YEAR IN REVIEW: E/E's and JCC's state championships highlight 2011-2012 sports season
WORTHINGTON -- With several highly-successful individual performances by area golfers at the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Class A and Class AA state meets, which wrapped up June 13, another year of high school athletics is in the books -- a recent "blast from the past."
For me, the journalistic journey of the 2011-12 school year began with a trip to Rock Rapids, Iowa on August 19 with former sports editor Aaron Hagen.
It ended with a trip to Hamline University in St. Paul on June 9 with current sports editor Chris Murphy as we teamed together to cover the state track and field meet.
In between those two ventures, I was blessed with the opportunity to watch and report on lots of action with mixed results, a variety of experiences and a treasure of memories.
Yes, I have used that line before -- several times.
But, as always, the '11-12 school year was full of its usual highlights, expectations and surprises.
Each season had a lot of thrilling moments to report on, some of which I got the chance to write about, others which I was able to just relax and watch --and, of course, many others in which I didn't actually see, but was able to read about on the Daily Globe sports pages as one of my colleagues reported on the event.
To attempt to mention all of the interesting and often fascinating events which I reported on, watched or read about would be impossible. But I will mention several that certainly stand out.
I will begin with the two biggest team accomplishments --neither of which I was able to be at, although I did watch Edgerton/Ellsworth's 9-man Prep Bowl football championship on television.
I did see one-half of E/E's hard-fought, home-field mid-season (Week 6, Oct. 7) victory over area rival Hills-Beaver Creek, but most of the "live" reporting on the Flying Dutchmen was handled by either Lucas Knutson or Hagen until Murphy came on the scene and quickly jumped on the E/E bandwagon and wrote up all the details of the team's three state tournament victories, including the thrilling 36-28 win over Wheaton/Herman-Norcross to kickoff Prep Bowl XXX at the Metrodome early in the morning on Friday, Nov. 25 -- the day after Thanksgiving.
It was a great inauguration to the area sports scene for Chris -- who came here from Chicago and whose favorite team before the 2011 Flying Dutchmen was the World Champion 2005 Chicago White Sox.
"It was a cool experience in my first weeks on a new job," Murphy said about covering E/E through its wins over Nicollet (28-12, Nov. 11 at Marshall) and Ada-Borup (48-20, Nov. 18 at the Metrodome) before previewing and reporting on the state title game. "I enjoyed all of the players and appreciated the cooperation which Coach (Andrew) Fleischman always gave me. It was fun."
It had to be fun, too, for Fleischman, his staff, the whole communities of Edgerton and Ellsworth -- both of whom have been more well-known, statewide, for their basketball success -- and, especially, for the dedicated players who worked together to make it all happen.
While I didn't get to actually report on any of the Flying Dutchmen's games, I did get to do several of the write-ups on the "call-in" games for the round-ups. I usually kidded Fleischman about how his games were more "work" than the others because he had so many touchdowns to report.
Scoring more than 60 points six times (five in the regular season and once in the first round of the playoffs, a 66-14 win over Hancock), the Flying Dutchmen were a potent offensive attack, which scored in a variety of ways, including kick and punt returns.
A high-powered rushing attack, distributed between junior backs Blake Jouwstra, Devin Hulstein and Austin LaFollette provided most of the punch throughout the season, but E/E proved its amazing diversity in the state title game as junior quarterback Isaac Heard passed for a Prep Bowl 9-man record of 357 yards, frequently finding each of his backs -- along with dependable wide receiver Casey Schilling.
Through 14 games, the Flying Dutchmen won them all and were crowned as the undefeated state champions, capping a string of highly-successful seasons for the program -- which will begin defense of its title in a mere seven weeks.
You're kidding -- fall practices for high school sports are only seven weeks away?
JCC wrestlers win again!
With state-tournament victories over Pierz (52-15), Badger/Greenbush-Middle River (46-25) and previously undefeated (34-0) Kimball Area by a 35-28 final, Jackson County Central earned its third consecutive Class A state wrestling team title at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Thursday, March 1.
The state title was JCC's fourth in the past five seasons and the eighth in its remarkable 15-year history.
The three wins in St. Paul capped off the Huskies '11-12 campaign with an overall record of 25-3, as they maintained a No. 1 ranking the entire season.
Trailing 15-0 after the first three matches in the title bout, JCC began its comeback with a pin by Jordan Bieham at 126 pounds.
