Middle Border Conference gets three all-state baseball players, Big Rivers gets five

The western part of the state did quite well in the voting for the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association All-State Baseball Team.
Three players from the Middle Border Conference and four players from the Big Rivers Conference were named to the 2014 all-state team. The MBC player who received the highest honor was Prescott junior infielder Michael Brookshaw. Brookshaw, who hit .515 for the Cardinals this season, was a third team all-state selection. He follows a family tradition of all-state recognition. His older brother, Billy, was a first team all-state player in 2012.
Two Ellsworth seniors received honorable mention all-state honors. Dennis Schutz and Logan Armstrong were both honored, Schutz as an outfielder and Armstrong as a utility player.
River Falls junior outfielder Jon Krueger led the Big Rivers Conference selections. Krueger was also a third team all-state selection. Four players from the Big Rivers Conference received honorable mention all-state recognition. They included senior pitcher Dalton Roach from Eau Claire Memorial, senior infielder A.J. Naatz from Menomonie, junior infielder Isaac Gibson of Eau Claire North and senior outfielder Zach Pasano from Chippewa Falls. Krueger and Roach were the BRC Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year, respectively.
There were several players on the all-state list who area teams saw up close this season. Viroqua pitcher Mitch Stalsberg was named the WBCA State Player of the Year. It was Stalsberg who knocked Ellsworth out of the WIAA Division 2 sectional tournament by throwing a two-hitter against the Panthers. Stalsberg also recorded a victory in the opening round of the WIAA state tournament, setting a state tournament record by striking out 21 batters in a nine-inning, 2-1 win over Ripon.
Marshfield catcher Daulton Varsho was also a first team selection. Another of the standouts from the Varsho family, he ran wild in carrying Marshfield to a double-header sweep over New Richmond just before the start of the WIAA tournaments.

Catching Up: Spring sports, Relay for Life and other notes

The spring high school sports season is officially completed for area teams.
For most of them, it was a whirlwind season, and we’re not just talking about the weather.
The weather did have a major bearing on the 2014 spring season, though it didn’t do nearly the damage that was done to the 2013 spring schedules. This year’s spring sports did get a bit of a late start and saw its share of washouts, but there was enough good weather where teams were able to get in complete seasons. That wasn’t the case the year before, when the horrid weather led to a rash of double-headers, and in many cases, a slew of canceled games.
For the Middle Border Conference, this spring wasn’t as successful as in past years in terms of getting teams to the state tournament. There were high hopes that Baldwin-Woodville would earn another trip to the state softball championships and that Ellsworth, Prescott or Somerset would advance in baseball. That doesn’t lessen the fact that they had outstanding seasons. The Ellsworth-Prescott rivalry in baseball has to be one of the most passionate in this part of the state. Both towns have long traditions of success in baseball and that doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.
Track athletes got a much better experience in 2014 than the previous year, though there were several meets washed away this year too. The area was represented well this year. Somerset had a pair of state champions in Aaron Joppru and Max Praschak. The Dunn-St. Croix Conference had state champions in Elk Mound’s Jonah Bauer and Spring Valley’s Zac Webster.
Webster was a treat to watch. When you see him standing among the other competitors, he’s one of the smaller guys in the group. It isn’t until you see Webster jump that you get an understanding of why he was the state triple jump champion and that he took second place in the long jump and high jump. He jumps like he was born with wings. His hang time is just incredible, especially in his final bound in the triple jump. It’s like he floats in the air, he’s got that sort of propulsion in his legs.
Getting to attend the WIAA state track meet is one of the highlights of my sports year. Each year, I am constantly amazed by the incredible athletic performances. Through the years Wisconsin track fans have gotten to witness Olympians like Suzy Favor Hamilton and future National Football League stars like Michael Bennett and Jim Flanigan. There have been milers who’ve lowered their times under 4 minutes, 10 seconds. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see a runner break the 4-minute mile at the state meet in future years.
One of the things that amazes me most is the progress made by female athletes every year. Female athletes have been becoming more and more dedicated to strength and conditioning each year and it continues to pay dividends. I remember covering Terri Tretsven of St. Croix Falls when she won the girls state discus championship in 1986, when the state meet was still held in Madison. She had a winning distance of 119 feet. That distance wouldn’t have gotten through most of the state’s sectional tournaments this year.

