It was a year in prep sports like no other.
When it comes to athletics, 2020 will always be remembered as much for what happened off the field as what happened between the lines. The COVID-19 pandemic, starting in March, canceled entire seasons, postponed others indefinitely and kept thousands of athletes on the sidelines waiting for a restart.
But even in a year like this one, there were many outstanding performances to celebrate. Some of them took place before COVID-19 became part of our lexicon, and others during three months this fall during an unusual, but in many cases, successful and truncated fall season.
So let’s take a look at some of the top sports stories of the year in Kendall County.
• Yorkville’s Nick Stemmet wins state wrestling title
It was Nick Stemmet’s time.
Stemmet arrived at Yorkville High School as a highly touted wrestler. He took second in the state as a sophomore, only losing to then-unbeaten Jack Jessen in the final, and followed that up with a fourth-place finish as a junior.
This was Stemmet’s year, and he made the most of it. His pin of West Aurora’s Dzhabrail Khurshidov in the Class 3A 195-pound championship match Feb. 22 in Champaign capped off a dominating 46-0 season.
Stemmet took down Khurshidov within the first five seconds of the match and secured an emphatic fall at the 1:40 mark to claim his first state title, as well as an undefeated season.
It’s the 14th state championship in Yorkville wrestling history, the first since AJ Messenger in 2011.
Stemmet’s two pins at state gave him 32 for the season, 102 for his career, with a career record of 163-21. He became Yorkville’s 14th state champion, the first undefeated state champ since Dan Niles went back-to-back in 1999 and 2000.
“For me to go through the season and state tournament unblemished, it proved that it was my time,” Stemmet said. “It was truly my year to go out there and dominate and put that run together. There was nobody that was going to take it from me.”
Stemmet’s twin brother, Ben, took fourth at 220 pounds, as both finished their high school careers on the state podium.
• Banner year on, and off, the court for Yorkville Christian and Jaden Schutt
The pandemic cut short the IHSA basketball postseason in March, and has delayed the 2020-21 basketball season until at least January.
Still, it was quite a 2020 for Jaden Schutt and Yorkville Christian.
Schutt, a smooth 6-foot-5 shooter, became his program’s all-time leading scorer – as a sophomore – passing 1,100 career points. Led by Schutt and Micah Schnyders, Yorkville Christian won a program-record 24 games, and made 361 3-pointers, the fourth-most in IHSA history.
And Schutt appears to be just getting started.
Schutt, one of the state’s top basketball players in the Class of 2022, received scholarship offers from Illinois, Creighton and Xavier in April. His recruitment really took off in June. Schutt now has 13 offers, including Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State, Marquette and Wisconsin. When it’s all said and done, he’ll be easily the highest-recruited basketball player ever to come out of Kendall County.
He said in June that he has no timetable for when he might commit.
“I’m just learning everything about as many programs as I can, if they fit my style, relationships with the coaches and stuff,” Schutt said. “I want to be able to go out and visit and make sure it’s 100% the right fit.”
• Basketball championships in Plano, Newark, Oswego and Oswego East
Yorkville Christian wasn’t the only Kendall County school to have big success on the hardwood.
Oswego’s girls basketball team, led by twins Jenelle and Jennah Rogers, won its second straight regional title. Newark, with senior guard Meggie Scott leading the way, won a fourth straight regional championship. Scott’s 1,494 career points is second all-time in program history, her 914 assists fourth all-time in the IHSA record book.
On the boys side, a Plano team led by twin towers Griffin Cross and Robbie Taylor and sophomore guard Mason Accidentale won a winner-take-all season finale with Sycamore to win its first Interstate Eight Conference title since 2017.
“I don’t have any words,” Cross said after Plano’s 61-57 win over Sycamore. “This is my first year winning conference, it’s my senior year on Senior Night. Last time we played them they dogged us. We had to get them back.”
Sam Schultz returned from an early-season knee injury to top 1,000 career points and lead Oswego East to the Southwest Prairie Conference West championship.
• Friday Night Lights go dark in fall
Alas, it’s impossible to talk about high school sports in 2020 without mentioning what we missed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 12, the weekend of the small-school state boys basketball tournament, the IHSA announced that it was canceling its remaining winter state series postseason tournaments, including boys basketball, over concerns related to COVID-19. In April, spring state tournaments were canceled, and the entire spring sports season wound up getting washed out.
In July, the IHSA announced a new-look sports schedule, with football, girls volleyball and boys soccer punted to the “spring” with a start date of March 5.
While 37 states permitted fall football, the Friday Night Lights went dark across Illinois this fall.
The uncertainty of high school sports in Illinois does not appear close to an end. Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health have called for basketball to be moved to the spring, and the sport – now deemed “high-risk” – is on hold at least into January.
• A different looking, but successful fall season in cross country, golf, tennis and swimming
It was indeed a different looking fall season for the sports that played.
There were no state tournaments or large invitationals. Spectators were limited. Masks, social distancing and plenty of COVID-19 protocols became the norm.
Yet, local athletes felt fortunate to have a chance to compete and made the most of their opportunity.
“I was definitely very worried that we couldn’t get this season in; you miss two seasons out of your high school career, that’s a lot when you think about it,” said Yorkville senior cross country runner Helena Kleronomos, who had her spring track season canceled. “Me and my teammates wanted to have a senior season so badly. I’m sure it won’t be the typical season, that we are looking for, Nike Cross Nationals has already been canceled, which is big for us, but hopefully we’ll still get some of those invites.”
Paced by Kleronomos and Austin Popplewell, Yorkville swept the girls and boys team titles at the SPC West cross country meet in October.
In the pool, Corinne Guist and the Oswego Co-op girls swimming team made it 13 straight conference titles, and placed second behind Neuqua Valley in sectionals.
On the tennis court, Oswego East senior Makayla Buenafe went 16-2, won the SPC singles title and was third at sectionals.
And on the links, the Oswego East boys golf team enjoyed its best-ever season, winning all but one of its duals, while Yorkville’s boys advanced to sectionals for the first time since 2013. Individually, Oswego East junior Gavin Hjelle and Yorkville sophomore Mia Natividad both earned medalist honors at the SPC meet.
“I was looking forward to the season a lot. I knew that we had the best team that I’ll probably ever play for in high school,” Hjelle said.