Then, starting with a major decision by Keegan Moore at 138, the Huskies reeled off five straight wins -- including pins by Paden Moore (145) and Luke Norland (152) -- and claimed a 29-18 lead after Cooper Moore's major decision at 170 pounds.
A hard-fought, 3-2, victory by 160-pounder Darick Vancura was a key JCC win during the pivotal surge, as the Huskies scored 21 straight points to take command.
KA rallied to win three of the last four matches, but a pin by JCC's Alex Tewes at 220 clinched the verdict.
"It's pretty sweet," summed up veteran JCC head coach Randy Baker, who has been the guiding force behind the Huskies' success. "We swung the momentum our way with those five straight wins in the middle."
While the Huskies easily earned their way into the state tournament with a convincing 59-7 victory over Maple River in the Section 2A championship match, the Cobras of the combination of Windom, Mountain Lake and Butterfield-Odin had a more dramatic run through the Section 3AA tournament at Marshall on Friday, Feb. 17.
Winning eight of the 14 matches, W/ML/B-O knocked off Morris Area/Hancock/Chokio-Alberta, 37-28, in the semifinals.
Dawson-Boyd/Lac qui Parle Valley edged perennial power Adrian, 33-26, in the other
semifinal, setting up a title match between W/ML/B-O and D-B/LQPV.
Consecutive decisions by Wyatt Stevens (106), Joe Fischenich (113) and Jared Willaby (120) vaulted the Cobras to an early 9-0 lead.
A technical fall by Blake Spinks at 132 increased the lead to 14-6 and when senior veteran Drake Borsgard -- who missed most of the season following a concussion injury early in the football campaign -- pinned his opponent 1:14 into the 145-pound match, the Cobras owned a 20-12 advantage.
Back-to-back decisions by the Larson brothers -- sophomore Andrew at 152 and senior Tim at 160 -- gave W/ML/B-O a commanding 26-12 lead.
A fired up Cobra following erupted with huge cheers two more times, as back-to-back pins by Matt Willaby (182) and Vince Johnson (195) clinched the match's outcome, putting W/ML/B-O up by 20 points, 38-18.
LQPV won the last two matches via pin, making the final 38-30, but for the first time since 2003, the Cobras were state-tournament-bound.
"I'm so excited," summed up a beaming Cobras' head coach Brad Schlomann after accepting dozens of well-earned congratulations. "Each one of our guys wrestled great, making this all possible."
Facing stiff competition at the Class AA state meet, the Cobras were defeated by Foley (47-10) and Monticello (39-31) in their two matches at the Xcel Center.
Jared Willaby and Johnson won both of their matches in the team competition -- and then, along with Spinks and Matt Willaby continued their state-meet experience by wrestling in the individual competition.
Darick Vancura, Cooper Moore win state titles
After helping the Huskies win the team championship on Thursday, both Darick Vancura (160) and Cooper Moore (170) were crowned Class A state individual champions on Saturday, March 3.
Vancura's uncle, Scott, was Baker's first individual state champion -- back in 1989 -- and Darick capped a brilliant 44-1 junior season by matching that accomplishment.
Moore, who won a state championship as a sophomore in 2010, was competing in his fifth individual state tournament.
A concussion in the opening round of the 2011 state tournament had resulted in an injury default, ending his junior season earlier than he wanted.
But, he put the capper on his amazing career by going undefeated (46-0) as a senior, winning two of his individual state-tournament matches by pin and two by major decisions (16-2 and 13-2).
Worthington sophomore Anthony Luft finished a great 37-7 season with a fifth-place performance at 106 pounds in Class AA.
After winning two matches in St. Paul and advancing to the semifinals, Luft lost a pair of matches and then utilized a reversal in the third overtime of his fifth-place match to earn a 4-2 victory
W/RRC's Welch, Rohlik place high, eight others finish among top six
Wabasso/Red Rock Central's Cody Welch capped a 41-4 season with a second-place Class A finish at 220 pounds, winning three straight matches at St. Paul to advance to the finals.
Welch's teammate Mitchell Rohlik finished third at 152, defeating JCC's Luke Norland (fourth) in his final match, as the W/RRC wrestler completed a 40-6 season.
W/RRC had two fifth-place finishers in Class A, as both Brandon Goblirsch (120) and Tanner Rohlik (138) won their final matches at St. Paul.
