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PB's Sports Stories of the Year: Chatfield's run to state title tops Post Bulletin's list

A look at the Top 10 sports stories of the year -- and honorable mention -- as selected by the Post Bulletin sports staff

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Chatfield senior Mason Clemens holds the championship trophy after the Gophers won the Class AA state football Prep Bowl against West Central Area/Ashby on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Andrew Link / Post Bulletin
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The Chatfield football team proved a couple of things this past season.

No. 1 was that there was no better team in Class AA than these Gophers. Any debate ended after Chatfield finished as state champion, beating West Central Area/Ashby 14-13 in the title game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Nov. 26.

But a second major point resonated almost as much. It was that this was no one-man outfit, but instead a championship “team.” Chatfield star quarterback/running back Sam Backer had dominated the headlines all season with his spectacular play. The junior star entered the title game having rushed for 2,384 yards and 34 touchdowns, and passed for 733 yards and 12 touchdowns.

But there would be no state title game for the bruising and fast 6-foot, 195-ound junior. That was the result of Backer having been dismissed in the third quarter of the state semifinals against Barnseville after receiving two unsportsmanlike penalties in the game. Chatfield went on to post a 22-18 comeback win.

The two unsportsmanlike penalties against Backer not only eliminated him from the remainder of that contest, but also from the state championship, per Minnesota State High School League rules.

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Backer’s premature end didn’t go down without a fight. It drew a legal challenge from his family and ultimately a court case that was settled just hours before kickoff of the state championship. U.S. District Court judge Ann D. Montgomery reasoned that granting a restraining order allowing Backer to play “would change, rather than preserve, the status quo,” ultimately defending the MSHSL’s ability to enforce its rules.

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Chatfield’s Sam Backer (21) reacts after scoring a touchdown during a Class AA football state quarterfinal game against Minneapolis North on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Traci Westcott

With Backer watching the game in street clothes, the Gophers displayed just how vast their overall talent and depth was in fighting to that 14-13 state championship win over West Central Area/Ashby.

The outcome left Chatfield coach Jeff Johnson, who’s directed the Gophers to two state titles in 15 years, oozing with pride.

“It’s satisfying. There’s no other way to put it,” Johnson said.

“Our kids grind. Hard. They run. They tackle. They’re physical. And most of them weren’t born with that ability. They worked their tails off.”

Chatfield rode a stifling defense, especially in the final. The Gophers

forced five West Central Area/Ashby turnovers, one of them turning into a Chatfield touchdown.

There was no bigger defensive play by Chatfield than the one it came up with just under 4 minutes left in regulation. After West Central/Ashby scored a touchdown, narrowing Chatfield’s lead to a single point, it chose to go for “two” and possibly the win.

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The Chatfield defense was once again up to the task, doing just enough to keep the West Central/Ashby running back out of the end zone on that conversion try, preserving the Gophers’ lead and ultimately landing them the state championship trophy.

It was Chatfield’s fifth state football title. It was also the Gophers’ 13th straight win. Chatfield dropped its season-opener this year, then never lost again.

“We all bought in to what we had to do to reach the pinnacle,” Johnson said. “And if you’re going to get here to win, your whole team better buy into it, and that’s what we saw in the last 3-4 games, and in the whole season. It’s as simple as that. Our kids bought in, and they put in hard work.

“They earned it. That was our team motto. They earned it all summer long, and (then) they had to earn it on the field, and they did.”

— Pat Ruff

2. COVID continues to affect athletes, seasons

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major societal disruptor. It’s not just been with lives lost and hospital beds filling up, but in what it has wrought on mental health.

In great part, that has been a product of all that’s been taken away, particularly in Year 1 of the pandemic. High school athletics were not exempt, with athletes often left with greatly reduced sports schedules, games being postponed or canceled midstream due to COVID-19 exposures and in some cases seasons abruptly halted altogether.

It left teenage athletes racked with anxiety, wondering when the next pandemic shoe would drop. Loneliness and a lack of identity and purpose were symptoms for so many athletes, as things kept being taken away.

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“When things began shutting down on March 13 (2020), I talked to our team of therapists and said that (Driftless Recovery Services, in La Crosse, Wis.) needed to stay open,” said Brett Knutson, the business’ owner and an assistant Caledonia football coach. “We had to keep working because I knew that this would turn into a mental-health pandemic as much as a (physical) health pandemic.”

