Wisconsin State Journal Articles

WIAA state girls soccer: Mount Horeb’s seniors get one last shot at Catholic Memorial this evening

This year’s model of the Mount Horeb girls soccer team suits up 10 seniors, five of whom are four-year letterwinners.

And they all quite possibly could have been three-time defending state champions, too, were it not for the behemoth of Waukesha Catholic Memorial standing in their way.

The Crusaders have shut out Mount Horeb in the past three WIAA state championship games — twice in Division 2 and last year in Division 3.

This year, a shift in the tournament brackets pair the familiar foes against one another in the state semifinal round. The state second-ranked Vikings (15-4-2) will take on the top-ranked Crusaders (21-3-2) at 5 tonight in a Division 3 semifinal at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.

“They wanted to be back in this situation since the moment the last whistle blew after last year’s state final,” Mount Horeb coach Mark Newman said.

Newman specifically schedules tough non-conference opponents — running the risk of outcomes such as this year’s five-game winless streak — to prepare his team for this time of year. After its tough midseason run, the Vikings have won seven consecutive games, outscoring opponents 51-3 in that span.

“It toughened them up,” Newman said. “We learned that we had to play faster, how to respond to adversity, and that what we have been doing wasn’t quite good enough.”

The Vikings will have to play their very best this evening — especially with the Crusaders boasting the two-time state player of the year, junior Emily Cervantes, who has scored 31 goals in 17 games.

Mount Horeb is not going to back down from the challenge of playing one of the best players in the state.

“That’s what you want. You want to play the best of the best,” senior midfielder Lilly Iverson said. “I think that it’s going to be a great game and I can’t wait to play them.”

Cervantes is not the only component of the Crusaders’ lethal offense. Jo Rolli and Nicole Piette each scored more than 20 goals for Catholic Memorial this spring.

“We have talked about it every year and plan different things for them every year, and we keep getting closer. So I think this year, we have a pretty good chance with our team,” senior defender Tess Baier said. “We are really excited for it.”

The Vikings have a top-notch player of their own in senior captain and UW-La Crosse recruit Cassie Handrick, who has scored 32 goals and added 19 assists.

“This team is more dynamic offensively. We have more options, more ways to score,” Newman said. “If our best shot is stopped, we have other alternatives — in some of our past seasons, that was a struggle for us. I think this is our team that has the best shot.”

If the Vikings can get past the Crusaders, they would stand one victory from a goal that has teased them for three years running.

“It would kind of just be unreal,” said Handrick, the Vikings’ all-time leader in goals. “(Beating Catholic Memorial) was our goal from the beginning.”

And it would be a crowning achievement for a senior class that has taken the Vikings program to new heights.

“It’s a special class. It really is,” Newman said. “They were really a part of changing to culture of the program when they got here. They leave a legacy that’s going to be tough to beat.”

 

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WIAA girls soccer: Back from a knee injury, Vanessa Narveson leads Belleville/New Glarus into sectional

Just by winning their WIAA Division 3 regional last week, the Belleville/New Glarus girls soccer team already has had a more successful season than last year.

Much of the reason for that has been the return of junior Vanessa Narveson.

Narveson has scored three goals so far this postseason to lead the Sugar River Raiders (19-3-1) into a 7 p.m. sectional semifinal against Madison Edgewood (7-7-5) in Belleville.

The junior forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee with six games left in the 2014 regular season. Belleville/New Glarus went on to fall 3-2 to McFarland in a regional final.

“It was really hard to watch my team do things without me,” Narveson said. “I was still grateful they still did really well, but I wanted to be a part of it. So I’m glad I got to be this year.”

Narveson was able to recover in just six months, in time to return to play basketball before returning to soccer in the spring.

“I try not to think too much about it. It was hard for me to play basketball at first, but now I have gotten used to it,” said Narveson, who is now back to full strength.

“She has been every bit as much of a threat this year as she was last year,” Belleville/New Glarus coach John Ziperski said. “I think she’s starting to mature as far as a player goes, and that has helped her situation this year.”

The sectional field is a tough one for the Raiders. If they can get past Edgewood, they would play either second-ranked Mount Horeb (13-4-2) or Lodi (14-4-3) in a 3 p.m. Saturday sectional final at Mount Horeb.

Sugar River is anxious to get another chance at Mount Horeb after suffering a 1-0 loss to the Vikings earlier in the season.

“That makes us want to go harder and win even more,” Narveson said of the loss, “so I know we are going to give it our all, and I think we have a pretty good chance of winning both games.”

But the Raiders certainly are not looking past Madison Edgewood (7-7-5) of the Badger Conference, made up mostly of Division 1 and 2 schools.

“We always have state in mind, so we are always pushing for that,” Narveson said.

Belleville/New Glarus made its only state trip in 2004, falling in a semifinal.

Last season, Narveson scored 14 goals and added six assists before her injury. This year, she has 28 goals and 13 assists, helping the Raiders to averaging close to five goals per game — they have outscored opponents 106-13 over 24 games.

