The 2016-17 academic year ended in historic fashion for Saint Ignatius Athletics.
The Wildcats won two State Championships this past weekend, including the volleyball program's first Ohio High School Boys Volleyball Association (OHSBVA). The title gives the Wildcats four this season, matching the number of championships won by the Wildcats in 2015-16.
Historic might be the best word to describe the season for the blue and gold. So, it makes sense to look back at one of the best years Wildcats fans have ever seen.
The first of four championships went to a familiar bunch of faces. The Soccer Cats added an eighth star to their shield in October, making history in the process.
Guided by outstanding Head Coach Michael McLaughlin '85 and a clutch crop of seniors, the Wildcats defeated St. Charles at MAPFRE Stadium, becoming the first OHSAA boys soccer squad in history to win back-to-back-to-back championships.
The star-studded Wildcats did not lose game, finishing 21-0-2 and extending the program-record unbeaten streak to 59 matches, but the end of the road was not easy.
The Soccer Cats trailed Medina, 2-0, late in the first half of the State Semifinal before Stephen Milhoan scored to bring it within one, and Riley Houde scored to tie it early in the second half. Milhoan – the Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association's Mr. Soccer, Division I Player of the Year, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Player of the Year, and Gatorade Ohio Boys Soccer Player of the Year – later sent the Wildcats to the finals after a hotly contested overtime with a masterful penalty kick.
The Wildcats also needed a late goal to win the state title game, as Alex Gotsky found twine on a wonderful shot from 30 yards out. Each player contributed to help the Wildcats win it all, including goalkeeper Lodge Dils, who will be missed in years to come.
The Soccer Cats started off a year filled with greatness.
The men of Brian Becker '77 represented the Wildcats well in 2016. A young team, composed of just one senior, two juniors, a sophomore, and two freshmen, performed well the whole season.
The Wildcats performed well in Sectionals with a third place score, securing a spot at Districts. Michael McCaffrey led the way with a 73, while Andrew Kaye followed close behind with a 79.
McCaffrey guided the Wildcats at Districts, clinching a spot in the State Tournament in Columbus. The junior notched a score of 83 in what was his first appearance in the State Tournament.
Hunter Rinkus will head to Notre Dame College to continue his career in college, but the bulk of the Wildcats' roster remains, indicating a bright future for the blue and gold.
The 2015 season ended in a State Championship for the Cross Country Cats. The 2016 season did not, but the Wildcats still had plenty of accolades to hang their hats on.
Senior CJ Ambrosio anchored a largely youthful squad for the blue and gold. The Duke-bound runner guided the Wildcats to a first-place finish at the Hilliard Davidson Invite early in the year and the top spot at the Medina District meet. The squad also took second place in two races and third place in four meets.
The State Meet saw the Wildcats pour out their all on the course. Ambrosio set a new school record with a race of 15:15 at Hebron, while Andrew Szendry set a personal record with a mark of 15:59. Youngsters Nick Saul and Andrew Biehl also impressed, helping the Wildcats claim a seventh place score out of 20 teams and 186 runners.
As Dr. Mike Gallagher '71 wrote, the Wildcats' parents and fans played a large part in the team's success, boding well for the future of the program.
Heartbreak ended what was otherwise a magical season for the Football Cats. Despite the difficult ending, a double-overtime loss in the State Championship game cannot take away from what was an incredible year.
A revitalized defense led by first-year Defensive Coordinator (and recent Athletic Hall of Fam inductee) Ryan Franzinger '02 crushed every foe in its way. The "Linebacker Legion" of John Velotta, Adam Shibley, and James Leyden shut down opposing runners and pursued the quarterback with alarming alacrity. Defensive linemen Joe Gibbons, Mike Chime, and others also struck fear in opposing ballcarriers.
The secondary, quarterbacked by Wirtz Award winner Matt Wiegandt '17, came up with big stops. Though Wiegandt and cornerback Alex Ringfield are off to college, Justin Sands, Cameron Toppin, and other young guns will lead the defense in 2017.
