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Sports In Review: Success abounds for teams, individuals

The Somerset dance team is shown during a performance last winter. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

How do you measure success?

With a bushel full of team championships and a boundless list of individual champions, the successes seen in the area in 2017 would have to reach the highest measure.

The local high school teams produced championship teams in every season. Through football, soccer, basketball, powerlifting, dance, track, baseball, cross country, etc., there were achievements coming from every avenue of high school sports.

We've been asked to pick our top 10 stories for the year. There are far more than 10 that are deserving of recognition, so we've added a side story to recognize those which didn't make the top 10. Here are our top 10 sports stories for 2017.

• St. Croix Central football

For the second straight season, the Panthers played their best football of the season in the postseason.

Central and Lodi squared off in a power-laden Division 4 state championship game, with both teams featuring highly successful ground attacks and matching potent defenses. The game was tied 10-10 at the end of regulation. Lodi scored in the first possession of the overtime and Central wasn't able to match it, giving Lodi a 17-10 victory. Ryan Larson led Central with 149 yards rushing and quarterback Collin Nelson scored the team's only touchdown on an 8-yard run.

The Panthers reached the state championship game for the second straight year by defeating Freedom in the state semifinals. Central defeated Freedom 42-21 in a snowy, bitter night on the artificial turf field in Merrill. Before facing Freedom, the Panthers put away Bloomer 28-0. Central had started its playoff run with victories over Mauston and Northwestern.

The Panthers missed out on an MBC title with an early-season loss to Osceola. But the Panthers drew inspiration from that loss and steadily improved.

After the season, Central coach Tony DiSalvo was selected to coach the small school North team in the 2018 WFCA All-Star Game that will be held in July 2018, in Oshkosh.

2. New Richmond boys and girls soccer

New Richmond has placed itself in the center of the soccer world in Wisconsin. The New Richmond boys team advanced to the WIAA Division 2 state championships for the second straight year and the Tiger girls narrowly missed state, losing in the sectional championship game.

The Tiger boys graduated a large portion of the 2016 team that reached state, but they did a stellar job of rebuilding as the season progressed. In the sectional championship game, the Tigers played perhaps their best game of the season, dominating Wausau East 3-0.

The unfortunate part for the Tigers was their opening draw at the state tournament was Whitefish Bay, which has one of the best teams in the nation. The Tigers put forth a hearty effort, but lost 5-0. The Tigers finished the season with an 18-8-1 record. But in the stretch before the state title game, the Tigers went 17-3-1.

The only thing that didn't go as the Tigers had hoped this season was the final outcome in the MBC. The Tigers lost an early season game to Amery and that ended up costing the Tigers the conference title. The title went to Amery, which qualified for the state tournament in Division 2.

The New Richmond girls achieved their mark in history last May, becoming the first Tiger girls soccer team to win a conference championship. The Tiger girls had a perfect regular season. At the sectional tournament, the Tigers faced Pulaski in the title game. Pulaski, which also won the sectional title in 2016, defeated the Tigers 2-0. It was the only defeat of the season for New Richmond, which finished with an 18-1-1 record.

3. St. Croix Central cross country/track

For the first time in school history, the St. Croix Central cross country teams both qualified for the WIAA state championships.

Central's shining day in cross country was at the Division 2 sectional meet in Hayward. Under glorious late-season conditions, both Panther teams ran outstanding races. The Panther girls finished as sectional champions and the Panther boys placed second, earning them both places in the state tournament field. The Panther girls were led by senior Liv Moll, who won the individual sectional championship. The Panther boys were led to state by freshman Cougar Holder and sophomore Erik Collins, who both finished in the top 20 at the sectional meet.

At the state championship meet, the Panther girls put together a top quality performance, placing seventh among 16 teams in the Division 2 state championship race. Moll led the Panther girls, placing 17th in the Division 2 individual standings. The Panther boys ranked 16th at state, but this year's meet was about getting experience for a young team that hopes to make return trips to the state meet.

Moll has been one of the premier female distance runners in the area for several years, but she upped the stakes this year. She won the MBC cross country championship, winning by seven seconds. The Panther girls placed second at the conference meet and the boys took third place.

In track, the Panthers had a number of athletes qualify for the WIAA state meet. Seniors Katheryn Holter and Trevor Nelson, juniors Liv Moll, Nathan Strader and Zac Bringgold, and the boys 800 meter relay team all qualified for the state meet.

4. Somerset girls basketball

The Spartan girls basketball team made school history in February by becoming the first Somerset basketball team to win consecutive conference championships. The Spartans locked up the 2016-17 MBC title with a 68-26 win over New Richmond. The Spartans finished with a 13-1 record. St. Croix Central finished second in the MBC standings and the Panthers were the only MBC team to defeat Somerset.

