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Les Knutson: Wrestling champions, SWC title among many 2013 memories

Les Knutson

Daily Globe 

WORTHINGTON — Once again another calendar year has flown by — as 2013 is put “into the books.”

The year started out with Alabama’s repeat national championship in major college football. The Crimson Tide won the BCS by rolling over previously undefeated Notre Dame, 42-14.

Four weeks later, the Baltimore Ravens edged the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII — that’s 47 for those of you who are unable to read Roman numerals.

In a coaching battle between the Harbaugh brothers (John and Jim), Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco emerged a new hero as Baltimore won 34-31. At last, the long NFL season was over — on the first Sunday in February.

As the days continued to grow longer, high school wrestling reached its peak and once again, the Jackson County Central Huskies — coached by Randy Baker — won another state team championship.

Individually, Worthington junior Anthony Luft won the Class AA state title at 120 pounds, while JCC crowned two champions in Class A as seniors Darick Vancura (170) and Eliot Jurries (132) added their names to the long list of first-place finishers coached by Baker. Vancura, who was a star running back for the Huskies’ Section 3AA football champions in the fall of 2012, was a repeat state mat champion.

In Minnesota high school basketball, both Southwest Christian and Marshall swept conference championships, as the Eagles (girls and boys) won the Red Rock and the Tigers did the same in the Southwest.

Tournament action began earlier in Iowa and the mighty Siouxland Conference claimed a trio of Hawkeye state basketball titles — one girls and two boys.

After earning its first to Des Moines with an impressive regional championship victory over West Sioux, 60-41, the Central Lyon Lions represented the northwest corner of Iowa in style at the “Big Show” — winning three straight games, including a nail-biting 63-61 victory over Newell-Fonda (where Aaron Hagen went to high school) in the Class 1A state championship contest.

Later, both Boyden-Hull (1A) and Sheldon (2A) won state boys’ titles, proving just how strong basketball in the Siouxland really is each winter. Sheldon’s Orabs capped a splendid 25-3 season with a 48-36 victory over highly-favored West Fork in the championship game, giving retiring coach Claude Struwe a fine farewell.

In Minnesota girls’ action, Wabasso defeated Southwest Christian in the Section 3A South finals and then lost to eventual state champion Minneota in the sectional championship game.

Meanwhile, the Worthington Trojans won the 3AA South title with a 52-50 victory over Martin County West in the finals at Windom. North champion BOLD put the brakes on a great season for the Worthington girls (21-6) by nipping the Trojans in the section finals at Marshall, 66-64, one game shy of a repeat state tournament trip.

In boys’ basketball, both Mountain Lake Area (Section 2) and Southwest Christian (Section 3) earned repeat trips to the Class A state tournament with impressive performances in sectional play.

Worthington, which had played in the 2012 state tournament, advanced to the sub-section finals (at Marshall) where the Fairmont Cardinals ended the Trojans campaign (17-9) with a 64-57 decision on Saturday, March 9.

Both Redwood Valley (3AA) and Marshall (2AAA) represented the Southwest Conference at the state tournament. The Tigers brought home a third-place trophy.

Luverne’s boys’ hockey team enjoyed a remarkable season, compiling an impressive 22-4-1 record. The Cardinals were edged by Marshall 5-3, missing the state tournament by one game.

Eagles win school’s fifth state crown; DeCock, Nepp win state track golds

Continually displaying tenacious defensive effort and smooth offensive teamwork, the Southwest Christian boys won three games in Minneapolis (at Williams Arena and Target Center) on March 21-23 and brought home a fifth state basketball championship for their school — and the ninth for Section 3A over a 15-year span.

SWC won four in a row (1999-2002) before Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (‘04, ‘05) and Ellsworth (‘07, ‘08) won back-to-back titles. Four times — Ellsworth (‘03, ‘06, ‘09) and Southwest Christian (2012) — the Section 3 champion finished as the runner-up, giving this area 13 recent trips to the state finals.

Certainly, the Eagles’ performance was a major highlight of 2013.

Two weeks later, Louisville held off Michigan in the NCAA title game and — on April 8 — March Madness was completed.

But, winter was hardly over.

The rest of that week was filled with ice and snow, which included a lot of power outages and, of course, a delay in the spring sports season.

Once things got underway, the Luverne girls again shined on the track. The Cardinals finished second in the Class A State True Team Meet. Luverne’s boys, who also had a great spring, placed fifth.

In early June, Westbrook-Walnut Grove/Red Rock Central’s Jeff DeCock won a state gold medal in the Class A triple jump, leaping 45 feet, nine inches and Murray County Central’s Tanner Nepp earned a state championship in the Class A shot put with a distance of 52-3¾.

