Pillath Adds to Storied Career, Family History
It comes as no surprise that after the TIMESLand Athlete of the Year voting finished, Coleman's Josh Pillath claimed the top spot for a second consecutive year. Last season, Josh became the fourth Pillath to win the award. This year, he has become the third Pillath to win in back-to-back seasons, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Roger (ඃ-'60) and uncle Jerry ('63-'64).
"It's an honor to be named the top athlete again. My dedication to being an athlete has paid off in so many ways." Pillath added of his career at Coleman, "Being a part of Coleman athletics has been a dream come true for me. Being a successful athlete in three very successful sports at Coleman has made my career there unforgettable."
When the lights were the brightest, Pillath seemed to flourish. The 2017 track season finished the same way as it did in 2016: with Coleman claiming a D3 state title. Pillath was named an individual state champion in the 110-meter high hurdles at 14.95 seconds and 300-meter intermediate hurdles at 38.76 seconds, finished runner-up for the discus with a distance of 157-feet and 3-inches, and finished eighth in the high-jump with a height of 6-feet and 2-inches.
Coleman track coach Keith Long knows, it may be a long time before someone like Pillath comes around again, "He's a once in a generation track athlete with a skill set rarely seen: running, jumping, and throwing. This skill set is why he will compete in the decathlon at University of North Dakota. Josh is a great three-sport athlete, but track was his main sport."
At 6'6", Pillath was also quite a unique talent on the wrestling mats for Coleman coach Kevin Casper. After earning first-team all-conference honors, Pillath had big aspirations for the state tournament. Unfortunately, due to an illness, he was forced to bow out earlier than expected. However, Coach Casper fully understands the type of athlete and talent he saw all year long.
"It was unfortunate he got sick right before the regional. Had he not gotten sick, there was no doubt in my mind he would have been on the podium at the state tournament." Coach Casper explained his reasoning, "He was having a great year. He's very talented and you don't see too many 6'6" wrestlers on the mat. His height and length caused a lot of problems for other wrestlers, and he used his leverage the way he should have. He had a cradle that was one of the best I have ever seen."
Pillath also laced on the cleats and shoulder pads to terrorize backs in the M&O. In football, he earned second team defensive honors while also claiming the Punter of the Year award. Defensively, he recorded 49 tackles, including eight tackles for loss, along with two interceptions as a linebacker. He also averaged 39.2 yards per punt, the best in the conference.
Claiming the runner-up spot for the TIMESLand 2017 Athlete of the Year is another Coleman Cougar: Donovan Salewski. Salewski dominated all three sports he participated in, including winning a D3 state title at 285 pounds in wrestling, earning first-team all-conference in baseball, and claiming the Lineman of the Year award in the M&O.
Upon hearing the news, Salewski could not have been more thrilled, "I've always wanted to be inside the top five. There are a lot of great athletes in our area and being number two is amazing. It's been an amazing career at Coleman and I could not have asked for better teammates and coaches."
Coleman has had a rich wrestling history, and this year Salewski added to it with a state championship. After cruising to a first-team all-conference honor, he shifted into another gear for the WIAA tournament. Coach Kevin Casper attributes Salewski's aggressive style for a key reason he was able to win it all.
"Come regional time it was like a light switch came on and I've never seen a kid wrestle so possessed. He just turned it up another notch and that was a notch I haven't seen, he just wrestled phenomenal." Coach Casper added, "It was amazing how when playoffs came he had another gear. It was great to see, I'm proud of him, he's very deserving."
Once wrestling was done, Salewski and the Cougars' baseball team had unfinished business from the season before. Throughout the season, Coleman was ranked at or near the top of Division 3, thanks, in part, to Salewski behind the plate. Coach Kent Casper credits Salewski's leadership with the pitching staff as a key to their success.
"Donovan had quick feet and a tremendous arm. A lot of the good teams we played would try to steal, but found out they weren't able to. He would hold down the running game and really handled our pitching staff well. Not to mention he had an outstanding bat, so he did everything we needed very well," said Coach Casper of his senior leader behind the plate.
