CORNING - There was certainly no shortage of headline-grabbing local sports stories in 2019.
Corning’s run to a state title in softball got the nod as the year’s top story after the Hawks won an 11-inning thriller to earn the program’s first state title in school history.
Lindsey Butler’s success in the Corning running program and Chase Elliott going back-to-back at Watkins Glen International rounded out the top three stories of 2019.
The following is a compilation of The Leader’s Top 5 stories from 2019.
1. Hawks win first state title in program history.
Until the spring of 2019, a Corning softball team hadn’t even made it to the final four in Glens Falls, let alone the state championship game.
A major component of Corning’s run to a state title was pitcher Laura Bennett. Bennett was absolutely un-hittable in the postseason allowing an average of only two runs throughout post-season play and is now about to pitch for Division II LeMoyne. Bennett punched out 11 batters in the finals, a 4-3 victory over Cicero-North Syracuse.
Bennett shut down East Meadow in the semifinals with an eight-strikeout effort and added an RBI single.
Eighth-grader Olivia Keegan sent the Hawks home with a win in the 11th inning, striking a single up the middle that plated the go-ahead run.
Aside from the heroics of Keegan and the masterfulness in the circle from Bennett, freshman Ataliya Rijo cranked a home run to lead off the finals and was a key cog at the top of the Corning order.
Others like Mikayla Brucie, Erin Austin, Ellie Daugherty and Kalea Faulk also played pivotal roles in the Hawks’ state championship season.
“You dream of this day as a coach,” said Corning head coach Mike Johnston. “I’ve got so many really great friends that are really great coaches that never get this opportunity. I think that I can retire tomorrow and be really happy.”
2. Butler shines for Hawks running program
The Corning Hawks running program headed by Ray Lawson, Drew Cartright and Joe Melanson dominated competition again in 2019 headlined by the performance of standout Lindsey Butler.
Butler netted a state title in the 800 meter dash in the spring along with earning a state title in the winter in the 600 meter dash setting a school record, a section record and a state meet record.
“It seems kind of unreal,” said Butler at the time. “I never really think of myself as a type of person to do that, I’m kind of in denial about it. I think I had the right mindset, I got second last year in outdoor and I didn’t want to have that feeling again.”
Butler signed on to run at Division I Virginia Tech and is enjoying immediate success. Butler came in 64th at the NCAA Southeast Region meet (6K) with a time of 21:39.8, Competed at the ACC Championships (6K) and ran the course in a time of 22:30.0 Took sixth place at the Virginia Tech Alumni Invitational (6K) with a time of 21:19.9 and ran unattached in the Virginia Tech Invitational (4K) and came in 10th overall with a time of 14:19.8.
In her lone season of cross country, her senior season, Butler finished 27th at the state championships.
3. Elliott goes back-to-back at Watkins Glen International.
2019 saw Chase Elliott become the first back-to-back winner at Watkins Glen International since Marcos Ambrose in 2012 - in dominating fashion.
Elliott won practice, qualifying and topped the weekend off with the race victory by .454 seconds over Martin Truex Jr. Elliott led 80 of the 90 laps at The Glen, second most all time at the course to pick up his fifth career victory.
Truex and Elliott dueled it out in the final laps, much like 2018, but this go-around, Elliott was flawless.
Elliott executed the final 10 laps of the race with a soft rear tire that was damaged by a confrontation with Truex in the Esses.
With the win, Elliott became just the fifth back-to-back winner at Watkins Glen, joining Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Ambrose.
“This is the first time we’ve gone somewhere, sat on the pole, led the most laps and won the race,” Elliott said. “I’ve never done that in my career.”
4. Legendary coaches step down
2019 saw two legendary coaches in their respective sports step down as Haverling head football coach Wayne Carroll and Corning-Painted Post basketball coach Bill Hopkins called it a career.
Carroll led the Haverling football team for 32 years before abruptly retiring mid season at the tail end of 2018.
In Carroll’s illustrious career, he has won five Section V titles, recorded four New York State Final Four appearances in 2001, 2002, 2008 and 2015 and a state quarterfinal appearance in 2003.
Assistant coach Matt Ford took over for Carroll in January of 2019 after eight years with the Haverling football program.
“I think the time [in the program] has prepared me quite well,” said Ford. “I’ve kind of been the jack of all trades. I ran the offense when I was the head J.V. coach. I helped Wayne with the defense, I helped coach [Ken] DiDomineck with the offense, I helped the special teams. It really has prepared me for this new challenge.”
Haverling had an up-and-down season in 2019, going 3-6 in Ford’s first season at the helm with a relatively young roster.
Hopkins, a Corning East and Elmira Notre Dame staple, stepped down after returning to Corning to coach the Hawks for one season after 45 years of coaching.
Hopkins twice coached Notre Dame to Section 4 Class C titles and three more of his basketball teams at END and Corning East made it to sectional finals. He coached Notre Dame's baseball team to a sectional final in 2013.
Hopkins went 5-12 in his lone season coaching the Hawks.
Hopkins’ main focus in his coaching career was always the kids that he coached.
"Whatever role I can play to help them that I think will benefit them. I’d like to think I’ve been a mentor to some, a disciplinarian to others. But in the end built a solid relationship of trust between myself and players," Bill Hopkins told the Elmira Star-Gazette.
Mike Johnston took over as boys basketball coach for Corning-Painted Post.
5. Haverling soccer goes streaking
Haverling boys soccer enjoyed a historic season in 2019, winning 21 straight games and still has a streak of 39-straight regular season games won dating back to 2018.
“We have great coaches, great kids and great parents,” said Hill. ”[The streak] is what could happen when you have a lot of those things coming together.”
Haverling head coach Matt Hill captured his eighth sectional title in his tenure as coach and the program won a sectional title for the 16th time in program history.
The Rams spent most of the season as the number one team in Class B due to an insane 87-13 goals scored to goals conceded ratio.
Haverling’s season would end in the state semifinals with a 3-1 loss to eventual state champion Skaneateles.