On offense, Pat Ryan stepped into the QB1 role and led the offense. Helped by a formidable offensive line headed by John Spellacy, Ryan used his feet and arm to defeat his opponents. And whenever he needed a break, Ryan handed the ball off to the dependable three-headed beast of Mark Bobinski, Jimmy Andrews, and Dean Stowers. Bobinski will be back to lead the offense this year.
Two wins over St. Edward, including one at FirstEnergy Stadium, stood as trademark wins, along with a blowout of Mentor at home. Following a tough double overtime loss to Detroit Catholic Central, the Wildcats ripped off ten wins in a row to return to the playoffs and the title bout.
Even amidst defeat, the Wildcats earned a runner-up banner and plenty of respect from fans across the state and the country.
Just like the Soccer Cats, the Ice Cats brought home championship hardware back to Ohio City for the second straight season.
Head Coach Patrick O'Rourke '90 commandeered a mix of veterans and youths to Columbus. The Wildcats began the year with a tough slate and thus a bit of a slow start, but heated up and cut through the Great Lakes Hockey League to the postseason. The squad ripped off nine straight wins en route to a 5-1 victory over Toledo St. Francis in the state final.
The Wildcats received big contributions from a strong senior core, including Wiegandt, Connor Koehnke, Seth Whitney, Andrew Zedella, Grayson Gerard, and Benji Rechin, among others. Plenty of young guns stepped up, too, including unflappable netminder Benny Savarino, Michael McCaffrey, Bain Kurtz, and freshman phenom Michael Boehm.
Together, the Wildcats achieved the "Triple Crown" of a GLHL regular season title, a Cleveland Cup, and an OHSAA Championship, a feat that will be difficult for another team to repeat.
Next season's schedule will be difficult and filled with tough teams on the road, but the Wildcats will be ready for the challenge.
School records fell left and right for the Mat Cats this year.
And not to mention, one of the best wrestlers in recent memory to pass through the halls of Wildcat High completed his Saint Ignatius career in 2017.
Kaden Russell finished off his Wildcat career in Columbus this February at the OHSAA Division I Individual State Tournament, winning fourth place at 182 pounds to mark his second straight appearance after upsetting foes for the title in 2016.
Russell's title run was not meant to be in 2017, but his feats at 182 pounds this season will not soon be forgotten. Russell set the school record for most points in a season (255.5) and best dual meet record in a season (16-0). Russell, along with his friend Michael Drobnick, set the school mark for fastest pin at five seconds, back-to-back in the same meet.
The Wildcats accomplished plenty as a team, too. The squad captured 14 dual meet wins this year, a school record. The Mat Cats also took third at the Catholic Invitational Tournament, which Saint Ignatius will host next season.
Individually, promising junior Aidan Gill showed impressive growth at 220 pounds. Fellow juniors Logan Toth and Toby Engel also look poised for big years in 2017-18. Najee Lockett and Johnny Novak will be two more names to remember as rising sophomores.
The Alley Cats enjoyed one heck of a season.
With a strong group of keglers, the Wildcats rolled through the season with a 6-3 overall record and a tournament championship at the Highland Classic. Of the five tournaments the Wildcats took part in, the squad finished third or better in three of them.
Unfortunately, the team's journey ended at Sectionals, 49 pins short of advancing to Districts. Senior Nick Frank did qualify individually, though, with a 177, 203, and 226 for a team-high 606 series. Frank repped the Wildcats well at Districts. Sophomore Vinny Doran, who will be a key cog for the team next season, also qualified for the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Pepsi Youth Challenge.
Frank, Devin Vinczel, and Joe Johnson will be missed on the varsity squad, but the Doran brothers bring hope for the future for the Alley Cats.
Talk about a thrilling season. The Basketball Cats streaked into the postseason with a 17-5 record, including a 17-3 mark after a pair of losses started the year.
