Photography By: Anthony Jinson
We at Columbia Home thought our local student athletes deserved some extra praise and recognition for all of their hard work, both on and off the field. After speaking with coaches and athletic directors from across town, we honor some of Columbia’s top student athletes who epitomize work ethic, sportsmanship, leadership, academic excellence, spirit and community service.
Hannah Dressler, Rock Bridge Girls Basketball
“Hannah is one of the most consistent players that I’ve ever been around,” back-to-back Coach of the Year Jill Nagel says about her senior standout. “Not just consistent, but consistently good at whatever she’s doing.”
Consistency is a word Nagel preaches often to her athletes, and it’s also a concept that Dressler has come to personify. She really is consistently good at everything: from the weight room where she deadlifts and squats 315 pounds, to the classroom where she holds a 3.81 GPA, to the basketball court where she was tops in Bruin rebounding for nearly half the season. Dressler, a Division 2 signee at Drury University, may have led her team in the statistical category if not for a knee injury that prematurely ended her senior year. Yet, in typical Dressler fashion, even the injury occurred during a spectacular display of hard work.
“I don’t want to say the injury was fitting, but the way it happened was because she’s diving for a loose ball that is at half court,” Nagel says. “It’s not like a game-winning shot or anything like that, but that’s how Hannah treated every loose ball. To have a player that treats a loose ball as if it were the game-winning shot every single time — whether it’s in practice or a game — that’s pretty special.”
Mary Cleek, Father Tolton Volleyball
Mary Cleek, a sophomore and two-time captain, is highly credited for the success of what could possibly be the best Tolton volleyball team in the short history of the program. Cleek’s work ethic and understanding of the game propelled the Trailblazers through the season before falling short to Sacred Heart in the second round of districts. Cleek, an outside hitter, was tops in Tolton kills last season, and her success stems from the extra hours she voluntarily puts into the gym.
“She’ll do anything that you ask and more in practice; she even goes to the gym now on her own and has somebody come and set her so she can work on her hitting,” Coach Bryndyn Crutcher says. Oftentimes, when the weather is agreeable, Cleek and teammates can also be spotted logging miles around Columbia.
“She’s doing everything I ask plus more on her own just because she wants to be the best that she can be,” Crutcher adds.
For Cleek, there’s no such thing as an off-season; each day is an opportunity to grow and improve, and she refuses to take that for granted. “I don’t see any female athletes working on their own as hard as she has been in the off-season,” Crutcher says. “She’s the same way in the classroom, too. Just all around she’s a good, hardworking kid that’s been a joy to coach the last two years.”
Carter Cox, Hickman Boys Soccer
“Carter is an exceptional young athlete who demands excellence from himself and his teammates,” Coach Adam Taylor says about his dependable defender. For Cox, a junior in the 2012 season, the hard work didn’t begin when the season did. During the off-season, he tackled what was asked of him and then some. He quickened his feet on the agility ladder and stretched his lungs with sprints and distance running. In the process, his tactical ability and footwork improved, as well as his conditioning level. Cox became a relentless machine, capable of competing in nearly every moment of the 28-game Hickman soccer season.
“That’s amazing,” Taylor says. Rightfully so, Cox’s supreme level of effort and durability landed him a spot on the Class 3 District 9 All-District Team.
Will Tindal, Father Tolton Wrestling
At the beginning of his freshman season, Will Tindal found himself pinned beneath one of the highest state-ranked wrestlers in his weight class. “He decided that wasn’t going to be something that would get him down the rest of the year,” Coach Tony Eierman says. “It would be something to work toward and get better to come back at beat him.” For the duration of the year, Tindal put in extra hours in the gym and added more workouts to the end of practice. Once he’d mastered a new technique, he quickly taught rookies.
“He really helped out with helping the other guys if they had any questions or working with them if they needed help with any moves,” Eierman says. By the end of the season, Tindal had evolved into a confident, fortified competitor. At the end of the year, he wrestled the same opponent who beat him earlier in the season. This time, the match determined who would place in the state. Due to Tindal’s sportsman-like approach, he overthrew his opponent and placed fifth in state as a freshman.
“He ended up beating him because he just kept believing in himself,” Eierman says.
Jackson Dubinski, Rock Bridge Golf
Jackson Dubinski is the type of kid whose desire to grow never stops. In both basketball and golf, the 6’1” junior is likely found perfecting his game and teaching others how to get better as well. “He’s so driven to be good,” Jim Scanlon, boys basketball coach, says. During the basketball season, Dubinski was often the first athlete to get to the gym and the last to leave. When his teammates caught up with him at a basket, the lefty-shooting guard immediately included them in his plan to improve.