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Brett Knutson is the owner and a behavior therapist at Driftless Recovery Services in La Crosse, Wis., as well as an assistant football coach at Caledonia High School. Knutson has seen firsthand the mental-health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on teenagers, many of them athletes. (Submitted photo)

Things began to lighten up starting in January of 2021, when despite a delay in the winter seasons due to COVID-19 spikes, state tournaments capped those season after having been ditched the year before due to the pandemic

Things have mostly gone back to normal in high school athletics so far this school year, though a drop in participation numbers has happened across the board in sports. Many attribute that to high school kids having trouble going back to “normal.”

And finally this: A new variant of COVID-19 is massively on the rise and raising questions about whether schools will once again shift to online learning and if sports seasons will be shortened or canceled. This pandemic is showing no signs of letting up. Neither does the mental-health crisis that’s come with it.

— Pat Ruff

3. Heck of a year for Hayfield boys

The spring of 2021 turned out to be glorious for Hayfield’s boys sports teams. The Vikings had double the fun as they won two Class A state championships, first in basketball and then in baseball.

The unranked basketball team, coached by Chris Pack, capped a 21-4 season by winning its final eight games, including a thrilling 61-60 victory over Hancock in the state championship game. Ethan Slaathaug led the way for Hayfield all season and he scored a game-high 20 points in the championship game while Easton Fritcher (13 points) and Kobe Foster (12) also scored in double figures. Slaathaug scored 71 points in the three state tournament victories.

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Hayfield's Ethan Slaathaug holds up the championship trophy following the Viking's 61-60 win in the Class A state boys basketball championship game against Hancock on Saturday, April 10, 2021, at the Target Center in Minneapolis. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

Nine of the top 10 players on the basketball team and 12 overall went on to play baseball for the Vikings. Coach Kasey Krekling guided Hayfield to a perfect 26-0 record as the Vikings steamrolled most teams in their path.

Fritcher, who was a starter and top rebounder on the basketball team, sparked the Vikings on the diamond. The University of Minnesota baseball commit batted .543 with eight home runs, 48 RBIs and 52 runs scored. As a pitcher, the left-hander was 11-0 with a 1.55 ERA.

After winning 16-1, 16-0 in the first two rounds of the state tournament, Hayfield rallied past New York Mills 7-4 in the championship game at Target Field. Fritcher was the winning pitcher in both the Class A state quarterfinals and the championship game while Erik Bungum hit a three-run double to help the Vikings overcome a 4-0 deficit in the title game.

— Guy N. Limbeck

4. Caledonia’s winning streak snapped

A final score in Week 1 of the high school football season: 31-13 Lake City.

Many had to do a double take when that score first made its way around the state of Minnesota. For the first time in 2,484 days, the Caledonia High School football team had lost a game.

Jon Harvey recorded two of the Lake City’s defense’s four interceptions and quarterback Justin Wohlers produced 365 yards of total offense (264 passing, 101 rushing) to help the Tigers snap the nation’s longest active win streak and ninth best of all-time at 71 games. It was the Warriors first loss since falling to BOLD 21-0 in the Class AA state semifinals on Nov. 15, 2014 — a span of six years, nine months and 19 days between losses. During that time, Caledonia became the second school in Minnesota to win five straight state football championships and bring its total to 11 overall state football titles — putting it in a tie with Eden Prairie for the most in Minnesota.

"That streak is humbling, but it shows what our community has done," Warriors’ coach Carl Fruechte said after the game. "It shows what all of our coaches, all of our players and all of our parents have done. If you'd have told me (in the late 1990s) that we'd (win 71 straight games), I'd have never believed you. But I am proud of the kids who played tonight, too."

It turned out to be a springboard for the Tigers, as they started the season 7-0, claiming Class AAA’s No. 1 spot in the rankings before falling to Plainview-Elgin-Millville in the Section 1AAA semifinals.

Caledonia won its final three regular season games after starting the season 1-4, before getting knocked out by Lewiston-Altura in the Section 1AA quarterfinals. It was the first time since 2013 the Warriors didn’t make the state tournament.

— Alex VandenHouten

5. Southeastern Minnesota has bevy of D1 commits

The Twins Cities metropolitan area has for decades been considered the place to recruit if you were looking for Division I-caliber athletes in Minnesota.