Somerset and St. Croix Central met again in the regional final. This time Somerset won 58-43, sending the Spartans to their second straight sectional tournament.

The Spartans' dream of becoming the first Somerset basketball team to reach the state tournament fell one win short of its goal. The Spartans were defeated in the sectional championship game by Bloomer, 72-57. The Spartans finished with a 21-4 record, following a 23-1 performance the previous season.

The Spartans were led by Tori Martell, who is now a freshman on the Montana State University women's team. Martell was the MBC's Most Valuable Player last winter, averaging 23.2 points per game, which also earned her first team all-state honors. Martell was MSU's leading scorer on Dec. 2 in a loss to Nevada. Kaitlyn Struemke, another of the tremendous 2017 Somerset senior class, is playing as a freshman at St. Catherine University.

5. St. Croix Central volleyball

The Panthers arose to have one of the best seasons in the state of any WIAA volleyball team. The Panthers won 29 matches in a row before losing to Merrill in the WIAA Division 2 sectional championship match. To reach the sectional title match, the Panthers had to defeat a tall and talented Rice Lake team in the sectional semifinals.

The Panthers earned their first MBC championship in October. It was the first conference championship earned in the Central volleyball program in 20 years. The Panthers were led by the outside hitting tandem of senior Katie Koerper and junior Abby Widiker.

6. New Richmond powerlifting

The Tiger lifters made their mark at the state level like never before. New Richmond swept the team state championships at the state meet held at Racine Horlick High School in March. The Tiger girls dominated their half of the meet, finishing with 71 points, 25 more than second-place River Falls. The Tiger boys had a much more dramatic finish, winning by seven points over Appleton Xavier. The team bus returned from Racine at 3:30 a.m, receiving an escort over the final mile by two New Richmond fire trucks.

Four Tigers also were individual state champions. Cassie Kletschka and Emma Wothe won titles for the girls, while Cole Birch and Isaac Karpenske won titles for the boys. The Tigers sent 28 lifters to state, the most ever for the program, including 15 boys and 13 girls.

The Tigers also made an impact at the national championships held in Pennsylvania. Wothe came home as a national champion, with Aidan Miers, Brandon Haag and Tanner Carver finishing as silver medalists at the national meet. Cassidy Wienke and Sierra Keyes placed third in their classes.

7. Area dance teams

The New Richmond, Somerset and St. Croix Central dance teams all qualified for the WACPC state championships. New Richmond was the district champion in the Division 2 kick competition and the Tigers placed third in the pom division. Somerset advanced with a pair of fourth place finishes, in the Division 2 kick and hip hop categories. St. Croix Central reached state with a fourth place finish in the Division 4 pom competition.

All three area teams had successes to celebrate at the state championship in La Crosse in February. New Richmond generated another top five finish at state, adding to its long list of state honors with a fifth place finish in the Division 2 pom category. Somerset and St. Croix Central both had individuals earn all-state honors. For Somerset, Gabbie Vogel and Joely Mart were all-state dances. McKenna Laventure was also accorded with all-state honors.

The New Richmond and Somerset dance teams both earned first and second place honors at the Middle Border Conference meet last January. New Richmond finished first in the kick division and took second place in the pom division. Somerset's first place finish came in the hip hop division, while the Spartans placed second in the kick division. St. Croix Central competed in the pom and hip hop divisions, placing third in poms and fourth in hip hop.

8. New Richmond hockey

New Richmond finished at the top of the MBC standings, which has become an almost yearly event. The Tigers went unbeaten through the 10-game conference schedule.

The Tigers again found their way to the WIAA state tournament blocked by Superior. The Tigers lost to Superior in the sectional semifinals, 5-2. The Tigers finished the season with a 17-7 record.

The Somerset hockey team also had a strong winter, placing second in the MBC behind New Richmond. The Spartans had an 8-2 MBC record and a 16-8 overall record. The Spartans were beaten by Hudson in the sectional semifinals, 10-0.

9. MBC boys and girls golf

The Somerset girls golf team may have been the most unlikely team to compete at the WIAA State Championships in October. The Spartans finished seventh in the MBC standings, but they caught fire in the final weeks of the season. They shot a 384 at the Division 2 sectional tournament, earning a second place finish that punched their ticket to the state championships. In the two-day tournament at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison, the Spartans finished with an 863 team score, placing sixth. Competing at state for the Spartans were Grace Bauer, Megan Erlitz, Emma Westmoreland, Cora Atkins and Haley Myers. This was the first time a Somerset golf team has qualified for state.

The New Richmond girls golf team continued its dominance in the area, winning its third straight MBC championship. The Tigers have won seven of the past eight conference titles. New Richmond junior Maggie Veenendall was the conference individual champion for the second straight season.

