A look at the top sports stories of 2019 in southeastern Minnesota, as compiled by the Post Bulletin sports staff:
1. CALEDONIA KEEPS WINNING
A dynasty. A superpower. Call it what you will, but it has to be called the best. The Caledonia football team remained kings of Class AA by putting together a fifth consecutive undefeated season, a fifth consecutive state championship and extending its winning streak to 68 games, the longest active streak among high school football programs in the U.S. The Carl Fruechte-coached Warriors were unstoppable, scoring 38.9 points per game and allowing 6.1. They capped another awe-inspiring season with a 26-0 shutout against Minneapolis North in the Prep Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium. Quarterback Noah King, a Mr. Football Finalist who is headed to South Dakota State to play Division I basketball, finished the season with 2,422 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. His brother Eli, a sophomore receiver, had 50 catches for 958 yards and 21 TDs, as well as three kickoff returns for TDs.
2. HURT NAMED MR. BASKETBALL
Rochester John Marshall’s Matthew Hurt became the first Minnesota Mr. Basketball Award winner from Rochester and the first from the Post Bulletin’s coverage area since Randy Breuer won it in 1979. Hurt collected armfuls of awards, including being named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, playing in the McDonald’s All-America Game, and being named the PB All-Area Player of the Year. The now-freshman at Duke averaged 37.0 points and 12.3 rebounds per game as a senior for JM, and finished his high school career with 3,819 points, the most by a big-school player in Minnesota history.
3. A WEALTH OF D-1 HOOPS STARS
Southeastern Minnesota continues to churn out high-level basketball players. JM’s Hurt committed to national power Duke in April. Rochester Lourdes multi-sport star Alyssa Ustby announced her commitment to play basketball the University of North Carolina in mid-September, just two weeks after Rochester Mayo twin brothers Gabe Madsen and Mason Madsen pledged their intent to play at the University of Cincinnati. Ustby and the Madsen brothers are in their senior seasons, as is Lake City’s Nate Heise -- the brother of University of Minnesota women’s hockey star Taylor Heise -- who has committed to play basketball at Division I University of Northern Iowa.
4. BLOOMING PRAIRIE WINS FIRST FOOTBALL TITLE
The Awesome Blossoms were hands-down the best Class A football team in Minnesota in 2019. Blooming Prairie had qualified for the state tournament on eight previous occasions, but had never reached the Prep Bowl. It came close in 2018, reaching the state semifinals before losing to BOLD at U.S. Bank Stadium. The 2019 Blossoms avenged that loss, though, in the state title game, with a 41-15 victory against BOLD. The title-game victory was highlighted by receiver Gabe Hagen’s juggling TD reception that ended up on ESPN SportsCenter’s Plays of the Day. Hagen scored three TDs in the title game.
5. LOURDES SOFTBALL CLAIMS CROWN
Led by a talented senior class, Rochester Lourdes finally broke through and won the program’s first section softball championship, earning its first-ever trip to the state tournament. The Eagles took advantage of their opportunity, winning two close games to open the tournament, then rolling past Norwood-Young America 10-1 in the final. Lourdes was led by First Team All-State first baseman Katie Virgin, who hit .468 with four homers and 41 RBIs. Senior pitcher Anna Taylor was a force in the circle, too, setting program records for wins (25), ERA (1.46), strikeouts (182) and innings pitched (178) in a season.
6. Stewartville volleyball team reigns again: Stewartville returned to power and captured the Section 1AA title and a state-tournament berth after a three-year absence. The Tigers seized the moment, winning a nail-biting five-set match against North Branch in the state final. The Tigers featured two Division I hitters: Kaitlyn Prondzinski (Illinois State) and Erin Lamb (Kentucky).
7. Wingers dominate the golf course: Red Wing senior Leah Herzog was named Minnesota Ms. Golf, classmate Sophia Yoemans won her second straight individual state title and the Wingers captured the state team championship. Red Wing’s Cecil Belisle won the boys individual state title and long-time girls coach Mark Herzog retired from coaching after 29 years.
8. Morken joins an elite club: Lonnie Morken has built Mabel-Canton into a volleyball powerhouse. He joined an elite group this year, becoming just the fifth coach in state history to record 700 victories. Win No. 700 came at the Decorah (Iowa) Invitational on Sept. 28. M-C finished 34-3, and Morken holds a 713-133 career record.
