July 8, 2010 at 9:15 a.m.
Last year, I just couldn't choose between a 10a and 10b, so I went with 11, but we'll be back down to the traditional 10 stories this year that really made waves in the local high school sports circles.
This year, the awards seem to be heavy on the team aspect, at least more so than they have in years past. Josh Figini, who was a mainstay in the top three the past two years because of his individual performances, took his game out east to Cornell.
Although Chisago Lakes catcher Tyler Henderson had a fine baseball season this spring, he didn't come close to an individual achievement like four homeruns in one game again.
And North Branch's top career wrestler, Boyd Suparat, who closed out his career with a state title as a junior and a second place finish as a senior, is also out of the list.
Just like last year, the top 10 list is going to be divided into two different weeks, as I'll unveil numbers 10 through six this week, and the top five will be in next week's County Press.
10. North Branch upsets Chisago Lakes in girls basketball
When these two Chisago County rivals met for the first time this year, North Branch sported a 9-3 record and Chisago Lakes came in at 7-3. It was a match up that had implications at the top of the North Suburban Conference.
The 'Cats came out on the winning end 44-34, and went on to go 14-3 the rest of the way to finish 20-6, including a 67-45 thumping of the Vikings two weeks before the start of sectional play.
The loss sent the Vikings on a downward spiral, as they went 4-10 the rest of the season to finish a pedestrian 13-13.
As the sectional brackets were figured out, it was the two teams playing each other again. Chisago Lakes was looking to pay back the favor to North Branch, as the Vikes had beat them three times, including ending their season the year before, and Chisago wanted to put the stamp on this year's early sections with a thrashing of North Branch.
Except, that didn't happen.
Going into the game, Chisago Lakes had the confidence of beating North Branch twice already, plus they sported one of the best players in the North Suburban Conference in Whitney Tinjum.
A revamped defense was the main cog for North Branch's unlikely victory, as they built a four-point half time lead, and at one point, stretched the lead to 15 points.
Tinjum and senior Kelsey Ristow almost saved the 'Cats season, trimming the lead to three with only a few minutes left, but North Branch hit their free throws throughout the late stages of the game. They also got a huge contribution from freshman Sarah Lekson, who scored a career high 18 points in the win.
At the time, the coaches felt both sides of the emotional spectrum. "We had been waiting for our team to put a complete game together and we did it against Chisago Lakes," North Branch Head Coach Dan Schindler said after the game. "I was really proud of our team's effort."
"We picked a poor time to have bad game as a team and they took advantage," Chisago Lakes Head Coach Craig Walker said bluntly after the contest.
9. Brett Lizotte and David Rau first state qualifiers for state tourney in nine years
Chisago Lakes' juniors Brett Lizotte and David Rau broke a nine-year state tournament drought by the boys tennis team this year, and what was even more amazing is the fact that it was the first year of varsity tennis for both of them.
Lizotte, an export from the hockey team that tennis Head Coach Corey McKinnon, who also coaches the hockey team, convinced to come over. played doubles all year.
Rau, who is a foreign exchange student from Germany, played a lot in his home country, and although McKinnon initially had him playing first singles, he quickly realized the pair's potential, and left them together for most of the year.
During the regular season and sections, the two had a 21-0 record against some stiff competition.
The opening set of their state tournament match really showed the difference in experience. After every return, Eden Prairie's Brad Malmsten and Alex Tollefson would storm the net and create a wall for Rau and Lizotte to try to thread the needle past them or lob it over them. Since both are tough shots, Rau and Lizotte struggled throughout the first set. Although they were able to score a couple points, they went down fairly quietly in the first set 2-6, and it looked as if their first match would be their last.
However, the Chisago Lakes pair made an adjustment and started to combat Eden Prairie's aggressiveness. They started hitting the shots they were just missing in the first match, and the lobs were suddenly dropping just behind the Eagles' pair.
In the second set, although it stayed close throughout, Rau and Lizotte prevailed by a count of 6-4 to even the match at two sets and send it to a best-of-one to move on to the second round.
The third set began to resemble the second set quickly. Although Eden Prairie's attack was still effective, it wasn't nearly as effective as the first set, and the Chisago Lakes duo kept gaining more and more confidence in their shots.
It came down to 5-4 with Chisago Lakes leading, and they were able to get the closing point and send them on to the second round. It was a big win for the tennis team, as it was the first win for Chisago Lakes tennis at the state level.
The two were knocked out in the second round of the state tournament, however.
8. Whitney Tinjum's sophomore basketball season
With a target on her back after a breakout freshman campaign, Chisago Lakes' Whitney Tinjum went above and beyond expectations in her sophomore season.
She stepped her game up to another level in the grueling North Suburban Conference, carrying the Wildcats to a 20-7 record by scoring 22.7 points per game, and grabbing 10.7 boards per contest.
