The 2019-20 Parsons Sun Sports Awards were, if nothing else, unique.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of spring sports at both the high school and college level across the country. That left many athletes and coaches unable to put together full resumes that we generally see at the end of the season.
But the Sun still felt it was important to recognize some of the best student-athletes and coaches at our local high schools as well as Labette Community College. While the candidate field was smaller this year due to the coronavirus shutdown, there were outstanding competitors in every category worthy of their nominations.
The winners of the Parsons Sun Sports Awards were decided by a committee of media from around the state and region, including the Sun, Chanute Tribune, KLKC, KOAM, Sports in Kansas, Kansas Pregame, SEK Sports and many other outlets. A fan vote held online and by physical submission of ballots to the Sun office also factored into the final tally.
The Sun thanks the committee for their time to cast their ballot as well as all the readers who voted.
With that, here are the winners of the 2019-20 Parsons Sun Sports Awards:
HIGH SCHOOL BOYS ATHLETE: Dariq Williams, Parsons
They call him “The Freak.”
Dariq Williams, one of the most electric athletes Parsons has ever seen, will leave a lasting legacy in the hallowed Viking halls.
In 2019-20, Williams stitched together a senior campaign for the ages. On the football field, he hauled in 47 catches for 658 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 107.7 all-purpose yards per game as one the state’s best wide receivers.
His highlight reel game came in Week 1 when Parsons defeated Iola in five overtimes. Williams had five touchdown catches in that game.
“Dariq won that first game for us when he scored five touchdowns,” then Parsons head football coach Kurt Friess said. “When healthy, he’s as good a player that Parsons has ever had.”
Williams was selected to the Kansas Shrine Bowl and was named to the Kansas Football Coaches Association 3A All-State team.
As Williams transitioned to basketball, he helped guide the Vikings to a 21-2 record, SEK League title and a berth to the KSHSAA 4A State Tournament as the point guard.
On the hardwood, Williams nearly averaged a double-double with 12.1 points, 9.4 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game.
“The impact Dariq made this year was a very similar impact he’s been making since he was a freshman,” Parsons head basketball coach Anthony Houk said. “The way he shares the ball, the way he brings his charisma to the game, he lights everything up. Then you put on his hustle and grit on top of that, he’s the type of leader that you always hope for.”
Williams set single-season and career records for assists at Parsons and was selected as a First Team All-SEK and Kansas Basketball Coaches Association First Team 4A All-State honoree.
“I was blessed to have him be a part of our varsity program for four years,” Houk said. “What he’s done and the way he’s done it, his stamp on Parsons basketball will last forever.”
Williams will continue his basketball career at Neosho County Community College.
“He was a joy to watch,” Friess said. “Kids like that don’t come around. His athletic ability is jaw-dropping. The kid is called The Freak for a reason. He’s a freaking athlete.”
HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS ATHLETE: Mariah Monroy, Cherryvale
World crashing down around you? You need to win down the stretch?
Put it on Mariah Monroy’s back.
A candidate for Girls Athlete of the Year in 2018-19, Monroy entered the 2019-20 season with both high expectations and adversity to overcome at Cherryvale.
Monroy missed over half the volleyball season recovering from a back injury. The junior appeared in 15 matches and racked up 96 kills, 12 blocks, 120 digs and 12 aces. While Cherryvale volleyball went 13-22, Monroy established herself as a leader upon her return.
“She proved to be more than just a hitter or blocker,” Cherryvale volleyball coach Aimee Strickland said. “She stepped it up. She played the back row and had the most digs. She became a leader, and I’m excited to see the leader she’ll be her senior year.”
The spotlight shined the brightest on Monroy going into basketball season. She appeared on the cover of the Sun’s Centercourt basketball preview magazine after averaging a double-double a season ago for a team on the rise.
“As a kid, that’s hard to have everybody’s eyes on you,” Cherryvale girls basketball head coach Kelsey Overacker said. “It put a little added pressure to her. We knew the capabilities she had. Everybody just stayed positive. I’m proud of how much she grew as a teammate this year. She became a leader.”
As Cherryvale’s season progressed, injuries to key players mounted. Down the backstretch of the campaign, the Chargers were down three starters — two for the season.
That forced Monroy to stay on the floor for entire nights at a time with few reinforcements. Yet, Cherryvale kept winning. Monroy elevated her play and fueled a run to a sub-state championship, where the Chargers’ season ended with a loss to Frontenac.
Monroy finished the season averaging a double-double with 10 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and two assists per game. She also garnered First Team All-Tri-Valley League honors.
“I think Mariah is one of those kids that everybody looks at as a big-time gamer,” Overacker said. “She struggled a little bit at the beginning. But we never doubted her. When times got hard and some of her teammates went down, it gave her a kick in the butt. She put the team on her back.”
Monroy missed out on a chance to defend a 3A state title in triple jump as spring sports were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Monroy’s sheer will to bear the burden rose her above her peers.
HIGH SCHOOL BOYS COACH: Anthony Houk, Parsons
The 2019-20 season for the Parsons Vikings boys basketball team was one for the history books.
Under head coach Anthony Houk’s leadership, Parsons went 21-2, won the SEK League title and made it to the KSHSAA 4A State Tournament for the third year in a row.
Expectations were sky-high for the Vikings from the tipoff of the season. How did Parsons live up to them?
