YEAR IN REVIEW: Local sports stories that stood out in 2017 | TheUnion.com

YEAR IN REVIEW: Local sports stories that stood out in 2017

From historic postseason runs, to the resurgence of powerhouse programs and home-grown athletes realizing life-long dreams, the local sports scene had plenty to offer in 2017.

Here is a look at the top local sports stories that stood out in the past 12 months:

BRUINS CLAW THEIR WAY TO SECTION TITLE

With legendary co-head coaches Terry Logue and Scott Savoie leading the way, the Bear River football team put together a season unlike any other in its history.

After going 3-7 in 2016, the Bruins rose back to their usual winning ways in 2017. After going 7-3 in the regular season, including an overtime win over Center in the final week just to make the playoffs, the Bruins took down favored foe after favored foe in the playoffs to set up a matchup with rival Colfax in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship. The Falcons had beat the Bruins handily earlier in the season, but Bear River wasn't going to let that happen twice. The Bruins led from start to finish and claimed their third section championship in school history with a 30-27 victory over their rival Nov. 25.

"They are one of the top (Bear River) teams of all-time," Logue said. "There are only six (Bear River) teams with 10 wins or more. They are section champions and they are a bowl representative, the first one we've ever had. They went from also rans at 6-3 to all of a sudden one of the best teams we've had in the history of the school. We have to give them credit because they fought and everything they got, they earned. They worked hard for it."

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Savoie added, "Our kids have worked real hard and have hung together, and you keep hearing 'family' and you keep hearing 'bond' and that's all real, that's not fake stuff. It's not an easy thing to get 38 guys flying in the same direction, being selfless, being team guys. That's a special thing, and I think that's what separates the good teams from the great ones."

With the win in the section title game, the Bruins also earned their first ever bid to a CIF Northern California Bowl Game. They would fall on the road to Fortuna in that game, but the season will still go down as one of the best in Bruins football history.

VALLEJO HEADS EAST

Nevada Union graduate Tanner Vallejo realized a life-long dream of his when he was chosen by the Buffalo Bills with the 11th pick in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL draft April 29.

"I just want to become the best player that I can," Vallejo said during training camp. "Not just this year, but every season. Just keep trying to be the best player I can possibly be during the time I'm in the league. I just want to be the best player I can be for myself and for my teammates."

The 6-foot, 1-inch, 228-pound linebacker starred at Nevada Union and Boise State befoe being drafted. Vallejo went on to make the Bills' 53-man roster and has played in 14 of the team's 15 games this season.

"I appreciate all the people back home from our small community supporting me, and it doesn't go unnoticed," he said. "A lot of the people back home are the reason I play so hard on Saturdays and now on Sundays."

ROSSI'S SOPHOMORE SEASON

After Alexander Rossi blasted onto the IndyCar scene with a victory at the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016 his name became well known in the racing world.

The Nevada City native did not disappoint in his 2017 campaign as he was a regular at the front of the IndyCar pack.

In his sophomore season, Rossi strung together six straight top-6 finishes, was seventh at the Indianapolis 500, won the pole at Sonoma and claimed victory at Watkins Glen. He finished the season seventh overall in the IndyCar points standings.

ABOVE THE NET

Nevada Union's boys and girls volleyball teams both had impressive years. In the spring, the Miners notched 30 wins overall and won a share of the Sierra Foothill League title, their first since 2013.

"The one thing about (the Miners) is they are fun to watch," NU head coach Lance Mansuetti said of his team. "They play their hearts out, and it's entertaining."

In the fall, the Lady Miners tallied 34 wins and reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title game. They would fall to Ponderosa in the championship bout, but the fight continued for NU as they then went on to win a game in the CIF NorCal tourney before finally being ousted from the postseason.

"They are a team from the beginning of the season that would get down on points but wouldn't get down on each other," NU head coach Chrys Dudek said. "They found ways to battle their way back. They have a way of sticking to it and working together to make things happen one point at a time."

HOULIHAN STEPS DOWN

After five years at the helm of the Nevada Union football program, Dennis Houlihan stepped down from his role as head coach of the varsity team in mid-December.

Houlihan, who works as a teacher at Silver Springs High School, was the third Nevada Union head coach since 1984, following past NU head coaches Randy Blankenship (1984-1990), whom he played for, and Dave Humphers (1991-2012).

"It meant the world to me," Houlihan said of getting to coach at his alma mater. "It was something I always wanted to do when I graduated from Nevada Union. I felt very fortunate to come back and be able to coach."

Houlihan, a Nevada Union graduate and former player, took over the varsity head coaching position ahead of the 2013 season. Across his five years as the varsity head coach, he tallied an 8-42 overall record and a 0-29 record in Sierra Foothill League play.

IN HONOR OF JOE

The Bear River baseball team held a touching tribute to Joe Rantz before their home opener in March.

Rantz, a pitcher on the Bruins baseball team, was killed in a car crash Dec. 15, 2016.

A sign with Rantz's No. 25 jersey on it was hung in the outfield, and his father, Devon Rantz, threw out the first pitch wearing Joe's jersey.

"It was quite an honor," Devon Rantz said after throwing the pitch in front of a large crowd at Bear River's baseball field. "It was a chance for the team to show how much they love Joe, that they miss him and that he will not be forgotten. I hope they play with him on their heart."

The Bruins also held a moment of silence for Joe and unveiled a sign near the dugout commemorating his pitching style that read "Southpaw Junk-Baller."

REALINGMENT AND IT FEELS SO GOOD

Nevada Union's time in the Sierra Foothill League is coming to an end.

The Sac-Joaquin Section Board of Managers approved a realignment proposal in April that will take Nevada Union out of the SFL and put it in the Foothill Valley League along with five other teams.

The reshuffling of the leagues takes place every four years in the Sac-Joaquin Section. This realignment will run from the fall of 2018 through 2022.

Joining Nevada Union in the Foothill Valley League will be Placer, Lincoln (of Lincoln), Rio Linda, Oakmont and Ponderosa.

Bear River remains in the Pioneer Valley League, along with regulars Colfax, Center and Foothill. The league sends former PVL powers Placer and Lincoln to the Foothill Valley League. Newcomers to the PVL will include Lindhurst and Marysville, both formally of the Golden Empire League. The PVL will remain a Division IV league.

HONORABLE MENTION

Other stories and accomplishments of note include the Nevada Union's girls cross country team earning a bid to the state championships for the first time in 13 years; Bear River's Josephine Wilting accomplishing something no other Lady Bruin player has ever done before and winning a Sac-Joaquin Section Championship in tennis; Forest Lake Christian's Amber Jackson earning the school's first bid to the state championships in track and field; and 10-year old BMX racer Davian Casper winning a NorCal State Championship and a Gold Cup title.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.