She was the model of consistency for Chisago Lakes, in 27 games, she never scored in single digits, and scored 19 or more points in 21 of the 27 games.
Although North Branch upset the 'Cats in the first round of sections, it didn't diminish many of the season-long accomplishments of Tinjum. She was awarded with North Suburban Conference honors, and she just seems to be getting better each year.
7. Brogan Lee, Lindsay Carlson and Alex Thomsen medal for the Chisago Lakes girls swimming team to finish in 13th place
Going into the state tournament, Head Coach Ed Wakefield knew he had a good group of girls representing Chisago Lakes. Brogan Lee, Lindsay Carlson and Alex Thomsen had all represented the Wildcats at the state meet in previous years.
The diving was where Chisago Lakes got 25 of their points. In the semi-finals, Carlson stepped it up a notch and scored nearly 100 points in her three dives. The performance vaulted her from eighth to fifth place, but that also came at the expense of her teammate.
Thomsen, who was in fourth entering the semis, struggled in her second round of dives, only scoring just above 65 points. The trio of dives caused her to tumble from fourth to 12th, but it wasn't the end of Thomsen, as the top 16 girls moved on to the finals.
Heading into the finals, Carlson was in prime position to earn a spot on the medal stand, while Thomsen would need a few girls to falter in front of her, plus a near flawless dive routine.
Carlson held firm with her scores, but two girls, Alissa Lager from St. Peter and Bailee Meyer from East Ridge were able to earn just a tad more points than Carlson and bump her down in the standings to sixth place.
Thomsen, however, made a huge stride in the last round of three dives. She was only out-scored by four girls in the final round, and all four of them were already near the top of the leaderboard. The dives propelled Thomsen from 12th place to seventh, the same spot she finished last year.
The back-to-back finish for Carlson and Thomsen was very beneficial to the Wildcats team score. Carlson earned 13 points for her effort and Thomsen earned 12 for a total of 25 diving points.
Lee was the highlight of the meet for the Wildcats. Even though with her seed times it was expected, she still became the first double medalist in Chisago Lakes girls swimming and diving history.
Lee got started first with the 200-yard freestyle preliminaries. Although it's her weaker event, she was seeded in the top eight going into the meet, and she stayed in there and finished the race in 1:58.55 in seventh place.
That finish almost assured Lee to be the first double medalist in school history. In swimming, as long as competitors qualify in the top eight, they can't fall out of it in the finals, no matter how fast anyone swims in the consolation finals.
Nearly an hour later, Lee dove back into the pool to race in her best event: the 500-yard freestyle. The junior came into the event with the second seed and a time of 5:12. Although the girl in front of her, Marisa Wood, only swam a 5:09 going in, she was expected to take it up a notch in the finals and swim a sub-five minute time.
Lee swam a great race and finished in third. With the finish, Lee etched her name in Chisago Lakes record books as the first double medalist.
6. North Branch upsets Chisago Lakes in football
It had taken some ugly games and a lot of heartbreak, but North Branch finally got the better of Chisago Lakes after years of Wildcat dominance in football.
Although Chisago Lakes had lost a good amount of talent from their 2008 squad, they still had plenty of building blocks, and North Branch had graduated a lot of their talent for their 1-9 campaign for 2008.
There were plenty of questions for both teams entering the game. The Wildcats had to replace two-year starter Andy Willhite at quarterback, plus a good chunk of the offensive and defensive lines.
The Vikings were minus their top two quarterbacks from last year, as well as their leading rusher and their most dominating force on the line in Mike Johnson.
Although most expected the game to be competitive, not many expected North Branch to actually pull out a win against their county rival.
Behind two long interception returns by Sean Graff that led to short touchdowns, and Zack Smith's 200 yards and three touchdowns, the Vikings bested Chisago Lakes 28-14.
The win was even more impressive considering it was first-year Head Coach Justin Sawyer's first game as a leading man for North Branch. The young coach was thrilled after the game to get the first career win out of the way.
"It's a relief to get it out of the way and not hanging over my head or the team's head," he said at the time.
Plenty of things went wrong for Chisago Lakes on the field, including their rash of turnovers, but coach Bill Weiss wouldn't blame anyone after the contest.
"You can't expect to win when you make a lot of mistakes and take a lot of penalties," he said. "But that's not to take away from North Branch. They were well coached and played well and they deserved to win. We had a lack of execution today, but not a lack of effort."
Although the win didn't catapult North Branch to a winning season like they expected after the key victory, it did give the seniors on the team at least one memory of beating their bitter rival in football.
Numbers five through one will be in next weeks County Press. Check it out to see if you agree with where your favorite high school moments landed in the top 10 list.