There were many exciting local sports stories for high school teams and individual athletes during 2018. The following were some of the highlights of the past year:

1. For the first time since 1986, the Phelps boys basketball team rode into the WIAA postseason with the momentum of a Northern Lakes Conference (NLC) championship after breaking out in the second half and defeating Crandon 58-45. Phelps won the Division 4 Regional championship with three wins, 73-36 over Lena, 61-34 against Florence and an 83-68 victory over Oneida Nation in the championship. The Knights, coached by Chris Rader, saw their season come to an end with a 78-67 loss to Green Bay NEW Lutheran in the Sectional semifinal. The Knights finished the season with a 22-4 record.

2. The Northland Pines boys soccer team defeated Antigo 8-0, Rhinelander 2-1 and Mosinee 5-2 in the final week of the season to win first place in the Great Northern Conference (GNC) with a 10-0 record. The Eagles won the WIAA Division 2 Regional with a 4-1 victory over Northland Lutheran and a 4-0 win over Barron in the final. Pines, coached by Mark Pinski, lost to Amery in the Sectional semifinal and finished the season 20-3 overall.

3. The Three Lakes-Phelps girls track and field team captured the WIAA Division 3 Regional championship, defeating seven other teams in Oconto Falls. The track team advanced to State a record 10 athletes from the Sectional meet in Marathon, and in the process witnessed the Lady Bluejays claim a Division 3 Sectional team title. Three Lakes-Phelps finished 10th at the State meet, with Daisy Campbell placing second in the pole vault and Kortnie Volk finishing fifth in the long jump and the 4x100-meter relay team placing seventh. For the boys, Jared Zwettler finished sixth at State in the 1,600-meter run.

4. Eagle River’s Natalie Decker announced that she’ll be headed to the NASCAR circuit after being invited to join the DGR-Crosley team that has added Decker to their driver development program for the 2019 season. As part of the development program, Decker will run a select number of NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races as well as a combination of NASCAR K&N Pro Series and ARCA Racing Series events. The 21-year-old will make the transition to the Truck Series after competing in the ARCA Racing Series for the past two years. Decker, coming off a career-best season, finished seventh in the 2018 ARCA Driver Point Standings after scoring two top-five and nine top-10 finishes throughout the 20-race season. She also took part in the first Women Drivers Assessment Program at Circuito de Navarra in northern Spain. 

5. The Northland Pines boys hockey team tied Antigo for the top spot in the GNC and entered the WIAA postseason as the second seed. The Eagles, coached by David Cox, beat Rhinelander 10-0 in the first round of the playoffs and then lost to Stevens Point Area Senior High 7-6 in a double-overtime thriller. The 2018-’19 version of the Eagles started the season with nine straight victories before a 4-3 loss to Wausau West.

6. The Three Lakes-Phelps baseball team was crowned the 2018 NLC champs under coach Brad Bisnette, after seeing a tight schedule with all conference games as doubleheaders. The NLC champs took care of business with a league record of 11-1 and an overall record of 14-3. They earned the No. 3 seed for their WIAA Regional, advancing to the semifinal where they fell to Regional champion Coleman 3-1.

7. The Northland Pines girls soccer team defeated Altoona 3-1 and Amery 4-1 to win a WIAA Division 2 Regional championship. The Eagles lost to Chippewa Falls McDonell Regis 1-0 in the Sectional semifinal. Northland Pines ended the season with a 12-5 record overall, including a third-place finish in the GNC under coach Larry Favorite.

8. The Northland Pines girls track team placed third in the GNC and the boys also placed third in conference. During the regular season, the girls finished with a 51-13 record and the boys finished with a 60-3 record. The girls won three meets this year and the boys won seven. For the girls, Kirsten Lindemann finished fourth in the high jump at State in Division 2.

9. Football teams at Northland Pines and Three Lakes-Phelps reached the WIAA playoffs. Pines, coached by A.J. Zayia, finished the regular season at 5-4 as an independent. The Eagles lost to Stratford 41-0 in the Level 1 playoff game. Meanwhile, Three Lakes-Phelps, coached by Tyler Maney, lost to Iola-Scandinavia 54-14 in the Bluejays’ first postseason game since 2014. Three Lakes-Phelps finished 5-5 overall.