“He wants to get better, and he wants the team to get better,” Scanlon says. “He’ll be the first one to help other kids. You’ll see him over there showing other kids how their release should be, what they’re doing wrong and right. I wish I had about 24 just like him.”
Although the Bruins’ post-season was cut short by their in-town rivals, Dubinski was one reason they made it to the district championship.
Sydney Washington, Hickman Softball
In high school, coaches frequently come across athletes who have the ability to show their teammates a high level of commitment and performance. However, it’s very difficult for most teenagers to know what to say and how to say it. And, it’s nearly unheard of to have an athlete who can do both. Sydney Washington is that diamond in the rough. “She’s a hard worker,” Coach Courtney Haskell says about her senior centerfielder. “She’s not afraid to communicate. She’s not a yeller, but if you’re not doing it right, and you’re not doing it good enough, she’s going to let you know.”
Washington’s knowledge and propensity for the game was evident four years ago when she started for the Kewpies as a freshman. Throughout her career, her performance has continued to improve, and the Missouri Western signee capped off a terrific career with an almost inconceivable senior year. “She was an All-State player,” Haskell says. “She set several state records this year and several school records. Her performance this year was unbelievable.”
Washington now leads the state for total bases during a single season. She also ranks second in Missouri in single-season homeruns, one of which came in the district semifinals against Rock Bridge High School when she sent a three-run shot over the fence to win the game. “She really enjoys being on the softball field,” Haskell says. “She really enjoys her teammates, and I think her teammates really enjoy her. She’s fun to be around, she has a good time, she smiles a lot, but when it’s time to get down to business, it’s time to get down to business.”
Leia Tarbox, Rock Bridge Bruin Girls
When Leia Tarbox joined the Rock Bridge Bruin Girls dance squad, the dream of going to nationals wooed her. “Leia was one of the biggest ones who really tried to get people motivated for that; it was something that she had always wanted to do since her sophomore year on the team,” Coach Shannon McDaniel says. However, Tarbox fought a recurring shoulder subluxation issue during her time as a Bruin Girl, resetting her shoulder when it frequently popped out of place. So when Rock Bridge qualified for nationals in her senior year, the two-year captain faced a heartbreaking decision: go to nationals and perhaps never dance again, or remove herself from the season to prolong her career. Tarbox chose a longer dance career and received shoulder surgery during the school break last winter.
“That was probably the hardest thing she’s gone through, to spend two and a half years on this team to work to ultimately get to go to nationals, then she’s so close to it and has to pull herself out,” McDaniel says. But, like any great leader, she didn’t remove herself completely. In fact, she remained an incredibly important part of the squad. “She pretty much became our assistant coach. She still came to every practice, she came to every basketball game performance, and every rehearsal we had. She was able to fulfill a different role of captain.”
She even went to nationals to cheer on the dancers, one of whom was her younger sister, as they lived out her dream. From the sidelines, she watched her Bruin Girls place in the top 10 in jazz and pom. Then, two months later, after fighting her way through post-operation rehabilitation, Tarbox accomplished a new goal: she became a Golden Girl for the University of Missouri. “She’s a phenomenal athlete and a strong leader,” McDaniel says.
Cameron Bagley, Father Tolton Cross-Country
For Cameron Bagley, a sophomore track and cross-country star at Father Tolton, leadership looks like a smile. And then it looks like the dust from his feet. “He’s probably one of the most popular kids in school just because he’s a goofy kid who’s always making people laugh, but he takes his sports very seriously,” Assistant Coach Pat Kelly says. As a people-magnet, Bagley has the unique opportunity to get his teammates focused and inspire them to work as hard as he does. “He’s always joking and keeping things light, but he’s also a kid who wants to be pushed. It’s an interesting balance where he’s kind of loose and fun but also really wants to work hard and be good.”
Bagley likes being pushed so hard, in fact, that he often pushes himself beyond the requirements of the workout. Coaches Wilmes and Kelly frequently find themselves pulling the reins to make sure he doesn’t over-train or wear himself down. The zealous work ethic that Bagley is so well known for has certainly produced results in his career. Despite having a hip flexor injury, Bagley finished third in districts for the mile and qualified for state in cross-country, missing All-State honors by 30 seconds.
