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.

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.

2006
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.

2007
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.

2008
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.

2009
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.

2010
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.

2011
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.

2012
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.

2013
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.

MBC races ready to heat up in 2014

Action in the Middle Border Conference begins for 2014 with several boys basketball games this Friday.
Here is a look at where the teams stand in each of the MBC sports as 2014 gets underway and why the teams are in the position they now hold.

Boys Basketball
Prescott was the favorite heading into the season and the Cardinals’ sharp play has substantiated that belief. Clay Seifert is a difficult matchup for every team in the conference, but he’s hardly a one-man show. With Charlie Tayson, Michael Brookshaw, Ben Helmer and Marty Harris, the Cards have five players capable of scoring in double figures every night.
Ellsworth matches Prescott’s 4-0 MBC record heading into 2014. Everyone knew that Chrystian Kulow would rank among the leading scorers in the conference after he emerged as a top outside shooter last season. The biggest surprise in Ellsworth has been the improvement of post player Kyle Murphy. Murphy appears much more agile this season and he’s made himself into much more of a scoring threat. With Nick Taranto, Emery Whalen and Logan Armstrong, the Panthers have the athletes to stay among the contenders. Prescott plays at Ellsworth next Tuesday. It should be one of the most meaningful of these Pierce County clashes in many years.
Durand and Somerset are the only other teams heading into 2014 with an MBC record above .500. Both teams possess 2-1 records.
Durand produces quality teams year after year, with new players stepping up to be the leaders. This year it’s Jake Bauer and Tyler Gruber. The Panthers’ fortunes will depend on how the rest of the players can stand up to the demands of the MBC.
Somerset is in a similar situation. The Spartans have two of the best offensive players in the league in Gaelin Elmore and Jack Emmert. The Spartans need other players to be productive every game to keep the team in the running for a title.
Baldwin-Woodville, New Richmond, Osceola and Amery head into 2014 holding places in the bottom half of the conference. B-W has the most ability of those four teams to make a charge in the second half of the season. Logan Weyer is one of the most creative offensive players in the conference and the Hawks have other capable players like Gerad Gerrits and Nick Nilssen.
New Richmond, Osceola and Amery all have some players with skills, but they have struggled to find an identity they can build upon.

Girls Basketball
Baldwin-Woodville has made itself a clear favorite to repeat as MBC champions. The Blackhawks are already 9-0 this season. This is one of the most athletic teams to come through the MBC in years. Eric Harmon’s team plays hard, wearing down its opponents. Maddie Kulow is a skilled scorer and the Hawks have another half dozen players who are capable of scoring in double figures in any game.
New Richmond, Amery and Durand are one game behind the Blackhawks as 2014 begins.
New Richmond is led by Sydney Kannel, another of the standout senior guards in the conference. Mattie Kidder gives the Tigers a talented scorer and defender in the paint. The Tigers’ fortunes may rely on how quickly Hannah Simpson can bounce back from an elbow injury. When Simpson’s at the peak of her game, it opens up more scoring options for the rest of the Tigers.
Durand lost reigning conference MBC Lexi Harmon, but that hasn’t slowed down the Panthers. Very little will slow down the Panthers. Durand’s girls play a high intensity style. The Panthers have scored more than 52 points in six of their eight games.
Amery is the mystery contender. Molly Stewart has blossomed into a top level player and the Warriors are showing they can play defense well. It will take more contributions from the rest of the lineup to keep the Warriors among the contenders.
Prescott is 2-2 heading into 2014. The Cards rely on balanced scoring and defense, but they made need to up their offensive production if they want to move into the upper realm of the conference.
Somerset, Osceola and Ellsworth are winless in conference play thus far. Somerset is the youngest team in the conference, starting four freshmen in some games. Osceola relies heavily on point guard Alexis Boissy. Ellsworth gets the majority of its scoring from Kelsey Betthauser.

