As the 2017 calendar year comes to a close, the 13 Sports Authority looks back at the top 13 sports stories from the past year.
Here is the countdown in descending order, as chosen by 13 Sports department members Derek Bayne and Dan Cohen.
13. High School Football Parity - Local 815 football teams ended playoff droughts of seven or more years this season. The NIC-10's East E-Rabs returned to the playoffs for the first time in 16 years, while the Big Northern's Rockford Christian Royal Lions made the postseason after going winless from 2013-2015. The NUIC's Orangeville Broncos clinched its first playoff berth in seven years.
12. NIU's Sutton Smith - The Huskies sophomore earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year and became the program's second ever consensus All-American. Smnith broke school records for sacks and tackles for loss.
11. Jamie Hogan's Historic Year - Hogan won his record 9th Men's City Golf Championship. Rockford's all-time winningest golfer returned to form in 2017, now the owner of 28 career wins on the local golf scene.
10. Durand Volleyball's State Season - The Lady Bulldogs took their small town by storm, riding that support to the school's first ever trip to state. Durand finished third in the tournament, with a record of 35 wins, 2 losses, and 1 tie during a historic campaign on the court.
9. Sophie Brunner's Professional Breakthrough - The Aquin legend finished her Arizona State career as the Lady Sun Devils' #3 scorer and #2 rebounder. She made the Phoenix Mercury as an undrafted free agent, and is now playing overseas in Italy.
8. Track & Field Dominance - Boys track saw Freeport won a share of a team state championship, with Deion McShane setting a state record in the 300m Hurdles. Rockford Christian's Riley Wells won the 800m title and helped a relay team also win state. The girls side yielded a state title for Keith's Paige Yoder in the long jump, and Lutheran's Courtney Sockwell repeated as 100m and 200m champion. Boylan's Grace McLaughlin won the 3200m crown, and Belvidere North set the state record in the 4x800m relay.
7. Harlem Bowling's State Sweep - The Huskies won both the boys and girls state championships, and the Lady Huskies also won a national championship, asserting this region's place as a dominant force for high school bowling.
6. RVC Athletics Grabs More Gold - Women's Basketball won another title, and so did the RVC Lady Golden Eagles softball team. Darin Monroe's ladies dominated the diamond to the tune of a fourth straight national crown. The school has won 12 national championships across various sports since 2011.
5. Back-to-Back in Byron - Lady Tigers basketball and wrestler Nolan Baker brought the burden of expectations into 2017 and answered the call, winning consecutive state titles. Eric Yerly's ladies were unstoppable on the court, with the fearsome foursome of Lexi Devries, Paige Holloway, Bailey Burrows, and Sarah Hopkins. Their record over the last two title-winning seasons was 67 wins, 5 losses. Nolan Baker went undefeated on the mat as a junior and senior, winning state titles in each campaign.
4. Lena-Winslow Sets the State Standard - The Panthers roared to success in two athletic disciplines in 2017 - the Lena-Stockton wrestling co-op won the dual state championship early in the calendar year, and then the football team won the program's third 1-A state championship, finishing off an undefeated 14-0 season. The NUIC now owns 12 football titles since 2003.
3. Angel Martinez's Rise in the Ring - The Patriots Gateway boxer is one of the country's top amateur fighters. He won a National Golden Gloves crown, and a USA Boxing national championship. He now heads into training with Team USA as the Auburn standout punches his way towards a potential trip to Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
2. Dean Lowry's Sophomore Surge - The second-year pro out of Rockford seized the spotlight against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, scoring a fumble recovery touchdown for his first NFL score, and added the first "Lambeau Leap" of his Green Bay Packers career. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in that game, and continues to assert himself as a force on the Packers defensive line as they look ahead to 2018.
1. Fred VanVleet's Second-Year Success - From Auburn, to Wichita State, to undrafted free agent, to Summer League tryout, and now to key bench contributor to one of the top teams in the NBA's Eastern Conference, Fred VanVleet is this year's success story. He has doubled his rookie year statistics in every major category as the Toronto Raptors contend with the Cavaliers and Celtics for Eastern Conference supremacy. VanVleet is also using his platform to give back to his hometown, organizing a large youth basketball camp and other projects to benefit the Rockford community.