The MBC boys golf race had one of the closest finishes in conference history, coming down to the final shot before it was decided last May. When the cards were totalled, Somerset was the 2017 MBC champion, with one stroke separating the Spartans and New Richmond. It was Somerset's second straight MBC title, the only conference golf titles won in SHS history.

New Richmond's boys won the conference tournament, with Tiger senior Thomas McKinney finishing as tournament medalist. McKinney also was an individual qualifier for the WIAA sectional meet.

10. New Richmond cross country/track

The New Richmond girls cross country team went through a complete makeover this season, with five freshmen and two sophomores making up the varsity squad. And these girls had a tremendous season, winning the Middle Border Conference championship. All seven of the Tiger girls finished among the top 15 finishers at the MBC meet. The girls team was made up of freshmen Kayla Harris, Willa Rogers, Barb Kling, Maggie Bau and Sophie Ballard, along with sophomores Erika Emerson and Colette Herrold.

The Tiger boys finished second at the MBC meet, led by senior Dylan Wachter, who was the conference's individual champion. Wachter and Harris would both qualify for the WIAA Division 1 state meet, the first time the Tigers had a boy and girl reach state since the program moved to Division 1 several years ago.

There were three Tigers who were able to qualify for the WIAA State Track Championships. Brandon Powers and Dylan Wachter earned return trips for the Tiger boys. Mallorie Brinkman became the first girl to qualify for state for the Tigers in several years when she advanced in the 400 meters.

Honorable Mention

• The New Richmond varsity baseball team earned its second straight MBC championship. The Tigers were an outstanding hitting team all season and the team's pitching progressed steadily, with Grant Riemenschneider as the team's ace. The Tigers put together a 10-game win streak to get the title, capped by a doubleheader sweep against St. Croix Central.

• New Richmond's Bryce Younger was named the Outstanding Wrestler at the 2017 Middle Border Conference wrestling meet. Younger reached the finals in all four years of NRHS career. He was a second place finisher as a freshman and sophomore. As a junior he was the 132-pound champion and he followed that with the 138-pound championship in February.

• Younger was a qualifier for the WIAA Division 1 state tournament, as was teammate Nathan Fehlen. St. Croix Central's Ryan Larson and Somerset's Steven Moncada were qualifiers in the Division 2 state tournament.

• Younger was a fifth place finisher at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament, a strong follow-up to his fourth place effort in 2916. Fehlen, Larson and Moncada were defeated in their opening-round matches at the state tournament.

• The Western Wisconsin Stars earned the program's first WIAA tournament win since 2008 with a 4-3 win over the St. Croix Valley Fusion. The win was the 12th of the Stars' season.

• Somerset native Bryan Witzmann started 2017 as the starting left guard for the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL. Witzmann started the first nine games of the season for the Chiefs and he's been on the field for every game of the Chiefs' season.

• The New Richmond community came together in a project designed to improve the health of everyone in the community. "The Million Calorie Burn" was held in August, with a goal of having people in the community come together to burn one million calories. The effort proved far greater, with more than three million calories burned by the New Richmond residents who participated.

• The New Richmond girls tennis team was the powerhouse of the MBC, winning each conference dual match and winning six of the seven flights at the MBC tournament. The performance was led by senior Greta Bakke, who won her third straight MBC title at one singles. Bakke also qualified for the WIAA Division 1 state championships for the second straight season.

• The New Richmond football team missed a share of the MBC title by one point. In the final game of the conference season, the Tigers lost to MBC champion Osceola, 25-24. The injury-riddled Tigers were defeated in the opening round of WIAA Division 3 playoff action by West Salem, 17-14.

• New Richmond senior Clayton Van Dyk recovered from a summer farm accident to be a starting linebacker for the Tiger football team this fall. Van Dyk suffered major damage to three fingers and had to wear a club wrapped around his damaged left hand all season, but he didn't miss a game because of the injury.

• Terry Wells has been a powerlifter for 30 years, but decided to begin lifting competitively in 2016. Wells immediately become an elite competitor. In August, he set a new state deadlift record for his weight class, with a lift of 615 pounds.

• St. Croix Central football standout Cole Refsnider signed a national letter of intent in February to attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth and play football for the Bulldogs.

• Five New Richmond football players signed college letters of intent in February. They included Sam Altena (Northern State), Brandon Powers (UW-River Falls), Tom McKinney (UW-River Falls), Isaac Karpenske (Northwestern University) and Noah Powers (Hamline University).

• Former New Richmond and Somerset varsity baseball coach John Ball was honored in February at the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association convention February for his 40 years in coaching. Ball retired from coaching at the end of the 2016 season.

• Somerset had two girls qualify for the WIAA state track championships. Somerset freshman Eve Goldstein medalled in two events at state. Goldstein took third place in the Division 2 shot put event and fourth place in the Division 2 discus throw. Teammate Aly Meath placed eighth in the state shot put event.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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