MUNCIE, Ind. — Seniors dominated The Star Press’ Winter Athletes of the Year awards, winning every category in every sport.
The Class of 2021 certainly left behind a legacy. From the school records to the state championships, the performances of these athletes will be hard to top.
For this season, we’re doing something a little bit different when it comes to naming our athletes of the year. We will be separating sports that are divided in classes by the Indiana High School Athletic Association (for winter that means boys and girls basketball). For those sports, we’ve selected both a small school athlete of the year (Class A and 2A) and a large school athlete of the year (Class 3A and 4A).
Without further ado, here are The Star Press 2020-21 Winter Athletes of the Year:
Big school athlete: Brady Hunt, Delta
The performance: Hunt entered this year as the only returning starter on Delta’s boys basketball team, which graduated five of its top contributors from the 2019-20 squad that went 20-4 and won a second straight sectional. Hunt took the additional pressure put on him seemingly with ease, helping the Eagles secure a share of the Hoosier Heritage Conference championship which helped make Hunt the all-time winningest player (82-17) in program history. This season, Hunt had career-high totals in points (21.2), rebounds (8.7) and assists (2.4) per game. He shot 54% from the field, 37% from 3, 76% from the free throw line and finished with 1,434 career points.
Hunt on the season: “As a team, we came into the season and a lot of people outside of the locker room weren’t sure if we were even going to be .500 or win any conference games or things like that. So, just coming out and getting 17 wins and getting a share of the conference, that was really special and it just shows the work ethic of our guys and the quality of our coaches. It was a fun year.”
Why Hunt chose basketball: Hunt grew up playing basketball and watched his brother play from a young age. Once Hunt discovered he was good at the sport, he kept playing through middle school and high school.
Future plans: Hunt committed to play football at Ball State and said he wants to contribute to help the Cardinals win another Mid-American Conference championship and bowl game.
Favorite memory/memories of his time at Delta: Going undefeated during his sophomore season and winning a sectional in front of a packed New Castle Fieldhouse. Hunt said he enjoyed playing in an atmosphere that a lot of basketball players, even college players, will never experience.
Favorite athlete: Drew Brees
Favorite movie: The “Creed” movies
Favorite food: Mexican
Small school athlete: Luke Brown, Blackford
The performance: What’s left to be said? This season, Brown surpassed 3,000 career points — becoming just the fifth player in IHSAA boys basketball history to do so — and helped lead Blackford (25-5) to its first regional title in program history under the direction of a first-year coach in Grant Newlin, who took over a day before the season began. This season, Brown averaged 31.7 points per game, good for the third-best average in the state, and led Blackford in assists (5.4) and steals (2.0) while finishing second on the team in rebounds (4.6). Brown finished fourth on the IHSAA’s all-time scoring list with 3,011 career points. As a senior, he shot 54% from the field and 45% from 3 — both career-bests — and shot 92% from the free throw line.
Brown on the season: “Individually, I thought I had a really good year percentage-wise. I’m big into percentages because I work so hard at shooting and ball-handling and limiting turnovers. … Team-wise, it was probably the best year we’ve ever had at Blackford. It was not only great winning and accomplishing things, but it was just a great year with my teammates and growing close with them. All in all, it was really just a great senior year for me.”
Why Brown chose basketball: Brown grew up with two Little Tikes basketball goals in his basement and said it was “love at first sight.” From a young age, Brown learned from his dad, Ted, how to shoot properly and dribble. Eventually, Brown started to play outside and was never interested in playing another sport.
Future plans: After taking a week off following the regional, Brown intends on taking his game to “a whole new level,” training at M14Hoops in Indy and the Muncie CrossFit. Before traveling down to Florida to play Division I basketball at Stetson, Brown said he wants to continue working on getting stronger.
Favorite memory/memories of his time at Blackford: Winning a regional title. It was something that Brown wanted to do since he arrived in Hartford City and he and his teammates were able to achieve it during his senior season.
