The year 2018 was a huge success for the New Richmond, St. Croix Central and Somerset athletic programs. There were a number of sterling individual and team performances at all three schools. Here is a list of the top 10 stories from the 2018 sports season.
St. Croix Central football to state title game
For the third straight year, the Panthers reached the WIAA Division 4 state championship game. After winning the state title in 2016, the Panthers lost the state title game in achingly close finishes the past two seasons.
The Panthers lost in the 2018 title game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison to Racine St. Catherine's, 8-7. The Panthers scored their touchdown with 3:36 remaining in the third quarter on a 1-yard blast by running back Keagen Berg. That lead stood up until St. Cat's scored with 12 seconds left in regulation. Racine quarterback DaShaun Brown scored the touchdown on a 3-yard run, and he then swept around left to score on the two-point conversion.
This came after the Panthers lost to Lodi 17-10 in overtime in the 2017 state title game.
The Panthers had one of the best running attacks in the state in 2018. Seniors Ryan Larson, Austin Kopacz and Berg all rushed for more than 1,000 yards during the season. Larson led the charge with 1,563 yards. He finished as Central's career leader in rushing yardage and in touchdowns.
The Panthers were dominant throughout the regular season, rolling up a 13-0 record heading into the state title game. In the regular season, their closest game was a 42-24 win over Somerset. The Panthers were tested better in the playoffs, defeating Somerset 21-7 and Northwestern 21-6.
Four Panthers received all-state honors. Kopacz, Larson and punter Derek Myer were named to the WFCA All-State first team and lineman Nate Berends was an honorable mention selection on offense and defense.
New Richmond girls golf to state
Senior Maggie Veenendall completed the most successful season in New Richmond girls golf history and the Tigers advanced to the WIAA Division 1 state championships.
Veenendall tied for sixth in the individual rankings and the Tigers placed fifth in the team standings at the Division 1 state tournament, played at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison on Oct. 8-9. Both Veenendall's score of 156 and the fifth place team performance are the best results ever posted by the Tigers in a WIAA state tournament. She is the first Tiger female golfer to finish in the top 10 at a WIAA state golf tournament.
Junior Jessica Hagman and freshman Lanie Veenendall tied for 34th at the state meet as they both shot 172 for the Tigers. Senior Ashley Swiggum finished at 195 and freshman Sydney Nolan shot 200.
Maggie Veenendall rolled through the competition in the MBC, winning conference Player of the Year honors for the third straight season. The Tigers won the MBC title for the fourth straight season.
Following the season, Veenendall signed a national college letter of intent to play golf at the University of Sioux Falls in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Somerset junior Haley Myers also qualified for the state tournament. It was her second straight season playing at University Ridge after the Spartans qualified as a team in 2017. Myers shot 91 in both of her rounds, with the 182 score putting her in a tie for 13th with Colfax's Abby DeMoe. She improved on her 2017 score by 15 strokes and moved up 10 spots in the individual rankings.
Ryan Larson wins state wrestling title
There was nothing easy about Larson's state title season. Injuries delayed the start of his season and he dealt with considerable pain through it all.
It was almost fitting that his state championship match against Prairie du Chien senior Stephen Ronnfeldt went into overtime. Fifty-four seconds into overtime Larson was able to pin Ronnfeldt, making him the Division 2 195-pound state champion. Larson finished the season with a 20-2 record. Larson pinned all three of his opponents in the state tournament.
Larson and Prescott's Ty Sanford had several extremely close matches during the season. Larson topped Sanford 3-1 in the sectional finals.
The state title win ended a personal jinx for the Larson family. Larson's father and uncle also reached the state championship round in their high school careers, but both were defeated in their state title matches.
St. Croix Central girls basketball wins MBC title
The Panthers locked up their first MBC basketball championship with a 59-36 win over Somerset on Feb. 1. The Panthers were led by senior Mia Krogseng, who would be voted the conference's Most Valuable Player. By the end of the season, Krogseng would become the Panthers' all-time leading scorer with 1,519 points. In May, she signed a letter of intent to play basketball at the University of St. Thomas.
Krogseng and junior Claire Frankiewicz were first team All-MBC selections, with senior guard Kalli Cress named to the second team. Panther coach Luke Fritsche was named the conference Coach of the Year. He resigned his coaching post following the season.
The Panthers were perfect in the MBC season, going 14-0, with a complete 21-3 record. The Tigers dealt with great sadness at the end of their season. Krogseng's father, Dan, died the day of the Panthers' home playoff game against Baldwin-Woodville. Krogseng and her teammates rose through the pain with a stirring performance, beating the Blackhawks 69-25. The next day, the Panthers were spent as they took on Bloomer in the regional final. Bloomer ended the Panthers' season 50-38.
New Richmond baseball wins MBC title
The Tigers earned their third straight MBC championship. Immense hitting, pitching and defense developed to make this a fearsome team. The Tigers went unbeaten through the MBC, now holding a 17-game unbeaten conference streak.
The Tigers received the seventh seed in the WIAA Division 1 sectional bracket and opened the playoffs with a 6-0 win over Menomonie. In the regional final, they gave an excellent effort but were edged by second-seeded Stevens Point, 3-2.
The senior class led the Tigers to their success in 2018, led by Blake Kretovics, Jake Jirik and Noah Towberman, with one of the best offenses in the area. The emergence of juniors Reece Lucas and Ryan Kling made the pitching staff as potent as the offense. Lucas was a first team All-MBC choice and Kling was chosen for the second team.
Kretovics was part of the senior class who also excelled in the classroom. In April, Kretovics became a 2018 WIAA Scholar-Athlete. That announcement came days after Kretovics accepted an athletic and academic scholarship to attend Winona State University and play baseball there. Kretovics was an all-state selection in baseball.