Relay for Life
Another great Relay for Life in New Richmond was completed over the weekend. At last count, they had nearly $95,000 raised for the American Cancer Society.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, it took me several years before I could get up the nerve to attend a Relay. Now it is one of the most rejuvenating steps in the cancer journey each year.
My favorite part is the introduction of the cancer survivors each year. Every one is an amazing story. Whether it’s the survivors who’ve won the battle for 20 years or more, or the people who are attending their first Relay as a survivor, they’ve had to fight the battle and they are winning.
My personal favorite is seeing some of the young people who were diagnosed as children and seeing how they’ve grown each year. To me, that’s why research for cancer and other diseases is so important. It’s giving life to young people who would otherwise by taken away from us. Seeing them get to live out normal, full lives goes beyond heart-warming. And I think it helps every one of us to fight a little harder.

Check out the University of Minnesota football website for Gaelin Elmore’s profile. Though he’s listed as a tight end, all the video clips feature his blocking prowess. One of the best parts of this time of year is seeing the May graduates starting their progression toward college. Those graduates hoping to gain a foothold in college athletics have an especially important summer. They need to be in peak condition heading into their freshman seasons so they can make a memorable first impression on their coaches and new teammates.
Is anyone fired up for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game coming to the Twin Cities? I thought there would be more excitement, but the Minnesota Twins aren’t doing much to grab the interest of local fans. There has been no publicity on all the events that surround the All-Star Game. With less than a month before the big event, you’d think the Twins would be doing more to promote the event, especially considering how much money they spent to bring the event here.

NFL Draft has more questions than usual

There are no guarantees in the NFL Draft every year. But this year, some of the best players seem to carry the biggest question marks.
It would be easy to claim that Jadaveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel are the most talented defensive and offensive players in the draft, respectively. While both have the talent to be stars in the NFL, both have questions about whether all of that talent will ever turn into production. Clowney is unbelievably talented, but his ambition has not yet matched his talent. Manziel is a mercurial quarterback woth immense talent, but also could end up as a Ryan Leaf-sized bust.
Here is one fan’s mock draft to go along with Thursday’s NFL Draft.

No. 1: Jadaveon Clowney, Houston Texans. If the Texans keep this pick, it’ll either be Clowney or Khalil Mack. Clowney, from South Carolina, has freakish skills, but his motor doesn’t run all out, all the time. Mack is a safer bet, but few teams play it safe with the first overall pick.

No. 2: Greg Robinson, St. Louis Rams. Most teams in the top 10 of the draft would like to trade down and the Rams are a strong trade candidate. If the Rams stay put, Robinson is the best offensive lineman in the draft. The Rams’ offensive line has seemingly always been patched together. This would give them a supreme blocker.

No. 3: Khalil Mack, Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville badly needs a flashy impact player to renew fan optimism. There isn’t a quarterback they view as worth this pick, so they’ll go with Mack, a fierce outside pass rusher. He’ll be a massive upgrade to their pedestrian defensive talent.

No. 4: Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns. This is where the intrigue in the draft starts. Cleveland could go in a number of directions. They could take one of the two skilled wide receivers or they could go for offensive line help. With the two best defensive players gone, Cleveland will take the big gamble and bet their future on Johnny Football.

No. 5: Sammy Watkins, Oakland Raiders. The Raiders are always unpredictable. Watkins gets the nod because the Raiders badly need offensive help. One of the two remaining elite offensive tackles could also land here. So could Mike Evans, the other top wide receiver.

No. 6: Jake Matthews, Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons’ prayers are answered as they get one of the two top offensive tackles without needing to trade up. Matthews will provide a quick cure for an offensive line that’s gone unaddressed in several drafts.

No. 7: Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Evans will join with Vincent Jackson to give the Bucs a pair of bookend wide receivers out of the same mold. Evans is a tall receiver who can stretch the field. The Bucs now have a pair of wideouts similar to the Chicago Bears’ tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.

No. 8: Blake Bortles, Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings need a quarterback they can groom for the future. Bortles is an ideal candidate. He’s a pocket quarterback with some evasive ability. If the Vikings are patient and give him time to learn, they might have their quarterback of the future, this time.

No. 9: Taylor Lewan, Buffalo Bills. The Bills have several glaring needs. But the one most screaming to be addressed is the offensive line. There are three elite tackles in the draft and the Bills can’t let one slip by when they have this chance to make such a major upgrade.

No. 10: Justin Gilbert, Detroit Lions. Don’t be surprised if the Lions trade up, possibly to the fifth spot, to snare one of the two top receivers in the draft. If the Lions can’t get one of those receivers, they’ll likely address their need at cornerback by taking Gilbert, the best corner in this year’s draft.

