ASHWAUBENON - The spring sports season is complete which means it's time to hand out awards to the athletes who shined the brightest this spring.
There were plenty to choose from, but unfortunately only one athlete can be picked per division.
With that in mind, here we go with our Large and Small divisions players of the year in baseball, softball and soccer, in addition to recognizing the area's top two athletes in track and field:
If you attended the state tournament and watched Bay Port play its three games there's no secret why Ben Messenger is FOX 11's player of the year. Just in the state tournament, Messenger opened with a three-hitter, struck out 16 and drove in four runs as the No. 9-ranked Pirates blanked No. 2 Kenosha Bradford, 9-0.
Messenger went on to go 6-for-8 in the tournament which lifted his season average over .300.
For the season, Messenger hit .319 and on the mound was 10-1 with a 0.88 earned run average. Not only was he a key player for the state runner-up Pirates, he was the best in the area.
It's not clear where Messenger will play collegiately. The left-hander, who throws in the high 80s, mentioned the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as a possibility.
When you get a hit more than 50 percent of the time, steals bases like they're going out of style and help lead your team to the Division 4 state title, you become a serious candidate for player of the year. In Mitch Champagne's case, he's more than a candidate, he is the player of the year.
The leadoff hitter was the catalyst for a Coleman team that lost its first game of the season and then reeled off 28 straight wins, including a 20-11 win over Johnson Creek in the state title game.
This past season, Champagne hit .556 and stole 33 bases in 34 attempts. Ironically, Champagne was the only player to get caught stealing on the Cougars this past season.
Champagne, who was a member of Coleman's state championship wrestling team, will continue his baseball career at UW-Oshkosh next season.
Every time Marissa Michalkiewicz stepped up to the plate it felt like she was destined to get a hit. She didn't, but she was pretty effective.
The Appleton East senior capped off a stellar career at East batting .489 this season with three home runs and 15 extra-base hits and 44 hits overall. She also struck out just three times. The left-handed hitting first baseman was named the topped senior infielder/catcher in the state by the Wisconsin Softball Coaches Association.
Michalkiewicz, who had a .739 slugging percentage, made the state tournament in all four of her varsity seasons. She hopes to bring that winning to UW-Green Bay next season.
Algoma's second trip to the state tournament was largely due to the fact Courtney Dart is a special player. The senior pitcher did everything for the Wolves this season.
In the circle, Dart was 15-4 with a 1.17 ERA and struck out 125 batters in 132 innings. Furthermore, she walked just 11. At the plate, Dart batted .583 with 49 hits, three home runs, 34 RBIs and 18 doubles.
She was at her best at the Division 3 state tournament against top-ranked Poynette. Dart was 2-for-4 with a double and stolen base. She also allowed just two earned runs in what turned out to be her final game, a 6-4 loss.
After reaching the Division 1 girls state soccer tournament in 2011, Kimberly had designs on another trip and one of the biggest reasons was Sydney Buss.
The junior was poised for a breakout season and she delivered in a big way. Buss scored 32 goals and added 12 assists for a total of 76 points (11th in the state). Furthermore, she had eight game-winning goals, which ranked second in the state
Buss didn't lead the Papermakers back to the state tournament as they fell in a sectional semifinal but her season was still the best among Large Division players.
Xavier is an annual power in girls soccer and that didn't change this season as the Hawks returned to the Division 2 state tournament. The biggest reason for the Hawks' success has to do with Fallon Peplinski.
Peplinski was an offensive machine this season as she was the only player in the state with at least 30 goals and 30 assists. Peplinski scored 33 goals and added a state-high 39 assists as her 105 points ranked No. 2 in the state.
She was also a clutch player. While the Hawks allowed just eight goals all season, when the game was tight Peplinski stood tall with six game-winning goals. Unfortunately, she was unable to lift Xavier past the semifinals for the second year in a row as the Hawks fell to Catholic Memorial.
TRACK AND FIELD
This track and field season there were two dominant athletes who stood out and they both resided on the girls' side. Bonnie Draxler and Kennedy Blahnik completed their sophomore seasons and both have four gold medals to show for their efforts so far.
Draxler repeated state titles in the 400-meter dash and the pole vault, where she set the Division 2 state
record with a height of 12 feet, 7 inches. She actually cleared 13-3 in sectionals but state records can only be established at the state meet.
Draxler won the 400 in a time of 56.57 seconds and placed third in the 100 with a time of 12.52. She was Wrightstown's only state participant and accumulated 26 points, which ranked Wrightstown fifth in the team standings.
"I'm just really happy, excited," Draxler said after winning two gold medals.
Meanwhile, Blahnik once again dusted the field in the shot put and discus like 2011. However, this year Blahnik was performing with an injured knee that almost prevented her from competing at state.
"The day after regionals I went to the doctor and he thought it was meniscus tear," Blahnik said. "His first thought was I wouldn't be throwing at sectionals or state. I took it real hard. After he left the room, I told my dad I'm throwing."
Blahnik set a Division 3 record in the shot put, breaking her own mark, with a throw of 47-11. She won that event by more than two feet. Then in the discus, Blahnik won with a launch of 146-3, which was more than 13 feet better than the second-place finisher.
After her second gold, Blahnik was all smiles.
"I was really worried," Blahnik said. "This is what I work up to all season."
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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