JCC's Eliot Jurries (126) Paden Moore (145) both won 3-1 decisions in their fifth-place matches, finishing the winter with overall records of 39-8 and 37-10, respectively.
Adrian had a pair of fifth-place finishers in Class AA competition.
Jaydan Bullerman (120) capped a 34-9 campaign with an 8-7 decision, while Nate Lynn (138) reached the state tournament awards' podium for a third time with a 7-5 decision in his final match, finishing the season with a 35-3 overall record.
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/ Westbrook-Walnut Grove wrestler Brad Schmidt finished sixth in Class A at 195 pounds, dropping a 5-3 overtime decision in the fifth-place match. Schmidt finished his season with a 39-7 record.
Thanks to former sports reporter Jocelyn Syrstad for her information about this past winter's wrestling highlights.
Jocelyn, by the way, is a graduate of Apple Valley High School -- the most perennial wrestling powerhouse in Minnesota.
Worthington wrestling legend Dalen Wasmund was recently named as Apple Valley's new head coach.
Some of the highlights from the fall of 2011
Traveling to Rock Rapids is always an experience. The Lions take football seriously and the whole venue, including the PA announcers, is a first-class operation.
Central Lyon/George-Little Rock was certainly impressive in the three games I covered -- a 51-0 home victory over Sioux City West Aug. 19, a 21-7 win over Sheldon at Sheldon Oct. 14 and a 40-0 playoff victory over Odebolt-Arthur/Battle Creek-Ida Grove at Rock Rapids Oct. 26 -- so I might have helped bring the Lions good fortune.
On the same night that Aaron and I ventured down to Rock Rapids for the opener (Aug. 19), Lucas and former sports reporter Daniel Kerwin made the trip to Sibley and covered the season-opening "Orange and Black" classic between nearby rivals Sheldon and Sibley-Ocheyedan.
The Orabs prevailed in a well-played game by both teams, 30-20, and the high school football season was underway.
For me, I was able to cover games at Fulda, Windom and Worthington during the regular season, as well as announce Southwestern United Wildcat home games (at Brewster and Heron Lake) before heading into the office and taking phone calls (including the long ones from Fleischman).
Three Minnesota playoff games which I covered were Fulda's 28-12 win over Westbrook-Walnut Grove, Luverne's 12-0 victory over JCC and Adrian's dramatic 26-22 Section 3A championship triumph over Wabasso at Marshall Nov. 4.
I really enjoy writing up high school football games, so each of those were experiences were fun as well as challenging.
As I mentioned, Chris arrived in time to cover Edgerton/Ellsworth through their playoff run -- with the assistance of Aaron, as the two of them teamed up to feature the Flying Dutchmen in their quest for the state championship.
Only seven seniors -- Schilling, Omar Lopez, Justin Bolluyt, Tony Anderson, Wade Gunnink, Johnny Acevedo and Johnny Menning -- suited up for E/E in 2011.
But they will be missed.
Menning earned first team all-state honors as a defensive end after setting an all-time state record with 45 career sacks. He was chosen as the captain of the 2011 Daily Globe All-Area football team.
Several strong area volleyball teams play well
Volleyball duties were shared out about equally last fall, as Lucas, Aaron, Daniel and Lance Knutson all covered some matches.
I was able to cover the improved Worthington Trojans several times and also had the opportunity to travel to Windom for the Eagles annual match-up with rival JCC.
A fired up Windom squad, led by the amazing spiking of junior outside hitter Hali Tasler, won a close Game 1. But the well-balanced Huskies, led by senior hitters Whitney Burmeister and Kaylee Benson prevailed over the next three.
Later, I was at Jackson (vs. Worthington) when Benson suffered a season-ending ACL injury.
In tournament play, son Lance was able to cover Red Rock Central's stunning upset of Southwest Christain in the Section 3A semifinals.
The fifth-seeded Falcons had defeated rival Westbrook-Westbrook-Walnut Grove in the quarterfinals and then rallied from two games down to defeat the top-seeded Eagles in the semifinals at Luverne on Tuesday, Nov. 1.
While none of the teams from the area advanced to the state volleyball tournament, several teams including JCC, Windom, Worthington, Southwest Christian, Southwest Star Concept, Murray County Central, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Red Rock Central had outstanding seasons.
