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Year in Review: Six state team titles highlight banner sports season

WORTHINGTON -- In reviewing what has been covered in this column in the past several months, boys' basketball -- 1967 style -- was a high priority and, more recently, spring sports highlights from 1977 were featured.

Those topics "from the past" are what makes writing this column such a "blast."

But this week, I am going to venture back just a short ways in time -- and recap the amazing 2006-07 school year, which was highlighted by six area state championships.

It has become a well-established fact that success at the state level is something that has become more and more common for the representatives of Southwest Minnesota.

Frequently, the challenge of the sub-section and section competition is every bit as demanding as the caliber of play at the state level.

Getting to the state can be more difficult than winning the state.

That certainly proved true for several area teams in this past school year.

Five of the six state championships came in girls' sports -- three of them claimed by Pipestone Area, which also earned a third-place trophy and had a second-place relay team.

It was an amazing '06-07 school year for the Pipestone Area girls.

The Arrows won Class AA state championships in both basketball and softball, while also winning the Class A state true team track and field title.

Adrian, Fulda and Ellsworth won the area's other three state championships in '06-07.

In early November, the Adrian Dragons repeated as Class A girls' state cross country team champions -- giving this area its first state title of the school year.

In March, the area claimed a trio of state basketball championships -- upping the area's title total to four.

Fulda impressively repeated as Class A state girls' basketball champions and Pipestone Area dramatically won the Class AA title.

A week later, Ellsworth -- after finishing as state runner-up in both 2003 and 2006 -- proved they were the state's best Class boys' basketball team with a thrilling championship victory over Cass Lake-Bena.

Three state basketball championships from the Daily Globe coverage area in the same month -- amazing!

Then in May, the Pipestone Area Arrows made their first venture into the world of "true team" track and field. A dominant powerhouse for years in the traditional meets, the Arrows had not become involved in the true team concept.

But in 2007, the Arrows hit their mark. After finishing second to Luverne in the Section 3A meet, Pipestone Area earned the "wild card" berth to the state meet --and ended up winning the event.

Luverne finished third, giving our area two of the top three finishes in the nine-team field.

It might have been interesting to see how some of the area's basketball teams may have done at the state tournament if a "wild card" concept could somehow be put in place in that sport?

Two weeks ago, the Arrow girls did it again.

In nail-biting fashion, Pipestone Area won three close games at the state softball tournament at Mankato's Caswell Park and brought home the area's sixth state team championship of '06-07.

Six state titles in one school year -- from our area -- is a remarkable accomplishment.

Pipestone Area's trio of state titles is amazing -- especially winning two of them in the same season.

Thirty-five years ago, St. James claimed a pair of boys' state championships in the same season when the Saints won the 1972 state wrestling meet and later won the Class A basketball tournament, before defeating Mounds View in the playoff game.

Certainly Pipestone Area's recent dual championships in the same season rivals that accomplishment by the "James Gang" in the winter of '71-72.

A decade ago, in '96-97, the Hancock Owls -- who Fulda defeated in this year's Class A girls' state championship game -- had the unique distinction of winning state basketball titles in both girls and boys.

While those past dual championships of both St. James and Hancock are impressive, the overall exploits of Pipestone Area's girls in '06-07 may be unmatched.

The Arrows made a stellar run through an exceptionally tough Section 3AA volleyball field and earned a repeat trip to the state tournament.

Victories over Montevideo and LeSeuer-Henderson were sandwiched by a hard-fought loss to Jordan -- and the Arrows brought home the third-place trophy.

Arrows Amanda Schoonhoven and Ann Marie Dykstra both qualified for the state cross country meet.

Schoonhoven finished 23rd in the huge field of 151 runners, as one of eight Section 3A girls that earned All-State (top 25) honors.

Luverne's Lexi Jo Heitkamp (fifth), Adrian's Morgan Lynn (seventh), Murray County Central's Laura Christensen (10th) and the Adrian pack of Erica Thier (13th), Megan Henning (18th), Austyn Their (22nd) and Leslie Stover (24th) were the other seven All-State runners from the section.

Adrian's Ethan Wieneke, who logged 575 miles last summer, gave the Dragons a sixth all-state runner, finishing an impressive eighth individually and leading the AHS boys to a third-place team finish.

Those two sparkling team performances by Adrian -- along with a total of nine individual all-state finishes -- certainly showed the strength of Section 3A cross country.

