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Elcho, Rib Lake's impressive seasons end with regional final lossesSubmitted: 02/24/2018

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NORTHWOODS - Wausaukee eliminates Elcho with a 61-52 win while McDonell Central Catholic ends Rib Lake's season with a 49-37 win.

Check out those highlights and more playoff scores!



Story By: Mark Spillane

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 LOCAL SPORTS

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MADISON - At the state wrestling meet on Saturday, Antigo's Brandon Lucht and Rhinelander's Jacob DeMeyer were pinned against each other for the last match of their high school careers.

"Oh boy, here we go again!" said Lucht.

DeMeyer had beaten Lucht twice already this season.

"I think it definitely helped. I knew what style he had and he's definitely one of the strongest wrestlers in his weight class and I knew what he had so that definitely helped me," said DeMeyer.

Lucht is the first Red Robin to make an appearance at state in the last 15 years.

"Coach set it up so I wrestled the hardest competition I could all year so it kind of got me ready for it," said Lucht.

Lucht took home fourth and DeMeyer finished in third for the D1, 145 pound weight class. But DeMeyer wasn't the only Hodag to place.

"Every match is so close and every single kid in this tournament deserves to be here and every day it gets harder and harder," said Rhinelander's Reuben Guzik.

Guzik got on the podium in fifth place in the D1, 113 pound weight class.

"That was my goal and it came true," said Guzik.

Rounding out Rhinelander's podium finishers was Alex Kurtz in the D1, 195 pound weight class. He finished fourth last year. If he wanted to take third on Saturday, he had to beat Alex Mishka from Kimberly, the same wrestler he lost to on Thursday night.

"I just had one goal after I lost to him, was to hopefully come back and take third," said Kurtz.

He did take third place. But it didn't come easily.

"I think I have a couple fingers that are broken from that, I got three elbows to the head and I chipped my tooth during that match," said Kurtz.

Lakeland's Deejay Nordrum made it back to state for the second year in a row, but this time, he was able to take home sixth place in the D2, 120 pound weight class.

"It feels pretty awesome. I mean, I'm downstairs at the Kohl Center, what more could you ask for?" said Nordrum.

Some of the wrestlers wanted to ask for more time with their teammates.

"It's pretty sad, honestly, I'm going to miss competing and my teammates. It was definitely a fun journey and I got a lot of great memories I won't ever forget," said DeMeyer.

A wrestler from Phillips, Javyn Freeman, also made it to state. He finished fourth in the D2, 120 weight class.

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Friday Night Blitz: 2/23/18Submitted: 02/23/2018

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NORTHWOODS - Merrill tops Rhinelander 66-56

New London eliminated Lakeland 61-39

Elcho cruises past Lena 59-35

Crandon tops Bonduel 62-38

Wausaukee defeats Three Lakes 75-42

Check out all of those highlights and more on this week of Friday Night Blitz!

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ANTIGO - Antigo gymnastics hosted the sectional meet on Wednesday night.

The Red Robins finished in second place as a team overall which means they're going to state.

A lot of Antigo's success comes behind senior Emma Jansen, the best all around gymnast for the team.

But she says it's each and every gymnast that's come together for this success.

"We tend to get forgotten about because we're a smaller school in the big division, but it's kind of an accomplishment that we're a smaller school competing with the bigger teams and doing well," said Jansen.

Jansen finished first in the all-around last weekend in the big division at the conference meet. Tonight, she came in second behind Lakyn Sonday from Washburn.

"It was really cool to see all the progress I've made so far this year and these last couple meets I've been pretty successful so that was pretty awesome to see," said Jansen.

The Hodags came in third as a team which means they did not advance. But individually, Raven Sturtevant and Stephanie Keuster did make it to the state meet. 

Lakeland Union's Kaitlyn Hayes made it as well.

State will be March 2 and 3 in Wisconsin Rapids.

TOP FIVE ADVANCE TO STATE:

Jansen (Antigo) finished first in beam and third in bars.

Sturtevant (Rhinelander) tied for fifth in bars.

Keuster (Rhinelander) took third in floor.

Hayes (Lakeland Union) finished fifth in vault.


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WISCONSIN - Two years ago, Lakeland Union started a girls hockey co-op with Tomahawk and Mercer.

The teams had to come together to still be able to form a full-sized team.

"We're having a great season but they all know what they're up against and we push them as far as we can," said Lakeland Union's head coach Steve Bucklew.

But the team knows they will likely never make it to state.

"What disappoints me the most is to see what it could've been and to see what it's going to now," said Bucklew.

The Lakeland co-op lost to a much larger program on Wednesday night in the sectional semi-final. Wisconsin Valley Union is made up of 10 schools from big communities like Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield. 

But according to Valley's head coach Dan Bauer, it has to be that way.

"If those schools didn't go together, then there's a bunch of these girls that don't have anywhere to play hockey," said Bauer.

That dead end is now what's happening across the state. A school might have just a few girls that want to play, forcing them to join with another school, or multiple schools to form a co-op.

"We're getting more schools involved, more girls involved, but less programs. We're actually seeing a reduction because of the co-op opportunity," said WIAA hockey liason Tom Shafranski.

For this season, 167 schools formed only 29 teams. Only four of those teams are independent and not co-ops.

"You're seeing less and less teams every year and it's going to continue that way. Pretty soon it's going to be north, south, east and west," said Bucklew.

So when does the WIAA step in to balance things out?

It doesn't. 

The WIAA leaves it all up to the individual school boards. The association only approves the co-ops, which has always been the case.

"They would really like to not have any criteria involved with co-ops so they can maintain that flexibility in hopes of keeping, especially the small schools, in keeping students at their school," said Shafranski.