Worthington’s Will Dudley cleared 14 feet and placed fourth in Minnesota’s Class AA boys’ pole vault.

Teamwise, MCC — paced by Nepp, hurdler Tyler Scotting and sprinting sensation Jack Thony — tallied 40 points and took second in team standings of the Class A state meet. Thony scored 22 of those points, highlighted by a second in the 100-meter dash (11.21) and a third in the 200 (22.44).

Perennial power Pipestone Area breezed through a perfect (12-0) Southwest Conference softball schedule, but the Arrow girls were denied a state trip with a pair of sectional tournament losses to New Ulm.

In baseball, Windom put together a strong finish and advanced to the Class A state tournament behind the impressive pitching performances of senior Collin Lovell in several sectional games.

Luverne did the same in Class AA and the Cardinals won a pair of games in St. Cloud to bring home the consolation trophy.

For the third straight time Worthington senior Kate Lesnar qualified to play in the Class AA girls’ state golf tournament.

Redbirds shine in amateur baseball playoffs

Pipestone’s VFW baseball team and Luverne’s amateur squad — known as the Redbirds — both enjoyed great summer seasons on the diamond.

The Redbirds were impressive in the playoffs, advancing all the way to final eight teams at the Class C state tournament in late August. Both Wilmont and Fairmont also represented Region 13 at the state tourney, while the Lamberton Long Sox qualified from Region 2.

Both the Worthington Legion squad, coached by Todd Rogers, and the VFW squad — guided by Minnesota West’s new mentor T.D. Hostikka — had fine seasons, too.

JCC, MLA were area football powers

As fall rolled around, the big news out of northwest Iowa was the anticipated state-wide television broadcast of the annual Beef Bowl between rivals Central Lyon/George-Little Rock and West Lyon.

As Minnesota’s season unraveled, two area teams — both strong in 2012 — were high-powered again in 2013.

Mountain Lake Area scored early and often in most of its games and was undefeated (11-0) — including two wins over perennial power Edgerton/Ellsworth — before having a Metrodome trip denied by eventual state champion Grand Meadow 35-18 in a state-tournament quarterfinal game at Marshall Nov. 9.

JCC, which won the Southwest Conference — including a win over three-time defending champion Marshall — also repeated as section champions (3AA). But, the Huskies were defeated by Chatfield in the state quarterfinals at Rochester.

In volleyball, JCC was good again, very good — but not as good as Marshall, which repeated as Southwest Conference champions.

Southwestern United, paced by the awesome front row play of highly-recruited spiker Courtney Place, rolled the table and went undefeated in the Red Rock Conference.

A young Tracy-Milroy-Balaton squad defeated Murray County Central (which had avenged its loss to SWU) in the Section 3A South championship match.

Slater, Schandelmeier, Salentiny, Fissiha, Jirele shine in cross country

Adrian senior Nicole Slater and Worthington sophomore Amanual Fissiha each claimed individual titles at Worthington’s Turkey Trot cross country meet in mid-September and Slater later added a Red Rock Conference gold medal and an impressive Section 3A first-place performance.

Fissiha and junior teammate Matt Jirele each had many fine races, including a 1-2 finish at Fairmont’s I-90 in early October.

While the Red Sox were winning the World Series (in six games over the Cardinals) in late October, Luverne’s girls were earning a repeat team trip to the state meet and the following week Cardinal freshman Madison Schandelmeier (sixth) and Southwestern United eighth-grader Rachel Salentiny (13th) each raced to All-State honors in the 174-runner Class A girls’ race at Northfield.

Then, as the fall sports season came to an abrupt finish, we have settled into another winter season.

As usual, JCC is dominating in wrestling, both of Luverne’s hockey teams are winning, the Worthington girl’s basketball team is employing full-court pressure defense and scoring lots of points, while both Southwest Christian and Ellsworth are contending — along with undefeated Mountain Lake Area — for the Red Rock Conference boys’ basketball championship.

The holiday tournaments are finished up, with MLA claiming a six-point win over Ellsworth to win its own tourney and Mankato West winning the 16th annual Daily Globe-Trojan Classic — in boys’ action.

While I finished a distant fourth in this year’s “Pigskin Pickem” contest, I did hit the nail on the head — on the inaugural Daily Globe sports staff “Talk Show” — when I said that the team who won two games would win the tournament!

Windom’s girls won a pair of games and captured top honors in last week’s Eagles’ tourney, earning a well-played 61-52 victory over a tradition-rich Blue Earth Area program in the finals.

That brings us up to the end of the year — and as we prepare to launch 2014, remember that high school sports are supposed to fun and educational experiences. Be a good sport while watching the kids play.