Despite being dominant for the majority of the season, Ziperski is not letting his team get too confident moving forward.

“I always tell them that most teams are going to end with a loss at the end of a year,” Ziperski said. “There are only a few that get to end their season with a win, and I really want them to enjoy the journey along the way.”

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WIAA state softball: State trip redeems frustration of 2014 sectional loss for Poynette and star Jordan Blochwitz

Jordan Blochwitz remembers.

Last spring, her Poynette softball team saw its season end when an Arcadia outfielder caught a deep fly ball with two runners on base and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to preserve a 2-1 victory in a WIAA Division 3 sectional championship game.

This spring, the Pumas’ top pitcher says, her team hopes to erase those memories by building some new ones.

“Since we were that close last year, we wanted to do whatever we could to push through and make it all the way to state,” said Blochwitz, a senior.

Poynette (28-1), which has long been one of the state’s premier programs under 36-year coach Bob Tomlinson, is making its first state trip since 2012. The Pumas will play Lomira (19-5) at 1:30 p.m. Friday in a Division 3 semifinal at Goodman Diamond.

In the second semifinal, Bloomer (22-6) will face Laconia (26-3), with the winners meeting at 12:30 p.m. Saturday for the state championship.

Poynette’s offense was inconsistent at the end of last season, scoring one run or fewer in four of its final seven games.

This year is a different story, as Blochwitz has received plenty of run support — most notably from Brooke Dredske, who has seven home runs, 43 RBIs and 38 runs scored.

“We wanted to make sure our offense was superb,” Blochwitz said. “Our offense has really stepped up this year.”

And just like in previous years, Blochwitz has performed at a high level. She has averaged 20 victories over the past three seasons, compiling a 1.30 ERA with 200 strikeouts as a junior and an 0.74 ERA with 129 strikeouts so far this season.

Blochwitz, who will attend UW-La Crosse in the fall and hopes to play for the NCAA Division III Eagles, feels a need to perform well in a leadership role for her teammates.

“I just go into every game just trying to do the best that I can,” Blochwitz said. “Sometimes when (the opponent) scores runs, I kind of get down on myself. But my teammates help me get confidence back by scoring runs and making great plays.

“There is a lot of pressure, but my teammates help take away the pressure.”

The Pumas have been dominant all season, with their only loss coming against Division 1 foe Merrill during a tournament that used the international tiebreaker rule in the eighth inning — putting a runner on second base at the start of each half-inning.

That is the one blemish on Blochwitz’s record. The Pumas finished the regular season with 19 consecutive victories and have won three more games during the postseason.

Poynette has allowed five runs and scored 30 during the postseason, including a 10-0 victory over Cuba City in the sectional final.

Much like 2014, the Pumas’ success this weekend will likely ride on the arm of Blochwitz, who has recorded 42 victories over the past two seasons.

Poynette is able to put trust in the pitcher because of the poise she shows in the circle.

“She’s cool, she’s calm, and she’s collected,” Tomlinson said.

Blochwitz and the Pumas are focused on hoisting the championship trophy on Saturday, but she said they won’t get ahead of themselves.

“I’m hoping my last high school game is going to be the state championship,” Blochwitz said, “but we’re taking it one game at a time.”
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WIAA girls soccer: Talent and leadership have led Madison Memorial’s Gabrielle Lemkuil to the top of the Big Eight

Madison Memorial girls soccer player Gabrielle Lemkuil isn’t ready for her senior season to be finished. Not just yet.

From changing positions to taking a leadership role in practice and on the field, Lemkuil has done everything in her power to help the Spartans (10-7-3 overall, 8-1 Big Eight Conference) earn a tie with Middleton for the league championship.

And she is out to continue winning as the second-seeded Spartans enter WIAA Division 1 regional action, hosting Lake Geneva Badger at 7 p.m. Thursday in a regional semifinal. The winner advances to a regional final on Saturday.

Lemkuil, a team captain, could be the biggest factor in Madison Memorial’s postseason chances. She accounted for about 30 percent of the Spartans’ scoring plays during the regular season, including 10 goals and nine assists.

“She sticks out — not just as far as what she brings to the game, but she’s got an ability to take over a game when she wants to do it,” Memorial coach Ben Voss said. “When she wants to take it on herself, she can take over a game.”

As a freshman and sophomore, Lemkuil was able to learn more about the game from the senior leaders on those teams. Now, she recognizes that it’s part of her job to instill the same knowledge in her younger teammates.

“I’m one of the captains of the team, and I have all these other girls I am trying to push to the next level,” Lemkuil said. “I’m the leader on the team who is trying to work with these girls, and become the best team and player that I can become.”

Up next, Lemkuil will transition from the Spartans to NCAA Division I Butler. She plans to go through a summer workout schedule provided by the Bulldogs’ staff, and hopes to contribute immediately.

