July 7, 2011 at 9:01 a.m.
It pretty much means we are in the middle of some nasty, unbearable heat wave. It also means that the Fourth of July just wrapped up and everyone is worn out from their long weekends. And, Karl Oskar Days is just around the bend, so the rest and relaxation doesn't last too long.
But, it also means it's time to recap the high school sports seasons and compile the 10 best story lines and moments from the Fall, Winter and Spring seasons.
Last year, the Chisago Lakes girls hockey team took home the top spot after they claimed the consolation championship at the state tournament during a surprising postseason run. Those girls unfortunately couldn't replicate their run with a target on their back, and they missed out on the state tournament, so there will be a new number one.
Also gone is Brian Grand, who had two top five finishes in the past two years in the list. The North Branch graduate moved on to play soccer at Drake University.
This year, however, fellow County Press sports writer Chuck Fitzer joins me to run down the list and give his insight on the sports that he covered.
Just like years past, the top 10 list is going to be divided into two different weeks, as we'll unveil numbers 10 through six this week, and the top five will be in next week's County Press.
Without further ado...
10. Travis Kammerer breaks CL's career wins record in wrestling
January 22, 2011 stands as one of the two biggest days in Chisago Lakes senior Travis Kammerer's high school wrestling career. That day, Kammerer won his 155th career match, breaking Dan Dellwo's 15 year old school record of 154. As Kammerer finished off his opponent in the third period and the referee raised Kammerer's hand in triumph, his teammates mobbed him and the Wildcat fans in attendance at the Elk River Invitational went wild. A few weeks later, Kammerer, who wrestled at 171 pounds his senior season, finished his career with 170 wins. He was a two-time state entrant, was named All-Conference four times and was named Honorable Mention All-Conference once.
Kammerer's second biggest day in wrestling came at the beginning of his quest for the record. In seventh grade, he went into Wildcat head coach Shawn Frederixon's classroom and asked Frederixon if he could wrestle varsity. Frederixon told Kammerer he would come to watch him wrestle in an upcoming middle school match. With Frederixon in attendance, Kammerer beat a very good wrestler. Kammerer said "The next day, in homeroom, I got a message to see Coach Frederixon. When I got there, he invited me to come to varsity practice. And I have been on the varsity ever since." Kammerer picked up 17 wins on the varsity as a 103-pounder during his seventh grade season.
Frederixon said "The chance that Travis could break the record is just one of those things we all knew was possible at the beginning of the season. We didn't want to talk about it so we wouldn't jinx him. He had some minor setbacks along the way, such as when he had to sit out with a minor illness one weekend and when he dislocated a finger at practice. It's probably a relief more than anything to get it done. He has been here since seventh grade. He is one of our tough ones."
Kammerer met the legendary Dellwo for the only time shortly before Christmas in 2009. Dellwo, who lives in the western United States, was in town visiting relatives and stopped by a Wildcat wrestling practice. "It was cool to actually meet him," said Kammerer. "He showed us a couple of moves while he was here."
9. Chisago Lakes boys hockey wins 21 games, their most ever
The Wildcats boys' hockey team was poised for success this season. The roster featured 15 senior letter winners, including dominant offensive players Andrew Habel, Cory Lushanko, Brett Lizotte and Ory Burggraff. All four players finished with over 40 points. The Wildcats finished with the best record in team history, 21-6-0 overall. They finished an impressive third place in the North Suburban conference with a 10-4 record, trailing only AA powerhouse Benilde-St. Margaret's and archrival Totino Grace. The four games against Benilde and Totino were the Wildcats' only losses in conference play.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats did not parlay their regular season dominance into playoff success. The fifth-seeded Wildcats overwhelmed St. Paul Highland Park 13-2 in the opening round of the section playoffs, but lost 2-1 in overtime to Mahtomedi to end their season and the high school careers of all those seniors.
The return of Lushanko, who missed most of his junior season, and the emergence of Burggraff as an offensive threat helped the Wildcats to post the most goals (154), assists (247) and total points (401) in team history. Habel tied for second in the state in regular season assists (46) and tied for seventh in total points (72). Habel's 51 assists, including playoffs, set a new team single season record. Ben Bratrud set a team single season record for goaltenders with 17 wins.
The Holy Grail for the Wildcats continues to be a win over Totino Grace. The Wildcats have never beaten the Eagles - not in the playoffs, not in North Suburban Conference play and not in their occasional meetings prior to joining the North Suburban Conference in 2005-2006 - a stretch of 20 games or more. And despite the fact that Totino Grace is generally more highly ranked than the Wildcats, the games are almost always close. This year was no exception. The Wildcats lost 4-3 to the Eagles at Parade Ice Garden in Minneapolis on January 19. At home at Chisago Lakes Arena on February 12, they took the Eagles to overtime before losing 5-4. Most frustrating was the fact that the Wildcats built three-goal leads in both games, only to see the Eagles come storming back to claim late victories. Victories over the Eagles would likely have given the Wildcats a higher seed in the section playoffs and given the Wildcats a better shot at facing eventual state Class A champion St. Thomas in the section finals.
