playoff game. The Spartans, after shutting out Monticello 35-0 in their second round game, won the contest after a thrilling 38-26 finish. The Spartans would win the next game and advance to the state title game in DeKalb against Stillman Valley. Below: Dylan Koss celebrates the Spartans' win with assistant coach Marshall Schacht. This weekend the pair will coach together hoping to beat the Bullets and advance to week 2 of the playoffs. (Photos: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
By conventional wisdom, the #15 seeded St. Joseph-Ogden football team faces improbable odds of winning their first-round Class 3A game on the road this Saturday. Facing the undefeated #2 seed Williamsville at Paul Jenkins Field the Bullets have a high-powered offense that has produced touchdowns, lots of them, both on the ground and in the air all season long.

In their nine games so far, thanks to the efforts of two college caliber players and supportive cast of able-bodied linemen, the team averages an impressive 48 points/game.

Against Pittsfield (1-8) back on October 18, quarterback Connor McCormick went 10-for-10 in passing, good for 178 years and four touchdown. Williamsville ran the score up to win, 55-14.

The other marquee player the Spartans have to contain is Grant Ripperda. Listed at 5 feet 10 and 210 pounds, he was a state-qualifier in wrestling back in February and is quick enough at his size to run on 4x2 and 4x4 squads in track. In Williamsville's away contest at Auburn on September 13, Ripperda scored on a 6-yard run in the first quarter and he then preceded tack on three more TDs in the second. He finished the night out with 145 yards on 14 carries in Bullet's 34-17 victory.

In the same game, McCormick passed for 240 yards on a 15-for-22 effort and produced one touchdown during the regular season Sangamo Conference game.

The Spartans must also contend with a stingy defense that has held opposing offenses to two or less scores in seven of their nine regular season contests. North Mac (5-4) was able to break the barrier with three and Maroa-Forsyth (8-1) scored six times. In both cases, both teams suffered losses contributing to Williamsville's perfect season so far.

There is only one way to shutdown a versatile, high-powered high school offense like Williamsville. It's called a blizzard.

Remember 2015 semifinal game in Tolono when SJO had a similar offense, touting a 12-0 record, that would have easily advanced to the 3A title game had it not been for that unexpected, early season snowstorm with blizzard like conditions that put two inches of slush on the ground between the goal post at Hicks Field.

Page from the Big Picture's Blizzard Bowl edition

In 2015 when SJO faced the Unity Rockets on the road in the infamous Class 3A 'Blizzard Bowl' semifinal. See the Big Picture special edition from the game here . . . . (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

In more favorable conditions, the Spartans could have aired out the ball all day long against the Rockets had it not been for the sustained 20+ mph breeze out of the northwest. Freezing cold along with ankle deep muck made up of snow, wet grass and mud kept the SJO ground game in check. Throwing the ball against the variable wind direction and unexpected gusts, wasn't the answer.

Unity prevailed 30-8 in that contest ending the chance for St. Joseph-Ogden's first-ever back-to-back state championship game appearances.

That one hurt the Spartans, but Mama Nature has also been generous to SJO.

According to football alumnus Nathan Buss, St. Joseph-Ogden was #15 seed or so back during the 91-92 season. With the help of a blizzard on game day, the Spartans won their first-round game.

"We played Casey-Westfield at home," he said in a social media post. "They had to plow the out of bounds and 5-yard markers."

SJO narrowly won the game, 8-6.

"We had a punt return for a TD and a 2pt conversation," Buss wrote. "Didn’t have a lineman weighing over 200 pounds!!! Killer Dwarves !!! And a Sophomore QB! Hell of a year!!!"

After last Friday's loss to Monticello, head coach Shawn Skinner had a little trouble coming up with good things to say about the game. Despite that, he was happy that his team and coaching staff has one more game to prepare for this week.

"When the kids come in Monday, what they are going to understand is they are going to be excited and not going to have to leave with this being the last one they have in their mouth all off season," Skinner said last Friday. "They have another opportunity to fix this."

Short of divine interference from Mother Nature, the key to St. Joseph-Ogden advancing to the second round is playing smart, ball-control football.

"All we have to do is figure out how to go one and O next week," Skinner said. "That's what it's about. No matter who the matchup is we have another opportunity to play and that's good."

Brady Buss carries the ball for SJO during the Monticello game.
Brady Buss sheds one tackler and looks for more pasture while carrying the ball in the Spartans last regular season game for 2019. The Spartans (5-4) earned a first-round bid against 9-0 Williamsville. Game time is set for 1p on Saturday. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
There are four things Skinner & Co. need to reach that goal.

