EFFINGHAM – Ty Kinkelaar wanted to replicate the same success as the girls track and field team at Effingham St. Anthony.
Anna Sophia Keller and Kristin Slaughter in particular.
Their clout was impossible to ignore and it prompted the lengthy discus thrower to do the same for the boys side.
“I'd say they gave me some motivation,” Kinkelaar said.
Kinkelaar certainly wasn't going to hold back after a disappointing 18th-place finish in Charleston a year earlier.
He tried AAU meets and often worked on his technique alone during the off-season, filming and studying his practice throws.
When spring finally rolled around, it didn't take long for the results to appear. By his third outdoor meet, Kinkelaar leaped to a new personal best 168 feet — a far cry from 152 last year.
Except state didn't bode so well early on.
He was on the verge of missing the cut again after scratching on his first two throws before he suddenly delivered a 164-6 that vaulted him to the very top.
It incredibly lasted an entire second round and seemingly out of the blue Kinkelaar stole the gold medal in 1A.
“It was a relief because I didn't think that throw would've held up since the guy that got second had thrown 180 in the past, so I knew he had some big throws up his sleeve,” Kinkelaar said. “I guess he couldn't pull it off and I was pretty surprised and happy about that.”
It was that kind of year for St. Anthony.
The girls stayed on course for another consistent year while the boys surprised many outside the school with stunning postseason runs in basketball and baseball.
It wasn't that surprising for anybody inside those programs.
The St. Anthony boys basketball team returned little from last year's starting lineup. Yet, its one senior, Drew Gibson, was as talented as any and the camaraderie with the young incoming group was uncanny.
Coach Cody Rincker detected it right away during the summer.
“We had an idea that we were going to be a pretty good team,” Rincker said. “It was just fun to watch them pass the ball. They always had a sense of where the other was going to be and then they could put the pass right on target whenever they needed to catch and shoot.”
Gibson immediately assumed leadership and the Bulldogs steamrolled to 21-1 and a No. 2 ranking in Class 1A.
But it wasn't always a smooth ride.
“There were a couple of times me and him butted heads because I didn't agree with what he was doing and he didn't agree with what I was doing,” junior teammate Adam Levitt said of Gibson. “I feel like that made us stronger as teammates and friends. If you don't butt heads a couple of times, there's really nothing there. We're just showing that we care. At the end of the day, it definitely paid off.”
Gibson, a 6-foot-3 guard/forward, ended up averaging 20.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game and just had a knack of coming through in big moments.
That sanguine vibe on the team never seemed to let them down.
“These guys, they all kind of had that cool, collective nature about them where they expected to do good things and it was more of a shock that they don't do something the right way or don't come out on top,” Rincker said. “I think that's why they were so successful in those situations.”
It couldn't have been more obvious in the state championship game against Okawville when Gibson drained the game-winner with 31 seconds left for the 49-46 overtime victory and the program's first state title.
It was a moment the St. Anthony community won't soon forget.
“It was almost kind of like a numb feeling,” Gibson said. “Whenever it was all over, I just sat there. I couldn't believe everything that had happened. Then the amount of support when we got back from all of our hometowns was incredible.”
All along the way, they inspired the girls basketball team.
A rocky start for the girls transformed into another stellar year for coach Bart Wiedman and Co. They claimed their fourth straight regional title and finished the year 22-9 with one senior on the lineup, meaning the boys and girls basketball teams will make the jump together to 2A next year per IHSA rules.
“I think even with the boys, they see how hard our girls play,” Wiedman said. “I think it motivated both teams a little bit — not really to one-up each other but to want to take pride in that success.”
The boys' whirlwind tour didn't ease up in the spring, especially for Gibson.
He made a seamless transition to baseball and instantly found his mid-season form.
In the team's first doubleheader of the season, Gibson combined for five hits and five RBIs in seven at-bats.
“That's the funny part,” baseball coach Kenny Koenig said. “We had a joke going on with some of the baseball players that didn't play basketball who were struggling in the beginning of the season. They were all mad at him because he'd come in after not swinging a bat all basketball season.”
Gibson only got stronger throughout the year and finished with colossal numbers: a .542 batting average with 15 doubles, two homers and 36 RBIs. It convinced Koenig that Gibson was better on the diamond than on the hardwood.
However, he has no intention of resuming either in college and will instead study business at University of Illinois.
“I just decided to put it all to rest and hang up the shoes and let it be,” Gibson said.
Spring wasn't so easy for Levitt.
He fractured his left ankle just before the end of the basketball season and had to wait out a few games before taking the mound. Once his landing foot strengthened, the Bulldogs were able to lean on the arms of Levitt and Colin Koester after the debilitating loss of Brandon Puckett with a torn labrum.
“Pitching has really been my thing ever since I started baseball,” said Levitt, who finished with a 6-1 record and 1.10 ERA. “I feel really comfortable because the game's pretty much in my control and I like it when things are in my control. I like to be the boss of things sometimes.”
St. Anthony's potent balance of offense and defense propelled the team to the Carbondale SIU Super-sectional against then defending state champions Goreville and nearly advanced in a 5-4 loss.
“We had a solid team this year,” Levitt said. “That's why I was so disappointed we didn't go (to state).”
The boys soccer team also continued its steady upward climb during the fall and managed to go undefeated through the regular season with 16 wins and 3 ties.
It revolved around senior forward Ryan Kruger.
He added a whole new dimension to the team starting his sophomore year and graduated with the most goals in a season (32) and career (88).
“Defensively, we were always a strong team,” Kruger said. “We just needed somebody to score the goals. I'm not saying that other people weren't scoring, but it was definitely a defensive match at first for most of the games and then just kind of started scoring and that's just how it went from there.”
He will be the school's first soccer player to make the next step, heading to Division III Illinois College — another feat that helped rub off a painful 3-2 regional final loss to Teutopolis.
“I think at first we were pretty upset,” Kruger said. “But in the end, we all knew that what we had done that year was something to be proud of.”
The entire year flew by so fast for Anna Sophia Keller.
The state's most illustrious runner coasted to her third triple crown, easily winning cross country in the fall and the long distance track events — the 1,600 and 3,200 — in the spring.
Kristin Slaughter also joined Keller at the top podium for the second consecutive year in the pole vault, and don't forget about Kinkelaar for the boys. Keller will next represent Notre Dame while Slaughter will join University of Illinois.
“It's really awesome,” Keller said, referring to Slaughter and Kinkelaar. “I know track isn't the biggest sport at our school. It's definitely basketball, but I feel like our track team has had a lot of success.”
It's obviously no surprise she will remember her time fondly at St. Anthony.
“I love how faith-based it is,” Keller said. “I've gone to Catholic school all of my life and I really feel like I grew a lot more in four years in high school. And, I feel like I've matured a lot over the years with all of my classmates and I can't wait to see what they all do in the future.”