With the prep winter sports season all but done with the exception of the state wrestling meet, it is time to hand out the annual "Richies" for those individuals or teams that had a remarkable season. Out of all the players and coaches considered, here are the top five performances deserving of a Richie, which come with a pat on the back and a handshake for a job well done.
Jim Wilson (Wrestling, McNair High) — Jim Wilson may attend McNair High, but he is a Lodi resident and all the 160-pound wrestler has done is put together one of the best seasons in Lodi history. Wilson has fashioned a 54-2 record and is ranked third in the state behind Vince Waldhauser of Oak Ridge, to whom Wilson has lost to both times this year. After punching his ticket to the state meet for the second year in a row with a runner-up finish to Waldhauser at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships last weekend, Wilson, only a junior, has a good chance at medaling.
Steve Kayson (Basketball, Tokay High) — Imagine being a head basketball coach at a Division I high school shortly after the season begins and trying to do your job after having your tongue surgically sliced in half and then sewn back together after removing cysts from your jaw. Add offseason chemotherapy sessions and a 20-year battle with lymphatic cancer to a regimen of daily practices and nearly 30 games over a full season and you get Steve Kayson. Despite having a disease that is not curable, only treatable, Kayson never quit on his team during a grueling period when lesser men would be recuperating in a hospital.
Tokay girls basketball — When former head coach Cip Sanchez was let go in September after 20 years in the Tiger basketball program, the last five as the girls varsity head coach, not much was expected of Tokay, which dropped its first 10 games to open this season and won just one of its first 12.
But with new head coach Jennifer Bauer whistling encouragement from the bench and versatile junior Tori Schallberger making plays at both ends of the court, the Lady Tigers rebounded to go 8-6 over their final 14 games — including two non-league wins over a playoff-bound Lodi Lady Flames squad — while finishing with a 5-5 record in Tri-City Athletic League play.
Lodi girls basketball — It only took head coach Cal Krienke just two years to return the Lady Flames to the playoffs after former head coach and current athletic director Erin Aitken stepped down. Despite losing key players and coaches to injuries, illnesses, transfers or other reasons which helped lead to a second-half slump in San Joaquin Athletic Association play, Lodi improved from 5-22 in 2010 to 15-13 and a playoff berth in 2011, a remarkable turnaround in just one year.
Galt girls basketball — Playing with just seven players for most of the season, Lady Warriors head coach Jeff Dela Cruz and his Galt squad went 22-8 and 9-3 in the Sierra Valley Conference, good enough for second place.
The Warriors then followed that up with a first-round spanking of Weston Ranch in the section playoffs before losing to defending section champion Sacramento in the second round.
Imagine trying to come up with some strategy as a coach during a close game with only two players on the bench and someone in foul trouble. When you have just seven players and you win 22 games, the program is heading in the right direction.
Contact reporter Richard Banas II at email@example.com.