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Stoetzer: It’s tough to deny the best Carroll County athletes, despite a sad and stunning high school sports year [COMMENTARY]

NOTE: A previous version of this article omitted Century High School’s volleyball team as one of Carroll County’s state championship teams from the fall of 2019.

When it comes to high school sports, our calendars can be marked with a handful of important dates. We shape the fall, winter and spring seasons around a few championship events that signify certain moments during the year.

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For the fall, it’s early November, with the cross country state meet, the field hockey state finals, and some boys and girls soccer state semifinals. When winter nears an end, early March means the wrestling state tournament and boys and girls basketball regional playoff action. Then, come spring, Memorial Day weekend brings the track and field state meet, baseball and softball state finals, and the usual aftermath of the boys and girls lacrosse state tournament.

But there’s another portion of the calendar we hold just as important. The Times has hosted for the past seven years its High School Athlete of the Year Awards banquet at Martin’s Westminster. It’s an event that brings together each of the Player of the Year and Coach of the Year recipients from every varsity sport, as well as a select group of athletes who excelled in more than one sport throughout the year.

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A guest speaker highlights the evening at almost all of our banquets, once family and friends have had a chance to enjoy dinner with the athletes and coaches. We hand out awards to the winners and finish off the evening with an overall Male Athlete of the Year, Female Athlete of the Year, and Coach of the Year.

The coronavirus pandemic forced us into some tough decisions in 2020, though. Schools closed in mid-March, and spring sports were later being canceled. Those moves were difficult to digest, but it soon became clear we weren’t going to be able to hold our event either (this past Wednesday was the scheduled date for our annual banquet before it got canceled).

But that doesn’t mean we were going to take the year off when it comes to recognizing the best of the best in Carroll County high school sports.

Having only two seasons from which to choose wasn’t ideal, but more than enough athletes and coaches stood out for their accomplishments.

Five of Carroll’s sports teams won state championships: Century boys soccer and volleyball (Class 2A), Liberty field hockey (1A), Liberty girls cross country (2A) and Westminster field hockey (3A). Century, Francis Scott Key, Liberty, Manchester Valley and Westminster all made football playoff appearances, with the Lions and county champion Owls each reaching the state quarterfinals.

In the winter, Liberty had its boys and girls basketball teams claim regional crowns. South Carroll collected three individual wrestling state champions, and the Cavaliers won the girls indoor track 2A state crown — the first in program history.

There were plenty of spring sports teams from Carroll gearing up for state championship pursuits, but they never got a chance to get started. Still, we had a list of worthy names ― coaches and athletes alike ― to be recognized for their standout performances.

Our Coach of the Year for 2019-20 went to Brenda Strohmer, who guided Liberty to its third field hockey state title in four seasons. The Lions put together an 18-0 season and allowed only six goals all season last fall.

For Female Athlete of the Year, South Carroll junior Grace Siehler stood out.

Siehler earned Times Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year honors last fall, then added a Girls Indoor Track Athlete of the Year nod in the winter. Siehler won Carroll County Athletic League and 2A West Region meet titles in the fall, and placed third at the 2A state meet in November.

Siehler won CCAL gold medals in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs during the winter, and also won regional and state titles in the 1,600.

On the boys side, Liberty senior McClain Butler is our Male Athlete of the Year.

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He earned first-team all-county honors on offense and defense during football season, and helped the Lions play in the 2A state quarterfinals. He had 157 tackles at linebacker, and Liberty believes he’s the program’s all-time leader. Butler also landed on our All-Decade team for football.

He made the switch to wrestling in the winter and didn’t slow down. Butler won a county tournament title at 182 pounds, placed third at the 2A-1A West tourney, and finished second at the 2A-1A state tournament.

Butler’s 135 career wins are the most in Liberty history.

He’ll be heading to Salisbury University in the fall with plans to play college football. Meanwhile, Siehler should be back for her senior year at South Carroll to try and defend a handful of championships.

And Strohmer said recently she can’t wait for the field hockey season to begin, as Liberty prepares to go after a third consecutive state title.

Whether fall sports begin on time — or play at all — is still unknown. That will likely be another tough decision for someone to make.

But we’ll be there to chronicle whatever happens, and look forward to getting back to normal as soon as it’s safe enough for the sports world to do so.

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