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2021 in sports: The year now passing is memorable for opportunities that ended in success

Two thousand twenty-one. It was a year like no other, and it was a year like any other. The best of times and the worst of times, if you don’t mind Charles Dickens references.

102821 N DG Worthington vs Willmar Cardinals State S3.jpg
Worthington Trojans Ulises Barrera (13) and Elmer Guzman (23) battle to win the ball against Willmar's Anthony Reyes Jimenez during the state Class AA boys soccer quarterfinals. Tim Middagh / The Globe
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Two thousand twenty-one. It was a year like no other, and it was a year like any other. The best of times and the worst of times, if you don’t mind Charles Dickens references.

OK, let’s get it out of the way now: Covid. Still here.

But enough of that. In sports, there were many good and memorable occurrences.

Let’s start the recap:

WINTER

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High school gymnastics is the perfect place to start. The Worthington Trojans achieved their seventh consecutive Minnesota state Class A tournament berth under head coach Joni Reitmeier.

The Section 3A tournament in Jackson was a bit unusual because, thanks to Covid concerns, there was not a traditional post-event ceremony. But Worthington shone, compiling a 143.050 score, which was nearly 10 points better than the score achieved by the runner-up team.

Trojans Hali Bullerman and Gracia Elias qualified for state in the all-around. Teammates Abby Bristow and Mekyla Nystrom also went to state in individual events.

Gymnastics is an individual sport, but it’s also about the team, Reitmeier pointed out after the section tourney.

“We always preach that this is a team sport,” she said. “And even though you go out by yourself, your team is right there. We’ve just got amazing leadership. They really have each other’s backs.”

In wrestling, Jackson County Central rolled to a state team berth. The Huskies lost a tough first-round match in Class A, but they came away from the individual tournament with impressive results.

JCC matmen Nolan Ambrose (106 pounds) and Payton Handevidt (152) won individual crowns. Pipestone Area’s Hudson Burnett (113) and Windom/Mountain Lake’s Kade Sammons (138) were also individual champs.

Luverne competed in its second consecutive state girls hockey tournament and its third since 2016.

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In basketball, Southwest Minnesota Christian figured large. The Eagle girls didn’t quite reach their goal of the state tournament, losing for the fourth year in a row to powerful Minneota, which went on to win the Class A title. The boys lost a tough section final to Central Christian, 68-63.

That capped a glorious but frustrating two seasons for Coach Jamie Pap’s SWC boys, who compiled a perfect 29-0 record over 2019-20 but were unable to play in the state tourney because it was canceled due to Covid. The team finished 19-3 in 2020-21.

SPRING

We all like a good Cinderella story, and the best one of 2021 was the story of the Adrian/Ellsworth high school baseball team. The Dragons embarked on a rocky spring campaign pockmarked with too many errors on defense and too many untimely walks from their pitchers. They entered the South Section 3A tournament with a losing record and a No. 6 seed.

But they caught fire, playing like they knew they were capable of playing, and they beat Yellow Medicine East in the section championship game with a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Alas, they were ousted from the state tournament in the first round. Didn’t matter, however. Their season was both memorable and rewarding nonetheless.

In track and field, the Luverne High School girls team enjoyed another strong season. In the Minnesota state Class A meet, Cardinals Regan Feit, Tiana Lais, Jenna DeBates and Tenley Nelson won the school’s third straight state 4x800-meter relay event. Windom Area’s Delaney Smith capped an outstanding career by winning the girls shot put.

Softball, as is typical, was dominated in southwest Minnesota by the Edgerton/Southwest Christian and Pipestone Area programs. The Dutchmen qualified for the state Class A meet again in 2021, where they placed third. It was the seventh time since 2014 that E/SWC made state. The Arrows qualified for state for the 13th time since 2001, placing fourth in Class AA.

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The year marked one of the Worthington Trojans’ best softball seasons ever. Led by pitcher Haley Grimmius and catcher Sophie Wietzema, WHS went deep in the Section 2AAA tourney.

Area girls and boys golf teams from Adrian/Ellsworth made it to the Class A state tournament.

SUMMER

When the weather gets warm, the summer games heat up. In southwest Minnesota, it’s time for the amateur baseball season to take center stage.

In the First Nite and Gopher leagues, there were many good teams to watch. Three of them qualified for the state Class C tournament -- the Windom Pirates, the Luverne Redbirds and the Milroy Irish.

