Jeremy Mayo/River News

Kav FitzPatrick crosses the finish line at the WIAA Division 2 meet to become Lakeland’s first individual cross country state champion in school history on Oct. 28, 2017.
Jeremy Mayo/River News

Kav FitzPatrick crosses the finish line at the WIAA Division 2 meet to become Lakeland’s first individual cross country state champion in school history on Oct. 28, 2017.
Another year is in the books and there were plenty of memorable moments in sports throughout 2017, particularly in the Northwoods. Although it was difficult to widdle it down, here are the top 10 moments this year in local sports.



10. Mercer volleyball reaches

sectional semifinals for second straight year



The Mercer High School volleyball team burst onto the scene during the 2016 season by winning its first WIAA Division 4 Regional championship since 2001, reaching the sectional finals.

That was a senior-laden team, and with no seniors on this year's team, not many people gave the Lady Tigers an opportunity to repeat in 2017.

With a lineup that started just one junior, four sophomores and a freshman, Mercer won the Indianhead Conference for the first time since 2001 and repeated as regional champions before falling to Shell Lake in a classic five-set match in the sectional semifinals.



9. Nordrum and McClintock become first Lakeland wrestlers to qualify for state in 13 years



Lakeland Union High School hadn't seen one of its wrestlers qualify for the state meet since 2004, but last season Dejay Nordrum and Jake McClintock broke through the glass ceiling to qualify for the WIAA Division 2 meet.

Both wrestlers experienced a bit of redemption in the process, as Nordrum missed the Great Northern Conference meet just weeks before due to illness, but came back the next week and battled his way to a state berth at 120 pounds.

Meanwhile, for McClintock, it was the last chance in his career to make the state meet. The previous year, McClintock finished fourth at sectionals, behind the state champion, runner-up and fourth-place finisher at 145 pounds.

Moving up a weight class, McClintock took third at sectionals and wrestled his way to sixth place at the state meet in Madison the following week.

"We are very proud of both Dejay and Jake for bringing an end to the state drought that our program has been experiencing for too long," LUHS head coach Adam Bremer said after the state meet. "We have had several wrestlers get within a match or two of the state tournament, but just hadn't been able to get the win to secure the state berth."



8. T-Bird girls' basketball goes

unbeaten in GNC play



Lakeland dominated the girls' basketball scene in the Great Northern Conference in 2016-2017. The 12-0 T-Birds became the first team in GNC history to go undefeated, with nine of the 12 conference games decided by more than 10 points.

Led by first-team All-GNC seniors Lilith Schuman, who recorded her 1,000th career point during the season, and Sydney Ziebart, who finished in the top five in the state in steals, along with second-team All-GNC sophomore sensation Melissa Bruckner, Lakeland pounded GNC opponents by an average of 21.4 points per game. The 247-point differential was also the highest in conference history, topping the 196 points by Antigo in the conference's inaugural season of 2008-2009.

The T-Birds deployed a ferocious full-court press that led to creating 23.8 steals per game as a team and caused nightmares for opponents all season long.

The championship came in LUHS head coach Melissa Ouimette's second season at the helm, it was the second conference title in three years for the school and the program's third GNC crown since the conference was formed.

The team's average of 66.8 points per game and 802 total points were the highest in the history of the conference, topping Lakeland's own record of 62.3 from the previous season.

"Every one of my players do great things on the floor during the course of the game. A lot of our success comes from our press and full court pressure," Ouimette said after clinching the GNC title at Antigo. "When you play this style, you need everyone to do their part. If someone isn't doing what's needed, the whole system breaks down. We are successful because everyone does what is needed."



7. T-Birds win in heart-stopping fashion in first game at River Valley Bank Field

The big news of the summer was the $720,000 joint donation from Greg and Darcey Nicklaus, along with River Valley Bank, to install a brand new artificial turf field at Lakeland to be used for football, soccer and a variety of other activities.

After all of the excitement about the field and the optimism surrounding the football team during the preseason, it was finally time to kick things off on Aug. 18 against Hayward.

The two teams engaged in a shootout in the first half, combining for 48 points, including four touchdowns from standout Tyler Carroll.

After Hayward scored on the opening possession of the second half, the game devolved into a defensive struggle.

When the offense stalled at Hayward's 12-yard line with 4:15 to play, the T-Birds needed to rely on a defense that would eventually give up more yards than any team in Great Northern Conference history.