10. Three Lakes senior Jared Zwettler advanced to the Division 3 State Cross-Country Run after placing third at the Amherst Sectional in 16:53.4. He finished 12th at State in a field of 151 runners.

11. Former Northland Pines standout football player Austin Ramesh completed his career with the Wisconsin Badgers, finishing his senior year with some key carries at fullback in a 34-24 victory over Miami in the Orange Bowl. Ramesh did not get selected in the NFL draft, but signed a free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Ramesh announced later in the year he was leaving football.

12. Three Lakes senior Eli Ribbe was one of 16 senior girls and 16 senior boys selected as recipients of the 2018 WIAA Scholar Athlete Award. Ribbe and the others were selected based on both athletic and academic achievement. Along with his 4.0 GPA, Ribbe earned nine varsity letters throughout his high school athletic career, including four in soccer, four in track and one in basketball. He was a standout in soccer.

13. The Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association (WVCA) released its 2018 All-State awards, honoring 40 first team, 20 second team and 116 honorable mention girls volleyball players from across Wisconsin, including Northland Pines junior Jacqueline Smith, who was one of 10 players named to the first team in Division 2. Smith also was named the GNC Player of the Year for the 2018 volleyball season and was a unanimous selection to the GNC first team.

14. The Three Lakes Coaches Association held its inaugural Three Lakes Athletic Hall of Fame banquet to honor Three Lakes athletes who have made an impact in the school district as a student athlete, coach or fan. The 2018 Three Lakes Hall of Fame inductees included: Ken Bigley, Michele (Gensler) Brown, Nick Boehlke, coach Jerry Koslowski, Gene Step, George Rychlock, Bob Wojtusik and the 1982 Three Lakes football team.

15. The Eagle River/Northland Pines High School ­Athletic Hall of Fame inducted two standout athletes, a coach and several longtime hockey managers to the hall. The athletes inducted were Kent Gray, who played football at Pines from 1979 through 1981, and 1970 graduate Veryl Krosschell, along with baseball coach Jerry Adamovich. The three were joined by eight members of the Zyhowski family, who were hockey managers at Pines since the 1970s.

16. In what many are calling the craziest race — and maybe the most disputed — in Derby history, Blaine Stephenson won the 55th annual Country Cat World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River. Stephenson, of Hutchinson, Minn., was the first Minnesota racer to win the “Indianapolis 500 of snowmobile racing” since P.J. Wandersheid won the championship in 2011. Driving a Polaris on the ice oval, Stephenson won $10,000 from the Country Cat Derby Track. The 2017 champion, Nick Van Strydonk of Tomahawk, finished second on a Polaris, and Glen Hart of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, was third on a Ski-Doo. The other former champion in the field, Cardell Potter of Camp Douglas, placed fourth on a Ski-Doo.

17. In what was his first-ever Journeys Marathon experience, Kevin Kiser of Oconomowoc ran away from the field and was the first-place male finisher in the full marathon with a time of 2 hours, 59 minutes and 5 seconds. Winner of the full marathon in the female division was Melissa Wentarmini of Iron Mountain, Mich., who persevered in her own way with a time of 3:41:09. Near-perfect temperatures and light winds made for a welcome day in the North Woods as 583 runners and walkers descended on Eagle River for the 22nd annual Journeys Marathon events.

18. The Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships were back on Dollar Lake in Eagle River, attracting nearly 300 teams that competed for national champion bragging rights in 19 divisions. The 13th annual tournament brought in about 2,100 hockey players to play “hockey the way it used to be played” on 20 inches of Dollar Lake ice. During the three-day week­end, teams with players ranging from age 21 to more than 70 years of age played about 600 games.

19. The lingering days of winter spanned well into April with two snowstorms dumping 10 and 14 inches. It left spring sports teams frustrated and led to numerous postponements and cancellations of games for teams in the Northland Pines,Three Lakes and Phelps school districts.

20. There was plenty of football news from the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers, as both teams had disappointing 2018 seasons. Concerning Green Bay, the Packers fired head coach Mike McCarthy three-quarters of the way through the season, ending his 13-season tenure in charge of the storied National Football League (NFL) team. The Packers did not make the playoffs for the second straight season. Meanwhile, the Badgers started the season ranked in the Top 10, but finished 7-5 overall and 5-4 in the Big Ten West division. They faced the Miami Hurricanes in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York City, winning 35-3.