Kretchmer, Wittenbrink are Republic-Times Athletes of the Year

In today’s world of youth sports, it has become less common for an athlete to end their high school career playing multiple sports. Even less common is playing sports in all three of the prep sports seasons.

These days when one-track athletes rule the sports scene, it is only fitting that two local individuals who remained as three-sports athletes their entire high school careers should shine as this year’s 2013 Republic-Times Athletes of the Year.

The R-T is proud to announce Waterloo’s Justin Kretchmer and Columbia’s Savannah Wittenbrink as the inaugural Male and Female Athletes of the Year.

Savannah Wittenbrink  — 2013 Republic-Times Female Athlete of the Year

Savannah Wittenbrink, the 2013 Republic-Times Female Athlete of the Year, holds her Columbia High School three-sport athlete and volleyball and basketball Pentzler Awards at this year’s banquet. (submitted photos)

“I’ve been a part of 12 varsity athletic teams through my high school career and each team has taught me something different and has really impacted my life,” Wittenbrink said of her time at Columbia High School. The CHS Class of 2013 graduate, who attributes her coaches, teammates and God as her backbone and support, has excelled as a true student-athlete, playing varsity volleyball, basketball and softball.

The list of her athletic achievements, which was capped off by the top CHS Three-Sport Athlete Award in May, includes: varsity volleyball and basketball captain, senior year; Athlete of the Month for volleyball and basketball, sophomore through senior years; All-Conference Volleyball, Basketball and Softball Teams, junior and senior years; All-Area Volleyball and Basketball Teams, junior and senior years; All-State Volleyball Team Honorable Mention, senior; third team All-State Basketball, junior; All-Metro Softball Team, junior; Basketball and Volleyball Pentzler Awards, senior; Illinois Athlete Award, junior; and St. Louis Post-Dispatch Scholar Athlete for CHS, senior.

“Being a three-sport athlete, to me, is a really big achievement, especially at Columbia, where there is so much talent,” Wittenbrink told the R-T. “High school is not easy by any means; you have to juggle academics, sports, family, friends, and everything in between. I feel like by being a three-sport athlete it really reflects what my priorities truly were throughout high school.

“I’ve missed out a lot in the social aspect of high school because of practices, games and tournaments, but if I had a chance to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing. I was always surrounded by the best teammates and coaches anyone could ask for.”

Wittenbrink playing first base for the Eagles this softball season. (Teryn Schaefer photo)

The daughter of Scott and Kristin Wittenbrink, Savannah’s hard work was evident, as she is proud to also list her academic achievements: student council, freshmen-senior; National Honor Society, junior-senior; class president, freshmen-senior; BETA club, junior-senior; FHA, junior-senior; Pep Club, freshmen-senior; yearbook, senior; FCA, freshman-junior; homecoming queen candidate, senior; Pentzler Award — Introduction to Art — Child Development, sophomore; Athletic Boosters Scholarship recipient, senior; Zimmer Family Scholarship recipient, senior; Oerter Foundation Award, senior; and she graduated Summa Cum Laude.

Her coaches also had great things to say about one of their programs’ leaders.

“I think the thing that impressed me the most with Savannah from her junior year to her senior year was her ability to be so very consistent in her hitting and offense,” CHS volleyball coach Kelly Landgraf said. “She was a positive leader and an amazing role model to our younger players in the program.”

“Savannah was a very determined athlete,” Eagles girls basketball coach Scott Germain said. “She does not like to lose and will be missed here at Columbia High School.”

“She is a great athlete in all three sports and has the ability to play in college,” CHS softball coach Rhonda Major said. “She is a very well-rounded kid, both academically and in sports.”

The 5’10” athlete says volleyball has been her favorite sport all these years.

“The adrenaline rush after getting a kill or huge block is unbelievable. No other sport has ever given me that sort of feeling. It’s such a fast paced game where team chemistry is huge. You can’t have a good hit without a good set, you can’t have a good set without a good pass. You all have to depend on and trust one another,” Wittenbrink said, describing her love of the game. “Plus, I hate running and there is next to no running in volleyball.”

Wittenbrink goes up for a spike during the Eagles electric 2012-13 volleyball season. (John Spytek photo)

Thus, her favorite memory is when the team defeated Mater Dei in the sectional championship this season and a flock of Eagles fans rushed the court.

“I’ve never had tears of joy before other than that night,” Wittenbrink recalled.

