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The Div. 2 overview

Conference title Thursday. Both are 9-2 in league play. Medford won the first meeting 57-55 in overtime Feb. 1. Both split with Mosinee.

Most observers would probably say the top half of Sectional 1 doesn’t have a clear favorite, and that’s what could make this half-bracket quite interesting during regional week.

Wausau East, much improved this season under head coach Dan Garrett, leaped over the Big Rivers Conference trio of River Falls, New Richmond and Rice Lake to nab the one-seed. The Lumberjacks are 17-6 overall and 8-3 in the Wisconsin Valley Conference with a game Thursday at Stevens Point breaking a second-place tie behind 11-0 Marshfield.

The Lumberjacks didn’t play the most imposing of non-conference schedules for a D2 team but they did well in the Valley, getting a 78-73 win Jan. 19 over Stevens Point, who was unbeaten at the time, taking Marshfield to the buzzer before losing 65-63 on Feb. 2, sweeping Wausau West and splitting with D.C. Everest.

East beat Rhinelander 82-63 and Lakeland 74-61 early in the year. The Lumberjacks are led by Jesse Napgezek and Charlie Cayley, who lead the Valley in scoring and rebounding.

River Falls (16-7) seemed to be in line for the top seed for most of the season, but four losses in the Wildcats’ last seven games knocked them out. One of those losses was a 47-39 defeat at Rice Lake Feb. 9 where the Warriors avenged an earlier 73-44 blowout loss. River Falls also lost at home to 10th-seeded Menomonie 55-49 on Jan. 30 and is 8-5 in league play.

The Wildcats swept third-seeded New Richmond during the Big Rivers season and opened the year with an impressive 56-39 win at La Crosse Central. Leading scorer Joey Butz, averages 21 points per game and has 73 3-point makes.

New Richmond is also 16-7 and is 7-6 in the BRC. The Tigers showed an ability to light up the scoreboard early in the year, beating Minneapolis Henry 91-83, Medford 105-80 and Waseca, Minn. 100-66. New Richmond’s six league losses are all against the top three teams. The Tigers were buried by West Salem 96-68 on Jan. 25.

Rice Lake is a team to never overlook in the post-season. Always a tough out under head coach Kevin Orr, the Warriors were regional finalists last year and sit at 14-9 after rallying from 14 down in the last five minutes to beat Medford Tuesday. They’re 6-7 in the BRC. They lost at home to New Richmond 64-62 on Jan. 12 and finish the year on the Tigers’ floor Thursday.

Fifth and sixth seeds Rhinelander (14-9) and Medford (11-12) will play for a share of the Great Northern

The other side

The top four seeds from the other side of the bracket are: 1. West Salem (20-2 overall, 11-0 Coulee). Panthers bumped up after going to state in D3 last year. Lost to Onalaska 76-68 and beat La Crosse Central 72-49 early. A game with Fox Valley Lutheran Jan. 13 was unfortunately canceled due to weather.

2. Fox Valley Lutheran (20-2 overall, 17-0 North Eastern). Only losses are 63-60 to Appleton Xavier, ranked third in D3, and 67-61 to Appleton East. Foxes have two high-scoring shooters in Adam Loberger and Sam Ferge. Loberger has made 138 3s.

3. Mosinee (19-4 overall, 9-2 Great Northern): Indians can earn a share of GNC title with a win at Lakeland Thursday. Keagen Jirschele (20.2) and Landen Thomer (18.5) are a tough one-two scoring punch. Beat D3’s sixthranked Brillion 60-59 Monday.

4. Onalaska (17-6 overall, 11-0 Mississippi Valley): Hilltoppers are certainly a team no one wants to play. Three losses are against Minnesota schools. They haven’t lost to a Wisconsin team since a 51-43 loss to Marshfield in Mequon Dec. 28.

Four years after getting robbed of a potential WIAA D5 state tournament appearance by the Covid pandemic, could Rib Lake make a run at getting there this year?

With McDonell Central out of a sectional it had dominated for nearly the last decade, this year’s bracket feels more wide-open. After drawing the one-seed in their half, the Redmen have an opportunity.

Rib Lake is 18-5 overall and 11-4 in the Marawood Conference’s North Division, which it won handily. The Redmen are led by a senior-dominated core of Jackson Blomberg, Andrew Wudi, Dominic Quednow and Donovan Sutherland. They’re 6-0 against the sectional teams they’ve seen, including a 66-58 win at fourthseeded Owen-Withee on Dec. 5. That rematch could take place in the regional final.

Drummond got the two-seed over East Lakeland Conference champion Winter. Both have 16-7 overall records going into their last regular-season games. While head-to-head results don’t figure much into the WIAA’s formula, a 61-57 win over Winter last Monday had to have helped Drummond’s cause.

Drummond is fourth in the Northern Lights Conference at 11-6, a game behind sixth-seeded Hurley. The Lumberjacks nearly beat one-seed Solon Springs on Jan. 4, falling 45-43. The Eagles took the rematch by 41 on Feb. 6.

Winter is one of the sectional’s most fascinating teams. The Warriors average 82 points per game and have scored as many as 116. They fill transition lanes and rebound well and try to turn defense into quick offense. It will be interestig to see if that style translates into tournament success.

Winter opens regional play by hosting 14th-seeded Gilman (3-19) Tuesday.

Four-seed Owen-Withee (15-8) isn’t likely to be easily knocked out. The Blackhawks are riding a 7-2 run into their third-place Cloverbelt crossover with Stanley-Boyd Thursday. Seventh-seeded Prentice is young, but has some inside and outside talent that could be a tough matchup for some teams in the bracket. Eighth-seeded Thorp (11-12) comes out of the competitive Western Cloverbelt Conference and won’t be intimidated by anyone in the bracket. The Cardinals beat conference champion Bloomer last week 63-59.

The other side

The top four seeds from the other side of the bracket are: 1. Solon Springs (20-2 overall, 17-0 Northern Lights). Led by 6-5 Bemidji State recruit Isaiah Kastern, who averages 29 points and 10 rebounds, the Eagles return several players from a team that nearly upset McDonell in last year’s sectional final.

2. Birchwood (17-5 overall, 12-4 East Lakeland). Bobcats tied New Auburn for second place in East Lakeland.

3. Eau Claire Immanuel Lutheran (16-4 overall, 9-3 Dairyland Small): Second place in the conference. Solid wins over Newman Catholic and Alma Center Lincoln.

4. Turtle Lake (16-7 overall, 13-4 Lakeland West): Lost 73-48 to Solon Springs in Clayton holiday tournament.