“She is a game-changing player,” Voss said. “You only see those players come around every once in a while.”

Lemkuil’s speed affords versatility in the Memorial lineup — which is part of why she has shifted positions frequently for the Spartans, from midfield to outside back and back up the field to a forward spot.

It’s not just her speed that changes the game for the Spartans.

“She has a great ability to get serious as a player on the field, but then also understand that the moment of being involved in a team in high school athletics is supposed to be fun,” Voss said. “She just enjoys being around her teammates, enjoys being part of the experience and trying to do whatever is in the best interest to make the team win.”

Voss believes the postseason push will be an emotional ride for Lemkuil — and that could be just what the Spartans need to go over the top.

“You can’t simulate being a senior,” Voss said. “She is enjoying every moment playing with her teammates and having fun. It’s just really cool to see her having fun and competing at such a high level.”

As Lemkuil’s high school career comes to a close, she looks to lead the Spartans to their first state tournament since 2011. She also aims to leave her mark with the senior class that has won 40 games in four years.

“Now that it is coming closer, it is becoming more of a reality. We’re hoping that our last game is going to be raising that state trophy,” Lemkuil said. “I have thought about it a lot, and it will be very emotional.”

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WIAA track and field: Brittany Davis crosses the border from Illinois to export track and field excellence

She looks like a typical high school athlete, but competitors on the track see Brittany Davis as an invader from south of the border.

Davis lives and attends high school in Scales Mound, Illinois. But she is a two-time Wisconsin state track and field champion — and she’s out to pick up even more Badger State hardware over the next 10 days.

How can an Illinois girl win WIAA state track championships? Even though she lives and attends school in Scales Mound, 2 miles south of the Wisconsin border, she competes with the Benton/Scales Mound/Shullsburg tri-op track program, based in Benton, 13 miles northwest of Scales Mound.

“When I try to explain it to people from Illinois, they generally are confused because they haven’t heard of a tri-op with a team from a different state. But to me, it feels normal,” Davis said.

Scales Mound High School has 64 students, so the majority of its athletic programs are co-op programs with other area schools. The football and track teams co-op with Benton in the Six Rivers Conference; other sports programs compete in the Northwest Upstate Illini Conference.

Davis and her Scales Mound classmates account for about 30 percent of the track athletes on the Benton/Scales Mound/Shullsburg tri-op. Nearly two-thirds of the Scales Mound class of 2015 went out for track this spring.

Although none of the three schools in the tri-op have a track, Benton holds the majority of practices because the track and field equipment is stored at the school. Scales Mound is approximately 20 minutes away from Benton, but the travel doesn’t bother the athletes.

“As a school, we are just used to traveling to get to sports practices. And we get along with the Benton kids,” Davis said. “I think everyone is really excited to travel to Benton and to see the team every day.”

The team is glad to see her, too. Entering today’s WIAA Division 3 sectional in Bangor, Davis holds the fastest time in Division 3 this season in the 400-meter dash (57.67 seconds) and the 800-meter run (2:14.06). She anchors the Zephyrs’ 1,600 relay, which is ranked second in Division 3, less than half-second behind Cambridge.

“She has carried our team for the past three years,” Benton/Scales Mound/Shullsburg coach Paul Raley said.

Davis ran a 57.1-second split in the 1,600 relay in Tuesday’s Cuba City regional, helping the Zephyrs win the team title with 186.5 points.

“She brings fire. She is just explosive,” Raley said. “She’s all business — when somebody is in front of her, she is going to go get them. I’ve seen her make up ground that nobody could believe.

“Her work ethic has just taken over our other kids. They see that she leads by example, and it certainly has made our 4×4 relay just an outstanding relay this year.”

Davis is heavily favored to advance out of the Bangor sectional as her seed times — from Tuesday’s regional — are a full second faster than the second-seeded entrant in the 400 and 11 seconds faster than the second-seeded entry in the 800. The Zephyrs are 6 seconds ahead of second-ranked Cuba City in the 1,600 relay.

Last year, Davis won the 400 in :57.78, while the champion from the Illinois High School Association’s Class 1A meet — home to the state’s smallest schools — won in :56.19. Davis won the 800 in 2:16.48, and the IHSA Class 1A winner had a time of 2:13.80.

After what Davis hopes will be a busy and productive weekend even further north of the border — at the state meet June 5-6 in La Crosse — Davis will cross yet another state line to compete in track at NCAA Division I Northern Iowa. She intends to study speech pathology.

As her stage continues to grow, Davis said she will accept any challenge thrown at her.

“To get better,” she said, “you really have to put yourself in a position where your competition is going to be greater.”

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Prep boys track: Middleton’s Perrin Hagge out to stake claim as state’s top middle-distance runner

The success of Middleton junior middle-distance standout Perrin Hagge is anything but a surprise to those closest to him.

There hasn’t been one single factor that has given Hagge the state’s best times in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs this year, Middleton track and field coach Isaac Mezera said. The coach said Hagge’s work ethic, focus and consistency all have played a role in elevating his reputation this spring.