The senior leadership of Matt Davet, Austen Yarian, Devin Jackson, Michael Spear, and Colin Goodfellow guided the Wildcats through good times and bad. The quintet definitely treated fans to plenty of exciting moments at Sullivan Gym.
The Wildcats won all 12 games inside the friendly confines of Sullivan Gym in the 2016-17 season, making plenty of memories for Wildcats faithful. Matt Davet's clutch buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime against the Eagles stands as one of the top highlights of the school year, for any sport. The senior later hit 1,000 points for his career on Senior Night, answered with a well-deserved standing ovation.
The Eagles eventually defeated the Wildcats in the District Finals, the third matchup of the season, but the squad's playoff exit does not diminish the squad's accomplishments.
Davet and Yarian will be sorely missed, but look for Davet's younger brother, Kevin, and the team's rising senior corps of guards to lead the way in 2017-18.
Swimming & Diving
The untouchable favorite to win States, the St. Xavier Bombers did just that in 2017. But the underdog Wildcats did the unthinkable this season.
The Saint Ignatius swimming & diving team put together an effort for the ages at the State Meet in Columbus at the end of the 2016-17 season, claiming second place and a banner for the Athletic Hall of Fame hallway.
The efforts of Dimitri Simcox, Marcus Hong, Nick Hong, Cian O’Haimhigrin, Joey Libertin, Alex Claus, John Hessler, and Severyn Kushmeliuk made it all possible.
Simcox, Hessler, Libertin, and Kushmeliuk set the tone with a 4th place time in the 200m relay, a big upset. Simcox, Marcus Hong, Nick Hong, and O'Haimhirgin combined for another big upset effort in the 200 free relay. And then Simcox, O'Haimhirgin, Libertin, and Marcus Hong went for the big catch in the 400 free relay, setting a school mark with a time of 3:03.78.
Marcus Hong did plenty of work individually to get the Wildcats into second place. Hong notched second in the 100 butterfly with a school-record time of 49.17. The future Kenyon swimmer also took eighth in the 100 backstroke. Simcox, Libertin, and O'Haimhirgin did plenty for the Wildcats individually, too.
And not to be forgotten, Alex Claus repped the Wildcats in the 1-meter diving.
The squad's unforgettable performance might lie under the surface of four state titles, but the Swim Cats separated themselves this year with their work ethic and determination.
One of the toughest schedules in program history, perhaps the most difficult of any team in the country, confronted the Wildcats at the beginning of the season.
Lesser teams might have backed down to the challenge, but the men of Dan Arbeznik '00 are wired differently.
The warriorlike Wildcats confronted every team head-on, defeating Georgetown Prep (DC) and Penn, two solid teams. Then the Rugby Cats downed all three French teams in the squad's 10-day trip to Paris and other areas of Northern France.
The Wildcats compiled win after win over teams such as Xavier (NY), Cathedral (IN), and St. Edward after the trip, leading the Goff Rugby Report to elevate the Rugby Cats to No. 1 in the nation. A loss to Penn (with the Wildcats' seniors at Prom) and a defeat to Archbishop Moeller dampened the squad's spirits heading into the RugbyOhio Championship, though.
But the Wildcats shook off rust and a gritty St. Edward team to claim the RugbyOhio title for the third time in program history, 17-7.
The senior leadership of Jimmy Desmarteau, Jimmy Andrews, Joe O'Brien, Eddie Patton, Chris Fedor, Matt Lipaj, and others proved crucial for the blue and gold down the stretch for the Wildcats.
The future is plenty bright for the Wildcats, too. Rising seniors such as Juan Pen, Alex Chura, Nick Zolikoff, and Sean Soeder will lead a talented bunch next season.
Speaking of talent, the Baseball Cats had plenty of it on the roster this year. From the incredible arm of Connor Adams to the reliable bat hefted by Ryan Jacobs, the Wildcats enjoyed the talents of a loaded senior class.
Talent did not translate to wins early in the season, as the Baseball Cats struggled to find a rhythm. Belied with tough opponents, the slate set the Wildcats back to start the year. But the Baseball Cats came together and figured it out for the stretch run.