Adrian girls, both LHS teams have CC success
My major "beat" during the fall was cross country.
Starting with the season-opening Wolverine Invitational at Mountain Lake Aug. 31 and finishing with the state meet at Northfield Nov. 5, I again enjoyed the chance to cover area cross country.
Adrian junior Jordin Kopplow won the individual title at Mountain Lake and her Dragon teammates won the team championship in impressive fashion.
That was a trend which would continue through most of the fall.
Unfortunately, however, Kopplow suffered a foot injury in the middle of the season and did not run again until the state meet.
The Dragons -- led by senior Austyn Thier, junior Megan Sauer, sophomore Nicole Slater and freshman Morgan Sauer -- continued to dominate area meets and won their seventh consecutive Section 3A team championship at Adrian on Thursday Oct. 26.
The up and coming Luverne Cardinals finished a close second in each race (to Redwood Valley in the boys' meet) as both LHS teams advanced to the state meet.
Luverne's girls, who had won the Southwest Conference team championship a week earlier, were led by sophomore Makayla Hohn and seventh-grader Madi Schandelmeier, along with a strong -- and young -- supporting cast.
Sophomore Cody Hess was the usual lead runner on a very well-balanced Cardinal boys' team, which normally finished tightly-packed.
Adrian senior Jase Pater had a super fall, winning the Red Rock Conference individual title and advancing to the state meet individually after finishing fourth at the section meet.
Likewise, JCC eighth-grader Jadin Bezdicek had a remarkable campaign. She won the Southwest Conference race on her home course (at Loon Lake Oct. 17), finished fourth in the section and 27th at the state meet.
Running in her fifth state meet (injured one year), Thier earned all-state honors by finishing 19th overall and leading AHS to a seventh-place team finish.
Bezdicek, Schanelmeier, Megan Sauer and Hohn all finished close together in overall places 27, 28, 29 and 31, respectively to lead the list of area performers at St. Olaf.
Chris, Jocelyn and Lance did all of the reporting on hockey.
Luverne's Southwest Conference girls' championship was among the highlights, as was the improvement shown by both Worthington squads.
In basketball, Minnesota West had another outstanding girls' season and veteran coach Mike Fury notched his 400th career win with the Lady Jays (a homecourt 70-35 win over Central Lakes Jan. 26).
That same night, the Bluejay men pulled a stunning 63-61 upset over the Central Lakes (Brainerd) Raiders, who were the nation's No. 1 ranked Division III junior college team prior to tangling with MW on the Worthington floor.
In high school action, both Ellsworth and Southwest Christian were dominant in early Red Rock Conference boys' games.
Ellsworth -- after earning a hard-fought 79-74 victory over Worthington at Ellsworth Dec. 20 -- was most impressive in winning the annual Daily Globe/Trojan Classic.
The Panthers pulled away late to claim convincing victories over defending Section 3A champion MACCRAY (75-59) and defending Class AA state champion Perham (71-57) in an awesome display of team basketball in late December.
But a pair of key injuries to Nick Nolte (ankle) and Casey Schilling (wrist) hampered Ellsworth in 2012 and the Panthers were never quite the same team which had won the holiday tournament.
Meanwhile, the ever-balanced and ever-deep Southwest Christian Eagles continued to get better and better.
Thriving on defense, the Eagles -- who had defeated Ellsworth by 10 points (74-64) at Edgerton Dec. 9 -- lost only once during the entire regular season (79-78 to Worthington Jan. 6 at Worthington).
SWC was dazzling during tournament play, winning four games -- including wins over Ellsworth in the sub-section finals (81-66) and Dawson-Boyd (73-55) in the secion championship game, both at Marshall -- to advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2002.
At the state, the Eagles won games over Fosston (59-41) and Rushford-Peterson (46-44) before finishing a tremendous 28-2 season with a 54-45 championship game loss to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.
Both Worthington teams qualify for state tourney
In an unusual, but happy outcome, both Worthington High School basketball teams qualified for this year's state tournament.
The Trojan girls entered tournament play with a 16-7 record, having showed improvement in most phases during the last games of the regular season.
That improvement was apparent in tournament wins over St. James (65-27) and Pipestone Area (57-39), sending the Trojans to the Section 3AA South title game.
In a thriller, WHS edged Fairmont (at Jackson March 5) by a 55-53 final, sending the Trojans to the section championship game.
