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.