While that remains true, the state’s recruiting hot spots for top high school players has expanded. At the top of that expansion list is almost certainly southeastern Minnesota.

That was true this past year with no less than 17 athletes from this corner of the state pledging in a variety of sports to Division I programs.

That includes arguably the state’s top all-around athlete, Caledonia’s Eli King. King — who was recruited by a pack of big-time Division I programs in basketball and football — made things official with Iowa State for basketball on Nov. 10, national signing day.

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Caledonia's Eli King (1) committed to Iowa State this year, and has returned from a knee injury in top form. Post Bulletin file photo / Joe Ahlquist

Some of the other biggest southeastern Minnesota names to commit to Division I programs were boys hockey players Tyler Haskins (Rochester native, University of Michigan), Maddox Fleming (Rochester native, University of Notre Dame) and Brady Arneson (Red Wing, University of Maine).

Also included were baseball player Easton Fritcher (Hayfield, University of Minnesota), girls basketball players Lilly Meister (John Marshall, Indiana University) and Sacia Vanderpool (Byron, University of Wisconsin) and wrestler Bennett Berge (Kasson-Mantorville, South Dakota State University).

One sport where southeastern Minnesota athletes have drawn little attention from Division I programs has been football. That was the case again this year, with not one person from here grabbing a Division I scholarship. That was despite southeastern Minnesota dominating the state football tournaments, with a state finalist in every class it was eligible for, except AAAAA. And even there, Rochester had a team represented at state, Mayo.

— Pat Ruff

6. Dodge County makes run to title game

One thought consumed the minds of Dodge County’s boys hockey players for a year. Beyond the COVID pandemic, the Wildcats kept thinking of stepping off the ice at the Rochester Recreation Center in late February of 2020, having been knocked out of the Section 1A playoffs — which they entered as the No. 1 seed — by Mankato East in the section semifinals.

They were determined to not have that happen again. It’s the main reason All-State forward Brody Lamb returned to play the 2020-21 season with the Wildcats, as opposed to jumping to the USHL.

Lamb’s commitment to his friends and teammates — and their commitment to working harder to get better — paid off.

In a pandemic-shortened season, Dodge County went 19-4-1 overall in 2021, including capturing the program’s first section championship, first state tournament appearance and first trip to the Class A state championship game.

After a wild 8-7 loss at St. Cloud Cathedral on Feb. 27, the Wildcats rattled off 11 consecutive victories — the last five of them coming in the postseason — to reach the state championship game.

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Dodge County goalie Isaac Dale prepares to stop a shot by Gentry Academy's Bailey McGraw (13) as Dodge County's Jake Isaak (11) defends during the Class A boys hockey state championship on Saturday, April 3, 2021, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Jason Wachter / Forum Communications)

Dodge County won the section title on its home ice, beating Mankato West 4-3 to earn a trip to The Tourney. Once at The X, the Wildcats outlasted a COVID-depleted Hermantown team in the quarterfinals, behind an incredible six goals from Lamb, the state’s leading scorer and Minnesota AP Player of the Year last year. Three days later, Lamb recorded a hat trick and Isaac Dale made 33 saves as Dodge County beat Little Falls 4-1 in the state semifinals.

The Wildcats’ train ran out of steam in the state championship game loss to Gentry Academy.

For the three-game tournament, Lamb finished with a remarkable 10 goals and 11 total points.

— Jason Feldman

7. Berge wins fourth straight state title

Bennett Berge joined elite company when the Kasson-Mantorville junior grappler captured his fourth consecutive state championship with a 7-3 decision over Becker’s Caden Dewall in the 182-pound Class AA title match last spring.

Berge became just the 22nd wrestler in the state of Minnesota to win four state titles, joining his brother Brady Berge and teammate Patrick Kennedy in the exclusive club. Yet, when he knocked off Dewall to cap off a perfect 29-0 season with his fourth straight championship, he showed little emotion. He knows that’s what is expected of him.

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Kasson-Mantorville’s Bennett Berge walks off the mat after winning a 182-pound championship match against Becker’s Caden in the Class AA individual state wrestling championships on Friday, March 26, 2021, at St. Michael-Albertville High School in St. Michael. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

"Every kid that was coming to state, their goal was to come home with a state title," Berge said. "That’s our goal and we didn’t expect anything less. When you win a state title, we aren’t surprised. That’s what we train to do. That’s why we work so hard."