Teamwise, the Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin girls also qualified for the state meet after a runner-up finish at the section meet. The well-balanced Wolverines placed ninth in the team standings of the 16-team event.

While Pipestone Area was capturing the Section 3AA volleyball title -- defeating top-notch teams from Windom and Jackson County Central, along the way -- Southwest Star Concept was challenging for a trip to the state tournament in Class A.

After going undefeated in the Red Rock Conference, the Quasars prevailed in a pair of five-game battles over league rivals Southwest Christian and Fulda to capture the South Sub-Section championship. But the Quasars, who had advanced without injured All-State middle hitter Linnea Henkels, were defeated by Minneota in the Section 3A finals.

Minneota went on the win the Class A state championship, giving Section 3 another state title. The Vikings, however, are not in the Daily Globe coverage area and are not included in the list of local state champions.

In football, the western part of the coverage area had a pair of teams advance to the state playoffs.

Edgerton earned a third straight trip to the 9-man state quarterfinals with a sectional championship victory over Southwest Ridge rival Westbrook-Walnut Grove, 28-14. The Flying Dutchmen were defeated by Underwood in a high-scoring game, 46-40, keeping EHS from that elusive trip to the Metrodome for the semifinals.

The Luverne Cardinals, however, capped a stellar 2006 calendar year with a memorable playoff run that included thrilling home-field victories over Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop (27-6) and Winona Cotter (33-27) in the Section 3AA championship game and state quarterfinals, respectively.

Playing in the state semifinals at the Metrodome, the Cardinals won their sixth straight game, defeating Moose Lake-Willow River, 33-27, to earn a chance to play in the Prep Bowl. Effectively utilizing speed, power and deception, Triton scored early and often in the state championship game, claiming a 70-21 victory.

But Luverne finished with a 10-4 record and claimed the area's only second-place team trophy at the state level.

In early March, perennial powerhouses Adrian and Jackson County Central both represented the area with solid team performances at the Class AA state wrestling meet, as each school won two of three matches.

The Dragons won their opener, lost in the semifinals and then won the third-place match, defeating Kasson-Mantorville, 27-23.

The Huskies overcame a close setback to Perham in the quarterfinals by winning a pair of consolation matches and bringing home the fifth-place trophy.

Individually, the area had 11 boys finish among the top five -- including a trio of state champions.

JCC's Cole Von Ohlen (119) and Travis Rutt (160) both won state titles, as did Adrian heavyweight Will Lutmer.

JCC's Torey Stewart, who had won a state title at 130 pounds in 2006, carried a perfect 38-0 record in this year's state title bout at 135. But Stewart was defeated by Tony Valek of Scott West in a classic match, giving the athletic junior a state silver medal this time.

A pair of area grapplers wrestled for third-place in the 171-pound class, with JCC's Caleb Lines getting the victory over Fulda/Murray-County Central's Kody Kramer.

Five area boys came through the wrestle back rounds and placed fifth in the respective weight divisions. Those wrestlers were Tracy-Milroy-Balaton's Zach Campbell (103), F/MCC's Justin Reinsma (119), Sam Fischenich (125) and A.J. Stevens (135) both of Windom/Mountain Lake/Butterfield and Worthington's Bryant Schroeder (215).

So, with 11 individuals among the top five and two teams in the top five, the area shined at the state wrestling meet.

Basketball proved to be the area's strongest showing at the state level, as four teams advanced to the semifinals and a fifth -- the Worthington Trojan girls -- played a tremendous game in the Class AAA quarterfinals, just being edged by eventual class champion Becker.

Luverne's boys -- back for the second time in three years -- won their opener in Class AA, but LHS was defeated in its next two games, finishing fourth.

As mentioned, Fulda played brilliant all-around basketball and posted convincing victories over Rushford-Peterson (65-31) and Badger/Greenbush-Middle River (67-32) before defeating Hancock (49-38) for a repeat Class A girls' title.

The Raiders avenged its only loss to a Class A team (57-52 to SSC at Okabena, January 12) with an impressive 56-44 victory in the sub-section finals before defeating Dawson-Boyd (69-51) for its fourth Section 3A title in the past six years.

After impressively defeating Lac qui Parle Valley (67-41) to win the Section 3AA crown, Pipestone Area won three close -- very close -- games to win the school's first state team championship.

