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Top sports stories from 2018

Highlights include football title, snowstorm

By Greg Seubert

Waupaca County’s biggest sports story of 2018 happened near the end of the year.

Iola-Scandinavia’s football team won the program’s first state championship in November, as the Thunderbirds defeated Racine Lutheran 43-14 in the WIAA Division 6 state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium.

Here’s a look back at the T-Birds’ season, as well as nine of the other top stories that the Waupaca County Post covered in 2018:

Iola-Scandinavia strikes gold

Iola-Scandinavia football coach Scott Erickson joins his team after the Thunderbirds handed Racine Lutheran a 43-14 loss.
Greg Seubert Photo

It’s time to rearrange the trophy case at Iola-Scandinavia High School.

The Thunderbirds won the school’s first state football championship Nov. 15 with a convincing 43-14 win over Racine Lutheran in the WIAA Division 6 championship game at Camp Randall Stadium.

Iola-Scandinavia scored touchdowns on all four of its drives in the first half, led 29-0 at the break and ended the season with a 14-0 record.

“It’s indescribable to have this opportunity,” coach Scott Erickson said. “I’m just very thankful to get back here again. There are a lot of good teams that don’t get that second chance. I kept telling our coaches and our kids that I’m thankful that we had this opportunity.”

The T-Birds fell to St. Mary’s Springs 35-12 in last year’s Division 6 championship game.

Bryce Huettner capped the game’s opening drive with a 1-yard run with 8:50 to go in the first quarter. Carter Kurki found the end zone on the two-point conversion try and the T-Birds had an 8-0 lead.

Iola-Scandinavia then drove 56 yards in 12 plays on its next drive, with Alex Sharp scoring from 9 yards out. Connor Kurki kicked the extra point for a 15-0 lead.

The T-Birds tackled on two more scores in the second quarter on Connor Kurki’s touchdown passes of 21 yards to Will Cady and 29 yards to Carter Kurki.

Racine Lutheran scored on the first play of the second half, as Colton Kraus and James Wilson hooked up for a 52-yard touchdown pass that cut the lead to 29-7.

The T-Birds answered on their next drive, however, as Huettner capped a nine-play, 68-yard drive with his second 1-yard touchdown run.

Ed Bonikowske set up the T-Birds final score with an interception. Huettner capped the drive with an 8-yard run with 6:47 remaining in the game.

The T-Birds outgained the Crusaders 282-191 on the ground and 104-74 through the air.

Huettner finished with 156 yards on 32 carries.

Huettner breaks rushing record

Bryce Huettner scored three touchdowns and ran for 156 yards in Iola-Scandinavia’s 43-14 win over Racine Lutheran during the WIAA Division 6 state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. The senior also broke Wisconsin’s career rushing record during the season. Holly Neumann Photo

Someday, someone in Wisconsin is going to set a new career rushing record.

For now, however, that record belongs to Bryce Huettner.

The Iola-Scandinavia senior ran for 158 yards Nov. 9 in the Thunderbirds’ 27-25 win over Grantsburg in a WIAA Division 6 state semifinal game in Chippewa Falls.

Huettner came into the game 151 yards behind Mike Firkus, who ran for 6,707 yards at Hilbert High School from 2000-02.

“I didn’t know how many yards there were to get,” he said. “I knew we had one game to win to get to the state championship.”

Huettner didn’t set the record until the final drive of the game, as he carried the ball on five of the game’s last six plays.

“I trusted (coach Scott Erickson) to do whatever was best for the team,” said Huettner, who also scored a pair of touchdowns.

“Whatever that was, we were all behind it. It didn’t matter who he was giving the ball to, we had a job to do and that was to get some first downs and get the clock rolling. Watch the guys up front on film and you’d see they were moving some guys around and you can’t run the ball without that.”

Huettner’s first touchdown, a 12-yard run, came on the game’s third play less than a minute into the game.

