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By Dennis Semrau
Sports Reporter 

Sauk Prairie's best of 2017


January 4, 2018

Sprecher Photography

Sauk Prairie's boys lacrosse team won a state championship last June.

Sauk Prairie's boys and girls sports teams provided many highlights and lifetime memories in 2017, including a second state championship in boys lacrosse.

The Eagles were competitive in the Badger North Conference with the boys swimming and wrestling teams also winning conference titles.

Here's one person's look at the top-10 Sauk Prairie sports stories of the year.

Highlights No. 6-10 were printed last week. The top five moments are listed here.

1. Eagles lacrosse team hoists gold

In his first year as a starting goalkeeper, senior Justin Johnson was a key member of a deep and talented Sauk Prairie Eagles' roster that wouldn't settle for anything less than a state championship.

Junior attacker Bryce Thistle recorded five goals and an assist, while Johnson was a force in goal spanning the game's final 21 minutes to help the Eagles make it happen.

Sauk Prairie rallied for a 9-6 victory over three-time defending champion Waukesha Catholic Memorial in a Wisconsin Lacrosse Federation Division 2 state championship game at Carroll University's Schneider Stadium on June 10.

Even more impressive than the comeback was that the Eagles secured the title without senior co-captain and starting midfielder Josh Holler, the Madison Area Lacrosse White Conference Player of the Year.

Holler suffered a severe knee injury in Sauk Prairie's 9-4 state semifinal victory over Stoughton on June 7 and was unable to play.

"I've been coaching for over 10 years, and I've never met a player that's got the heart and drive that kid has," assistant coach Dylan Baier said of Holler. "He put so much into this season, in the off-season, playing through the summer. Playing through the winter, he just put so much into it.

"He was on the sideline this whole game, just in guys' ears the whole time. The kid's going to be an amazing coach someday."

As the Eagles rallied around the championship trophy, the smiles on their faces spoke volumes of a magical season that ended with the school's first state championship in six years.

"I played with the best group of guys I could ask for," said Johnson, who finished with nine saves and helped stymie the Crusaders' offense after it produced three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 32 seconds early in the third quarter.

"The senior class, we all kind of started together, it was really special to see us grow from sophomore to senior year and win the state title. It means the world right now to us. It's a truly incredible experience."

Sauk Prairie (16-3) extended its winning streak to 12 games to earn its second state championship in their first finals berth since 2013. Sauk Prairie won the Division 2 state title in 2011.

"They had something to prove," Baier said, referring to the squad's eight seniors, who used a state semifinal loss to Stoughton a year ago as ample motivation to go out on top in their last go-around. "Three days later, they were on the field. The seniors wanted to practice the next week."

Catholic Memorial stunned the Eagles with two goals in 28 seconds to take a 5-3 lead with 11 minutes, 5 seconds left in the third quarter before making it a three-goal deficit two minutes later.

But while the Crusaders ran their streak to five consecutive goals, that was all the offense they would muster for the rest of the game.

"That was the great thing about having mature, smart, experienced athletes," said Sauk Prairie coach Bennett West, who was recognized as the WLF state coach of the year in a ceremony following the game. "They didn't panic. They said 'we can do this.' They didn't panic for a moment and they had confidence."

Freshman attacker Willy Hanson slammed home an unassisted goal just over a minute later to begin a run of six unanswered goals for Sauk Prairie, which doomed the Crusaders to runner-up status.

Thistle scored his fifth goal of the game on an assist from Hanson just under 3 minutes into the fourth quarter to give the Eagles the lead for good.

Baier credited the Eagles' depth for getting their mission accomplished on a sweltering, sunny day with temperatures hovering near 90 degrees.

"I've said it all year, our depth is our biggest asset," Baier said. "If you want to go the distance, you've got to have some depth."

2. Boys 200-yard medley relay team wins state title

It was a memorable season for the Sauk Prairie co-operative boys' swimming program, which also includes swimmers from Lodi and Wisconsin Heights High Schools.

