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.

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.