TERRE HAUTE —
When it comes to picking the Tribune-Star’s high school Athletes of the Year, winning is the card that trumps a lot of other considerations.
For fall sports in 2012, therefore, it wasn’t too hard to chose Brylie Riddell of Northview and Jackson Bertoli of Terre Haute South.
Bertoli came closest of any other athlete in the Wabash Valley to winning an individual championship, placing fourth in the boys state cross country meet last month and topping all Indiana runners less than a week ago in the prestigous Footlocker Regional competition. Still just a junior, he has even more winning to look forward to.
Riddell will be graduating from Northview in the spring, but did plenty of winning while she was there. In her four-year career she participated in 113 victories with the Knights, including the school’s only Class 4A sectional championship.
She did a lot more than just participate, of course.
“She was a starter for us from the first time she walked in the gym,” coach Scott McDonald said. “We’d lost both our middles [from the 2008 team] … we’d had [Riddell] in a youth camp, so we knew how athletic and versatile she was, and at our first open gym the seniors brought her over and she showed us how good she really was.”
Being a middle in volleyball implies hitting and blocking, and Riddell holds school records in both those categories. She’s also Northview’s all-time leader in service aces, however — and certainly among the leaders in time on the court.
“Anytime we had a big game, she would play all the way around [including doing plenty of back-row digging],” McDonald added. “She wasn’t coming off the court.
“She’s one of those kids you don’t really replace,” the coach added. “Probably the most complete player I’ve ever seen at our school.”
It was a labor of love, Riddell indicated this week.
“I’m glad I did everything I did. There’s nothing I would change,” she told the Tribune-Star. “I’m definitely going to miss it. The highlight of every year was volleyball season.”
Riddell follows former teammate Ashlen Buck, now playing regularly as a freshman at Indiana State, as the Wabash Valley’s Volleyball Player of the Year, and said this week, “I’m very excited, and actually surprised. Following Ashlen Buck is a great honor.”
That’s a typical reaction from an athlete who declined to talk about herself when asked about winning the fall sports honor.
“This couldn’t have happened if I didn’t have all [my teammates],” she reasoned. “I couldn’t get hits without their sets.”
And if leadership became an additional strength of hers, it was only something she learned from her older teammates, Riddell added.
“I had to take some of the girls under my wing [this season],” she said, much like the 2009 seniors did for her at those open gyms. “I was very welcomed my freshman year.”
Most people consider cross country to be an individual sport, but Bertoli also was more concerned with the Braves than with his own accomplishments earlier this week.
“As a whole, our [track] team is pretty solid; a sectional title is one of our goals,” he said while looking forward to a few days of rest before training for the spring, “and we return some promising runners [in cross country]. Spencer Danielson will be one of the elite runners in the state [next fall] and I hope we can finish in the top 10 again [after placing eighth as a team last month].”
The example Bertoli has set helps all the Braves, coach Kyle Walsh pointed out.
“He’s doing productive workouts and his own strengthening stuff beyond our two-hour practice every day,” Walsh said, “and that’s spread to the younger guys on the team, which makes us stronger and stronger.”
Other Braves also learn from Bertoli’s competitiveness, Walsh added.
“He likes to battle; he likes the challenge,” the coach said. “We run one of the toughest schedules in Indiana, and he embraces that … he’s not scared of the big stage; he likes to perform in highly competitive situations.”
Already a two-time all-stater in cross country, Bertoli was mentioned among the individual favorites for the 2012 state championship and would certainly seem to have chances to do even better in the future. Walsh, for one, puts no limits on what his junior star might still accomplish.
“Every time I tell him what’s he’s capable of doing, he exceeds it,” the coach said happily. “The way he keeps testing the limits of his body … I can see progress for a long time yet.”
Like Riddell, however, Bertoli has no sense of entitlement about his abilities — and he too is enjoying every minute of the experience.
“I’m excited [to be named athlete of the year], because there were definitely some amazing athletes this year,” he said. “There’s barely anything I would change about the whole experience with the team and coach Walsh and [coaches John and Josh Lee]. I had a blast the entire time.”