A class of their own

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By Andrew Harner

The group of senior athletes who graduated from Vandalia Community High School at the end of the May left behind a year’s worth of successes that they will never forget. Just over 40 percent of the senior class played at least one sport, 22 percent of the 99 graduates were two-sport athletes, and five seniors – Wade Cowger, Abby Dugan, Leyton Godoyo, Michael Wells and Morgan Whightsil – played sports year-round for the Vandals.

From the fall to the spring, Vandalia athletes were winning championships, being individually honored and achieving goals, making a year of memories and allowing the Vandals to represented at state in all three seasons.

The fall season was arguably the most exciting of the three for the Vandals.

By sweeping all of its conference games, the volleyball team earned the South Central Conference championship to go along with tournament wins at Altamont and Vandalia.

Later, the team won the school’s first regional championship in the sport since 1985.

The football team was having a great season, too, going 7-2 in the regular season to earn a spot in the state playoffs.

Minus their starting quarterback in that game, the Vandals were eliminated by Carterville in the first round.

In tennis, four Vandalia players made the championship doubles match of the conference tournament, and in golf, one boy and one girl made the state tournament.

For the winter, the wrestling team made the state tournament for the third straight season, despite having just two seniors.

The boys basketball team made the regional championship game and were the runners-up in the Vandalia Holiday Tournament, while the girls won a regional game and were a point short of reaching the title game.

In the spring, two seniors made the state track meet, and the softball team won its first regional game since 2007.

More details about the athletic success of the senior class follows.

Next level

At least nine 2013 graduates will play sports in college, and several others are considering walking-on.

Those who have made official commitments are:

•Ryan Ambuehl, football, Belleville-Lindenwood
•Brittany Anspach, bowling, McKendree
•Amber Bruno, basketball, Fontbonne
•Austyn Krueger, volleyball, Millikin
•RaeChelle Leiken, golf, Western Texas
•Jeff Lucken, football, MacMurray
•Sierah Ruffner, volleyball, Greenville
•Blake Swofford, golf, Rend Lake
•Whightsil, softball, Illinois College


Of the 40 seniors who participated in at least one sport this year, more than half of them (22) earned all-conference status in their sport.

Athletes earning all-conference honors multiple times were:

•Ambuehl, three selections (two football and one track)
•Bruno, two selections (basketball and softball)
•Leiken, two selections (volleyball and golf)
•Lucken, two selections (two football)
•Ruffner, two selections (volleyball and track)

Those who received all-conference honors in one sport were:

•Jordan Boren, tennis
•Emilie Britt, tennis
•Wade Cowger, track
•Paige Ehrat, tennis
•Leyton Godoyo, baseball
•Aaron Harter, basketball
•Zach Jackson, wrestling
•Bailey Jones, tennis
•Krueger, volleyball
•Sean Newcomb, wrestling
•Tim Ritchey, football
•Ryan Schmollinger, football
•Luke Smith, football
•Swofford, golf
•Wells, football
•Whightsil, softball
•Chase Woolsey, football

State impact

Vandalia had five seniors individually qualify for state this past year.

The best showing at state came from Ambuehl, who was seeded No. 4 in the 110-meter hurdles at the state track meet, but was denied the opportunity to place due to the meet’s schedule moving so far ahead of pace that when

Ambuehl reported about 50 minutes before the scheduled start time, he was too late.

In his career, Ambuehl made the state meet twice, running a total of three events.

Ruffner made the high jump finals of the Class A girls state meet, clearing 5 feet, 2 inches to place 11th.

Leiken qualified for her second Class A state golf tournament in the fall, shooting two eagles to finish day one in ninth place, but battled through the rain on day two to place 21st, her best-ever finish at state.

Swofford also participated in his second Class A state golf tournament, placing 17th after only getting in one round of play due to storms cancelling the second round.

Jackson made his first appearance at the Class A individual state wrestling tournament, losing, 9-2, in the first round.

He, along with Newcomb, helped lead the wrestling team to the team state finals for the third straight season.

There, the Vandals battled Litchfield, losing 31-29 to the eventual third-place finishers.

Both of the seniors won their bout against the Purple Panthers.

Conference champions

The volleyball team won a tense match with Pana to go 9-0 and win the South Central Conference regular-season championship this past fall.

In tennis, the doubles team of Ehrat and Jones defeated Britt and Boren for the conference championship.

Individually in track, Ruffner (high jump), Ambuehl (400) and Cowger (800) each won conference championships.

In golf, Swofford and Leiken were both champions of the conference.