JR Radcliffe Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published 9:05 AM EDT May 8, 2019
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Mark Stewart recently listed the 10 greatest high-school athletes in Wisconsin history, a list resulting partially from the work done by a panel exploring the topic.
The list didn’t include anybody who graduated after the turn of the century. I happen to think the list is pretty excellent, but it does seem unlikely that none of the 10 best athletes in state history have come from the modern era, where training methods have created an increasingly smarter and stronger athlete.
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Perhaps it’s because the truly elite multi-sport athlete has diminished in the age of select athletics and specialization. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have the historic long view of those athletes’ final résumés.
I covered prep sports in Wisconsin from 2004-’18, so I like to think I have some handle on who the greatest were to play post-2000. But before I reveal my “20 Since 2000,” some necessary caveats.
Is there a chance I missed someone? Of course there is.There’s no science here. Nor is there a rubric, just a few general tenets:
- I’m subjectively assessing an athlete’s accomplishments, talent, visibility and lasting impact. That’s going to favor some sports (football, basketball, track and field) over others.
- This includes what they did in college and the pros, although my aim is to itemize the best in high school. I look at it this way: Does success in college or the pros confirm how great the athlete was in high school or was the greatness fully realized in college or the pros? For example, Gwen Jorgenson and JJ Watt are national stars in their respective sports, but — no offense to them — there are other athletes who garnered more attention and had greater accomplishments at the high-school level. That doesn’t mean they weren’t great; their greatness just wasn’t yet fully realized.
- Whenever possible, I’m considering multi-sport success, although plenty of these athletes were borderline transcendent in a single sport.
- Moreover, the greater the ability to measure, the better. I’m looking at state titles, stats if available, awards. The best soccer player in state history might be a sweeper, and that’s pretty hard to gauge. The best wrestler in state history might be a guy like Ben Askren (or even Garrett Lowney from the late-’90s), even though they don’t have the same number of state titles as others. You can blame injuries or any other factors for that, but it hurts them in this assessment.
Yes, there may be athletes you personally saw on this list who didn’t get the respect they deserved because they didn’t have the measurables, or an injury kept them from a specific achievement. Obviously, I didn’t see everyone play personally (and neither did anyone else). But I hope you enjoy the list, anyway.
TOP 10 PROFILES: Alan Ameche | Michael Bennett | Rocky Bleier | Suzy Favor | Bud Grant | David Greenwood | Sonja Henning | Elroy Hirsch | Mike Jirschele | Pat Richter
Listed in alphabetical order:
JOLENE ANDERSON, South Shore (2004)
She became the state’s all-time leading scorer and led South Shore to two state tournaments, then went on to become the University of Wisconsin’s all-time leading scorer with more than 2,300 points — no other UW player has even reached 2,000. In 2004, Anderson scored 46 points with 28 rebounds and seven steals in a state semifinal win over Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah.
MISTIE BASS, Janesville Parker (2002)
Bass helped Parker win back-to-back state girls basketball titles during her sophomore and junior years, including an undefeated run in 2000 that ended with her double-double in a WIAA title game win over Hudson. She was named All-American by multiple publications and appeared in the inaugural McDonald’s All-American girls game. She was named the AP Player of the Year in Wisconsin three times – becoming the first player to achieve that feat – and was the subject of a national recruiting battle. Her team won 97 of 103 games in her four seasons and reached the state semifinals in addition to two state titles. She went to Duke and played from 2002-’06, participating in two Final Fours, and was then drafted into the WNBA. Her career began in Houston, and she won a WNBA title with Phoenix in 2014.
KENNETH BEDNAREK, Rice Lake (2018)
Nobody lit up Veterans Memorial Stadium in La Crosse like Bednarek. In all, he racked up seven state track and field titles (100 once, 400 and 200 three times), and he has Division 2 records in all three disciplines. His 400 and 200 times are the best in any division (46.73 and 20.43 seconds), with the 200 time faster than legendary Michael Bennett and 400 time faster than the 1990 time established by Nicolet’s Bryan Jones. In late April, he ran a 20.29 to win the 200 for Indian Hills Community College at the prestigious Drake Relays, defeating a number of professional runners.