No. 11: Anthony Barr, Tennessee Titans. The Titans need to inject talent into a mild defense. Barr is the best available pass rusher. He’s a major upgrade to the athleticism of the Titan defense.

No. 12: Aaron Donald, New York Giants. The Giants continue rebuilding their defensive front by taking Donald. He’s a quick interior lineman and the Giants love collecting pass rushers.

No. 13: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, St. Louis Rams. The Rams could go in any number of directions with this pick. Cornerback and receiver are among the team’s most glaring needs, but they are one of several teams that are looking to improve their safety play.

No. 14: Calvin Pryor, Chicago Bears. There’s little doubt the Bears will use this pick on a defensive player, but which position do they address? Their secondary quality has dropped off sharply in recent years. Taking Pryor renews their commitment to pass defense.

No. 15: Darqueze Dennard, Pittsburgh Steelers. Dennard is a perfect fit for Pittsburgh’s style of defense. He’s a physical cornerback who plays the run well and isn’t afraid to hit. If one of the three top tackles is still available, the Steelers would pounce and they’re also a candidate to trade up for a tackle.

No. 16: Timmy Jernigan, Dallas Cowboys. The Cowpokes would love to trade up to get Aaron Donald. Instead, they’ll settle for the next option at defensive tackle. Jernigan is another smallish defensive tackle with quickness. If the Cowboys want to get a beefier tackle, they might go with 331-pound Louis Nix.

No. 17: Jimmie Ward, Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens drafted a safety last year and they could take another this year. The Ravens could go in a number of directions on defense, or they could make an offensive splash at tight end or wide receiver.

No. 18: Eric Ebron, New York Jets. The Jets have several needs, including tight end, wide receiver and cornerback. With a serious desire to upgrade their passing game, the Jets grab Ebron. He’s a great receiver, but a negligible blocker.

No. 19: Zach Martin, Miami Dolphins. The Fins replace Richie Incognito with a Notre Damer. Talk about an upgrade.

No. 20: C.J. Mosley, Arizona Cardinals. Many people think the Cards will grab a quarterback. But they came too close to the playoffs last season to not draft an impact player.  The Cards lost linebackers to free agency and Mosley would be a good run stuffer for their defense.

No. 21: Ryan Shazier, Green Bay Packers: Mosley and all the safeties the Packers hoped would last are gone, so Shazier is the best option to upgrade the defense. The Packers’ defense is in bad need of more athletes.

No. 22: Odell Beckham Jr., Philadelphia Eagles. Beckham fits well into the Eagles’ offensive scheme and replaces the big play ability of DeSean Jackson.

No. 23: Brandin Cooks, Kansas City Chiefs. If Cooks doesn’t go to the Eagles, he’ll go here. The Chiefs are in desperate need of receivers and they are looking for someone who can contribute immediately.

No. 24: Jason Verrett, Cincinnati Bengals. Verrett is a scrappy cornerback. The Bengals like their corners to play tough and Verrett fits the bill.

No. 25: Louis Nix, San Diego Chargers. Nix is an anchor-type defensive tackle who can stuff a running game as well as any defensive lineman in the draft.

No. 26: Bradley Roby, Cleveland Browns. If the Browns don’t take a quarterback with the fourth pick, they’ll take one here. If they already have their quarterback, they’ll go for a cornerback to play opposite Joe Haden.

No. 27: Dee Ford, New Orleans Saints. There will be temptations to add to the offensive arsenal, but the need for help along the defensive line will lead the Saints to draft Ford.

No. 28: Marqise Lee, Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have added some second-rate receivers to replace Steve Smith, but they need to get someone with more upside, so they add Lee.

No. 29: Joel Bitiono, New England Patriots. The Patriots are looking to beef up their line play. Bitiono is a nasty offensive tackle who fits the Patriots’ aggressive style.

No. 30: Kyle Fuller, San Francisco 49ers. The Niners could easily go for a receiver, but they love to stockpile defensive backs.

No. 31: Xavier Su’a-Filo, Denver Broncos. With the free agent loss of guard Zane Beedles, the Broncos need to fortify their front wall to protect Peyton Manning. Su’a-Filo is a mountain of a guard, with a streak of meanness.