Luverne enjoyed a first-round bye at state, but all three teams lost their opening games. Sobieski, which beat Windom in the first round, eventually won the Class C championship.

Adding to summer’s enjoyment were outstanding ballparks in Luverne, Windom, Milroy and elsewhere. In Worthington, fans of junior and senior Legion baseball and the amateur-level Cubs had their fun at a newly improved local field.

FALL

Cross country performances were outstanding in the southwest Minnesota region, and the area even had a state champion.

A junior, Amanda Overgaauw of Murray County Central/Fulda, won the state Class A girls competition in a remarkable time of 18:09.13, and her twin sister Ashley was sixth. Tenley Nelson of Luverne placed second and her teammate, Jenna DeBates, was third.

Also, the Worthington High School boys team, coached by Cory Smidt, completed a dream season, using outstanding depth to qualify for the state Class AA meet. They finished a solid fifth in a tough 16-team field.

Northwest Iowa sophomore Madison Brouwer of Sibley-Ocheyedan, who is also a superlative basketball player, placed second in the Iowa Class 2A state cross country meet.

In volleyball, the season belonged to the Jackson County Central Huskies under veteran coach Deidre Wierson. JCC, which has sported an exceptional volleyball program for decades, made state for the first time since 2003 and performed admirably at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The Huskies rolled over Annandale 3-0 in their first match, then took down Mounds Park Academy 3-1 in the semifinals. It looked as if they were destined to take home the championship trophy after beating Sauk Centre 25-13 in the first set of the championship match. Alas, they lost the last three sets to get second place.

What a year for boys soccer, indeed. The Worthington Trojans, solidly established as a southwest Minnesota power and a yearly threat to make state, did indeed make the state Class AA meet in 2021. After a 2020 season in which the undefeated Trojans were upset 1-0 in overtime in Worthington in the section finals, Coach Juan Flores’ team bounced back with another outstanding year.

Their first state tournament game of ‘21 matched them against Willmar. Both teams came into the game undefeated, and Worthington looked like a winner with a 1-0 lead very late in the second half. Inexplicably, however, Willmar scored from a corner kick in the final five seconds to force overtime and then won it in a tense shootout.

In football, the top teams in southwest Minnesota were Murray County Central in Class A, Hills-Beaver Creek in 9-Man and Pipestone Area in Class AA. All three went to state. Two of them lost first-round games, but Hills-Beaver Creek won its quarterfinal contest with a 30-7 victory over Renville County West. That completed a task that saw the Patriots dominate two teams that had beaten them in the regular season (H-BC ended Mountain Lake Area’s season in the section finals).

The football campaign was extra special for MCC. In the Rebels’ first game of the season, running back Jaden Deacon ran for 274 yards, but several days later he was severely injured in a car crash. The Rebels dedicated their season to him and went undefeated during the regular season, entering state competition as the No. 1 Class A team in the state.

The year was also a very memorable one for the Minnesota West Community and Technical College under Coach Jeff Linder. It was a topsy-turvy year where the Bluejays finished 4-6 but bounced back impressively from some disappointing regular season setbacks.

The Bluejays defeated nationally-ranked Rochester 21-17 at Worthington in the regular season -- a result no one predicted. They faced Rochester again in the MCAC quarterfinals, and most experts assumed there was no way the Bluejays could beat the Yellowjackets a second time in the same year.

It looked as though the experts were correct when Rochester led the Jays 28-8 at one point. Alas, the Bluejays rallied to win 29-28, which should make them feel warm and fuzzy well into the new year. Certainly the ‘Jackets will remember it, too.

But that’s what makes sports so much fun. There are winners and there are losers, there are great memories and there are disappointments. And heroic efforts last.

No matter what, 2021 was a year to remember.

What to read next
WORTHINGTON — Heron Lake outscored the Worthington Cubs 19-12 in an amateur baseball game Wednesday. There were 33 hits in the game and 10 errors.
Sections 3A, and 3AA are drawn up and ready to go for Minnesota high school baseball.
The top-seeded Edgerton/Southwest Christian Flying Dutchmen and Luverne Cardinals are still in control of their section high school softball tournaments after first- and second-round games played Tuesday.
The Section 3A boys and girls golf tournament, scheduled for Wednesday (May 25) at GreatLife Golf and Fitness Club in Worthington has been postponed.