Wrestling
MBC wrestling fans, circle Jan. 30 on your calendar. That’s when Ellsworth will wrestle at Amery in the match that should decide the MBC dual match championship. Ellsworth is currently ranked second in Division 2 and Amery is ranked third, according to the Wisconsin Wrestling Online Rankings. Ellsworth was able to squeak past Amery last year in a tight battle and this year’s battle should be just as exciting.
Both teams have star power. Ellsworth is led by two defending state champions, Jens Lantz and Gable Frandsen. Lantz has already signed to continue his wrestling career with the Wisconsin Badgers. Other Panthers with state experience include Logan Kemmerer, Tristen Mueller and Brad Cain.
Amery also returns a state champion in Hunter Marko. The Warriors return state qualifiers Andrew Smith, Johnny Benitez and Kenny Gates.
Between the two teams, they have a wrestler who is ranked in the state in nearly every weight class. One of the dramas of the dual meet will be the chess match between the coaches to see who can lineup their wrestlers to get the maximum points.

Boys Hockey
New Richmond holds the upper hand in the race for the MBC hockey title after going through the first half of the season without a loss or a tie.
The Tigers have progressed more quickly than most people expected this season. They have two potent forward lines, and their defensemen and goaltenders have grown into their roles quickly.
Somerset is 2-2 after playing four MBC games. The Spartans are fully capable of taking down New Richmond and Eau Claire Regis, the teams that have already beaten them in conference play.
Regis has only played the Tigers and Spartans and will finish the first round against Amery and Baldwin-Woodville, where the Saints will be heavy favorites. The Saints don’t look to be quite as strong as last year, when they won the MBC championship, but they also can’t be overlooked. The Saints get their next shot at New Richmond on Jan. 28, at Eau Claire’s Hobbs Ice Arena.

Give the gift of sports books for Christmas

Sports fans are, by nature, inquisitive souls.
They want to know more about their teams, about their players, whether it’s from the present, past or future.
I always hear that it difficult to find Christmas present ideas for sports fans. So I’ve reviewed some of the sports books I’ve read over the past year, hoping that it gives readers some ideas for gifts for their favorite sports fan.
Most can be found through Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other book vendors.

“Burleigh Grimes, Baseball’s Last Legal Spitballer,” by Joe Niese. (McFarland and Company)
This book is my favorite of the year for several reasons. I got to know Burleigh late in his life. Though age had done its damage, it never lessened the intensity that burned in him. Burleigh was a rough-edged, straight-talking baseball legend.
The book does a thorough job of following the many stops Burleigh made through his career in baseball. His career traversed the country, starting in school ball in Clear Lake in 1908. He worked as a player, manager, and scout. It wasn’t until 1971 that Grimes retired to his home area.
The book is written by baseball historian Jon Niese of Chippewa Falls. A comprehensive telling of Grimes’ Hall of Fame career has long been needed. Niese gives us the consummate story of his life.

“Closing The Gap,” by Willie Davis, with Jim Martyka and Andrea Erickson Davis. (Triumph Books)
Willie Davis was not just a superbly gifted football player. The former Green Bay Packer Hall of Famer is also blessed with incredible business acumen that has led him to be a nationally respected leader.
Davis embodied everything that made Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers one of the greatest football teams to ever take the field. Work ethic, passion, intelligence, persistence, they were all attributes that led Davis to become of the greatest defensive ends in NFL history.
Those same attributes made Davis a giant in the business world, first in liquor distribution then the national radio market. The book shows why Davis was able to transfer those traits to the business world.
For long-time Packer fans, Davis gives incredible detail into the personalities on the team and what life was like for a black man in Wisconsin in the 1960s.

“I Did It My Way,” by Bud Grant and Jim Bruton. (Triumph Books)
Grant, the NFL Hall of Fame coach of the Minnesota Vikings, has ties to our area. In the 1940s and 1950s, he moonlighted as a hired arm for baseball teams like the Deer Park Deer and the Osceola Braves. There isn’t any mention of that in his book, only because there is so much other information that will be of interest to local readers.
Grant’s life-long involvement in sports will draw in readers because nearly all of it happens in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Grant grew up in Superior and played football and basketball for the University of Minnesota. He was a uniquely gifted athlete, playing pro football and basketball. He played in the NBA for the Minneapolis Lakers, the predecessor of the Los Angeles Lakers. Grant was a first round draft choice of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1950. He led the Eagles with 56 receptions for 997 yards in 1952. Grant then jumped leagues, starting the next chapter of his career in the Canadian Football League. After several years as a standout player, he became a head coach, winning four CFL championships. That success led the Minnesota Vikings to hire him and his stoic, hard-edged coaching style took the Vikings to four Super Bowls.
The book is a great read, with incredible detail. The book isn’t just about Grant’s successes, it’s about what made him a success. His knowledge of sports, including hunting and fishing, is boundless.

“Orr, My Story,” by Bobby Orr. (Penguin Random House Publishing)
Bobby Orr is unquestioned as the best defenseman to ever lace up a pair of hockey skates. Orr revolutionized hockey. His swift rushes up ice changed the game. It was the stepping stone to defensemen taking a much larger role in the offensive end of the rink.
The book is a rather old-fashioned, refreshing recollection of his career. Orr is not a braggart, far from it. The self-critical side of him that pushed him to be such a splendid hockey player also shows in his writing. He gives an honest, complete recollection of his life and his hockey career, heaping praise on his family and teammates while deflecting it from himself. For hockey fans who always longed to know more about the greatest defenseman ever, you will never have a better chance to do so.

“Packers Pride, Green Bay Greats Share Their Favorite Memories,” by LeRoy Butler. (Triumph Books)
Green Bay Packer fans, this book is a treat. This book has more than 80 stories, mostly by Packer players and executives of the present and past, as they recount their favorite moments in the Green and Gold. It has the stars of this era like Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Donald Driver, B.J. Raji and Charles Woodson. There are also tales from the stars of the Lombardi era like Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Willie Davis, Paul Hornung and Max McGee. If you want to get wrapped up in Packers stories stretching from the 1940s to today, this will give you hours of enjoyment.

“North of Highway 8,” by Dan Woll. (Romeii LLC)
This is the second book from the former St. Croix Central School District administrator, following his novel “Death on Cache Lake.”
Woll’s “Highway 8” puts him in a comfortable situation, telling the stories about his many adventures as only he can. Woll is a cyclist, an adventurer and a tale teller. He often seems to end up in unique, sometimes poignant, sometimes colorful, situations. Some of his stories will make you laugh while others will make you wonder at the detail he finds in people’s character.

“100 Things Brewers Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die,” by Tom Haudricourt. (Triumph Books)
Haudricourt has covered the Milwaukee Brewers since 1985 for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and there is nobody more qualified to write about the Brew Crew and the team’s colorful history.
Haudricourt presents a broad cross section of the Brewers’ history in this compilation. It ranges from Bernie Brewer to Bud Selig, from the Sausage Races to Harvey’s Wallbangers. All the greats are here, Robin Yount, Hank Aaron, Paul Molitor, Bob Uecker and Ryan Braun.

“Dodgeville: Capturing Hearts” by Rick Birk (go5books.com).
Birk’s book tells the charming tale of the 1964 Dodgeville boys basketball state championship team and how those small town team captured the state title against immense odds.

“Why Not Wisconsin” by Matt LePay (Triumph Books).
LePay is the voice of Wisconsin Badger sports, primarily football and basketball. In his 25 years he’s seen Barry Alvarez and Dick Bennett and made the transitions to Bret Bielema and Bo Ryan. LePay’s book gives an eyewitness view of ups and downs of the Badgers’ signature programs and the rise to national prominence of both of them. LePay has studied the history of both programs to put the successes into context. He also goes into detail about the Badgers’ biggest rivalries and the greatest moments he’s seen in both programs.

My friend, Bob D’Angelo, is a sports copy editor at the Tampa Tribune in Florida. He is also one of the best I know at reviewing sports books. Here are some of the recent releases that he recommends:
“Clouds Over the Goalpost,” by Lew Freedman, which is about the NFL in 1963;
“Color Blind,” by Tom Dunkel, talks about an integrated baseball team in North Dakota during the 1930s that included Satchel Paige;
“The 34-Ton Bat,” by Steve Rushin, which is an offbeat book about things around the game of baseball, like concessions, promotions, bats, balls, uniforms. Fascinating stuff;
“Driven,” by Donald Driver. Packers former WR tells his candid and sometimes disturbing story about growing up poor in Houston and his later success in the NFL;
“Their Life’s Story,” by Gary Pomerantz, which is about the 1970s Steelers — then and now;
“The Cracker Jack Collection,” by Tom and Ellen Zappala. Talks about the 1914-15 Cracker Jack releases.
“Breaking the Line,” by Samuel Freedman, traces the FAMU and Grambling colleges during the turbulent 1967 season.