“He’s probably more of a leader by example,” Kelly says. “His work ethic is very good. He always wants to go and do extra work. But he’s also a leader in the sense that he never has anything negative to say about anybody, so it makes everybody feel good about themselves.”
Andrea Wikle, Father Tolton Girls Soccer
It’s possible that few people know Andrea Wikle better than Amy Gundy, who has coached the talented sophomore since she was a kindergartener. “She’s just a really balanced kid,” Gundy says. “She does band, plays every sport imaginable and is one of the top students in her class. She’s just a good all-around kid.”
Yet, even with the chaotic demands of a well-rounded life, Wikle seems to excel with ease. “She can handle a lot of things at once,” Gundy says. “She’s good at being balanced and not being stressed about her load.”
It almost seems as though Wikle can do anything. She can even do it on command. After fighting through the rehabilitation process of a torn knee ligament, Wikle returned to the soccer field with a vengeance. Down 1-0 in a heated game, Gundy looked to Wikle for a goal. “I said, ‘Andrea, go score.’ And sure enough, she got the ball, went all the way down the field and scored. She just has that inner drive to succeed.”
Even with her Midas touch, Wikle remains humble and willing to learn. “She’s always been a great kid to work with,” Gundy says. “She’s very coachable, and I feel like she always wants to better herself, but she’s very humble with her strengths. I think that in and of itself is to be looked up to.”
Mason Murray, Hickman Football
Mason Murray can do it all. In the fall, he was the starting quarterback for the Kewpies, earning several Play of the Week awards from KOMU for his flashiness on the field. In the winter, he stepped up as a superior shooting guard for the Hickman basketball team and placed third in this year’s state championship tournament. And all year round, he’s a good student. “The thing about Mason is that he leads by example,” Arnell Monroe, Hickman football coach, says. “He has a 3.6 cumulative GPA, and he plays football and basketball. So all fall and all winter he’s doing something and keeping that GPA, too.”
The Kewpies finished last football season 9-2 and were ranked sixth in the state of Missouri, and Murray was a large part of that success. Actually, the name “Murray” is often interchangeable with this year’s Heisman winner. “The kids call him Baby Manziel because he runs around and makes plays,” Monroe says. Although the well-rounded junior is quiet by nature, when Murray speaks, everyone stops to listen. “He likes to laugh. He’s a fun-loving kid, but he’s also a competitor. He’s just a great guy to work with. He’s a great, great kid.”
Allison Baker, Rock Bridge Girls Tennis
Tennis can be a demanding sport, both physically and mentally. It takes guts and gusto to last through a match and clinch it. But the intense requirements of the court rarely seem to taint the positive attitude of Rock Bridge tennis star Allison Baker. “Allison is a fun-loving kid that takes pride in wanting to do very well at whatever she does,” Coach Ben Loeb says. “She has a zest for life and for accomplishing things.” And accomplish she does. In the 2011 state championship semifinals, Baker and teammate Savannah Everett squared off against an equally competitive squad. The duel was tied four matches each in a breathless race to the state finals. They lost the first set, they rallied back to win the second, and then, with spirit and perseverance, they pulled out the last set with a win.
“It was a very tense and competitive situation,” Loeb says. “It was a tough situation to maintain your composure and stay calm and confident all at the same time. And she and her partner were able to do it.”
Jonathan Jalali, Hickman Swimming
“Jon is probably the most positive teammate I’ve ever coached,” Peter Willett, Hickman swim coach, says. “He always has a smile on his face, and he’s the ideal teammate in that he gets so excited for the team’s success.” When he’s not in the pool, it’s not uncommon for him to be hooting and hollering for his teammates who are competing. His radiating positivity has even coined him the nickname Jolly Jalali.
“He really helps bring a level of energy to competition and practices because he’s just so much fun to be around and so positive,” Willett says. “He really raises everybody’s spirits both at practices and meets.” Although not the most seasoned swimmer, the sophomore makes up for his lack of experience by providing a zest for the present, and his positive attitude has propelled him into a very bright future. As a butterflier in the 100m butterfly, Jalali showed vast improvements over the course of this past season.
“He’s a 1:01 butterflier, which is not quite state qualifying, but it’s a pretty quick time,” Willett says. Yet, his impressive speed in the pool pales in comparison to his speed in the pursuit of his goals. “We talked early on in the season about where he wanted to be, and he was able to get his end-of-season goals by mid-season.”
