WIAC in Spring, Pioneers compete in best D3 conference

Amber Williams leaps in the long jump at the UW-Platteville Invitational

Jeremy Williamson

Amber Williams leaps in the long jump at the UW-Platteville Invitational

Jeremy Williamson, Sports Editor

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As the semester’s end begins to draw near and the spring athletic seasons prepare to wrap up the final weeks of competition, one must consider not only how the teams faired throughout the conference but also why various circumstances occurred throughout the season.

What implication does this bring towards the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in comparison to other teams in Division III athletics?

Women’s track appears to be the dominant force within Division III athletics, as University of Wisconsin-La Crosse ranks first, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh holds second, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater ranks 11 and University of Wisconsin-Stout moves up from a previous rank of 36 to 19, according to ncaa.com’s latest poll on April 23.

The strongest events produced by WIAC female track and field athletes include the 800-meter run, where two of the three top spots are held by UW-Oshkosh athletes, the 4×100 meter relay, where UW-La Crosse hold first and fourth in the nation, while University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire hold third and the 4×400 meter relay, where all four of the top spots are WIAC teams.

Even with those WIAC powerhouses anchoring the conference’s strength among the nation, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s female athletes are still able to produce results, placing them near the top of the charts among the country.

The high jump produces the tenth and twelfth best jumpers in the nation for the Pioneers, with sophomore Alyssa Iserman’s clearance of 1.68 meters and freshman Amber Williams’ jump of 1.66 meters.

Williams also holds the eighth longest jump in the nation at 5.68 meters, while three other jumpers from the WIAC are placed higher than her ranking.

In any event, head track coach Chris Rotzenberg understands that if athletes compete well at the conference’s track meet, it will express a lot about one’s performance in comparison to the best athletes in the country.

“If you can be on the podium [top eight] at the conference meet, there’s a good chance you will be at the top in the nation at that event,” Rotzenberg said, who has participated in the Pioneer program for eight years.

For the most part, Division III men’s track and field still belongs to the WIAC, as five of the nine conference teams are ranked in the top 25 in the nation, with UW-La Crosse consistently sitting at the number-one spot.

The top spots within the individual events are a little more spread out among the nation, but the WIAC still produces male athletes, such as UW-Eau Claire’s junior Dennis Thurgood, who ranks first in the 100-meter dash and second in the 200-meter dash.

The 1500-meter run also belongs to the WIAC, with three of the top five teams coming from the conference.

The 10,000-meter run is where Pioneer freshman Ian LaMere holds the third best time in the country at 29:51.68.

The men’s WIAC events round off the top in the nation with top spots in the long jump, as well as the top two scores in the decathalon.

There is much to prove, not only for the Pioneers but also any athlete competing at the men and women’s outdoor WIAC championships held on May 2 and 3 at Oshkosh.

For both genders, the UW-La Crosse Eagles are expected to be the favorites.

“The defining moment of our season is the conference championship and then ultimately the national championships,” Rotzenberg said. “There are a bunch of teams that might have a chance if La Crosse has an off-day; that might be what it takes for them not to win it. It’s their meet to win or lose.”

Patten

Pioneer DH/OF MJ Patten

 

As for softball, no WIAC team holds place among the top 20 teams, according to the latest NFCA coaches poll, but within the north region, UW-Whitewater is ranked fourth and UW-Oshkosh is one spot behind at five, while UW-La Crosse sits at seven.

The WIAC’s presence is not apparent on the top 20 chart, mainly because of the competitiveness of the conference, and factoring into the composition of the top 20 chart, as well as conference rankings, are numbers in the win column compared to those in the loss column.

Pioneer’s head softball coach Lee Negrelli embraces the toughness of the conference as an opportunistic chance to improve the skill level of her own players.

“Playing against better teams will always make our team better, so I’m happy to have such a tough conference schedule,” Negrelli said. “It may skew our record a little bit compared to some other conferences because we don’t have that ‘automatic win’ school that some conferences have.”

The first round of the WIAC tournament will be hosted by UW-Stout on May 2 at 10 a.m.

The top six teams in the conference will compete at the conference for a playoff spot and a chance at a national championship.

“Winning this conference, either the tournament or the regular season title, would basically solidify that team as a national contender,” Negrelli said. “But, there are always a lot of close games being played in the WIAC, and anyone can come out on top on any given day.”

 

Fay

Pioneer starter Nathan Fay

The Pioneer’s baseball team has had the roughest road this year in comparison to the other spring athletic teams.

Playing each conference opponent four times, including the number four, nationally-ranked Warhawks of UW-Whitewater, as well as the fifteenth ranked Pointers of UW-Stevens Point, did not give much assistance towards the Pioneers’ 8-26 overall record.

Statistically, the WIAC holds the top two average batters in the entire nation in UW-La Crosse’s Taylor Kohlwey (.489) and Cole Cefalu (.478), as well as second overall team average with a combined BA of .362, while UW-Whitewater is eighth at .345.

Tom Fairbanks of University of Wisconsin-Superior is second in the nation for home runs at 12, while Ryan Freitag of UW-Stout is tied for third with 11.

With a combination of these numbers, as well as a lack of presence in almost every pitching category, including earned run average and strikeouts, the WIAC is predominantly a hitting conference.

Pioneer’s head coach Eric Frese added his opinion about the conference in regards to his own team’s competitive schedule.

“It’s the best conference in the country by far, so everybody we play is good,” Frese said.

Ironically, three of the Pioneers’ eight victories came from a combination of a 4-3 win over the number four nationally-ranked Warhawks, as well a 13-7 and 3-2 on-the-road sweep over the fifteenth-ranked Pointers.

All three coaches know the significance of winning the WIAC in correlation with a shot at winning a national championship.

The competitive nature of this strictly Wisconsin conference is what produces such high caliber athletes, as well many of the Pioneers’ springtime struggles in the win-loss columns.

One thing is certain: if a team is fortunate enough to come out on top in the WIAC at the end of the spring season, whether it is track, softball or baseball, the chances of standing on a national stage above all other Division III athletes are highly possible circumstances.

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