By Greg Bates
DE PERE – Five West De Pere student-athletes had their college dreams come true on Nov. 9.
Seniors Ethan Heck, Benjamin Hencke, Noah Jahnke and Eliza Aitken all signed national letters of intent to compete at the next level during a group ceremony at West De Pere High School. Havanah Brockington had her signing at Synergy Sports Performance.
During her time at West De Pere, Aitken has certainly left her mark on the track and field team.
Aitken played a major role in the program winning the Division 1 state title last spring. As a pole vaulter and sprinter, she was a part of scoring 29 of her team’s 60 points.
She is a seven-time state qualifier — four individually and three in relays. Last year at state, Aitken was the anchor on the state-winning 4×400-meter relay team, placed runner-up in the pole vault, runner-up in the 400 and was sixth in the 200.
Aitken was recruited by a number of high-major Division I programs, including Wisconsin, Minnesota and Louisville. Ultimately, she decided to sign with another D-I, the University of South Dakota.
“When she came back from South Dakota, I asked her about it and literally there was a beaming smile, and the entire time she talked about it, it was like this permanent smile,” West De Pere track and field coach Craig Zellner said. “As a coach, it’s really comforting knowing she feels like this is the perfect fit both academically and athletically. … South Dakota’s getting a great athlete, no doubt, but an even better person. As a coach, I’m extremely proud of what her accomplishments are and I cannot wait to see what the future holds in the next level and then in the spring.”
Aitken was happy to get the recruiting process wrapped up and sign with the Coyotes.
“It’s a huge relief just because I’m looking forward to now going into my senior year of my track season without having to think about a college decision,” Aitken said. “It’s really nice to have it over with and be confident in my decision.”
Aitken holds five school records, including the pole vault where her personal best distance is 12-9. After placing second last year in the event at state, she’s hoping to better that this season.
“That is definitely a goal this year,” Aitken said. “It’s a very reachable goal, too.”
Jahnke has had a great run the last year and a half for the West De Pere cross country and track and field teams.
He’s gone to state twice in cross country and last season in track.
Jahnke helped lead the Phantoms to the state cross country meet, finishing 12 th as a team. Individually, he finished sixth overall in the Division 1 race (16:02.9).
Jahnke chose to attend Green Bay to run on the cross country team. He also looked at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Michigan Tech, but he liked what the Phoenix offered.
“Mostly because of the great guys on the team,” Jahnke said. “I’ve been talking to them. And like I said, they’re really welcoming. I’ve been talking to their coaches and they’re trying to build a great team culture and also a very successful team as well.”
Named the Bay Conference runner of the year for cross country, Jahnke holds school records in the 5K (15:46.9), as well as the 3,200-meter run (9:18.26).
“When I asked Noah’s peers about Noah as a teammate, they responded, ‘He’s not just the best runner on the team. He’s also an amazing leader. He is humble. He is approachable, and he is encouraging,’”
West De Pere cross country coach Stacey Bloomer said. “I know Noah will give 110% of this time and talent to UWGB’s cross country program.”
Before heading off to college, Jahnke is shooting to break the school record in the one-mile run. His personal-best time is 4:21 and the school record is 4:18.
When the Michigan Tech men’s basketball team played at Green Bay on Nov. 3, there was one spectator in attendance who paid a little bit more attention to what the Huskies were doing.
West De Pere’s Ethan Heck watched his future team and former teammate Dawson Nordgaard play toe-to-toe with the Division I Phoenix.
One week after that game, Heck signed his national letter of intent with Division II Michigan Tech.
“I’m very blessed for the opportunity to be able to continue my athletic and academic career there,” Heck said.
“It’s really just a big stress reliever. After all the contacts and all the coaches I’ve been in contact with for the past couple of years, just to have everything said and done and be able to focus on my job at hand right now, which is this season. It’s just a blessing to be able to not have to worry about that next step just yet.”
