Commentary

Sweet 16 high school sports stories of 2008

Updated: December 31, 2008, 11:28 AM ET
By Mark Tennis | ESPNRISE.com

Which high school sports stories made headlines in 2008? ESPN RISE runs down the sweet 16:

[+] EnlargeSacred Heart Cathedral
AP Photo/Rich PedroncelliSacred Heart Cathedral took home the 2007-08 FAB 50 girls' basketball title.

1. In March, the Sacred Heart Cathedral girls' basketball team of San Francisco won the mythical FAB 50 national title, finishing unbeaten with a third straight California Interscholastic Federation state title, and did it all despite unimaginable tragedy. In January, the father of Irish standout Tierra Rogers was murdered in a parking lot near the school at halftime of a game. Rogers scored the winning basket in the team's last two games.

2. In a new twist to the never-ending situation of talented high school boys' basketball players becoming pros instead of going to college, national player of the year Brandon Jennings from Oak Hill Academy of Virginia decided to skip going to the University of Arizona and instead signed a one-year contract with a professional team in Italy. Jennings could be drafted by an NBA team this summer.

3. Texas football has it all. After the state was a runaway winner in the first ESPN RISE Great State Debate, the highest-ranked Texas team in the final ESPN RISE FAB 50 was No. 2 Allen and the Eagles won their state title with backup quarterback Tucker Carter leading the way. Right behind Allen at No. 3 was Lake Travis of Austin. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert of Lake Travis, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, set state records for passing yards for a season and career. Texas even had the highest-ranked player in the ESPNU 150 as Cypress Ridge quarterback Russell Shepard had some amazing performances.

4. Elena Delle Donne led Ursuline Academy of Wilmington, Del., to a state title in March and was then named the EA Sports and Naismith national player of the year. She was all set to join the legendary program at UConn this fall, but she stunned many by leaving school and the sport after two days in summer camp. Delle Donne played volleyball at the University of Delaware this fall and might not play basketball competitively again.

5. The most famous teen athlete in the nation for the year would have to be gymnast Shawn Johnson of West Des Moines, Iowa. At the Summer Olympics, Johnson won a gold medal in the balance beam and won the silver medal in the women's all-around competition behind USA teammate Nastia Liukin. Johnson is a junior at Valley High of West Des Moines, a school that tasted success in the fall in football with a 14-0 record and the Class 4A state title in Iowa. In most Olympic Games, there is at least one high school girls' swimmer who captures gold. That didn't happen in Beijing.

6. St. Anthony and St. Benedict's of New Jersey finished No. 1 and No. 2 in the final FAB 50 boys' basketball rankings. Why did the two teams not play each other despite both being from the same state? St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley and St. Benedict's coach Dan Hurley are father and son, and both have said they will avoid playing that game if they can.

7. On back-to-back nights in early December, the third- and fourth-longest winning streaks in national prep football history came to an end. First, in Mississippi, South Panola of Batesville had its 89-game streak snapped by a 27-21 overtime loss to Meridian. The next day in Tennessee, it was Hillsboro beating Maryville, 10-7, in a state final that halted Maryville's 74-game winning streak.

8. Softball pitching phenom Kenzie Fowler came back from a very serious blood clot condition that forced her to miss the entire summer of 2007 and put together an almost perfect junior season. Fowler, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, finished 24-1 with a 0.33 ERA, and her team from Canyon del Oro of Tucson, Ariz., won its second straight Class 4A state title.

9. The story of the year in high school track and field occurred at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., when California teen Jordan Hasay was literally plucked out of the stands to be given a chance and the junior from Mission Prep of San Luis Obispo ended up making it all the way to the finals. Although Hasay did not earn a trip to Beijing, she did break the national sophomore record in the 1500 meters with her time of 4:14.50. Earlier in the summer, she set a meet record in winning the 3200 meters for the third straight year at the CIF state championships. This fall in cross country, after starting the season slowly, Hasay won her fourth straight Foot Locker Western Regional title and won her second Foot Locker National title in San Diego one week later.

10. Don Bosco Prep of Ramsey, N.J., finished 33-0 in baseball with a state title and the mythical FAB 50 national crown. One of the top players for that baseball team, Brett Knief, also was the quarterback in the fall for the football Ironmen, who won their third straight state title in their private school division and traveled to California for a win on ESPNU over fabled program De La Salle of Concord.

11. Two years ago, Lakeland of Florida was the nation's final No. 1 team in football. This year, that same Lakeland squad faced St. Thomas Aquinas of Fort Lauderdale for the Class 5A state title with St. Thomas in the driver's seat to be ESPN RISE FAB 50 national champion. It wasn't close. St. Thomas Aquinas rolled to a 57-6 triumph and completed a perfect 15-0 season.

12. The performance of the year in boys' track and field was one for the ages, and it was turned in at the California state meet in June by German Fernandez of Riverbank. The senior, who is now at Oklahoma State, first clocked 4:00.29 to win the 1600-meter race and set a meet record. A few hours later, he was back on the track again and, despite having run so strongly earlier, he showed no weakness in his legs whatsoever. Fernandez won again in the 3200, and his time of 8:34.23 was another meet record. Two weeks later, he broke the national record in the two-mile run (a mark that had stood for 29 years) at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in North Carolina.

13. After undefeated Simi Valley lost in the CIF Southern Section Division I final, the final No. 1 national ranking in softball was taken by Virginia powerhouse Broad Run. The Spartans ended the year with a 57-game winning streak.

14. At the 2008 Area Code Baseball Games in July, Josh Sale from Bishop Blanchet of Seattle did something that is rarely seen in the major leagues, let alone in the Area Code Games. He hit for the cycle, and the last piece of it came on a blast over the right-center wall. If you have watched a game at Blair Field in Long Beach, Calif., you know that hitting one out is not an easy task, and Sale, now a junior, did it with a wood bat.

15. In a rare move in a sport dominated by East Coast schools, Inside Lacrosse gave the nod to a Midwest team for the final No. 1 ranking for the nation in boys' lacrosse. For 2008, that honor went to Brother Rice of Birmingham, Mich.

16. The Worth Firecrackers softball travel team proved that there is more to the game than just winning. Over the past few years, the Firecrackers have developed a relationship with World War II veteran Harry Runtzel, who would come see them play each summer in the Colorado Fireworks Tournament. The Firecrackers spent time with Runtzel learning about life and listening to his stories. After seeing him at the Colorado Fireworks tournament last summer, the girls dedicated their play to him. They rallied to win the tournament and dedicated their trophy to Runtzel. He accepted the trophy on the field, teary-eyed, and the girls and coaches said it was the most memorable experience they had ever had on the field; even more emotional and more rewarding than their 2007 national championship.

Mark Tennis is the deputy sports editor of ESPN RISE. Andrew Drennen, Garland Cooper and Brett Hughes contributed to this story.