9. Sweet season for Johnston, SDSU: Pine Island native Aaron Johnston turned his most masterful coaching job of his 19 seasons at South Dakota State in 2018-19, guiding the Jackrabbits to their first-ever NCAA Division I Sweet 16 appearance. He has led SDSU to the national tournament nine times and has a 478-162 record at SDSU.
10. Kennedy goes viral: An innocent, comical "instructional" video about hitting "guaranteed dingers" turned Kasson-Mantorville graduate and MSU, Mankato softball catcher Cori Kennedy into a social media celebrity. Kennedy’s humor has been a hit with softball players and fans nation-wide. She has gone from 1,000 Twitter followers this spring to nearly 30,000.
11. Deaths of Raymond, Moore, Kangas: The southeastern Minnesota sports community lost some greats in 2019. Longtime Legion and high school baseball coach Keith Kangas passed away. Kangas, who guided the Rochester A’s to a national American Legion title in 2003, died at age 62 in March. Former Kasson-Mantorville basketball standout Braxton Raymond died in October after a 14-month battle against a brain tumor. Boxer Freddie Moore, who was the 10th-ranked light-heavyweight in the world at one point in his career, died in December at age 52.
12. Perfect Ten at state wrestling: TEN area wrestlers won state individual championships at the Xcel Energy Center in March: Carlos Ruffo (145 pounds), Bennett Berge (160) and Patrick Kennedy (182) from Kasson-Mantorville; Jeron Matson (120), Seth Brossard (152) and Tyler Ryan (160) from Kenyon-Wanamingo; Jackson Hale (GMLOS, 132 pounds); Mark Buringa (St. Charles, 138); Kyle Cavanaugh (Caledonia/Houston, 145); and Mike Nelson (Dover-Eyota, 195 pounds).
13. Banner year in SpamTown: It started in late March when the Austin High girls basketball team upset Red Wing in the Section 1AAA semifinals then beat Northfield to get to state. The Packers boys followed a week later, winning the section title then placing third at state. In June, the AHS baseball team reached state for the first time since 1990, where it placed third. Then the Austin Legion baseball team beat the Rochester Patriots in late July to qualify for the state tournament.
14. K-M’s streak snapped: Kasson-Mantorville’s wrestling team has been as dominant in recent years as a high school program could be. K-M was likely one of the top two teams in the state again last year but the other top team — Simley — is in the same section. Simley edged the three-time defending state champ KoMets 30-23 in the Section 1AA final to halt K-M’s impressive win streak at 98 duals.
15. Champs on the track: Southeastern Minnesota once again churned out numerous state track and field champions in 2019. They included girls relay teams from GMLOKS (4x200) and Rochester Lourdes (4x100); Kyler Bade of P-E-M (400); Peyton Gunnarson (Lewiston-Altura, 100 wheelchair); Lauren Ping (Cotter, 3200); Grace Ping (Cotter, 1600) and Annie Wendt (Rochester Mayo, long jump).
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OTHER TOP STORIES OF 2019
• More than 30 youth hockey players and parents gathered at the outdoor rink at Mike Burman’s home in northwestern Rochester in the early morning hours of Jan. 31 to attempt to get into the Guiness Book of World Records for coldest hockey game ever played. The official temperature at game time (5 a.m.): minus-30 degrees with a wind chill of minus-44.
• The Rochester Lourdes girls hockey team won its first-ever Section 1A championship and placed sixth at the state tournament.
• Kenyon-Wanamingo won the Section 1A wrestling team championship and finished as the Class A state runner-up.
• JM grad Marcus Sherels’ nine-year run with the Minnesota Vikings came to an end. Sherels signed with New Orleans as a free agent, but returned to the Vikings for a short time in September and October before being released. He signed with Miami and spent five games with the Dolphins.
• Rochester Mayo swimmer Grant Reeves placed second at Class AA state meet in the 200 IM and he helped the Spartans’ medley relay team place second in the state.
• Girls basketball teams from Caledonia (Class AA) and Goodhue (A) finished as state runners-up.
• Spring Grove won its first-ever Section 1A boys basketball championship and earned its first trip to the state tournament, where it finished third.