West De Pere boys’ basketball coach Todd Deschane has known Heck since elementary school with the coach having a kid the same age. Deschane accepted the varsity coaching role when Heck was a freshman.
“It was an obvious choice, ‘Hey, we’re going to move you up to varsity,’” Deschane said. “He took with it, ran with it. We grew together. Ethan’s a special kid. As a coach, you always want your best player to be your hardest worker, that’s Ethan. He is the hardest worker.”
The 6-foot-5 Heck averaged 14.5 points per game and a team-leading 5.8 rebounds last season as the Phantoms tied for the Bay Conference title.
With one more season to go in his high school career, Heck has a few things on his list to check off.
“Obviously, I’ve had a lot of success in the past, but I want to take it to the next step,” Heck said. “I want to be the guy on the court against every team. I want to show that the work that I’ve put in is going to pay off this season from the very first practice to the last second of the last game.”
Hencke was a jack-of-all-trades last season for the West De Pere baseball team, playing shortstop, second base, third base and pitching.
It was on the mound where Hencke made the biggest difference. He was named first-team all-conference at the position and his teammates voted him team MVP.
During his high school career, he has just one loss and a 2.3 ERA from the bump.
Hencke lived out a dream, signing with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside to continue his baseball career.
“It was a lot of pressure trying to pick a school that was right to me that felt right, and this felt right,” Hencke said. “I wanted to stay in Wisconsin and now signing here, all the pressure came off me. Now I just focus on the spring season coming up here.”
Hencke was hampered by an injury late in his junior season and it slowed him down. West De Pere baseball coach Joe Rukamp is excited to get Hencke back healthy in the spring.
“I look forward to him being our guy this year on the mound and back in the middle of the order, but more importantly are some of the words that I can use to describe Benje,” Rukamp said. “The first word that comes to mind with Benje is just unselfish. Like I said, played second, played short and last year we asked him to play third and he said absolutely. In college, maybe he’s going to be an outfielder, I don’t know. But he’ll play wherever you ask him to play, he’s never going to complain once. … Hard worker. Benje puts in the time. He works hard in the weight room, he’s one of the hardest workers in there. He works hard at practice.”
Hencke has a few things he wants to accomplish before his time is up at West De Pere.
“I want to hit the weights hard, keep lifting,” Hencke said. “I want to get my velocity up when I’m pitching and become a better thrower. More accurate, get my curve spin down, my change-ups down. I also want to become better as a hitter.”
After being named Bay Conference soccer player of the year as a junior, Havanah Brockington garnered plenty of college interest.
She was recruited by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Rose Hulman.
Ultimately, Brockington decided to stay closer to home and sign with Division II Michigan Tech — a school where she can earn a degree in biomedical engineering.
“The soccer team and coaches were all so welcoming and supportive — it really felt like a family,” Brockington said. “I also love skiing, hiking and camping. Michigan Tech gives me the opportunity to enjoy all of these hobbies.”
The Phantoms team MVP and all-state honorable mention recipient last season, varsity soccer coach Matt Ganzen always has high praise for Brockington.
“She is a player who is always striving to meet the next goal she sets for herself, and she always is one of the first people to practice and one of the last ones to leave,” Ganzen said. “For Havanah, it is her passion — she lives and breathes soccer. She has been playing club soccer in Germantown at one of the highest levels our state’s club organization offers.”
Brockington plays for FC Wisconsin ECNL and travels four hours road trip three days a week to practice.
She’s looking to bring her passion for soccer to Michigan Tech.
“I think that I can offer speed, knowledge of the game, great technical abilities and my determined personality to never give up,” Brockington said.
Brockington has one more season left in the spring to play soccer at West De Pere. She’d like to go out with a bang.
“I am hoping to win the Bay Conference again this year,” she said. “I am also hoping to be regional champs. I am hoping to make all-state again. All in all I am just hoping to have some fun for my last year with my teammates.”
By Greg Bates