Looking back at the best sports stories of the year

Well, here we are. 

The Earth has made another trip around the Sun and another 365 days have zoomed by at the Lake of the Ozarks. As fast as it may seem for some, there were a few days in the mix that Lake area athletes, coaches, teams and fans probably wished would never end as it was yet another year full of accomplishments worthy of remembrance and recognition.

As per tradition at the Lake Sun, the time has come to look back on some of those accomplishments that stood out and here is our list in no particular order:  

1. Wrestling milestones, an Eldon state champion and a pair of state finalists from Versailles

Career milestones are not uncommon for wrestlers in the Lake area and there were a few wrestlers in 2019 who knew how to rise to the top. After missing a significant chunk of the season due to mononucleosis, Eldon senior Isaiah Simmons battled his way back for a 30-2 record and captured a state championship at 113 pounds in the Class 2 tournament to become the next Mustang state champion after 2018 graduate Trenton Dillon. There were a pair of wrestlers in Versailles who also reached the finals in Class 1 as senior Michael Trotter (41-4) and junior Alana May (18-2) finished second in the February tournament at Mizzou Arena. Trotter also finished with over 100 career pins and just recently senior Riley Rademann of Versailles, Camdenton junior Grant Garrett and Eldon senior Kaden Dillon have already reached 100 career wins. 

2. Trio of teams make a run to sectionals on the hardwood

There were a trio of Lake area basketball teams this past season who won district championships and earned their right to be in a state tournament. One of those teams earned a spot in the dance for the first time in 37 years and the other two have an established track record of success. The Camdenton boys basketball team took down rival Lebanon on home floor for the program’s first district title since 1982 before bowing out to eventual Class 5 state champion Rock Bridge in the Sweet 16, the Osage girls also made it to sectionals in Class 4 for a third straight year before falling to Rolla and the Versailles boys made a second straight appearance in Class 3 sectionals before bowing out to Blair Oaks. Osage senior Kerrigan Gamm also became the program’s all-time leading scorer before wrapping up a successful career.

3. Camdenton baseball ends district title drought  

Speaking of ending droughts, the Camdenton baseball team decided it had been long enough since the program won its last district championship and outlasted Rolla 8-6 in a wild game for the team’s first title since 1989. A game featuring a combined 21 walks, five hit batters and four errors did not stop the Lakers and a freshman relief pitcher in Conner Miller recorded the final out with the game-tying run on first base. Camdenton finished the year 17-10 after falling to Ozark Conference foe Glendale in sectionals, but it was the second straight year the program had reached the 17-win plateau after enjoying its last winning season back in 2012. The district championship added to the school’s reputation of becoming a “District Title Town” as the baseball team was the fourth program this past school year to win a title following football, softball and the boys basketball team. 

4. Impressive showing at state track and field

Reaching the state track and field meet is no small feat. It is quite another to do so and continue to be one of the best in Missouri in any given event. Camdenton senior Gabe Kurtz and Eldon freshman Caroline Beckmann were among that pack during the state track and field championships this past May. Kurtz defended his Class 4 state javelin title and beat his old Class 4 record which stood as the best throw ever launched in Missouri until a Class 5 Joplin thrower captured that honor later by a few feet. Kurtz came home with three medals overall after finishing fifth in the pole vault and helping the 4x100 relay team capture eighth for All-State honors. Meanwhile, Beckmann showed signs of a bright future as she competed in the maximum of four events at the Class 3 meet and earned a medal in each one. Beckmann finished eighth in the high jump, third in the long jump, sixth in the triple jump and was on the 4x400 relay team that finished sixth.  

5. Some resiliency and determination at Eldon

It is hard to imagine how any athlete, coach or an entire program can maintain focus after a natural disaster like a tornado wreaks havoc on their town. That was the reality the track and field programs at Eldon faced when a tornado ripped through the area and Jefferson City three days prior to where the state meet was supposed to be held. The Mustangs did not disappoint. When the two-day meet was forced to relocate to Columbia and was condensed to a single day, the Eldon girls put together their highest team finish in program history by placing fifth out of 70 Class 3 teams and were just two points away from a state trophy. Meanwhile, Eldon senior Hunter Bushnell, who knows about personal adversity, returned to athletic competition for the first time in a year and seven months after a detrimental football injury and finished his Mustang career as a two-time state champion in the para 100 and 200-meter dashes.

