1. Marshall, Santa Fe both in baseball Final Four: For the first time in history, two Saline Area teams reached the MSHSAA Championships at Springfield.
This was not a new experience for Santa Fe, which had gone to three straight final fours from 2007-09. The Chiefs capped an impressive 23-1 campaign, in which they out-scored opponents 229-53, by claiming head coach Josh Fisher's second title in four years with a 12-3 victory over Norwood.
Santa Fe rode the strong left arm of three-time all-state junior Andrew Curry; the leadership of seniors Dalton Wilkinson -- the only remaining starter from the '08 state finalist -- Andrew Smith and Ross Heimsoth; and the all-around abilities of sophomore Keaton Graf to the championship.
When Marshall lost four straight down the stretch, it seemed unlikely it could claim the program's third district crown. However, starting with an 11-8 win over NCMC champion Kirksville in the regular season finale, the Owls got hot.
Marshall reeled off four straight playoff wins behind the pitching of seniors Aaron Skinner, Jordan Pannell and Collin Porter -- allowing only seven earned runs during that stretch -- to make it to the show for the first time.
In the semifinal game, the Owls gave St. Louis powerhouse Westminster Christian its stiffest post-season challenge on the way to its second straight title, taking a 2-1 lead into the sixth inning before eventually falling, 8-2. Even though Marshall dropped the third-place contest to Savannah, 10-0, to finish 17-12, it was a year to remember for head coach Ian Verts and his players.
2. Vikings make it into NAIA semifinals: The Missouri Valley College football team dominated the Heart of America Conference, running the table by a 382-110 scoring margin over its league foes, on its way to 12 straight wins and the third appearance in the semifinal round of the NAIA Championship Series since 2006.
Two touchdown passes by sophomore Bruce Reyes put the second-ranked Vikings ahead of No. 5 Marian (Ind.), 17-9, during the third quarter. The Knights tied it up late in the period and then won with a last-second 51-yard field-goal by senior Michael Josifovsky.
Ten days later in Rome, Ga., Josifovsky would boot a game-winning field goal in overtime to give Marian its first national championship, 27-24 over Morningside (Iowa).
Still, it was another fine campaign for NAIA Region 3 "coach of the year" Paul Troth's Vikings (12-1), led by all-America junior cornerback Tyler Davis -- who was joined by sophomore defensive end Ty Phillips and five all-conference first-team seniors: tight end Chris Owens, right tackle Stephon Kelly, kicker Fabian Miramontes, linebacker Mike Hall and cornerback LaQuentin Black.
3. Owls enjoy gridiron comeback: The Marshall football program was at its lowest point since World War II the previous year, going winless for the first time since 1943.
The Owls' fortunes changed in June, when former assistant Jon Stockman was hired as head coach. After ending the '11 season with barely 30 players on the roster, over a third of them freshmen, Marshall's ranks swelled to over 70 -- with no frosh playing varsity -- due to Stockman's recruiting.
The payoff of the renewed enthusiasm came on the field with the Owls' first winning record since 2006, their last playoff appearance. Marshall got off to a 4-1 start, although injuries took a toll during the NCMC campaign. Yet, four weeks after the Owls suffered their worst loss of the season, 41-12 at Moberly, they returned to Spartan territory to pull off a 20-17 overtime upset in the first round of the Class 4, District 4 Tournament.
Marshall finished 6-5 five days later with a 34-13 semifinal loss at Hannibal, but that couldn't put a damper on a remarkable turnaround. Senior tackle Berry Benedick was named to both all-state teams and was joined in post-season honors by several classmates: quarterback Alex Maupin, running back Marc Plummer, defensive linemen Darion Lawrence and Austin Stickels, and linebacker Zarrick Williams.
4. Santa Fe reaches hoops playoffs: Although the Santa Fe boys' basketball team's season began with a disappointing loss to Lone Jack in the I-70 Conference Tournament finals, good times were ahead.
Chiefs avenged that setback on the final day of January to begin an 11-game win streak, capped by a 44-42 victory over the Mules for the Class 2, District 14 Tournament championship.
Santa Fe concluded a 21-7 season, which included a 7-0 run through the league, with a 66-59 loss to Osceola in the sectional at Clinton.
Curry was also a key component of the Chiefs' hoops squad, as were three all-conference senior forwards: Jeff Kuntz, Ben Nienheuser and Cody Schmidt.
5. Lady Owls win third straight NCMC net title: Despite replacing two of its six singles starters, the Marshall girls' tennis team won its third NCMC Tournament championship in a row, matching their longest string of first-place performances.
A year after playing at No. 6 singles, sophomore Molly Evans jumped into the top slot and won the conference gold medal. The Lady Owls had finalists in eight of the nine divisions, with the No. 2 doubles team of seniors Kaylie Davenport and Ellen Woolsey also emerging as champions.
Evans and senior Stephanie Markes, the only other returning starter in singles, won the doubles championship in the Class 1, District 8 Tournament. They split their four matches in the MSHSAA Individual Championships at Springfield, finishing in a tie for seventh place.
The only down side for Marshall (14-3) was the end of a state-record string of 25 straight playoff appearances with a 5-2 loss to Moberly in the finals of the District 8 Team Tournament.