By Paul Lecker
While no area high school teams won state championships, 2016 was a great year for local athletes and teams as they made their marks on the Wisconsin prep sports landscape.
The biggest local story of the past year was the dominance of the Stratford wrestling team.
The Tigers won four WIAA Division 2 individual state championships, had two other wrestlers finish as runners-up, and placed second at the WIAA State Team Tournament.
Sophomores A.J. Schoenfuss (49-3) and Jeremy Schoenherr (41-0) and junior Kamren Bornbach (48-2) repeated as Division 3 state champions, and they were joined by junior 285-pounder Tyson Kauffman (48-3) as state gold medalists at the Kohl Center in late February.
Freshman Macey Kilty became just the second female to ever reach the state finals, where she finished second. Teammates Jake Drexler and David Marquardt also earned state medals by finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, for Stratford.
Spencer/Columbus sophomore Hunter Luepke also earned a state medal, finishing fifth in his weight class in Division 2.
A week later Stratford lost a heartbreaker to Fennimore 27-26 in the Division 3 finals at the state team tournament in Madison. The Tigers reached the finals with a 43-26 win over Spring Valley/Elmwood but could not get past Fennimore for its first state title, losing on a tiebreaker of matches won (8-6) after the two teams were deadlocked in points after the 14 matches.
The 2015-2016 winter season also ended in heartbreak for the Marshfield girls basketball team, which lost a WIAA Division 1 sectional final to Appleton North 56-54 on a basket by the Lightning with 11 seconds remaining.
Marshfield finished a great season with a 23-3 record and its first Wisconsin Valley Conference title since 2011. It was the eighth conference title in 15 years under head coach Heidi Michaelis.
The Auburndale girls basketball team also grabbed a conference title, tying with Marathon and Wisconsin Rapids Assumption for first place in the Marawood South. Behind first-team all-conference players Paiton Richardson and Taylor Gotz, the Apaches finished 21-3 and earned their first conference championship since winning the Cloverbelt in 1991.
The Marshfield Columbus Catholic boys basketball team rolled to the Cloverbelt East title with a perfect 16-0 record, winning its fourth conference crown since 2010 under head coach Joe Konieczny.
In the spring a number of local athletes earned medals at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Columbus Catholic senior Alexandra Hutchison, who will run at Winona State University next spring, won her third-straight Division 3 girls 200-meter state title in 25.06 seconds. She also finished second in the 100, an event she won at state in 2015, in 12.90 seconds.
Spencer’s Johanna Ellefson won the D-3 girls pole vault gold medal with a vault of an even 11 feet, and Noah Zastrow was second in the boys pole vault, clearing 14-6 to win the silver.
Other local medalists at the state track meet included Marshfield’s Calden Wojt, who was third in the Division 1 boys 200 meters; the Columbus Catholic boys 800 relay team of Elijah Welsh, Leo Pittsley, David Nielsen, and Farid Torbey, which placed fourth; and Auburndale senior Sylviann Momont, who finished sixth in the Division 3 girls 100 hurdles.
The Stratford softball team came a win away from reaching the state tournament, losing 2-0 to Laconia in the Division 3 sectional semifinals.
Spencer won the Cloverbelt Conference East Division softball title with a perfect 12-0 record before bowing out the WIAA playoffs with a hard-fought 2-1 loss to Marathon in extra innings in a Division 3 regional final.
Marshfield found success on the tennis court as the Tigers’ No. 1 doubles team of freshman Evan Fait and junior Derek Reckner qualified for the WIAA State Individual Boys Tennis Tournament by finishing fourth at the Division 1 sectional. Fait and Reckner lost their opening match at state to finish with a 15-4 record.
This past fall Stratford football ripped through the Marawood Conference, going a perfect 8-0 to capture the league title. The Tigers had four-straight shutouts to end the regular season.
Spencer/Columbus, which finished as the Division 5 state runner-up in 2015, put together another great season under head coach Jason Gorst, going 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the Cloverbelt Conference as it rode the legs of Zastrow and Luepke, who each ran for over 1,000 yards and combined for 46 overall touchdowns.
The Spencer volleyball team continued its dominance of the Cloverbelt East, rolling through all of its competition to capture its fifth-straight undefeated conference championship.
Marshfield and Columbus Catholic put together terrific seasons for boys soccer as each reached the WIAA sectionals.
The Tigers finished 12-8-4 after losing to New Richmond 4-1 in a Division 2 sectional final. Columbus cruised to a 12-0 record to win the Mid-State Soccer Conference title and ended up 20-3 overall after losing to Arcadia in a Division 4 sectional semifinal.
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Hub City Times Sports. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.