TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY: A look back at the biggest local sports stories of 2018
From historic on-field efforts, to incredible showings of sportsmanship and home-grown athletes realizing life-long dreams, the local sports scene had plenty to offer in 2018.
Here is a look at the biggest local sports stories from the past 12 months:
Even when the stakes are at their highest, sports are often about far more than what happens between the lines.
That was never more evident than what took place at Forest Lake Christian on Saturday night.
Coping with the ongoing devastation and tragedy from the Camp Fire, the Paradise Adventist Academy volleyball team courageously made their way to Forest Lake Christian to face the Lady Falcons in the CIF NorCal Division VI semifinals.
The Lady Falcons, and the Forest Lake Christian community as a whole, welcomed their playoff opponent the only way they know how, with love, support and a helping hand.
The Cougars from Paradise Adventist arrived to Forest Lake Christian to find brand new custom jerseys, shorts, knee pads and socks waiting for them as well as truck loads of donated clothes and more than $16,000 in cash and gift cards. All of which was pulled together by the Forest Lake Christian community in less than 24 hours.
Paradise Adventist coach Jason Eyer addressed the standing-room only crowd to express his gratitude.
“I’ve never been so overwhelmed by so many things I would have never thought possible, and this is one of the most amazing things I could ever have thought would happen,” he said. “Your community is awesome and we are forever grateful.”
After the game, won by Forest Lake in four sets, tears flowed and new friendships were forged as the two teams posed for photos and enjoyed each other’s company.
— Published Nov. 12, 2018
As one defender after another latched on to the scrum — each one trying with all their might to pull down the ball carrier — Tyler Nielson kept churning his legs. The determined running back kept fighting for extra yards and for his team.
There was no quit in No. 5. His drive and talent were evident for all those who watched him play the game he loved.
With similar passion and determination, Justin Gardner competed in front of a packed gym during the Nevada Union Invitational Basketball Tournament opener. The skilled sophomore played with maturity and tenacity as he led the Miners to victory in front of a raucous crowd.
The gifted multi-sport athlete was just beginning what most, including this writer, believed would be a decorated athletic career.
Their playing days are tragically over, though, as Nielson, 17, and Gardner, 16, lost their lives Sunday when the automobile they were in was struck by an alleged drunk driver.
The two engaging and talented Miners were more than just athletes. They were sons, grandsons, brothers, friends, teammates, students and so much more to so many.
They are gone far too soon, but during their time here they represented the Miners, the community and their families well. May Tyler and Justin rest in peace.
— Published March 27, 2018
With the world championship on the line, Gregg Barsby rose above the pressure and remained focused on the task at hand.
Coming down the stretch, the Grass Valley native scored two birdies and two pars on the final four holes to hold off the field and win his first Professional Disc Golf Association World Championship Sunday in Jeffersonville, Vermont.
“I can’t even describe this feeling,” said Barsby. “It hasn’t really set in for me just yet. I’ve gotten so many text messages and just an abundance of love and support. And, that’s where I think it all stems from. I had so many people willing me to get this one done, and it finally happened.”
Barsby finished 6-under-par in the final round for a five-round score of 270 (-41) and a two stroke victory at the world championships. Paul McBeth and Josh Anthon tied for second at -39.
“It was one of the most exciting rounds I’ve ever seen,” said tournament director Jeff Spring. “It was quite the battle throughout.”
— Published Sept. 10, 2018
The crowd at Hooper Stadium roared with delight as Nevada Union’s ground game churned out big play after big play in a blowout victory over Napa two weeks ago.
The Wing-T offense was humming and the Miners were rolling, as they rushed for more than 500 yards to earn their first victory of the season.
At the center of it all was running back Dawson Fay, who weaved through the defense with great vision, tenacity and grace on his way to 247 yards and four touchdowns. It was a good night for the Miners, and for Fay, a senior who is still coping with a life-changing tragedy that struck less than six months ago.
In late March, Fay and some of his closest friends were on their way to the coast for spring break when an alleged drunk driver crossed the median and collided with their car. The collision resulted in the deaths of Fay’s dear friends and teammates Tyler Nielson and Justin Gardner. Fay suffered a fractured hip, as well as multiple bruises and lacerations.
“When I saw the car swerve into our lane is when my memory blacked out,” Fay said. “I don’t remember any of that, which is great. My mind doesn’t want to remember it and I’m good with that. I woke up on the side of the road with people around me and the first thing that went through my mind was this isn’t real. I remember I just kept saying, ‘This is a nightmare. This is a nightmare and there’s no way this happened.’”
In that moment, Fay lost two of his oldest and closest friends.
“Every day I think about them. There’s not a second that I don’t,” said Fay, who had been teammates with Nielson and Gardner on football and basketball teams since childhood. “It’s an every minute thought for me.”
