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DAVIDSON: The forgotten notes of the 2018 fall sports season

The 2018 Elmwood volleyball team. (File photo)1 / 5
Elmwood/Plum City's Zack Phillips. (File photo)2 / 5
Prescott's Tristan Winkler. (File photo)3 / 5
Spring Valley's Sean Borgerding. (File photo)4 / 5
Ellsworth's Erica Feuerhelm. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 5

It hasn't taken me long to realize that it's easy to fall into a pattern of only writing gamers and box-score-filled articles while attempting to give equal coverage to 13 high school sports teams. I feel like my unpredictable work schedule often got the best of me at times during the 2018 fall sports season, but there are a few memories from the past three months that deserve to outlive the lines in my reporter notebook that will more than likely find its way to a recycling bin before the fast-approaching winter sports season.

An appreciation for coverage

This fall I received an outpour of appreciation for coverage of the girls' golf and tennis teams. Players and fans alike shared their gratefulness for simply being able to read about their teams in the Herald's sports section.

I remember Ellsworth's Holly Carlson once mentioning in a golf interview how she and her friends had overheard customers in a restaurant talking about the successful season the Panthers' golf team was having. The pleasure of hearing that Carlson and her teammates were receiving the recognition they deserved was tainted by my disappointment that coverage of these teams had not been the norm for a long time.

For every Pierce County team, no matter the talent level or sport being played, coverage from the Herald should always be an expectation, not a surprising bonus.

Phillips welcomes a new role on short notice

I attended the Elmwood/Plum City Wolves' preseason Media Night back in August, and although I was impressed with the number of fans who packed the stands of Elmwood High School's Red Gym in anticipation for their first football-affiliated public event of the season, head coach Mike Birtzer's comments about the team's new quarterback struck me the most.

Birtzer informed me that junior Zack Phillips was called up to the high-intensity, starting-quarterback role shortly before the season started because the Wolves' 2017 quarterback, Dalton Binkowski, expressed his interest in becoming a full-time running back for EPC's offense. Not only was Phillips' acceptance admirable and unselfish, but it also made a considerable, positive impact for his team.

While Binkowski racked up 745 rushing yards as the team's second-best back, Phillips showed consistent growth from August to October. Phillips threw for 22 yards while completing two of his six pass attempts in the Wolves' season-opening win against the Independence/Gilmanton Indees on Friday, Aug. 17, but finished the season with an average of 90.6 passing yards per game and a 50-percent completion rate.

The Wolves will once again be thankful for Phillips' move when he returns for the 2019 season with a year of experience under his belt.

Elmwood seniors embrace underclassmen

I met with the Elmwood volleyball team's three seniors and junior Katie Feuker for our preseason interview on Wednesday, Aug. 29, and the upperclassmen made it clear right from the get-go that their team was going to rely on the play of a few underclassmen to get through the 2018 season.

"You just have to think of the future," senior Alyssa Peterson said. "If you start freshmen on the varsity level, once they get to be seniors, they'll be really good. I think everybody just knows that it's what's best for the team, and we're just playing to win."

I, of course, was not there for every behind-the-scenes moment of the Raiders' season, but their on-court chemistry and improvement lead me to believe that this year's team lived up to Peterson's preseason statement.

Like the previously-mentioned coverage of all teams, acceptance of freshmen capable of playing at the varsity level should be should always be assured. However, I know this isn't always the case.

I probably appreciate veteran varsity players' welcoming of underclassmen onto their teams more than the average spectator because I know what it's like to be that freshman who's treated poorly because they're taking playing time away from their senior teammates. Not only does this hurt teams' chances at playing cohesively, but it also keeps players from building those lifelong teammate friendships that outlast their time playing on the court together.

My hope is that Peterson, Rowan Rupakus and Alexia Waltz will keep up with their former team's upcoming seasons once they graduate, and that they'll recognize the part they played in building up the future of soon-to-be Elmwood/Plum City volleyball. In return, I hope Hannah Baier and Maggie Glaus pay it forward by treating the underclassmen they run into during their four-year varsity careers with the respect and encouragement the class of 2018 showed them.

Love for running reignited by XC teams

One of my favorite parts of my job this fall was getting to interview cross-country runners after giving them enough time to catch their breath, but before the adrenaline from their completed 5ks had left their exhausted bodies. Their post-race statements often reminded me why I also chose to take part in grueling practices and races during my high school and college years.

Spring Valley junior Katherine Dieckman described the unique bond cross country teammates share when she said, "Compared to other teams, I feel like in cross country the bond is closer and we become tighter faster. You see your teammates when they're at their weakest in cross-country because everyone is struggling when they're running." I sent out a long-overdue text to some of my former teammates after Dieckman shared that thought in our August interview.

Prescott's Tristan Winkler and Ella Linder embodied selfless teammates this season as they continuously praised their underclassmen teammates while dealing with their own recurring injuries.

"I like to think of cross-country as one big family," Winkler said at Prescott's home meet on Tuesday, Sept. 11. "We don't run as one, we run together."

I capped off the Herald's 2018 cross country coverage by interviewing Ellsworth's Emma Swanson after her sectional race at St. Croix Central on Saturday, Oct. 20. Not only did Swanson's sentiments fill me with regret for not picking her brain about her beloved fall sport earlier in the season, but it also reinforced my belief that the mental strength gained from distance running outweighs any of the physical pain that comes along with it.

"It's a totally different sport and people don't always want to do it because it's hard, but it's one of my favorite sports because it shows that you have to have guts," Swanson said. "There's no halftime, there's no breaks and it's just taught me a lot."

Pierce County represented well at UW-Stout

Ninety-nine percent of the Herald's sports coverage is dedicated to high school teams, but I'd be remiss not to mention how well Spring Valley natives Sean Borgerding and Jed Schlegel and EPC's Levi Wolf have represented their high school football programs while at UW-Stout this season.

Borgerding was named the Blue Devils' starting quarterback at the start of the season after greyshirting in 2017. Since then, he's led his team to a 5-4 record while recording 1,871 passing yards and 14 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. I once felt proud for taking second place in the slow heat of a Division III meet during my first season of collegiate track. Borgerding's accomplishments have provided me with a necessary reality check.

Wolf, an Elmwood native and Stout senior, leads the Blue Devils with 76 total tackles on the season. Wolf was named a co-captain at the start of the 2018 season, and received All-WIAC second team honors in 2017 after leading the conference with five interceptions as a junior.

According to a Leader-Telegram article written by Nick Erickson, Schlegel served as a linebacker while playing for Spring Valley's Ryan Kapping, but has since moved to safety under Clayt Birmingham's direction. The 2017 Spring Valley graduate suffered a season-ending collar bone injury in Week 6, but he's currently third-best on the team with 65 total tackles and adds two interceptions to his junior stat line. Birmingham described Schlegel as a warrior. "He played the whole second half (of the Week 6 game) with a broken collar bone," Birmingham said. "He’s a warrior and one of our best defensive players."

From what I've heard, I missed out on getting to cover these talented football players, but they should be proud of how their former teammates (and brothers) have carried out their legacies.

I could continue to recap the fall sports season with similar moments from the past three months, but I'll attempt to spare readers a typical, overwritten article with an attached "Katie Davidson" byline if I haven't overdone it already. Thank you to the players and coaches who allowed me to take a closer look at things during my first full fall season with the Herald, and I owe the same gratitude to the fans who followed along. I'm looking forward to finding out which team will send me to my first fall state tournament in the years to come, but I'll happily continue to capture the moments that are too often overlooked in the meantime.