First, they can take a hint from Maroa-Forsyth (8-1), who nearly beat the Bullets in their week 4 game. The Trojans up on the scoreboard 41-37 late in the fourth quarter, the Bullets needed a score to win. With less than two minutes on the clock, they crafted a successful final drive for the go-ahead score and a 43-41 victory.

The takeaway is Maroa ran 71 plays and averaged seven yards per carry against the Bullets. If the Spartans can yield a little more than half that number, they will be in the position to hand out the upset the Trojans didn't. Pick up four yards per play, and SJO can be a close game.

That means coaches have to come up with some creative methods to keep the Williamsville's offense off the field and wear down their defense, which is stacked with a lot of one-way players. That won't be easy.

Jarrett Stevenson, Coby Miller and Keaton Nolan will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. However, if they can grind out those four yards on every play - nothing big, nothing fancy - they will set SJO up handsomely for the first playoff victory in the Skinner era.

Second, the offensive linemen need to become pesky gnats and force Williamsville defenders into longer engagements. The first two games of the season, SJO blocking was grade A. Opposing defenders were kept out of the play longer by Max Chatterton, Blake Dable and Conner Hodge. That allowed Stevenson to put up solid rushing numbers in those contests.

The O-line has to keep the Bullet defenders busy fighting them off longer. The 'bump and quit' will not create scoring opportunities for the SJO run or passing game. Blocking to the whistle will be key.

Third on the list, the Spartans need to capitalize on their strength as a team. St. Joseph-Ogden players are quick-thinkers, possess a combination of speed and strength, and are tenacious competitors.

The challenge for the coaching staff is to find a weakness in Williamsville's casings and exploit it using the talent they have. The bigger and strong guy doesn't win all the time. The odds are on their side, but usually it is the smarter - and there are some intelligent student-athletes at SJO, faster and most tenacious guy who wins. If coaches and can rapidly adapt, improvise and overcome as the game wears on, SJO could playing yet one more week.

Finally, the players on the sidelines must to feed the beasts on grass.

The surefire way to tell which team is going to win a football game, with 92.4% accuracy (that's the author's estimation and not exact science), is pay attention to the athletes not on the field. Players standing on the sidelines of really good teams are cheering for their teammates. They slapping pads, butting helmets and handing water when players come out. On E-V-E-R-Y play they are supplying their fellow beasts with a continuous flow of positive energy to get the job done. Those teams win almost every S-I-N-G-L-E time.

With playoff bid on the line, Spartans suffer road loss at Monticello

As head coach Shawn Skinner headed to the locker room Friday after the Spartans' 35-6 loss to Monticello, Glen Fisher, an ardent fan of SJO athletics and retired employee of the district, hoped to comfort head coach Shawn Skinner after Friday's game against Monticello.

"Dick Duval didn't start out that great," he said gently.

Duval, St. Joseph-Ogden's head coach football coach from 1988-2015, had a combined win-loss record of 29-15 his first four years at the helm. Five seasons later, his Spartans were playing 12+ games a seasons, make deep playoff runs for the next half a decade.

That probably didn't make Skinner, who is now 19-19 after Friday night's contest in his first four season, feel much better after the lackluster loss to the Class 3A defending state champions.

The Sages scored five times before the Spartans, courtesy of Jarrett Stevenson, put their only TD on the board in the final quarter of a game that held possible playoff implications depending results from other IHSA member schools.

Xander Rieches plays at tight end
Xander Rieches plays at tight end for the Spartans in their road game against Monticello. Despite the 29-point loss, SJO will play at least one more game this season in the Class 3A playoff bracket. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
"Early on we kind of were doing our job, but we weren't playing hard," Skinner said. "Then, we start playing hard, but weren't doing our job. Either way, that's a bad combination."

And, bad it was. Nothing good went the Spartans' way when they really need it.

Down 21-0 in the second quarter, Chance Izard pulled in a short pass from Crayton Burnett and ran toward the south endzone. Breaking four tackles along the way and sprinting down the east sideline, he put the ball over the goal line 60 or so yards from where he started. The celebration by players and fans was short-lived.

It was deja vu from the Prairie Central game two weeks earlier where every substantial play in SJO's favor was negated with a yellow hankie. And, just as in the road game the Hawks, the ball came back.

"I don't think we matched their intensity right away," said Skinner. "When we tried to react to their intensity, we lost all of our technique. We lost all of our assignments. We were trying to play hard, but we weren't doing our job."

Monticello's offense was fueled and supercharged by tailback Chris Brown. He exploited SJO's weaknesses as skillful as a brain surgeon.

The Sages' junior scored a touchdown in three of the four quarters and churned up 265 yards on 13 carries. The Spartans had a difficult containing him on the outside and his explosive burst caused missed tackles when took the ball between the tackles.