No. 32: Cody Latimer, Seattle Seahawks. Although they’re Super Bowl champions, the Seahawks have areas where they area vulnerable. The offensive line could use upgrades and so can the receivers corps. The Hawks need to address the free agent loss of Golden Tate and they do so by drafting Latimer.

Spring sports fans know how to accessorize

It’s easy to tell a spring high school sports fan.
They’re the ones whose car trunks are ready to burst because of all the coats, hats, gloves and boots they carry around to be ready for the unpredictable weather conditions that can sprout up for any outdoor sports event.
Dressing in layers is supposed to be for winter conditions, but any sports fan can tell you that having the clothes available to dress in layers is essential. To call spring weather unpredictable is a gross understatement. It’s not uncommon to need to add or subtract a couple layers of clothing during any sporting event, because spring weather can be that fickle. You can start a game putting on sunblock and be scrambling for earmuffs by the end of it.
Fans have it easy compared to the athletes. Prepared fans have a car full of clothing options. Athletes who ride a bus to events often don’t have the space to carry all the clothing options that are needed. It seem track athletes are the ones most prone to the effects of the weather, because they can have lengthy stretches of time between events. I can’t count the time I’ve seen track athletes who were chilled to the bone because they were caught by surprise by a cold turn in the weather forecast. Anyone who had a clothes concession booth at early season track meets could make a killing by selling warm, dry clothing to the fans and athletes who arrived unprepared.
The spring season starts out that way and by the end of the season, you see fans and athletes who should be treated for third degree burns because of the sunburns they get. Loving the sunshine is tricky. You can quickly go from reveling in its warmth to needing bottles of aloe to treat the burns you’ve received.
To athletes and fans, be prepared for anything when you attend sporting events in the spring. Because any weather conditions possible could crop up on any given day.

WIAA needs 1.65 multiplier to provide sports equity

While pundits from all of Wisconsin’s metro areas are arguing against the proposal, the plan to add a 1.65 multiplier to the enrollment of private schools for WIAA sports events is badly needed to bring equity to the Wisconsin high school playing field.
The WIAA member schools are scheduled to vote on the 1.65 multiplier proposal at the WIAA annual meeting in Stevens Point on Wednesday.
It has been clear that since WISAA stopped holding private school state tournaments, an inordinate number of private schools have been qualifying for WIAA state tournaments. The percentages simply show that the private schools, which can draw from districts outside of their base geographic area, while public schools can’t, hold an unfair advantage over the public schools.
Is the 1.65 multiplier the perfect solution? Maybe not, but it is a start to the badly needed equity that is needed in Wisconsin high school sports.
The inequity is noticeable in sports like football and basketball, where the private schools have prominent teams which make state tournaments every year. In several sectionals around the state, it is nearly impossible for public schools to have a prayer of reaching the state tournament because their hopes are choked by several top private schools within their sectional bracket.
Some of the smaller sports see even more of an inequity. Use boys golf as an example. In Division 2 competition in 2013, two of the top four teams in the state were from private schools. In 2012, private schools filled three of the top four places in the state tournament.
The best solution would be having private schools going back to holding their own state tournament, which they did for decades. With the strong financial backing that private schools possess, that likely won’t happen. And if the multiplier does get approved this week, it will likely face a prolonged court battle from those backing private school athletics.
The multiplier is needed, to begin the fight for equity in Wisconsin high school sports. The WIAA is supposed to provide equal opportunity. In this instance, it clearly does not.