— Published Sept. 12, 2018
SONOMA — It wasn’t the start to the race, or finish to the season, Alexander Rossi was hoping for.
With the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship on the line, Rossi started sixth at the Grand Prix of Sonoma, but ran into trouble in the opening lap and was forced to fight and scrap for a seventh-place finish.
“It wasn’t meant to be this year,” said Rossi, who finished second in the series points standings behind Scott Dixon, who claimed his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series Championship. “But, none the less, I think it was an awesome 2018 and something we can be all can be proud of.”
Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay dominated the race, leading 80 of 85 laps and claiming first place. Dixon placed second at Sonoma to finish with 678 season points, 57 more than Rossi.
“It’s all about the people, I’m just the one lucky enough to bring it across the line,” Dixon said after the race. “This doesn’t come without a lot of hard work.”
— Published Sept. 17, 2018
Brad Sweet raced his way into the record books Saturday night in Iowa.
Competing in the preeminent sprint car race of the year, Sweet outdueled Donny Schatz to win the Knoxville Nationals Sprint Car race by 0.133 seconds.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Sweet. “It was a lot of hard work and teamwork, and a lot of work over the years. It means the world to me.”
For the man who started racing go karts at age 8 and has been competing on the World of Outlaws Sprint Series for the last five years, Saturday’s victory at the Knoxville Raceway is the biggest of his career.
“It’s a childhood dream come true,” said Sweet, who drives the NAPA Auto Parts No. 49 car for Kasey Kahne Racing. “It’s what every sprint car racer sets out to do, is to win a Knoxville Nationals… They can’t ever take that away from me. I’ll always be a Knoxville Nationals champion and it’s what’s going to define my career no matter what happens going forward.”
— Published Aug. 14, 2018
With a thrilling final run in the banked slalom event at the 2018 Paralympics, Evan Strong now has a silver medal to go with the gold one he won at the 2014 Games.
The Nevada City resident narrowly missed a spot on the podium in his first event a this year’s Games — the skilled snowboarder wasn’t about to let another opportunity slip by.
After finishing fourth in the snowboard cross event on Monday, Strong carved down course in Jeongseon, South Korea and claimed silver in the men’s banked slalom (lower limb 2) event on Friday.
“I’m not just extremely proud for Team USA, but I’m extremely proud for my sport,” Strong told http://www.teamusa.org after the event. “Seeing from the humble beginnings that it started to where it is now and how popular it is, the level of riding it’s at and the next generation that has come up since I’ve been racing (makes me believe) the sport is in good hands. It’s not going anywhere. This is awesome and so much fun and I’m excited about it.”
Strong, 31, lost his left leg a few inches below the knee at the age of 17 when he was struck while riding a motorcycle by a drunk driver in an SUV.
— Published March 17, 2018
The play on the court was lively and spirited as two high schools separated by less than 3 miles battled it out in a tournament named after one of the area’s coaching greats.
While the play on the court was riveting, the matchups between Bear River and Forest Lake Christian at the Ganskie Invitational were about more than the final score or who walked away with bragging rights. It was about coming together to support those who put their lives on the line and have lost it all.
Friday night’s games between Bear River and Forest Lake Christian served as a fundraiser for the more than 100 fire and safety first responders who lost their homes in the Camp Fire.
Bear River girls basketball coach Randy Billingsley spearheaded the fundraiser, but was quick to credit his players for coming up with the idea.
“They wanted to do something meaningful for the fire fighters, police officers, paramedics and people of that nature who lost their homes up there and basically have nothing for Christmas,” he said. “These are super good kids. This is why you coach. Not for the games. Not for the wins. You coach for the bigger meaning than the game. Tonight was one of those nights that was really bigger than the game. Getting the community behind our first responders.”
— Published Dec. 17, 2018
The Gold Country Stampede took on the Napa Force in the Northern California Junior Lacrosse Association’s varsity championship game this past Sunday at Patelco Sports Complex in Pleasanton.
It didn’t take the Stampede (17-1) long to take control of the game, grabbing a 13-2 halftime lead and rolling to a 20-4 final to earn the NCJLA title.
This display of dominance was the theme of the season as the Stampede trampled its opponents by an average of nine goals per game. The offense netted an average of 14 goals per game while the defense let up an average of just five goals per game.
This win marks the second time in three years Gold Country has taken the Northern California Club Title. Making the accomplishment even more impressive is the Stampede roster averages about 15 players and 10 are on the field at any one time.
— Published June 22, 2018
For the second time in the last three years Shaun Havard has earned the title of “Fittest on Earth.”
The local CrossFit phenom put forth an impressively consistent effort at the 2018 Reebok CrossFit Games last week and came away with a first place finish in the women’s 60-and-over division.
Competing in Madison, Wisconsin, Havard faced off against 19 other elite CrossFit athletes in her age and gender division across 12 events. Havard earned four second place finishes, two third place finishes, five fourth place finishes and one 10th place finish for an overall score of 688, which was eight points better than second place Patty Fialla, who was the 2017 champ.