"There were glimmers on defense, but not nearly enough," said Skinner. "I thought Brodie Sullivan (and) Trevon Carr (played well). Drew Coursey continued to play really well. I thought Coby Miller stepped in at middle linebacker in the second half and did some nice things for us."

Trevon Carr wraps up Monticello ball carrier
Trevon Carr wraps up Monticello's quarterback Nick Tackels for a loss in the second half. The loss to the Sages wrapped up SJO's regular season at 5-4. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

The Spartans entered the game without senior linebacker Brayden Weaver, who suffered a season-ending injury to a knee in an earlier game. Fellow senior and linebacker Sam Wesley admitted his presence was missed on the field.

"Some people don't know my sophomore year, I didn't play. I only came back my junior year because of Brayden Weaver," Wesley confessed. "It was definitely a big loss. People have stepped up. We got to keep playing."

Though not official until Saturday evening, Wesley was confident of a Class 3A playoff bid for his team.

Luke Renfrew stands up to block Monticello's Cooper Mitze
Luke Renfrew stands up to block Monticello's Cooper Mitze during second half action of the Illini Praire Conference finale. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
"We still have playoffs next week. We just have to come (in) and prepare (for it)," he said, happy that he will have the chance to play one more game. He was confident SJO will rebound from the loss. "We just have look at the film, make some adjustments and we will be alright."

Stevenson led the Spartans' offensive effort with 86 yards and 22 carries. His 9-yard touchdown run with less than three minutes to play avoided what would have been the second shutout this season.

With Weaver out, SJO enlisted their young guns and called on them to fill the senior's role at fullback. Sophomore Keaton Nolan picked 12 yards, collecting seven of those on his last touch. Meanwhile, Coby Miller chipped in an additional 15 yards.

"We had a good week of preparation and practice. I saw good things," Skinner remarked during his postgame interview from the 50 yard line before passing Fisher. "Yesterday, was one of the best Thursday practices we had this year. It just didn't translate into anything worthwhile."

Drew Coursey was clearly disappointed after the game.

"It's hard to take away any positives right now," he said. He focused more on the Sages' success than on SJO failures during his last regular season game. "Number 8 (Chris Brown) is fast and number 12 (Nic Tackels) is a good player. They played well."

Box Score
St. Joseph-Ogden   0 0 0 6   6
Monticello 14 7 7 7 35

Scoring by quarters
1st Quarter
MHS - C.Brown 14 yd run (Ellison kick)
MHS - Tackels 15 yd run (Ellison kick)

2nd Quarter
MHS - Kerr 10 yd pass from Tackels (Ellison kick)

3rd Quarter
MHS - C.Brown - 81 yd pass from Tackels (Ellison kick)

4th Quarter
MHS - C.Brown 49 yd run (Ellison kick)
SJO - Stevenson 14 yd run (pass failed)

SJO boys cross country squad takes 5th at regionals, advances to sectional on Saturday

Giving their all against the best small school running programs on this side of the state, the St. Joseph-Ogden boys cross country team did their best to prove their themselves worthy of the name Spartan. Competing under less than favorable weather conditions at the Class 1A cross country regional in Tuscola on Saturday, the team finished fifth overall.

Their collective effort resulted in extending their season yet another week in order to compete in the upcoming sectional meet in Effingham. The Spartans' top five runners finished with 97 points, two points away from what could have been a three-way tie score-wise with Paxton-Buckley-Loda and Unity, who tallied 95 points each.

This week, SJO runners will train with the goal of qualifying for this season's IHSA state meet at weekend's upcoming sectional for a spot in the IHSA state meet on November 9.

One of the first ten to cross the finish line in the boys race at last Saturday's regional race was SJO's Brandon Mattsey, who led the Spartan contingent in their fifth place finish. He turned in a time of 16:44 on the three-mile Wimple Park course in Tuscola. His career best three-mile time is 15:41.

Supporting Mattsey's effort, Eric Poe finished 14th overall at 17:03 and Charlie Mabry clocked in at 17:15 to earn 20 points for the team.

Here is how the Spartans finished at the 2019 Tuscola regional:

Runner Place Time
Brandon Mattsey (Jr.) 10 16:44
Eric Poe (Sr.) 14 17:03
Charlie Mabry (So.) 20 17:15
Elijah Mock (So.) 24 17:26
Luke Stegall (So.) 29 17:39
Braden Clampitt (So.) 35 18:02
Ethan Blackburn (Fr.) 43 18:39