Head coach Corey McKinnon resigned after the season, wanting to spend more time with his young family and work toward his master's degree. After his most successful season as head coach, the decision wasn't an easy one. But he certainly went out on a high note.
8. North Branch football wins their first homecoming in six years
The North Branch football team has been stumbling and fumbling their way through the regular season for years. Although they had made some progress in the last two years, the results just weren't showing in the win column.
In fact, this group of seniors had yet to win a home game so far in their careers, much less the home game every year, homecoming.
But, the Vikings finally bested their opponent on the special night, beating St. Francis 19-13 in front of a rabid home crowd.
St. Francis struck first in the game, going up 7-0 early, and they held North Branch scoreless for 23:57 of the 24 minute first half. The big momentum swing came when the Saints lined up to punt with 13 seconds left in the first half from their own 18 yard line.
The long snapper skied the ball over the punter's head, and as he went to fall on it on the three yard-line, he botched the recovery and Brett Klun pounced on the ball in the end zone, tying the game up with only three seconds left in the half.
Running back Luke Levasseur took over the game in the second half. He scored on a run of 47 yards and a catch of 57 yards. The senior also recorded 11 tackles on defense as one of the few two-way players for North Branch. He ended the game with 117 yards receiving on three catches and 50 yards rushing on three carries.
Jared Houle basically sealed the game with a interception in the end zone with under two minutes remaining.
After the game, the win-starved home crowd stormed the field and the players, mobbing their classmates in the joy. They formed a long line for congratulatory hugs and high fives as the players trotted off the field after the contest.
7. Chisago Lakes boys tennis team wins North Suburban Conference
Heading into the season, the Chisago Lakes boys tennis team knew they would have one of their best lineups in a while. They didn't quite know they would have one good enough to take down the tough North Suburban Conference.
With German foreign exchange student Johannes Rau leading the charge, the Wildcats blasted through the first three quarters of their schedule. They had returning members Joe Turnquist, Vinnie Gorski, Brett Lizotte, Brian Hynes, Jake Sells and Hogan Haas to anchor the other parts of their lineup, as well as big contributions from youngsters Will Gillach and Blake Lizotte and Swedish foreign exchange student Albin Anner.
In fact, through the first eight conference matches of the year, the Wildcats won 53 of a possible 56 points. Their only close match was a 5-2 victory over Benilde-St. Margaret's, which saw many of the matches go to three sets, but fall in favor of CL.
They finally ran into a team that was able to best them. St. Louis Park, who's always been a top contender in the North Suburban beat the 'Cats 4-3 in a hotly contested match. But, Benilde had beaten St. Louis Park earlier in the year, so the Orioles already had one loss.
As long as the Wildcats beat St. Francis in their conference finale, they'd be crowned co-conference champions with Benilde-St. Margaret's and St. Louis Park.
After they swept St. Francis 7-0, the 'Cats celebrated their first North Suburban Conference Championship ever.
They were able to bask in the glory for a while, as they topped St. Francis again, Andover and Hibbing/Chisolm to reach the section finals against Forest Lake. Although they lost 4-3 to the Rangers, it was a better showing than they've ever had against the powerhouse.
In all, the 'Cats won 63 of 70 possible points in the conference, and both Rau and the team of Hynes and Lizotte went unbeaten in conference play.
6. Chisago Lakes boys swimming beats Benilde-St. Margaret's for first time and wins the North Suburban Conference title.
After years of getting toppled by Benilde-St. Margaret's or St. Louis Park, the Chisago Lakes boys swimming and diving team finally broke through against both teams.
After besting the Orioles earlier in the year, the 'Cats went into their showdown with BSM with the North Suburban Conference title on the line. It was simple: the winner would be champion, the loser would be second place.
As expected, the meet was tight all the way through. After three events, it was 23-23, after nine events it was 73-67 in favor of Chisago Lakes, and all the events in between were a constant back and forth.
Despite Benilde actually earning the first place finish in a lot of the events, Chisago Lakes flaunted their depth, winning the point battle in a lot of the events. "Once again, our depth proved to be the factor in this meet, " Head Coach Mark Nordby said. "Benilde won seven of the 11 events, but we outscored them in seven of the events, which is needed against a team like Benilde."
With only two events left to go, the 'Cats were clinging to a six-point lead. The first event up was the breaststroke, and the CL breaststrokes made sure to eliminate any of the anxiety with a dominating performance.
James Falkowski led them, earning first place with a 1:09.77. Beau Hawkinson came in just behind his teammate with a 1:10.82 for second place and Al Vrudny cleaned up the one-two-three sweep with a 1:14.17.
The sweep stretched CL's lead from a nerve-wracking six to an insurmountable 16 with only one event left. They took the top two spots in the last relay event to stretch the lead into a 26-point blowout.
"'All in' has been our mantra all season, and this meet proved again that every swimmer was needed to win the conference," Nordby said at the time. "This is a special team of guys who've really worked hard. Earlier this season, they showed their depth by winning the conference relays and now they wrapped up an undefeated dual meet season and the NSC crown with a win over BSM!"
Despite the big win, Nordby was a little worried heading into the match with Benilde. "It was a little nerve-wracking going into the Benilde meet since the guys were pretty worn down with training," he said back in February.
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.