College sports: Yellowjackets' men's teams sweep conference titles
The men's golf, cross country and soccer teams last claimed UMAC titles in the 2018-19 season. This year, the women's soccer team joined them.
SUPERIOR — For the second time since Wisconsin-Superior became a member of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference in 2015, the Yellowjacket men’s teams have swept the championships for the fall trimester of sports seasons.
The only difference between this year and the 2018-2019 season when the Yellowjackets first achieved the feat, is the 2022-2023 women's soccer team decided to join the championship party.
All three teams have held onto the coaches who charted them to that success: Joe Mooney for the men's soccer team; Glen Drexler running the cross-country team; and Paul Eberhardt for the golf team. They were each honored with the UMAC Coach of the Year award in 2018-2019.
“We have a great group of coaches and staff that are committed to their culture and building relationships with their students and committing to the players' developments,” UWS Athletic Director Nick Bursik said.
For the soccer team, Mooney wasn’t the only familiar face. Dalton VonKaenel, now an assistant coach, was in his junior season as the goalkeeper for the Yellowjackets. Vonkaenel earned All-UMAC second-team honors with a 16-2-1 record and a personal season record of 62 saves.
Because of Blake Perry's continued dominance, his name has been in the spotlight. Perry was in his rookie season and earned All-UMAC Rookie of the Year in 2018, even adding an assist to put the jackets up 2-1 before eventually winning 3-1 behind a goal by UMAC Tournament Most Valuable Player James Bruce in the championship game. Since that game, Perry has won four straight UMAC Tournament MVPs and is currently the UWS record holder for career goals with 73, never scoring less than 10 in a season.
The team went down to Naperville, Illinois to face No. 10 and undefeated North Central in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, Nov. 12. The Yellowjackets were up 2-1, but in the snowy weather North Central was able to score two goals in the final two minutes to win 3-2.
Mooney and Perry highlighted the UMAC conference teams, snagging coach of the year and offensive player of the year, respectively. Perry claimed 36 total points, 4 assists and 16 goals, which was a bit lower compared to last season statistically. However, Mooney said Perry improved as a leader.
“Blake in my opinion is the best player that has played for us at Superior," he said. I have nightmares about trying to replace him. What he really understands, in order for his team to be successful he needed to find more of a leadership role and he really committed to that.”
For the golf and cross-country teams, the coaching staff are the only familiar faces, but that hasn't kept their teams from winning. The golf team has only lost twice — their first year in UMAC play and last season to Bethany Lutheran. Bethany Lutheran finished 36 strokes behind UWS in the tournament to finish fourth this season. UWS did not start off hot, as they were in fourth place after the first day. After the lowest round of the tournament on the second day, 311 strokes for a 23-over-par, they were able to come back from 13 strokes down to claim the title.
Senior Charles Martin led the Yellowjackets with 82-78-76 days, even swinging an eagle on the 395-yard par-4 at Pebble Creek Golf Club. Martin was part of a pair of Yellowjackets to be named All-UMAC first team along with junior Cody Stanisich. Sophomore and Superior native Nate Burke was named honorable mention.
For cross-country, Duluth and Superior have owned the championship crown since 2009. Before UWS joined the UMAC in 2015, St. Scholastica won seven straight championships. UWS came in and immediately made an impact, stealing three straight from 2016-2018 before Scholastica snuck a victory in 2019.
This year marks back-to-back victories for UWS, as they won on a tiebreaker against Martin Luther. Junior Kieran Johnson passed Elijah Hutchinson by sixth-tenths of a second to seal the victory as the third head-to-head competitor.
This season was led by six runners being named to an All-UMAC team. Michael Butterfield, a sophomore, was the only runner to be named to the first team.
In the conference championship at the Crown Cross Country Course, Butterfield finished second overall to Crown’s Jeremiah Vanacker. Two other sophomores, Aidan Doherty and Zach Reese, were the next two Yellowjackets to finish, crossing the line 10th and 11th, respectively. They joined juniors David Collins, Kieran Johnson, and Kei Okamoto on being named to the All-UMAC second team.
In a field of 209 runners, the men’s cross-country team finished 22nd overall in the NCAA North Regional Championships at the St. Olaf Cross Country Trails Saturday Nov. 12. Butterfield finished 67th with a time of 26:06.5 .
Overall, UWS has gained support of not only the campus but also of the community.
Bursik said he's excited about what is to come in the fall and winter seasons because of everyone who works behind the scenes for the athletes and coaches.
”We not only have great coaches but great support staff from our trainers; PJ (Piotrowski), the strength coach in the weight room; and Jon (Garver), Tyler (Birnbaum) and Holden (Law) for our marketing, communications and social media standpoint. We got a great group of people that support all of the teams that really elevate the student athlete experience," Bursik said.