MOUNT VERNON — It wasn’t a game day for Sarah Ryan. It wasn’t a practice day.
It was a rest day.
“I’ve been babysitting and mowing,” Ryan said on a hot, lazy late-July afternoon. “It’s weird for me. I like to be busy.”
As The Gazette honors its 2011 Athletes of the Year (Kiah Stokes of Linn-Mar and Derrick Loveless of Solon), we’d be remiss not to adequately close the book on a golden age of girls’ athletics at Mount Vernon High School.
We fleetingly considered the option of lumping together eight members of Mount Vernon’s senior class — Ryan, Amanda Platte, Ali Stark, Courtney Kintzel, Holly Salzbrenner, Taylor Dicus, Micah Wieditz and Kylea Weber — as one entrant in the Female AOY sweepstakes.
They’d have been a shoo-in winner. But we were leery of setting that kind of precedent.
As it is, seven Mount Vernon girls earned votes on their own. Three of them — Ryan, Platte and Stark — were finalists, finishing third, fourth and fifth.
Since this class hit high school, Mount Vernon (OK, including Mount Vernon-Lisbon) has claimed six state championships in four sports — 2008 in cross country, 2009 and 2010 in track, 2009 and 2010 in volleyball, and 2010 in basketball.
“They’re not just excellent athletes. They’re excellent students and leaders within our school,” said Maggie Willems, an assistant volleyball and track coach at the school — she succeeds Shirley Ryan as the head volleyball coach this fall.
“They’re great athletes, great kids from great families. They made the right choices all the time.”
All eight of them plan to play intercollegiate sports.
Stark, the 2010 state volleyball player of the year by the Iowa Girls Coaches Association and Gatorade, will take her craft to the University of Illinois. Platte and Kintzel will play volleyball at Drake and UNI, respectively.
The 2011 E. Wayne Cooley scholarship award winner from the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, Ryan will play softball at Drake. Salzbrenner, who is recovering from a broken pelvic bone suffered in a horse-riding accident, plans to run track at UNI.
That’s five Division-I athletes. But that’s not all.
Dicus, who moved in from Florida before her junior year, will stay in town and try the volleyball/basketball double at Cornell College. Weber might do the same, in volleyball and softball. Wieditz will play softball at Coe.
They played different roles at Mount Vernon. They all had their niche.
“They’ve complemented each other so well,” said Duane Orr, the school’s athletics director. “We’ve got superstar-caliber players, and we’ve got other girls that hold them together like glue. The girls that don’t get the headlines — like Sarah Ryan and Kylea Weber — without them, we don’t have the team success we’ve had.
“One thing that made this group special … I can’t recall one circumstance of animosity between these girls.”
Orr was invited to provide a description of each girl, in 10 words or less. He did so willingly and thoughtfully.
On Ryan: “Tenacious. The consummate team player.”
On Platte: “Very analytical. Very competitive. Ultra-competitive.”
On Stark: “Supremely talented. Humble. Driven.”
On Kintzel: “One of the top natural athletes I’ve ever encountered.”
On Wieditz: “So cool and calm under pressure. Just a cool kid.”
On Weber: “Multi-talented. Overshadowed, but without an ounce of jealousy. Fearless.”
On Salzbrenner: “A bulldog competitor. Tireless. Focused and driven.”
On Dicus: “Committed. Great teammate. Makes those around her better.”
It has been a glorious era at Mount Vernon. And a heartbreaking year. Three students committed suicide.
“I hope the kids have learned what true adversity is,” Willems said. ”Life isn’t always easy. I’m thankful that our school had this group of seniors to provide leadership and stability.”
And now, they prepare to go different ways.
“I’m going to miss them all so much, but I’m sure we’ll stay in touch,” Ryan said. “I’m looking forward to the future, too.”
They leave deep footprints that will never be fully filled.
“The legacy they’ve left behind is first-class, absolutely first-class,” Orr said. “They’ve all conducted themselves in a first-class manner. All of them.”