As a power-athlete in high school, the end of her high school days also has brought on another big step for Wittenbrink, as she will no longer be a student-athlete moving forward.

“To be honest, I might have played college sports if I would’ve gotten my ‘fairy-tale offer’ (anywhere south), but that didn’t happen, so I’m perfectly fine just going to school to be a student,” Wittenbrink said of her decision to attend the University of Missouri. “Everything happens for a reason.”

Wittenbrink says she is looking forward to attending a big school with a large sports program and school spirit, and can now focus just on getting good grades and will be able to have more of a social life.

“It was for sure in the top five of my hardest decisions I’ve had to make, but I’ll definitely be playing a lot of intramurals so that’ll definitely help me ease into my new non-athletic lifestyle.”

Justin Kretchmer —  2013 Republic-Times Male Athlete of the Year

Justin Kretchmer, the 2013 Republic-Times Male Athlete of the Year, competes in the New Balance Outdoor Nationals last weekend where he finished his high school career ranked fifth nationally in the high jump.

When entering the Waterloo city limits, a large green sign already declares Justin Kretchmer as one of the top Waterloo male athletes of all time, recognizing his 2012 track state title in which he won the IHSA Class 2A high jump with a leap of 6’9”.

And even though Kretchmer graduated last month and ended his WHS high school career with a second place high jump state trophy, breaking the state record with a jump of 7-feet, he has continued to shine on the prep track scene. In early June, the 6’6” high jumper won the 15th Senior All-Star Track Meet at St. Francis University in Joliet with a jump of 6’9”, defeating other senior athletes from Iowa and Wisconsin. Last weekend, Kretchmer joined fellow WHS track star Brendan Duncan at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals held in Greensboro, N.C., where he competed against 21 other jumpers from all over the United States and Canada and finished third.

Kretchmer, the son of Jeff and Jennifer Kretchmer, finishes his high school track career as an All-American and ranked fifth nationally by

But it is hard to imagine that Kretchmer’s path to elite athleticism wasn’t always so clear. He says over his four years at Waterloo he has learned to “never give up.”

“I didn’t start high school as the all-star or starter,” Kretchmer said. “I kept with it and never quit.  Yeah, I would get upset or disappointed, but in high school your body is still growing and changing. You still don’t know what kind of athlete you have inside of you. It goes by so fast.

Kretchmer shoots a free throw during the 2012-13 basketball season. (Teryn Schaefer photos)

“Enjoy every minute, win or lose.”

Kretchmer lists his athletic awards as: Second Team All-Conference, football; First Team All-Conference, basketball; All-Conference, Sectional, and State, track; State high jump champion 2012; second place state high jump 2013; MVP, basketball and track; and 2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Athlete of the Year for Monroe and Clinton counties.

Although track has been Kretchmer’s new-found passion in high school, basketball has always been his favorite sport.

“I like the defensive and offensive side of the game,” Kretchmer said, adding that he really just likes to get out and play any sport. “I would have been a four-sport athlete if I could have figured out a way to play baseball.

“It really is a lot of work, but I would tell anybody to do it. It is the last time you can play organized sports for your school and with your friends. It’s great memories.”

Kretchmer says his fondest memory was winning state his junior year.

“It was so hot and I was so nervous but I worked through it,” Kretchmer said, adding that he is also most proud of breaking his 7-foot goal in the high jump and breaking the state record.

Kretchmer signed his National Letter of Intent to high jump for the University of Kentucky track team earlier this year.

But his other coaches will also tell you of his impact on their sports programs as well.

“Justin was the most prolific shot blocker I have ever coached in my 14 years as a high school coach,” Bulldog basketball coach C.J. Cruser said. “Justin has had a huge impact on Waterloo’s success over the past two years.”

He left as the all-time shot block leader in WHS basketball history and led the team in scoring his senior year and in rebounding and in blocks as both a junior and senior. Kretchmer was also named Second Team All-Conference his junior year and First Team All-Conference his senior year. He was named to the all-tournament teams at the Sparta Mid-Winter Tournament, junior and senior years, and at the Freeburg Tourney his senior year.

He was also a major contributor to the Bulldogs on the gridiron as well.

“He gave us the ability to go vertical down the field and allowed us to throw passes that we couldn’t before because of his height and vertical,” Waterloo football coach Dan Rose said, adding that he worked hard all year in the weight room for all of his sports.

Kretchmer will continue his track career at the University of Kentucky next fall, where he is looking forward to “traveling with the team, seeing new places and things and competing with some of the top athletes in the nation.”

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