Memory Monday: '06 Spartans win state softball title

Spartan pitcher Morgan Finn winds up for a pitch against Casey-Westfield back on June 3, 2006, in her team's second consecutive state final appearance. In the previous season, Finn, who was the number 2 pitcher, and the Spartans brought home a third place state trophy to place next to the program's first, a fourth place one from 1989 season. Using her uncanny placement and speed, Finn's pitching led St. Joseph-Ogden to a 1-0 to victory to win the first program's first IHSA state softball title. Dubbed underdogs at the start of the postseason, SJO gave up just one run in during their memorable run to the Class 1A title. See more photos from 2006 softball season here. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

second base player Stacy Ferguson hauls in a pop fly Illinois' most-winningest softball coach Randy Wolken
Left: On their way to winning the state title the Spartans took a few lumps during the 2006 season. One of them was a 3-1 loss at home against the Monticello Sages on April 27. Here Spartan second base player Stacy Ferguson hauls in a pop fly for an out. Right: Despite the loss to the Sages there was still a reason to celebrate, team co-captain Abby Williams presents coach Randy Wolken with a memento for achieving his 648th career win after defeating Mt. Zion on the previous Saturday. Wolken would go on to become and currently remains the only softball coach in the state of Illinois to achieve over 1,000 career victories. His coaching ended with an impressive career record of 1,044-242. What makes those numbers even more impressive is that record was acquired coaching for just one program. (Photos: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Catcher Brittany Morgan catches a congratulatory kiss from her nephew Blake after the Spartans beat Westmont 1-0 to advance to the championship game against Casey-Westfield for the Class A softball title on June 3. It was through Morgan's RBI that put fellow senior Abby Williams across the plate in the first inning for the semifinal game winner. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Stacy Ferguson steals second Sarah Thompson scores winning run
Left: Stacy Ferguson slides into second base on a steal for the Spartans. Coming off a back-to-back doubleheader loss to Casey-Westfield, St. Joseph-Ogden beat crushed the Unity Rockets, 8-0 on April 21. Ferguson was safe on the play. Right: Sarah Thompson leaps in the air to celebrate scoring the first and only run in Spartans' title game against Casey-Westfield. After falling to the Warriors twice in a twin bill earlier in the season, SJO held on to win their first Class A softball title Saturday evening, 1-0. (Photos: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

The future queen of stolen bases in Illinois Lindsey Barron cheers for her team. SJO students cheer for their team after winning a state softball title
Left: Lindsey Barron gives a teammate a high-ten after Sarah Thompson scored a run for the Spartans. Two seasons later, Barron would break the state record in the number of stolen basis in a season with 92. Currently #2 on the IHSA list for career stolen bases, she took 254 extra bases while wearing the Spartan uniform from 2005-2008. Right: St. Joseph-Ogden students [left to right] Nick Krisman, Jesse Grice, and Mark Gones cheer for the school's softball team at the start of the awards ceremony. (Photos: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

SJO goes crazy with state title win
Pandemonium. After the final out of the game frenzied chaos ensued as the members of St. Joseph-Ogden girls softball team celebrates their 1-0 win over Casey-Westfield. Screams of joy, laughter, non-stop hugs and tears consumed players, coaches, family members and fans prior to the start of the official awards ceremony. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

With teammate Stacy Buck all smiles beside here, St. Joseph-Ogden pitcher Morgan Finn wipes the non-stop tears of joy from her face as she and the member of the girls softball team receive their state first-place medals. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

2006 softball state champs pose for their official team photo
The St. Joseph-Ogden softball team poses with their state medals and the program's first state champion softball trophy. The Class 1A title winners finished the season with a record of 31-6. The title run followed the previous year's third-place finish and 32-4 finish. Since this season, the Spartans have made three additional state finals appearances in 2012, 2015 and 2017 bringing home second, third and fourth place trophies. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Girls XC advances to Effingham sectional meet

Despite cold conditions and wet, rainy conditions, the St. Joseph-Ogden girls cross county team finished in third place behind Monticello (first) and Unity (second) as one of seven teams advancing to next Saturday's Class 1A sectional in Effingham.

Hannah Rajlich running at the Spartan Classic.
Hannah Rajlich runs during the Spartan Classic in September. The all-conference runner did not compete in Saturday's regional race. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
The Spartans finished the meet just two points ahead of St. Thomas More with a score of 85 points in arguably the state's toughest small school sectional qualifier.

Led by senior Jillian Plotner, SJO's scoring runners completed the course at Wimple Park in a strong formation of 9, 16, 19, 20 and 21.

Plotner circumvented the course in 19 minutes and 10 seconds for a ninth place overall finish. Ashlyn Lannert was the next Spartan to cross the finish line 33 seconds later at 19:43. Two runners and five seconds later, Ava Knap locked up 19th place.

Malorie Sarnecki rounded out the top 20 finishers with a time of 19:54 with teammate Ally Monk one second behind her at 19:55.

Sophomores Addie Allen and Kailyn Ingram finished their races under the 21 minute mark.

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