Even in shortened seasons, prep sports returned to local high schools after a year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though some of the seasons were shortened and games in Dane County were prohibited last spring and most of the winter, there were several accomplishments — from the wrestling mat to the golf course, to the rolling terrain on cross country courses to the pools — that captured our attention. Here are the top five Stoughton sports stories of 2021.
No. 1 Stoughton grapplers bring home silver
The Stoughton wrestling team had its three-year run of WIAA Division 1 state championships snapped.
Top-ranked Kaukauna beat third-ranked Stoughton 38-26 in a Division 1 state championship match on Saturday, Feb. 20, at Kaukauna High School.
Stoughton was making its eighth straight state appearance. It marked the seventh consecutive year Stoughton and Kaukauna had met at team state. The Vikings had beaten the Galloping Ghosts three years running in the semifinals during their three-year championship reign.
Stoughton rolled to a 51-30 win over Waterford in a Division 1 state quarterfinal match, then clipped Slinger 39-34 in a semifinal match to set up a showdown with the Galloping Ghosts.
The Vikings’ quartet of wrestlers who finished the state team tournament unbeaten were senior Luke Mechler at 160 pounds, senior Rudy Detweiler (195), Brooks Empey (220) and Griffin Empey (285).
“It’s difficult to lose our final dual meet as seniors,” Mechler said. “We gave it everything we could. We had a great run.”
In one of the closest matches, heavyweight Griffin Empey defeated Kaukauna’s Alex Ashauer 3-2. Detweiler (195) defeated Kaukauna’s Trevor Stuyvenberg 8-2. Brooks Empey won when Kaukauna’s Bryant Correa was disqualified for his fifth stalling.
Trenton Dow (145) defeated the Galloping Ghosts’ Judah Hammen 10-3, and Mechler (160) beat Kaukauna’s Clay Wendzicki in a technical fall 17-2.
The Vikings also picked up two wins in lower weights, as Cole Sarbacker (113) defeated Connor Smith 10-4 and Chance Suddeth (120) beat Bryan Winans 7-2 in overtime.
“The wrestlers on the mat gave us everything they had,” Stoughton co-coach Dan Spilde said. “The first two rounds they did everything they could to put us in a position to win a state title. Kaukauna was just too deep. We just didn’t have the firepower to beat some of their stronger kids in the middle weights.”
Brooks Empey, a four-time state medalist and two-time Division 1 state champion, racked up a career record of 158-32. He set the single season pins record as a sophomore in 2019 with 43. He came up two pins short of breaking Hunter Lewis’ career pins record (112).
No. 2 Kotlowski takes third at state golf tournament
Stoughton’s Caylie Kotlowski finished third at the WIAA Division 1 girls golf alternate fall state meet on May 18, at the Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run in Kohler.
Kotlowski beat DePere’s Jolie Guyette for third at the state tournament after shooting a 5-over-par 77. Her two-day score of 11-over-par 155 was one stroke away from forcing a playoff with Middleton’s Ellie Frisch for a state runner-up finish. Frisch clinched second by nailing a 6-foot putt for par on No. 18. Kotlowski took third place after edging Guyette on a scorecard tiebreaker.
“I gave it my all,” Kotlowski said. “I played hard until the last couple of holes. There’s nothing else I could have done. There is nothing where I would want to go out and say I would want to play this shot differently. I just didn’t execute it perfectly or how I wanted it to.”
She missed several close putts, including one from 22-feet she just missed for birdie on No. 10, she wished she could have taken the putt with the flag pulled. Yet, because of COVID-19 procedures, players were required to putt with the flag in. Kotlowski posted a birdie on the 428-yard No. 4 and parred 12 holes.
Kotlowski, a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay commit and a three-time state qualifier, took fourth at state in 2019 and 34th last season. Bay Port’s Jo Baranczyk captured the individual state championship with a 1-under-par 143, 11 strokes ahead of runner-up Frisch. It marked the third state title for Baranczyk.
No. 3 Zywicki runs in two state meets in one year
Stoughton senior Jayden Zywicki had two top-24 finishes at the WIAA Division 1 state boys cross country meet in the same year. He ran to a 10th-place finish in the alternate fall state meet last spring at the Blackhawk Golf Course in Janesville.
He then took 24th at the Division 1 state meet this fall Oct. 30, with a time of 16:36.4 at the Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids. Zywicki is only the third Stoughton athlete to become a three-time state qualifier. He joins some elite company in cross country for the Vikings. The last runner to compete in four straight state meets was Aaron Castleberg in 2000. His 10th-place finish at the alternate state meet last spring was the second-best finish by a Stoughton runner in the history of the program.
No. 4 Stoughton’s wrestling, football pipeline to Badgers continues
Stoughton continued its success of developing athletes for the next level at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Stoughton’s Brooks Empey signed his National Letter of Intent to wrestle for the Badgers. After a one-year hiatus, Stoughton’s Barrett Nelson moved back to Stoughton and signed his National Letter of Intent to play football for UW, joining his older brother Jack Nelson. Barrett played one year of football for Rio/Fall River and returned to the Vikings this fall.
The Wisconsin wrestling team includes four SHS graduates — Tyler Dow (2018), Brooks Empey (2021), Garrett Model (2017) and Gavin Model (2020).
The SHS graduates playing football for the Badgers are Brady Schipper (2018), Jordan DiBenedetto (2018) and Jack Nelson, who graduated early in December 2019. He then played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4, 2020, at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. He started taking classes at UW on Jan. 21, 2020, to get a jumpstart in the classroom, weight room and practice field.
Both Barrett and Jack are following in the footsteps of others who became legendary lineman for the Badgers, including their father, Todd, who was an offensive lineman at UW in the late 1980s.
No. 5 Vikings swim to 200 free school record at state
The Stoughton girls swim team set a school record in the 200-yard freestyle at the WIAA Division 2 state meet on April 6, at the Waukesha South Natatorium.
The Vikings’ quartet of senior Sofia Bormett, Savy Borroughs, Melanie Regan and Cora Borroughs finished ninth in the 200 free relay with a time of 1 minute, 40.45 seconds. The quartet broke the previous school record by 1.24 seconds.
“It was very questionable whether we would have a season and that’s why I pushed myself to make this happen,” Cora Borroughs said.
Bormett, who battled a non-COVID-19 related illness in the alternate fall season last spring, took seventh in the 200 freestyle (1:57.11), only .20 of a second away from a sixth-place medal that went to Sun Prairie’s Kristin Haas. She added an 11th-place finish in the 100 free (53.35).
This fall, Regan competed in three events at the Division 2 state girls swim meet on Nov. 12, at the Waukesha South Natatorium.
Regan finished 11th in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:25.75. She also competed in the 200-yard freestyle, 500 freestyle and was joined by senior Cora Borroughs and juniors Lillian Talbert and Alyson Schaefer in the 200 free relay.
Regan also turned in a 15th-place finish in the 200 free with a time of 2:03.88.
In the 200 free relay Regan, Borroughs, Talbert and Schaefer clocked in with a time of 1:44.19. That time was good for 15th.