“He does his workouts the same as he does his races,” Mezera said. “If you give him a time to hit in his workout, he’s going to hit it.”

One way that Hagge has sharpened his focus this spring has been by competing against a couple of the state’s premier distance runners — University or Wisconsin recruits Olin Hacker and Ryan Nameth.

At the Big Eight Conference meet on May 15, Hacker defeated Hagge by a hundredth of a second for the 1,600 title. Nameth followed in third, 8 seconds behind.

“I learned to respect one of the best runners in the state,” Hagge said. “Olin, and Ryan, who finished just behind me there, are two great runners. … There are some tactics involved, and that’s how running races are won. If I can pick up a tip or two on pacing here or there, it will just make me a better runner.”

Hacker and Nameth took the top two spots in the 3,200 in last year’s WIAA state meet, with Hacker also placing third in the 1,600. Hagge placed 10th in the 800 at state last year.

This season is a different story, as Hagge currently owns the state’s top times for the 800 (1 minute, 54.63 seconds) and 1,600 (4:13.44). Hacker’s best time in the 1,600 this season is a tenth of a second behind Hagge.

“I can see a time in the paper or online, but it doesn’t really tell me about how the race was,” Hagge said. “Getting the firsthand knowledge from racing him will make me even more prepared come regionals, sectionals and hopefully state.”

Hacker and Hagge will face off again today in a WIAA regional meet at Middleton, joined by area entries from Monona Grove, Sauk Prairie, Sun Prairie, Waunakee, DeForest, Madison Memorial and Madison East. Top performers will advance to Friday’s sectional at Holmen.

Despite being a junior, Hagge has stepped into a leadership role for the Cardinals.

“He has developed into a leader in the short amount of time,” Mezera said. “When you run like that, the rest of the team will look up to you. He’s got poise and confidence, (and) he’s a really good leader.”

Hagge, who has been a soccer athlete for the past three seasons, instead plans to compete with the Middleton cross country team next fall to help his distance running. But that’s not the only area in which he sees room for improvement.

“Overall running knowledge — from pacing to tactics to where I want to be at the end of a race — you can try to replicate that during practice and training, but you have to be in large race settings to really solidify that knowledge,” Hagge said. “Hopefully the next three meets, I will be able to pick up on that.”

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Prep boys golf: Max Murphy hopes to improve on last year’s showing at Morgan Stanley Shoot-Out

Waunakee senior Max Murphy shot an even-par 72, good enough for a one-stroke lead at the 2014 Morgan Stanley Shoot-Out after the first day at University Ridge Golf Course.

Day 2 proved a different animal. Murphy had a few bad holes and scored a 77, which placed him in a tie for second with Middleton’s Brady Thomas — four strokes behind winner Josh Haunty.

Waunakee wound up taking fourth overall.

Since then, Murphy has worked to become a more mature and consistent golfer.

“You learn that you can keep your head straight, and you can play a really good round of golf, even with one or two bad holes,” Murphy said.

Waunakee coach Craig Myers has witnessed Murphy’s growth over the past three years. Murphy joined the varsity squad midway through his freshman season and has continued to improve.

Murphy’s experience in several amateur events has paid off with exposure to some difficult courses.

“Just his ability to deal with the vagaries of the game, the ups and downs of a round,” Myers said. “Whereas before, it would have thrown him off and might have led to a problem on another hole or another shot, I think he just goes with it and realizes there are going to be ups and downs over the course of a round or a tournament.”

Murphy’s offseason work scored dividends in a 4-under 32 at Lake Windsor on April 23 and a 2-under 70 at the Waunakee Shootout on April 25.

Myers was impressed, especially since Murphy never got down when he made a bad shot or missed a putt.

“He’s been consistent, and consistently good,” Myers said. “There are courses where he has a good round going and has a difficult hole, in years past, you would have seen the frustration at either himself, the course, or the golf gods or whatever, but he’s got to go out and play it and get those strokes back. “… I’d love to see him put in a really good number for his own memory’s sake, so to speak, but also a chance to advance deeper into the tournament than he has in the past.”

Murphy knows that no round of golf will be perfect, which is why he is satisfied with what he has done so far.

It’s Murphy’s experience in tournaments such as last year’s Morgan Stanley Shoot-Out that has prepared him for another the challenges that come ahead.

Murphy knows he doesn’t have to be perfect.

“You’ve got to expect that you’re going to miss a few putts and you’re going to hit a few bad shots, so I mean, winning the tournament is awesome,” Murphy said. “As long as I am competing at every one, I am going to be satisfied with that.”

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Prep softball: Lexy Kemnitzer’s play leads the way for McFarland

McFarland softball coach David Halverson was scrambling.

On the first Wednesday of April, Spartans athletic director Paul Ackley told him junior shortstop Lexy Kemnitzer faced a three-game suspension because she’d been caught cheating on a test.