St. Croix Central cross country, track to state
The track and cross country seasons both were quite successful at SCC.
Leading the success was Marie Hamlin, who emerged as one of the top senior female runners in the state this fall. She won the MBC championship and the WIAA sectional title. She continued the incredible success by placing fourth in the WIAA Division 2 state championship race, the highest finish ever for a Panther in the state cross country meet. Hamlin had the fourth best time of any senior running in all the divisions at the state meet.
After the season, Hamlin accepted a scholarship offer to attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Hamlin wasn't the the only Panther running at state. Sophomore Mya Kizer also made a vast improvement, placing 26th in the Division 2 girls state race.
The Central boys cross country team earned a return trip to the state meet. They placed 16th in the Division 2 state meet, led by sophomore Jakob Eggen, who placed 32nd.
New Richmond sophomore Willa Rogers also ran at the state cross country championships. She placed 65th in the Division 1 girls state race.
Hamlin and Liv Moll led the Panthers at the state track meet. Hamlin was the fourth place finisher in the girls Division 2 3,200 meter run, where Moll was the 12th place finisher. They both ran in the Division 2 1,600 meter run, where Moll finished 10th and Hamlin 12th.
The Panther boys 400 meter relay team ran to a fourth place finish at the state Division 2 meet. The team of Frank Holter, Zac Bringgold, Austin Kopacz and Jacob Murtha were the eighth place finishers after the preliminaries, but perfectly executed handoffs helped them move up to fourth place in the state finals. The Panthers sent a total of nine entries to the state track meet.
The Panthers finished second to Osceola in both halves of the MBC track meet in May.
Goldstein is golden
Somerset sophomore Eve Goldstein was an individual standout at the 2018 WIAA State Track and Field Championships at UW-La Crosse in June.
Goldstein supplied plenty of drama in the opening day of the state meet, winning the shot put in her final attempt with a winning distance of 43 feet, 8 inches. Goldstein was clearly the top entry in the Division 2 discus throw in the second day of the meet. In the preliminaries, Goldstein took the lead by sailing the discus 138 feet, 8 inches. None of her competitors were coming near that mark, but in the finals she extended her lead by sending the discus 139 feet, 5 inches.
Goldstein was also the MBC champion in both events.
In 2017, as a freshman, Goldstein took third at state in the shot put and fourth in the discus throw.
Cichy, Elmore, Witzmann in the NFL
Somerset natives Bryan Witzmann, Jack Cichy and Gaelin Elmore all got a taste of the NFL and Witzmann and Cichy are still on NFL rosters.
Cichy was drafted in January by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Coming off two seasons at the University of Wisconsin, Cichy was adored for his work ethic, but concerns over his injury history dropped him to the sixth round. Cichy made an immediate impact with the Bucs as one of the team's top special team players until injury menaced him again. Cichy was playing in his seventh game with the Bucs when he was felled by a knee injury that ended his season.
Cichy missed part of 2017 with a torn pectoral muscle and all of the 2017 season with a knee injury.
Somerset native Gaelin Elmore wasn't selected in the NFL Draft, but within hours of its completion, he agreed to a rookie free agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals. In July, days before he was scheduled to attend training camp, Elmore decided to follow a higher calling. He retired from football to pursue a career in the ministry.
Witzmann ended the 2017 season as a starting guard for the Kansas City Chiefs. Life tossed him some curves, but he found a new home as the starting right guard for the Chicago Bears in 2018.
On Sept. 3, Witzmann was released by the Chiefs in their final cutdown before the regular season. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 10, but was released on Oct. 5. Three days later, he signed with the Bears. This reunited him with Bears coach Matt Nagy, who was the Chiefs' offensive coordinator in 2017.
Both New Richmond varsity soccer teams returned to the WIAA sectional tournament level, but both were rebuffed in their attempts to reach the state tournament.
The New Richmond girls battled their way to sectionals, but lost 1-0 in the sectional semifinal game against River Falls. In 2017, the Tigers were defeated by Pulaski in the sectional championship game.
The Tigers put together an incredible two-season run, with three losses over two seasons. Two of the losses were in the sectional finals at the end of each season. The only regular season loss came against River Falls in 2018.
Also in girls soccer, Somerset senior Jack Peterson was named the Most Valuable Player of the MBC.
In boys soccer, the Tigers were trying to reach the state championships for the third straight season. The Tigers' attempt to reach state ended with a 7-1 loss to Holmen in the sectional semifinals. Two other Middle Border Conference teams did reach state, with Baldwin-Woodville winning the sectional title in Division 3 and Amery in Division 4.
New Richmond junior AJ Johnson had another outstanding season in leading the team. Through his first three seasons, he has already become the program's all-time leading scorer.
New Richmond Hall of Fame induction
Eight new members were inducted into the New Richmond High School Athletic Hall of Fame as part of the NRHS Homecoming weekend festivities in September:
Blake Berger: 2007 graduate who competed in football, basketball, tennis and baseball.
Abby (Demulling) Christensen: 2002 graduate who competed in cross country, basketball and track.
Bruce Emerson: 1970 graduate who competed in football, basketball and track.
Charlie Johnson: 1958 graduate who competed in football, basketball and baseball.
Ayla (Mitchell) Helland: 2005 graduate who competed in cross country, basketball and track.
Gary Stephens: 1965 graduate who competed in football, wrestling and track.
Wally Dunn: Dunn coached football, wrestling and basketball from 1965-1973.
Jim Saliny: Saliny coached hockey and golf from 1987-2017.