But coaches, like Bucklew, think there needs to be different divisions to help the level of competition come playoff time. 

As of now, there is only one state tournament bracket for all 29 teams.

"Certainly two divisions is not a potential element at this point in time. We would love to see it grow into that, but we're going to need to get to 50 schools, 60 schools, something in that range," said Shafranski.

Having only one division means each team across the state is battling for one trophy, regardless of their size.

"I don't know if it's best, but I think it's kind of the only solution," said Bauer.

Lakeland's coach believes a solution is growing the youth programs more. But he thinks it is too late to save high school girls hockey.

"I don't think it's going to be a WIAA sport much longer, it's a club sport right now," said Bucklew.

Bucklew is honest when he says he doesn't see a team like his ever making it to state with the current format.

But for others, it's not all about making it to state.

"I just think sometimes we're so hung up on 'we have to get to the state tournament' or 'if we don't make it to the state tournament, our season wasn't worthwhile or meaningless' and I think we've just completely missed the whole idea and value of high school sports," said Bauer.

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NORTHWOODS - The Prentice Bucs overcame a slow start to top Cornell 76-34 at home.

With the win, the #5 Bucs will move on to face #4 Clayton.

"I thought our team performance tonight was really great, we all worked together, we were talking. Us, as team leaders we have to keep our team together and I think we did a good job at doing that and came out with the win," said Prentice senior Bailey Burcaw.

Burcaw is one of two seniors on the team along with Caelyn Ulrich.

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ELCHO - Elcho girls basketball went 33 years without winning a conference title. Then the Hornets claimed back-to-back Northern Lakes championships in 2017 and 2018. That's thanks in large part to a pair of sisters.

"She can read my mind before I can even tell what's going on and vice versa," said Elcho senior Jessica Slowik.

"I don't even know how to explain it. It just happens," said Elcho sophomore Katelyn Slowik.

Whatever the explanation might be, the Slowik sisters make the Elcho Hornets tough to beat.

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NORTHWOODS - Below is a complete breakdown of where the Northwoods teams are seeded for the upcoming WIAA boys basketball playoffs. The seeds were determined on Sunday February, 18. The first round games will be played Tuesday February, 27.

Great Northern Conference

Rhinelander - No. 1 seed D2 Sectional 1
Medford - No. 9 seed D2 Sectional 1
Mosinee - No. 4 seed D2 Sectional 1
Lakeland Union - No. 3 seed D2 Sectional 1
Antigo - No. 10 seed D2 Sectional 1
Tomahawk - No 12 seed D3 Sectional 2
Northland Pines - No. 10 seed D3 Sectional 2

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WISCONSIN RAPIDS -
Last year, the Hodags came in second in the conference (small schools division) by one point. They wanted to change that this year.

"We came in to this meet feeling fairly confident just because we've had a really good season and we came in undefeated," said junior Raven Sturtevant.

Coaches Heather Sturtevant and April Denis made sure the girls didn't get too confident along the way.

"Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and think 'oh, we've got this in the bag', but they keep us in 'don't get ahead of yourselves', just focus on the now," said junior Mikayla Evenstead.

That meant focusing on the goal the team set, and almost reached.

"Our goal this conference meet was to get 120 and we got 119," said senior Stephanie Keuster.

Mosinee came in second with a score of 113.475. That score showed just how much their team is improving.

"This last Tuesday, we got our last team high with a 108 and this meet was just points above that which was really relieving," said junior Lydia Ruthe.

Junior Lydia Ruthe took the top spot in the all-around, just ahead of Keuster and Sturtevant for Rhinelander.

"I thought that I was going to get third, but I think my bar score and vault score really helped me come out on top there," said Ruthe.

Mosinee head coach Kris Schlei won coach of the year for the small schools division. That was voted on by the other coaches. But the team couldn't agree more.

"My team is really great, we're really supportive of each other and I think that's the best part," said Ruthe.

The Indians will see the Hodags again this Thursday at the sectional meet in Antigo.

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WAUSAU - Last week five Rhinelander wrestlers captured regional championships. On Saturday, all five of those Hodags punched their tickets to the state tournament. Tyler Olson, Jacob DeMeyer and Alec Kurtz won each won their respective weight classes at the Division 1 Wausau West sectional.

Reuben Guzik and Colton Krueger also advanced to state. Olson and Krueger will make their first appearances in Madison. Olson says he's excited to finish his wrestling career with the teammates it started with.

"That's just the greatest experience that I think anybody could ever ask for, knowing that I grew up with these guys. I've wrestled with [Jacob] DeMeyer and [Alec] Kurtz ever since I was pee-wee size, you know kindergarten. This is my 13th year and this is their 13th year," said Olson.

Krueger advanced to the state tournament after a close loss in the sectional final. He says he's not satisfied with just getting there.


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WISCONSIN RAPIDS - The Rhinelander gymnastics team also won big on Saturday. The team took the Great Northern Conference small school's title in Wisconsin Rapids.

They beat out Mosinee, Medford, Chequamegon and Lakeland Union.

Junior Raven Sturtevant took first team all conference after winning the beam competition. And senior Stephanie Keuster also took first team all conference with her floor exercise.

Keuster wasn't able to compete in conference last year because of an injury, but was happy to be back on top.

"It feels good to be back this year. I'm doing a lot better in my routines this year and I'm having more fun this year than I did last year or sophomore year. We did win conference sophomore year, so it's kind of like a repeat from sophomore year to senior year and it feels really good," said Keuster.

Mosinee's Lydia Ruthe took first place in the all around in the small schools division.

And then Antigo's Emma Jansen did the same thing in the big schools division.

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