Kansas’ rich sports history is filled with small-school athletes who went on to big-time accomplishments.
Centralia’s John Riggins, Ransom’s Nolan Cromwell and Chase’s Paul Coffman starred in the NFL. Claflin’s Jackie Stiles broke the NCAA women’s basketball career scoring record. Little River’s Sandra Myers became an Olympian.
Whether Central Plains’ Emily Ryan and Hoisington’s Wyatt Pedigo will eventually achieve the same level of greatness beyond their prep years remains to be determined. But their accomplishments as high school athletes were second to none over the past four years, earning each the top honors for 2020 Best of Kansas Preps.
Ryan, who starred in basketball, tennis, golf and track during her career, was named the Overall Female Athlete of the Year. Pedigo, who starred in football, wrestling and track in his career, was named the Overall Male Athlete of the year.
The winners were announced during Thursday night’s Best of Kansas Preps Virtual Show along with individual sport winners and the Most Inspirational Award winner. After holding an in-person event the past two years, featuring celebrity guests Paul Pierce and Jordy Nelson, this year’s event shifted to an online show because of COVID-19.
The Best of Kansas Preps show was sponsored by Envista Credit Union and The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis campus and presented by The Topeka Capital-Journal and Gannett Media Kansas.
"I am very grateful to be named athlete of the year," Ryan said. "It is incredibly humbling to be placed in the same conversation as the previous winners. ... I am honored that I was able to play for Central Plains and be a part of such an incredible community and tradition."
Growing up in the same town that produced Kansas legend Stiles, Ryan was still able to emerge from that shadow and leave her own legacy as one of the top female athletes in state history. Following in the footsteps of Stiles, Ryan made her name on the basketball court, becoming just the third player in state history to score more than 3,000 points in her career.
She finished with 3,005 career points to finish behind only Stiles (3,603) and Moundridge’s Laurie Koehn (3,160). Ryan was more than just a prolific scorer, however. She also finished her career at the state’s all-time leader in career steals with 599 and surpassed 700 career assists, finishing with 709. She added three other state records to her resume, setting marks for field goal percentage in a season (79.6%) and career (73.8%), as well as career free throw percentage (90.6%).
Ryan’s individual accomplishments, which included four-time unanimous All-Central Prairie League honors as well as three-time All-State Top 5 honors from The Topeka Capital-Journal, helped Central Plains to a historic run of success. During Ryan’s career, she never lost a high school game, going 104-0. The Oilers won three straight championships in her first three seasons and were vying for a fourth when the state tournament was canceled after the semifinals. She leaves with the Oilers riding a state-record 136-game winning streak, which ranks third nationally all-time.
In addition to her stellar basketball career, Ryan was a four-time state placer in singles at the Class 3-2-1A state tournament, including runner-up showings each of the past three seasons. She finished 32-1 as a senior and was 132-13 in her career. Ryan also competed in track and field and played for the boys golf team during her prep career.
"Although basketball has always been a priority to me, it was nice to be able to focus directly on tennis for a couple months out of the year and see where I could take it," Ryan said. "Despite never fully achieving my goal of winning a state title in tennis, I learned countless lessons that otherwise wouldn’t have. I attribute a large part of our teams’ success on the basketball court to the experiences we gained playing other sports."
Pedigo emerged as one of the state’s top multi-sport athletes as a sophomore and spent his final two seasons at Hoisington solidifying that claim. The argument could be made that he is the best male athlete in school history.
A four-year starter in football, Pedigo became one of the top small-school two-way players in the state as a sophomore before exploding as a junior and senior. Taking over as the Cardinals’ feature back as a junior, Pedigo ran for 2,101 yards and 29 touchdowns, while also making 104 tackles. He topped those marks as a senior, rushing for 2,352 yards and 37 touchdowns and also racking up 115 tackles, 74 of them solo. In both seasons he led Hoisington to the state semifinals, a best for the program.
He finished his career with 5,171 yards rushing, topping 200 in eight games with a career-best 323-yard game as a junior, and ranks in the top 20 all-time in state history for career rushing yards. His 74 career rushing touchdowns rank in the top 15 all time. Pedigo was a Top 11 All-State selection by The Capital-Journal as a senior, a three-time first-team All-Central Kansas League selection and has signed with North Dakota for his college career.
As accomplished as he was on the gridiron, Pedigo may have been an even bigger force on the wrestling mat. He was a three-time state champion, capturing his first title as a sophomore when he won the Class 3-2-1A championship at 182 pounds with a 38-3 record. Pedigo followed with a state title at 195 as a junior, going 39-1 and pinning each of his state-tournament foes. As a senior, he captured a second straight 195-pound title, this time going 37-0.
He finished his career with a 147-13 record and set a school record for quickest pin with three five-second falls as a senior. Pedigo also wrestled for Team Kansas at the 2019 Colorado Nationals and was named the tournament’s outstanding wrestler after taking the 195-pound title.
"It’s an honor to be chosen as the male athlete of the year," Pedigo said. "It feels good to see all of that offseason work and training has paid off. Without my coaches and family believing in me, all of my accomplishments would still have been a dream."
Athletes of the year for the 15 sports seasons held in 2019-20 were also selected. The winners for each sport were:
• Girls Golf: Rylie Cook, Stanton County
• Boys Cross Country: Daniel Harkin, Manhattan
• Girls Cross Country: Taylor Briggs, Chapman
• Girls Volleyball: Caroline Crawford, Lansing
• Girls Tennis: Alisa Prinyarux, Blue Valley Northwest
• Girls Gymnastics: Brooke Illum, Olathe Northwest
• Boys Soccer: Jony Munoz, Olathe West
• Boys Football: Ky Thomas, Topeka High
• Boys Swimming: John Amrein, St. James Academy
• Boys Bowling: Blake Albers, Carroll
• Girls Bowling: Savannah Adams, Junction City
• Boys Wrestling: Keegan Slyter, Olathe North
• Girls Wrestling: Morgan Mayginnes, Onaga
• Boys Basketball: Tamar Bates, KC Piper
• Girls Basketball: Emily Ryan, Central Plains
No selections were made for spring sports with the seasons for boys golf, boys tennis, girls soccer, girls swimming, girls softball, boys baseball, girls track and field and boys track and field canceled because of COVID-19. Recognition was given during Thursday night’s Best of Kansas Preps virtual show to those athletes.
In addition, Norton’s Dairus Shields was named the winner of the Most Inspirational Award. Shields captured the Class 3-2-1A 106-pound title as a freshman less than a year after his mother, Lori Shields, was killed and his father was arrested in connection with her death.
This year’s virtual show replaced the in-person event from the past two years after COVID-19 restrictions made that format impossible. The show featured celebrity presenters in each sport, including Gary Woodland, Michael Phelps, Venus Williams, Drew Brees, Steph Curry and Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes presented the overall male and female athlete awards, while Woodland — who had committed to being this year’s Best of Kansas Preps celebrity guest following previous guests Paul Pierce and Jordy Nelson — made opening remarks.
Woodland also donated a $500 scholarship to each of the Best of Kansas Preps individual sport winners.
The awards show can be viewed at cjonline.com/preps for the next month.