Being in the Wisconsin High School State Curling championship match is nothing new to the Portage girls team, having appeared in four straight finals and winning each of the last two.
Pardeeville meanwhile last tasted state gold in 2006. Something had to give Saturday when the Warriors and Bulldogs faced off in an all Columbia County final for the second straight day at Stevens Point Curling Club.
It proved to be a dog day afternoon as Pardeeville snapped its 15-year title drought and denied the Warriors a third consecutive state title, edging out a 5-4 win in the championship match.
“It’s very exciting for these ladies, especially everything that’s been going on the last year with things being canceled and the pandemic,” Pardeeville coach Amanda Seichter said. “It’s just a huge testament to how these ladies play together.”
Despite coming up short, Portage coach Jim Shlimovitz shared its counterpart’s sentiments as the Warriors brought home some hardware for the fourth consecutive season following a fifth straight semifinal appearance.
“I’m very happy for the girl,” he said, noting the uncertainty of a state finals dating back as late as Jan. 15. “Coming up just a little bit short — a couple inches and shots here and there — but being in the state finals, in a year like this is wonderful.”
After dueling in a one-point affair in the Southern Regional Playdowns on Feb. 12 — a 6-5 Bulldogs win — the teams had another nailbiting affair in the championship tilt. It was a seesaw affair from the jump as the teams traded points in the first two ends before Portage, skipped by Lauren Hein, stole another in the third for a 2-1 lead.
Pardeeville, skipped by Kylee Barden, still in control of the hammer, answered with a point in the fourth before stealing one of its own in the fifth to take a 3-2 lead. The Warriors, which also included third Aubrey Rietmann, second Anna Tamboli, lead Emma Meicher and alternate Gracie Kohn, tied things at 3 in the sixth but squandered a major chance.
With Pardeeville sitting one and Portage with two stones in the back of the house, Hein was unable to clear the Bulldogs rock enough, forcing the Warriors to settle for just a point instead of three.
Pardeeville, which also included third Hailie Gilbert, second Maddy Anderson, lead Ilyana McGuire and alternate Morgan Warnke, capitalized, scoring two in the seventh before Portage was only able to score once in the eighth to seal the win.
“We were back and forth … the whole game, and getting those two points with us being able to set up that end, and Hailie being able to do a beautiful corner raise, really set the tone for that end,” Seichter said.
“It helped make the eighth end a little bit easier for us to try to cover up Portage.”
“We were sitting good in three of four ends and they came down and made some gorgeous shots,” added Shlimovitz, who said over 100 people from across the country watched the match live on Facebook.
“It was one of the best games I’ve seen in a long time, and the Pardeeville skip, I give her a lot of credit. I don’t think she missed a single shot.”
Before sweating out the final, the Warriors and Bulldogs breezed through the semifinals. Portage rolled to an 8-3 win over Stevens Point in seven ends, as the Warriors responded from a Panthers point in the first end with a four-spot in the second to seize control and never looked back.
Meanwhile, Pardeeville easily dispatched of Mosinee, 10-4. Like the Warriors, the Dawgs trailed 1-0 after the first end but scored three in the second before stealing three more in the third and a pair in the second to take a commanding lead.
The win was special in so many ways for both teams, as the Dawgs snapped their title drought and only lose Gilbert to graduation. Meanwhile, Portage graduates the likes of Tamboli, Rietmann and Meicher, with Tamboli and Rietmann being part of last year’s title team and the former a member of the 2019 winners and 2018 runners-up.
“To get any hardware at the state tournament. We have a very good program here in Portage, and any time you can come home, and they don’t know how hard it is to get a piece of hardware,” Shlimovitz said. “For what they did to get two, and Anna got four for her career, that’s rare.”
It capped off a special weekend for Columbia County as whole after the Poynette and Portage reached Friday’s boys title match as the Pumas repeated as state champions.
“The fact we have really strong school representation and support, it was great to see the Columbia County league take it all and show off all the curling and strengths we have in the south,” Seichter said, noting the Bulldogs had a rousing escort return when they got back home.
It’s also a large testament to the generosity in the area. With the Portage, Pardeeville and Poynette clubs unable to make ice this winter, the Arlington Curling Club opened its doors to all three programs in a time of great need, something that didn’t go unnoticed for Shlimovitz.
“They had three teams practicing after school and on weekends, and to let the kids have the opportunity just to play (was huge),” he said.
Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or contact him at 608-745-3512.