Fans, athletes celebrated the best of times in 2023

NEW Media Staff

The past 12 months have seen a variety of firsts, some state titles and plenty of impressive competitions by local high school athletes, as well as a few non-school related top stories.

Here’s a look at some of those individuals and teams that made the headlines in 2023.


Bonduel High School’s Maddy Sokolski capped off a perfect wrestling season with a state title in the girls 138-pound weight class during the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Individual State Tournament, which ran Feb. 23-25 at the Kohl Center in Madison.

Sokolski didn’t surrender a point in any of her four state matches, with a 7-0 decision over Middleton’s Mattie Papenthien in the final being the only win not to come by pin.

“I’m feeling really overwhelmed with all the support from my family, and my boyfriend, my teammates and friends,” said Sokolski minutes after winning it all. “I’m really grateful to be down at Madison this year, it’s really a cool environment.”

Oconto Falls High School freshman Taylor Whiting won the girls state title at 107 pounds.

It marks the fifth straight year a Whiting won a state title after Taylor’s older brother, Clayton, won four titles during his high school years. After winning her first title, she made her way into the crowd for an emotional embrace with her older brother.

Whiting capped off a 4-0 run at state with a 4-0 decision win over Wausau West’s Savannah Danielson in the title match.

“It’s an amazing feeling, a lot of stress came off a little bit here,” said Whiting of accomplishing her goal of keeping the family state title streak alive. “I’m excited to keep going, learn more, train more.”

At the boys tournament, Wittenberg-Birnamwood’s David Gauderman and Shawano’s Caden Young each placed second in their weight divisions. Pulaski’s Trenton Gibbons placed third.


On the basketball court, the Marion boys team claimed its first conference title (Central Wisconsin Conference-North Division) in 55 years.


On a different court, Shawano’s Tristan Sheldon and George Buerman competed at the boys tennis state meet.

Track and field

Bowler High School senior Emmitt Kietlinski won a state title and nearly claimed a second during the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Track and Field State Championships, held June 2-3 at Veterans Memorial Stadium Complex in La Crosse.

Kietlinski, who was representing the Gresham/Bowler co-op, opened state competing in the Division 3 high jump competition June 2. He won the event after clearing 6 feet, 6 inches.

Kietlinski then took part in the triple jump competition on June 3, finishing second after a top leap of 44-9¼.

“This was very special to me,” said Kietlinski. “First off, I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to come here and how well I’ve done here the past three years. It means a lot to me, and I’m really happy that I got a first and a second in my very last time here at state — it’s something I’ll always remember.”

Weeks later, Kietlinski placed second in the high jump at the Nike Outdoor Nationals on June 17 at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon.

Kietlinski cleared 6 feet, 9 inches to earn the second-place finish.

Kietlinski competed in the triple jump at the national meet on June 18, placing 23rd.

He earned that finish after a top leap of 42-2¼. He posted his top mark on his first of three attempts in the first flight of competition. The top nine advanced to the finals.

To qualify for the Nike Outdoor Nationals, Kietlinski had to meet certain standards in each event. The high jump standard was 6-4, while the triple jump mark was 44-6.

“Competing in the national was the biggest meet of my career,” said Kietlinski. “I’d seen Hayward Field meets on television, so it was extra special to compete on that track. There were jumpers who were state champions from all over the U.S. and it was neat to talk to and compete with guys from all over the country.”

Back at the state track and field meet, Wittenberg-Birnamwood’s Reese Rogowski claimed four top-10 finishes. Teammate Faith Resch took a third-place award.

Gillett’s Alex Peterson was part of three top-five finishes, while Suring’s Christine Sleeter earned a pair of top-five finishes.


On the golf course, the Lena High School boys team placed fifth in Division 3 at the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association State Boys Tournament on June 5-6 at Blackwolf Run - Meadows Course in Kohler.

Lena had a team score of 370, which is 82 shots over par, on the first day of competition. Lena posted a team score of 373 on the second day, giving the team a two-day total score of 743.

Braden McVane led the Wildcats over the two-day competition and ended up placing seventh as an individual with a total score of 165.

“The first round I struggled around the greens and wasn’t too happy with my score, but the second day I came around and played some good golf,” said McVane. “It definitely feels good to have placed seventh out of the many guys.”

Mason Belongia was Lena’s next finisher, taking 26th overall after a total score of 185.

Mason Spice turned in a two-day total of 194 to finish tied for 36th place as an individual.