The Arrows rallied to defeat Caledonia (40-38) held off Jordan in overtime (62-57, OT) and then nipped Albany (50-49) on Steph Kocourek's three-pointer at the buzzer.

Ellsworth, which had dramatically rallied to win the Section 3A title over two-time defending state champion Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in 2006, was a marked team all-season in boys' Class A basketball.

The small-school Panthers were a well-oiled, high-scoring machine all season long and after capturing its third sectional title in the past five years, were not denied a state championship in 2007.

Rallying to defeat defending state champion Rushford-Peterson (77-66 in overtime), Ellsworth advanced to the semifinals and claimed a 85-73 victory over top-ranked St. Bernard's.

In one of the best-ever state championship games, the Panthers prevailed at game's end as Ellsworth' Aaron Vander Stoep -- the state's all-time single-season 3-point shooting leader -- sank his 169th 3-point basket of the year, giving EHS a 74-73 victory and its memorable state championship.

Then on to the spring of 2007 and more glory for Section 3A.

As mentioned, the Pipestone Area Arrows won the Class A girls' state True Team track and field championship, giving the area its fifth state title.

Outstanding team depth proved to the key for PA, which had just repeated as Southwest Conference champions two days earlier.

Athletes like Kocourek and Faith Tinklenberg had also been key contributors in both volleyball and basketball, while high jumper Beth Tinklenberg had been a big-time player for the Arrows in volleyball.

Chelsey Evans, and Bailey Bouman and Kayla Rowden had been among the Arrows that helped PA's volleyball and basketball success, respectively. In the spring, the trio were consistent performers on the softball diamond, leading the Arrows back to the state tournament.

With Evans pitching 34 innings (10, 7, 17), PA won three low-scoring games (1-0, 2-1, 1-0) to dramatically win the school's third girls' state championship in the same school year --amazing!

The Arrow mile relay (4 x 400) team of Bree Woelber, Jenna Kozlowksi, Kocourek and Faith Tinklenberg finished a close second in that event at the MSHSL's season-ending state track and field meet, giving PA more state hardware.

Adrian's two-mile (4 x 800) relay team of Courtney Kramer, Austyn Thier, Erica Thier and Leslie Stover also earned silver medals, while the Luverne quartet of Katlyn Sawtelle, Allison Henke, Kayla Raddle, and Lexi Jo Heitkamp placed third in the same event.

Jackson County Central's Amanda Darling had the area's best individual performance, placing second in the 200-meter dash.

In boys' tennis, the Luverne tandem of Weston Sawtelle and Derek Boeve advanced to the state meet after winning the sectional doubles championship.

In golf, JCC's boys earned a sixth consecutive trip and placed seventh, while Luverne's girls were back again and finished sixth.

Individually, JCC's Michele Edlin capped a tremendous career with a sparkling fourth-place finish, while Scott Benson placed third in the boys' competition.

Then in baseball, Pipestone Area earned its third consecutive trip to the Class AA state tournament. After winning their opener, the Arrows lost two games, finishing a 21-7 campaign with a fourth-place state tournament trophy.

Adding it all up and teamwise, the area produced an incredible total of 14 top five teams at the state level -- six championships, one runner-up, four third places, two fourths, one fifth, one sixth, one seventh and two others that were in the final eight.

Pipestone Area contributed five of them -- three championships, a third and a fourth.

Adrian earned three state trophies, one first and two thirds. Luverne had four state teams, getting a second, a third, a fourth and a sixth.

Fulda and Ellsworth each had a state championship, while JCC claimed fifth place in wrestling.

While not reaching the state level in either sport, the SSC girls -- who were defeated by eventual state champions Minneota (volleyball) and Fulda (basketball) ran the table in the highly-competitive Red Rock Conference, going a perfect 28-0, winning all 11 of its conference volleyball matches and all 17 of its league basketball games.

Combined with Round Lake-Brewster as Southwestern United, SSC was also part of conference championship teams in both girls' track and field and football (going undefeated in the Southwest Ridge).

SSC, in fact, had a banner season in basketball this past winter, as both the girls (23-4) and boys (21-5) won more than 20 games and were each ranked among the top six teams in the state at one time or another.

I am sure that there were other significant highlights to this past school year of athletics, but certainly those mentioned were worthy accomplishments for the local area -- in what has to be one of the best ever all-around years for high school athletics in the Daily Globe coverage area.