July 6, 2017 at 4:08 p.m.
There were many highlights this year, including some amazing individual performances, as well as some impressive team accomplishments. There was even some things done this year in the area that have never been done before, and you can rest assured, those will be near the top of this list!
This column always is my mental and emotional wrap up of the sports season. It’s hard to believe another one is in the books and that I’ve been at this for nearly 10 years, but it’s time to finish this one up and get to looking forward to 2017-18.
I just want to thank all of the coaches, parents, athletes and administrators who work to make sure the sports seasons run smoothly and that we can get the information out to the readers. There’s really some great things going on the area, and it’s been my pleasure to share them with you this year and all the years in the past.
Without any further ado, here is the top 11 sports stories from the 2017-18 school year!
11. Individuals who competed at the state tournament
In 2016-17, there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic for state chances. Some of those dreams came to fruition and some came up short, but this area still produced a boatload of state tournament participants.
They came in all different sports and were built in different ways. They all had strived for the same goal this year, and here are the ones that made the state tournament in their respective sport.
Rhianna Rinke (cross country and track and field); Jillian Yerges (cross country); Keeley Ertl, Alexys Olson and Angie Fish (gymnastics); Austin Sonnek (wrestling); Evan Amunrud and Katherine Carlson (track and field)
Kalli Jo Olson and Payton Nelson (girls swimming and diving); Anders Brown, (alpine skiing); Josh Falkowski, Eric Braun, Ethan Harris, Sam Gustafson and Bryce Burds (boys swimming and diving); Izzy Hindt, Thomas Strand, Alex Morehead, Arran Hickcox and Dylan Blaul (track and field; Thomas Gillach (boys tennis); Thomas Overgaard (boys golf).
10. North Branch boys hockey resurgence
The North Branch boys hockey team has made a habit of struggling over the last half decade or so.
In the six years prior to the 2016-17 season, they had won a total of 31 games, or roughly five per year.
They had some nice players last year, but they still only finished 8-19 as they re-entered the Mississippi 8 and struggled agains the more established teams that hadn’t been on their schedule for years in the Two Rivers Conference.
Things started out well this year, though, for the Vikings. They won their first three games and were 6-2-1 through nine games and looking like they would have one of their best seasons ever. But, six losses in their next seven games put a mid-season damper on the schedule. All of a sudden, they were 7-8-1 and starting another losing season in the face.
This North Branch team wasn’t like the others though, despite having six conference games down the stretch, the Vikings rattled off 10 straight wins, including ones over rival Chisago Lakes, Cambridge-Isanti and Princeton.
That led them to a third showdown with Chisago Lakes in the section semifinals. The ‘Cats came out on top, but it was a hotly contested 4-3 game that had plenty of talent, effort and grit involved.
Despite the season-ending loss, the boys finished the season 17-9-1 and built a foundation that young players can build off of in the future.
To boost the profile of the program even further, North Branch alumni Hunter Miska later was named a regional MVP during the NCAA Hockey Tournament and led the University of Minnesota-Bulldogs to the national championship game.
After the season ended, Miska signed with the National Hockey League’s Arizona Coyotes, showing that even a little town like North Branch can produced NHL-level talent.
9. Chisago Lakes softball’s spirited run through sections
The whole Chisago Lakes softball season felt like it was going to come down to Hermantown, and sure enough it did. Both of the teams were firmly ranked in the top five in the state most of the season, but unfortunately they shared a section, and only one could go to the state tournament.
Hermantown claimed the first match up, an 8-6 regular season victory, but that result set up the Hawks as the top seed in Section 7AAA and Chisago Lakes as the second seed.
CL earned their way to the section finals with wins over Duluth Denfeld and Grand Rapids while Hermantown mowed down Hibbing and Cloquet.
The Hawks won the first playoff match up, sending Chisago Lakes to the losers bracket to fight their way through. Chisago Lakes proceeded to beat county rival North Branch, who had an impressive season themselves, to earn another crack at the Hawks.
Chisago Lakes needed to win two games to go to state and Hermantown just needed one win. The ‘Cats struck first, winning the first game with a wild seven run eighth inning, topping H’Town 11-4 in extra innings.
In the second game, the one that would decide the state tourney entrant, Chisago Lakes took an early lead, but Hermantown didn’t flinch, eventually winning on a walk-off hit in the bottom of the seventh inning and punching their ticket to state. They would end up finishing runner up to Winona in the state championship game.
Despite the loss, Chisago Lakes had one of their best seasons ever, finishing 20-6 and 10-3 in the conference.
8. Wildcat boys hockey falls just short of state tournament
Despite a middling regular season, the Chisago Lakes boys hockey found themselves square in the section title hunt this winter after a nice run through Section 5A.
The Wildcats could never gain any traction throughout the year. Every time they would run off a winning streak, a losing streak would follow. Nothing ever clicked as they went 11-14 in the regular season.