Sophie Spicci, Father Tolton Cheerleading
It would almost seem fitting that a cheerleader receive the Spirit Award, but the happy-go-lucky disposition of Sophie Spicci goes beyond the call of duty. “She always is encouraging and excited,” Coach Laura Sasser says. “She’s a champion for Tolton; she’s spirited for the whole school, not just for the cheer team but for all the sports. She comes to different activities and different sports to cheer for and encourage them.”
Spicci’s cheering is not something she does simply to belong to the squad; it’s something that is engrained deeply within her DNA. “She loves what being a cheerleader is,” Spicci says. “She encompasses what that is. She is very proud of being a cheerleader, and she takes it to heart.”
Her ever-present leadership and desire for Tolton unity never cease to shine. At the end of the basketball season, the freshman took it upon herself to uproot students from their scattered seats and join together in one section. “She tries to get the crowd involved and get the students involved and wants them all to cheer as one unit,” Spicci says. “She wants to make the teams feel like everyone is behind them and backing them. She’s just constantly thinking about what she can do better to support the school.”
Mike Nemec, Rock Bridge Baseball
Although on a roster, senior baseball player Mike Nemec is simply listed as a second baseman and shortstop, in reality, he is much more than that. The three-year starter also boasts a perfect 4.0 GPA and is planning on going to Oklahoma State University on academic scholarship next year. Despite his athletic and academic accomplishments, perhaps his most impressive achievement is his involvement with the community. “He’s been very, very involved in the Challenger Baseball/Softball Program,” Coach Justin Towe says. In fact, the Rock Bridge baseball team as a whole has completed more than 100 hours of community service, and Towe credits Nemec as the point man on that project.
The Challenger Program is a softball league for students with disabilities, and volunteers such as Nemec serve as buddy-coaches on the field and help kids run bases or throw a ball in play. For Nemec, this cause has special meaning and provides another way to play baseball with his younger brother, Dan, who has Down syndrome. “Dan has been watching Mike play for years and years, so, I think that’s really near and dear to his heart,” Towe says. “And I think it’s a way for him to be around his brother.”
Jennifer McGowan, Hickman Track and Field
“Perspective is a hard thing for kids, and it’s difficult for them to have balance in their lives,” Hickman Coach Steve Kissane says. “But Jennifer realizes how fortunate she is and that there are others who can’t even walk or are gravely ill.” That mature perspective may be what drives McGowan’s heart toward serving others. As she entered her senior year at Hickman High School last year, she requested a letter of recommendation from her coach, not for athletics or local employment, but for admittance into a high-esteemed service organization called Trireme. After a grueling process in which candidates have to demonstrate their earnest passion for community service, Trireme selects 25 senior women from Hickman to join their organization. This year, McGowan joined the squad and now regularly attends Trireme leadership meetings and participates in monthly service projects.
Despite the demands of being a student and volunteer, she also adds an extra element to track practice each day. “She makes every workout fun and finds the fun in hard work,” Kissane says. “If it’s not there, she’ll make it fun but without silliness and horseplay, just by setting a classy example.” McGowan competes in the 1600m, 800m and 400m sprints, with a 2:39 PR in the 800.
“She’s just really motivated, enthusiastic and positive but thinking of others as well,” Kissane. “Very kind-hearted. She’s a kid with a ton of balance in her life that makes you glad you’re a teacher and a coach.”
Father Mike Coleman, Father Tolton School Chaplain
Father Mike Coleman is not only the school chaplain of Father Tolton Catholic High School and the pastor of St. Pius X parish in Moberly, but he is also quite possibly the biggest high school sports fan in Columbia. While growing up in a mining area south of St. Louis, Fr. Coleman expressed his love of sports by rooting for Cardinals Baseball. When he moved to Columbia and was assigned to be school chaplain at Fr. Tolton, he brought his passion for athletics with him.
Despite the hectic schedule of leading a congregation and supervising a school, Fr. Coleman attends nearly every athletic event on the calendar. “He does announcing at the basketball games and does some of the football games, too,” Athletic Director and Tolton Football Coach Chad Masters says.
When he’s not announcing football games, that’s probably because he’s standing on the sideline with the team. “He’s just kind of a goofy, fun, super energetic guy.” Masters says. “The kids absolutely love him.”
Fr. Coleman doesn’t simply show up to the games, though. Instead, he becomes one of the biggest cheerleaders in the stands, where he makes up cheers and witty nicknames for the Tolton student athletes. In many instances, you can hear him make “Woo!” noises like an excitable Arsenio Hall. “He’s an easy pick for biggest fan,” Masters says. “He’s the heart and soul of everything we do, and he really helps everybody keep everything in perspective.”