Favorite athlete: Steph Curry
Favorite movie: “Good Will Hunting”
Favorite food: Steak at Texas Roadhouse
Big school athlete: Carley Culberson, Yorktown
The performance: After wearing a knee brace as a junior following the ACL tear she suffered as a sophomore, Culberson looked 100% in her final season in a Yorktown jersey. The senior helped lead the Tigers to a 15-6 record, including a 4-3 mark in the Hoosier Heritage Conference. Culberson led the way in points (19), assists (3.7) and steals (4.7) per game and was second on the team with 4.6 rebounds per game. Culberson was ranked 12th in the state in steals per game and finished her career with 1,003 points despite only playing three complete seasons.
Culberson on the season: “As a team, we kind of set some goals. … We obviously wanted to win a sectional championship and thought regionals might be in the picture, but we faced some challenges with COVID, you know, our team got quarantined going into sectionals. … With all the challenges we faced this season, I think our girls handled it really well.”
She added: “Individually for me, it definitely didn’t go the way I wanted it to go, but I’m looking forward to next year in college. I think it’s just going to be a whole other level and I’m going to be able to play the way I want to play.”
Why Culberson chose basketball: Ever since Culberson could remember, she had a basketball in her hands. She grew up playing against older boys and watched the passion and fun they they had for the sport, which she said made her realize that she didn’t “want to ever be without this game.”
Future plans: Culberson committed to play basketball at Lander University, a Division II program in South Carolina. She said she’s eager to set personal goals with her coach and, after four years, wants to play professional basketball overseas.
Favorite memory/memories of her time at Yorktown: The county championship and sectional championship Yorktown won during her freshman year. Also, despite sitting out her sophomore year, Culberson said it was beneficial to see the game from a coach’s perspective.
Favorite athlete: Michael Jordan
Favorite movie: “Step Brothers”; favorite TV show, “Grey’s Anatomy”
Favorite food: Macaroni and cheese
Small school athlete: Kaylee Kear, Cowan
The performance: Despite being the focus of opposing defenses most nights, Kear found a way to excel on the court for Cowan. As a senior, Kear shot 51% from the field, and averaged 13.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game. During the county championship game against Yorktown, Kear joined the 1,000-point club and finished her career with 1,105 points. She led the Blackhawks to a 13-10 record and helped them earn a spot in the sectional championship game.
Kear on the season: “I’m very proud with how this season went for my team and myself. … I could not have asked for my senior year to go any better besides, of course, the fact that I wanted that sectional championship really, really bad. Other than that, scoring 1,000 points and, just, what I accomplished this year, I’m very proud of and I’m also very proud of my team and my coaches because I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”
Why Kear chose basketball: Kear started playing basketball around third or fourth grade. Originally, she saw her brother playing basketball and was just looking for something to do. When the tried it, she fell in love with the sport.
Future plans: Next year, Kear will attend Ball State and major in dietetics.
Favorite memory/memories of her time at Cowan: Winning Cowan’s first girls basketball sectional championship her sophomore year. On the final play of the game, Kear found Elizabeth Clevenger, who hit the last-second shot to give the Blackhawks the 44-42 victory over Daleville. Also, Kear said she was very proud being able to score 1,000 career points.
Favorite athlete: Kobe Bryant
Favorite TV show: “All American”
Favorite food: Ice cream
Boys swimming and diving
Diver: Sam Bennett, Delta
The performance: Bennett, a Purdue diving commit, nearly broke the Indiana high school boys state diving record this season. A year after winning his first state diving title in 2020, Bennett dominated the field at the IUPUI natatorium, scoring a 615.5 to defend his title in the one-meter diving competition. The state diving record, set by Hamilton Southeastern’s Phillip Jones in 2001, is 623.90. Bennett also set a new diving record of 674.05 at the Jay County sectional and won the Herman F. Keller Mental Attitude Award at the state finals.
Bennett on the season: “As far as competition goes, (the) season went great. It was a bit of a bummer that (due to COVID) the social aspect was mostly taken away. We as divers were not really able to spend time with the swimmers at all this season.”
Why Bennett chose diving: Bennett’s tried other sports in his life to try and find what best suited him. After trying football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, swimming and soccer, Bennett said “diving is hands down the most enjoyable sport I’ve done.”
Future plans: Bennett will dive at Purdue next season and previously said his goal is to be an NCAA champion and Olympian.