He ran a number of potential new lineups through his head and wondered how his star player could have done such a thing. And at practice that afternoon, he pulled Kemnitzer aside to discuss the situation.

Her only comment: “April Fools’, coach!”

Even when the joke’s on him, Halverson believes that sort of loose approach is essential to building a winning team.

“Having fun. That’s what it’s all about,” Halverson said. “It’s not about winning games; that falls into place. It’s the memories you build along the road.”

Kemnitzer is hoping to build many more memories this season and next. This spring, she is the hitting leader for the Spartans, who are 11-2 overall, 8-2 in the Rock Valley North Conference and ranked fifth in Division 2 in the state coaches’ poll.

Kemnitzer boasts a .553 batting average with 26 hits, including seven home runs and five doubles, and has scored 27 runs.

Kemnitzer also is 2-2 with a 1.64 ERA as a pitcher.

“She’s very fundamentally sound. She’s got all the tools, she’s played in big games and she understands the game. She’s a tough out,” Halverson said.

Kemnitzer said she has become a better overall player by using what Halverson teaches: Concentrate on improving yourself, and everything else will work out.

“We focus on what we are doing now and in the present, in practice or a game, and you can’t worry about who you are playing next,” Kemnitzer said.

Kemnitzer came on strong late in her sophomore season, leading the Spartans to the WIAA Division 2 state tournament, where they lost 6-0 to Mosinee in the semifinals.

“Now that teams are finding out, they are trying to get her to chase pitches, (but) she is becoming more disciplined this year,” Halverson said. “Before, she was going up there and free swinging. You throw her a pitch, and she is going to hurt you.”

Her improved discipline at the plate is leading to more efficient at-bats this spring.

“She has been laying off and taking more walks this year, and that is a good sign,” Halverson said. “That has risen her game to the next level, which is important if she wants to play (college softball).”

Halverson discussed collegiate plans with Kemnitzer at the beginning of the season, laying out a framework for what he thought would be best for her in the long run.

“It’s one of those things where I think she is one of the better pitchers in the state, but if she’s going to play at the next level, it’s not going to be at pitcher,” Halverson said.

After going 8-0 in the circle with a 0.61 ERA last season, Halverson believed Kemnitzer’s role at shortstop would be most beneficial to her in drawing the attention of colleges.

Kemnitzer sometimes still pitches in big games, such as last Thursday’s loss to undefeated conference foe Beloit Turner, and she’s able to come in when either of the Spartans’ younger pitchers get into jams.

But McFarland’s continued success will depend on jokesters like Kemnitzer being themselves and not worrying about things they cannot control.

“It’s just a game, and that’s kind of what we preach. It’s just a game,” Halverson said, “and everything falls into place.”

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Prep boys golf: Tommy Mohs and his Edgewood teammates are hungry for more success

After what could generally be considered a successful season, Tommy Mohs and his Madison Edgewood boys golf teammates are hungry for more.

Tommy Mohs placed sixth in the 2014 Division 2 WIAA state meet as a sophomore for the Crusaders, shooting rounds of 74 and 76.

He was part of the reason Edgewood was able to take second place as a team, seven strokes behind Waukesha Catholic Memorial.

Two of the other reasons for the Crusaders’ strong finish also return. Ben Gilles (now a sophomore) shot 153, good for 10th place, and Andrew Yontz (now a junior) came in 25th at 163.

Edgewood took the first-day lead at state, but Catholic Memorial responded by shooting a 302 — 11 strokes better than the Crusaders — on the final day to bring home the title.

“There was an aspect of disappointment, having held the lead after the first day, but they played a fantastic second day,” Mohs said. “We knew (Catholic Memorial) had to play really well to beat us, and we left it all out there.

“This year, we will be hungry to take first place after the disappointment last year.”

Johnny Decker and Dillon Byrne, who placed eighth and 23rd last spring, respectively, have graduated.

The best memory for Mohs was competing at the state meet — not just because of his performance, but for the chance to compete one more time with the two seniors.

“I just remember trying to make it so our seniors could go out on a good note and win state,” Mohs said. “Just playing for those guys and playing for the team, it was just a great team experience.”

Mohs’ success does not come as a surprise to Madison Edgewood head coach Joe Ring.

“He enjoys playing golf and being there with the team. He is serious, but he never gets too uptight,” Ring said.

Mohs has tried to get out and golf as much as possible during the offseason, but being a hockey player has prevented him from focusing solely on golf.

“It’s been kind of tough, especially recently because the seasons are kind of mixing,” Mohs said. “I still have a couple of hockey events left. But right now, I’m kind of turning my attention to golf.”

Ring’s 2015 golf team will not have any other seniors on the varsity roster, so it will be up to Mohs, Yontz, and Gilles to bring leadership to the young team.

Mohs will not take the responsibility lightly.

“We have to step up and explain to them what it means to be on the team, what it is like playing in these tournaments, and the mental aspects of the game,” Mohs said. “But they also have to push each other to become better each day.