KENNEDY BLAHNIK, Algoma (2014)
The four-time state champion in the discus and shot put still holds the Division 3 record in both disciplines. (They’d be the record in D2, as well.) She also was part of three girls basketball teams that appeared in the state final, and the first-team all-state player helped Algoma dominate its way to the 2013 state title. For good measure, she was first-team all-conference in volleyball.
DEZEREA BRYANT, Milwaukee Bradley Tech (2011)
Bryant still owns the Division 1 state records in the 100 meters (11.38 seconds) and 200 (23.01), both set in 2011. She anchored the 400-meter relay team that also set the state record (46.02 seconds) the same year. She won four individual titles and four relay crowns before running in college at Clemson and Kentucky. She was an All-American multiple times at both places, highlighted by a national title in the 200 meters at the NCAA indoor championships in 2014.
TONY BUTLER, Oak Creek (2006)
The left-handed pitcher was dominant during his four years, netting three straight state titles. He pitched as a freshman in the 2003 state final and then helped the Knights in 2004 and ’05. He didn’t pitch in the state tournament in 2006, having been drafted in the third round by the Seattle Mariners. He was also the Southeast Conference player of the year in basketball.
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CAMI DAVRE, Whitefish Bay (2017)
The state record-holder in Division 1 in the 800 meters (2:09.22) won four state titles in the event and four more in the 1,600 during her track and field career, and she capped it off in 2017 when she added a title in the 3,200 for a grueling three-gold meet. In all, she has 11 state titles, winning the 3,200-meter relay in 2015, as well. Though she never won a state cross-country title, she finished in the top four all four years, including a pair of second-place finishes. She added two national titles in the 800 and also happened to be an elite soccer player on the club circuit. She is now a cross-country All-American at the University of Michigan.
SAM DEKKER, Sheboygan Area Lutheran (2012)
His performance in the state championship game in 2012 is the stuff of legend with 40 points and a buzzer-beater to beat Racine Lutheran. After becoming one of the state’s highest-profile basketball recruits, he helped lead Wisconsin to two Final Fours and got drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft in 2015, and he’s currently with the Washington Wizards. His 2,593 points are the fourth most in Wisconsin history, and the most since 1993.
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ALEX DIERINGER, Port Washington (2009)
Dieringer won three state championships at Port Washington and won the Dan Hodge Trophy as the best college wrestler in 2016 at Oklahoma State. His senior year in college represented his second undefeated season and third NCAA Division I title. At Port Washington, he also took second as a sophomore to a two-time state champ, finishing his career with a record of 172-4. He was the freestyle and Greco Cadet national champion at the prestigious Fargo Junior Nationals and was the freestyle cadet national runner-up two years earlier. He earned nine All-American honors during his high-school days.
BONNIE DRAXLER, Wrightstown (2014)
Draxler has 10 state track and field titles to her name, including four consecutive titles in the 400 and pole vault (plus two more in the 100-yard dash). Her Division 2 state record in the pole vault of 13-3 is half a foot better than the D1 record, and she was also an elite-level club gymnast. At San Diego State, she just put the finishing touches on her fourth pole vault title in the West Coast Conference, setting a meet record in the process.
MELVIN GORDON, Kenosha Bradford (2011)
The state football coaches association Player of the Year ran for 38 touchdowns and 2,009 yards as a senior. He went on to win the Doak Walker Award at Wisconsin, set a single-game NCAA FBS rushing record at 408 yards and has now been to two Pro Bowls with the Los Angeles Chargers. He also finished second in the long jump and third in the 400 relay as a senior at the state track and field meet in addition to qualifying for the 100 meters and 800 relay.
MEGAN GUSTAFSON, South Shore (2015)
The all-time leading scorer in Wisconsin girls basketball history, Gustafson scored a whopping 3,229 points and led all of Division I in scoring at Iowa this past season, wrapping up her career with the Naismith Basketball Player of the Year Award (and selection in the WNBA draft). She was also third in the nation in rebounding. She led South Shore to state twice. She posted two fourth-place finishes at state in the shot put and was a three-time first-team All-Conference performer in volleyball.
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KEVON LOONEY, Milwaukee Hamilton (2014)
He finished with 2,122 points and appeared at the state tournament once as a freshman in 2011. He earned Mr. Basketball in 2014 and went on to spend one year at UCLA after becoming the state’s first McDonald’s All-American since 2003. Today, he’s a two-time NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors.