Strong pitching means MBC baseball race should be a battle

When, or if, the winter weather ever subsides, there should be an outstanding race for the 2014 Middle Border Conference baseball title.
Ellsworth, New Richmond and Prescott were the top three teams in the MBC in 2013 and they all return a solid nucleus of players. That doesn’t preclude other teams from making a run at the title.
Ellsworth has reached the WIAA Division 2 state tournament each of the past two seasons and Prescott was the Division 3 state champion in 2012. That’s an accurate reflection of the quality of ball played in the MBC in recent years.
Ellsworth has to replace all-state pitcher James Georgakas. The Panthers return four All-MBC players, including first team infielder Nick Taranto and first team outfielder Dennis Schutz. Isaac Hines and Logan Armstrong give the Panthers a pair of experienced pitchers to build around.
No team returns more seasoned players than Prescott. One year out from a state title, the Cardinals could be a state threat again. First team All-MBC pitcher Matt Holman returns, as does first team infielder Michael Brookshaw and first team outfielder Alex Helmer. With Clay Seifert, Marty Harris, Brady Schommer and others also returning, there shouldn’t be an easy out in the Redbird lineup this season.
New Richmond relied on young arms last year and sophomores Cam Hausman and Drake Durham lead a young pitching staff this season. Senior Hayden Nelson will contribute on the mound when he’s not catching. The Tigers also return All-MBC infielders Jeremy Leavens and Josh Kizer to lead the offense.
Amery returns Broden Schock and Jordan Luehman, among others. Whether the Warriors can find the pitching to compete in a pitching-deep conference will determine whether they can challenge this season.
Osceola graduated some key offensive pieces in Bryce Byl, Logan Hatella and Alex Freese. The Chieftains will lean heavily on returning pitchers Victor Lowney and Tyler Maxon.
Somerset’s main returning strength is also pitching, in the persons of senior Zac Waalen and junior Tyler Lueck. There’s been a change at the helm for the Spartans, with long-time New Richmond coach John Ball leading the Spartan varsity team this season.
Durand returns a top flight pitcher in Tyler Gruber. If the Panthers can build around him, they could surprise. Jake Bauer and Jacob Biesterveld will be keys for Durand’s hopes.
Baldwin-Woodville was one of the youngest teams in the conference last year. The Hawks will have to replace Coleman Roskam, the anchor of last year’s pitching staff.

Middle Border Conference to honor top student-athletes

The top senior student-athletes in the Middle Border Conference will be honored at the MBC’s 2014 Scholar-Athlete Banquet on Wednesday, April 2.
The banquet will be held at the Orchard Restaurant in Baldwin, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The banquet is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Sarah Weiske at 715-684-3321, ext. 101 or by emailing her at sweiske@bwsd.k12.wi.us. Ticket reservations are due by this Friday.
The top male and female senior scholar-athlete from each of the Middle Border Conference schools will be honored at the event. The guest speaker is Mark Matzek. Matzek is a two-time individual national champion and three-time All-American wrestler during his Augsburg College career, will enter his sixth season as the head coach of the Augsburg College wrestling team in 2013-14. In addition to his coaching duties, Matzek also serves as co-director of athletic academic support services for the athletic department.
Here is a list of the students who will be honored as their school’s top senior scholar-athletes at the banquet.
Amery: Jessica Hendrickson and Michael Elbing
Baldwin-Woodville: Micheala Slind and Stephen Aune
Durand: Megan Brusoe and Garrett Auth
Ellsworth: Jordan Olson and Jens Lantz
New Richmond: Shane Blackman and Mattie Kidder
Osceola: McKenzie Fortier and Benjamin Swanson
Prescott: Katy Syverson and Troy Urman
Someset: Meghan Wolner and Gaelin Elmore

MBC winter season packed with close races

With only one Middle Border Conference team still competing (good luck at sectionals, Baldwin-Woodville girls basketball) it’s a good time to assess the 2013-14 winter season for the conference.
It’s funny, but every MBC winter sports season had two teams that were locked in death-grip battles for the conference championships. Three of the four winter sports ended with teams sharing the MBC titles, with only wrestling having a solo champion.
With the success of the Ellsworth wrestlers, people around the state might think the Panthers have an easy time in their conference. After all, Ellsworth did win its sixth state team wrestling championship last week. But it may be that the good competition within the MBC helps Ellsworth to become such an elite team.
Ellsworth four-time state wrestling champion Jens Lantz is one of the best wrestlers I recall watching in 30 years of covering sports in the area. He has to rank with Kevin Black of River Falls and some of the other greats we’ve seen. What impresses me most about Lantz is the fact that he doesn’t embarrass his opponents. He’s a gentleman and a tactician. He wins by smarts, savvy, exceptional quickness and amazing balance.
The MBC boys basketball season boiled down to a two-team race between Somerset and Prescott. Prescott burst onto the scene with such a strong first half of the season that the Cards looked unstoppable. Somerset was able to earn a share of the conference title by knocking off Prescott late in the season, using a cagey defensive plan that took away Prescott’s perimeter shooting. I thought the work by Somerset coach Brent Larson may have been the best one-game plan I saw devised this season.
In girls basketball, it was another year of Baldwin-Woodville and New Richmond scrapping for the MBC title. The B-W girls are incredibly athletic, which has shown in their success in softball and other sports the past few years. B-W coach Eric Harmon does an incredible job of getting his girls to play with an edge. They aren’t out to make friends on the court, they’re out to win. Let’s hope that continues for a couple more weeks for the Lady Hawks.
New Richmond senior Sydney Kannel was justifiably named Most Valuable Player for the MBC this season. Kannel looks to be a player whose skills will translate well to the college game. She could score 30 points in games where it was needed. She also learned that as opponents rolled more defensive pressure her way, her role had to change. The statistics didn’t matter to her, winning did, and that’s why the Tigers were able to compete with B-W. They had a team that compared about winning, not statistics.
The MBC boys hockey season ended up with New Richmond and Eau Claire Regis tied for the title with 7-1 records. New Richmond was one of the surprises, reaching the sectional championship game again. But anyone who knows Tiger coach Adam Swanda shouldn’t really be surprised. Swanda demands a great deal from his players, but he also gets results, year after year.