The Hurricanes marched down the field, extending the drive on a fourth down play with 13 seconds left, but on that night, the defense rose to the occasion and blocked a field goal attempt on the last play of the game to win 28-27.

"I told them, 'Guys, you have an opportunity to be great. Rise to the challenge,'" LUHS head coach Dan Barutha said afterward. "Immediately they knew, they dialed in and they made a play."

At the time, the win signified a new era for the Lakeland Union High School football program, which eventually failed to make the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.

6. LUHS track continues to run the GNC

For nearly a decade, Lakeland has simply dominated the Great Northern Conference in track and field and cross country.

In the spring, the Thunderbirds won their eighth consecutive conference title in boy' track, while the girls' team won with their sixth in the last seven years, while winning 13 events at the GNC meet.

In the fall, the Lakeland boys' cross country team won its ninth consecutive GNC crown, joining the boys' track team in winning every title since the inception of the conference, save for the inaugural season.

Kav FitzPatrick won his second straight individual conference championship, while Darius Diver was the runner-up and Jack Garcia placed fourth. FitzPatrick was voted the runner of the year in both cross country and track by the coaches in the GNC, while Kevin FitzPatrick was the coach of the year in boys' and girls' track and field, along with boys' cross country.

The girls' cross country team placed second at the GNC meet, but Ashley Peterson cruised to an individual title and was named the girls' runner of the year.

"I think it's really a reflection of the assistant coaches," Kevin FitzPatrick said. "We have some of the best coaches - I think - in the country. We have a lot of retired coaches that are part of our program, we have some younger coaches, but are extremely knowledgeable and they pass that on to our student athletes. Because of that, we've been able to maintain that level."

In total, Lakeland sent 16 runners to state in track, two teams in cross country, produced a state title in the boys' 4x800 relay, an individual state champion in cross country and a state runner-up in the 800 meter run in Aubrey Anderson.



5. Lakeland wins first ever sectional title in boys' swim

The lone sectional title win by a team at Lakeland in 2017 came from the boys' swim team, which cruised through its schedule all season long.

The T-Birds went undefeated in the GNC dual meet schedule and dominated the conference meet, avenging a loss to Rhinelander at the meet the year before, which kept them from winning the conference.

Lakeland would win the WIAA Division 2 Stevens Point Sectional by 69 points, winning seven of the 12 events on its way to the first sectional championship in program history.

Jack Garcia won four events, including the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle races and would eventually reach the podium in both races at the state meet.

Garcia was also a member of the 200 medley relay with Tyler Teichmiller, Jacob Hamerla and Grant Gibson, along with the 400 freestyle relay with Brandon Boh, Alex Tucker and Gibson.

Gibson was a triple winner, adding a victory in the 100 freestyle to his two relay titles, while Hamerla also won three events, as he won the 50 freestyle in addition to his two relay teams.

"It's nice to see when you work so hard that it does pay off. It will pay off. And they've been so good all year of just trusting us and doing what we've asked them," LUHS head coach Chris Garcia said after the win. "Very little did I ever hear them complain. I'm just happy that they trusted us."

Lakeland's win also ended a run of 10 consecutive sectional championships by Ashwaubenon.



4. Sydney Thompson takes a pair of state titles back to Mercer

Sydney Thompson entered her senior track and field season as the defending WIAA Division 3 shot put champion, but she had sights on higher goals in 2017.

Thompson breezed through her competition in the shot put and discus all season, setting records in the process.

Entering the state meet, Thompson knew she was going to repeat her state championship performance in the shot put before the meet was even finished. At the end, she would go on to win the event with a throw of 44 feet, 8.75 inches, which was 4.5 feet further than the rest of the field.

"The first flight, it was some good series, 43, 42," she said. "But then once I hit the second flight when I had the 44s I was like 'this is it.' So very exciting."

Winning the discus wasn't quite as easy, however, as it came down to just two inches.

Thompson throw 130 feet, 10 inches, just barely edging out Morgan Davister of Algoma, who threw just two inches shorter, giving her a second state championship.

"I think the best kinds of wins are the unexpected ones," she said. "It was actually really surprising, and I didn't know I actually won until the competition was over. It was super awesome."



3. Lakeland Nordic Ski wins third straight state title

It has gotten to the point where Lakeland simply expects to be a contender and even to win state championships in Nordic ski.

Even after losing two NCAA Division I skiers to graduation in Will Bodewes and Mack FitzPatrick, who was also the individual state champion in 2016, the Thunderbirds still expected to win the boys' state title.

