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HEISER: Momentous year on York County sports scene

Steve Heiser
505-5446/@ydsports
  • Hali Flickinger's seventh-place finish in the Olympics' 200 fly is 2016's top local sports story.
  • Northeastern's fourth straight boys' volleyball state title is rated the No. 2 sports story in 2016.
  • The tragic murder of a former Dallastown field hockey standout is the No. 3 sports story in 2016.

The calendar is about to close on the 2016 York County sports year.

It was 12 months that none of us are likely to forget anytime soon.

There were mesmerizing moments of inspirational triumph, along with excruciating events of unspeakable tragedy.

They were woven together into a 366-day tapestry of agony and ecstasy.

Condensing such a consequential year into just the 10 most important stories is no easy task.

But that is the challenge at hand.

So here is one man's opinion about the most momentous York County sports stories of 2016.

1. Flickinger's Olympic journey: When Spring Grove's Hali Flickinger entered the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, no one really thought she had much of a shot at making the stacked American team.

After all, the York YMCA product was on the small side for a swimmer at just 5 feet, 6 inches. At 22, she was also relatively “old,” at least in swimming terms. And she was merely the No. 4 seed in the 200-meter butterfly, and only the top two finishers would make the U.S. team.

Spring Grove High School graduate Hali Flickinger, right, hugs Cammile Adams after finishing second to Adams in the 200-meter butterfly at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games. Flickinger finished seventh in the event at Rio.

Still, she beat the odds and made the national squad by finishing second in the 200 fly at the Olympic Trials.

Flickinger finishes 7th at Olympics in 200 butterfly

Then she beat the odds again during the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, making a shocking run all the way to the 200 fly finals en route to a seventh-place finish.

And every step of the way she made York County proud with the impressive manner in which she carried herself.

2. A four-peat for the Bobcats: State championships are not run-of-the-mill happenings for York County high school teams.

Winning four straight PIAA crowns … well that is uncharted territory.

Yet, that's exactly what the Northeastern Bobcats, under the expert coaching of Matt Wilson, accomplished this past June.

From left, Reese Devilbiss, Chris Lee, Brandon Arentz, Drew Landis and Jeff Reynolds, celebrate after defeating Ambridge Area High School in the PIAA Class 2-A Boys' Volleyball State Championship Match at Penn State University last June. It was Northeastern's fourth straight state title. Under a proposal being considered by the PIAA, winning consecutive state titles would force that team to bump up in class. In Northeastern's case, the team would've been pushed up to Class 3-A.

Of course, it helps when you have the best high school player in the state in Reese Devilbiss. But the Ohio State recruit couldn't carry the load all by himself. He had plenty of help. In fact, the Bobcats' entire starting lineup earned all-state recognition. And the team as a whole finished ranked No. 4 in the nation after a 23-0 campaign.

It's a championship season that is sure to be celebrated in the Manchester area for decades to come.

3. Amanda Strous — a life taken too soon: Amanda Strous was a familiar name to anyone who followed York County field hockey.

She was a standout player at Dallastown High School and later at Shippensburg University. She eventually became a coach and a counselor and moved to North Carolina. She was engaged to be married.

Then, this past summer, she was senselessly murdered at the tender age of 27, and all of York County mourned a life taken too soon.

Amanda Strous

There's no need to recount the details of her death. It's much more important to remember a life well lived and a young woman who left a lasting legacy on this community.

4. Off-field issues mar York High football season: This was supposed to be a new start for York High football.

The school had a new athletic director in Ron Coursey and a new head coach in Russ Stoner.

Together, they were hoping to put the program back on track after an 0-10 season in 2015.

Progress was made on the field. The Bearcats went 1-9 in 2016, but they were much more competitive on a weekly basis.

Two off-the-field issues, however, left an indelible mark on the season.

First there was a shooting in the Small Field parking lot during the fourth quarter of the home opener vs. McCaskey in Week 2. The game was stopped early, two men were hospitalized and the city school board later decided to move all of the team's Friday night home games to Saturday afternoon.

Candles, balloons and a teddy bear mark the spot where Eugene "Boobie" Hillian IV was gunned down in the first block of E. Maple St. on Thursday, October 27. Hillian was a York High football player.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Then, a few weeks later, one of the Bearcats' senior players, Eugene Hillian IV, was gunned down and killed in the city.