An early look at WIAA playoff possibilities

The WIAA tournament season is coming up fast.
Wrestling will be the first of the area winter sports to begin its tournament season, with regional tournaments on Saturday, Feb. 15. The rest of the winter sports will play their opening tournament dates soon after.
Here’s a look at some of the tournament brackets involving teams from our area.

Boys Basketball – Division 1
Marshfield appears to have the inside track for the top seed in the Division 1 regional tournament bracket. Marshfield is 9-4 and 5-1 in the Wisconsin Valley Conference. Marshfield a win over Hudson, which right now has the strongest case for the second seed.
The bottom three seeds will likely be Chippewa Falls, Superior and Wausau West. That leaves Eau Claire Memorial, Eau Claire North and D.C. Everest to battle for the 3-5 seeds. Memorial already has a win posted against Everest, putting the Old Abes in a good position to lock up the third seed.

Boys Basketball – Division 2
This is another bracket where the top and bottom seeds are crystal clear. Big Rivers Conference leader Rice Lake (10-2 overall) is a lock for the top seed. New Richmond, after losing to River Falls on Monday, will take the bottom spot in the five-team configuration. Menomonie (9-4 overall) and Ashland (8-3 overall) are in a close battle for the second and third spots. River Falls would need a couple upsets in the next three weeks to move up from the fourth slot.

Boys Basketball – Division 3
Coaches better bring their coffee for this seeding meeting, it could get complicated. Prescott and Somerset, the two Middle Border Conference leaders, are in solid position for the top two spots. Which of them gets the top spot will likely be answered when they play on Feb. 4 in Somerset.
There are any number of teams who could fit in next. Barron is 6-1 in the Heart O’North Conference, but the Bears lost to St. Croix Falls. The Saints match Barron’s 8-4 overall record, but lost to Amery. Ellsworth has played well in the MBC with a 5-2 record, but outside the conference, the Panthers are 1-4. Amery is the exact opposite. Amery hasn’t beaten anyone in the MBC, but the Warriors are 5-1 outside the conference, including wins over Hayward, St. Croix Falls and Spooner. Amery is the team that could really muck up the bracketing.
Northwestern is another team that should squeeze into this pack somewhere. The Tigers are 7-4, but have already lost to Bloomer.
The teams in the next tier appear to be Baldwin-Woodville, Hayward and Spooner. Osceola and St. Croix Central will likely be the bottom two teams.

Girls Basketball – Division 1
This is a top-heavy bracket with three powerhouses at the top of the list. Superior (12-2), D.C. Everest (14-1) and Chippewa Falls (11-2) are all outstanding teams. Superior should get the top seed, with wins over Everest and Chippewa Falls. Superior’s only losses are to Minnesota schools. The tough call will be between Everest and CF, because they aren’t scheduled to face each other.
Eau Claire Memorial looks to have the inside track for the fourth seed at 8-3, with Eau Claire North, Marshfield and Wausau West closely packed behind them. Hudson looks locked into the eighth seed.

Girls Basketball – Division 2
New Richmond and Rice Lake should get the top two seeds in this bracket, but it will come down to the coaches’ interpretation as to which gets the top seed. New Richmond has the better record (8-1 in Middle Border, 12-2 overall), but Rice Lake (2-4 in Big Rivers, 6-7 overall) won the head-to-head matchup. New Richmond does have a win over Chippewa Falls, which none of the BRC teams in the bracket can claim. River Falls and Ashland appear to be the third and fourth best teams, though this is another tough call because Rice Lake is the only team in the bracket which Ashland faces. Menomonie (1-10) is a clear fifth seed.

