Success on the high school, collegiate and even the Olympic front showcased the athletic highlights of 2016 in the south suburbs.
From the Franklin/Muskego/Oak Creek/Whitnall (FMOW) gymnastics team winning its fourth WIAA state title to the Franklin football team making a surprising run to the WIAA Division 1 state football finals, there was much to cheer about.
We also had the highlight-reel efforts of the Whitnall boys basketball team making the state D2 tournament, as well as the consistent excellence of the Oak Creek girls basketball team making it back to the WIAA state tournament two years after winning the 2014 state title.
And speaking of that 2014 Oak Creek title team. All-State and All-Suburban forward from that season, Stephanie Kostowicz earned first-team All-Horizon League honors for the UW-Milwaukee women's basketball team.
1. FMOW GYMNASTICS
The local co-op used a balanced effort to claim the WIAA state Divison 1 title after finishing second in 2015. It was also the co-op's fifth title in the last six years. The squad beat Southeast Conference rival Kenosha, 149.31 points to 147.6, for the crown. The team also earned several individual state medals. Krystal Nelson was second in the balance beam, Sam Balcerak was second on the floor exercise and uneven bars and was also fourth in the all-around, while Abigail Missiaen was third on vault.
"This meet was one of those perfect coaching moments where all the things you've been working on all year come together," said coach Katie Moore. "It was awesome."
2. FRANKLIN BOYS TRACK
Neither Franklin's Brady Snelson in the 800 meters or Tri Pham in the triple jump fully expected to win titles at the WIAA state track and field meet in June, but they provided the Sabers with their first state crowns since 1975.
Snelson was the top seed in a balanced field of 800 runners and led almost from start to finish (1 minute, 54.59 seconds).
"It still doesn't feel like I've won state," he said. "I was just waiting for someone to pass me on the final stretch. I was looking up at the big screen (the live scoreboard), and I said to myself 'Holy ... it's (the finish line) right there."
Meanwhile, Pham, who had finished third in the long jump (22-7) on the first day of the state meet, came back the second day and edged Southeast Conference rival Armani Carmickle of Kenosha Indian Trail by the slimmest of margins to take the triple with an effort of 46 feet, 9-3/4 inches.
"He and I kept going back and forth," said Pham of Carmickle. "It was just too close for comfort. I tried to put some pressure on him. It came down to the last jump. I just couldn't let him win, and it wound being enough by about three-quarters of an inch.I wasn't going to settle for a second today, not after taking third yesterday (in the long jump)."
Josh Iraci was also fifth in the 100 dash and fourth in the 200 as the Sabers finished fourth in the team standings.
3. FRANKLIN FOOTBALL
In one of the great coaching and leadership displays of the fall, the Sabers overcame massive graduation losses from the great team of a year ago, a season-opening loss to Mukwonago, injuries to multiple quarterbacks and their most explosive defensive player and still turned in a special season.
The Sabers put together a 12-game winning streak, which not only won them the Southeast Conference title but took them all the way to the WIAA Division 1 title gamebefore they fell to four-time champ Kimberly.
Led by coach Louis Brown and All-Suburban selections quarterback Max Alba, receiver Kyle Lewis, defensive linemen Latron Kirk-Sprewer Jr. and Hawk Wimmer and defensive back Brad Tobin, the Sabers were masters of the big moment, rallying from down 21-10 to beat rival Oak Creek in the second round of the playoffs. Alba went on to pass for nine TDs combined in subsequent playoff wins over Marquette and Lake Geneva Badger. The team talked about a "Brotherhood" and truly lived and played like it.
4. WHITNALL BOYS BASKETBALL
The Falcons put together a fine regular season but really caught fire in the state playoffs, topping Bay View and Pewaukee to win the WIAA Division 2 regional, then Waukesha North and Whitefish Bay to claim the school's first sectional crown in 12 years.
Whitnall dropped a tough 62-59 game to Waunakee in the state semifinal as a late 3-point field goal attempt by Tyler Herro bounced off the back rim, but the Falcons still wound up with a successful 20-7 season and plenty of promise for the years to come.
