Merrill swim team hopes to build on first win in 20 yearsSubmitted: 08/20/2018

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MERRILL - Merrill head coach Kristie Winter isn't used to seeing lanes full of swimmers.

"Four years ago when I started coaching the team, we had eight swimmers," Winter said.

The Bluejays are far from those days, though, as their win last weekend at Milwaukee South High School shows.

"We're starting to develop middle-school age swimmers who are competitive swimmers now," Winter said.

Most Bluejay swimmers are underclassmen that came through the feeder program, and the seniors are improving by working with them.

"I've learned a lot about just working with other girls and just becoming a leader and just keeping energy," senior Katy Ball said.

The Bluejays displayed plenty of energy on Saturday, shattering their school record in the 4x100 relay by 13 seconds.

"About three events in, I kind of realized a lot of our relays were winning and I was like 'wow, we might actually be able to win this meet,'" Ball said.

After the win, there was only one thing left to do.

"We went to Culver's," senior Rianna Dowds said. "We all kind of just ate lunch outside and tried to catch up on the day."

For the first time in 20 years, that was the only kind of catching up the Jays had to do.

Merrill won't have to wait long to get back in the pool. The Jays have a varsity invitational on Wednesday in Marshfield.

Story By: Andrew Goldstein

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GLEASON - It's 80 years of history in 20 feet: a tractor from the 1940s pulling a heavy sled set on wheels that were made in the last decade, with nothing more than a 20-horsepower engine and the savvy of its driver.

"Getting traction and biting the track is the big thing," driver Mark Schulz said. "Horsepower is helpful, but as long as you can bite the track, it's not always the most powerful tractor that wins."

The smallest weight class at the tractor pull is 3,000 pounds, but tractors can pull up to 4,500 pounds.

"A lot of it is technique," fellow driver Lucas Schulz said. "You don't just want to full throttle all the way."

It's not just about pulling tractors, though. It's also about drawing people in the community to the Gleason Lions' Club, which raises funds to help the blind.

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MERRILL - Hodag volleyball will begin a new era this season.

Saturday at a scrimmage in Merrill, Hodag players and coaches put the new leadership and teams to test.

"It feels really good to be back on the quart," said sophomore varsity returner Hannah Worachek.

Rhinelander volleyball challenged Antigo, Merrill and Rib Lake.

"It helps us know how they are going to be playing during the season and what we expect," Worachek said.

The young Hodag team also took the court for the first time with their new coach.

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RHINELANDER - Getting picked last and pegging base runners with the ball are usually memories left in childhood, much like everything else about kickball.

But it's the perfect way to honor Ryan Stradley, who grew up playing the sport.

"We probably had 15 kids in the neighborhood, so we'd gather them and play kickball," Stradley's childhood friend Jesse Shepard said.

Most of those kids came back to Pine Lake Park two decades later. They came because Stradley impacted each of them before dying in 2015 with an undetected heart disease.

"Obviously at our age, we don't expect our friends to be dying," Shepard said. "He was only 28 years old."

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Friday Night Blitz 8-17-18Submitted: 08/17/2018

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Prescott: 6 Rhinelander: 28
Amherst: 34 Merrill: 3
Marathon: 9 Mosinee: 44
Medford: 32 Rice Lake: 46
Antigo: 14 Berlin: 25
Lakeland: 43 Hayward: 13
Ashland: 28 Northwestern: 53
Crandon: 0 Abbotsford: 78
Belleville: 69 WhiteLake-Elcho: 0
Chequamegon: 14 Boyceville: 0
Deerfield: 6 Three Lakes-Phelps: 12
Tomhawk: 20 Shiocton: 14
Wittenberg-Birnamwood: 33 Northland Pines: 22

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PARK FALLS - A medical mystery turned into a scary diagnosis for a Chequmaegon football player earlier this year.

Thomas Harris ended last season with a concussion, so he thought.

Thomas spent his off-season beating cancer instead of in the weight room. He knew he had a hard battle ahead.

But not only did he conquer the disease, he's also getting to spend his senior year playing his favorite sport.

"Hopefully what I've been through can be motivation for some of teammates," Harris said.

From long hospital stays and chemotherapy, to first downs and putting on that green Screaming Eagles uniform again. Chequamegon quarterback Thomas Harris is back on the gridiron.

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On Friday, high school football teams across the state will play their first games.

One Northwoods school almost lost its program last season and is now putting in extra effort to prove themselves.

"It's kind of been a struggle the past few seasons fielding enough players," said Chequamegon head football coach Dan Pearsall.

After low roster numbers and safety issues, the Chequamegon school board nearly cut its football program last season.

However, the Screaming Eagles are getting another chance at 11-man football.

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RHINELANDER - Jonus Sabani singlehandedly carved up Great Northern Conference defenses last year.

But Rhinelander High School's star forward won't be back this season, after transferring to Shattuck St. Mary's in Minnesota.

"His lifelong passion is soccer, and that will be the best step for him to reach his goals," Rhinelander head coach Dan Millot said.

Sabani's transfer means the Hodags will re-shape their offense, putting more forwards on the front line instead of having just one striker up top.

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MINOCQUA - One local football team takes extra steps to keep its players safe and hydrated.

That caution is especially important with temperatures in the 80s and 90s.

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ANTIGO - One of Antigo volleyball's most valuable assets isn't a player--it's a machine that makes the players better.

"It's obviously very intimidating at first just because it's something we've never seen before," Antigo's Alayna Weix said.

Antigo purchased the Total Attack 3 two years ago, hoping to find a way to better prepare defensive players for conference matches.

"It kind of gives the girls the opportunity to practice all possible serves," head coach Jesse Knetter said.

So far, the Red Robins have found the Total Attack valuable enough to use at almost every practice. One of the things Antigo loves about it is its versatility. The Total Attack has speed settings that fire balls faster for a power serve or slower for a float serve.

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TOMAHAWK - Six years ago, Tori Stevens of Tomahawk died at just 11 years old. Since then, an annual benefit night at Tori's favorite place helps fight the disease that took her life.

"You can't ever really forget anything about her," said Tori's best friend Makenzie Werner. "She was super nice, super friendly and always there."

People at Tomahawk Speedway certainly felt Tori's presence at the Night of 100 Bikes.

"She used to sit here and cheer me on every night," said racer Charles Hedges Jr.

Everyone has fond memories of Tori, the young girl who spent so many summer days at the racetrack before she died in 2012 of Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a rare genetic disease.

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