While the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on high school sports in the spring and summer, there still were many exciting local sports stories for high school teams and individual athletes during 2020. The following were some of the highlights of the past year:

1. The Northland Pines boys hockey team, under coach David Cox, had an incredible season, advancing to the Division 2 State Tournament for the first time since 2004. The Eagles, ranked second in Division 2 in the state during much of the season, defeated University School of Milwaukee 3-0 in the championship game of the annual Pines Classic Tournament. The Eagles reached the championship with a 3-1 victory over Hayward in the semifinal. The Eagles also defeated Mosinee 6-0 to win the Great Northern Conference (GNC) tournament in the Dome. With the victory, the Eagles also won the GNC regular season championship. Pines beat Tomahawk 14-0 in first round of the WIAA tourney and then beat Waupaca 8-0 to advance in the playoffs. The Eagles had a big come-from-behind 4-3 victory against Mosinee in the Sectional final to advance to State — which in 2020 featured two four-team divisions for the first time. The Eagles, seeded second in the tourney, advanced to the State championship with a convincing 9-2 victory over third-seeded Somerset Co-op. But the Eagles couldn’t generate any early momentum and lost to St. Mary’s Springs of Fond du Lac 5-1 in the WIAA Division 2 Boys Hockey Tournament at the Alliant Center in Madison. The Eagles ended the season with a 25-4 record. Cox was named GNC Coach of the Year and forward Brady Snedden was named the Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association Player of the Year for the 2019-’20 season for all Division 1 and 2 players.

2. The Three Lakes Bluejays volleyball team won the Northern Lakes Conference championship and then dominated the visiting Nia­gara team 3-0 as they secured a WIAA Division 4 Regional championship for the first time in over three decades under head coach Jayme Wyss. The Lady Jays then beat Columbus Catholic 3-2 in the Division 4 Sectional semifinal. The historic run for the Three Lakes Bluejays girls volleyball team came to an end in a five-set match at the hands of the Prentice Buccaneers who rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win the final two sets on their home court and punch their ticket to the State championship.

3. The Northland Pines boys basketball team, for the first time since joining the GNC in 2008, beat the Antigo Red Robins 91-75. It’s among several milestones for the Eagles in the GNC during the season, including beating Rhinelander twice and Lakeland once. The Eagles finished 6-6 in the GNC under the direction of first-year coach Terry Klemett. The Eagles beat Tomahawk and Clintonville in the WIAA Division 2 tournament before losing to top-seeded Wrightstown 89-60 in the Regional final. Pines senior guard Ryan Peterson was named to the GNC first team. He led the conference in scoring with 277 points, an average of 23.1 points per game. Peterson also announced he would play basketball at UW-Stevens Point.

4. The Three Lakes girls cross-country teams wrapped up their regular season with a combined championship race for the Northern Lakes and Mari­nette-Oconto conferences, as the Bluejays’ Kallie Volk sped across the 5,000-meter course, winning the race and the conference title in a time of 20:34. For the second consecutive year, Volk advanced to the WIAA Division 3 State meet after the sophomore finished in the runner-up spot at the Sectional with a new personal-best time of 19:23. She then wrapped up her cross-country season at the WIAA State Cross-Country Championships hosted by Onalaska High School. Volk ran a 5,000-meter time of 20:19.55, finishing fifth in her midday race, though ending up 25th fastest overall.

5. With the acceleration of COVID-19 in the United States last spring, organized sports at the professional and amateur levels experienced unprecedented cancellations. At the high school level, one state tournament after another got canceled, including the conclusion of the WIAA Girls State Basketball Tournament and the entire WIAA Boys State Basketball Tournament. All spring sports were canceled for high school teams in Wisconsin as schools were closed to safeguard against the pandemic. In addition, Journeys Marathon was canceled in Eagle River in May. In late July, the WIAA approved fall sports to start amid the pandemic, with low-risk sports starting first. Area schools approved sports with limited spectator attendance and masks required.

6. Eagle River native Natalie Decker signed with Niece Motorsports in 2020 after wrapping up her rookie year with DGR-Crosley. Decker, 22, took on a part-time ride in the Niece Motorsports No. 44 Chevy for her NASCAR Truck Season as she continues her journey toward competing in the NASCAR Cup Series. In 2019, she saw great success, finishing 19th in the series as a rookie in a part-time schedule. Decker was all smiles following her historic run in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series season-opener at Daytona International Speedway in Florida. Decker finished fifth in Friday’s NextEra Energy 250 — the highest-ever finish for a female driver in series history. The COVID-19 pandemic also put the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series on hold.

7. The 57th annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby was one for the history books. Blaine Stephenson of Hutchinson, Minn., became the first racer to win three consecutive championships as he took the checkered flag in the 25-lap title race at the Derby Track. The 23-year-old Stephenson topped 11 other racers in the new Pro Champ 440 title race class — a transition that resulted in 30 entries in the World Championship class. Meanwhile, 22-year-old Sabrina Blanchet of Drummondville, Quebec, became the first female to qualify for the World Championship race on her Ski-Doo. She finished ninth.

8. The Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships were moved to the World Championship Derby Complex in Eagle River due to poor ice on Dollar Lake, but that didn’t stop 260 teams from competing for national champion bragging rights in 19 divisions. The 15th anniversary tournament brought in more than 1,800 hockey players ranging from age 21 to over 70, with both men and women competing, according to Ashley Bevan, tournament manager for USA Hockey. It’s the second time the tournament was held at the track, with the first time being in 2015.

9. The Eagle River-Northland Pines High School ­Athletic Hall of Fame Committee announced it would induct two standout athletes, an athlete who returned to coach at Pines, and a student who went on to be a prominent coach, as the Class of 2020, though the induction ceremony would be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The four athletes inducted were Tim McCormick, who graduated from Pines in 1982 and earned eight letters in football, hockey and track; and 1982 graduate Rob Mohn, who played football, basketball and track. David Cox, a 1984 graduate who played hockey and golf for Pines and returned to coach the Eagles over two periods, will be inducted as a player and coach. And his sister, Cathy Newton, a 1978 graduate, will be inducted for her success as a high school volleyball and softball coach.

10. The Save the Dome campaign to raise funds for the renovation project at the Eagle River Sports Arena topped the $500,000 mark. The funds, according to Eagle River Recreation Association board member Tony Brown, will go toward paying off the loan to complete phase one of the $740,000 Save the Dome project. So far, more than $509,000 has been raised. The campaign got a big boost with a $35,000 donation from the Wayne and Nan Kocourek Foundation.