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Desktop Sportsman - 03/31/10

Ellie Ludwigson was honest about it. The 5-8 junior forward for the Alma-Pepin prep girls basketball team said there was no way that Pepin alone could have won a regional title without co-oping with Alma. The last such title the Lakers won was in 2000. Thus, from that point of view, the co-op was a big success. The Eagles' regional semifinal game with Elmwood was an interesting juxtaposition between two points of view. On the one hand you had Elmwood, trying to keep their program independent, hiring a veteran coach to lead it and on the other hand you had a co-op of two similar-sized schools, working together for a larger goal perhaps neither one could have accomplished alone. Alma-Pepin used their superior depth to win regional title, rallying in the second half to beat both Elmwood and Eleva-Strum. However, the Raiders, even with their small numbers, were still able to take down No. 1 seed Chippewa Falls McDonell. It will be interesting to see over the next few seasons which approach works out because it will say a lot not just about athletics but also, perhaps, which direction many small school districts go in.

I'm sure members of the Ellsworth High School girls' basketball team could only watch in amazement at what Altoona was able to accomplish, making it all the way to the state tournament as a No. 4 seed and could only wonder if they could have done the same given how close and competitive their ballgame was with the Railroaders. Altoona head coach Ryan Wundrow commented favorably on the intensity and athleticism Ellsworth played with against his ballclub. Perhaps the Panthers may take the same path considering what they return for next season. But finding a point guard to replace Carlie Melstrom, who was honorable mention all-conference, will be the No. 1 priority before any post-season plans can be made.

Still, EHS will be in the best position of the county's prep girls' basketball teams to have strong season, as will Elmwood (especially if they can add some more numbers) and Plum City (no place to go but up). In boys' basketball, Spring Valley, Elmwood and Plum City return much of their line-ups while Prescott will have plenty of questions to answer going into next season. Ellsworth and Spring Valley-Elmwood will both be conference favorites in wrestling next winter.

The Prescott School Board voted to resurface the track at Laney Field and resod and put a crown on the field itself. But renovation job will not include putting in two or three new lanes on the track, which would allow for Prescott to host the MBC meet or the regional. Athletic Director Dave Vortherms said that any expansion of the track surface would be too expensive to do right now.

Amery's head football coach Josh Gould has resigned while Glenwood City may be looking for new coaching staffs for volleyball and boys' basketball.

When you get beat 87-69 by a No. 12 seed and an Ivy League team no less, you tend to forget your team also has victories over half of the Final Four field. It may very well be the experts were right and Wisconsin really did have 7th place talent in the Big Ten but once again managed to play above itself. That suggests a heck of a coaching job by Bo Ryan to win 24 games and finish one-game out of first in the league. But the Badgers' tournament loss also shows UW needs better personnel, because recruiting mistakes and washouts weakened UW's bench and forced players like Jason Bohannon, for example, to play lots minutes this season to compensate for Jon Leuer's injury. You could tell Wisconsin was team playing on an empty tank by the end of the season.

By contrast, Minnesota was playing its best basketball right at the end of the season, which it had to otherwise it would have never made it into the Big Dance (lucky for them both Purdue and Michigan State were missing key personnel). While Gophers may have survived this season, the future is quite uncertain. It's not outlandish to think head coach Tubby Smith is looking at other jobs given his frustrations with the U's administration over the handling of suspensions to players like Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe and the lack of a practice facility for the basketball team that's low on the U's list of priorities. Will the Tubby coach like he knows he's going to be gone in 15 months and the team plays that way despite its returning talent? Only time will tell.

In an era of college hockey where underclassmen are leaving early for the pros, the ability of the University of Wisconsin to field a team dominated by juniors and seniors speaks volumes as to why they were able to get to the Frozen Four and why they are a favorite to win it. Minnesota on the other hand, has not been able to adjust to this new era, has seen its top players bolt early and the resulting holes in the line-up and lack of depth and chemistry has left them on the outside looking in for the second straight year. The U needs to balance its recruiting, both future NHL players and Minnesota-bred high school players that both St. Cloud St. Bemidji State and UMD, have in abundance, not only to have winning seasons once again but restore the preeminence of the program throughout the state. The Gophers need to go back to the grassroots of Minnesota hockey before phrase "Minnesota's Pride on Ice" becomes a joke.

Don't be surprised if this scenario develops: Wisconsin wins or comes in second at the Frozen Four, head coach Mike Eaves feels he's done enough in Madison and the former NHL assistant wants to get back in the pro game, he gets an offer, and he takes it. If that happens, look for UW women's head coach and Olympic coach Mark Johnson to get the men's job. And if that scenario plays out, then maybe the $2 million the UW needs to build its new hockey practice facility will finally get raised.