1. North baseball wins state title in dramatic fashion: The 2018-19 school year came to a storybook ending on June 13 at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute.

The Eau Claire North baseball team trailed Sun Prairie 4-2 with two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the sixth inning of the Division 1 state championship game.

Gabe O’Brien hit a single. Carter Hesselman drew a walk. And Sam Stange, who had been named Division 1 state player of the year that very day by the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association, crushed a mammoth three-run home run to right field to give the Huskies the lead.

And a few minutes later, the blast proved to be enough to make the Huskies state baseball champs for the first time since 2011.

“(I was) just trying to hit a ball hard,” Stange said. “He left a changeup up, and I was able to jump on it. ... It was definitely in the back of my mind that I was the go-ahead run, but I wasn’t expecting anything like that to happen.”

There were several heroes powering the Huskies’ win — take pitcher Austin Goetsch (5.2 IP, 1 ER) and catcher Joe Feck (2 RBIs), for instance.

But Stange’s homer won’t soon be forgotten. It was an iconic moment that stood out as the highlight of 2019.

“That’s an amazing moment,” North coach Bob Johnson said. “It’s something you dream of. We needed someone to be a hero, and (Stange) stepped up with two guys on and put us up by one. Unbelievable.”

2. Brock Schlough joins legends of Wisconsin wrestling: Boyceville’s Brock Schlough finds himself among some elite company.

He cemented his place alongside the best prep wrestlers in state history this February, winning the fourth state championship of his career. Every season he suited up in a Boyceville singlet, it ended with a state title.

Only 16 other wrestlers have ever accomplished such a feat in Wisconsin.

“Boyceville is a big wrestling school with a lot of history and state champions before me and placewinners,” Schlough said after winning his fourth title. “It’s a privilege to be the first four-timer. I’m sure there will be another one at some point. I’ll congratulate him when that time comes, I guess.”

Schlough, who now wrestles for top-ranked St. Cloud State, was the 138-pound champion in Division 3 as a freshman. As a sophomore, he won at 160 pounds. And he capped it all off with two titles at 152 pounds as a junior and senior.

As a result, his name will forever stand in the history of Wisconsin wrestling.

“I think he stacks right up there with… the 16 other four-timers,” Boyceville coach Jamie Olson said. “I think he has everything they had and maybe more than some of them.”

3. Regis football takes home silver ball: Coming into the 2019 season, it had been a couple of years since an Eau Claire football team had reached a state championship game.

Regis updated that list this November, punching its ticket to Camp Randall Stadium in Division 6. The Ramblers last went in 2016.

The team capped off a season in which it was the Cloverbelt Conference champion with a state runner-up finish, falling to St. Mary’s Springs 7-0 in the championship.

The Ramblers dominated all season, and earned themselves some hardware to add to the trophy case by making it to Madison.

“What I’m going to take away is how hard they’ve worked and the bonds that have been developed from all that work,” Regis coach Bryant Brenner said of his 11 seniors. “It’s a great group of kids.”

4. UWEC announces return of baseball, addition of two other sports: After a two-decade absence, baseball is coming back to UW-Eau Claire.

And the school is adding women’s lacrosse and men’s soccer to its athletics offerings, too.

For the first time since the 1994-95 school year, UW-Eau Claire will have a varsity baseball team starting next spring. The program was discontinued after the 1995 season due to Title XI issues.

Now, a city as steeped in baseball history as Eau Claire has a university team again — a step in the right direction, according to many of those involved in the sport in town.

“We have such great baseball players, high school players that are looking to play college baseball,” Eau Claire Express manager Dale Varsho said. “What a great opportunity for them to come stay at home.”

And women’s lacrosse and men’s soccer will offer even more students the opportunity to compete in athletics.

“It is the world’s most popular sport,” UW-Eau Claire chancellor James Schmidt said of soccer. “It’s been very popular among many Latino young men as well as many of our Hmong students have been very active. We haven’t seen as high a level of participation from those students in some of our other sports. I believe it will be one of our more diverse programs.”

As for lacrosse?

“Women’s lacrosse is the fastest growing women’s NCAA sport right now in all three divisions,” UW-Eau Claire athletic director Dan Schumacher said. “With women’s lacrosse, the state of Illinois and the state of Minnesota now recognize them as state championships. That allows us to go in there and now we’ll have a good feeder situation in terms of recruiting, as well as the East Coast.”

5. UWEC men’s track and field wins first outdoor national title: The UW-Eau Claire men’s track and field squad was perhaps the area’s most dominant team in 2019, in any sport.

What better way to prove that than the margin by which the Blugolds crushed the field at the Division III outdoor championships in May?

Eau Claire beat second-place MIT by 30 points in the team standings to capture its first outdoor national title. David Kornack was the national champion in the shot put, and Kyler Lueck was the 800-meter national champ. But across the board, the Blugolds were incredibly balanced.

And now they’ve got a national championship trophy to boast in Eau Claire.

