Who's in the mix to stand out this winter sports season?
The winter sports season is upon us.
Hopes are high for a number of area teams and athletes.
Is a gold ball in the future for any of the area boys and girls basketball teams?
Will the spotlight shine on any wrestlers hoping to punch their ticket to the state meet in Madison?
Do the Janesville Bluebirds or Rock County Fury have enough firepower to advance past regional play?
Can any area gymnasts or teams get past the dominating presence of the Milwaukee-area co-op teams?
And why does the WIAA continue to host the boys state swim meet at the outdated and sorely lacking UW-Natatorium when there are better options elsewhere?
The majority of those questions will be answered by the time the madness of March subsides and spring sports season begins.
Here’s a preview of what to watch for in the area from the seven winter sports.
The early results are promising for Edgerton and Janesville Craig. The Cougars suffered their first loss of the season Friday night but are expected to contend for a Big Eight Conference title. Coach Mike Miller has a balanced attack, with four or five players capable of scoring in double figures.
Edgerton is riding the coattails of its conference-championship football season by busting out early in the Rock Valley North. The Crimson Tide beat East Troy on Tuesday night to snap the Trojans’ 62-game conference winning streak and remained unbeaten with an impressive win over Whitewater on Friday.
Two weeks into the season, it’s apparent that there will likely be a changing of the guard in the Big Eight. Preseason favorite and 10-time defending conference champion Madison Memorial, along with defending co-champion Sun Prairie, have three conference losses between them and may have been vastly overrated by the prognosticators.
Edgerton looks to have the upper hand in the Rock Valley North, while the South appears to be a four-team race.
The Southern Lakes has only one game under its belt, but the consensus pick among coaches is that Burlington will be hard-pressed to repeat.
Stoughton, behind all-everything Nick McGlynn, is the prohibitive favorite in the Badger South.
The best area player, Carly Mohns, is on perhaps the best team, Brodhead, which probably has the best chance of any area team to make a trip to the Resch Center in Green Bay.
Mohns, a University of Iowa recruit, helped the Cardinals get within a game of the state tournament a year ago.
Janesville Craig and defending Big Eight champion Janesville Parker have talented underclassmen and some outstanding shooters, but may not have enough of a post presence yet to make a tournament run.
Milton advanced to the Division 2 state tournament a year ago but lost a wealth of talent from the team, including all-state selection Morgan Blumer.
Monona Grove is the heavy favorite in the Badger South, while the Southern Lakes is wide open.
The Rock Valley has two of the top players in the state. Whitewater’s Brooke Trewyn is the school’s all-time leading scorer and is being heavily recruited, while Mohns is in a league of her own in the Rock Valley South.
Boys and girls hockey
The Bluebirds, Janesville’s co-op boys hockey team, started the season 3-0 and improved to 4-1 with an impressive win over Sun Prairie on Thursday night.
Coach John Mauermann has three lines capable of scoring, a veteran presence in net with senior captain Michael MacDougall and a solid group of defensemen. The Bluebirds will get better as the season goes along and could surprise come tournament time.
The Rock County Fury, a girls co-op team made up of players from Craig, Parker, Beloit Memorial, Beloit Turner and Clinton, also started the season strong with wins in three of their first four games.
Coach Darrel Moore has his most experienced team yet, led by a talented senior class, and they busted out in a big way Friday night with nine goals in a win over Viroqua.
Lake Geneva Badger was the only area team to advance to the state team tournament a year ago, and the Badgers entered the season ranked 10th by Crossface Magazine in Division 1. Elkhorn, however, shook up the Southern Lakes with a win over the Badgers on Thursday night.
Milton’s Nolan Shea is the top returning individual. The junior rolled to the Division 1 title at 106 pounds a year ago. The Red Hawks will have to get past Stoughton in order to reclaim supremacy in the Badger South.
Janesville Craig returns five wrestlers that won 30 or more matches a year ago and could contend for the Big Eight title.
Janesville Parker continues to rebuild and will do so this season under first-year coach and former Vikings wrestler Danny Jackson.
Milton finished third at last year’s Division 2 state meet, but graduation took a heavy toll on the Red Hawks. Milton sophomore Mitchell Roberts was fourth at state a year ago in the 100 breaststroke.
Elkhorn’s Sam Johnson is the top returning individual. The senior was second at state in Division 2 in the 200 freestyle and third in the 500 freestyle.
Janesville’s top swimmer is Craig junior Peter Loftus.
Co-op teams continue to be the story—or the problem depending on how you look at it—for area gymnasts.
The co-op team of Franklin/Mukwonago/Oak Creek/Whitnall won the Division 1 team title last year, followed by the co-op team of Burlington/Badger/Catholic Central/Wilmot. Those juggernaut teams—with their combined enrollments of over 5,000 students—make it difficult for Craig and Parker to send kids, let alone teams, through to state.
Jean Welch has done an outstanding job as Craig’s head coach, while Heidi Jegerlehner becomes only the second coach in Parker history, replacing longtime coach Cathy Lehmann.