2017 MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: KYLE WADE, KOKOMO WILDKATS FOOTBALL

By DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Kokomo High School senior Kyle Wade had a whale of a year. The three-sport standout will graduate in June as one of the best athletes to ever grace the halls of KHS. But it was his historic run leading the Wildkats to the IHSAA Class 5A state championship game that earned Wade the 2017 Sports Journal Male Athlete of the Year award.

His stellar year started in the spring as a standout pitcher for the Wildkats, finishing 5-1 on the hill with one save and a 3.76 ERA. The then-junior also hit .306 while playing shortstop for the Kats. Wade has made 24 appearances in three seasons with a 10-8 record and 4.09 ERA. He has 75 career strikeouts in 90.2 innings pitched.

While baseball is where Wade will play in college (Purdue University), it was on the gridiron where he made the most impact as he rewrote the record book for quarterbacks. During the state finals run – which was a first for the Wildkats – Wade set single-season records for passing yards (1,694), completions (113) and touchdowns (tied with 17).

For his career, Wade set the Wildkats mark for passing yards (4,150), completions (274), attempts (514) and touchdowns (47). He ended his career with a 35-13 record. Remarkably, Wade started all 48 games the Kats played during his four-year career as a starting quarterback.

“He is a three-year captain as voted by his teammates. He is a two-year team mental attitude winner and will be the team MVP this year,” said Colby after the state finals. “He means everything to this program and we are going to miss him for sure next year.”

After the state championship game, he was named the Class 5A Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award – he is the eighth Wildkat to earn an IHSAA mental attitude award. He is also ranked No. 11 of 325 students in the KHS class of 2018. Add everything together and Kyle Wade had one of the best year’s in Kokomo Wildkat history.

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2017 FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: NYSSA BAKER, IU KOKOMO VOLLEYBALL

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – The Indiana University Kokomo women’s volleyball team has become a national power due to the coaching of Heather Hayes, who has recruited great player after great player. Her 2017 recruiting class was no different as it produced one of the top freshmen in the nation – Nyssa Baker.

After leading the NAIA in two categories and securing several other honors, Baker is the 2017 Sports Journal Female Athlete of the Year.

Baker, a middle hitter who graduated from Fort Wayne Snider in 2017, had an immediate impact for the Cougars and was a key part in the squad winning the River States Conference regular season with a perfect 16-0 record. Along the way, the Cougars set a program record with a 22-game win streak while earning a berth in the NAIA National Championships.

For Baker’s part, she led the nation in total blocks with 216 and blocks per game at 1.580. She also had 384 kills in her rookie season. In River States Conference action, she was named the RSC Attacker of the Week three times and the RSC Defender of the Week once. Baker was also named the All-Tournament Team Most Valuable Player at the Liz Lykowski Memorial Tournament played at Indiana Tech, a tourney won by the Cougars.

After the season, Baker was named the RSC Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year before earning NAIA All-American honorable mention status. She was also named the NAIA AVCA Midcentral Region Freshman of the Year while being named to the all-reginal first team.

With a pair of Player of the Year awards, All-American status and statistics that lead the nation, Nyssa Baker is well-deserving of the Female Athlete of the Year honor.

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2017 STORY OF THE YEAR: KOKOMO FOOTBALL REACHES PROGRAMS FIRST-EVER STATE FINALS

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – The 2017 sports year in Howard County was one for the record books – literally. From outstanding teams to stellar individual accomplishments, the year was full of stories that will be told for generations. But one story stood out and captured the imagination of the city of Kokomo – and it included a trip to Indianapolis.

The Kokomo Wildkats football team – never known as a state power – opened eyes across the state with a run to the IHSAA Class 5A state championship game. Known more as a power in the North Central Conference, the Wildkats emerged on the state scene during what many considered a down year.

The Kats lost its opening game to Hamilton Southeastern 24-2 and stood 2-3 after five games. But a combination of returning players from injury and a key player who returned from Chicago helped change the fortune of the Kats season. They won three of its four final regular season games and took down Harrison and McCutcheon in the sectional. Kokomo came-from-behind to defeat Zionsville to capture the programs second-ever regional title and earned its first semi-state title after a 21-14 win over Michigan City.

Kokomo then traveled to Lucas Oil Stadium in the teams first-ever state championship appearance. With head coach Brett Colby leading the way, Kokomo showed they belonged on the state stage before falling to state power Columbus East 42-28.

Following the game, Kokomo quarterback Kyle Wade earned the IHSAA Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award. Javias Gray, a junior defensive lineman, earned Top 50 status from the Indiana Football Coaches Association while Wade, running back Jack Perkins and linebacker Noah Hurlock were named to the IFCA Class 5A All-State squad.

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