Amherst’s Pearson, Holderman, Benn to play at WIAC schools
A trio of Amherst High School seniors announced their college decisions during a ceremony at the Tomorrow River School District office Friday, April 27.
Heather Pearson will play for the women’s basketball at the NCAA Division III University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UW-Oshkosh), while Bryce Holderman and Chandler Benn will play football at NCAA Division III UW-Stevens Point (UWSP).
“It’s exciting, and I’m happy for Bryce and Chandler,” said Amherst football head coach Mark Lusic.
“It’s a great opportunity for Heather,” said Amherst girls basketball head coach Gregg Jensen. “I really believe that as she matures, she will get nothing but better, and I think her better years are ahead of her.”
A Second Team All-CWC-8 selection as sophomore and a First Team All-CWC-8 pick as a junior, Pearson helped the Amherst girls basketball team reach the WIAA Division 3 State Tournament as a senior, where the Falcons lost 63-55 to Marshall in the State Championship Game to finish as the State Runner-up and end the season with a 26-2 record.
A 6-1 center, Pearson was the only unanimous choice on the 2018 Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Division 3 All-State Team this season, while she was also named Honorable Mention All-State by the Associated Press, the Central Wisconsin Conference (CWC) East Player of the Year, and a Unanimous First Team All-CWC East selection after she averaged 16.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2 blocks per game as a senior.
“She had an outstanding year and an outstanding tournament, especially the State Tournament,” said Jensen. “I mean, 17 points and 20 rebounds in the State Semifinal win, and she came to play every night, but in the state games she really performed well and was a major performer in our success of going where we got to.
“It’s a team game, but every individual has to do their role,” he said. “And she played her role well and definitely was a force in the middle.”
“It was amazing playing at Amherst, that group of girls was the best, and they are like my family,” said Pearson. “It’s going to be hard leaving them and going on to a new team, but I know those girls will always be there supporting me, even when I’m in college.
“Amherst is just an awesome community, our games always were packed, and every one supported no matter what,” she said. “It’s just an awesome school and community.”
Pearson plans to study agricultural business and graphic design at Oshkosh, while UWSP was one of the schools she also considered.
“I did also get a full ride from Midland, Michigan, but I really didn’t feel like that was the school for me,” said Pearson. “Oshkosh gave me the feeling like I was at home, and I wanted a school that was closer to home.
“Coach Brad Fischer is a lot like Jensen in his game plan and everything, and that’s what made me feel like I was more at home,” she said. “And it was the team too, when I visited and watched the practice, seeing how those girls work, it made me realize that’s what I wanted to do for four years, and to play with those girls.”
Holderman was a three-year starter on defense and a two-year starter on offense, as the Amherst football team won three consecutive WIAA Division 5 State Championships.
He was a Second Team All-CWC Large selection at linebacker as a sophomore on the Falcons’ 2015 team that won the State Title with a 42-0 win over Spencer/Marshfield Columbus to finish 14-0.
As a junior, he was First Team All-CWC-8 at linebacker and Honorable Mention All-CWC-8 at offensive line after he also earned a starting spot at left tackle on Amherst’s team that went on to win 38-35 over Cedar-Grove Belgium in the State Championship Game to end their season with a 13-1 record.
As a senior, Holderman was named the CWC Large Defensive Player of the Year, an Honorable Mention All-State selection by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA), First Team All-CWC Large at linebacker, and First Team All-CWC Large at offensive line.
Midway through his senior season, he moved from left tackle to running back and finished second on the team in rushing with 744 yards and 14 touchdowns on 106 carries, despite only starting six games at running back, as the Falcons finished 13-1 after a 28-21 win over Lake Country Lutheran in the State Championship Game.
“It definitely was a journey throughout my high school career, it’s been awesome, and I’ll miss it a lot,” said Holderman. “College will be fun, and hopefully I can perform good at the next level.”
“He started the first game of the season as a sophomore and he played I think every game his sophomore, junior and senior year, except his last one, which was the State Title Game, because of a concussion,” said Lusic. “But talk about a versatile player, linebacker, he played left tackle for us for junior and senior year, and then he got moved to running back.
“He had a tremendous career, and he’s going to be hard to replace for us,” he said. “A strong, physical kid, and I don’t know if I had a kid who made such a jump from his junior year to his senior year. He was a difference-maker this year, and I think Point is really excited to have his talent at their level.”
A three-time State Place-winner in wrestling, and the 2018 WIAA Division 3 State Champion at 220 pounds, Holderman will major in elementary education at UWSP, where he expects to play linebacker.
“There’s a really good (elementary education) program at Point, so I went there for that mostly,” said Holderman. “And then I was going to play football and wrestle, but I decided I was just going to play football.”
Benn broke into the starting lineup at running back for the Amherst football team as a junior, when he was a Second Team All-CWC-8 selection and led the State Champions in rushing with 1,023 yards and 18 touchdowns on 184 carries.
Benn was a team captain as a senior, but he suffered what was thought to be a season-ending injury in the second game of the season, before he was able to suit up and play a limited role on special teams in the State Championship Game.
“It meant a lot to play football here,” said Benn. “Just getting into high school from middle school, we all knew that it was turning into something, and we all worked really hard.
“Lifted a lot, put a lot of time into football, and it really paid off,” he said. “It was a great, great run for us.”
“I’m happpy for Chandler, who still has an opportunity to play, even though he missed most of his senior year,” said Lusic. “He played just a game-and-a-half as a senior, but he was really playing at a high level when he got hurt.
“He came in as a junior and I thought he could play right away in the backfield, and he took the reins and had a heck of a career for us,” he said. “He’s a guy that should be proud of what he did those two years.”
Benn also considered UW-Oshkosh before he chose to play running back at UWSP, where Tom Journell stepped down as the football team’s head coach April 23.
“We found out that the head coach had stepped down, and then I was instantly reached out to by the other coaches,” said Benn. “They said that they think someone already in the program is going to be head coach, they don’t think it’s going to be someone completely new, so it’ll be good.
“I just like the close-to-home feel, that was a big thing for me,” he said. “That’s why I chose UWSP.”
Benn plans to major in business in college, while he thanked his parents Tim and Becky for their help over the years.
“My parents always support very much, they’re the No. 1 supporters,” said Benn. “Always had my back on anything that was sports, so it was great.
“They were awesome,” he said.
Meanwhile, Holderman thanked his parents Brent and Dawn, and Pearson thanked her parents Mark and Amy.
“They helped me, mostly mom, she’s a true trooper,” said Holderman. “She’s just all in, all day, always there for me.”
“They were a big part of my accomplishments, because they got me to everything,” said Pearson. “They took me halfway across the United States to all of my AAU Tournaments, and anything I do with basketball, they’re always there to support me 100 percent.
“They cancel a lot of their schedules to get me to where I need to be, and they made lots of sacrifices for me,” she said. “I couldn’t be any more thankful.”