Drake Dionne finished five shots back of Spice. Dionne’s 199 placed him 39th as an individual.

Evan VanderZanden was Lena’s fifth golfer, taking 50th as an individual after a two-day total of 217.

While most of the Wildcats weren’t thrilled with the rounds they produced, the fifth-place finish as a team was an accomplishment, especially for making the school’s first-ever state appearance.

“We had no expectations coming into the tournament so a fifth is pretty cool in all our eyes, but I know we all have a lot more to show for ourselves and I think we can improve for next year,” said Dionne.

In the fall, Pulaski’s Vivien Ninham tied for 31st place at the WIAA State Girls Division 1 golf meet at University Ridge Golf Course in Verona on Oct. 9-10.

After the first day, she was tied for 24th place with an 85, 13 above par. Ninham shot the same 85 on the second day, giving her a total score of 170, 26 above par.


Pulaski High School’s Briana Anundsen, Olympia Simons and Faye Brunke helped the Bay Area Ice Bears girls hockey team win the state title on March 4 at Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton.

Bay Area capped a special winter season with a 3-0 win over Superior/Northwestern in the championship game. The Ice Bears topped the Middleton co-op 4-1 on March 2 in the state semifinal.

“Being a part of this team means a lot to me,” said Brunke. “It really is a special thing, and it’s an amazing feeling knowing we as a team won the state title. This team has put so much effort and hard work into practices, games and the offseason, and truly every single player got us to this point.”

“Being part of this year’s team has been so special to me,” said Simons. “This team is a co-op high school sport, which means we don’t typically get a lot of recognition and some of our achievements can go unnoticed. This year, after we qualified for state, we finally started to get a lot of recognition through our schools and got to feel the true high school sport experience.

“We were posted on our school’s social media, more students came to watch our game, teachers congratulated us. This state title has been so memorable, and I wouldn’t want to share this success with anybody else but these teammates. We all worked so hard to get to this point and to finally see all of our hard work pay off has been so amazing.”

Legion baseball

Coming off a very successful regular season, the Wittenberg 16U Legion team turned their attention the the state tournament in Waupun in late July. Looking to start their double elimination tournament with a bang, Wittenberg rode the arm of Hayden Miller to pick up an 8-3 win over Campbellsport.

“I thought we played a very good defensive game as an entire unit,” coach Jeff Miller said after defeating Campbellsport. “We had a solid pitching performance across the board against a very good hitting team. Fortunately, we were able to string together some timely hits late which helped us take care of business today.”

After coming away with an impressive opening round win, Wittenberg turned their attention to the La Crosse A’s and their 20-3-2 record. Wittenberg found out the hard way how good this La Crosse team is as a pair of three-run innings proved too much in the 12-4 defeat.

Following their tough loss to La Crosse on July 22, Wittenberg was put in a win or go home situation July 23 as that was their motto the rest of the way.

Apparently that was enough motivation for them as they dominated Germantown 9-1 to book a spot in the semifinal match on July 24. They then proceeded to knock off Tomah in their most dominating performance of the week as they advanced to face Seymour with a 16-4 victory.

Wittenberg came out strong by not only scoring in the first inning but opening up a 4-1 lead as they appeared to have the game in hand. Seymour did a great job rallying back and pulled within 4-3 and even had the tying run on second base in the seventh before coming up short in the end.

Already with an impressive weekend under their belt, Wittenberg took the field for the final time in 2023 as the La Crosse A’s awaited them for the state title.

La Crosse gave Wittenberg their lone loss up to this point at the state tournament, knocking them off 12-4 on July 22, and this was no different as the A’s took care of Wittenberg 11-0. Wittenberg’s dream season came to an end with a state runner-up finish.

After seven weeks of American Legion baseball this summer, the Pulaski Legion squad saw its season come to an end at the AA State tournament in Ashwaubenon. Pulaski went 0-2 during the weekend.

In its first game, Pulaski played Region 1 winner River Falls. Despite River Falls taking the victory 11-1, this game was much closer than it seemed as a series of errors led to countless unearned runs that ultimately doomed Pulaski in the end.

Needing a win on Saturday to keep their season alive, Pulaski took on the New London Clippers in a win-or-go-home game. Despite their offense putting up much better numbers and pushing across six runs, it was their pitching that let them down as the Clippers plated nine runs to send Pulaski home 9-6.

