From little-league baseball to major NCAA hoops to a riveting year of high school sports, 2012 was a great year to be a sports fan in Europe.
Transcendent athletes left high school behind, making way for a new class of young phenoms. Streaks were extended and new reigns launched. Championships were won with resilience, pride and creativity. Standards were set and bars were raised.
So with hopes of an even greater 2013 laying ahead, here is a look back at the top 10 Stars and Stripes Europe sports stories of 2012:
1. Bitburg’s streak survives
Down 20-0 to a ferocious Naples team in the DODDS-Europe Division II championship game, Bitburg tapped every ounce of confidence gathered over three dominant seasons to extend its reign.
Hobbled running back C.J. Evans found his legs and started the comeback with a goal-line run. With 22 seconds to spare, Evan Less bookended the rally with a fourth-down touchdown run of his own.
After thirty consecutive wins, the four-time defending champion Barons are two wins away from surpassing Ansbach for DODDS-Europe’s all-time longest winning streak.
2. KMC earns a trip to Williamsport
A group of talented young baseball players from the Kaiserslautern Military Community added their names to the roster of the most iconic event in youth sports. The KMC All-Stars traveled this summer to Williamsport, Pa., to represent Europe in the Little League World Series.
KMC won the European Regional Tournament in July, sweeping through Kutno, Poland, with eight straight wins to complete a 14-0 postseason. And though victory eluded the team, simply participating in the LLWS made the team the pride of its community and the envy of countless young players across the world.
3. Hoops teams cement Heidelberg’s legacy
Not even the looming prospect of its school’s closure could dissuade Heidelberg from hoops success. Neither could any of its DODDS-Europe opponents.
In the second-to-last season of its existence, Heidelberg added to its rich sports history with twin championships in girls and boys basketball. The title was the second consecutive for the boys, and the first since 2009 for the girls.
The base’s gradual shutdown has chipped away at the Lions’ talent base, making a storybook ending unlikely. Still, in 2012, Heidelberg assured its place in DODDS-Europe athletic lore.
4. With Europe conquered, Owens heads stateside
DODDS-Europe has seen its share of standout basketball players over the years. In 2012, Rota’s Tre’von Owens completed a career that compares favorably to any of them.
The gifted 6-foot-6 wing capped three years of unmitigated dominance with another sweep of individual accolades en route to a third consecutive DODDS-Europe Division III title for the Admirals.
Owens was rewarded with well-deserved recruiting attention, and signed with University of California-Riverside of the NCAA Division I Big West Conference.
5. Baumholder football grows from winless to peerless
Patience and perseverance were amply rewarded Nov. 3 as Ben McDaniels and the Baumholder football program completed a four-year worst-to-first reclamation project.
With the eventual Stars and Stripes football athlete of the year under center, the Bucs swept through a perfect regular season, reaching the opposite pole from the winless season suffered in McDaniels’ freshman season of 2009.
The fitting end saw McDaniels and his teammates celebrate the DODDS-Europe Division III title on their beloved home Minick Field.
6. Multi-sport stars Sawyer, Schmidt exit triumphantly
Rare is the star who not only plays multiple sports, but stars in each. This year saw the final acts of two such athletes in AFNORTH’s Sara Sawyer and Bitburg’s Austin Schmidt.
Sawyer was an All-Europe selection as a volleyball middle hitter and a basketball forward, as well as a European track champion in the 200 meters and triple jump.
Schmidt earned All-Europe honors as a fullback and defensive end on Bitburg’s championship football team and a power bat and ace pitcher on the baseball diamond. As a wrestler, he won the European 220-pound championship.
A panel of DODDS-Europe coaches voted Sawyer and Schmidt as athletes of the year.
7. SHAPE shocks Bitburg with a strange baseball brew
SHAPE flummoxed defending champion Bitburg in May’s Division II-III baseball title game with an unconventional mix of bunts and knuckleballs. The potion had its intended effect in a 10-5 upset win.
The Spartans scored eight runs in a third inning built on precision bunts, crafty base-running and the exploitation of Bitburg errors. The knuckleball, a staple of SHAPE pitchers, kept the Barons’ powerful bats glued to their shrugging shoulders.
8. Eidem tightens grip on DODDS-Europe golf
Even in middle school, it was obvious that the time would come for Jenna Eidem to reach the top of DODDS-Europe golf. As it turned out, that time came immediately.
The Wiesbaden prodigy repeated as DODDS-Europe champion in her sophomore year of 2012, widening the distance separating her from an overmatched field. Eventually, somebody will supplant her; it just may not happen until she’s graduated.
9. Mannier enjoys trans-Atlantic success
As is its custom, Patch fielded championship-level teams and individuals in nearly every sport in which it competed.
But wrestler Robert Mannier took the Panther brand stateside in April with a strong showing at Virginia Beach. The European 182-pound champion finished fourth at 170 pounds at the National High School Coaches Association National Championships, good enough to earn coveted All-America honors.
10. NCAA basketball comes to Ramstein
For the first time ever, a regular-season NCAA basketball game was played in Europe. The site was a converted hangar at Ramstein Air Base, the audience an eager crowd of cheering servicemembers.
The regular-season opener for elite programs Michigan State and Connecticut carried with it big-game intensity and the full treatment of an ESPN-televised product. For one evening, a lucky few experienced major American sports without leaving their installation.