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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The Somerset boys basketball team gained a large measure of respect, and self respect, with its performance in the opening round of the WIAA Division 2 regional tournament last Tuesday. Very few people gave the seventh seeded Spartans any chance of winning against Middle Border Conference co-champion New Richmond. The Spartans, underdogs as they were, never gave up. They cut New Richmond's margin to three points with 22 seconds left in the game.
Defense was the make-or-break factor for the New Richmond boys basketball team. The Tigers' inability to defend Osceola's sizzling outside shooters was the breaking point in last Thursday's WIAA Division 2 regional semifinal. Osceola rained down nine three-pointers, eight of them in the first half, to defeat the Tigers 58-35. The Tigers finish the 2008-09 season with a 15-7 record and a share of the Middle Border Conference championship.
The heart-pounding charge in the final month of the season by the St. Croix Central boys basketball team was capped when they upset number one seed Grantsburg in a wild overtime game last Thursday, 68-67. By beating Grantsburg, the Panthers moved into Saturday's regional championship game against Prescott. The Panthers led in Saturday's game at halftime, 22-19. Prescott started the second half with a huge energy boost and the Panthers could not match it. Prescott scored the first 10 points of the second half.
As a sixth seed, the Somerset girls basketball team was the lowest seeded Division 2 girls team in the state to reach the regional championships. They did so by putting together two outstanding performances against higher ranked teams, following long road trips. The Spartans made the three-hour trip to Ashland last Tuesday, then used their quickness to thoroughly outplay the Oredockers. Somerset scored a 64-50 win over the third-seeded Oredockers. That win meant the Spartans would have to make the trip to Hayward for the second round of the WIAA playoffs.
The hottest team in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference over the final three weeks of the regular season was the St. Croix Central boys basketball team. The Panthers finished the season with five straight conference wins. The regular season finale came on Friday, when the Panthers barged past Colfax, 66-53. The late run at the end of the season raises the Panthers' record to the .500 level in conference play. They had been 4-9 in the D-SC until their surge in February. Central coach Mike Fern said the turning point for his team was the Feb. 9 win over conference champion Mondovi.
The New Richmond boys basketball team is a conference champion, but it was an awkwardly earned Middle Border Conference title. All the Tigers needed to do to win a share of the MBC title was win at Amery last Friday. That did not happen. The Tigers played perhaps their worst game since the calendar turned over to 2009, falling at Amery, 59-47. This game was moved ahead two hours to accommodate the regional championship game for the Amery girls team, which had been postponed a day.
The sixth place finish by St. Croix Central's Zach Gillis in the WIAA Division 3 State Wrestling Championships is a big step for the Panther junior. But it is by no means the top step in his wrestling career. Gillis won two of his five matches in the Division 3 135-pound bracket at state to earn sixth place at state. That gave him the rare opportunity to take his place on the WIAA state awards podium. Panther coach Brad Holzer said he fully expects Gillis to come back even stronger next year in an attempt to return to the state wrestling awards podium. "He's a pretty dedicated kid.
Somerset senior Darrin Emmeck capped his high school wrestling career by taking fourth place at 285 pounds in the Division 2 WIAA State Wrestling Championships in Madison. Emmeck's focus will quickly switch from wrestling back to football. Next week he and classmate Bryan Witzmann will be leaving to play in the 2009 Global Challenge Bowl.
New Richmond seniors Bradley Gartner and Tom Volkert proved they belong among the state's best wrestlers during the 2009 WIAA State Wrestling Championships, held last Thursday through Saturday in Madison. Gartner got rolling in the wrestlebacks and was able to earn a fourth place finish among the Division 1 130-pounders at the 2009 state meet.
Heading into Saturday's WIAA Division 3 wrestling sectional tournament in Osseo-Fairchild, St. Croix Central's Zach Gillis was considered one of three standout wrestlers in the 135-pound weight class. Gillis didn't disappoint. He finished in third place in the 135-pound sectional class, earning his first trip to the WIAA State Individual Wrestling Championships in Madison this week. Gillis' first round match at state is scheduled for Thursday evening. St. Croix Central also had senior Casey Perry wrestling at the sectional meet.