Girls Basketball – Division 3
There should be an intriguing argument for the top spot in this bracket. Baldwin-Woodville and St. Croix Falls are both undefeated. Getting the top spot is critical, because Hayward (12-1) will likely be the third seed and the Hurricanes will be a much tougher semifinal opponent than whatever team gets the fourth seed.
Barron (5-2 in Heart O’North, 8-3 overall) has the edge for the fourth spot.
The battle for the fifth through ninth seeds will take some sorting out. Amery (5-3 in MBC, 6-5) has the best record. St. Croix Central (2-6 in Dunn-St. Croix, 5-7), Prescott (2-6 in MBC, 4-8) Somerset (2-6 in MBC, 3-10) and Northwestern (2-5 in Heart O’North, 3-8) all have hopes of a first-round home game.
Even deciding on the order of the bottom three teams will be interesting, with Ellsworth (0-7, 1-10), Spooner (1-6, 1-7) and Osceola (0-6, 0-12) having very little they can use to argue their case.

Boys Hockey
Hudson has clearly earned the top seed in this bracket with its 12-1-2 record. New Richmond and Somerset have moved ahead of the pack for the second and third seeds. Which one gets the top seed? This Thursday’s game in New Richmond should decide that.
Superior (9-10) is having an off year, but that still shouldn’t drop the Spartans anywhere lower than fourth in this bracket.
Menomonie and River Falls are the leading contenders for the fifth seed. They play on Saturday and that could answer which team gets the higher seed.
It’s hard to gauge the WSFLG (Siren co-op) and Northwest Icemen (Spooner co-op). WSFLG is 8-6 and Spooner is 9-4, but they have the two weakest schedules in the bracket. They should battle for the seventh and eighth seeds, with Baldwin-Woodville and Amery getting the final two slots in the bracket.

Girls Hockey
Arguments between the three top teams in this bracket should make for an interesting seeding process.
River Falls (13-6-1), Hayward (13-5) and Hudson (10-5-2) can all make strong cases that they deserve the top seed. To compound the issue, they’ve all got a loss against one of the other top contenders. River Falls beat Hayward, but lost to Hudson. Hudson lost to Hayward, but has a win against River Falls. Hayward beat Hudson, but lost to River Falls. What may prove the difference is that Hayward has two losses against teams in the sectional bracket. The Hurricanes also suffered a loss against New Richmond.
WSFLG, by virtue of a win over Superior, looks like the fourth seed, with Superior getting the next spot.
Sorting out the bottom three spots in this Feb. 9 seeding will be tricky too. New Richmond (5-10), Eau Claire (4-12-2) and Chippewa Falls-Menomonie (3-12) are in a similar situation as the top three, all with a win and loss against the other teams. New Richmond and Eau Claire are set to play next Monday. The winner of that game has solid footing for the sixth spot.

Wrestling – Division 1 sectional at Wausau West
The Wausau West sectional bracket is packed with top teams, including three in the top 10 of this week’s Wisconsin Wrestling Online state rankings. Merrill is currently ranked second in Division 1, Menomonie sixth and Hudson 10th. Add in Stevens Point, which is honorable mention, and the competition should be ferocious in this sectional meet. A number of teams that aren’t ranked (Chippewa Falls, New Richmond, River Falls, Marshfield, Wausau West, Eau Claire North) bring in wrestlers with state experience or are highly ranked this season.

Wrestling – Division 2 sectional at Amery
Talk about a stacked sectional meet. Ellsworth and Amery are the marquee teams, but it’s easy to argue that this is the deepest Division 2 sectional tournament in the state. That includes six wrestlers currently ranked first in the state at their weight (Hunter Marko, Amery at 120, Jens Lantz, Ellsworth at 126, Robert Csukker, Stanley-Boyd at 138, Johnny Chamberlain, Chetek at 152, Gable Frandsen, Ellsworth at 160 and Joe Rademacher, St. Croix Falls at 195). Ellsworth’s Logan Kemmerer at 170 and Somerset’s Max Praschak at 182 are ranked second in their weights. In many weights there are a handful of ranked wrestlers. Three of the top five wrestlers at 160 are in this sectional and four of the top wrestlers at 152 are in line to compete at the Amery sectional meet.

Wrestling – Division 3 sectional at Osseo-Fairchild
The Dunn-St. Croix Conference schools are our areas only Division 3 teams but they pack plenty of punch in Division 3. Spring Valley-Elmwood is the top-ranked Division 3 team in the state and Boyceville is ranked third.
This sectional is loaded with ranked wrestlers, especially in the lower weights. Three of the top five D3 106-pounders are in this sectional, so are four of the top seven 113-pounders.

