There were many exciting local sports stories for high school teams and individual athletes during 2019. The following were some of the highlights of the past year:

1. The Northland Pines boys soccer team won two Great Northern Conference (GNC) games to clinch a second consecutive conference championship with a 6-0-4 record under coach Mark Pinski. The Eagles tied Medford for the GNC title, as the Raiders finished 7-1-2 on the season. The two teams battled to 1-1 ties in both games during the season. The Eagles, 11-3-4 during the regular season, defeated Three Lakes-Phelps 4-1 and Somerset 3-1 to win the WIAA Division 4 Regional. The Eagles shut out Washburn 3-0 in the Sectional semi and then beat Columbus Catholic 8-2 in the Sectional final to advance to the Division 4 State Tournament. The Eagles lost to Sturgeon Bay 5-1 in the State semifinal.

2. The Three Lakes-Phelps boys and girls track teams had an excellent season. The girls team captured their second consecutive WIAA Division 3 Regional title, and the boys team did something that has never been done in the history of the program, as they too finished atop the team standings and were awarded the WIAA Division 3 Regional championship. The girls went on to place third in the Sectional. The girls relay team of Emily Fink, Kara Sowinski, Sydney Lurvey and Kortnie Volk advanced to State and claimed a WIAA State Championship in the Division 3 4x100-meter relay in what many called one of the tightest races across the entire two-day event.

3. After a remarkable indoor and outdoor track season, Northland Pines senior Lochlan Seigmeier advanced to the Division 2 WIAA State Track & Field Championships in four events. The Pines senior placed fifth in the 300 hurdles, third in the 100-meter dash and second in the 200-meter dash, making history as the only three-time podium finisher in the history of the Pines track and field program. He also finished 17th in the high jump.

4. The Northland Pines boys hockey team was crowned the first ever Great Northern Conference (GNC) and tournament champions with a 9-2 victory over Waupaca. To get to the GNC title game, the Eagles, coached by David Cox, beat Medford 7-0 in the quarterfinal game and then shut out Antigo 6-0 in the semifinal. The Eagles entered the WIAA tourney with a 20-2 record, including 7-0 in the GNC. The top-ranked Eagles gave up three goals in less than 4 minutes in the second period in a 4-2 loss to Stevens Point Area Senior High (SPASH) in the WIAA Sectional semifinal game at the Dome. Cox was named Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association (WHCA) Coach of the Year. Senior forward Jack Rhode was WHCA Player of the Year finalist. Pines started the 2019-’20 campaign 4-0 in the GNC and 5-1 overall heading into the holiday break.

5. The Phelps Knights were back-to-back Northern Lakes Conference (NLC) boys basketball champions after knocking off Goodman-Pembine at home 67-45 on what was an emotional evening in Phelps. Following a car accident that claimed the life of one person and severely injured another, a tight-knit North Woods community came together inside the Phelps gymnasium to heal, lend support and move forward. In tournament play, the Phelps boys lost to Gibraltar 63-32 in the WIAA Division 5 Regional final.

6. After winning the Regional final in the Division 4 WIAA tournament, the Northland Pines girls soccer team defeated Wisconsin Rapids Assumption 4-2 before losing to St. Mary Catholic 10-1 in the Sectional final. Northland Pines, coached by Larry Favorite, ended its season with a third-place finish in the GNC and an overall record of 11 wins and 10 losses, a Regional championship and a trip to the Sectional final. 

7. Led by Great Northern Conference Player of the Year Jaqueline Smith, Northland Pines had little trouble in their opening round match of the WIAA postseason as they faced Adams-Friendship and rolled in straight sets, winning 25-17, 25-19 and 25-7. Two days later, still at home, other than a few nervous moments, most of them in the second set, the team moved into their first Regional championship in over a decade by beating Black River Falls in straight sets, 25-19, 25-17, 25-7. Pines then lost to top-seeded Mosinee in the Sectional semifinal, losing 3-1 with set scores of 19-25, 25-21, 18-25 and 20-25. Smith announced she would play at Northern Michigan University next season.

8. The Great Northern Conference (GNC) girls hockey championship returned to Northland Pines after the Eagles battled a tough Medford team in a 6-3 win. The win improved the Lady Eagles overall record to 10-11 on the season, including 8-0 in the GNC. The girls hockey team, coached by Patrick Schmidt, saw its 2018-’19 season come to an end in Black River Falls as the team dropped their WIAA playoff opener, 2-0.