“Everyone is going to be competing for a spot, and they will even end up pushing us, so everyone is going to be pushing each other to get better.”

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WIAA state boys basketball: Hillsboro giddy over first trip to state

Old-timers wanted to see history made. Hillsboro High School athletes wanted to be the ones to make that history.

What did the students at Hillsboro Elementary School want? Well, according to the letters they wrote to the boys basketball team last week, they wanted the Tigers to win — so that they could skip school this Thursday.

Last Saturday, everyone got their wish.

For the first time, Hillsboro qualified for the WIAA state boys basketball tournament. Coach Curt Hildreth’s Tigers (22-5) will take on Green Bay NEW Lutheran (16-11) in a Division 5 semifinal at 3:15 p.m. at the Kohl Center.

Hillsboro — a community of fewer than 1,500 residents on the eastern edge of Vernon County — has always backed its Tigers. But after the Tigers clinched their berth with their 10th consecutive victory, a 48-35 decision over Shullsburg on Saturday in La Crosse, the excitement reached new heights.

“We came back into town and we were escorted by fire trucks through town,” said Joey Helgerson, a 5-foot-10 junior averaging 10 points per game. “We got to stick our heads out the window and see all the fans in Hillsboro, so that was pretty cool.”

The school’s allotment of 300 tickets went on sale Monday morning and was sold out by noon. Hundreds more will shutter their homes and businesses for the day to make the 83-mile drive to Madison.

“Everybody is really excited for these guys and for the town,” said Hildreth, noting that the Tigers have been in sectional championship games but hadn’t been able to seal up a trip to state until Saturday.

“There have been so many teams that have had a chance to get this done and weren’t able to get over the hump. I think the stars have aligned for this group,” Hildreth said. “Everyone is just excited and relieved that the monkey is off of our back.”

Max Stockwell (17 ppg, 8 rpg), the Tigers’ scoring and rebounding leader, said the team has received encouragement and congratulations in person and via social media.

“We’ve definitely had a lot of guys (who have) been on the (past) sectional final teams message me on Facebook, just to say how proud they are of the team to get over the hump and get to state,” Stockwell said.

Now, Hildreth said, the biggest issue he faces is to tamp down the players’ excitement and nerves as their turn in the spotlight draws near.

“They are 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids, so there are going to be nerves,” he said. “We have just tried to stay in the moment this entire run and not let our kids get too far ahead of what is going on.

“At the end of the day, it is basketball, the game they have been playing their whole lives.”

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WIAA state girls basketball: Cuba City seniors want to go out with two more victories

The seniors on the Cuba City girls basketball team don’t know much about losing.

The Cubans (26-0) are on a 47-game winning streak, dating to December 2013, and the defending WIAA Division 4 state champions have gone 101-6 over the past four seasons.

And they hope to improve on those numbers Thursday when they take to the Resch Center floor in Ashwaubenon for a state semifinal against Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs (24-2).

The success of the top-ranked Cubans is a result of the selflessness of their players, especially the seniors.

“Our team is not selfish, they play fast, have skills, and it doesn’t matter who scores,” Cubans coach Jeff Pustina said.

Seniors Mollie Wedige (13.7), Chloe Pustina (11.1) and Shay Lierman (9.7) currently stand second, third and fourth, respectively, in points per game for Cuba City.

“We don’t care about who scores. If we have an open shot, we will take it,” Wedige said.

The selflessness has helped all players thrive. Three have surpassed the 1,000-point career scoring mark in the past two months; Cuba City had only three 1,000-point scorers in its history prior to this season.

Wedige and Chloe Pustina each reached the 1,000-career point milestone this season. Wedige passed 1,000 points on Jan. 9 and Pustina did the same on Feb. 5.

Junior Jessi Marti also surpassed 1,000 points earlier in the season.

Wedige, Pustina and Lierman have been four-year starters at Cuba City, but their chemistry goes deeper. The seniors have played AAU basketball together for many years.

Even casual onlookers can quickly tell how the players’ experience together has built a familiarity that’s hard to beat.

“It’s really cool, because we have been playing together for so long,” Chloe Pustina said, “so we know what the others are going to do before it even happens.”

The Cubans’ senior class is able to lead by example. With their consistent winning, the seniors have helped keep the younger players focused on their own play, not the play of their opponents.

“I don’t think we really have time to talk about (undefeated seasons). Maybe when you get in tournaments, you talk about it. Our kids have done a great job, and certainly with the seniors that we’ve got, the experience that we have on this team,” Jeff Pustina said.

“I think everybody has just learned in terms of how they go about their business, school, practices, games, that that’s how you do things. And go out there and do the best that you can.”

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WIAA girls basketball: Trilling sisters recover from knee injuries to help Verona soar

Injuries slowed down sisters Kateri and Cheyenne Trilling last season. They refused to let that happen again this time around.