Starting with a big 8-6 win on a soggy day at League Park, the Wildcats tore off six straight victories entering the playoffs. The squad won five in a row in the span of five days during a big stretch, setting the stage for a clutch 3-1 win over the Eagles in the District Semifinals.
Unfortunately, one bad inning for the Wildcats proved to be the team's downfall. Strongsville scored a host of runs in the sixth inning of the District Final, sending the Baseball Cats home.
The accomplishments of the Wildcats will not be forgotten, as this senior class played a big role in last year's run and achieved plenty this season, too, from the win at League Park to Jack Siefert's walk-off hit to eliminating the squad's rival in the District Semis.
Track & Field
Youth proved to be the calling card of the 2017 Track & Field Cats. A large graduating senior class thrust the Class of 2018 into a starring role.
The juniors, now rising seniors, orchestrated an impressive first-place finish at Districts and a ninth place effort at States, showing just how much fans have to look forward to in 2018.
Perhaps the most improved athlete of the bunch was Darian Kinnard. The starting left tackle for the Football Cats represented the Ring Cats well, making it all the way to the State Tournament, earning the Canton GlenOak Invite Field MVP award along the way. Kinnard notched second in the shot put for the Ring Cats at States, also repping the team in the discus.
Phil Zuccaro might have been the most dynamic Wildcat runner, excelling in the 100m dash, 200m dash, and 4x100 relay. Connor Kennedy, Jack Kennedy, and Anthony Pelligrino teamed up with the rising junior in the event, notching some big points for the Wildcats. The Kennedy brothers will return next season with Zuccaro. Also look for John Wetula, a state hurdles qualifier as a sophomore, to make noise for the Wildcats next season.
CJ Ambrosio also posted a memorable performance at States, notching third in the 3200m after setting a Regional record at Amherst a week beforehand. Ambrosio will be certainly be missed.
With a young squad in 2018, the Wildcats might surprise some folks, as they did in 2016.
For the second straight season, the Saint Ignatius lacrosse team made it to the state championship game.
Last season, the Lax Cats fell to a superior Upper Arlington powerhouse team. This year, the underdog Wildcats took the Archbishop Moeller Crusaders to the wire.
Like last season, fate was not with the Wildcats. But the team's journey to the inaugural OHSAA Division I State Tournament Championship was one of the special stories of the 2016-17 season.
With Patrick McManamon stepping away as head coach to tend to his business and young family, the Saint Ignatius lacrosse program found itself without a leader entering last summer.
Enter Garen Distelhorst '96. After no clear leader emerged, Distelhorst accepted the role of interim head coach, a promotion from JV Gold Coach. Distelhorst inherited a talented team, but a squad seriously missing the class of 2016 studs who carried the squad to its state title appearance.
The season started off well, as the Wildcats galloped to a 6-2 start, with a narrow defeat to Moeller and a competitive loss to Canadian powerhouse Everest Academy.
But then a three-game losing streak struck. Hudson, Upper Arlington, and University School, albeit three tough teams, handed the Wildcats losses. And then after a pair of wins over Solon and Massillon Jackson, the Wildcats suffered back-to-back losses to St. Xavier and Western Reserve Academy. The team responded with a win over Mount Lebanon to enter the OHSAA Tournament, but the team looked a bit adrift.
Then the Wildcats roared. Rattling off home wins over Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, the Lax Cats hit the road for Hudson. And once again in the playoffs, the Lax Cats dominated a difficult Explorers team, 12-4. Then the Wildcats scored 12 again in a 12-6 win over North Canton Hoover. The State Semifinals came and went, with another large victory, this time over a loaded Olentangy Liberty squad.
The road ended at Ohio Wesleyan University, but the efforts of now record holders Anthony Ameo and Carter Blossey won't be forgotten. Ameo will be back for another year, but star netminder Blossey and stout defender Sean Keller are unfortunately departing to college. The senior class will be remembered for back-to-back runners-up, and some phenomenal wins. The future remains bright, however, with some of the most promising young players – Michael Boehm and Nate Conry – to pass through the school in quite some time.