Favorite memory/memories of his time at Delta: Bennett said his favorite memories were spending time with the swimming and diving team his freshman and sophomore year. He also said the inward two-and-a-half tuck he dove at state his sophomore year was a “very powerful moment in my life.”
Favorite athlete: David Boudia
Favorite movie: “Pulp Fiction”; Favorite TV show: “Rick and Morty”
Favorite food: Pizza
Swimmer: Brady Samuels, Delta
The performance: After finishing on the podium at state in two events as a junior, Samuels came into his senior season with a goal to win a state championship in at least one event. Well, he did it in two. At state, Samuels dominated to win the 50-yard freestyle with a 19.72 — the only sub-20-second time among the field — and the 100 butterfly with a 47.05. Samuels also cruised to a pair of record-breaking sectional victories in the 50 freestyle (20.19) and 100 butterfly (47.62) and was the anchor on Delta’s 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay squads that won at sectional with times of 1:29.38 and 3:19.11, respectively.
Samuels on the season: “The year went great; I accomplished all the goals that I had set for myself and now I just need to sit down and write more of them.”
Why Samuels chose swimming: Samuels started swimming club in sixth grade and said he quickly became “obsessed” with the hard work that it took to constantly improve times.
Future plans: Shortly after the 2020 state finals, Samuels committed to swim at Purdue. He said his goal is to finish in the top eight at the Big Ten Championships and qualify for the NCAA Championships, as well.
Favorite memory/memories of his time at Delta: Winning the 50 freestyle at the state finals this year to claim his first state championship is a moment that Samuels won’t soon forget.
Favorite athlete: Tom Brady
Favorite movie: “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Favorite food: Steak
Girls swimming and diving
Athlete No. 1: Eliza Bader, Jay County
The performance: Jay County has had a representative at the IHSAA girls swimming and diving state finals every year since 2008. At every state final since 2018, Bader has represented the Patriots. This year, Bader qualified in the 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly, 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay. Bader did not advance to the finals but did finish 15th in the 50 free (24.88), 11th in the 100 butterfly (58.52) and helped the Patriots’ 200 medley relay team and 200 freestyle relay teams finish ninth (1:49.97) and 13th (1:42.18), respectively, in the preliminaries.
Bader on the season: “As a whole, I was pretty happy with it, just the season that was with COVID and everything. I was just happy that we were able to complete the season. At our home meets we were able to have our families come and watch us except for sectionals because of how everything was. … I’m just very thankful that we were able to have this whole season.
Why Bader chose swimming: Swimming runs in the Bader family. Bader’s mom swam, her grandpa started a summer swim program and her sisters and cousins swim, as well. Bader started swimming club when she was 4 years old and has stuck with it ever since.
Future plans: Bader plans on continuing to swim in college. She is looking at attending either Ball State or Indiana Wesleyan and said she anticipates she will make her decision “very soon.”
Favorite memory/memories of her time at Jay County: Bader doesn’t have one favorite swim memory but said it was fun to swim with both of her sisters and advancing to state with each of them was special.
Favorite athlete: Caeleb Dressel
Favorite TV show: “Grey’s Anatomy”
Favorite food: Macaroni and cheese
Athlete No. 2: Ashlyn Dow, Jay County
The performance: Another four-time state qualifier, Dow finished the highest among area girls swimmers who competed at state. Dow finished ninth in the 100 freestyle with a 53.36 and 12th in the 100 breaststroke with a 1:06.74. Dow was also a member of the Patriots’ 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay teams who finished ninth (1:49.97) and 13th (1:42.18), respectively. At sectionals, Dow dominated, winning the 100 freestyle (53.44) and 100 breaststroke (1:06.68) by nearly three full seconds.
Dow on the season: “Well, of course, it was a very different year and I didn’t know what to expect with it but I think my attitude pretty much the whole swim season was (that) I was glad to have my last season. I cried a lot of tears and everything was just bittersweet because I knew it was all coming to an end and I knew not to take any of my swim meets for granted. I think that was my attitude the whole season.”
Why Dow chose swimming: Dow’s sister signed up for swimming when she was in second grade and, at the time, Dow didn’t have any interest in the sport. Eventually, Dow listened to her mom and sister, who urged her to swim. “I am so glad I did,” she said.