The sisters have helped the Verona girls basketball team (22-2) earn a share of the Big Eight Conference championship, the No. 2 seeding in the Sun Prairie sectional and a showdown with Middleton (20-4) in a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal at 7 tonight in Waunakee.

The winner will meet Big Eight co-champ Janesville Craig (23-3) or Madison Memorial (10-14) in a sectional final at 1 p.m. Saturday in Sun Prairie, with the sectional champion advancing to the state tournament next week at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon.

The two starting guards from last season’s Verona team were lost to graduation, meaning the Trillings were expected to step in immediately after rehabilitation from tears in their anterior cruciate ligaments.

Kateri Trilling, a 5-foot-6 senior, tore her ACL in early June following her sophomore season. Cheyenne Trilling, a 5-7 junior, suffered a similar injury just a few weeks later.

Enduring the injury and rehabilitation process together helped the sisters get through the difficult times.

“Having us together, being there at the same time, really helped the process,” Cheyenne said. “Just knowing we weren’t alone, and we always had someone there to help us and see things from a different perspective helped each other.”

Things were going well and looking up for both sisters until Cheyenne sustained a second ACL injury on Jan. 17, 2014.

She had to go through the same long process of rehabilitation mere weeks removed from battling through it the first time.

Kateri played her first competitive basketball the following summer, on her team’s summer league varsity team. Cheyenne wasn’t cleared to compete again until the first day of varsity tryouts last fall.

Playing in each new game builds more and more confidence in each of them and allows them to move past their injuries.

“You forget about it, and you learn so much about how your knee should work and what went wrong before. You do the same movement over and over so your mechanics just become natural (and) you don’t really think about it much as time goes on,” Cheyenne said.

Cheyenne made sure to return slowly to basketball this time because a third ACL tear would likely mean her basketball career is over.

Cheyenne is averaging 8.5 points per game and Kateri is contributing 5.8 points per contest.

The two have been key cogs in a balanced scoring attack that includes 6-2 junior forward Grace Mueller (13 ppg), 6-2 junior forward Kira Opsal (12 ppg) and 6-2 sophomore wing Alex Luehring (11.5 ppg).

The Trilling sisters’ contribution to the Wildcats cannot be overstated, according to Wildcats coach Angie Murphy.

“It’s such a huge difference having them both back and having them both healthy defensively and offensively,” Murphy said. “It’s just been a huge reason why we are 22-2 right now.”

For Cheyenne and Kateri, the season has carried added significance — not just because of their injuries, but because they may never again get to play competitive basketball together.

“Since it is her senior year, it is basically our last time,” Cheyenne said. “It means a lot because we are not really going to play again with each other.”

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WIAA girls gymnastics: Senior Abby Millard, Sun Prairie eye first state berth since 1991

Hanging on a wall in the Sun Prairie gymnastics team’s practice facility is a poster with every team score from the season.

The goal at the beginning of the season: reach 140.00.

The Cardinals met that goal on Saturday, totaling 141.25 points to claim the Big Eight Conference championship. Now, Sun Prairie has a new goal: put up a score like that when it matters most.

The Cardinals enter Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 sectional at Hartland Arrowhead looking for their first berth in the state meet since before any member of the current team was even born.

Senior Abby Millard has led the charge for Sun Prairie, which has not sent a team to state since 1991. She enters the sectional meet on the heels of a Big Eight all-around crown, hoping to qualify for next weekend’s state meet in Wisconsin Rapids in the all-around for the third consecutive year.

“I knew I would be a frontrunner (this year). It built up the confidence that I’m not on the top, but up there,” said Millard, who placed 14th in the all-around as a junior and 16th as a sophomore.

“It makes me that much more comfortable competing, and (more) confident.”

Millard earned a medal in vaulting at state last year. She and her younger sister, Paige, who qualified on the floor exercise last year as a freshman, are the only Cardinals with state meet experience.

Millard’s experience in big-time meets allow her to help calm the nerves of her younger teammates, who look to Millard for leadership and advice.

“I feel like if I have any problems with something I’m doing, I can ask Abby because she knows what she’s doing,” said freshman Allayah Lane, who placed second on the balance beam and fourth in the all-around at the Big Eight meet.

Millard and the Cardinals will need to have another strong performance to make it out of their sectional. Arrowhead is the state’s top-ranked team with a season-best score of 146.7, and is heavily favored to win the meet.

The second state berth will likely come down to the Cardinals and Brookfield East/Central, which posted a 140.775 last month but scored nearly four points below that in its own conference meet on Saturday.

First-year Sun Prairie coach Melissa Martin says the Cardinals are in good shape behind their senior leader.

“I would say as a gymnast, she is extremely hardworking and self motivated. As a person, I would say the exact same thing. She’s very kind-hearted, she’s honest, very hardworking student,” Martin said. “I think she really wants to do well at everything she chooses in life.”

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WIAA girls basketball: Steady improvement makes all the difference for Barneveld’s Hannah Whitish

In her three years at Barneveld, Hannah Whitish has chased one goal: Never stop improving.