In August, Berge committed to the South Dakota State University where he will join his brother Brady, who is an assistant coach for the Jackrabbits. His focus now is on ending his prep career as the seventh wrestler in state history to win five state championships. But he is also expecting big things out of the KoMets as a whole after they were upset last season in the Section 1AA semifinals by Lake City. K-M went on to see four wrestlers medal at the individual state meet, plus Berge’s state title.

"Next year, (I) have two titles to win,” Berge said. “A team title and an individual title."

— Alex VandenHouten

8. Success of Section 1 football teams

Section 1 football teams had a stellar postseason run during the 2021 season.

Both Chatfield (Class AA) and LeRoy-Ostrander (Nine-Man) emerged from Section 1 and went on to win state championships.

Plainview-Elgin-Millville reached the championship game in Class AAA before dropping a tight 28-21 contest to Dassel-Cokato. Kasson-Mantorville, in Class AAAA, also reached the Prep Bowl before falling 42-14 to Hutchinson.

Rushford-Peterson won in the Class A state quarterfinals before falling 28-8 to Minneota in the semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. In Class AAAAA, Mayo earned its first state berth in 24 years before falling 42-20 to Mahtomedi in the quarterfinals.

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LeRoy-Ostrander celebrates after winning a Nine-Man state championship game against Fertile-Beltrami Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. LeRoy-Ostrander defeated Fertile-Beltrami 58-8. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Traci Westcott

LeRoy-Ostrander had a dominant run in Nine-Man to win its first state championship. The Cardinals defeated three teams at the state tournament by a combined 164-34 score, including a 58-8 victory over Fertile-Beltrami in the championship game. Quarterback Chase Johnson led the way, rushing for more than 2,800 yards and 39 touchdowns during the season. Johnson also set a Prep Bowl record with 412 yards from scrimmage in the title game. He rushed for 272 yards and a TD and passed for 140 yards and four touchdowns.

Chatfield’s sophomore quarterback Parker Delaney came off the bench to throw the game-winning touchdown pass in a 22-18 win against Barnesville in the state semifinals. Then in the Prep Bowl, Chatfield forced five turnovers and nipped West Central Area/Ashby 14-13. Carter Daniels recovered two fumbles, one which he returned for a crucial touchdown.

— Guy N. Limbeck

9. Matthew Hurt stands out in ACC

Rochester’s Matthew Hurt finished his two-year men’s basketball career at Duke University in standout style.

Hurt, a 2019 John Marshall grad, earned a pair of top awards in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The 6-foot-9 sophomore forward was named to the All-ACC first team and was also named the league's Most Improved Player for his standout season.

Hurt led Duke in scoring (18.3 points per game) and rebounding (6.2 per game) and he shot a lusty 55.6% from the floor (164-for-295). He tied for the team lead by shooting a stellar 44.4% from 3-point range (56-for-126). Hurt led the ACC in scoring during the season and he had a career-high 37-point game during a win against Louisville, making 15 of 21 shots in the game.

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Matthew Hurt, a 2019 John Marshall graduate, declared for the NBA Draft after playing two seasons at Duke. File photo / Reuters

Following Duke’s season, which was cut short due to COVID issues, Hurt declared for the NBA draft. He was not selected in the two-round draft and had a tryout with the Houston Rockets. After being let go by the Rockets, he signed with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies assigned Hurt to the Memphis Hustle of the G League (a minor-league of the NBA). Hurt is currently playing for the Hustle and is averaging more than 10 points and 6 rebounds per game.

— Guy N. Limbeck

10. Lake City girls win first state golf title

Personal cell phones and social media didn’t exist when Steve Randgaard began coaching golf at Lake City 35 years ago. But as Randgaard watched his players celebrate on June 19 by taking selfies and posting short video clips to their social media accounts, he couldn’t help but think about how far the Tigers’ program has come.

“That’s the one for TikTok,” Randgaard told a group of Lake City parents with a laugh as he watched the Tigers’ girls golfers pass around the Class AA state championship trophy, Lake City’s first.

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The Lake City girls golf team captured the Section One, Class AA championship on Wednesday at The Bridges in Winona. The Tigers qualified for the Class AA state tournament for the first time since 2017. The state meet is set for June 15-16 at The Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan. (Contributed photo)

“It’s been a long road,” Randgaard said. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years now. We’ve had three (state) runners-up, but never the big one.”

