MAHOMET — The stars of spring are obvious. Aubrie Shore, Kyle Kinney, Jordan Veldman, Mathias Powell, Maddie Louis, Lakeida Nichols and Hunter Hendershot are all some of the best at what they do.
Hendershot and Powell are both state champions. Louis was one of the best defenders in girls’ soccer last year. Nichols was the top sprinter in the Apollo Conference last year. Shore was first-team All-Area in softball as just a freshman. Kinney and Veldman are multi-year starters on the baseball diamond.
But there are plenty more standouts to be recognized. It’s been a strong start for all five spring sports and a few athletes have really burst onto the scene. Here are five breakout candidates who’ve had solid starts but could morph into something even bigger and better as the season continues.
1. Kobe Essien, M-S baseball
There were whispers in the preseason about how good Kobe Essien could be. The junior right-hander hadn’t pitched a varsity inning before this spring, but he came out with a bang in his debut. Six innings, two hits, 10 strikeouts and just one earned run in the Bulldogs’ 4-2 nine-inning win over Carterville.
That’s about as good of a start as you’ll see, and if Essien keeps this up, he’ll be the unquestioned ace of the Bulldogs. Senior Kyle Kinney can mix things up with good off-speed stuff, and Dawson Finch has a live arm, but Essien could be special. Another thing that stood out about Essien’s debut was that he only had three walks, and he threw 66 of his 105 pitches for strikes.
If he can control his upper-80s fastball, Essien could be poised for a massive junior year and could soon be mentioned as one of the best pitchers in the Apollo Conference.
2. Sam Tamburo, M-S softball
Sam Tamburo is starting to take the area by storm. The Arizona transfer hit home runs in back-to-back games in a doubleheader split against Galesburg.
Tamburo drilled eight hits in her first four games, and she’s played a solid shortstop for M-S softball coach Lisa Ayers.
Tamburo is legit. The Parkland College commit has a lightning-fast swing and the ball explodes off her bat. Tamburo’s impact has stretched far beyond just the scoreboard. She will ease the pressure off sophomore star Aubrie Shore in the middle of the lineup. Teams won’t be able to pitch around either of them. That should help the M-S offense put up some big numbers this spring.
Tamburo is absolutely one of the biggest X-factors of the season, and she is well on her way to cementing herself as one of the best players in the area.
3. Kyle Nofziger, M-S boys’ track & field
M-S senior Bryson Keeble is going to be out for the season with a nasty stress reaction. M-S head coach Todd Lafond had high expectations for Keeble and thought that he could be an All-State selection in the 1,600-meter race. Now, with Keeble out, it opens the door for freshman Kyle Nofziger to take a bigger role.
Lafond is high on the upside of his freshmen distance runners, and he might be highest on Nofziger. The cerebral freshman understands how to run a race at the varsity level, and could go down as one of the better runners that M-S has seen.
In a four-team invite against East Peoria, Mattoon and Hoopeston Area on March 12, Nofziger won the 1,600-meter race.
Nofziger took home 10th place in the 1,600 at the Charleston Boys Invitational on March 16. Nofziger stood out in the 50-man race and finished with the second-best time (4:48.72) of any freshman.
The loss of Keeble will make the quest for another state trophy a little bit harder, but Nofziger could earn the Bulldogs some points at the state meet in May.
4. Cece Abramson, M-S girls’ track & field
Cece Abramson might only be a freshman, but she continues to rack up big-time performances. Abramson is consistently clearing 11 feet in the pole vault, and it earned her second place at the loaded Charleston Girls Invitational on March 16. Then, she placed fifth at the Illinois Top Times Championships at the Shirk Center at Illinois Wesleyan on March 23. Abramson is in position to earn points at the state meet in May, and she’s a huge breakout candidate.
For reference, an 11-foot vault last year at state would’ve placed eighth in Class 2A. Abramson has a bright future and could compete at state for all four years.
5. Noelle Bailey, M-S girls’ soccer
Noelle Bailey has started all four games in the net for M-S head coach Kelsie Briggs. Bailey has yet to allow a goal. The junior has been a remarkable presence at the back end for the Bulldogs and is a big reason why M-S has started off the season 4-0. At 5-foot-7, Bailey isn’t huge, but she’s athletic and versatile. Plus, her vocal leadership from the back end is huge.
Some of the credit has to be dished out to the M-S defenders in front of Bailey, but she is well on her way to having a huge season.
Last year, Sarah Hohenstein was the standout goalie, but Bailey has filled her shoes remarkably well.