"We knew many people didn't expect us to go to state," Herro said, "but we knew all along we were one of the best teams in the state once we put the pieces together."
For the season, Herro averaged 24 points and 3.9 assists to earn first-team All State honors, and Kevion Taylor averaged 19 points and received honorable mention.
Both have decided on their colleges, with Herro choosing the University of Wisconsin and Taylor selecting Winona State University.
5. OAK CREEK GIRLS BASKETBALL
Using a truly balanced effort, the Knights (23-4) ran the table in the Southeast Conference and made it back to the WIAA state tournament with a 50-40 sectional final victory last March over defending champion Divine Savior Holy Angels.
Seniors Madison Hart (11 points per game) and Hailey Erdman (10 points per game.) and cool-as-a-cucumber sophomore point guard Haley Zylka led the way for the Knights who finished their season with a tough loss to Mukwonago in the state semifinal.
"We're all different things," said Hart, "and we're all good at different things. I think that's why we work so well together."
6. JOEL STAVE
Fresh from his successful run as the University of Wisconsin quarterback, Joel Stave returned to his alma mater, Whitnall High School, in March for a jersey dedication ceremony.
Stave presented the school with a signed and framed No. 2 Badgers jersey and accepted the congratulations of former coaches, school superintendent Lowell Holtz, Greenfield mayor Mike Neitzke, master of ceremonies Vince Vitrano of WTMJ-TV and a packed gymnasium of current students.
"It was a lot of fun," Stave said. "I'm really honored to have the opportunity to do this. It was cool to come back and see everybody and have a day like this."
7. DAVID PULIZOS
Pulizos put together one of the finest single seasons in Greendale history, scoring 502 points for a 21.7 average. He notched six games of at least 30 points, highlighted by a career-high 45 points in a wild 121-80 victory over New Berlin West in the regular-season finale.
"I played two years with Jordan and to do what he did is great," Pulizos said.
Pulizos won Now Newspapers All-Suburban honors, along with first-team all-state, and was named the Woodland Conference West Division Player of the Year.
He is playing college basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater this season.
8. STEPH KOSTOWICZ
A 6-2 all-state forward on the WIAA state champion Oak Creek girls basketball team of 2014, Kostowicz has turned into a force for the UW-Milwaukee women's basketball team. She earned first-team All Horizon League in 2016 after averaging 14 points and 8.9 rebounds and hitting 54 percent of her shots with 71 assists. She is a pre-season All-Horizon League selection this season and through 11 games is averaging 17 points and nine rebounds a contest on 55 percent shooting.
9. CALEB OGDEN
He didn't leave Oak Creek with a WIAA state track title like he wanted, but Knights' sprinter Caleb Ogden completely rewrote the school record book and left an indelible mark on state sprinting. On June 4 in a La Crosse., he finished second in the 400 meters for the second year in a row with a blistering time of 47.81 and then in one of the great races in state history, he anchored the Knights' 4x400 relay team of Charlie Quentin, state 800 placewinner Michael Sippy and Ryan Potter to second place in a school-record smashing and top 10 all-time clocking of 3:17.8. Unfortunately for Ogden and the Knights, in that same race, Brookfield East set a new state record of 3:15.78.
"For four years, he's been just amazing for this team," said coach Rick Stack. "He should be very proud of everything."
10. GREENDALE HALL OF FAME
Greendale became the latest area high school to create an athletic hall of fame, holding its initial induction ceremony in February.
The first inductees are four-time WIAA state girls tennis champion Kaylan Caiati, former baseball coach Robin Schrank, WIAA state champion and Olympic wrestler Jim Gruenwald, standout football lineman Matt Reischl, youth football directors Jerry and Diane Meyers and the 2006 WIAA state champion softball squad.
Kelly (Fennig) Read, an assistant coach on the softball team, summarized the feelings of everyone inducted into the Hall when she said, "It's a very great honor to be a part of this."