For the 57th straight year, Hayward, WI is set to become the epicenter for one for one of the most exciting and anticipated summer events in the Midwest. Beginning Thursday morning, the 2016 Lumberjack World Championships kick off in a small town that will grow exponentially this week. Some of the best athletes in the world will compete in a variety of events that are sure to wow the several thousand spectators at the famed Lumberjack bowl. In the water sports of Log Rolling and Boom Running, a new cast of male athletes could be on the verge of crashing the party and setting the tone for the next several years. There will be other changes too. For the first time in more than a decade, both J.R. Salzman and Darren Hudson will be absent from competition. And for the first time in Five years, three-time World Champion Jaime Fischer will be in the field for both Log Rolling and Boom Running. On the women’s side, Four-time World Champion Shana Verstegen, at 36 years old, has a chance to become the oldest women’s World Champion ever. Meanwhile, 18 year old Ellie Davenport looks to continue her dominant run (six pro log rolling wins over the past 13 months) as she strives for her first World Title. The heart of the summer has arrived. And Hayward is waiting.
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WHO TO WATCH – PRO MEN
Jaime Fischer – Over the past 11 years, only two men - J.R. Salzman and Darren Hudson - have taken home a Lumberjack World Championship in Log Rolling. This week, that will change. With Salzman and Hudson out of this year’s field, Fischer could be the favorite to take the title in 2016. The 35 year old Stillwater, MN native has won a combined three Log Rolling World titles, including two in Hayward (2003, 2004). Fischer, who’s attempting a comeback after a five year layoff, is in outstanding shape and has looked good so far this year. After losing in a first round match to Will Hoeschler in Madison last month, Fischer did not lose a single fall in the back bracket, finishing third. Fischer’s pedigree, combined with his speed and experience should put him in position to make a strong run at another World Championship this week.
Will Hoeschler – The 25-year old Minnesota native is back on the pro men’s circuit after not competing regularly the past few years, and has looked better than ever. Hoeschler, who’s got six total wins as a pro, has grabbed two victories this year (La Crosse Open/Midwest Championships) and came in second at the Three Rivers Roleo earlier this month. Hoeschler should be in the mix to win his first world title.
Garrick Birdsong – The 19-year old Birdsong has five top four finishes so far in 2016 and could be a dark horse to make a run at his first World Championship this week. Birdsong’s tenacity and toughness were on full display three weeks ago when he rallied to beat the talented Hoeschler at the Three Rivers Roleo - a victory that marked the second of Birdsong’s pro career. The Onalaska, WI native finished 4th at last year’s LWC.
Dominick Serpico – So far this year, luck has evaded Serpico more than anything else. The third year pro drew a first round match against eight-time World Champion Darren Hudson in week one in Chicago, and earlier this month got a first round matchup against the red hot Hoeschler. Despite losing both matches, he battled back hard in the back brackets and finished third in Chicago and fourth at the Roleo. He also came in fifth at Madison. Despite a slow start, Serpico is among the most skilled rollers in this year’s field and should be in the hunt to win.
Derek Knutson – The 30 year old veteran has been working out with nine time world Champion Dan McDonough and could be poised to make a run at his first Log Rolling World Championship. Knutson, who normally competes at multiple events at the Lumberjack World Championships, has the talent to win the Log Rolling event, and 2016 might be his year. Knutson has finished in the top six two of the past three years.
Tyler Berard – Berard has three runner up finishes in his career, including a second place at this year’s Midwest Championships in Madison. He’s also finished in the top three 10 times at various tournaments since turning pro. An experienced pro who should be in the mix this week.
Spencer Wilkinson – After a slow start this summer, Wilkinson cracked the top five at the highly competitive Three Rivers Roleo earlier this month. The Madison, WI native has four top three finishes in his career.
Brian Duffy – The 47-year old won five World Titles in the 1990’s and continues to hang in against pros mostly half his age. Duffy has struggled early this season but is among the smartest athletes in the field. His experience and understanding of peaking during championship week should keep him in the mix this week.
Cassidy Scheer – One of the biggest and strongest Rollers in the field. Came in fifth at last year’s LWC. Scheer is coming off a fifth place finish at The Three Rivers Roleo three weeks ago.
Brian Stearns – Stearns, who will climb and boom run as well this week, is coming off a solid LWC last year, making it to the 2015 semi-finals. Stearns has looked good this year, earning a 4th place finish in Chicago.
Marcel Scott – The Nova Scotia native has top 7 Log Rolling finishes in each of the past two years at the Lumberjack World Championships.
Efer Lopez – Two top 7 finishes this year, including a tie for 5th at Chicago. Tied for 9th at last year’s Lumberjack World Championships.
Torrin Hallett – Rolled well in the back bracket at last year’s LWC, finishing 8th overall. Could be a tough draw for one of the top seeds.
Shane Burns - 18-year old rookie could also be dangerous for a top seed in the first few rounds. Burns looked strong at this year’s La Crosse Open, finishing second. Burns scored an upset over Birdsong and rolled well against the eventual winner Hoeschler in La Crosse.
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SEMI-PRO MEN -- A strong field that could set the stage for the next decade in men’s professional Log Rolling. This year’s collection of semi-pro rollers and U17 boys are extremely deep in both talent and quantity. Tanner Hallett, who’s won multiple amateur world titles, leads one of the deepest groups of semi-pro rollers to come through in several years. In addition to Hallett, 17-year old Connor Birdsong will also be in the semi-pro group. Birdsong won the pro division (as a declared amateur) at the Namekagon event two weeks ago & did not lose a single fall. Tom Mengwasser will also be among the top semi-pro rollers this year and should be in the mix to win it. In addition to a strong semi-pro group, the U17 boys division is also exceptionally talented and could produce several future top ranked pros. The future of men’s professional log rolling will clearly be on display this week in Hayward in both the semi-pro and U17 divisions.