6. Athletic facilities upgrades at Versailles, Eldon and Osage

Things are beginning to look a little different at Versailles, Eldon and Osage. Athletic facilities upgrades were set in motion this year and some have already been completed. At Versailles, there is a new baseball/softball complex complete with a turf field and a new parking lot was constructed between the football field and new complex while the track was also resurfaced. The district will also replace the turf on the football field which was scheduled after the 2019 season. At Osage, a new fieldhouse stands by the football field which opened up this fall as the public was able to view new locker rooms, offices and the alternative classroom and community area above. The district has also put together a new soccer field behind the middle school and inside the high school are brand new locker rooms and renovations to the theatre. Meanwhile, Eldon has begun work on a new baseball and softball complex by Mustang Memorial Park at the middle school. 

7. Finn McNitt’s success on the mat 

Finn McNitt is someone in the Lake area you may not want to pick a fight with. The 12-year-old out of Osage Beach has put together an impressive resume in his young jiujitsu and wrestling careers with a fair share of hardware. As of last summer McNitt owned nearly 100 total medals, four jiujitsu state titles including three in a row, three North American Grappling Association jiujitsu belts, 10 jiujitsu tournament titles overall and a wrestling tournament title. McNitt competes with Lake Area Gracie Jiujitsu out of Camdenton, wrestles for the Camdenton Youth Club and has also had the privilege of meeting and being awarded a belt rank by Royler Gracie whose family is well known for pioneering the art of Brazilian jiujitsu. Safe to say, he has big aspirations with both sports and time will tell what his future holds.

8. The rise of the “Purple Tide” and “Purple Haze” 

The Camdenton football team had quite a run in 2019. The Lakers finished the regular season undefeated as Ozark Conference champions and earned the 28th district title in program history before losing to eventual state champion Webb City in the Class 4 state quarterfinals. That was due solid contributions across the board on both sides of the ball. Since the installation of the pass heavy “Purple Tide” offense in 2018, Coach Jeff Shore’s team has been one of the best in the state of Missouri averaging 47.8 points per game in 2019 while being led by an All-State quarterback in Paxton DeLaurent who was recently named the Class 4 Offensive Player of the Year. The “Purple Haze” defense did not disappoint either, allowing just 16.8 points per contest. The Lakers had five players earn All-State honors and finished the season ranked as the second best Class 4 team in the final statewide media poll. Camdenton was arguably the hardest team Webb City had left as the Lakers were tied with the Cardinals at 21 at halftime before falling 62-34. Webb City won its remaining two games by a combined score of 83-0. 

9. Eldon’s excellence on the links

The past few golf seasons have certainly been enjoyable ones for Eldon’s Matt Frey to coach and that was especially the case in 2019. In the spring he led the boys to a 26-1 record in match play, the first Tri-County Conference title since 2004, a district championship and fourth place finish at state that resulted in the program’s first team trophy since 2001. In the fall, the girls won a Tri-County Conference title as well along with its second straight district title on the links. Junior Kassidy Hull, who has reached state in all three years of her career and is a two-time state medalist, finished third this season while also winning a second straight individual conference and district title. Since 2017, Frey and all the Mustangs have picked up two straight conference titles, three straight district championships and a state trophy. Not a bad time on the links whatsoever. 

10. Impressive feats of note  

As one can see, the Lake area is not lacking in athletic achievement and it would be unfair to single out just one more amongst the pack. Macks Creek junior Hunter Lane wrapped up the previous basketball season averaging 21.1 points and 15 rebounds per game and finished with a double-double in all but one of his games. Camdenton junior swimmer Gavin Schulte added two more state medals to his career, has three overall and also finished his 2019 season as a conference champion in two events. Versailles seniors Coby Williams and Dallas Waller put up eye-opening numbers on the football field this year that rank near the top in Missouri and finished with a multitude of school records while also earning Class 2 All-State honors. Camdenton bass anglers have done well on the water as the duo of Gage Erickson and Payton Sapp were finalists for the Sports Commission Awards in Springfield while Reece Waters and Caden Kowal won the FLW High School Fishing Open at Lake of the Ozarks in October to earn a spot in the 2020 High School Fishing National Championship on the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisconsin.