The sorting out of the Middle Border Conference football standings begins in earnest this Friday.
Three teams: Somerset, Baldwin-Woodville and New Richmond have established themselves as the three legitimate contenders for the 2010 MBC title.
The marquee game this Friday comes in New Richmond, where the Tigers host Somerset. This is New Richmondâ€™s Homecoming game and it should feature one of the largest crowds for a Tiger football game in the past 10 years. It is the most important game the Tigers have played in that time.
New Richmond is in a do-or-die situation. The Tigers have already lost to Baldwin-Woodville, blowing a 21-6 halftime lead. Two losses in the conference will end any realistic chance of winning a title this year.
Fridayâ€™s game is a chance for New Richmond to prove it can win a big game. Thereâ€™s a belief around Tiger Town that this is the most talented group of Tigers since the 1992 team that reached the state championship game.
Somerset has something to prove in Fridayâ€™s game too. The Spartans have four wins this season, but the opponents from those four games have a combined total of five wins. Fridayâ€™s game will be a test of how the Spartans can fare against a higher caliber opponent.
Baldwin-Woodville faces Ellsworth and Prescott in its next two games. The Blackhawks will play at Somerset on Oct. 15 in the final of the games between the conferenceâ€™s top three teams.
An interesting subplot in the MBC is seeing which team will rise up to take fourth place in the conference. Osceola, Prescott, Durand and Ellsworth are all currently 1-2 in the standings. To reach the WIAA playoffs, one of those teams would have to win four of its conference games.
Morgan Place was one of the best high school runners in western Wisconsin when she graduated from Ellsworth High School in 2008.
Since she began running at the University of Minnesota-Duluth that fall, she has elevated her success to a level that has even shocked her.
In the past two years, Place has finished among the top seven runners in the NCAA Division 2 National Cross Country Championships. This year, Place is taking aim at an even higher finish.
Place is so highly respected that she was named the 2010 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s Preseason Female Athlete of the Year by the NSIC coaches. It shouldnâ€™t be a surprise though. She earned that honor last year too.
Thatâ€™s because Place has won the NSIC cross country individual championship in each of her first two years at UMD.
In both of those years, Place went on to win the NCAA Division 2 Central Regionals championship. As a freshman, she finished seventh in the NCAA Division 2 national meet. Last year she moved up one place, finished sixth at nationals. Those are the best two finishes by any UMD woman at the national meet. She earned NCAA All-American honors with both finishes.
Place said she sets goals for each season. This year, her goal is to get back to the national meet, then place among the top three in the national championships.
Place was part of perhaps the greatest group of female distance runners ever seen in the Middle Border Conference. She spoke about running against Brea Tinney of Osceola, Kayla Wagner of Baldwin-Woodville, McKenzie Kelly and Hannah Utzman of New Richmond, Katie Cumming of Hudson and Cambrya Belter of Somerset, among others, that made each meet a challenge during her high school seasons.
â€œOur conference was one of the harder ones around. I always had people in front of me,â€ Place said.
While Place was a consistent state qualifier in cross country and track in high school, she said her success at the college level has surprised even her. She holds the Ellsworth school record in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter races in track. Her greatest success at the high school level was likely at the end of her junior track season. She place fourth in the 3,200 meters at state, seventh in the 1,600 meters and eighth in the 3,200 meter relay. Her best state finish in cross country was her ninth place finish as a junior.
Her determination and endurance have made her a perfect fit for the longer distances run at the collegiate level. While modest about her accomplishments, it is clear that Place treasures the competition at this level. â€œThe longer distances have been really good to me,â€ Place said about her college success.
Place is majoring in Exercise Science with a minor in Psychology. She isnâ€™t locked into a career path, but said sheâ€™s interested in working in nutrition or cardiac rehabilitation. Place said she hopes to continue competing after she graduates.
â€œI would really enjoy running after college. It will be hard for me to give up competing,â€ Place said. Place has continued her success this season, winning her first two races. On Saturday she was the champion in the St. Olaf Invitational, where she ran a 6K time of 21:50. The Bulldogs took first out of a 14-team, 263-runner field.
Team is important in the sense of supporting each other on the field of play. But sometimes it is the support provided when things happen off the field that show the true meaning and importance of teammates.
It has been a difficult stretch for area athletes and coaches having to deal with events that happened in their lives away from sports. But seeing how the teams have rallied around their teammates shows the bonds that are developed in sports.
Following last Fridayâ€™s football game, Somerset coach Bruce Larson presented game balls to two members of the team.
The first ball was given to assistant coach Chet Banger. This was Bangerâ€™s final game with the team before he begins his enlistment in the United States Army. Banger, a 2002 SHS graduate, volunteered to join the coaching staff in 2004, though heâ€™d never played high school ball.
â€œOver that time heâ€™s really done a lot for us,â€ Coach Larson said. â€œThe kids love him.â€
The second game ball was given to junior Austin Bushinger. Bushingerâ€™s father, Terry, was killed in a car accident on Sept. 4 and his funeral was held hours before Fridayâ€™s game. Larson said the game ball was given to Bushinger as an indication that the team will be there to support him during this difficult time.
At Baldwin-Woodville High School, students have been dealing with the death of volleyball manager Alyssa Hagen, who was killed in a car accident on Aug. 21.
B-W High School Principal Eric Russell said the members of the Blackhawk volleyball team and the student body have rallied together since this tragedy. He said two of the girls on the volleyball team are daughters of ministers, so the churches have been a strong presence in helping the students deal with the loss.
At another area high school, a volleyball player is dealing with her father being sentenced to prison. The seniors on her team have rallied to take her under their wing to help her through this situation.
While strong team bonds are invaluable on the field, these situations have shown how young athletes have rallied to be true teammates in times of tragedy.
Tonight (Thursday) is a night of need for the Minnesota Vikings in their game against the New Orleans Saints.
The Vikings badly need to keep aged quarterback Brett Favre protected tonight. The Vikings badly need to prove that their defense is still among the best in the NFL. And most of all, the Vikings desperately need a win against the NFL champion New Orleans Saints tonight.
The Vikings need to come out of their first three games with, at worst, at 2-1 record. With a game next week against Miami, the Vikings will be facing another playoff caliber opponent. The Vikingsâ€™ third game is against Detroit. The Lions hope to be improved this season, weâ€™ll know by then if that has happened.
The fast start this season is needed because the Vikings have a brutal schedule in October. The four opponents in October are the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. All four have Super Bowl aspirations.
If the Vikings can come out of the first half of the season above .500, they should be in excellent shape to reach the playoffs. The second half of the Vikingsâ€™ schedule is one of the weakest in the NFL.
An early season implosion is the only thing that can prevent the Vikings from reaching the playoffs. If Favre goes down with an injury of any significance, the season could be over. The only person in Minnesota who appears to have patience left with backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is coach Brad Childress.
The Viking defense also has some work to do to prove it hasnâ€™t gotten to old and feeble. The health of cornerbacks Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook and Cedric Griffin will be a season-long issue. If those three canâ€™t stay healthy, the Vikingsâ€™ defense could fold up quickly.
Sophomore Megan Plourde and the Colorado State University womenâ€™s volleyball team are off to a strong start in the 2010 season.
CSU is now ranked 15th in NCAA Division1 volleyball after sweeping a match with the University of Colorado on Tuesday. CSU opened the season with wins over Duke and Furman. The CSU Rams will be playing in an invitational at the University of Florida this weekend.
Plourde, a Somerset native, is a sophomore middle blocker for the Rams. Last year, as a redshirt freshman, Plourde was named to the All-Mountain West Conference team, and was selected as an AVCA all-region and honorable mention All-America honoree.
She played in all 31 of the Ramsâ€™ matches last season, when the team finished 25-6. She finished her freshman season with 235 kills, which ranked third on the team. She was second on the team with 115 blocks.