As usual, the North Shore sports scene was one of great success for high school, collegiate and even professional level athletes this past year.
But change is coming. Area high-school conference will have a vastly new look in 2017-18 and that tops our year in review for 2016.
1. Re-drawing the lines. The "North Shore Conference," if it will keep that name, will lose long-time members Germantown and Milwaukee Lutheran and get a big geographic shift with the addition of West Bend East and West, Hartford and Slinger, making it a 10-school league.
It will mean larger travel budgets for area schools Nicolet and Whitefish Bay.
Meanwhile, the Woodland Conference, where Brown Deer and Shorewood reside, will get a facelift, as well. Milwaukee Lutheran, West Allis Central and state athletic power Wisconsin Lutheran will join the now 14-school league.
There are not a lot of people happy with either configuration as the North Shore schools stare at 40-minute drives into Washington County, especially on school nights, and in the Woodland, the addition of Central (1,431 students enrolled) provides issues in a conference of mostly 700 to 800 enrollments. Brown Deer is by far the smallest school in the league at 572.
The addition of private school all-around sport power Wisco will tilt the balance of power greatly everywhere.
Further, opportunities for nonconference competition shrink in both leagues, making this arrangement awkward at best all-around. All have agreed to try to make it work, but it's probably a safe bet that this will be thrown back to the WIAA or the courts in the near future for another look.
2. Whitefish Bay girls gymnastics team wins emotional state title. With her mother Karen recovering from cancer but still in the crowd at Wisconsin Rapids, Blue Dukes junior Aly Yurkowitz turned in a performance of a lifetime last March, winning the WIAA Division 2 all-around title in leading Bay to its ninth state championship in gymnastics. The pair engaged in an emotional hug after the victory as Yurkowtiz also took second in the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Bay won the team title by close to five points over River Falls.
"...Aly just put her head in her hands and started crying. She wanted to win the all-around so badly for her mom and now she had," said Blue Dukes coach Mary Liniewski. "I just told her 'Go up there. Give your mom a hug,' and she ran into the stands and did."
3. Bay boys soccer team repeats as D2 champ. There was a new coach in Rob Dubinski, there was a challenging nonconference schedule, and there were injuries everywhere, but with a "1 through 25" ethos driving them, the depth and breadth and sheer wonder of the talented Blue Dukes would not be denied. Bay routed Elkhorn in November for its second straight WIAA State D2 title.
The Dukes won the North Shore Conference title this year, too, something they did not do in 2015, and then they dominated their sectional, routing North Shore rival Cedarburg, 4-0, in the final. But even then, the injury bug could not be escaped, as all-state level forward Zavier Ware suffered a serious knee injury in that game.
After holding off Waukesha West, 2-1, in the state semifinal, the Blue Dukes simply overpowered Elkhorn in the final at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee. In a fitting grace note. Dubinski gave the championship trophy first to Ware, who then shared it with the rest of the happy team.
"This was a really nice day," said Dubinski. "We have had a target on our back all fall. But even with all that's happened, we knew that this was still a very attainable goal."
4. Area pros thrive. Bay graduate and NFL player Nick Bellore has had his best all-around season in his sixth year in the league at inside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers. In his second season with the Niners, he has 83 combined tackles with a sack, a forced fumble and and an interception. He is a Central Michigan graduate.
In addition, former Brown Deer and Marquette University 3-point ace Steve Novak is still with his hometown Milwaukee Bucks as a reserve forward in his 11th season in the NBA. The Bucks acquired Novak in April.
Meanwhile, former Dominican and University of Maryland center Diamond Stone is getting his feet wet in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers. He had been selected with the 40th pick of this spring's NBA draft by the New Orleans Pelicans, and then traded to the Clippers.
5. Blockton sets records at Marquette. Former Dominican girls hoops standout Allazia Blockton took Marquette University by storm her freshman year in 2015-2016. The 6-0 guard scored 337 points in 13 Big East Conference games to break a 21-year old league freshman scoring record and went on to earn Big East freshmen of the year honors, while also earning second-team All-Big East honors for the freshman-dominated Golden Eagles (14-16). In addition, she also made the All-Big East honor roll. She has also helped the Golden Eagles get off to a fine 9-2 start this season.
6. Dominican boys win state D4 basketball title. The Knights set a state record back in March when they won their fifth straight WIAA Division 4 state boys basketball title with a 62-43 victory over Cameron.