“Houk’s impact is that he holds the kids accountable for doing the things that we do as a program,” said Parsons Principal and Assistant Coach Eric Swanson said. “At the same time, the kids that play for him know how much he loves him. To the public, he looks like he’s tough on kids. But that’s because he sees the potential in them. That’s why we’ve had the success we’ve had.”
Houk has become one of the elite coaches not just in Southeast Kansas but the entire state as Parsons is routinely one of the most difficult teams to beat.
“There’s a lot of talented teams that don’t win a lot of ballgames because coaches don’t hold them accountable,” Swanson said.
Next up for Houk is reloading a Parsons team that loses one of the most celebrated senior classes in school history — a class that includes Boys Athlete of the Year Dariq Williams.
“He’s approaching next year with the idea that we’re not expecting a letdown in terms of being competitive,” Swanson said. “We’re going to compete for a league title. But we’ll have to be a different team. We’ll have to execute and do the little things better.”
This is the third time Houk has won the High School Boys Coach of the Year award from the Sun.
HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS COACH: Jill Blackledge, Chetopa
Jill Blackledge’s legacy as the Chetopa Green Hornets’ volleyball coach will forever be etched in stone after 2019.
Blackledge guided Chetopa to a 37-8 overall record, a Three Rivers League title, 1A Regional title, 1A Sub-State title and the school’s first-ever berth into the KSHSAA 1A State Tournament.
“She had a very good connection with the girls,” Chetopa Athletic Director Jaunc Bradshaw said. “They bought into her program when she took over a few years ago, and every year they got better. They learned to win with her leadership. She would teach them the things they needed to know to win. She was always cool and calm. Every pressure situation, you could tell that the girls were relaxed and ready to go.”
While injuries forced Chetopa to play the state tournament with five players, the campaign Blackledge had was unquestionably one of the best in school history regardless of sport.
“They’re going to be remembered for a long time,” Bradshaw said. “It’s the first time ever for girls volleyball going to state. They punched their name into history.”
LABETTE MALE ATHLETE: Jack Karstetter, Wrestling
In just one season on campus, Jack Karstetter made his mark on the Labette Cardinals wrestling program.
A transfer from NEO A&M, Karstetter, who wrestled at 133 pounds, finished in second place at the NJCAA West Central Districts and placed seventh at the NJCAA National Championship in his weight class to earn All-American status.
“Jack had a huge impact,” Labette head coach Jeff Vesta said. “He was a great leader for the team. He came in as a transfer and was a great leader from the time he stepped on campus. He was a true motivator and worked hard himself as well.”
Karstetter, a sophomore and native of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, established his presence on the mat and set himself apart through the work he put in by himself.
“It was all the extra time he put in,” Vesta said. “Everybody practices during practice time. What sets him apart is what he did on his own.”
Karstetter will return to Labette as a student to finish his degree while also setting a tone for future wrestlers at Labette.
LABETTE FEMALE ATHLETE: Denijsha Wilson, Basketball
Denijsha Wilson, a sophomore out of Philadelphia, was a constant spark for a Labette Cardinals women’s basketball team that won the Kansas Jayhawk Conference title and qualified for the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.
Serving as a the primary scoring threat as a guard, Wilson averaged 11.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 44.4% from the field.
“She could take over whenever she wanted,” Labette head coach Mitch Rolls said. “It was a ticking time bomb on the floor. Eventually she would go off. She got it done in a lot of different ways. There were games she had to hit a lot of threes. Other games she could drive. She has a unique scoring ability.”
Over the course of the year, Wilson earned one KJCCC Player of the Week honor, was named to the All-KJCCC First Team and was named a NJCAA First Team All-American.
She also helped guide Labette to a 25-4 overall record and a 9-1 record in KJCCC play.
“She’s a winner by any means necessary,” Rolls said. “She didn’t have an ego problem coming off the bench. It’s not always about the little nuances like starting. For her, it’s about winning basketball games. Denijsha never took anything to heart and competed at a high level when we needed her to.”
Wilson will continue her basketball career at the NCAA Division I level at USC-Upstate.
LABETTE COACH: Mitch Rolls, Women’s Basketball
Mitch Rolls finally obtained the heights he’s always envisioned for the Labette Cardinals women’s basketball program in 2019-20.
After three straight years of falling in the Region VI semifinals, Rolls coached Labette to a 25-4 overall record, a Kansas Jayhawk Conference title with a 9-1 record in KJCCC play and a Region VI Tournament championship.
That region title qualified Labette for the NJCAA Division II National Tournament, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year was just a lot of fun,” Rolls said. “We had a great corps of kids that loved each other. Every day was easy to come to work. We had personalities and charisma on this team that not a lot of teams have. It’s sad that it got cut short because it took some of the time away that we could spend together.”
The Labette women have won 20-plus games in each of the last four seasons and finished the year ranked in the NJCAA polls. But in a year where four of the six conference schools were ranked, Labette finally broke through the wall.
“The players made it possible,” Rolls said. “This sophomore group weren’t happy with how last year ended. We talked about what we wanted to do last summer and they got it done. I had a really good roster and they got over the hump themselves. We wanted to finish the year off right and take care of business.”
Now Rolls is tasked with finding a way to repeat his success with a new cast of players going into 2020-21.
“We need to bring the culture from last year to this year,” Rolls said. “We believe we can do the same thing if not better. We’re trying to imprint that culture from year-to-year and keep it going.”
This is the fourth year in a row Rolls has been named the Sun’s Labette Coach of the Year.