Spring college athletes find hope, difficulties in extra year of eligibilitySubmitted: 04/05/2020
NORTHWOODS - College athletes facing cancelled spring seasons due to COVID-19 will get an extra year of eligibility.

Dealing with that disruption this season is still proving to be a challenge for many.

Lakeland Union graduate Kav FitzPatrick is part of UW Madison's cross country and track and field teams.

He and his teammates were preparing for indoor championships to cap off the winter season before the cancellations hit.

FitzPatrick is trying to stay in shape by running at home, but he says it's not the same.

"It was definitely disappointing, definitely a big blow," FitzPatrick said. "Had to take some time to really process that because it's the first time I can remember that I haven't been competing in track in the spring."

The NCAA will also raise roster limits to accommodate this year's seniors who want to return for another season.

It's unknown exactly how many spots will be added per sport or per team.

UW-Stevens Point baseball is already coming up with plans to use those extra open spaces.

"We may pick up some JV games and whatnot throughout the year," head coach Jeremy Jirschele said. "Hopefully we get a spring trip next year. But yeah, there will definitely be some new bridges to cross."

Decisions on whether college sports can return in the fall have not been made yet.

High school spring sports are still just postponed, not entirely cancelled.

Story By: Andrew Goldstein

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RHINELANDER - High school seniors might not be getting the picture-perfect ending to their school careers.

But this week one Rhinelander basketball star announced some exciting news about her future.

"Just the fact that I am playing still is just really exciting to me and knowing I have a lot more to accomplish."

Rhinelander's all-time leading basketball scorer Kenedy Van Zile is no stranger to breaking records and accomplishing goals.
The senior just checked off her final goal for high school athletics -- signing to play ball at the next level. The star point-guard is headed to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

"The effort they put in, coming to my games, have their player's text me before playoff games. They were just really welcoming and really wanted me," Van Zile said.

Oshkosh didn't start recruiting Van Zile until half-way through her senior season. So she's glad she waited to make the big decision.

"I know signed kind of late, the season is over but I just think it's the best fit for me and I'm excited to see where my career will go," Van Zile said. 

Recruits got a front-row seat to a record-breaking senior year for Van Zile.

She surpassed the all-time leading scorer for both boys and girls with 1,670 total points, shared GNC Player of the Year honors and made it to sectionals with the Hodags for the first time in school history.

"I just want them to keep pushing new records and just keep trying their hardest. I know speaking for all the seniors, we've worked hard and I know the girls will continue to work hard. People even ahead of my class have set an expectation and I really think the team will keep working hard for it," Van Zile said.

Van Zile says most importantly she couldn't be more grateful for the Hodag community.

"They don't know how thankful us seniors are for them and how much they've me our season and my whole career enjoyable. Because if it wasn't for the fans and my friends and family, I don't know what I would be playing for," Van Zile said.

Those experiences are what make her even more excited for what's next.

"Bigger stands, bigger crowds and I just love playing for people and I hope I will enjoy it," Van Zile said. 

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RHINELANDER - Rhinelander senior Kenedy Van Zile announced her commitment to UW-Oshkosh girls basketball on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

"I am extremely excited to announce my commitment to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh to continue my basketball career," Van Zile said in her tweet. "I'm beyond grateful for my family and friends that have endlessly supported me my entire career until now!"

Van Zile was named an honorable mention all-state basketball player by the Associated Press after a standout senior season. She averaged 21.2 points per game for the Hodags and shared GNC Player of the Year honors with her teammate Cynthia Beavers.

Van Zile also became the Hodags' all-time leading scorer for either boys or girls basketball this year, surpassing previous record-holder Mike Flory with 1,670 total points.

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RHINELANDER - Athletes across country are trying to cope with sports being put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.

With the future of spring sports up in the air, many high school coaches are trying to find ways to keep kids motivated and working out from home.

One Rhinelander coach is using social media to do that.

"Hey everybody Coach Kraemer setting up another week of in-season training for a lot of us."

This is the new normal for coaches across the country.

"We have an opportunity to better ourselves," Kraemer said.

Rhinelander track coach Aaron Kraemer is using Facebook to keep in touch with his athletes and students.

"I'm urging you to remember the things that we talk about all the time in our sports. That is to control what you can control and do the best you can with the opportunities that you have," Kraemer said.

Kraemer is challenging his athletes to try and do the exact workout they would do at school.

He's made spread sheets that outline workouts for each day. All exercises and workouts can be done from home or outside in their own neighborhoods. Sprints, weight training, stretches and of course good rest. 

"One thing we can control is, the way we workout and the things that we do," Kraemer said.

Most importantly, he hopes the kids take this time to learn about themselves.

"I urge you all to just take a chance to sit down, talk to your family, talk about what's important and talk about structuring the time to do certain things. Make it the best for finding what you are good at, what you can build and what you can do," Kraemer said.