For more of Bob’s reviews, check his blog: http://www.tboblogs.com/index.php/sports/related/C938/

Marking 25 years at The News

This Saturday marks my 25th anniversary as sports editor at The News.
It seems like just a few years ago that then-editor Nancee Melby invited me to New Richmond for lunch at The Willows. Nancee and I were friends, having worked together in the UW-River Falls Sports Information bureau.
A few minutes into our lunch, Nancee sprung the reason why she invited me to town. Paul Erickson, The News sports editor, had taken a job as the Sports Information Director at UW-Platteville. Nancee wanted to know if I was interested in the job.
It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.
I had been working in Balsam Lake, a sweet little town, but much smaller. I was working at a newspaper that was trying to be a regional paper, covering 14 schools all the way from Somerset to Turtle Lake to Webster. Getting the chance to concentrate on the athletic programs at three school districts was a golden opportunity.
There hasn’t been a moment where I’ve second guessed the decision. Getting to cover so many outstanding teams and athletes has been incredibly rewarding, as has getting to know so many good people along the way.
If I had any doubts about the quality of the programs I was covering, they were wiped away the next summer. The 1989 New Richmond baseball team was outstanding, making it through the opening round at the WIAA state summer tournament. John Ball’s team was like an all-star team with Jacque Charland, Mark Flatten, Mike Wisemiller and several more standouts. I still believe Jacque is the hardest throwing pitcher I’ve seen in this area in my nearly 30 years in newspapers.
There have been plenty of ups and downs through the years. I recall covering Somerset basketball teams that went through losing streaks that lasted for several years at a time. I was amazed how their coaches could show up each day with a positive approach. I learned from their perseverance. Trying to find story angles for teams that haven’t won in several years wasn’t the easiest thing either. I tried to find positive angles. There was no point in piling onto the mounting anguish they felt with every loss.
The good times far outweigh any bad times. There’s nothing in the world like covering a team in a state tournament. Just seeing the excitement in the communities and the student body is so energizing. I’ve had the chance to cover teams at state in baseball, football, basketball, hockey, volleyball, wrestling, cross country, track and softball. Every one of them holds a special place in my memory. Sometimes it’s little things, like the blue paw prints that were painted on the bald heads of the St. Croix Central wrestling fans when the Panthers won state in 1989.
Or the slam dunk by Brett Burgess that opened New Richmond’s state tournament game in 1997. I get goosebumps just thinking about how loud the Tiger fans made the UW Fieldhouse at that moment.
I remember the light-hearted spirit of the girls on the New Richmond softball team when they went to state in 1995. Instead of feeling pressure, they reveled in the moment. And I remember how crushing it was when the Wisconsin Dells centerfielder made an incredible running catch for the last out of the game, on what looked like a ball that would drive home the winning runs for the Tigers. I still have the pin that the girls gave me to wear in my cap as a good luck charm during their charge through the playoffs.
Getting the opportunity to cover true dynasties is incredibly rare. Our area is fortunate to have those like the Ellsworth wrestling program and the Somerset football program. Covering Somerset football has been a unique experience, not only because of the success on the field, but because of its dedication to discipline off the field. Reaching five state championship games in a decade takes an incredible program, which gets the young athletes to buy into the ideals of the program so fully, is truly a feat.
Individual sports are sometimes a misnomer, when you think of sports like track, golf, cross country, wrestling, etc. Athletes are rewarded for individual success, but their training is done in a team schematic and still is largely due to the team around them. These sports do give individual athletes a spotlight and we have been fortunate to see many splendidly talented athletes in all these sports.
I have been fortunate to realize how many kind people I’ve gotten to know because of my health issues the past few years. It has been incredibly humbling to receive so many kind words as I’ve dealt with my cancer. I completed chemotherapy in August and my blood counts have remained stable since then. It has taught me to value every day and I hope that I have grown because of the experience.
I have also been fortunate to have a wonderful wife and family who have helped me through all of the commitments that go with the job.
I hope I have done justice to all the athletes and coaches I’ve covered through the years. I will continue to do my best to provide fair sports coverage for everyone in our local sports programs.