The Eagles won their first conference title since 1990, winning the Badger North Conference championship.

The Sauk Prairie co-op then qualified an individual or relay team for each event at the WIAA Division 1 state meet on Feb. 18 at the UW-Natatorium.

The Eagles made the most of their opportunities by going out and finishing ninth with 128.5 points in a tremendously competitive state meet.

"It was a great day for Sauk Prairie swimming," coach Todd Wuerger said. "I couldn't be more proud of all the guys on this team and how they represented their communities."

The Eagles' 200-yard medley relay team of sophomore Desmon Sachtjen, senior Owen Doerre, junior Ayden Frey and junior Ben Chao stole the show. The quartet finished first in a school-record time of 1 minute, 34.04 seconds despite being seeded seventh before the race.

Sauk Prairie's last state relay title came in 2010 when the 200-yard medley relay team also was seeded seventh and posted a winning time of 1:35.53.

"The 200 medley relay winning a state championship was very special," Wuerger said. "Those four guys had the race of their lives. Their relay exchanges were fantastic and they swam lights out. I'm very proud of their accomplishment."

There was plenty to be proud of that day.

The Eagles' 200-yard freestyle relay team of Frey, Chao, junior Jake Guentherman and Sachtjen was fourth in 1:26.42.

Frey was fourth in the 100-yard butterfly in a school-record time of 50.79 and ninth in the 100-yard backstroke (52.79).

Sachtjen was also on the podium twice, finishing sixth in both the 200-yard individual medley (1:54.87) and the 100-yard backstroke (52.11).

Chao added a pair of top-15 finishes, taking 10th in the 50-yard freestyle (21.77) and 15th in the 100-yard freestyle (48.38).

Guentherman finished 17th in the 500-yard freestyle (4:54.77) and 19th in the 200-yard freestyle (1:47.98). Doerre tied for 18th in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:01.76), while junior Reese Drager placed 19th in the 100-yard butterfly (:53.90).

In the final event of the day, Drager, junior Payton Fandrich, senior Ethan Ripp and Guentherman took 21st in the 400-yard freestyle relay (3:22.72).

"We entered the meet seeded 11th in the team standings based on our qualifying times from sectionals," Wuerger said. "Moving up to ninth place in the team standings is a great accomplishment and the guys swam inspired races."

The Eagles scored 478 points to capture their first conference championship in 27 years on Feb. 3, winning the Badger North Conference title behind three first-place finishes and seven runner-up finishes.

"Depth is the most important part of our success," said Frey, who won the 100-yard backstroke (:53.56) and swam on the winning 200-yard medley relay team with Sachtjen, junior Allan Brickl and Ripp (1:39.46).

The Eagles' quartet of Chao, Drager, Guentherman and Sachtjen finished first in the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:31.49). Sauk Prairie just missed out on the 400-yard freestyle relay title, as Waunakee (3:20.16) out-touched the Eagles (3:20.24) at the wall.

"This was all about the guys," Wuerger said. "They all wanted this very badly."

3. Wrestlers win seventh straight conference title

Senior Drew Fjoser didn't want to share the Badger North Conference title.

Neither did his senior teammate Logan Moore or the rest of the Sauk Prairie Eagles' wrestling team.

However, after losing to Waunakee and finishing second in the dual-meet competition, that was the only option for Sauk Prairie, which was after its seventh consecutive Badger North title.

Mission accomplished.

Sauk Prairie finished runner-up at the Badger Conference tournament on Feb. 4 at Monona Grove High School - ahead of third-place Milton and fourth-place Waunakee - which meant Sauk Prairie and Waunakee, the Badger North dual winner, shared the overall Badger North title.

"It's a credit to our kids this year, a credit to our kids from the past to run a seven-year streak of Badger North titles. It is pretty awesome," coach Scott Smith said. "You know you sometimes get your confidence shaken when you take a loss. They came and answered it. It was a full team effort. Everybody had a win. We had eight guys place high. It's fun. It's rewarding."