Shawano Speedway

Cody Hudson, a member of Shawano Area Ag Society, which overseas the fairgrounds, told the Shawano County Board Aug. 23 that scale issues are taking away from the importance of the track to the community.

A winning driver was recently disqualified after his race when it was discovered his car weight did not meet regulations, and he forfeited his winnings.

“The race track brings so much stuff to the community. They bring a lot of revenue to the area,” Hudson said. “There is so much more to be talked about. There is even talk about wanting to close the track down. We want to keep seeing racing going.”

Social media has been buzzing with rumors and comments after Mike Thorne announced in late July he was told via letter from the Ag Society he was no longer welcome at the track. Thorne, who declined to speak to the media, said in several social media posts he simply asked questions posed by fans, and the Ag Society executive board took it out on him.

He told the county board he said in a video that Shawano was going through a lot of drama, but it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed if officials wanted to fix it. Days later, he received the letter.

“Did I meet with the executive board before that decision was made? No, I did not. I was never asked,” he said. “I was never told that anything was wrong or being done wrong or anything. That was a kick in the groin.”

Cross country

Several local teams and individuals earned titles in three divisions at the 2023 Boys & Girls State Cross Country Championships at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids on Oct. 28.

In the Division 1 girls race, Olivia Stedl of Pulaski placed 123rd with a time of 20:44.8.

In the Division 2 girls race, Shawano placed sixth.

Bailey Hendricks ended up in 24th place in 19:56.7. She was joined by Grace Chelberg in 51st, Lilly Guenther in 53rd, Adalyn Barkley in 86th and Macy Beyer in 96th.

Oconto Falls’ Hailey Delzer placed 57th with a time of 20:33.7, and Brooke Hodkiewicz was 75th in 20:52.2.

In Division 3, Bonduel placed sixth as well.

Mariah Wondra ran to 40th place in 20:41.9. She was joined by Teagan Engel in 62nd, Ashley Kurey in 66th, Joselyn Bohm in 71st and Cierra Schnell in 111th.

In Division 2 boys racing, Shawano placed 10th and was led by Will Chelberg in fourth place with a time of 16:07.9. Also scoring for the Hawks were Ethan Onesti in 11th, Josiah Kuehl in 93rd, Andon Chelberg in 97th and Connor Chelberg in 141st.

Oconto Falls’ Ben Adams placed 38th with a time of 17:03.4.

In the Division 3 boys race, Bonduel took 13th and was led by Ben O’Brien in 19th place in a time of 16:57.3. Race Anvelink placed 87th, Oliver Chitwood was 120th, Griffin Uelmen was 122nd and Gage Anderson placed 128th.

Gillett’s Bradyn Wendorff finished in 27th place in 17:10.6.


When a team reaches Level 3 of the high school football playoffs, there are no more easy games.

This is the point when the eight best teams in their respective divisions get together to compete for their spot in the state semifinal games. Wittenberg-Birnamwood has not only been one of the best teams in the state all season, they have continued to do it in a variety of ways that helped them race out to a 10-1 record through 11 games.

The Chargers were in for a tough task as the No. 3-seeded Wrightstown Tigers came to town after pulling off an upset against Southern Door in Week 2.

The Tigers’ rushing attack set the tone on offense while their defense forced three Wittenberg-Birnamwood turnovers to lead them to a 41-17 victory, ending the Chargers’ season.

“It just wasn’t our night tonight,” coach Jason Rieck said. “We made far too many mistakes in this game, and that is something we haven’t done much this season. You can’t do that this late in the season, especially against a team like Wrightstown and expect to come out on top.”

“Overall, I thought we played well as a team but made too many early mistakes,” said Nathan Waupekenay, the senior quarterback. “We moved the ball fairly well throughout the game, but our mistakes proved costly, especially the ones that came from me. There were some plays where I misread the routes, and I felt that I could’ve done better.”

“We knew coming into this game that it was going to be a challenge slowing down that rushing attack,” Rieck said. “You can only see so much on film, and they are a very fast and physical team on offense. Not only that, but they do a great job mixing and matching their personnel to keep you honest, and that makes it tough for a defense to adjust to during the game.”

“I knew this season was going to be special since our first practice,” Waupekenay said. “After playing together for a year last season, we found out pretty quickly that we could be a powerhouse type of team this season. Beating Amherst twice in the same season has never been in the history of our program until this season. This was a great team to be a part of, and this is a season all of us are going to remember.”