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MEN’S BOOM RUN
Charlie Fenton – Fenton has won three of the past four World titles in the Boom run, including a 13.23 time last year in Hayward. In a razor tight race between Marcel Scott and Spencer Wilkinson, he finished in third two years ago, otherwise would be shooting for his 5th straight World Championship.
Will Hoeschler – The 25-year old has won three world titles in the boom at Hayward, his last coming in 2011. Hoeschler also won the Boom in Madison last month. Should be in the hunt to win at LWC in ’16.
Marcel Scott – Scott is a two time Boom champion, including a win two years ago at LWC. Came in fourth last year. At 26 years old, has the perfect combination of young legs with some experience. Should be in the mix to win in 2016.
Caleb Graves – former college soccer player ran a blistering 13.50 last year to finish third. Should have a good chance to win his first Boom title this week.
Spencer Wilkinson – The athletic Wilkinson has come in second each of the past two years in Hayward. In a close contest, finished runner up to Fenton at last year’s LWC, with a time of 13.28. Also grabbed a runner up last month in Madison.
Jaime Fischer – In an event normally dominated by men in their early to mid 20’s, the 35-year old Fischer will look to turn back the clock this week. The former Minnesota state track champion won seven straight Boom run titles in Hayward (most all time) in the early to mid 2000’s.
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WHO TO WATCH – PRO WOMEN
Ellie Davenport – The 18 year old Davenport is dominating the women’s division unlike anyone since Shana Verstegen did so during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Over the past 13 months, Davenport has rolled in 10 pro tournaments, winning six and finishing second in the other four. The number one ranked woman in the world looks to clear one final hurdle and win her first World Championship this week. She’s the clear favorite heading in.
Meredith Ingbretson - Ingbretson dominated the field at the Three Rivers Roleo earlier this month, winning her first three matches and losing only one fall total, before losing to Davenport in the finals. She’s also got two third place finishes (Chicago/Namekagon) to go along with the runner-up at the Roleo this year. The 21 year old Hayward native is the defending World Champion, and that should serve as a psychological edge entering action this week.
Shana Verstegen – The four-time World Champion is on a short list of the best professional women’s Log Rollers ever. Over the past 10 years, she’s won an unprecedented 24 pro tournaments, including the U.S. Logrolling Open last month. The 36-year old Verstegen will look to make history and become the oldest women’s champions ever this weekend. So far this year, she’s got one win (U.S. Logrolling Open) and three third place finishes, including a gutsy performance in the back bracket at the Three Rivers Roleo this month. Verstegen has made history her entire Log Rolling career. Don’t be surprised if she does it again on Saturday.
Abby Hoeschler – The 29-year old Hoeschler is off to a good start, with two top 5 finishes this year, including a win at the La Crosse Open last month. Hoeschler has five wins in her career and eight runner ups. Came in 4th at last year’s World Championships. Her strong endurance and athleticism should match up well against the top rollers in the field – should be in the mix to win her first World Title in Log Rolling.
Emily Christopherson – “Close but no cigar” has been the theme for Christopherson, who heads in this week having finished in third place in each of the past three years at the Lumberjack World Championships. Christopherson has five career wins and 28 top three finishes in her career, including a second place at Namekagon two weeks ago. Should be in position to make a run at her first world title this week.
Lizzie Horvitz – The Minneapolis resident returns to World Championships for the first time since winning the title two years ago, before missing last year following the birth of her son Oliver. Horvitz has two top 5 finishes this year (Three Rivers Roleo/Namekagon) and certainly should not be counted out this week in Hayward. Horvitz is a three time world champion and brings a wealth of experience and understanding on what it takes to win on the biggest stage in Professional Log Rolling.
Maggie Penning – a good start this year with a 4th place finish in Chicago. As a rookie last year, Penning had three top 5’s including a tie for 5th at the 2015 World Championships. Could be poised to make a strong run toward championship Saturday this week.
Katie Rick – One of smartest and technically sound rollers in the women’s field, Rick should be in the mix this week. Picked up a 5th place finish last month in Madison. Finished tied for 5th at last year’s World championships, after having reached the semi’s the year before. Could be in the mix for a title this week.
Taylor Biser – 2011 World Champ is off to a solid start in 2016 with two 4th place finishes (LaCrosse Open/Namekagon). Had three top 5’s last year and should be very competitive at this year’s LWC.
Sam Hadley – Could be a surprise this week. Hadley came inches from beating the top ranked Davenport in a five fall match at the Three Rivers Roleo before settling for 7th. 5th place finish at La Crosse Open this year.
Jenny Atkinson – Four time World Champion competing in her 25th year as a pro & has been competitive so far. Three top 7 finishes this year, including a tie for 5th in Chicago.
Claudia Duffy – Two top 7 finishes this year, including a tie for 5th in Chicago. Came in tied for 7th at last year’s World Championships.
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WOMENS BOOM RUN
Meredith Ingbretson – Last year the 21-year old won the women’s boom by nearly a full second and beat all but four of the men’s competitors. Should be the overwhelming favorite to win her 4th boom title in the past five years.
Abby Hoeschler – If anybody can knock off Ingbretson, it’s probably Hoeschler. The 29-year old came in second last year and has won four boom World Championships in her career.
Ellie Davenport – Excellent athlete, has the ability to challenge if the top two struggle.