July 10, 2014 at 2:05 p.m.
Last week, I ran down the first six best moments from the high school sports season in 2013-14. There was individual accomplishments, team wins and plenty of things that were exciting this year. But, this week brings you the top five moments from the 2013-14 sports season.
5. Girls basketball team earns their third consecutive trip to state, Fernstrom ends illustrious career
The girls basketball team has been a staple in this list for the past three years.
They keep putting together runs to the state tournament, but unfortunately, they keep falling short on the big stage.
This year, they drew Marshall, who was 28-1, in the first round after a convincing 59-39 win over Grand Rapids in the Section 7AAA finals. A slow start led to a tough game for the ‘Cats, but it didn’t change the fact that they were there for the third year in a row representing the section.
Bryanna Fernstrom, who capped a stellar career as the program’s all time leader in points, rebounds and blocks, didn’t go down without a fight, scoring 24 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in the loss.
“Players like Bry are once in a lifetime players to coach. Her and her teammates have left a tremendous record for others to follow; three section titles along with multiple individual scoring and rebounding records,” Head Coach Craig Walker reflected at the time. “But most important and memorable for me will be that I got to see her grow as a person from a timid freshmen and sophomore to a confident senior who's earned her way to a college scholarship and the chance to get a great education while playing basketball.”
4. North Branch pole vault makes its case for top program in Minnesota
Over the past decade, North Branch has slowly and quietly churned out state-level pole vaulters.
Kassie Salo, Carl Neuman, Ben Besch, Zack Smith and Amanda Johnson. It’s been an assembly line of quality pole vaulters, but none have performed quite as well as Mikayla Johnson and Kyle Crandell.
The pair both medaled at the state tournament this year, Crandell coming in seventh place on the boys side while Johnson came in third place for the girls.
The pair have worked for two years now under the tutelage of North Branch Head Coach Norm Nagel, who’s speciality is pole vaulting.
The beautiful thing for Nagel is that he still has two more years to craft Johnson into a potential state champion. She is only a sophomore and has two more years of vaulting left ahead of her. Crandell, a senior, departs North Branch with a personal best of 13’6” and a proud medal to display for the Vikings.
3. Thomi Lee finishes second place in the 500 freestyle, becomes most decorated swimmer in CL history
Last year, Thomi Lee earned the top spot in this countdown with her state championship win in the 500 freestyle, this year, the Rutgers-bound senior fell just five-one hundredths of a second short of repeating that feat for the Chisago Lakes swimming and diving team.
She finished the state finals race in 4:56.53, but there was a still a quiet joy for Lee despite finishing in second place. She was able to break her older sister’s school record of 4:59.42, a mark she had been shooting for since securing her state title the year before. “I wanted to get the school record. I wanted to get under five minutes,” Lee said at the time. “If I could get the record, it was going to be awesome. I’m happy with that.”
Lee also earned a second place finish in the 200 yard freestyle, setting another school record giving her six career medals at the state tournament. That total is the most ever in Chisago Lakes swimming and diving history.
2. North Branch gymnastics wins Mississippi 8 Conference and earns trip to state
The North Branch gymnastics team knew they had something special coming into the season.
Three of their top gymnasts were back from a quality team the year before and they were being joined by two club gymnasts making their high school debuts who had high-level routines.
Right away, the team knew they were good. They took down Class AA power and Mississippi 8 Conference stalwart Cambridge-Isanti in their first M8C meet.
As the season progressed, routines became smoother and scores climbed higher. Assistant Coach Brianna McClaskie said the girls had set goals early in the season to get to certain scores by the end of the year. They were eclipsing those scores by the third and fourth meet of the year.
When sections rolled around, there was little doubt who would be punching the team ticket to state as long as the girls performed to their capabilities. The fivesome of Mikayla Johnson, Megan Mahoney, Casey Hovland, Katy Trunk and Aleyxs Olson did just that, winning the section 5A meet and earning a trip to state.
At the state meet, everything that had happened that year was thrown out the window and it was one meet for the rest of their lives. And the Lady Vikes made that one meet count.
The shattered their own previous school record for score, putting up a 146.300, more than four points ahead of their old record.
“At the start of the season, we just wanted to break 140 points and make it to the state tournament,” McClaskie explained at the time. “I never thought that score was possible! We just worked our routines, knew what we wanted to do and put it all together at the right time,” McClaskie continued. “This has just been the best group of girls I’ve ever coached. They got along, showed up every day and worked their tails off.”
Trunk even followed the team performance up with an amazing performance in the individual event, finishing in sixth place overall. She finished second in the individual vault, just missing out on a state championship for the girls, which would have been the cherry on top for them.
1. Chisago Lakes boys hockey goes to state tourney for second time ever
Since the section realignment occurred over a year ago, the Chisago Lakes boys hockey team was salivating at their chances to go to the state tournament. They knew they had the talent to do it, but they were always blocked by state powerhouse St. Thomas Academy, and at times private school power Totino-Grace. St. Thomas elected to move up to Class AA for the 2013-14 season and TG was shuffled to a different section, leaving the Wildcats as the odds-on-favorite in Section 7A.
They squared off with Princeton, a team they had already beaten in the regular season, for the section championship. It became an instant classic at the Isanti Ice Arena. With around 11 minutes left in the game Chisago Lakes was up 2-1 and hoping to hold on for the win, Little did they know how tumultuous things were about to get. The Tigers scored to tie it at 2-2. Then, Chisago Lakes retook the lead on a Billy Knaak snap shot with nine minutes left.
Princeton kept answering the bell, though. With six minutes left, they tied it back up at 3-3 with their own goal. Blake Lizotte willed his team to another goal, stickhandling through the Princeton defense with three minutes left in the game to go up 4-3.
Just one minute later, Chisago Lakes figured they sealed it when they scored an empty netter to go up 5-3, but with a minute and a half left, Princeton found a way to put the puck in the back of the net again, leading to a very tenuous last few moments for Chisago Lakes.
The Wildcats held on to set off the celebration and send Princeton packing.
“We’re a group of grinders, but we’ll play physical if we have to. We played with a ton of heart and buried some of our scoring chances,” Senior Trevor Lushanko said at the time. “It was just a great night for Chisago Lakes hockey. It means the world to a lot of people in our small community. The whole thing is surreal to me right now. It just doesn’t feel real. The fact that we’re in the state tournament hasn’t hit me yet. Getting there is what the whole team thought about for the whole season.”
The Wildcats were a part of all the pomp and circumstance that is the Minnesota State High School hockey tournament. They were able to play in front of a huge crowd at the XCel Energy Center.
They didn’t fare so well, losing 5-2 to New Prague in the first round and then dropping a consolation game by the same score to Luverne at Mariucci Arena.
But, the thrill around town and the memories the guys will have will last for their lifetimes, and who knows, with the way the section is put together now and the talent CL has returning, multiple state tourney runs won’t be out of the question, they’ll just need to break through once they get there!