Sports might be on hold for a while. But Coach Kraemer says he's using this platform to try and keep his kids on track and be a shining light in these trying times.

"You have an opportunity to be better and to get better and be the best possible person coming out of this. Don't wallow in self-pity or self-loathing. Don't wallow in what's been taken away from you, celebrate what's been given to you and the opportunities that we have," Kraemer said.

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PHILLIPS - It's been one week since the sports world started its shutdown.

From youth sports all the way up to the big leagues, sports fans are left wondering what's next.

But one Phillips sophomore is looking back on a remarkable basketball season.

"It was pretty cool, that moment when I made the shot was awesome. It was really nice to share it with my friend who scored her thousandth point a couple of weeks ago."

Phillips sophomore Jada Eggebrecht scored her 1000th point this season.

The Phillips team says as far as they know, Jada is the only current sophomore in the state to reach the mark.

"I just go out to play. I was an awesome milestone to meet," Eggebrecht said.

That wasn't the only achievement the point guard earned. She was named player of the year in the Marawood North and qualified for the WIAA three-point contest. 

To make matters even more special, her father has coached her through it all.

"It's pretty cool to have my dad there with me all the time, at every practice at every night, having him coach me through everything," Eggebrecht said.

"It's great when you have your own kid on the team. It makes it more fun to have that connection when you are coaching," Phillips girls basketball coach Mike Eggebrecht said.

Jada says her dad is one of her biggest motivators. And Coach Eggebrecht believes his daughter is turning into quite the ball player.

"I'd say she's very unselfish even though she led our team in scoring. She led the team in assists. She also led the team in steals. I think she's a great teammate. Her teammates seem to love her and she loves them," Coach Eggebrecht said.

All of these achievements feed into the Phillips Loggers winning their first conference title in 23 years; without a single senior on the roster.

"We can't use the excuse that we are so young anymore. We are going to be still kind of young next year but a very experienced team. So we will definitely look to try and win conference again and move further into the playoffs," Coach Eggebrecht said.

"I hope that we show that we can do it and that this becomes an expectation for every year," Eggebrecht said.

The Loggers fell to Colfax in the regional playoffs. 

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Parker Retzlaff stomped on the accelerator at seven years old and never looked back.

A decade after starting his racing career, the now-16-year-old Rhinelander native is on the NASCAR circuit.

"I've just always been into cars and driving fast," Retzlaff said. "I've never been uncomfortable."

Parker Retzlaff's car is more than a thousand miles away.

That doesn't mean he stops driving.

"I play a simulator on my computer every day," Retzlaff said.

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The WIAA is ordering the suspension of all spring sports activities, including but not limited to practices, games and team events, until Monday, April 6.

Coaches are allowed to organize workouts virtually, but may not assemble their teams for practice.

The measure is designed to combat the spread of coronavirus.

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TOMAHAWK - While we all think about spring sports, the Tomahawk Hatchets have their eyes set on the fall.

That's when they're set to debut a brand-new sports complex.

So far, Tomahawk is about $150,000 shy of hitting their funding goal of $2.25 million.

Three-fourths of their current funds were raised through grants and private donations from local businesses.

Since the project is not using any money from the 2017 school referendum, the Hatchet Pride Project is counting on individual contributions to make up the final share of the money.

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MINOCQUA - Lakeland Union quarterback Michael Ouimette committed to St. Norbert's College today.

Ouimette ranked second in the Great Northern Conference for passing yards with 750.

He was second-team all-conference for both football and basketball.

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WABENO - Jesse Pakulski couldn't believe it when he got the news.

"I personally don't think I'll ever get over it," Pakulski said.

"It is what it is and there's nothing we can do to change it," fellow senior Carson Kalata said.

An empty gym at this time of year usually means a season-ending loss, but that's not what happened to the Rebels.

Laona/Wabeno prevailed over top-seeded Wausaukee, 68-67, after being down by 11 points at halftime.

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MADISON - The WIAA has announced that it will be cancelling the remainder of the boys and girls basketball tournaments.

The association's control board decided to abruptly halt the postseason tournaments after growing concerns over COVID-19, or coronavirus.

"I want the student-athletes and their coaches to know that your school leaders, the WIAA Executive Staff, all our committees and the Board of Control have done everything imaginable to try to provide and preserve these opportunities for you," executive director Dave Anderson said. "However, we want and need to be responsible in helping the global and state efforts to stem the tide and spread of this virus."

Most of the semifinals have already been played in the girls basketball tournaments at the Resch Center in Green Bay. Division five semifinals were scheduled to be played Friday with the championship rounds on Saturday.

Boys basketball was set to be played from March 19-March 21. UW-Madison had already announced it would not allow the tournaments to be hosted in the Kohl Center on campus.

The boys basketballs season was halted just shy of the sectional finals. Laona/Wabeno and Rib Lake were set to meet in that final round on Saturday for the right to go to the state tournament.

No word has been given yet on whether spring sports will continue as scheduled.

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