Future plans: Dow thought about swimming in college but decided she is just going to focus on school. She will be attending Ball State next fall.
Favorite memory/memories of her time at Jay County: The funny traditions like the bellyflops the Jay County swimmers do before every swim meet. Dow said she also enjoyed being so close with her teammates throughout her high school career.
Favorite athlete: Lilly King
Favorite TV show: “Friends”
Favorite food: Pasta
Athlete: Samantha Ward, New Castle
The performance: Ward was one of just two area athletes who competed at the IHSAA gymnastics state finals earlier this month (she was joined by teammate Ella Garvin). Ward finished 11th on the bars with a 9.375 and 22nd in the vault with a 9.275. This was the fourth straight season that Ward advanced to the state gymnastics meet. At the Connersville sectional, Ward helped New Castle to a second place finish (104.600), finishing tied for first in the all-around (36.700) and bars (9.275), second on the floor (9.450), second on the vault (9.500) and fifth on the beam (8.475).
Ward on the season: “It was definitely interesting. I was quarantined twice, so it was a little frustrating because I didn’t get to practice or compete as often but that honestly made every other moment that I could compete in practice that much more special. Especially since it was my last year, I just took every moment and realized how great it was that I can be there.”
Why Ward chose gymnastics: Ward grew up in the gym. Her older sister did gymnastics and Ward would always tag along, putting in hours in the gym every week. “I love the beauty of the sport and how the whole point of it is to make everything look so effortless when, in reality, it’s the exact opposite,” Ward said.
Future plans: At this point, Ward said she “has no clue” what’s next. She is done with sports and plans on going to college to study medicine but does not know where at this point.
►YEAR IN REVIEW:The area’s biggest high school sports stories from 2020
Favorite memory/memories of her time at New Castle: Last year, New Castle’s bus got into an accident on its way to the regional on a Saturday morning, which was eventually delayed to the following Monday. Ward said she was sleeping during the crash and woke up to people telling her that she needed to get off the bus. Ward, who had her shoes off, was only able to find one shoe and spent most of the rest of the day without a shoe. Eventually, New Castle finished third at the regional and qualified for state as a team for just the second time ever and first time since 2002.
Favorite athlete: Katelyn Ohashi
Favorite movie: “Rocky IV”
Favorite food: Pizza (her family owns 1000° Wood Fired Pizza)
Athlete: Jamorion “Jack” Taylor
The performance: In just his second year of organized wrestling, Taylor qualified for the IHSAA wrestling state finals and finished fifth in the 220-pound weight class. Taylor, who wrestled heavyweight for New Castle most of the season, finished with a 39-3 record and lost to Bloomington South’s Tristan Ruhlman (27-0), the eventual 220-pound state champ, in the second round of the state finals. This year, Taylor finished as the regional runner-up, dominated to win the Shenandoah sectional title and won the Hoosier Heritage Conference title.
Taylor on the season: “Really, I just wanted to make my coach proud to have winning wrestling and I wanted to be a captain that he could count on. I started off a little slow, I was taking longer matches and people were lasting long with me at the beginning of the year because I didn’t have a season wrestling yet. … I had to do what I had to do to make sure we had winning wrestling. If that means bumping up (a class), then I had to do that.”
Why Taylor chose wrestling: Taylor, a Mississippi native, only started wrestling when he moved to New Castle at the beginning of his junior year. Once his football coach told him that wrestling would help him on the football field, he grew more interested in the sport, constantly asking questions and rapidly improving.
Future plans: Taylor plans on playing football in college, though he’s not quite sure where yet. He has offers for both football and wrestling but wants to see how he does at wrestling nationals in April before deciding if he will do one or two sports.
Favorite memory/memories of his time at New Castle: There were a number of moments in Taylor’s career that he remembered fondly. His No. 1 member, however, was beating Indianapolis Cathedral’s David Guhl this season to “shock the semistate” and secure his spot in the IHSAA state finals.
Favorite athlete: DK Metcalf
Favorite movie: “The Avengers” movies
Favorite food: Cheeseburgers