“Getting off to a quick start is something we like to do,” he said. “If we win the toss, we take the ball. Our O-line did a great job right away opening some holes.”

His totals include 478 yards as a freshman, 950 as a sophomore and 2,830 last year as a junior.

“I’m blessed to have played so much football in my high school career,” he said. “I didn’t play offense my freshman year, but I got to play on the defense of a great team. The whole experience from freshman year to senior year is really culminating into the greatest experience you could ask for.”

The championship game will also be the last time Huettner suits up in a T-Bird football uniform.

“Records are made to be broken and I’m sure somebody else is going to come along in a few years that’s going to have a great team and they’re going to do great things,” he said. “I’m just excited to be a part of it, but I’m more excited to be going back for a state championship in my senior year.”

 Lakemen fall in BABA final

Waupaca’s Cam Seidl held Little Falls to two runs, but still came out on the short end of a 2-1 score to the Loggers in the BABA Grand Championship.
Greg Seubert Photo

Pitching was the name of the game, but it was a home run that made the difference in this year’s BABA Grand Championship.

Hunter Gruenwald’s two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning erased a 1-0 deficit and gave Little Falls a 2-1 win over Waupaca Sept. 2.

It was the Loggers’ seventh Grand Championship win and first since 2007, while the Lakemen were playing for their second championship in a row and 16th overall.

The game featured a pitching matchup of Little Falls’ Chris Dunn and Waupaca’s Cam Seidl. They combined to throw nearly 250 pitches, as Dunn finished with 127 over nine innings and Seidl with 120 over eight frames.

They also struck out 14 batters each. Seventeen of the game’s 18 batting positions had at least one strikeout and nine had at least two.

Gruenwald’s home run was one of seven hits for the Loggers, while Dunn held the Lakemen to two.

Teams, coaches deal with postponed events

Unused hurdles are stacked in the snow next to Iola-Scandinavia High School’s track field in Iola in April. The school’s track team had competed in a handul of indoor meets to start the season, but had to cancel its outdoor invitational because of a snowstorm that dropped nearly 30 inches of snow on the Iola area.
Greg Seubert Photo

A weekend snowstorm that dropped more than 2 feet of snow on the Waupaca area in mid-April is history, but it’s still taking a toll on high school athletes and coaches.

Take the Waupaca baseball team, for example.

The Comets were originally scheduled to play 11 of the their 25 games through April 21, including eight North Eastern Conference contests with Clintonville, Fox Valley Lutheran, Freedom and Little Chute.

As of April 22, however, the team only had three games in the books, a season-opening win over Weyauwega-Fremont and a doubleheader sweep of FVL played one day before the storm hit on April 13.

“As you can imagine, it has not been easy,” coach Rocky Mondello said. “Frustrating, in fact. It was one thing before the storm to not be able to get out there because of residual snow, but 2 feet after that really threw a wrench in things.”

Meanwhile, the Waupaca boys’ golf team had its first three meets postponed.

“My golfers are disappointed that they are not able to play,” coach Tom Noltner said. “It is taking a toll on them with all the cancellations because in reality, they know we can’t make all of the matches up.

“We are staying as positive as we can by chipping and taking full swings in the nets in the gym with our allotted time,” he said. “We are preparing ourselves the best we can physically and mentally so when we do get out on the course, our golf game is at the highest level it can be. We know once we start to play matches, there will be little room for error. We look forward to get onto any course to play.”

The Waupaca track team hosted Seymour, Shawano and Clintonville April 12 and competed in a handful of indoor meets, but had several outdoor meets canceled.

One of them, the Waupaca County Meet, was originally scheduled for April 21 at Comet Field and has been rescheduled for April 28. The annual meet also includes teams from Iola-Scandinavia, Weyauwega-Fremont, Manawa, New London, Clintonville and Marion.