After the conference voting was finished for football, Salewski came away with first-team awards on both sides of the trenches, to go along with being named Lineman of the Year. There weren't many other linemen coaches had to game-plan for as much as Salewski. Not to mention he anchored the line for the highest scoring team in the M&O.
"In football, I definitely have to thank all of our coaches, especially Coach Bronson and Coach Brady. They helped me become the athlete I am," said Salewski as to why he became so successful in football.
Coming in at the number three spot on the TIMESLand top area athletes list is John Christensen of the Suring Eagles. Christensen's stellar play was highlighted by receiving first-team honors as a linebacker and second-team as a quarterback, en route to being named Back of the Year in the M&O. He also made a run at the state track meet finishing second in the high jump. While in basketball, Christensen received an honorable mention nod for his play.
"When I heard that I was selected as a Peshtigo Times Top 5 Athlete, I was hyped and relieved. Both of my brothers and my father made the list so, it's always been a bit of a competition to see who will be the highest ranked in the household," said Christensen of receiving the honor. "Reflecting on my athletic career, I realized that I gave everything I had and made no regrets. Sports were really my life for the last four years. I loved my teammates and coaches like they were family. My teammates always made tough practices more bearable and coaches always pushed us hard to exceed expectations."
Christensen's play on the football field landed him as a first-team all-conference linebacker and second-team quarterback. He was also named Back of the Year, which Christensen and his coach, Mitch Taylor, say was a proud moment for the entire Suring program.
"He is one of the best competitors that I have ever coached. He never backed down from a challenge and he gave his all to this team, family and community." Coach Taylor added, "He truly earned Back of the Year honors in football. His stats were not overwhelming, however his consistent play on both sides of the ball were noticed by everyone."
Christensen, himself, said of football, "Earning the Back of the Year award was one of the most-proud moments in my life. It was a shocking surprise when my coach informed me that the conference chose me as the Back of the Year; I couldn't believe it. My brother, Kevin, was part of the coaching staff this year and he really helped me become more confident and have more "swag'. I also couldn't have done it without my teammates. I tried my best to not let them down and they always had my back."
Football was not the only sport Christensen's athleticism shined bright. In track, his consistency throughout the season made everyone aware of his potential. However, it was down at state when Christensen truly shined, finishing as the runner-up in the D3 high jump at 6-feet 4-inches.
"I think the turning point for John was not making it to state last season, because it really hurt him. He came on and jumped really well all season. Not making it last season put a spark in him this year, there was no way he wasn't going to make it," said Christensen's track coach Heidi Gerndt.
Coach Gerndt also highlighted that Christensen does not only excel on the track, he also shines off of it. "He's a very humble kid and very respectful to adults around him including coaches and teachers. He's a very good student, including in the top ten of his class. John is very close with his family, very family oriented."
When he took his talents inside, Christensen's heart and determination on the basketball court earned him honorable mention recognition. His coach, James Keeffe, says his value on and off the court will truly be missed in Suring.
"John was a team captain as a junior and senior. He was an unselfish player that practiced and played at 100% when he was on the court. John was an extremely valuable member of the team each of his four years and he found ways to contribute to the team effort each of those years. He never whined about his role, he just came to play." Coach Keeffe added, "I should also mention that John was no slouch in the classroom. He was very diligent in his studies as well. I am very grateful to have coached John."
Coleman not only dominated in many of the sporting seasons this year, they also dominated this year's TIMESLand Athlete of the Year list. Gunnar Patz of the Cougars earned the number four spot on the list thanks to two first-team selections in football, a second consecutive state championship in track, and helping the Cougar baseball team to a sectional final trip.
"My reaction to hearing this news is that it makes me feel honored. I am honored to represent an area that is overlooked by many. Playing for Coleman gave me an opportunity to explore my talents and put them to use. I am thankful for all of my coaches for pushing me and expressing my talents. It also says a lot to my parents for keeping me involved in all of my sports and supporting me through the ups and downs, and I love them for that," said Patz of being named the number four athlete.