With the win, the Knights became the first school in Wisconsin history to win five straight state titles. They had shared the record of four straight titles with Randolph (2002-2005).
To honor the achievement, the Knights had t-shirts made that had "Make History" on the front with a big number "5" on the back.
"We've played some close games this year," said 6-9 senior forward Kostas Antetokounmpo, who had 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the title game, "but we knew that we could do something great. We were ready to make history."
"You hope that this is something that can go on and on because it's now become our standard. We've been fortunate enough and blessed enough to be able to do this," said coach Derek Berger.
Berger resigned after the season, and the school made a splash when it hired Jim Gosz, the longtime architect of the Milwaukee King empire, to lead the squad. Gosz' father, Don, was a legendary coach at Dominican.
7. Bay distance runner Davre wins sixth and seventh state track titles. It was a banner year for Blue Duke track superstar Camille Davre, as she fought off her strongest competition yet to win her third straight 800 and 1,600-meter titles in the WIAA state track meet in June.
She won the 1,600 in an impressive 4:46.4 as Middleton (4:46.87) and Eau Claire Memorial (4:47.66) runners were close behind in what Davre's distance coach Mike Miller called "the best girls' 1,600 race in state history."
The 800 was even more difficult as Davre didn't take the lead until the final 50 meters beating that same Middleton runner, 2:11.13-2:12.15.
"I just wanted to wait as long as I could because that 1,600 took a lot out of me," Davre said. "All of them ran well. You only have one shot at this, and it's a lot of pressure, but it's a great feeling when you're done and you get the result you want."
Later in the year, Davre finished second in the WIAA state cross country meet for the second season in a row. Shortly thereafter, she committed to the University of Michigan, freeing herself up mentally as she prepares for her final track season this coming spring.
"You get a chance to go to a school that good, how could I turn it down?" she said.
8. Nicolet's Dunlap wins state 200 track title. He flew under the radar most of the season, by by the end of the track season in June, Nicolet sprinter David Dunlap was at the top of the heap. The junior sprinter had a sensational WIAA state track meet as he won the 200-meter dash in a time of 21.58 seconds.
It marked the first Nicolet boys track title since the 2012 4x100 relay team.
"I honestly don't know what to do," Dunlap said. "But we have to go back and find a way to celebrate. This just feels amazing. The race was hard, very hard. I just didn't know that I'd ever get this far."
Earlier in the meet, he had finished second in the 100 dash in 11.0 and then later helped the 4x200 relay team of Kamari Clayton, Dakari Williams and Tyler Grisham finish fourth in a school record 1:27.62.
Nicolet 400 state record-holder and state track hall of famer Bryan Jones was at the meet and was impressed by what he saw in Dunlap.
"I just love the way he attacks the the turns and slingshots it right onto the straight," he said.
9. Nicolet's Moser wins state diving title. After two years of close calls, Nicolet diver Jeremy Moser finally went out on top as he claimed the WIAA D2 state crown in February with an 11-dive score of 573.9 points.
He needed every one of those points as old friend and club competitor Monona Grove junior Henry Carman (571.25) was right on his heels for the whole competition.
"When I got to that final dive, I had no idea who was in the lead," said Moser. "I just told myself that I was winning ... the first time that I knew, a club friend ran up to me and told me that I had won by two points. I was blown away that it was that close."
Moser, who was third in the state D2 competition in 2015 and and fourth in the D1 event in 2014, became the 18th state swim champion in Nicolet history and the sixth overall diving champion. He is the first Knights state boys swim champion since Olympic champion Garrett Weber-Gale in 2003.
Riccardo Romersi was also second in the 50-yard free event at state (21.24 seconds).
10. Florsheim ends prep career on high note. An up-and-down senior season ended on a very high note, as Shorewood distance runner Morgan Florsheim made it seven WIAA state track medals in seven races when she earned sixth in the 3,200-meters in the event in June.
It was a powerful moment for the former state cross country champion, who suffered from race anxiety during the previous fall's cross country season leading to slightly diminished performances by her lofty standards. She consulted a sports psychologist who helped her deal with things.
She also battled some tendinitis issues in her knee over the winter which kept her from running for six weeks so to finish like she did in June was very gratifying. She is now attending school and running at Brown University in the Ivy League.
"It's not been at all like I expected," she said, "but I think its been all for the best. Every runner has something they have to go through, something they have to learn from."