As the saying goes “hope springs eternal,” but this spring, the O’Fallon Township High School turned a lot of dreams into reality with a sports season marked by both team and individual success stories. Eight of the nine squads completed their three-month campaigns with winning records and most finished among the top teams in Southwestern Conference play.
Track was king (and queen) in 2017. Although neither the girls nor boys captured their respective league championships, the IHSA state finals transformed what might have been a disappointing campaign into one for the record book as OTHS athletes captured an unprecedented four state championship medals.
For the girls, collecting gold medals was a combined effort and the culmination of a four-year effort to achieve a goal. Victories against the best in the state in the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relays made 2017 more than just memorable.
The state championships secured by Chris Conrad in the 800 and Nathan Rainge in two wheelchair events gave O’Fallon the highest team total ever scored by a Panther track team. Conrad’s victory, like the girls relay teams, was the final chapter in a high school career that began as a fledgling freshman trying to crack an experienced and dominant cross country lineup. For Rainge, his finale elevated his status to one of the all-time most decorated tracksters in school history, His two state titles in 2017 completed a remarkable and inspirational high school career that ended with eight state titles.
Baseball & Softball
On the diamond, the O’Fallon baseball and softball teams also supplied local fans with a quality product.
Long-time baseball mentor Jason Portz and first-year head coach Lauren Muniz entered the spring campaign with high expectations for their respective squads. In softball, the Lady Panthers experienced some growing pains during the season but finished on a strong note, ending with an 18-14 mark. The baseball Panthers once again were in the race for the SWC title until the final week of the season. Continuing a tradition of winning baseball, the OTHS squad ended its season in sectional tournament play with a 32-6 record.
Boys volleyball, under the leadership of coach Katelyn Hagarty, continued to produce wins. Behind the outstanding leadership of Luke Meidel and Gabe Norisigian, the Panther spikers were again a force in league play, as well as in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. Despite significant personnel losses due to graduation, the OTHS squad charged to a 27-10-1 record, collecting another regional championship along the way.
With lacrosse moving closer to becoming an IHSA-sanctioned sport, the OTHS girls and boys programs continued to gain experience and demonstrate solid improvement. Relying on a roster that included a number of younger players, the Panthers were able to challenge many of the established Missouri programs, and in a number of cases, register impressive victories as the season progressed.
Graduation losses and the level of competition in the Southwestern Conference leave many schools suffering cyclical down times in various sports. For O’Fallon however, those “down times” have been minimal. Credit should go to the coaching staffs who maintain high expectations and have, over the years, established an expectation of excellence of which the athletes entering the program are well aware.
Reporting of the exploits of these young athletes has been satisfying, and in some cases, inspiring. One can only hope that the benefits and lessons learned from interscholastic competition will continue to be one of the cornerstones of the educational experience for O’Fallon Township in the future.