Schools in the newly revamped Inter-Valley Conference exceeded expectations and then some in its first full year.
The IVC consists of 14 high schools with seven teams in each division -- the South (big schools) and the North (small schools). Not all sports use the divisions, such as golf, cross country, wrestling and track and field.
But big or small, each division had teams that finished their respective sports season at the highest level the state of Ohio offers.
"The first full year was a very successful one," said IVC Commissioner Chuck Rest. "But it went above my expectations. The league was very competitive and you could tell how successful we were by the amount of teams we sent to the state tournaments."
Just in the fall alone, which was the first look at the "new" IVC, had six teams reach the state finals in three different sports.
The East Canton boys cross country team claimed the first state championship of the new IVC. The Hornets won a team title in the Division III state meet. Head coach Lee Sternberg earned Coach of the Year in the IVC, while his top runner, Demetrius Snellenberg, claimed Runner of the Year.
The Hornets also won the Division III track and field championship just a week ago, claiming the school’s second title for the IVC during the 2017-18 school year. Josh Conrad was Runner of the Year in the IVC.
In boys golf, the Strasburg Tigers advanced all the way to the Division III state tournament behind IVC Player of the Year Mitch Neidenthal and Coach of the Year Troy McClellan. The Tigers finished third out of 12 teams.
In girls golf, Garaway was the top team in the conference led by IVC Player of the Year Jocelyn Troyer and Coach of the Year Matt Hallman. The Pirates qualified for the Division II state tournament and finished the two-day event in sixth place.
In girls cross country, Tusky Valley and Garaway competed in the state meet. The Trojans finished ninth overall in the Division II state meet, while the Pirates finished 18th in Division III.
Tusky Valley was led by Madisan DeBos, who was the top runner in the IVC in both cross country and track. Her head coach Sandy DeBos, who’s also her mom, was Coach of the Year in both cross country and track.
"She’s unbelievably good. Amazing to watch in person," said Rest about Madisan DeBos, who has one more year to add to her already amazing resume.
Last, but not least, was maybe the most dominant team in any sport in the IVC -- the Tusky Valley volleyball team. The Trojans finished a perfect 22-0 in the regular season, including 12-0 in the IVC North. The Trojans were so dominant that they didn’t drop a set to any team in the regular season, holding opponents to less than 10 points in any set 51 times.
The Trojans, who were led by Alexis Gilland (IVC Player of the Year), Kierrah Stewart (Offensive Player of the Year) and Jenna Franks (Defensive Player of the Year), advanced to the State Final Four in Division III, but ran into a hot Versailles team that won in four sets, 25-17, 25-22, 22-25 and 25-21.
Football was the only sport in the fall that didn’t have a team represent the IVC at the state championships. East Canton and Indian Valley made the playoffs, where both teams won a first round game before losing the next week.
Hiland boys basketball represented the IVC in the winter as it made it to the state Final Four. The Hawks advanced to the Division IV state tournament, where they fell to Cornerstone Christian in a semifinal. Scott Troyer was IVC’s Offensive Player of the Year, while teammate Andy Miller was Defensive Player of the Year.
In the spring, Strasburg softball reached the state tournament Final Four once again, looking for its eighth title. But the Tigers lost in the Division IV final to No. 1 state-ranked Hillsdale, 5-0. Junior pitcher Zoey Thomas was tabbed as Pitcher of the Year in the IVC.
Also in softball, Buckeye Trail made it all the way to the state Final Four in Division III before losing in a semifinal to Cardington Lincoln, 10-0. This was the first year Buckeye Trail was part of the IVC.
And finally, in the spring, Malvern girls track team finished third overall in Division III led by Zoe Moser, who won the 200-meter dash and second in the 100.
Even though the IVC didn’t compile an overall list of the top schools and their teams, Indian Valley had arguably the best success. The Braves notched league championships in football, boys basketball and softball. The Braves were also in the top three in boys and girls cross country, girls golf, volleyball, wrestling, baseball and boys and girls track.