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2023-24 Preps Year in Review: All-Interview Team



2023-24 Preps Year in Review: All-Interview Team

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Some student-athletes leave a lasting memory with their performance on the athletic stage. Some do the same when a microphone is shoved in their face. These kids did plenty of both. Here’s preps coordinator Zach Piatt’s list of the most memorable high school athletes he interviewed this year:

Peace Bumba | St. Thomas More

With the number of times Bumba created content for The News-Gazette by coming into the offices and being featured in the paper, we almost could have hired him as a part-time employee. Bumba was a three-sport stud who especially shined on the Sabers’ eight-man football team, so there was plenty to talk about. But his biggest help to us was his and his family’s willingness to share the story of their rough transition from Africa to the United States.

Haley Carlton

Haley Carlton has a unique calling card every time she competes in the pole vault with the Georgetown-Ridge Farm senior shining for the Buffaloes.

Haley Carlton | Georgetown-Ridge Farm

Carlton isn’t the biggest competitor, but she does have the biggest bark. Seriously. The Buffaloes’ senior pole-vaulter lets out a bark before every vault, and she has to have someone bark back at her during competition. She shared that fun fact with The News-Gazette during last spring’s Class 1A state track and field prelims at O’Brien Field in Charleston, finishing fifth in the finals two days later. She was also the life of the party at our Faces of the Spring event, dragging her own pole into the office and doing push-ups to get a pump in before her picture.

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Villa Grove’s Braydon Dowler is the school’s indoor record holder in the 200-meter dash. But he’s also got a big personality when it comes to interviews.

Braydon Dowler | Villa Grove

The News-Gazette only had the pleasure of talking to Dowler once this year after the readers voted him Athlete of the Week for breaking his own Blue Devil indoor 200-meter dash record for the second time in as many weeks, but it left a lasting memory. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe his reaction to picking up the phone. Typically a five-minute conversation, Dowler turned it into 20 with his joyous personality and desire to beat Joey Chestnut in a hot dog-eating contest.


Mahomet-Seymour senior defensive tackle Jack Gallier is a key leader for the Bulldogs, who host Mt. Zion tonight in an Apollo Conference showdown in Mahomet.

Jack Gallier | Mahomet-Seymour

Gallier was one of many reliable voices we could turn to last fall if we needed a good quote for a M-S football story. With the Bulldogs winning their third consecutive Apollo Conference title for the first time in program history last fall, we relied on him plenty. Each time, he was a consummate professional and provided more than enough words to sift through, even in the pouring rain after a 20-19 upset loss to Triad in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.

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Alec Harrison, Oakwood, Faces of Winter photo shoot at the News-Gazette in Champaign on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023.

Alec Harrison | Oakwood

Harrison is someone who competes with his heart on his sleeve, especially evident in the Comet boys’ basketball team’s run to the Vermilion County Tournament championship game last winter. That dynamic doesn’t change off the court. Or field, also a key member of the football and baseball teams. He may almost always be the tallest person in the room at 6-foot-6, but he also might have been the easiest kid at Oakwood to approach with his wide smile and joking personality.

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The Helm sisters — Haley, left, and Kaitlyn — helped lead the Champaign Central softball team to a turnaround season in 2024.

Kaitlyn Helm | Champaign Central

Helm is the leader of a Maroon softball program that is turning things around, recording its first winning season since 1992 last spring. She sets a good example on the field as well as with a microphone in front of her face. Helm is a great conversationalist. She’ll talk as long as you let her about playing with younger sister Haley Helm. And she treats interviews like a conversation, genuinely curious about the interviewer’s take on the topic, even if it’s as simple as your favorite Morgan Wallen song.

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Sophia Libman, Academy High, Faces of Winter photo shoot at the News-Gazette in Champaign on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023.

Sophia Libman | Academy High

There’s not a high school athlete in our area with a more bubbly personality than Libman. Her big smile lights up the room, and she wears it with pride. Come to think of it, that smile might not have ever left her face in the seemingly countless times she’s visited The News-Gazette offices for our Faces events during the last few years. Libman has been key in helping the Owls get some athletic programs off the ground, and we will miss that infectious smile next year.

Eric Miebach and family

Wide receiver/safety Eric Miebach and family

Eric Miebach | Unity

Miebach is another Mr. Reliable interviewee and seems to get the most out of life. He’s locked in on the football field, basketball court and track, but as soon as he steps off, he’s smiling and cracking jokes, and he’s always happy to talk with the media. After he, Garrett Richardson, Jeremy Wells and Brock Schlittler broke the Rockets’ 400-meter relay record at the Class 2A state track prelims, he tried to let his teammates chime in, but they all defaulted to him, and he gladly continued.

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Tuscola junior Lia Patterson, our girls’ track and field athlete of the year, with her parents at their church in Tuscola on Monday, June 10, 2024.

Lia Patterson | Tuscola

The back-to-back News-Gazette Girls’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year and six-time state gold medalist’s accomplishments speak for themselves, but Patterson is just as enjoyable to talk to as she is talented. She has an infectiously positive personality that makes you want to get to know her, something we’ve had the pleasure of doing the last couple years. Plus, she’s willing to have any kind of interview, whether it’s a quick reaction after a race, a 20-minute walk around the track or an hour-long sit-down conversation.

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Seniors Cricket Wagner, left, and Sophia Adams watch the referee to see if their is a touchdown for Adams during the Champaign Central homecoming PowderPuff football game between the junior and senior girl’s at McKinley Field in Champaign on Wed. Sept. 6, 2023.

Cricket Wagner | Champaign Central

Talk about a friend of The News-Gazette. Wagner was not only a talented volleyball and soccer player and leader for the Maroons, but she always gave us exactly what we needed for stories. It got to a point where it was almost a guarantee she’d be interviewed after any Central volleyball or soccer match we covered. One of the most outgoing kids in our area, Wagner treated every interview like she was casually catching up with a friend, and she’d even give a wave and a “How’s it going?” at other events.

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