In the end, they were more than right to have those expectations, as Lakeland won its third consecutive Wisconsin Nordic Ski League championship.

All three of the top skiers finished in the top 10 for the T-Birds, with Kieran Mullen placing second overall and winning the classic with a time of 19:47.7.

Meanwhile, Noah Bodewes finished fourth overall and Luke Bodewes was sixth with a combined time of 38:10.4. All three of the team's top skiers were separated by less than a minute. Kav FitzPatrick placed 17th overall and Jake Van Hefty was 25th as Lakeland scored 15 points, besting Ashwaubenon and Madnorski, which both had 21.

"It was a solid day. Really solid. The boys where fourth, fifth and sixth. Tightly bunched. Kieran and Noah were the same time within two-tenths of a second and Luke was four seconds back," LUHS head coach Jim Mullen said. "Kav had a solid race, so we were really set up well. Our fifth varsity skier is a freshman and it's a really good experience for him. It gives him a goal to shoot for next year. He skied very well, but it's tough stepping up against all those juniors and seniors."



2. T-Bird 4x800 relay team wins state championship in upset

Lakeland's boys' 4x800 relay team cruised through its competition all season, but entering the WIAA Division 2 meet at UW-La Crosse, the team was seeded ninth.

That proved to be irrelevant as the team of Darius Diver, Jack Garcia, Kieran Mullen and Kav FitzPatrick ran a time of 7:55.16 to secure the state championship in the event for the second time in three seasons.

It wasn't a cakewalk, though, as FitzPatrick got tripped up with about 100 meters to go.

"At first it was a little scary because Kav got a little tripped up in the last 100 and I thought, 'there goes second,'" Diver said.

FitzPatrick was able to battle through and eventually edged Omro by 0.71 seconds.

The group ran nearly 20 seconds faster than their seed time en route to the state crown.

"To me, really in distance races, seeds don't matter," FitzPatrick said. "If you're in the fast heat, anybody there has a shot to win it. And fortunately for us, this was our day and really that speaks to the coaching that Coach (Rick) Goff does with our distance guys."



1. Kav FitzPatrick wins Lakeland's first individual state title in cross country

Kav FitzPatrick had won plenty of state championships during his high school career.

In fact, FitzPatrick was part of six state championships in three seasons at Lakeland, including three in three sports during the 2016-2017 school year.

He was a member of the boys' cross country team that won the state championship in 2016, he was part of three Nordic ski state championships and won two state titles with Lakeland's 4x800 relay team in track and field, but heading into the 2017 cross country season, he had never won an individual title.

His older siblings - Delaney and Mack - had reached that pinnacle during their high school careers in track and Nordic Ski, but the youngest FitzPatrick had yet to get a taste.

There was also a bit of redemption that fueled FitzPatrick all season long. Despite winning a team state championship in 2016, he did not run as well as he wanted to in the race, finishing 14th overall.

That sent him on a mission in the fall as he tore up his opponents, becoming the second runner in school history to crack 16 minutes and eventually shattered the school record at the prestigious Smiley Invitational in Wausau with a time of 15:27.4, nearly 20 seconds faster than the original record set in 1977.

FitzPatrick also won the Great Northern Conference and an individual sectional title for the second consecutive year and helped the boys' team to a fourth straight trip to the state meet.

All season long, FitzPatrick had been building to the state meet and he finally delivered, winning the WIAA Division 2 individual championship by nearly eight seconds.

"It's crazy just thinking that I'm the state champion," FitzPatrick said after the race. "I was met by a couple WIAA officials when I crossed the line and they were taking my chips off and just saying, 'Congratulations, state champ.' That's not something I've done as an individual before. I've had some very successful teams and we've been state champions, but never alone. So, it's a different feeling and it's awesome."

FitzPatrick's time of 15:52.9 was roughly 40 seconds faster than his time the previous season, but it was the 14th fastest time in D2 history on the course and the 18th best in the history of the D2 state meet.

Not only did the win give FitzPatrick his seventh state championship - and counting - but it was also the first individual cross country title in the program's storied history.

"It's definitely some sweet revenge," FitzPatrick said. "I didn't perform as well as I'd hoped to last year and I came in over the summer, trained really hard, put in a lot of mileage, put in a lot of good workouts and throughout this whole season I've just been working really hard trying to put in the extra reps, put in the extra miles so that I could get here and be a state champ."

Nick Sabato may be reached at nick@lakelandtimes.com or via Twitter @SabatoNick.