It's always hard to say goodbye, especially when you're saying goodbye to a large group of individuals who will be greatly missed.
It's been more than two months since the South Tama County Class of 2013 walked across the stage and officially graduated. However, that wasn't the end for a handful of the senior class as they had athletic careers to wrap up in the spring and summer.
All of that extracurricular activity came to an abrupt end last Friday night in Williamsburg and the Friday before in Le Grand. The Class of '13 is no longer part of South Tama County High School. The graduated seniors will now be moving on to the next part of their lives and we wish them the best of luck in all future endeavors.
Before they are officially sent off and before the fall season starts in less than three weeks, let's look back at their athletic accomplishments.
It was a talented class that deserves recognition. This class of seniors helped make STC a force to be reckoned with in some sports and much more competitive in others. It also brought home a state championship, a third-place state finish, several state medals and a conference title this year. Don't forget a wrestling state championship during the 2012-13 school year.
This year's seniors kicked off their final year with a thunderous roar on the football field. Taking nothing against volleyball or cross country; football is the primary sport in the fall. That's coming from someone like myself who ran cross country for eight years and greatly enjoys volleyball. Gridiron success brings fans and small towns together during the fall and that happened here.
After a rough season of two wins during 2011, South Tama's football squad returned a large, hard-working senior class. Those seniors helped turn the program around with an old-school style of offense - ground and pound.
Led by a bigger, stronger and older offensive line and a tough, hard-nosed fullback in senior Erik Lux, STC's Kyle Stephenson turned heads and made jaws drop week after week. Stephenson's combination of speed, strength and vision made him nearly impossible for opposing defenses to stop.
Late in the season, all-state senior offensive lineman Trevor Rohach moved to the backfield, making the Trojans' rushing attack even harder to slow down. Stephenson racked up 2,133 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns to lead Class 3A in both categories.
Behind Stephenson's running and senior quarterback Sam Kuhter, the Trojans went 7-2 after falling to rival Grinnell and a hiccup at Newton. They also won a pair of playoff games against Waverly-Shell Rock and Humboldt. In their final game, the Trojans led Grinnell at halftime, before struggling in the second half and losing in the state quarterfinals. The 9-3 football season set the tempo for an improved athletics year at STC.
Before the football season wrapped up, the STC volleyball and cross country teams were also doing well. Senior Kelsey Kupka led the cross country teams with their only state berth.
The Lady Trojans' volleyball squad endured a roller coaster ride of a season. Depending on the night, coach Michelle Bradley could be thrilled or fuming of frustration at her team. When the roller coaster was at the top of the hill, the Lady Trojans were a force to be reckoned with on the court.
Leading the way was senior outside hitter Jade Rohach, who drew attention from opponents for her hitting, blocking and impressive vertical jump. Fellow seniors, setter Shelby Bradley and libero Riley Craun, also helped the Lady Trojans finish its season with a 15-14 record, tying the previous year's win total.
Rohach and Bradley rolled right into basketball season, which started rocky but smoothed out in the middle before coming to a sudden end. The Lady Trojans' basketball program went through a coaching change and lost a handful of valuable seniors after the end of the 2012 season.
In the beginning, on-court chemistry was an issue with the Lady Trojans as senior Megan Wanatee and Kaleigh Sieck teamed up with junior Trisha Walz, Bradley and Rohach. After losing four of the first five games, the Lady Trojans went through a pair of three-game win streaks. Their season ended abruptly in their first postseason game after a rough, four-point fourth quarter. It was a talented roster that lacked depth.
Meanwhile, the STC boys basketball season began with unbridled enthusiasm. The Trojans won 4-of-6 to start the winter before the wheels nearly came off the wagon. One of those wheels was senior Vinny Lasley, who wow'd the crowd and teammates with energy and on-court skills that hadn't been displayed by South Tama in years. However, Lasley didn't return to the team after Christmas Break and the Trojans struggled.
Amid the January and February losses was a double-overtime loss at home to conference champ West Marshall. It was arguably South Tama's best game of the season despite the loss. STC had chances to win the game in regulation and overtime, but fell short by one point, 72-71.
While the basketball court saw ups and downs, South Tama's wrestling mats were full of numerous wins. The Trojans won a handful of duals with a quality mixture of youth and experienced veterans. The seniors Levi Kaufman, Lucas Shope, Daniel Garcia, Bryce Climer and Lux helped the Trojans all winter.
South Tama's wrestling team was of course led by Lux, who won the 160-pound state championship his junior season. He came back stronger and determined to win the 171-pound title his senior year. Lux remained unbeaten through the district before losing his opening match of the state tournament.
He didn't wrestle with the usual aggressiveness in the match and it cost him. The loss fired up the STC senior, who won the rest of his back-side matches and finished third at state. It was an impressive comeback that included a beat down of the Grinnell wrestler he lost to in the first round. In fact, Lux was barely challenged during the rest of his state tournament.
Editor's Note: The second part of this column, which will recap the spring and summer seasons, will be online Wednesday.