Top 10 Part 1: A year to remember
Eight state tournaments, three state titles, a handful of new school records and a plethora of well-deserving student-athletes and coaches made 2018 an unforgettable year for Pierce County's sports teams.
As the year wraps up, take the time to remember the moments that shed light on why high school sports are cherished by the state of Wisconsin.
10. Girls' basketball: Proving Prescott's potential
The Prescott Cardinals girls' basketball team's co-captains Allie Murphy and Haylee Yaeger entered into the 2018-19 season wanting their team to live up to the standards they know it's capable of.
"I think we all kind of feel like this is our year to prove ourselves and show that we actually are good," Murphy said prior to the start of the season. "We haven't really legitimately proved ourselves yet. We still have to play our games and we still have to show up and be good if we want to get that respect. Yes, we have a little bit of confidence going into the season, but we need to prove ourselves before we can even say that."
They're on the right track.
With noticeably improved team defense and continued high scoring marks from its offensive leaders, the Prescott Cardinals wrapped up the year by going 8-0 in the first two months of their season that's full of potential.
The Cardinals are ranked fourth in the state according to Max Preps' Dec. 21 rankings, and have earned the statewide recognition after the first eight games of the season. The Cardinals defeated the Amery Warriors 48-40 on Friday, Nov. 30, but no other opponent has come within 18 points of the Cardinals.
Senior Yaeger is currently averaging 23 points per game to lead the Cardinals in scoring, and the senior recorded her 1,000th career point on Thursday, Dec. 20, in an away game at Hastings High School, where her high school career began.
Sophomore Bella Lenz is averaging 18.2 points this season, and Murphy adds a 10.5 scoring average.
The Cardinals could not have began their 2018-19 season with a better start, and they'll continue to take one game at a time as they attempt to become the next state-bound Pierce County team.
"Our number one goal right now is to focus on conference and to take things one step at a time," Murphy said in November. "We can sit here and say we're going to be at the top of the conference or we're not going to be the underdogs this year, but we still have to go out there and play our game and actually show our fans, our coaches and ourselves that we can be good."
9. Boys' basketball: Panthers' historic season 50 years in the making
The Ellsworth boys' basketball team recorded 20 wins during the 1966-67 season. Half a century later, the 2018-19 Panthers were able to put Ellsworth basketball on the map once again by claiming a 20-5 season record.
The Panthers' historic season came to an end on Thursday, March 8, when they lost 83-61 to the Prescott Cardinals, the eventual Division 3 state champs who were responsible for three of Ellsworth's five losses on the season.
The Panthers' most successful season in 50 years came to fruition with the leadership of seniors Drake Flom and Alex Motley who combined for 2,035 career points. Flom also became the Panthers' all-time leading scorer with his 1,127 career point total.
"These guys took this program to a level it hasn't been at in over 50 years. With the way they played this year, they've got a lot to be proud of," former Ellsworth head coach Tim Dahl said. "We won't hang our heads, we'll get back to work. That's all we can do."
Dahl has since stepped down from his head coaching position and has been replaced by Jordan Petersen who's helped the Panthers get off to a 3-2 start to the season and a 3-0 Middle Border Conference record.
Senior Logan Benson has also played a large part in leading his new crew to a 3-2 start by averaging 32.8 points, 14.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists in his team's first five contests of the 2018-19 season. Benson put up 25 points against the Prescott Cardinals on Tuesday, Dec. 18, in Ellsworth's 71-49 win, the program's first win over Prescott since the 2011-12 season.
So far, Petersen's new Panthers have done a fair job of living up to the Ellsworth basketball legacy Dahl, Flom and Motley helped create.
8. Track and field: Cardinals leave La Crosse with two fifth-place finishes; Bosshart and Todd take eighth
Qualifying for the state track meet in either the 800-, 1,600- or 3,200-meter run is quite an accomplishment. Elmwood/Plum City 2018 graduate Kassye Todd competed in all three grueling events at the WIAA Division 3 State Track and Field Meet held Friday-Saturday, June 1-2.
Todd had an impressive showing in the 3,200 on June 1 when she cut over 50 seconds off of her sectional time. The EPC 2018 senior completed the 3,200-meter race in 11:41.49 for an eighth-place finish and a team point for the Wolves.
Todd returned to the UW-La Crosse track on June 2 where she claimed another eighth-place finish in the 1,600 with her time of five minutes, 20.84 seconds. Todd and sophomore teammate Katie Feuker completed their state meet appearances by competing in the 800. Todd crossed the finish line at 2:27.14 to earn a 12th-place state finish, while Feuker came in 15th place with a time of 2:30.21.