Playing at Marshall on Friday March 9, the Trojan girls enjoyed an evening to remember as they earned a 55-48 victory over Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial and qualified for the Class AA state tournament.
Playing Sauk Centre on Wednesday March 14 at Target Center in Minneapolis, the season ended for the Trojans with a 65-51 quarterfinal loss to the Mainstreeters.
But a 20-8 season was highlighted by those four straight tournament victories.
Both Fulda and Southwest Christian had outstanding seasons in the Red Rock Conference, splitting regular-season games.
In the Section 3A South title game at Marshall March 9, the Eagles prevailed (65-59), but lost to Minneota in the section championship game four days later.
Worthington's boys -- always emphasizing defense and rebounding -- put the capper on an outstanding season by really playing well in the Section 3AA tournament.
The Trojans were 18-6 when the tournament began, showing glimpses of brilliance throughout the campaign.
But starting with an 85-43 thrashing of St. James, WHS was really spectacular as tournament play began.
Next came a 62-41 semifinal win over Luverne and then a most-impressive, 72-52, victory over Fairmont in the sub-section finals.
The Trojans continued their success against the Cardinals, defeating Redwood Valley -- a team which had beat Worthington twice during the regular season -- in a display of defensive wizardry at Marhall on March 15 by a final score of 64-43, sending WHS to its first boys' state tournament since 1998.
At Target Center, the Trojans were pitted against defending Class AA champion Perham for their quarterfinal matchup on Wednesday, March 21.
In an evenly-played contest, the Yellowjackets prevailed by a 51-47 final, ending Worthington's season with a fine 21-7 record.
Combined the WHS varsity girls' and boys' teams were 41-15 this past winter, both qualifying for the state tournament.
That's a pretty good winter of basketball for the Trojans.
Some of the highlights from the spring of 2012
As the mild winter of 2012 turned into March, spring came sooner than usual.
Southwest Christian joined with Edgerton Public in spring sports this year and the Flying Dutchmen were again very good in softball, winning the Red Rock Conference crown and advancing all the way to the Section 3A finals before losing a pair of games to powerful Kerkoven-Murdock-Sunberg.
Likewise, Pipestone Area was once again a powerhouse in girls' fastpitch softball. The Arrows won the Southwest Conference -- again -- and were undefeated until losing to New Ulm in the final four of the Section 3AA tournament.
PA bounced back and earned the right to play New Ulm again, earning an 8-2 victory over the Eagles -- forcing another game to decide the sectional title.
But in 10 innings, New Ulm won 10-9, earning a state-tournament trip and ending PA's season with a sparkling 24-2 record.
In track and field, Fulda senior foreign-exchange student Sylvia Zanini put the capper on an outstanding year of athletics for the Raiders -- before she returns to Italy -- by winning the Class A state title in the girls' discus with a throw of 141-1, which she achieved on her very last throw, moving her up from sixth to first.
The next day, Zanini placed sixth in the shot put, while Windom's Hannah Steele finished fourth. Steele had placed fourth in the discus the day before.
Adrian finished second in the girls' 4x800-meter relay with the foursome of Nicole Slater, Austyn Thier, Megan Sauer and Jordin Kopplow. Later, Thier took third in the 800-meter run.
Worthington junior Tara Svalland, who competed in four events -- vault (eighth), balance beam, floor exercise and all-around -- at the state gymnastics meet in late February, qualified for state Class AA track and field meet in June, competing in the high jump.
MCC juniors Tanner Nepp (third in the discus and sixth in the shot put) and Jack Thony (fourth in the 100-meter dash) highlighted the list of area boys' placers at the state meet.
In golf, SWC senior Emaleigh Vreeman capped a great career with a second-place individual finish at the Class A girls' state meet, while JCC senior Kaylee Benson and Worthington junior Kate Lesnar both tied for 14th in Class AA.
Mountain Lake Christian's Aaron Walzak tied for third in Class A to highlight the area's individual boys' finishers, while MCC -- in its first year of competition in 36 seasons -- finished a surprising and impressive fourth in the team standings.
Without a doubt, I missed many other memorable stellar performances -- like Worthington senior Mubarik Musa's dominant cross country victories throughtout the season last fall -- but I have tried to hit on some of the biggest highlights of the 2011-2012 school year.