As a sophomore last season, she led the Eagles to a 28-0 record and the WIAA Division 5 state championship, averaging 17.1 points per game.

This year, Whitish has helped the Eagles to a 21-1 regular season record, including a 12-0 mark in the Six Rivers East Conference; the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press Division 5 poll; and a No. 1 seeding in the WIAA playoffs, which begin tonight.

Whitish has been a leader on a team that lost seven seniors from its state championship squad, averaging 21.4 points per game and leading the team in assists.

She averaged 14.4 points as a freshman.

With another entire year ahead of her, Barneveld’s Jim Myers — the state’s all-time winningest girls coach — believes Whitish is one of the most complete players he has ever coached.

“She’s gotten a lot tougher, both mentally and physically,” Myers said. “She was always a good passer coming through the youth ranks, but I think she has gotten a lot better as far as being able to handle the ball with her head up and lead the team in scoring … and also lead the team in assists.”

Myers, who has 693 career wins, has seen plenty of good players come through his program. He believes Whitish’s complete skill set separates her from the other players he has worked with.

“She’s probably got all of the tools, meaning she’s got that quick first step, she’s got that jumping ability, she can score inside and she can score outside, she can handle the ball and she can defend. She’s probably got everything a person wants to see in a player,” Myers said. “Plus, she’s got a work ethic to keep getting better.”

Whitish’s teammates see the work she puts in every day and understand the effort Whitish puts into the team.

“She practices all the time, every day,” junior Taylor Owens said. “I don’t think there has been a day where she hasn’t practiced, and she works harder than anyone I know.”

Although opposing teams focus on stopping her, Whitish refuses to get frustrated by the pressure. When the Eagles beat Madison Edgewood 51-37 during the regular season, Whitish was continuously face-guarded, giving her fewer opportunities to score. In the past, Myers said, that’s something that might have upset her.

She scored 15 points, but senior teammate Rachel Slaney led the team that night with 20 points. Instead of getting down, Whitish is pleased to see her teammates get involved in the scoring.

Without that sort of steady improvement, the Eagles would not follow in the success of some of Myers’ past teams.

“I knew we’d have to work for it,” Whitish said. “I mean, the success they’ve had in the past kind of made me feel that even having the coach we have, you have to work for it.”

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Prep swimming: McFarland makes a move for the top spot in the Division 2 swimming scene

The seniors on the McFarland boys swimming team take winning in stride.

The program’s success started long before the Class of 2015 arrived, but the tradition has continued: This week, the Spartans moved past neighbor Monona Grove into the No. 1 spot in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association Division 2 state rankings.

Spartans coach Nick Weiss took over in 2006, leading the program through a streak of six consecutive WIAA Division 2 championships. McFarland then finished fourth at state in 2013 and second last season.

“Even though we’ve won quite a few titles, it isn’t necessarily the goal going into every season. It is to improve as much as we can and put the best team together possible,” Weiss said. “Making the goal of being a state champion is not always a reality every year.”

The Spartans return swimmers who placed in the top four in five events at last year’s state meet.

Senior Joe Heiser is ranked in the WISCA top five in the 100-yard backstroke and 200 individual medley. As a team, McFarland’s 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays and 200 medley relay rank in the WISCA top five, as well.

Before they get a chance to compete in the state meet, the Spartans will have to face off with the second-ranked Silver Eagles and nine other schools in this weekend’s Baraboo sectional.

Monona Grove defeated McFarland in a dual meet earlier this season, but that meet may not have been the best gauge for the teams’ current form, as both McFarland and Monona Grove were battling illnesses. Last week, McFarland won the Badger North Conference meet title, and Monona Grove won the Badger South.

“I think this weekend in sectionals and next weekend at state, we will finally see each other at full strength, and that’s what I’m looking forward to,” Weiss said.

This year’s seniors were just freshmen when the Spartans won their last state title, but they have tried to pass on the class and humility they learned from those before them.

“They were so low-key,” senior Sam Mischio said of the leaders of the 2012 state championship team. “I’ve tried to embody that these past four years, and these guys have done the same thing.

“With every invite we’ve won, it’s just been handshakes after the meet. I’ve never seen a bad sport on this team, and that is something I’m probably the most proud of.”

The Spartans’ large senior class will get a chance to close out the season on a high note, hoping for the best individually and as a group.

“I want everybody here to make it. I just want the whole team to make it. It’s not a big deal if we win or lose,” senior Justin Harrington said. “It’s just cool if everybody is there, doing the best they can.”

That same sentiment was shared by Mischio and fellow senior Jacob Sam. But they were quick to add that they aren’t getting too far ahead of themselves. In order to do well at the state meet, they’ll have to perform this weekend.

“Our goal this weekend is to qualify as many people as possible for the state meet,” Weiss said. “That’s really our goal right now, and we aren’t looking to the state meet just yet.”

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