“We are looking at the recent storm as a set of opportunities,” girls’ coach Joel Kempfert said. “The first of these is the opportunity to heal up. Often times, the early season is stressful on bodies. The recent storm has caused the cancellation or postponement of a number of our meets. At this time, we have a handful of girls that have some injuries of varying degrees. They are using this delay as a chance to get back to full strength before we get back into competition.”

“This has been the worst season that I have ever seen out of 15 years of coaching track,” Weyauwega-Fremont track coach Jered Wilson said. “We have 35 practices and have only competed once indoors. Everyone is very tired of practicing inside and the coaching staff has had to be very creative with our workouts. If you practice too much inside, that will injure your runners, but if you don’t, then you aren’t getting in shape. It is a double-edge sword that I personally want to be over with. The only thing that everyone has to remember is that it isn’t just us, everyone has to deal with it.”

Track athletes shine at state meet
For Aspen Linjer, it was something totally new.

For Erika Kisting, it was a case of been there, done that.

Linjer, a freshman at Little Wolf High School in Manawa, and Kisting, an Iola-Scandinavia High School senior, were two of several local athletes that made it to the medal podium at the WIAA State Track & Field Championships, held June 1-2 at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Linjer placed sixth in the girls’ Division 3 100-meter dash, while Kisting, in her fourth trip to state, placed fourth in the girls’ Division 3 1,600-meter run and ninth in the 3,200-meter run.

Competing in her fourth and final Waupaca County Meet, Iola-Scandinavia’s Erika Kisting won the girls’ 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs with times of 5:32 and 12:23.52. Holly Neumann Photo

Kisting, who won both races two years ago as a sophomore, wrapped up her high school career with the Thunderbirds with the 1,600, a race she ran with teammate Jada Beacom, who placed seventh.

“After I crossed the finish line and I looked at my dad, I got a little teared up, but I still have my college career,” she said. “My high school career is done and I’m just proud of how it went.”

Kisting also competed at four WIAA state cross country meets and is heading to UW-Milwaukee, where she will compete in cross country and track.

“Some of my college teammates that I’ll be running with are here today and I got to warm up with them,” she said. “It’s going to be sad leaving all my teammates and coaches, but I’m also really excited. It’s a new chapter in my life and I can start fresh.”

While Kisting left UW-La Crosse for the final time, Linjer is excited about returning next year.

“I’m very excited for next year,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a better year.”

Linjer almost didn’t make it to the 100 final after she placed ninth out of 10 runners in the preliminary heats.

“I was a little freaked out, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I could’ve not made it,’” she said. “I was expecting to not place on the podium today, but I did and it was awesome.”

Linjer also competed in the 200-meter dash and on the Wolves’ 400-meter relay team in her first season of high school. She never lost a race last year as a middle school runner.

“I like the 100 the best, that’s my favorite one,” she said. “I can hold the pace longer and just accelerate. I’m glad that I did middle school because I kind of understand how things work,” she said. “It’s a little different.”

While Linjer trains for her sophomore season, Kisting is ready for the next chapter of her life at UW-Milwaukee.

“I just put my heart and soul in everything I do,” she said. “That’s what you have to do. Every athlete that competes here has that passion and that heart. You have to put in those miles. It teaches you a lesson that if you really want it, you have to put in the time.”

W-F wrestling trio wins medals

Weyauwega-Fremont’s Justin Kempf wrestles Rosholt’s Brock Lyshik in a 132-pound match at the Central Wisconsin Conference meet Feb. 3 in Manawa. Kempf was one of three individual champions for the Indians, as Carter Greening won the 106-pound title and Cian Fischer placed first at 120. Greg Seubert Photo

Sixty-two teams sent wrestlers to the WIAA State Individual Wrestling Meet.

Only six of them scored more points than Weyauwega-Fremont, as all three of the Indians’ wrestlers placed in the top five at the tournament, held Feb. 22-24 at the Kohl Center in Madison.

Cian Fischer placed second in Division 3 at 120 pounds, while Carter Greening and Justin Kempf finished third at 106 and 132 pounds, respectively. All three received all-state recognition after combining for a 10-4 record that included three pins and three major decisions.