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WES MATTHEWS, Madison Memorial (2005)
Matthews led Madison Memorial to two straight state basketball tournaments, including a massive performance (29 points, 10 rebounds) in the 2005 state title game. He went on to play for Marquette and still suits up in the NBA, currently with the Indiana Pacers. Matthews was also a first-team all-state soccer standout in 2004 at Memorial.
ARIKE OGUNBOWALE, Divine Savior Holy Angels (2015)
The seventh all-time leading scorer in state history (2,240 points) and four-time Greater Metro Conference player of the year set a single-game state tournament record in 2015 when she scored 55 points and led her team to an overtime win in the semifinal (and eventually, a state championship). She was named a McDonald’s All-American in high school, earned three AP state player of the year honors and came to high school with a reputation as a truly elite club soccer player, though she gave the sport up to focus on hoops. This is all before she became a household name when she led Notre Dame to a national title with a magical individual effort in the Final Four.
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RYAN ROHLINGER, West Bend East (2002)
The future San Francisco Giants infielder was an all-state baseball player as a senior in 2002 and a second-team choice as a sophomore in 2000. He was a rare four-sport standout. He made the state tournament twice in tennis in doubles, was twice named conference player of the year in basketball and a two-time first-team all-state choice in football, once as a receiver in his sophomore year and as a quarterback his senior year. East won state baseball titles in 1999 and 2002.
MOLLY SEIDEL, University Lake School (2012)
Seidel did something not even Suzy Favor accomplished – winning a total of 12 state championships (Favor won 10). Seidel won the 1,600 and 3,200 all four years in Division 3 track, with records in both that still stand. She also won four state cross-country titles, posting the two fastest times in state history (4,000 meters) and three of the top five in Division 3. She went on to win the 2011 Foot Locker National Championship and grabbed a national cross-country championship at Notre Dame, followed by three NCAA crowns in track and field.
CHRIS SOLINSKY, Stevens Point (2003)
Solinsky won three state cross-country titles and eight state titles overall, and his 14:54 in 2002 remains the fastest time ever run at state CC (his 15:07 in 2001 is third). He added three wins in the 3,200 and two in the 1,600 at the state track and field meet, and won the 2002 Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships by 21 seconds before beginning his college career at the University of Wisconsin. He went on to break the American record in the 10,000 meters (by 14 seconds) in 2010.
JESSE THIELKE, Germantown (2011)
Thielke won four state titles in wrestling, then went on to compete at Wisconsin and in the Olympics in 2016. He lost only one match in his four years at Germantown, finishing 185-1. The four-time U.S. Junior World team member was also a 2009 Cadet Pan American champion.
JOE THOMAS, Brookfield Central (2003)
The future NFL Hall of Famer was a dominant defensive lineman for the Lancers football team, leading them to the state championship game in 2002. Oh, he was pretty good as an offensive lineman, too. The state defensive player of the year also played in three state basketball tournaments with the Lancers and won state track titles in 2003 in both the shot put and discus. He went on to become a star lineman at the University of Wisconsin, was drafted No. 3 overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2007 and has since retired after a Hall of Fame career in which he became the game’s best offensive tackle.
I can’t believe these people aren’t on the list!
You’ll surely find more names that should be mentioned, but here’s a bunch we definitely expect to hear about.
Andrea Boritzke, Arrowhead (2005); Beau Breske, Hartford (2016); Brian Butch, Appleton West (2003); Sidney Cooks, Kenosha St. Joseph (2017); Katie Drabot, Cedarburg (2016); Henry Ellenson, Rice Lake (2015); Devin Harris, Wauwatosa East (2001); Tyler Herro, Whitnall (2018); Trevon Hughes, St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy (2006); Alec Ingold, Bay Port (2015); Brooke Jaworski, Wausau West (2019); Simone Lee, Menomonee Falls (2014); Jim Leonhard, Flambeau (2001); Samantha Logic, Racine Case (2011); Steve Novak, Brown Deer (2002); Andrew Rock, Stratford (2000); Joe Schobert, Waukesha West (2012); Diamond Stone, Dominican (2015); JJ Watt, Pewaukee (2007 — see caveat above); Garett Weber-Gale, Nicolet (2003); Jordan Zimmermann, Auburndale (2004).
Who makes your list of 20? JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.
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