Randgaard admitted there were times he wondered if the Tigers would ever get to hoist the state’s top prize. Lake City not only did so in 2021, it did it on the strength of an unbeaten season and with just one senior – standout Molly Kennedy – in the lineup.

Two freshmen – Jordana Windhorst Knudsen (state individual runner-up) and Ella Matzke (10th individual) – led the way at the state meet. Kennedy placed 17th and sophomore Emma Berge tied for 20th.

Those players could see how much the title means to Randgaard, who has been nominated for the National High School Golf Coach of the Year award.

“He’s excited,” Kennedy said just minutes after the state meet finished. “As we were walking down 18, he looked and said ‘I’ve never had this feeling before.’”

— Jason Feldman

HONORABLE MENTION

JANUARY

• St. Charles guard Kooper Vaughn started the 2021 basketball season on a high note, scoring a southeastern Minnesota record 63 points in a game, as the Saints beat Fillmore Central 91-77. In the playoffs, Vaughn added a 59-point game in an 89-84 OT win against Triton.

FEBRUARY

• Rochester Lourdes grad and U.S. Olympics hopeful Ian Torchia won the prestigious Birkebeiner cross-country ski race in Hayward, Wis.

• The Stewartville boys basketball team, led by University of Michigan recruit Will Tschetter, played a nationally televised game on ESPNU against Minnehaha Academy and Gonzaga recruit Chet Holmgren. Minnehaha won 87-63, but Tschetter and guard Nolan Stier (game-high 24 points) stood out.

• Tom Moore, a 1957 Rochester High grad, coached in the Super Bowl at age 82. Moore is an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who beat Kansas City 31-9. Moore has coached in the NFL for 41 seasons. It marked the fifth Super Bowl Moore has coached in.

• Zumbrota-Mazeppa beat Kasson-Mantorville 34-33 in a Hiawatha Valley League wrestling dual. The Z-M win snapped a 12-year HVL winning streak for the KoMets, their first loss to a conference opponent since 2008.

• Rochester Mayo and Rochester Lourdes met in boys hockey for the first time in 18 years, the first time since 2003. Mayo won a well-played, physical game 3-2. “Yes, absolutely,” Mayo head coach Matt Notermann said when asked if the game had a playoff-like feel. “All intracity games do. You don’t want to lose to those guys you grew up playing with. We’ve shared this rink with Lourdes for umpteen years. We see them every day; we know half of them by the end of the year … (This game) does mean something and it was a lot of fun.”

MARCH

• Sawyer Gorman, a senior on the Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa gymnastics team, closed her stellar career by winning an individual state championship in the floor exercise. Gorman posted a winning score of 9.65 for her first state title and her first state medal (top-six finish) since she was in seventh grade. Gorman helped the Wildcats have their best finish ever at state. PIZM placed second out of eight teams in Class A.

• Chatfield’s Seth Goetzinger and Caledonia’s Brandon Ross won individual state wrestling championships. Goetzinger won at 170 pounds, beating Fosston/Bagley’s Carter Sorenson 7-5. Ross won at 120 pounds, topping Ryan Jensen 6-1.

• Rochester Lourdes’ girls hockey team — behind Boston University-bound defenseman Maggie Hanzel — qualified for the Class A girls hockey state tournament for a third straight season. The Eagles fell to powerhouse Warroad in the state quarterfinals at the Xcel Energy Center.

• Byron ended Austin’s reign atop Section 1AAA boys basketball, beating the Packers 52-50 in the section title game. The Bears then hung with, but fell to, top-ranked Minnehaha Academy 75-63 in the state quarterfinals. Byron’s top player, forward Ahjany Lee, transferred to Totino-Grace after the school year, and committed to play at Division I St. Thomas.

• Bill Fessler, who was a long-time coach in Rochester, died at the age of 89. He guided Rochester Community College to a men’s basketball state title in 1983. Fessler also coached golf, basketball and football at Mayo High School.

• The LaCrescent-Hokah boys hockey team made program history, reaching the section semifinals for the first time ever, beating Mankato East 3-1 in the section quarterfinals. “Could not be any more proud of our team for making history,” Lancers coach Eriah Hayes said. First quarterfinal win in school history. The boys battled hard and got it done again!”