“As a group we’re about as excited as you can be,” UW-Eau Claire head coach Chip Schneider said after the meet. “Even when you go into the national meet as the team that was favored, there’s so many things that can happen in a three-day meet. We definitely had about as good of a meet as we possibly could have.”

6. Bloomer’s star relay team takes home two state titles: The group of Grace Post, Alexa Post, Maggie Sarauer and Vanessa Jenneman had quite a time at the state track and field meet in June.

The Bloomer relay team captured not one, but two state titles in Division 2. They won both the 4x100-meter and 4x200 races, and neither of them were particularly close either.

“I’m kind of on cloud nine right now,” Sarauer said after the feat.

They won the 4x200 by nearly a second and a half, showing serious improvement off their preliminary time from the day before. A short while later, they beat the second-place finisher by .45 seconds in the 4x100.

Double the fun for the four girls.

“At the beginning of the year we knew we had a good relay team, but we never thought we’d have a state title,” Grace Post said.

7. UWEC hires Wesley Beschorner as football coach: Wesley Beschorner became the 17th head football coach in UW-Eau Claire history this year.

The former star South Dakota quarterback succeeded Dan Larson, who left the role to become an assistant coach at North Dakota State.

The Blugolds got off to a promising start under Beschorner, winning three of its first five games — including an upset of nationally-ranked St. Thomas. But five consecutive losses to end the year dampened some of that optimism. Eau Claire finished 3-7 overall and 1-6 in WIAC play.

Still, the Blugolds will look to build on the positives that this season offered.

“You can definitely see the strides,” Blugolds All-American linebacker Sam Romanski said after a season-ending loss to UW-Stout. “I’ve got my full faith in the groundwork this senior class and the classes before us have laid.”

8. Paul Menard retires from NASCAR: A NASCAR Cup Series career that spanned 16 years came to an end for Eau Claire native Paul Menard in 2019.

Menard announced his plans to retire following the 2019 season in September.

“I’ve enjoyed every moment of my career racing in the NASCAR Cup Series and I’m so thankful for all the great memories and friendships I’ve made,” Menard said.

Menard’s only career win in the Cup Series was at the Brickyard 400 in 2011. But he was consistently among the top 30 in NASCAR’s points leaders. His best finish in the standings was 14th in 2015. He was 19th in his final season.

Menard’s No. 21 Ford will be filled by Matt DiBenedetto for Woods Brothers Racing.

9. Bloomer, Fall Creek make state volleyball debuts: Welcome to Green Bay, Bloomer and Fall Creek.

The Blackhawks and Crickets both reached the state volleyball tournament for the first time in history last fall. Bloomer went in Division 2, and Fall Creek in Division 3.

Both teams fell in the semifinals, but made history for their programs in getting that far.

“The run they went on and what they did for the community of Fall Creek,” Crickets coach Matt Prissel said, “how they brought us here for the Road to the Resch, they’re going to be a special group for me and a special group for our community.”

Ditto for Bloomer.

“I’m really proud of my team,” Blackhawks coach Liz Bohl said. “They represented us well.”

10. Express make run to NWL title game: With a week left in the Northwoods League season, the Eau Claire Express seemed set to go home early as summer waned.

But the surprising league announcement that Duluth had been stripped of five wins for a rules violation catapulted the Express into first place in the Great Plains East standings.

It’s safe to say they made the most of their new life.

Eau Claire won six of its final eight regular season games to win the Great Plains East title. Then they rode that momentum all the way to the Summer Collegiate World Series — the league championship game.

Eau Claire lost to Traverse City in the title game in heartbreaking fashion, letting a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning slip away. But it was still a season to remember for the Express.

“I think one thing I can really say to define our team, we just grinded it out and were really scrappy,” Express infielder and pitcher Brandon Dieter said. “We really just worked our butts off to get to this point and play. (Traverse City is) a good team, obviously. And, you know, it is fun to just to come out here and battle with them.”

Honorable mentions

In no particular order:

  • Eau Claire North hockey breaks state tourney drought
  • Chippewa Falls, Thorp make it back-to-back trips to state softball
  • Osseo-Fairchild’s Logan Mulhern has nearly record-setting performance at state basketball
  • McDonell boys basketball makes it four straight trips to state
  • Eau Claire Memorial and Rice Lake return to boys soccer state tournament
  • UW-Stout women’s basketball makes run to WIAC semifinals
  • UWEC women’s hockey, volleyball and softball get NCAA tournament berths
  • Mondovi, Menomonie reach football state semis
  • Eau Claire Cavaliers win Wisconsin Baseball Association championship
  • Eau Claire Memorial’s Loyal Crawford commits to Badgers
  • Eau Claire 19U Legion baseball team reaches state semifinals
  • Cadott’s Brady Spaeth, Stanley-Boyd’s Blaine Brenner win state wrestling titles
  • Fall Creek’s Ariel Heuer takes third at state golf
  • Eau Claire Memorial tennis continues state streak