9. The 107th running of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) Boys Cross-Country Championships and the 46th annual Girls Cross-Country Championships took place Saturday, Nov. 2, at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids. The Division 3 girls field included freshman Kallie Volk of Three Lakes, who placed fourth overall in the Athens Sectional. She had a time of 20 minutes, 12.6 seconds. At State, Volk finished in 54th place in 21:07.

10. The Three Lakes-Phelps Bluejays baseball team clinched a second consecutive Northern Lakes Conference (NLC) title. The Bluejays made a quick exit in the WIAA tournament, losing 5-4 to Laona-Wabeno.

11. The Three Lakes volleyball team tied Laona-Wabeno for the Northern Lakes Conference championship.

12. The Three Lakes-Phelps wrestling team are Northern Lakes Conference (NLC) champions after winning four individual brackets at the conference tourney held in Elcho and getting seven wrestlers to the finals overall.

13. The Northland Pines boys basketball team, under the direction of new coach Terry Klemett, will try to improve on last year’s 9-11 overall record. The Eagles were 4-8 in the Great Northern Conference (GNC) last season, but got a program-lifting victory over Rhinelander. Pines also got a first-round Regional win in the playoffs. Troy Pieper, the Eagles coach last season, left Northland Pines for Wausau East, where he is the Lumberjacks’ new boys basketball head coach.

14. The Eagle River/Northland Pines High School ­Athletic Hall of Fame inducted its 17th class. Athletes inducted included Woody Ahlborn, who graduated from Pines in 1983 and earned 10 letters in football, basketball and track; and 1983 graduate Jonathan Maines, who lettered in football, basketball and track. Joe Bucher was inducted in the citation category as a long-time supporter of Northland Pines athletics. The two State Champion relay teams from 1985 also were inducted. They included Sean Gremban, Jean Kaczkowski, Kim Morton and Chelle Dillahunt in the 1,600-meter relay, and Gremban, Kaczkowski, Dillahunt and Sara Siegmeier in the 800-meter relay.

15. The Three Lakes Coaches Association recognized its 2019 inductees into the Three Lakes Hall of Fame, including the girls 1985 volleyball team, Edith Godleski, Rick Murray, Jane Nieuwendorp and Breehan Kelley.

16. For the first time since 2013 and ’14 — and only the ninth time in Derby history — there was a repeat winner in the World Championship Snowmobile Derby. Blaine Stephenson of Hutchinson, Minn., overcame three red flags to win the 56th running of the World Championship Snowmobile Derby on a frigid cold Sunday afternoon in Eagle River. Driving a Polaris on the ice oval, the 22-year-old Stephenson won $10,000 from the Derby Track, a Henry rifle and a Fly Racing jacket. His name also will be engraved on the SnowGoer Cup, a trophy listing all 56 winners of the most famous race in snowmobiling. Pole-sitter Nick Van Strydonk of Tomahawk finished second on a Polaris, and Gunnar Sterne of North Chicago, Ill., was third on a Ski-Doo.

17. Eagle River native Natalie Decker, 22, continued to work toward her NASCAR dream. For the 2019 race season, Decker signed with DGR-Crosley in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. She was also one of 28 women drivers selected for the W Series — the all-new single-seater racing series for female drivers only. The W Series had six events in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and the U.K. that ran from May through August.

18. The Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships were back on frigid Dollar Lake in Eagle River, attracting 280 teams that competed for national champion bragging rights in 19 divisions. The 14th annual tournament brought in about 2,000 hockey players to play “hockey the way it used to be played” on 20 inches of Dollar Lake ice. 

19. The 23rd annual Journeys Marathon is in the record books, with Brad Seely of Weston the overall winner of the 26.2-mile race and Jesse Deangelis of Madison crossing the finish line first for the women. A total of 592 runners and walkers competed in the five Journeys Marathon events, including the full marathon from near Boulder Junction to Eagle River, a half-marathon, a 13.1-mile power walk, a 10K run and a 5K. Seely won the men’s race in 2 hours, 57 minutes and 44 seconds. It was the first time he won a marathon. Deangelis was the first female to cross the finish line in 3:18:51. She placed fifth overall in her third marathon ever.

20. The late Donald Tess Sr. and Steve Janssen were recently inducted into the Wisconsin Northwoods United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Hall of Fame. Both Tess and Janssen were involved in bowling in the Eagle River area for more than three decades.