David Hughes: Cheers to 2023, including Craig Porter Jr., ISU teams and another Classic title for North

Jan. 1—Asked to write a column about the athletic highlights of Vigo County's high schools and colleges from 2023, I felt my mind drifting to someone who hasn't competed here for almost six years — Craig Porter Jr.

Show of hands, please. How many of you watched Porter play at Terre Haute South before he graduated in 2018 and thought "He's a really good basketball player"?

One, two, three, four ... Yes, as I expected, a whole bunch of you.

Next question: How many of you watched him play back then and thought "That dude will be sharing NBA courts with LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo in a few years"?

I don't see as many hands in the air on that one. I hope his mom and dad don't get mad at me, but my hand wasn't raised either.

That means either I don't know squat about judging basketball talent or Porter worked extremely hard on his skills after he left Terre Haute. The answer is, probably a combination of both.

Before the Cleveland Cavaliers' game Tuesday at Toronto, the undrafted free-agent guard was averaging 7.9 points, 3.5 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per outing through 21 contests (five starts). He had a high-point game of 21 against the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 19.

Keep up the great work, Craig.

Speaking of Cleveland pro athletes, former Terre Haute South multi-sport standout Timmy Herrin pitched in relief for the Guardians in 2023, splitting time with them and the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. With the Guardians, the 6-foot-6 lefty appeared in 23 games, posting a 1-1 record with a 5.53 earned-run average and 32 strikeouts in 27.2 innings.

Now let's turn our attention to current high school athletes.

For Terre Haute North, the first bragging-rights accomplishment that pops into most of our heads is its First Financial Wabash Valley Classic boys basketball championship that it earned last week. In Friday's finale, coach Todd Woelfle's Patriots held off Terre Haute South 49-35 in the Braves' gym. This was the ninth Classic championship for Woelfle as a coach and 12th for the school.

Also for North, its Chuck Payne-coached boys golf team captured the sectional crown at Hulman Links in June, beating runner-up South by seven strokes (328-335). North's Gavin Connor earned medalist honors with an 80.

Still talking about golf, South's girls team — coached by Cara Stuckey — performed well enough to reach the IHSAA state finals for the first time since 1988 in late September.

The Braves placed 17th in the state after qualifying from the Washington Regional with a second-place total of 345. Their regional hero at the Country Oaks Golf Club in Montgomery was senior Presley White, usually the team's No. 3 player, who shot a 6-over-par 78. That tied for second place overall.

South's top player most of the season was sophomore Avery Cassell, who racked up medalist honors at the Conference Indiana championships and Northview Sectional. In the state finals at Carmel's Prairie View Golf Club, she led the Braves with a two-day, 36-hole total of 177, tying for 64th overall.

Girls golf wasn't the only sport that South fared well in in 2023. Volleyball (capturing its third straight Conference Indiana crown in the fall) and wrestling (Alex Rose placing fourth in the 220-pound weight class at Gainbridge Fieldhouses to earn All-State honors in February) were among the others. Rose finished his senior season with a 39-6 record.

The wrestling success of coach Gabe Cook's Braves continued to start the 2023-24 season, reaching the No. 1 ranking among Class 3A teams as of this writing.

West Vigo enjoyed a few moments in the athletics spotlight as well this past year.

In late May, Culley DeGroote guided the Vikings' baseball squad to a Class 3A sectional title by slipping past Indian Creek 2-0 in the finale at Owen Valley. Kaleb Marrs pitched a three-hit shutout with nine strikeouts.

No. 5-ranked West Vigo eventually lost to Tri-West in the regional, completing a 27-4 campaign and ending the high school career of new Indiana State Sycamore Carter Murphy.

Boys track had three athletes representing Vigo County in the state finals at Bloomington in early June — West Vigo's Eli Roach (20th in the 200-meter dash and 30th in the 100) and South's Tyler Marley (15th in the shot put) and Ethan Aidoo (15th in the 1,600).