APRIL

• Caledonia’s boys basketball team played nearly its entire 2020-21 season without star guard Eli King. But the Warriors were undeterred, reaching the Class AA state title game, where they suffered a heartbreaking 51-50 setback to Waseca, whose star guard, Ryan Dufault, scored the game-winning basket with 2.1 seconds to go. Less than two weeks later, King committed to play Division I college basketball at Iowa State University.

• The Rochester Community and Technical College women’s basketball team put together a perfect regular season, going 14-0. The Yellowjackets then won a regional championship and came up just one win shy of a Division II junior college national tournament berth, finishing their season 16-1. RCTC played in the Division II playoffs, as no Division III playoffs were held.

• Rochester Community and Technical College won the NJCAA non-scholarship wrestling team national championship. The Yellowjackets placed 10th overall at the NJCAA national meet, and were the top finisher among non-scholarship schools. Gavin Christofferson had RCTC's top individual finish as he placed second at 184 pounds.

• In just their third season of existence, the Rochester Grizzlies won the North American 3 Hockey League Central Division regular season title, the division postseason championship and advanced all the way to the national championship game, before falling to North Iowa 5-1 in suburban St. Louis. Grizzlies’ assistant coach Mike Aikens — a Rochester native — departed after the season to become head coach of the new NAHL franchise in Anchorage, Alaska. Grizzlies forward Peyton Hart was named the league’s Player of the Year and goalie Shane Soderwall was named the league’s Goalie of the Year.

• Rochester Century graduate Riese Zmolek captained the Minnesota State University, Mankato men’s hockey team that reached the NCAA Division I Frozen Four for the first time in program history. Following the season, Zmolek, a defenseman, signed a minor-league contract with the Minnesota Wild organization.

MAY

• After playing one season for the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team, Austin native Both Gach transferred back to the University of Utah, where he is teammates with former Mayo player Gabe Madsen. Madsen transferred to Utah from the University of Cincinnati.

• Stewartville’s Erin Lamb was named Minnesota’s Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year for 2020. Lamb was also a Miss Volleyball finalist and a first team All-State player. She is now a freshman playing at Division I powerhouse University of Kentucky.

• Rochester native Mark Stuart is returning to his college home. Stuart has been named an assistant coach on the staff of Colorado College’s first-year head coach Kris Mayotte. Stuart played at C.C. from 2002-04, then played 12 years in the NHL with the Boston Bruins and the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.

JUNE

• Southeastern Minnesota was home to more than a half-dozen track and field state champions. Plainview-Elgin-Millvile’s Kyler Bade won his second straight state title in the 400, while Lewiston-Altura’s Peyton Gunnarson won three wheelchair state titles (100, 200, 800). Stewartville’s Will Tschetter (discus) and Pine Island’s Jarod White (pole vault) also won championships. Three relay teams also brought state championships home — Lake City’s boys 4x400 team, Stewartville’s girls 4x400 team and GMLOK’s girls 4x200 team.

• Plainview-Elgin-Millville finished fourth at the Class AA state baseball tournament. The Bulldogs, behind seven seniors, finished 22-5 overall.

• St. Charles, in its first-ever trip to the state softball tournament, advanced all the way to the title game, where it fell 7-4 to LeSueur-Henderson. The Saints finished their outstanding season 24-5.

• Rochester Mayo, after going 8-12 in the regular season, narrowly missed out on a trip to the state baseball tournament, falling to Farmington in the Section 1AAAA title game.

• The Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa boys golf team qualified for the state meet for the first time in program history. PIZM was led by Anders Larson, who committed to play at Division I Tennessee Tech. The Wildcats won the Section 1AA title, then placed fifth at state. Larson finished ninth at state; teammate Joseph Scripture placed sixth.

• The Rochester Lourdes’ boys placed third in the Class A state tennis meet, beating Mounds Park Academy 4-3. Lourdes’ Marjan Veldic finished fourth in the state in singles, losing a marathon third-place match to Evan Fraser of Mounds Park Academy, 3-6, 7-5, 10-7.

• The Rochester Mayo boys tennis team finished third in the state in Class AA, beating Orono 4-3.

• Terry Knothe, a science teacher, boys basketball and boys and girls golf coach at St. Charles for more than four decades, retired after 42 years as a coach and teacher. His basketball teams went 571-400 overall.

• Randolph and New York Mills played a classic state semifinal baseball game. New York Mills rallied twice, ultimately winning 9-8 in 15 innings. It went on to the Class A state title game, where it fell to Hayfield 7-4.