Stoughton won the Badger Conference tournament title for the third straight year, finishing with 361 points. Sauk Prairie took second with 293 points. Milton (256), Waunakee (251) and Reedsburg (179) rounded out the top five.

Fjoser won the 138-pound title, pinning Fort Atkinson's Draven Sigmund in 1 minute, 28 seconds in the title match. It was Fjoser's second title in three years after he won the championship at 126 pounds as a sophomore. He was also runner-up as a freshman, but sat out the meet his junior year while rehabbing an injury.

\Moore spent most of the season recovering from a pre-season injury and was competing in his first individual tournament of the season.

He went the distance in his three matches and needed an overtime tiebreaker to defeat Waunakee's Reed Ryan 3-2 in the finals.

Junior Zeke Smith finished second at 106 pounds, losing a 13-3 major decision to Stoughton's Hunter Lewis in the finals.

Also placing second were junior Dylan Herbrand, who lost to Milton's Dalton Shea 5-3 at 113, and junior Gavin Lankey, who was pinned by Stoughton's Kaleb Louis in the finals after defeating top-seeded Pablo Ramirez of Baraboo in the semifinals

Seniors Nick Zech (120) and Vincent Walsh (182) also placed third. Senior Isaac Pape (170) returned from an injury, which had sidelined him since the end of December, and placed fourth, while senior Konnor McNeal was fifth at 285.

Rounding out the final four placewinners for Sauk Prairie were senior Tommy Lehman (132), senior Matt Bradley (152), sophomore Bryant Schaaf (160) and senior Hayden Batz (195), who all placed sixth.

The Eagles finished the season with two place-winners at the WIAA Division 1 individual state tournament on Feb. 25.

Fjoser lost, 10-7, to eventual state champion junior Drew Scharenbrock of Sun Prairie in a semifinal match at 138 pounds on Feb. 24.

But he bounced back with a pair of victories the next day, including a rematch with Hortonville's Nathan Lichtfuss to finish third for the second year in a row.

"Drew wrestles the best when he's having fun and he wrestled great Friday night," Scott Smith said of Fjoser, who was the first wrestler in school history to become a four-time placewinner. " Drew got up (Saturday) morning and was carefree and I knew that was a good sign. He was super entertaining as always."

Also finishing on the podium was Zeke Smith, who finished fourth at 106 pounds in his state tournament debut.

"I didn't care it was my first time. I was coming here looking to get first. It was disappointing losing in the semis," Zeke Smith said. "But being a placewinner is nothing to complain about. I was happy I was able to get on the podium but certainly not satisfied."

4. Boys soccer team reaches

sectional finals

For nearly 55 minutes the dream was alive and well on a bitterly cold Saturday evening.

The fourth-seeded Sauk Prairie's boys' soccer team was holding a two-goal lead over second-seeded Oregon, and a 21-year state tournament appearance drought for the Eagles seemed poised to be erased.

But Sauk Prairie's three-game streak of shutout soccer in the postseason ended in the 54th minute.

Junior Carter Hendrickson eventually scored the go-ahead goal in the 70th minute as Oregon rallied from a two-goal halftime deficit to defeat Sauk Prairie, 4-2, in a WIAA Division 2 sectional final at Reddan Soccer Park in Verona on Oct. 28.

Sauk Prairie's last sectional final appearance was in 1996 when the Eagles won the 1996 Division 2 state championship with a 2-0 win over Delavan-Darien. The Eagles also qualified for state in 1992 and 1995.

"The expectation at the beginning of the year was never to be here. People doubted them. I thought we were going to be a middle of the pack team," coach Trevor Van Laanen said of the Eagles, who finished 16-5-3. "The thing I will remember most is the heart they had. These guys were going to play hard and they were going to find ways to win."

Sauk Prairie capitalized on several early opportunities to spring out to a 2-0 lead.

