News From Terre Haute, Indiana

High School

December 13, 2013

Bertoli, Morris named Tribune-Star's Fall Sports Athletes of the Year

TERRE HAUTE — In some ways, the 2013 Tribune-Star Fall Sports Athletes of the Year are similar to the 2012 winners — identical in one case.

But even though Terre Haute South distance runner Jackson Bertoli is a repeat winner of the fall award, his path to it was a lot harder, and perhaps even more rewarding as a result.

And as Shelbi Morris of Northview inherits the honor from former volleyball teammate Brylie Riddell, she too had a different path that was rewarding, as the Knights became regional champions for the first time since 1984.

Bertoli, of course, became a state champion early last month at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course, something that would have seemed highly unlikely during the first few meets of the season.

“It’s been an interesting past couple of months,” Bertoli said earlier this week in what qualifies as a big understatement. “Not exactly the journey I expected — but everything came together at the end.”

An Achilles tendon problem kept the South senior out of competition for most of the regular season.

“He ran less miles per week this year than he had in any year since eighth grade,” coach Kyle Walsh of South pointed out, “and he was still a state champion and a national qualifier. He was cross training … willing to do anything.”

Bertoli announced he was back by winning the Brown County Semistate, raising his hands in uncharacteristic celebration as he crossed the finish line. A week later, he was even more ready.

“He told me before the state race, ‘It’s going to take the best race of someone’s life to beat me today,’ ” Walsh recalled, “and he went out and ran the best race of his life. … everything now is icing on the cake.”

Bertoli is in San Diego this weekend, preparing for the Foot Locker nationals that will end his fall season. And, believe it or not, he’s injured again — although he has plenty of coping experience to fall back on.”

“I haven’t run since [the Foot Locker midwest regional]. I found out I have a stress fracture,” Bertoli said. “I’ve been hitting the pool ready hard [as part of his cross-training routine] and I’m going to try for one more big race.”

He’ll be running at Balboa Park on Saturday with the other 39 qualifiers from four Foot Locker regionals.

“The top 15 are All-Americans,” the runner said. “If I have a good day, I feel I can mix it up with many of [the other runners], but I know they could all take me down too. I’m going in pretty open-minded.”

“I’ve only been coaching three years, but getting an athlete like Jackson Bertoli is something I’ll remember the rest of my life,” Walsh said, “not only for his physical talents but also his leadership skills and his dedication to put in the time and energy to achieve greatness.”

Bertoli, who will attend Indiana University, also won the Athlete of the Year award for spring sports, making him the first three-time winner in the seven years the Tribune-Star has passed out the honors. Previous two-time winners have been distance runners TaPring Goatee and John Mascari, both of Terre Haute North; girls basketball players Haley Seibert of South and Rhagen Smith of Sullivan; tennis player Brittany Farmer of North; and softball player Haley Chambers of Riverton Parke.

Morris and her Northview teammates had designs on a state championship themselves after the Knights were reclassified from a 4A school to a 3A program prior to the past season, and it took an eventual state champion to stop them.

That semistate loss to Brebeuf, which went on to the 3A title, couldn’t completely spoil a 34-4 season that left Morris and her classmate Audrey Clark as the winningest Knights ever — 114 victories in their four varsity seasons.

“Audrey and I are so thrilled to have that record,” Morris told the Tribune-Star earlier this week. “All the hard work really did show.

“Our team was a family, and that’s one of the greatest things ever,” the powerful outside hitter added. “It was amazing to have a support system like these girls have been for me, and [reaching the semistate] was a great way to end my senior season.”

All the Knights were thrilled to learn they’d be in a Class 3A tournament in 2013, coach Scott McDonald recalled, and Morris took her talent and leadership to another level as a result.

“We were going into the year with different expectations,” he said, “and [Morris] took her lifting and conditioning and turned that up more.”

Morris also finalized her college choice — she’ll be playing for the University of Southern Indiana — and that was another boost, both she and her coach said.

“That gave her a lot of confidence in herself, knowing she could be a top-flight player, and she set the tone for us,” McDonald said. “When we needed a big point or a big swing, she wanted the ball.”

“Committing to USI in the spring took a huge weight off my shoulders,” Morris agreed. “Yes, I still have to continue to improve, but I have a spot. I don’t have to beat anybody else out.”

“Her junior year, she pressed a little bit [in trying to earn a scholarship],” McDonald said. “Her senior year she relaxed and became more athletic. It was a big help to her that she was [recruited].”

Besides being one of the two players with the most wins in Northview history, Morris ended her career second in kills and fourth in service aces, McDonald pointed out.

The coach was a big help, the player said.

“I hope I can say thank you to coach Mac,” Morris asked, “for pushing me and making me the player I am.”

n Other stars — The all-Wabash Valley teams for all fall sports are listed here, including three athletes honored in two sports.

A pair of West Vigo Vikings, Blake Benefiel and Tyson Tolerson, are honored as part of successful teams in cross country and tennis, and South Vermillion’s Davey Francis made the honor squads in both cross country and soccer.

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