1. NIU football earns berth to Orange Bowl
Coming off a Mid-American Conference Championship in 2011, NIU football started off the calendar year with a victory in the GoDaddy.com bowl. That would be only the start of the Huskies’ most successful year in school history.
NIU lost its season opener to Iowa, 18-17, but then rattled off 11 victories in a row to close the regular season and earn a third consecutive berth in the MAC title game. In Detroit, the Huskies needed two overtimes to defeat Kent State, 44-37, and win their second consecutive conference crown.
Only two days later, NIU earned the school’s first trip to a Bowl Championship Series bowl game, accepting a bid to play Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday. The Huskies became the first team from the MAC to play in the BCS.
2. NIU wins bid for IHSA state football finals
The University of Illinois has hosted the high school state football championship games at Memorial Stadium since 1999, but changes to the Big Ten schedule forced the IHSA to find a host for title games in odd-numbered years starting in 2013 and going through 2021.
NIU beat out Illinois State and Southern Illinois for the winning bid. Former DeKalb High School athletic director Dan Jones put together a petition and gathered 114 signatures from ADs throughout northern Illinois in favor of bringing the championships to DeKalb.
IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said the opening of the Chessick indoor practice facility in 2013 was a big reason for selecting NIU.
3. Hinckley-Big Rock boys soccer takes third at state
Expectations were high for the Hinckley-Big Rock boys soccer team as many of last year’s starters, including 2011 Daily Chronicle Player of the Year Bernie Conley, returned after a Class 1A sectional championship.
The Royals posted an excellent regular season, finishing second to Somonauk in the Little Ten Conference. H-BR would avenge its two losses to Somonauk with a 2-0 win over its rival in the regional final. The Royals defeated Princeton, Little Ten rival Leland-Earlville and Cristo Rey Jesuit to earn a spot in the state tournament.
In the semifinals, H-BR let a 2-1 lead slip away in the second half as Alton Marquette rallied for a 4-3 win. The Royals rebounded for a 4-3 victory over Keith Country Day in the third-place game, giving the storied H-BR program its best finish at state.
4. Dave Doeren leaves for North Carolina State
Everybody in DeKalb knew this moment was going to come sooner or later. Dave Doeren had unparalleled success in his first two years at NIU and was a hot commodity among teams looking for a new coach.
Less than 24 hours after leading NIU to its second MAC title in as many seasons, Doeren accepted the head coaching position at N.C. State. He received a contract worth $1.8 million annually, more than four times his salary at NIU.
Doeren left NIU with a 23-4 record in two seasons. He won two MAC championships and went undefeated in 12 games at Huskie Stadium.
One day after Doeren’s announcement, Rod Carey was hired as NIU’s new head coach and will lead the Huskies at the Orange Bowl.
5. Sycamore wrestler Culton wins state title
Coming off a disappointing sophomore campaign in 2011 when he failed to qualify for the state tournament, Sycamore wrestler Austin Culton finally broke through for an elusive state title.
Culton, who had claimed three Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation state titles as a member of the Sycamore wrestling club, became the first Sycamore wrestler to win a state championship. He defeated Lemont’s Jake Kaminsky by decision, 2-1, in the Class 2A 152-pound title match.
Culton finished the season with a 35-4 record. For his achievements, Culton was named the Grand Marshal of the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival.
6. Jordan Lynch finishes seventh in Heisman
Jordan Lynch was a relatively unknown commodity coming into 2012.
The junior signal-caller played sparingly behind four-year starter Chandler Harnish, but flourished when given the reins to the offense this season.
Lynch led NIU to a 12-1 record and a MAC title with both his arm and his legs. The dual-threat quarterback has thrown for almost 3,000 yards and set an FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,771.
The Chicago native has accounted for 43 touchdowns and led the nation in total offense.
He finished seventh in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, the highest finish for a Huskie since LeShon Johnson finished sixth in 1993.
7. Marty Sanders resigns as DeKalb football coach
Sanders, the most successful DeKalb football coach in the past decade, Marty Sanders resigned in May after three seasons with the Barbs.
He went 11-17 in three seasons and led the Barbs to their first playoff berth in 21 seasons when DeKalb made it to the Class 6A playoffs in 2010, where they lost at Rock Island, 42-41, in overtime.
Sanders, a physical education teacher at Huntley Middle School, said he wanted to focus on his family and his teaching, but left open the possibility of returning to coaching in the future.
Assistant coach Todd Hallaron was named the interim head coach for the Barbs’ 2012 season.
8. Kaneland’s Clinton wins 2A state cross country title
Kaneland’s Victoria Clinton peaked when it mattered in 2012. Only a sophomore, Clinton took almost a full minute off her personal best to win the Class 2A state championship in 16:56. Clinton won by 11 seconds and outraced Crystal Lake Central’s Sami Staples, the defending state champion.
Clinton also helped lead Kaneland to a sixth-place finish as a team.
DeKalb’s Kelsey Schrader, who was the 2011 Class 2A runner-up, finished 10th in Class 3A with a time of 16:54, running in the fastest girls cross country race in state history.
9. Brown receives D-I football scholarship offers
Dre Brown came on to the local sports scene in 2011, appearing in three games before an injury forced him to miss the rest of his freshman season.
But the sophomore running back had a productive 2012 season, running for 759 yards and nine touchdowns for DeKalb. It was enough to attract the interest of NIU and Illinois, both of which offered Brown a college scholarship.
If Brown signs a letter of intent as a senior in 2014, he would become the first DeKalb football player to receive a Division-I scholarship since Andy Lothson at NIU more than 10 years ago.
10. DeKalb’s Lopez wins gymnastics state title
After missing most of her junior season, Alyssa Lopez made her senior year count. Lopez, who is now competing in gymnastics at Iowa, edged Carmel’s Kristin Mirski by a mere .05 points to win the all-around competition at the state finals.
The next day Lopez tied for the state championship in floor exercise and also added a fourth-place finish in vault.
Lopez’s accomplishments came in only DeKalb’s second season as a high school gymnastics program.
Sycamore’s Lake Kwaza takes second in the 100-meter dash at state; DeKalb girls basketball wins sectional title; Kaneland football finishes undefeated regular season; NIU QB Chandler Harnish drafted by Indianapolis Colts; Sycamore’s Angelina Ye advances to fourth round at state tennis tournament.