(WQOW) -- The 99th-annual WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament tips off Thursday at the Kohl Center, in Madison.
Six teams from this part of Wisconsin will be heading to state, including Rice Lake in Division 2. The Warriors have one of the tourney's marquee players in junior Henry Ellenson, but Rice Lake has a solid supporting cast, and the group's work ethic, both over the summer and during the season, has the Warriors at state for the first time since 2002.
"I said from the beginning of the year, if any team deserves it, it's this team," says Rice Lake head coach Kevin Orr, "their work ethic in the offseason has been awesome, and I'm just so happy for our community."
Rice Lake faces Greendale in a Division 2 semifinal, Friday, at 3:15 P.M.
Elk Mound has had some great teams these past two seasons, but the Mounders could never get out of their Division 4 regional. This year, Elk Mound bumped up to Division 3, but that wasn't a problem for the Mounders en route to winning regional and sectional titles. Now, Elk Mound's focus is to make some noise down in Madison.
"Losing to Colfax last year," says Elk Mound senior guard Zac Doll, "that was the first thing that came to my mind after losing to them, I got in the gym the next week, just dying to get another chance at it, knowing that this would be my last year, and I'm glad that we came out with a victory."
"Well, we're just going to have to get through practice," says Elk Mound senior forward Hunter Kohls, "we're going to have to work hard, and if we want to make a shot at the finals in the state tournament, we'll just have to work hard in every practice like we always have, and hopefully we can do it."
Elk Mound will play Lodi in a Division 3 semifinal, at around 10:45 A.M., Friday.
Two area teams will go head-to-head in Division 4, when Blair-Taylor takes on Unity. The Eagles are going to state for the first time in school history, while the Wildcats will be at state for an 11th time, and for the first time since 2011. That matchup is set for around 8:15 P.M.,Thursday.
Unity came close last year, losing to Auburndale in a Division 4 sectional final. Last Saturday, the Eagles were able to rally for a win over Mondovi. Unity says its goal from the end of last season was to make it to state this year, and they're thrilled they could accomplish that goal.
"Beginning of the season we were feeling it was our time," says Unity sophomore forward Logan Bader, "this is our season to make it, and we showed up and we finally did."
"It's awesome," says Unity senior guard Zac Johnson, "it's the first time in school history, and I couldn't wish anymore, I've been here three times and it's our first one, we've finally to it, we're going to the Kohl Center."
There's another matchup of area teams in Division 5. Thorp is headed to state for the second time in school history and for the first time since 1982. The Cardinals were the fifth-place team in the Western Cloverbelt, but they won five straight in the playoffs to earn their way to the Kohl Center.
"It's an unbelievable feeling for the school, for the community, for the team, for the family, everyone, it's just a great feeling," says Thorp senior guard Eric Lewandowski.
"I'm so happy for the boys," says Thorp head coach Rich Sonnentag, "the season wasn't always great, there was a lot of ups and downs, I could sit here for an hour and tell you about all the surgeries that those boys had in the last two years."
Cochrane-Fountain City is going to state for the first time ever. It's been a wild ride lately for the Pirates. Of their five playoff wins, one came by 4 points, another by 2 points and a third on a last second shot in overtime.
"It was a hard journey," says C-FC senior guard Garrett Marklowitz, "but in the end we won games when it mattered. We re-clutched up in the game against Gilmanton, the #1 seed. We hit a game-winner. That happened throughout the playoffs."
"We had three close games," says C-FC senior guard Cale Lisowski," We found a way to win those games and move on. I feel like this team can go farther. We don't want to stop now. We want to keep going."
"These kids have an incredible attitude," says C-FC head coach Craig Baker, "they fed off last year's team and it just builds and builds. We had a couple of bad games but what team doesn't."
C-FC will face Thorp in a Division 5 semifinal at around 3:15 P.M., Thursday
You can watch all the state tournament games live on WQOW 18, or online at www.wqow.com.
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