• Red Wing native Travis Toivonen is getting his shot in the NFL. Toivonen signed with the Seattle Seahawks and went through training camp with them. In October he was signed by the New York Giants to their practice squad.

• Winona native Garrett Heath qualified for the finals of the 5,000-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Trials. He led the race after 1,000 meters, but ultimately dropped to 14th place.

• Three members of the Rochester Table Tennis Club made the U.S. national team. Sisters Mandy Yu and Abigail Yu of Byron were placed on the girls 13-under and 11-under teams, respectively. Rochester’s Isabella Luo also made the 11-under team. Seven players have been selected for each age bracket. Making the teams allows them to represent the U.S. in international competitions.

JULY

• Millville native Jeremy Martin thrilled the hometown crowd by winning both motos and the overall in the 250 class as the AMA Pro Motocross Championship series made its annual stop at Spring Creek MX Park in Millville, a track owned by Martin’s parents, John and Greta.

• Rochester native Bethanie Mattek-Sands qualified for the Olympics for a second consecutive time. The standout tennis player won gold in mixed doubles in 2016, but the 36-year-old failed to medal this time around, playing in the women’s doubles draw with teammate Jessica Pegula.

• Red Wing native Sophia Yoemans won the Women’s State Amateur golf championship in a playoff, after making a chip shot from off the green on the 18th hole of the final round. Yoemans now plays college golf at the University of Missouri.

AUGUST

• Kasson-Mantorville graduate and four-time state champion Brady Berge was named an assistant coach at South Dakota State University. Injuries forced Berge to retire from wrestling after a solid career at Penn State that was repeatedly halted by injuries.

• Two local players had excellent seasons for the Rochester Honkers baseball team. Former Century High School standout Mac Horvath hit .287 with four homers and 25 RBIs, while Kasson-Mantorville grad Brendan Knoll, a pitcher, went 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 38 innings pitched.

• Austin and La Crescent won district championships to advance to the American Legion baseball state tournaments.

SEPTEMBER

• Stewartville volleyball coach John Dzubay became the first coach in Minnesota high school volleyball history to reach 1,000 career wins when the Tigers beat Fillmore Central 3-0 on Sept. 30. Dzubay has the most wins of any coach in state history. “It’s never been a job for me,” Dzubay said. “I always love going to work, and I still love going to volleyball practice.”

• The Rochester Royals qualified for the Class B amateur baseball state tournament. They won their opener, then lost a tight 2-1 decision in the second round to three-time defending state champion Chanhassen.

• Levi Severson of Edina won the Med City Marathon in the closest finish in the 25-year history of the race. He edged Lewiston’s Mike Walentiny by .15 of a second. Rochester’s Madison Hirsch won the women’s race.

• A shortage of officials for high school sports is being felt all across Minnesota — and in nearly every sport. Many regular-season football games were rescheduled to Thursdays or Saturdays — even Mondays, in some cases. “The (referee) numbers were starting to go down a little bit in 2019,” Rochester Area Officials Association football scheduler Jared Butson said. “And then the pandemic hit, and that sped things up. We had people who were on the fence about retiring and then they had time off from it (during the pandemic) and they said ‘Hey, this is pretty nice.’”

OCTOBER

• Four southeastern Minnesota boys soccer teams advanced to the state tournaments, in the first year of a three-class system. Rochester Mayo knocked off three ranked opponents en route to a fourth-place finish in Class AAA. In Class A, Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa beat Lourdes for third place. Byron qualified in Class AA, after winning the Section 1AA title.

• Winona Cotter played in the girls soccer state tournament for the first time ever, finishing third in the Class A tournament. Byron won the Section 1AA title and also advanced to the state tournament.

• Rochester’s Dustin Sorensen — son of long-time dirt-track racer Mike Sorensen and grandson of local racing legend Dick Sorensen — captured the USRA Modifieds national championship, beating runner-up Josh Angst of Winona by 150 points.

• After 28 seasons and four state championships, Gary Sloan retired as head coach of the Grand Meadow football team. He will remain in his roles as athletic director and transportation director at Grand Meadow schools. Josh Bain, a 2007 Grand Meadow grad who played for Sloan, will take over as head coach.