The next day, Vigo County girls gave their best efforts as West Vigo's Kyarra DeGroote placed 15th in the 200 and 26th in the 100 and Dusty Welker placed 25th in the 100; South's Cassidy Pettijohn placed 19th in the 200 and Mariah Posey placed 21st in the shot put; and North's' 4x100 relay foursome of Caroline Gauer, Lauren Majors, Cali Wuestefeld and Brooklyn Deck placed 22nd.

Most Valley sports fans are aware of ISU's 2023 athletic accomplishments, which we'll get to shortly, but Rose-Hulman and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods are proud of theirs too.

In November, the Rose men's soccer team — coached by Sean Helliwell — brought home its third Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship in the last four years with a 1-0 win over host Manchester. One week later, the Engineers were in the NCAA Division III tournament but lost their first-round match to Ohio Wesleyan 2-0 in Chicago to finish 12-6-3.

Later that month, Rose-Hulman fifth-year senior midfielder Caleb Urban made school history by becoming its first men's soccer player to be named a two-time All-American in his career. Urban was a third-team All-American by United Soccer Coaches for this past season.

And you can't discuss outstanding Rose-Hulman athletes in 2023 without mentioning senior Jailen Hobbs.

In football, he was a standout wide receiver/kick returner for the Engineers' 7-3 squad that finished second in the HCAC. Hobbs hauled in 56 catches for 982 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding two more TDs on punt returns.

In track, he earned D-III All-American honors after a fourth-place finish in the 100-meter dash in the NCAA Division III championships at Rochester, N.Y. in May. While doing so, Hobbs became the first athlete in Rose history to earn All-American honors in two different sports in a career.

In December, Hobbs and Rose-Hulman senior Andrew Toler were named All-Americans. Toler earned first-team All-American honors as a punter, while Hobbs earned the fourth All-American honors of his illustrious career and his second All-American honors this past football season. He was named to the third team by and to the first team from the AFCA in '23.

Team-wise, Rose-Hulman received the HCAC Commissioner's Cup for the eighth time to highlight the league department awards released in May. The Engineers also brought home the men's overall All-Sports Trophy for the 2022-23 school year.

On the western side of the county, The Woods' softball team emerged with the River States Conference title for the second consecutive season, thus qualifying for the NAIA tournament, where it lost a pair of games in Lawrenceville, Ga. The Pomeroys, coached by Jim Walker, finished 36-16. Also, its women's volleyball team finished with a school record for wins in a season by going 28-7 and its women's track squad won the RSC outdoor championship in April.

You know who else has a great track program? (Smooth transition there, huh?)

Indiana State, of course. In 2023, its men's team swept the Missouri Valley Conference indoor and outdoor championships for the second straight year. In the outdoor championships at Normal, Ill., in May, fifth-year senior JaVaughn Moore placed second in the 100-meter dash and third in the 200 to lead the Sycamores' balanced attack, coached by Angela Martin.

With ISU's tough road loss to Michigan State in men's basketball fresh in everyone's mind from Saturday, we should not forget coach Josh Schertz's Sycamores carried a 10-game winning streak (the program's longest since 1978-79) into that matchup. They're still 11-2 (2-0 in the MVC) heading into Wednesday's home clash with Evansville at Hulman Center.

For the 2022-23 campaign, ISU went 23-13 after competing in the College Basketball Invitational at Daytona Beach, Fla., where it defeated USC Upstate 67-62 and lost to Eastern Kentucky 89-88.

But the Vigo County Sports Story of the Year, as voted on by me and me alone, is the ISU baseball success from last spring. Coach Mitch Hannahs' Sycamores finished 45-17, emerged with the MVC regular-season and tournament crowns and won an NCAA regional at Bob Warn Field — knocking off Wright State once and Iowa twice in the process — before losing twice to TCU last June at Fort Worth, Texas, in the NCAA super regional that many fans wished had taken place in Terre Haute.

There you go. Are there significant events and athletes missing? Probably. If so, they were inadvertent.

Tribune-Star sports reporter David Hughes can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at (812) 231-4224 (psst, just text him on his cell instead); by email at; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.