As the new year approaches, we look back on some of the biggest local sports headlines that 2017 had to offer. It was a banner year for the community that saw its most dominant football season in recent memory as well as unforgettable runs from the girls of Madisonville basketball and North Zulch volleyball.
Mentioned or not, congratulations to all of our local student athletes, coaches and parents who make all of this possible year after year, win or lose. See you in 2018.
Perhaps no group made more headlines in Madisonville this year than the Mustang football team. 2017 was the perfect storm for a senior-heavy roster that bought into second year coach Rusty Nail’s philosophy and put the program back on the map. Madisonville ran roughshod over the District competition, finishing 4-0 and 9-1 overall throughout the regular season. In those ten games, the Mustangs recorded three shutouts and dominated the ground game offensively. Madisonville was awarded the District MVP in Cornelius Merchant, the defensive District MVP in Zach Poe and the coaching staff of the year.
Mustang players Uriel Willis, Kasey Williamson, Johnny Simpson, Kendall Moffett, Brandon Larson, Tommy Holiday, Joey McIver, Deion Crittendon, Ben Phillips, Aaron Nellums, Chris Scott, Marcus Dorman, Tyrese Brown and Mauricio Aceves were all also awarded one District honor or another. This made Madisonville far and away the most represented team in the District.
The Mustangs didn’t just give the folks of Madisonville a dominant regular season, but three thrilling postseason performances as well. After taking care of business against tough Hardin-Jefferson and Lorena opponents, the Mustangs took undefeated West Orange-Stark down to the final minute and lost by just 2 points.
While 2017 wasn’t the year Madisonville brought home a state championship, they introduced the blueprint to do just that in the future. The coaching staff as well as the seniors who led this team have instilled a winning atmosphere for the younger Mustangs to follow.
Nov. 8 was an important day for Mustang athletics and the Madisonville community as a whole. Four of the high school’s athletes signed their collegiate letters of intent for baseball and golf with their families and the entire student body present.
The students involved were Sam Bennett (Texas A&M golf), Matt Rudis (TCU baseball), Zach Poe (Sam Houston State baseball) and Bryce Bennett (Cisco baseball). Each of the student-athletes were introduced individually with their loved ones by athletic director Rusty Nail.
With young Mustangs present, Nail put focus on the hard work and effort it takes to become a successful student-athlete and how these four individuals are role models for the kids to look up to.
Madisonville senior and pitcher Matt Rudis got the thrill of a lifetime in 2017 when he was invited to compete in the Under Armour All-America game in Chicago. Apart from the incredible experience that will help Rudis this season and beyond, he toed the same rubber as his idol Jake Arrieta at Wrigley Field.
Rudis was one of 40 individuals from the U.S., including Puerto Rico, and Canada who were chosen to compete on one of the most historic diamonds in the world. Rudis was part of the American team, which took down the National squad in the 10th annual game and one of the most thrilling.
Rudis was part of a pitcher’s duel and recorded a scoreless seventh inning of relief when his name was called upon. The game went to extra innings, where the American squad prevailed 2-1 in eleven.
Rudis will compete once more for Madisonville in 2018 before he joins the Horned Frogs of TCU next year.
North Zulch was the site for dominant volleyball this season. With four seniors under coach Kimberly Branch, the Bulldogs defied all doubters and put forth a tremendous regular season to earn a spot in the UIL Playoffs.
Branch and her Bulldogs saved the best for last. After an early playoff exit the year before, the experienced seniors were ready to redeem themselves and put on a postseason show that the entire community got behind.
After dropping their opening set in the first round against Neches, North Zulch won three straight sets in dramatic fashion to advance to Areas. The Bulldogs would take down Deweyville 3-1, Centerville 3-0 in the Regional Quarterfinals and Gary 3-1 in the Regional Semifinals.
The four wins put the Bulldogs just one step shy of the Championship and earned them final four status. Despite taking care of Iola in the first set, North Zulch dropped the next three matches by just 4 points or less to conclude their run.
The Bulldogs were an effective group and a joy to watch in 2017. Seniors Sally Osth, Cassidy Brown, Emma Baker and Raegan VanCour led a championship-caliber squad that will be remembered in North Zulch for years to come.
After an impressive run in volleyball to conclude 2016, many of those same players were also part of an incredible basketball season for the Lady Mustangs. Madisonville posted an impressive record of 29-4 and made it all the way to the Regional Championship in March.
The Mustangs reached the Regional finals in Conference 4A with wins over Lorena, Taylor, Gatesville and Diboll. Madisonville finally met their match in Liberty Hill at Sam Houston State by a tally of 53-44.
Madisonville came out hot in the crucial matchup with a 15-9 lead after the opening quarter and didn’t relinquish the lead until the fourth. Liberty Hill then outscored the Mustangs 15-6 in the final four minutes to advance.
Despite a tough playoff loss, the Lady Mustangs were making headlines all season and were even ranked eighth in the state at one point. They were led by coach Shauna Taylor and multiple senior leaders such as Tyana Brown, Jakayla Merchant, Tra’dayja Smith, Lexi Leveston, Brianne McCloud and Zanavia Manning.
Last year's juniors such as Shakayla Burns and Tylesia Roundtree also made significant contributions to last year’s run and will look to use that experience as the 2017-18 season continues.