Is the draft success of Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson overrated?

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has long held the reputation as an astute judge of football talent who has been successful in the NFL Draft.
But has Thompson’s reputation been overblown? Every general manager has hits and misses. But it appears that Thompson has had more misses than he gets credit for, while getting over credited for drafting Aaron Rodgers when the future star quarterback tumbled downward through most of the first round.
Here’s a quick look at each of Thompson’s draft classes since 2005.

The top two picks were definite hits. Drafting Rodgers was a no-brainer when he dropped to the 24th pick of the first round. Nick Collins was taken in the second round and he was one of the best safeties in the NFL until a neck injury ended his career. The only other serviceable player taken by the Pack that year was fourth round linebacker Brady Poppinga. The other eight picks in this class were a complete washout.

A.J. Hawk and Greg Jennings were the two main picks in this draft. Hawk is a lightning rod among Packers fans, who wonder if his lack of range and big plays have justified his large contract. Jennings was a standout receiver before leaving in free agency. Lineman Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz had good starts in Green Bay before moving on via free agency. Third round linebacker Abdul Hodge and fourth round receiver Cory Rodgers were horrid picks, while getting Johnny Jolly in the sixth round was a steal.

This was the first draft that really damaged Thompson’s reputation. Trading up to get an always injured Justin Harrell in the first round was a huge blunder. Second round running back Brandon Jackson was never better than a decent third-down back. Getting receiver James Jones in the third round, and kicker Mason Crosby and linebacker Desmond Bishop in the sixth round were the only saving graces of this draft class.

This was a complete homer or strikeout class. Trading down and getting Jordy Nelson in the second round was sweet, but Brian Brohm and Patrick Lee quickly stunk up that second round. Jermichael Finley, Josh Sitton and Matt Flynn were successful products of that draft, but Jeremy Thompson, Breno Giacamino (now a starter in Seattle) and Brett Swain never earned a shot.

This class early on looked like it would be one of the Packers’ greatest, but the luster has quickly come off this group. B.J. Raji once looked like a premier defensive tackle, but his play this year was weak. Clay Matthews started out as a flashy pass rusher. But his inability to defend the run and his propensity for injuries have tarnished his reputation. Lineman T.J. Lang and linebacker Brad Jones are the only other contributors from this class.

Packer fans have grown weary of waiting for this draft class to emerge. Injuries have left us wondering if Bryan Bulaga will ever be worthy of a first round pick. Mike Neal has teased us with his ability, but never produced. Morgan Burnett was anointed as the next savior at safety, but we’re still waiting for that to pan out. Andrew Quarless and James Starks are becoming serviceable offensive options, but both could leave as free agents.

Picking Randall Cobb in the second round bails out this otherwise awful draft class. Tackle Derek Sherrod, the first round pick, may never pan out after all his injuries. Alex Green and D.J. Williams were supposed to pump new life into the offense, but they quickly showed they couldn’t cut it in the NFL.

This class is quickly becoming a lost cause. Of the eight picks, the bottom four are already gone. Second round pick Jerel Worthy is another of the washout linemen who can never stay healthy and first rounder Nick Perry has to start showing something soon. If Casey Heyward can bounce back from his injury and Mike Daniels continues his progress at defensive tackle, they may be the best contributors we get from this draft.

Eddie Lacy, Eddie Lacy, Eddie Lacy. Do you remember that he wasn’t the Packers’ first pick? That honor would go to defensive lineman Datone Jones, who could barely make it into the rotation on a defensive line crying for help. Lacy was an outstanding choice, but also an obvious choice, much like the selection of Rodgers in 2005. Packer fans are hoping David Bakhtiari is the second coming of Mark Tauscher, a mid-round tackle who becomes a fixture. Micah Hyde and Josh Boyd also showed glimpses of being players who could contribute to the defense over the long haul.

So what can we surmise from this review? Thompson is an expert at drafting players for the offensive skill positions, with Rodgers, Cobb, Nelson, James Jones and Lacy as top-line contributors drafted on his watch.
Conversely, Thompson has shown no clue for drafting linemen on offense or defense. His record on linebackers and defensive backs isn’t much stronger.
Packer fans who think they’ve seen enough Ted Thompson drafts could be justified. Considering the team’s main needs in the 2014 draft will again be based around offensive linemen and defensive players, there is little reason to have faith that Thompson will find help for the team’s needs.