“All three of these boys wrestled fantastic all weekend,” coach Tim Potratz said. “These three kids have wrestled their entire lives and that experience and confidence showed in the way they handled the pressure at state. They are as mentally tough as they are physically gifted. The entire Weyauwega-Fremont wrestling community is proud of their achievements.”

Fischer (45-4) wrestled his way to the championship match, where he lost a 6-0 decision to Coleman’s Caleb Gross, last year’s 113-pound state champion.

Greening posted a 4-1 record that included two pins. He beat Marathon’s Dane Klinger 7-6 in the third-place match.
“Carter showed a lot of mental toughness in his matches,” Potratz said. “He was not intimidated by the moment at all, as he came out and attacked his opponents in every match, recording two pins and a major decision before winning the third-place match in a nail-biter.”

Kempf picked up his 45th win of the season in the fifth-place match with a 4-2 win over Kewaunee’s Cam Hanrahan.

“Justin made it to state last year and did not place, so this fifth-place medal was the next step to the top for him,” Potratz said. “Justin has used a wide-open attacking style to win all season and he continued that at the state tournament to earn a medal.”

Bessette hits hoops milestone
Laynie Bessette made basketball history and has a chance to make some more.

Laynie Bessette’s family surrounds her after the Manawa senior scored her 1,000th point Dec. 6 in the Wolves’ 53-37 win over Tigerton.
Holly Neumann Photo

The Manawa senior scored her 1,000th point Dec. 6 during the Wolves’ 53-37 win over Tigerton and is only the fourth player in school history to reach the milestone.

“This is pretty incredible,” Bessette said. “Going into my freshman year, I did not think I could do it, but I did and it feels good.”

Manawa girls’ basketball coach Pat Collins described Bessette as a player that will leave a lasting impact on the program.

“She is fearless and one of the most competitive players you’ll see on the court,” he said. “She is super-athletic and does whatever is necessary to help the team.

“Right now, everybody is focusing on scoring 1,000 points, but she can do way more than just score,” he added. “Honestly, I would say the best thing about her game is the way she plays defense. She can guard anyone.”

“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and my coaches, especially my dad, because he always kept pushing me,” Bessette said.
She ended up with a team-high 21 points to bring her career total to 1,007 points and is now eyeing the school record, currently held by Molly Lieberman, of 1,280 points.

“Laynie is an outstanding basketball player,” Collins said. “She is good because she has put the time in, but more importantly, I am proud of her development as a person on and off the court. She was on a team that only won six games her freshman year. We have had some teams that had tough seasons and she has experienced disappointment. I am so proud of the work she put in despite the lack of early success.”

Wega-Fremont’s Fischer to wrestle in college
What does Weyauwega-Fremont High School senior Cian Fischer have in common with NBA superstar Steph Curry?

They both can say they attended Davidson College on an athletic scholarship.

Fischer signed his National Letter of Intent Nov. 14 to join the Division 1 wrestling program at the school, located in Davidson, North Carolina.

Before Fischer heads east, however, he still has one season of high school wrestling. He’s placed in the top four at the WIAA State Individual Meet as a freshman, sophomore and junior, but he has bigger aspirations this season.

“I want to win a championship and I want to represent my community well wherever I go,” he said.

Fischer, who has a 132-12 record with the Indians, placed second at 120 pounds in Division 3 at state last year, fourth as a sophomore at 106 and third as freshman at 106.

Fischer is believed to be the fourth W-F athlete to receive a Division 1 scholarship. Rich Tomaszewski, coach Tim Potratz’s longtime assistant coach, wrestled at the University of Madison; Sam Otte played volleyball at Central Michigan University; and Matt Rohde played basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Potratz is looking forward to one final year of coaching Fischer.

“You don’t have to spend a lot of time showing him a move,” he said. “I’ll show a technique and when we go out to work on that technique, I’m not going over to make sure he’s doing it right. I’m going to other people.”