Despite that record, the Wildcats still earned the three seed in Section 5A, due to the relative weak slate of teams. They breezed past sixth seeded Mora in the first round 8-1, but then it was second-seeded North Branch on the docket. The Vikings had beaten North Branch 4-1 just nine days prior, and had won 10 games in a row heading into the contest.
It was a well-fought affair and Chisago Lakes came out on top 4-3, advancing to the section championship game to play Monticello.
The game already had the highest stakes attached to it with the state tournament on the line, but the two squads had split the season series, so the game really could’ve gone either way.
Monticello scored the first goal and although Chisago Lakes answered back, they made a few too many mistakes and lost 3-1, with Monticello earned a berth to the state tournament. They made good on that berth, making it all the way to the state championship game before losing in overtime to top-seeded Hermantown.
Although the regular season didn’t quite go how the ‘Cats wanted it to, their exciting run through the section tournament brought back memories of their state tournament run from three years ago, sparking the community around them.
7. Chisago Lakes boys golf breaks school scoring record
The Chisago Lakes boys golf team made this list last year after an impressive season, but they climbed even higher with their accomplishment at the Princeton Golf Course on Monday, May 22.
The Wildcats, from what Head Coach Bryon Rogers can gather, shattered the school record for low score with a 290. The score that day put them on par, pun intended, with any school in the state. That’s a state champions pace.
On that Monday afternoon, Chisago Lakes got a 71 from Andrue Trelstad, a 72 from Tucker Bakken, a 73 from Thomas Overgaard and a 74 from Justin Lawry. Each guy was on their game and it was the sharpest Rogers had ever seen them play.
“That’s the best score I’ve seen anywhere since I’ve been around here,” the coach said after the match. They beat second place Cambridge-Isanti by 27 strokes. The wild part of it is that their fifth and sixth golfers also had great days, but their scores weren’t even counted towards the team totals because of how well everyone shot. Jake Emeot shot a 78 and Jackson Waltman carded an 80.
The best part for Rogers and the rest of the Wildcat golf fans? Only one of the golfers – Trelstad – is a senior. The rest of them are 10th graders or younger and have at least two more years on the golf team. Bakken, who’s 72 was second only to Trelstad’s 71, is only a freshman, while Waltman, Overgaard and Lawry are all sophomores.
6. Payton Nelson third in diving at state tourney; Kalli Jo Olson breaks school record
Payton Nelson’s goal at the beginning of the year was to make the podium at the state meet.
She finished in 17th place last year, just one spot away from advancing to the semi-finals, and to get on to the podium, she needed to jump nine spots. She did more than just jump. She leapfrogged a lot of competition and sprung all the way up to third place in state in her final diving meet for Chisago Lakes.
“Coming into the meet, I knew where I wanted to be and with it being my third time there, I felt more calm and confident in my dives,” Nelson said after the meet.
She was sitting well in fifth place after the prelims, but was within striking distance of two of the girls in front of her. She overtook both of them, Taryn Longshore of Faribault and Kapani Kirkland of Visitation in the semi-finals.
She knew she could track down Kirkland, as Nelson had beaten the Blazer in sections to win the 4A title.
Nelson had an impressive semis run, scoring 96.25 points, which was behind only leader Saylor Hawkins and Camryn Appert of Fergus Falls.
The combination of the two nice routines placed her in third going into the finals with a score of 263.25. She was behind Hawkins, who was starting to pull away even at that point, and Claire Boschee of Sartell, who had 272.35 points.
“I know when I ended the way I did in prelims and semis that I could possibly earn a top three spot,” Nelson said. “It was such an exciting feeling.”
In her first dive of the finals, Nelson kept her degree of difficulty low but nailed the dive, staying in third place despite a couple of strong dives around her.
On her second dive, the DD jumped slightly and Nelson still stuck the dive, giving her a little bit of a cushion.
In the final dive of the round, a couple of the girls close to Nelson’s score hit impressive dives, putting some pressure on her to really perform.
Her final dive was her highest degree of difficulty of the round, and she didn’t even bat an eye. She executed the dive flawlessly, hitting every spot on the way down to the water, sealing her spot in the top three. “It was such a mix of emotion doing my last dive,” she said. “I was sad because it was the very last dive of my high school career but it was a happy outcome and it made me realize how far I’ve come!”
Senior Kalli Jo Olson had a disappointing state tournament by her standards. She was so close to the podium last year, and her goal was two-fold; to make the podium and to get under one minute in her 100 backstroke time.
If it wasn’t for a very fast field this year, Olson may very well have hit both goals, but as things stand, she fell just short on both.
She was, however, able to break her personal best record in the first round.
In the prelims, she came in 11th place with a time of 1:00.17. That time would have put her in the finals last year, but sub-one minute times went 10 deep in this field, leaving her on the outside looking in.
The time was a school and personal record for Olson, though, capping her illustrious career off with some nice finishing touches.
That’s the first half, we’ll get to the second half next week. In the meantime, I hope everyone had a safe and Happy Fourth of July!
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