The Saint Ignatius tennis program typically sends one player a year or so to the individual state tournament in Columbus. This season, the Tennis Cats sent five.
For the first time since 2003, the Wildcats boasted multiple players in the tournament, with Josh Hsia, Kevin Callanan & Jack McNally, and Rich Hofstra & Brian Zhu.
The previous high for Wildcats represented at States was three, set in 2002. The Tennis Cats obviously shattered that record.
Though all five Tennis Cats fell in the first round, the team's achievements this season are nothing short of amazing.
The squad narrowly missed the program record for the best mark in a season, notching 13 wins against 3 losses. Add in a sweep of the St. Edward Tournament and a deep run in the OTCA Team Tournament, and you have one heck of a season.
Callanan and McNally thrived as a duo, playing together for the first time ever this season. Hsia played the role of team leader, dominating on the court and leading the way back to States for his second straight season.
Losing Hsia and Callanan to graduation will hurt, but the Tennis Cats have plenty to look forward to next season.
*Author's Note: Crew was originally, and mistakenly, left off of this article. Our apologies for the mistake*
The 2017 Saint Ignatius rowing team enjoyed another phenomenal season.
Under the direction of Pat Connor '94, the Wildcats represented Northeast Ohio well at the 2017 Midwest Scholastic Rowing Championship and showed why the Wildcats are a powerhouse at the local and national level.
The Crew Cats sent three boats to SRAA National Championships – Varsity 8, Junior 8 and Lightweight 8.
The three boats performed well in New Jersey, particularly the Junior 8, earning a Silver Medal and setting the squad's sights on a promising future.
The years to come will be quite bright for the Wildcats.
We've saved the best story for last.
Entering the 2017 season, Casey Marcelo had reached the State Quarterfinal round of the Ohio High School Boys Volleyball Association (OHSBVA) Tournament in Columbus for nine seasons in a row. Never had Marcelo and the Volleyball Cats advanced past the State Quarterfinals.
The tenth time proved to be the charm.
Facing highly touted teams from Columbus and Cincinnati, regarded as the "hotbeds" of volleyball in the state, the Wildcats cruised with swagger and style. Wearing Hawaiian shirts in pregame warmups, the Volleyball Cats sent the message that they were relaxed and not afraid.
The sweep of Westerville South, 3-0, in the State Quarterfinal round set the tone. From there, the Wildcats defeated St. Xavier, 3-1, whom the Volleyball Cats fell to earlier in the season, 3-1.
Then came the State Championship bout. The heavy-hitting Hilliard Darby squad entered as the clear favorites, and acted that way. But the calm, cool, and collected Wildcats rolled to a win in the first set.
The second set also went to the Wildcats. And despite Darby's best efforts to comeback, the Volleyball Cats put away Darby in the end to clinch the Wildcats' (and Marcelo's) first State Championship.
No single Wildcat excelled above the rest. Each player did his job. From James Purcell and Danny Michals killing it up front, to Rich Holzheimer assisting on nearly every point, to John Moynihan and Co. serving gems, the Wildcats won with all-around play. And how can anyone forget the Getty Brothers, the triplets who played a huge role in the team's successes.
The game-planning of Marcelo, Coach Jacob Layden, Coach Anne Kent, and the rest of the coaching staff also made a sizable difference. No team could adjust to the Wildcats' perfect execution of smart game plans.
And while a calm determination prevailed for most of the tournament, a bubbling joy rose to the surface at Capital University. A determined band of volleyball brothers had done the impossible and brought the trophy back to Ohio City.
Congratulations to all 16 Wildcats teams on an incredible season. Thank you for all of the memories, and for providing so much joy and excitement to the dedicated fans of Saint Ignatius Athletics. We won't soon forget the 2016-17 season.
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