“I’m not really the best at any of it,” said Havard. “I’m just really good at a lot of it.”
— Published Aug. 11, 2018
The talented harriers from Nevada Union wrapped up a highly successful 2018 season at the CIF Cross Country Championships in Fresno.
Competing against the best prep distance runners in the state at Woodward Park, the Nevada Union boys team placed 14th out of 24 teams in the Division III race, and the NU girls took 20th out of 25 in their D-III race.
Leading the NU boys was Garrett Gough, who placed fourth on the 5K course with a time of 15 minutes, 31.3 seconds. The skilled senior also won the Foothill Valley League title in October, and came into the state race on the heels of a dominant win at the Sac-Joaquin Section D-III Championships.
The state meet marked the end to a stellar season in which the boys team won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship, and the girls team took home the FVL title and finished third at the D-III Section Championships.
This season was the first in more than 19 years in which the NU boys and girls teams qualified for the CIF State Championships in the same season.
— Published November 27, 2018
With their usual balanced scoring, the Lady Bruins golf team roared to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V Championship Monday at Micke Grove Golf Course in Lodi.
A week after winning the Pioneer Valley League title, Bear River dominated the competition at the D-V tourney, scoring 435 as a team and beating second place Colfax by 62 strokes.
“I’m super proud of how they played,” Bear River head coach Gayne Nakano said. “They all hung in there because it was a pretty tough course.”
— Published Oct. 23, 2018
With a darting 17-yard run in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s game, Dawson Fay made Nevada Union football history once again.
Already the school’s all-time career rushing yards record holder, the skilled senior rushed for 154 yards in a 56-14 loss to Rio Linda to set the NU all-time single season rushing yards record with 1,844.
“It means a lot to be able to leave a legacy here, and do it wearing No. 5,” said Fay, who wears No. 5 in honor of his close friend and former teammate Tyler Nielson. Fay dedicated the season to Nielson and Justin Gardner, who also died as a result of the accident.
Fay topped the 100-yard mark in nine of 10 games this season and wraps his senior year with 33 more yards than former record holder Jefferson Heidelberger, who amassed 1,811 in 2000.
In his three-year varsity career, Fay rushed for a school record 3,753 yards in 30 games. His 37 career rushing touchdowns rank fourth in NU history.
— Published Oct. 29, 2018
The Bear River Bruins introduced league newcomer Lindhurst to some good ol’ fashioned Pioneer Valley League gridiron grit Friday night, trouncing the Blazers, 49-0, at J. David Ramsey Stadium.
The Bruins didn’t waste any time lighting up the scoreboard as they raced ahead with five first-quarter touchdowns. Bear River then added another page to its history books when Shelbi Beghetti scored from a yard out in the second quarter to become the first female football player to score a touchdown in Bear River history.
“A lot of adrenaline building up to the moment and my boys were helping me up the whole way, so it was full send,” said Beghetti, who ran the ball seven times for 10 yards and a touchdown, and was given the game ball. “Definitely stopped us couple times with some linebackers coming hot, but we were determined, we put our heads to it.”
— Published Oct. 5, 2018
With an opportunity to compete on a national stage, Sierra Gold shined.
The Nevada County based track and field team made its way to Spokane, Washington over the weekend for the 2018 USATF National Masters Track & Field Championships where it placed second as a team and its athletes earned 15 individual national championships.
“The team just did incredibly, incredibly well,” Sierra Gold coach Clyde Lehman said. “They came together as a team, as a unit, and the performances were just off the charts. We were hoping for a top-10 finish and to finish second and be on the podium and get a really nice trophy was just outstanding.”
— Published Aug. 1, 2018
Of the 34 meetings between Bear River and Colfax, Friday night’s may have been the most thrilling in the storied rivalry.
With a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship on the line, the Bruins and Falcons showed incredible grit and skill, but most importantly an unwillingness to yield to their opponent. So much so it took two overtime periods to settle the contest at Hooper Stadium.
The roller coaster of a game featured six lead changes as momentum swung like a pendulum all night, saving the biggest thrills and heartbreak for the final two plays.
In a matter of a minute, the Bruins experienced the joy of winning a section crown and the heartbreak of losing one. The same for the Falcons.
“It was a great high school football game,” said Bear River co-head coach Terry Logue, after his team’s 31-28 defeat. “But, it’s hard to take when you come up with the right play at the right time and all of a sudden a flag comes out. But that’s the way it goes. Great effort by our kids and great effort by Colfax. That’s a section title game. You don’t see too many that are that good.”
— Published Dec. 1, 2018
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With a balanced offensive attack and a strong defensive effort, the Nevada Union football team went on the road Friday night and knocked off Napa, 33-14.