Spring Valley was represented on the state podium by then junior Dylan Bosshart who finished eighth in the 110-meter hurdles. Bosshart competed in the preliminaries on June 1, and ran a personal-best time of 15.80 seconds, which was a 0.41-second improvement from his Boyceville sectional time. That time earned the Spring Valley junior an eighth-place finish in prelims and a ticket to Saturday's finals where he also finished in eighth place with a time of 16.33 seconds.
The Cardinals also sent Erin Stans, Maddie Jacobson, Shye Klatt and Brianna O'Brien to the state meet to compete in the 4x200 relay. The Cardinals were eliminated in the relay's preliminaries after taking 13th place with a time of 1:50.84.
Prescott earned Pierce County's highest finishes at the WIAA Division 2 State Track and Field Meet when senior Westy Bartsch placed fifth in the shot put and freshmen Grace Carlson, Jessie Urman, Tori Benck and Abby Syverson finished as the fifth-best 4x200 team.
Bartsch closed his time as a Cardinal by breaking his high school's shot put record with his final throw of 52 feet, 0.25 inches. The 4x200 freshman team began their promising Cardinal careers by crossing the finish line at 1:46.70.
Ellsworth sent a 4x400 relay team of Jared Lansing, Alfonso Vilas Boas, Max Ekvern-Jamme and Alvaro Torres to the state meet along with 200-meter sprinter Aly Reuvers. Neither Reuvers or the relay team made it past the preliminary round.
7. Baseball: Ellsworth's pride for 2018 season outweighs sting of final loss
The Ellsworth Panthers' 2018 baseball season was put on hold until April 12 due to unfavorable springtime snow, but the wait for games was well worth the 2018 season's final outcome.
The Panthers won their first sectional title in five years on Tuesday, June 5, when freshman Shane Lange stole home plate on a wild pitch in the bottom of the seventh inning, giving his team the deciding 4-3 lead and a trip Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute.
Ellsworth's four seniors — Shane Elsen, Drake Flom, Owen Matzek and Ryan McGregor — produced seven of their team's hits in the sectional game and gave their team a fighting chance in their 6-3 state tournament loss to the eventual Division 2 champs, the Waupun Warriors.
When asked what he hoped he and his fellow seniors left their underclassmen with at the conclusion of their year, McGregor answered: "The love of the game. "We've loved playing with each other," McGregor continued. "We just wanted to show them how fun baseball can be. When you come together and play the game right, you end up here."
McGregor finished his senior season with All-Conference and All-District honors, a batting average of .578 and an ERA of 2.74.
McGregor also shared a love for baseball with his fellow seniors, which made it difficult for Panthers' head coach Ryan Christenson to say goodbye to the class of 2018. "My hat goes off to the four seniors," Christenson said after his team's final 2018 loss. "They are amazing individuals and they will do amazing things in this world. There are going to be some positive ripples years down the road that they're going to leave for us. To get us back here for the first time in five years, this team, led by those four seniors, we're going to see a lot of good things down the road."
6. Softball: Cardinals leave Madison with empty hands, full hearts
At the start of their final high school softball season, the Prescott Cardinals softball team's seniors were bound and determined to finish their 2018 season at Goodman Diamond.
Their goal was accomplished on Friday, June 1, when they defeated the Amery Warriors 4-1 in the WIAA Division 3 Sectional 1 finals and earned the program's first bid to the state tournament in 16 years.
The Cardinals' state tournament run ended sooner than they had hoped for, but the way the 2018 team played with H.E.A.R.T and how they reminded everyone how much fun softball can be outweighed their state tournament shortcomings.
Prescott was eliminated from the state tournament in their first game at Goodman Diamond against Tomahawk who claimed a 2-1 win over the Cardinals after Courtney Theiler hit a game-winning grounder to shortstop. The grounder concluded Prescott's 22-4 season and the 80-20 careers of seniors Katelyn Miller, Haley Miner, Hope Miner, Shelby Murphy, Wescott and Sammi Zuehlsdorf.
Prescott's head coach Matt Smith hung up his coaching duties at the conclusion of his team's memorable 2018 season to tend to his athletic director duties.
"I'm just very proud of the way we played overall and our seniors in general and what they've done for Prescott softball," Smith said after his last game with the Cardinals. "I can't thank the team enough for letting me be a part of it and along for the ride. It's just been an awesome experience, and I know they're going to take a lot of positive memories away from this year."
Abby Morris will take over head coaching duties for Smith in the Spring of 2019.
The top five Pierce County athletic moments of 2018 will be published on Thursday, Dec. 27.