Patz truly showcased his skills on the gridiron during football season and everyone seemed to notice. Defensively, he earned a unanimous first-team linebacker spot thanks to leading Coleman in tackles with 84, including nine tackles for loss and four sacks. Patz also patrolled the air on both sides of the ball coming up with three interceptions on defense and 127 yards and four touchdowns receiving.
"Gunnar, Josh [Pillath] and Donovan [Salewski] were all instrumental in the success that we had in football. They possessed size, speed and athleticism that will enable them to continue playing after high school." Coleman coach Jeff Bronson added about all three Cougars' leadership, "The coaching staff never had to worry about them either on or off the field. The three of them did a great job working with the younger players on our roster. It is one thing to hear a coach tell you a technique, it is more meaningful if a senior leader states the same thing. That will be the one of the harder things to replace about these three: how helpful to the program they were. Yes, they had success on the field, both team and individual wise, but they left a legacy of helping and tutoring the younger players, so the next group will have the same possibility of success."
Back-to-back state championships in any sport can be difficult. In track, Patz was part of a duo that seemed to make it look quite easy. Patz finished this past season as the runner-up in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.62 seconds and third in the 200-meter dash at 22.85 seconds.
Cougar coach Keith Long spoke of Patz's talents, "He's great four-sport athlete, and competed in both baseball and track in the spring. He earned fourteen varsity letters in high school. Playing two sports in the same season takes a lot of hard work and determination, but to excel at both is amazing. Gunnar has a rare combination of size, speed and power."
Patz spoke of both his past and his future, "I had an amazing track and field career winning two state championships. Making school history says a lot. However, my heart lies in football, I want to continue that career and make the most out of it. It's going to be hard to be a walk-on at North Dakota, but I know I have the tools to do it."
When not on the track, Patz focused his time on the baseball field. It can be difficult for any athlete to split time between sports, but Coleman baseball coach Kent Casper says Patz was exceptional at both.
"Gunnar is just an outstanding athlete, looking at size and speed. He wants to win, work hard, and be the best. He was everything we wanted on the baseball field. Trying to do two sports is not easy, and to excel in both is phenomenal. We knew what they could do in track, but yet to put forth the effort he did in baseball was tremendous," said Coach Casper.
Rounding out the top five for the TIMESLand's top athletes list is none other than Marcus McKenney from the Menominee Maroons. McKenney earned first-team all-conference honors in football on both sides of the ball, while also taking home a first-team all-conference spot in basketball.
"I'm honored to be in the top five, knowing all of the talent that this area has to offer. My two role models are my parents. They both work extremely hard to give me everything I need. Countless hours of traveling to tournaments and working overtime so I could have fun doing the things I love. Their efforts never went unnoticed." McKenney added, "My two brothers have always pushed me to be a better person because I knew they were always watching. They're a big reason for the success I've had."
After only playing half of his freshman season due to concussions, McKenney did not play football again until his senior season, this year. McKenney quickly shook off the rust racking up 445 yards rushing and four touchdowns, while adding 524 yards receiving with five touchdowns.
McKenney spoke of his decision to come back to football his senior year, "The reason I came back is because I just missed the family feeling that football brought to me. I missed going to battle for my brothers. Since we were in pop warner we always said, "Wait until we're playing varsity. We'll win a state championship someday.' We didn't win it, but we made it there. The support the community brought us each and every Friday night is what makes Menominee football so special."
Maroon coach Joe Noha spoke of McKenney and his character on and off the field, "Marcus is a very smart, savvy and athletic player. He will do whatever the team needs him to do and is a very coachable person."
This past season McKenney earned first-team all-conference GNC honors on the hardwood while playing for his fourth season under legendary coach Pete Pericolosi. "Coach Perc", as many call him, fully understands the type of player McKenney has become.
"He was our point guard and without him, we wouldn't have even come close to the nine wins that we had. He was the most important player on our team and the best defender also." Coach Pericolosi added, "I've had him for four years and he never missed an organized event. He may not be the most verbal leader, but he sure shows it on and off the court just by being very dedicated to his sports."
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