• Rochester Lourdes placed fifth at the Class A state tennis meet, beating Pine City 5-2 in the fifth-place match. Lourdes’ Ryann Witter finished third in the state singles tournament, beating Eveleth-Gilbert’s Lydia Delich 6-1, 6-3. The Eagles top doubles team of Taylor Elliott and Elyse Palen finished second in the state in doubles.

• Rochester Mayo placed fourth in the Class AA girls tennis state meet. Rochester Century’s doubles team of Paige Sargent and Julia Baber finished as the Class AA runners-up, falling to Minnetonka’s Annika Elvestrom and Karina Elvestrom 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

NOVEMBER

• Kasson-Mantorville capped an outstanding volleyball season by finishing as the Class AAA state runner-up. The KoMets fell to state power Marshall in the title match 27-25, 25-22, 25-16. "I was proud of the way we came out and played," K-M All-State senior setter Maddie Converse said. "Marshall is a tough team, and it's tough to stick with them. But we gave it our all and we never stopped playing. It was super fun. It was a great way to go out."

• Mayo’s Ava Gustafson placed third in the 100 breaststroke at the Class AA state swimming and diving meet. Her teammate, Natalie Boorjian, also earned All-State finishes, placing seventh in the 50 freestyle and eighth in the 500.

• Cannon Falls reached the state volleyball tournament for the first time in program history, winning the Section 1AA title then placing sixth in the Class AA tournament.

• Byron native Ayoka Lee set the Kansas State University women’s basketball single-game scoring record by scoring 43 points in a 103-40 win against Central Arkansas.

• Natasha Sortland of Zumbrota-Mazeppa/Kenyon-Wanamingo placed fourth in the Class AA state cross country meet. The Lake City girls placed eighth in the Class A meet.

• Lewiston-Altura/Rushford-Peterson/Houston’s Tyler Rislov was the top boys runner from the area the state meet, placing sixth in the Class A race. Lourdes’ Kevin Turlington, the Section 1A champ, placed 12th at state. Lourdes placed 12th as a team.

• Lourdes girls soccer head coach Sarah Groven was named the Class A Coach of the Year after guiding the Eagles to a runner-up finish in Section 2A.

• Rochester Mayo grad Kate Holtan was named the MIAC Volleyball Player of the Year. Holtan, a 5-8 senior hitter at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, led the MIAC with 409 kills. She also had 283 digs and ranked fourth in the conference in ace serves (42).

• Five former area standout girls hockey players have reunited as assistant coaches on the Dodge County girls hockey team’s coaching staff. Former Dodge County players Emily Gunderson, Hollywood Hermanson, Dana Rasmussen and Molly Shelton are joined by Red Wing’s Nicole Schammel on the Wildcats’ staff.

DECEMBER

• The Minnesota State High School League voted to implement shot clocks in all boys and girls varsity basketball games, beginning in the 2023-24 season.

• Rochester Community and Technical College men’s basketball head coach Brian LaPlante reached a significant and impressive career milestone when he recorded his 500th victory. RCTC beat Bismarck (N.D.) State 83-75 in the Anoka-Ramsey Holiday Classic in Coon Rapids to help LaPlante reach the historic number.

• Red Wing native and former two-time boys golf state medalist Cecil Belisle committed to play at the University of Kansas. Belisle’s college commitment capped a big year. He also won the NJCAA Division II national championship in May, then won the prestigious Minnesota State Open in July.

• The Stewartville bowling team won a “miracle” state championship at Mermaid Event and Entertainment Center in Mounds View. Dawson Peterson pulled off a shot that his coach called a “one in 100 shot” — he converted the 6-7 split to clinch the state title for his team.

• Kasson-Mantorville’s Bennett Berge and Logan Vaughan, and Byron’s Maxwell Petersen won championships at the prestigious Minnesota Christmas Tournament wrestling meet at UCR Regional Sports Center.

• Rochester natives Tyler Haskins and Maddox Fleming were invited to play in the annual BioSteel All-American Game. The game, set for mid-January, features the top American-born NHL Draft prospects who currently play in the USHL or for the U.S. National Team Development Program. Fleming plays for the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede, while Haskins plays for the USHL’s Madison Capitols.

• Albert Lea native Campbell Cichosz committed to play hockey for the No. 1-ranked Minnesota State University, Mankato Mavericks. Cichosz currently plays for the NAHL’s Anchorage Wolverines, who are coached by Rochester native Mike Aikens.

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