Senior forward Juan Herrera Jr. was taken down in the box, and sophomore midfielder Evan Carlson found the back of the net with a free kick to give the Eagles at 1-0 lead at the 27:13 mark.

Nearly 10 minutes later, Herrera Jr. corralled a pass at midfield and weaved his way through multiple defenders to blast home a shot from about eight yards out for a 2-0 lead at 36:45.

But that was all the offense the Eagles could muster.

"Everyone's season is going to end sometime. You'd like to pick when it ends for you," Van Laanen said. "But we've got a lot to hang our hats on."

It was a bitter way to end a memorable season – which included the Eagles being ranked as high as No. 9 in the Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association Division 2 poll.

"For you to play your best soccer at the end of the year, it's got to be your seniors leading the team from the beginning," Van Laanen said. "They did a great job all season long, being the role models they're supposed to be."

Leading the way was Herrerra Jr., who was named to the Badger North Conference first team for the fourth consecutive year, headlining a list of seven Eagles who received postseason honors.

Joining Hererra as first-team members were sophomore midfielder Evan Carlson and senior defender Allan Brickl, who was one of five unanimous selections.

Sauk Prairie finished tied for second place in the Badger North Conference with a 4-1-2 record.

Herrera Jr., who missed being a unanimous selection for the third time in his career by one vote, finished with a team-best 29 goals and also led the Eagles with 10 assists. He recorded eight goals and five assists in conference play.

"From day one when I came in to take over this program, he was the guy who was going to carry us," Van Laanen said of Herrera Jr. "I put a lot of faith in him, and he put a lot of faith in me to lead this team.

"I challenged him at all times in his career to be a different player and do different things. He always tried. He always did what I asked him to do. He's a guy I'll never be able to replace. It's going to take three guys to replace him."

Junior midfielder Max Wilkinson and sophomore defender Blake Gibbs earned all-conference second-team honors.

Senior midfielder Spencer Kostroski and Austin Werderits, a sophomore defender, each received honorable mention recognition from conference coaches.

5. Haas earns trip to state cross country meet

It was a memorable experience that sophomore Hudson Haas hopes to repeat again next year, perhaps with a teammate or two or more in tow.

Haas made his debut at the WIAA Division 1 state cross country meet, competing as an individual at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids on Oct. 28.

It was an eye-opening experience he hopes to build on.

"I learned some things like not to get boxed in my chute so I can get out fast," he said.

Haas recorded a respectable performance, finishing 102nd out of 189 runners in a time of 17 minutes, 11.06 seconds. He was the 14th sophomore to finish the 5,000-meter race.

He was also the first boys' state qualifier from Sauk Prairie since Garrett Kerska qualified for the 2009 state meet as an individual and placed fourth overall in 15:53.

"I'm so proud of Hudson and his performance at the state meet," Sauk Prairie coach Andy Sherman said. "It was a tremendous accomplishment in itself.

"But I think he forgot how good the competition was going to be there, so he's a bit disappointed but I'm not sure why. I think he wanted to be under 17 (minutes) and he just missed it."

After walking the course early on race day with several of his teammates, including fellow sophomores Cam Desroches, Casey Vande Hey and Noah Wankerl, Haas said Sherman offered some SAGE advice.

"He told me something like I've gotten here and don't feel pressured. It's your last race just go put what you can on the course," Haas said. "Don't be nervous, everything will turn out fine."

Combined with the difficulty of the course and typical state-meet weather conditions with temperatures in the low 30s and swirling winds, it was an experience that Haas will file away in his memory banks for next year.

"He hasn't run a harder course and you look at how cold and windy it was," Sherman said. "The adrenaline got him going in the first mile but after that he settled in. The other guys who have been there before had a little more experience and understood that it's not the first mile that's going to get you this race it's the second and third."

Haas emerged from one of the most difficult sectionals in the state to qualify as the fifth and final individual runner from the DeForest Sectional, which also included top-ranked Middleton, which won its first state title in 25 years, and second-ranked Madison West, the defending state champion which placed sixth.


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