Hopefully, next season we can focus on York High's on-field accomplishments, rather than off-field incidents.

5. Marsteller's career sidelined: A few years ago, Chance Marsteller seemingly was on top of the world.

The Kennard-Dale wrestler was a four-time state champion who finished with a 166-0 high school record. He was rated the nation's top recruit and accepted a scholarship offer from national power Oklahoma State.

Then things began to unravel. He was suspended from the Cowboys' team for undisclosed reasons and eventually decided to transfer to Lock Haven. Before his Lock Haven career could even start, however, he was arrested on multiple charges in late August, including six counts of aggravated assault, a first-degree felony. His blood-alcohol level during the incident was reportedly .274, or more than three times the legal limit. He also allegedly had cocaine and marijuana in his system.

Chance Marsteller

The incident effectively ended his brief Lock Haven tenure.

Since then, Marsteller has wrestled in a couple of open tournaments while wrestling with a club team, even winning one, but it's unlikely he can resurrect his once-promising college career.

6. Harnish making waves: Standout West York swimmer Courtney Harnish continues to make waves.

During the summer between her junior and senior seasons, she qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials and was also named the nation's No. 1 female high school recruit by SwimSwam.

A couple of months later she committed to compete for the powerhouse Georgia program. That's the same Georgia program where Flickinger excelled, helping the Bulldogs to three national titles during her time there.

Courtney Harnish

Now, after a two-year hiatus to focus on swimming for the York YMCA and trying to qualify for the Olympics, Harnish is back swimming for the West York Bulldogs.

It would be stunning if she didn't bring back multiple gold medals and meet records from the 2017 PIAA meet, just as she did as a freshman in 2014.

7. York YMCA takes national title: If you haven't noticed by now, the York YMCA has pretty stellar swimming program.

Flickinger and Harnish are proof of that.

That fact was driven home even more in April when the club won the YMCA Short Course National Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, despite fielding one of the smallest teams at the meet. It was a breakthrough performance for coach Michael Brooks' team.

Michael Brooks

Next year, however, when the York club attempts to defend its title, it will have a new head coach. Brooks left York to take a similar job in North Carolina. He was replaced by John Nelson, who's been an assistant under Brooks in York for three years.

8. Eli Brooks commits to Michigan: Spring Grove's Eli Brooks may be the single-most recognizable sports figure in York County high school sports right now.

He's also the mostly highly-coveted basketball recruit in the history of the county.

As a result, there was a ton of speculation about where the blue-chipper would go to college.

That answer came in July when he verbally committed to play for the storied Michigan Wolverines program.

Spring Grove senior Eli Brooks was held to 16 points in his final high school game. He finished his career with 2,426 points, second most in York County history. He is one of six finalists for the Mr. Pennsylvania Basketball Award.

Now Brooks can concentrate on helping the Rockets try to win a second straight York-Adams League title and possibly make a run in District 3 and PIAA action.

In addition, Brooks will almost certainly become Spring Grove's all-time leading scorer this week.

9. Britcher continues to excel in luge: Glen Rock's Summer Britcher enjoyed her best season ever in World Cup luge competition in 2015-2016.

In a breakout campaign, Britcher earned a Team USA record three World Cup singles triumphs and at one point led the World Cup standings.

She eventually finished in fifth place, her best performance ever.

Summer Britcher

She followed that up by capturing the national championship in October.

Britcher finished 15th in the Sochi Olympics in 2014. If she continues to improve, she should be a definite medal threat in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

10. Hill loses her battle, but wins admiration: Dover's Maddie Hill endured three separate bouts with cancer over an 11-year period.

She was just 5 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed about 100 pounds, but that didn't prevent her from becoming an accomplished life guard.

All along the way, she remained a fighter. Not surprisingly, her friends and family often used the #FightLikeHill hashtag on Twitter whenever referring to her courageous battle.

The Eagles' soccer player finally succumbed to the dreaded disease this summer. She was just 19.

Maddie Hill runs soccer practice drills during her senior year at Dover High School. Hill died this past summer after a long battle with cancer at age 19.

Like Strous, her life was cut much too short. But also like Strous, she leaves a lasting legacy.

Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.