While other high school athletes move from sport to sport, Fischer concentrates on wrestling.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s the thing for me. Other people play other sports, but wrestling’s my true love. That’s why I’m at where I’m at. I fell in love with it because I can put in much work into it as I want and I can get as good as I need to be. There’s no ceiling for how much I can develop as a wrestler.

“Wrestling year-round puts me in a mindset where I’ve put all this work in, now it’s time to hammer down and get ready to go,” he added. “I do take breaks once in awhile. When I do take those breaks, I start to get that itch. I’ll watch wrestling when I’m taking those breaks, but I want to be on the mat all the time.”

‘Polo’ hangs up his soccer shoes
A familiar face will be missing from the sidelines at Waupaca High School soccer games.

Mark Polebitski talks with Kalyn Klug during halftime of the Waupaca girls’ soccer team’s game with Little Chute this spring at Comet Field. Greg Seubert Photo

Mark Polebitski, who started the school’s boys’ and girls’ soccer programs more than 20 years ago, coached his final game May 31, a 9-0 loss to Rhinelander in the first round of the WIAA girls’ state tournament.

It was the 891st game in a coaching career that included 22 varsity seasons with the girls’ team and 15 with the boys’ program.

“The program was the result of a dedicated group of parents,” said Polebitski, who retired at the end of the 2017-18 school year after more than 30 years as a computer science teacher at the school.

The boys’ team became a varsity program in the fall of 1996, while the girls’ team played its first varsity schedule in the spring of 1997.

“It was relatively new because at that point, there was only one division with less than 100 teams in the entire state,” Polebitski said. “Many of the bigger schools had programs for a number of years starting in the early ‘80s. That’s kind of when the whole thing started in Milwaukee, Madison, the bigger cities.

“Most of the schools we played in 1996 were bigger than us because very few schools our size had soccer,” he said. “In the early days of the girls’ program, we played De Pere, West De Pere, Ashwaubenon, Pulaski, a lot of the Green Bay schools. A lot of big schools back then.”

It didn’t take the boys’ program long to find success on the soccer field.

The 1998 team posted an 18-2-2 record.

Polebitski’s teams went on to win several Mid-State Soccer Conference championships in a row starting in 1998.

Another big season came in 2001, but the season ended with a loss 1-0 to Notre Dame in a sectional final. That team finished 25-2-1.

“That was a very talented group of juniors and seniors,” Polebitski said. “Out of 54 boys we had out for soccer, 52 of them played summer ball in the offseason and that’s the reason that team was as dominant as it was.”

Polebitski coached the boys’ team from 1996 to 2010 and ended up with a 234-109-25 record. His girls’ teams posted a 244-193-53 record from 1997 to 2018.

Waupaca’s last winning season came in 2014 and the team posted only three wins in the last three seasons.

“We won a lot of playoff games and stayed above .500 for a long stretch,” Polebitski said. “It’s been tough the last couple of years, but you know what? They’re getting better.”

Several of Polebitski’s players went on to play college in soccer, including Katy Werginz, who spent four seasons at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

“She was an amazing player,” he said. “We could play an opponent and she could single-handedly take over a game and win it for us just on pure athletic and soccer ability. In the early days, we just had a rag-tag team of kids that we could get out there and we were actually winning some games.”

Now that Polebitski’s coaching days are behind him, he can look back at his 40-plus seasons of coaching middle school and high school soccer in Waupaca.

“I have thought about that,” he said. “I certainly enjoyed my time and won’t have any regrets. Coaching was a good experience for me, but it’s young person’s thing to do. Even though I probably feel young, I can no longer go out there and demonstrate or show. I’d rather coach by getting involved. It’s fun to play with them and fun to be able to demonstrate and stuff like that.

“There are other things for me to do,” he said. “I really enjoyed all 43 seasons with the boys and girls, but I’m ready to move on.”

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