• It was another successful year for the Rochester Raiders adapted athletics teams. The Raiders qualified for the state tournaments in floor hockey (fourth place), softball (state runner-up) and soccer (third place).
• For a seventh consecutive season Lakeville North topped Rochester John Marshall in the Section 1AAAA boys basketball final. In April the Minnesota State High School league re-aligned sections for the next two school years and moved North out of Section 1.
• Former Red Wing stars Nicole Schammel and Taylor Heise were two of the top three scorers for the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team that finished 32-6-1 and national runner-up. Schammel led the team in assists (31) and points (47), while Heise was third in points (35).
• The Rochester Grizzlies had a successful inaugural season, going 32-15-1 and qualifying for the NA3HL playoffs under then-head coach Casey Mignone. The Grizzlies are 21-5-1 this season and leading the NA3HL West Division under first-year head coach Chris Ratzloff and assistant Mike Aikens.
• The Rochester Quarterbacks Club inducted a star-studded class: Guy Gosselin, Coco and Kelly Miller, Michael Restovich, Dan Borcherding, and Ed Rauen.
• Rochester Century graduate Jessie Aney announced that, after her Division I college tennis career at North Carolina concluded in May, she would transfer to the University of Connecticut to play Division I hockey for the Huskies.
• Rochester John Marshall graduate Dane Fischer, 39 at the time, was named head coach of men’s basketball team at William & Mary, a Division I school in Williamsburg, Va.
• Former Austin Bruins hockey players Jake Kielly, Nico Sturm and Josh Wilkins signed contracts with NHL teams after their college careers ended. Sturm signed with the Minnesota Wild organization, Kielly with the Vancouver Canucks and Wilkins with the Nashville Predators.
• The Rochester Honkers started their first season under new ownership. President Chris Goodell and GM Jay Fanta introduces themselves — and some changes to game times, food options and seating options — in early February. On the field, the Honkers went 38-34 and challenged for a Great Plains West Division title.
• Rochester United FC opened its inaugural season in the Women’s Premier Soccer League.
• Kasson-Mantoville qualified for the first-ever boys volleyball state tournament.
• Hayfield won the Section 1A baseball championship and earned its first trip to the state baseball tournament, where it placed fifth.
• Millville’s Alex Martin and Rochester’s Henry Miller turned in their best performances as professionals during the annual Spring Creek MX Park pro motocross nationals near Millville. Martin finished second overall in the 250 class, while placed ninth overall in the 450 class. Cooper Webb (450) and Adam Cianciarulo (250) won the overalls.
• Med City FC qualified for the National Premier Soccer Leaguel playoffs for first time the franchise’s three-year history.
• Rochester John Marshall graduate Chris Ratzloff was named as the second head coach in Rochester Grizzlies franchise history. Assistant coach Mike Aikens chose to remain on the team’s staff.
• Kasson’s Travis Wiuff, who works for the Kasson-Mantorville School District and is an assitant wrestling coach at K-M, fought in 100th career mixed martial arts bout.
• Rochester Lourdes boys golf head coach Chris Miller stepped down after two decades with the program.
• The RCTC volleyball held No. 1 ranking in the country for multiple weeks. The Yellowjackets finished fourth in the national tournament.
• Lacking enough players, the RCTC women’s basketball team calls off its 2019-20 season. Head coach Jason Bonde expects to put a team on the court in 2020-21.
• Rochester Century track and field standout Sam Amusan committed to continue his career at the University of Wisconsin.
• Winona’s talented senior class concluded a four-year stretch in which the Winhawks went 43-5, reached the state semifinals three times and the Prep Bowl once. The Winhawks’ season ended with a loss to Rocori in the state semifinals.
• Rochester native Maddox Fleming, the only 2022-graduation date on the top boys hockey team at Shattuck St. Mary’s, was named to the U.S. roster for the Youth Olympic Games roster in Switzerland in January. Rochester native Guy Gosselin was named an assistant coach for the U.S. team.
• Winona defensive end Aaron Witt officially signed to play college football at the University of WIsconsin. Witt was a 2019 Minnesota Mr. Football finalist and a First Team All-State player.
• Rochester Century repeated as the champion of the annual Kiwanis Festival boys hockey tournament at Graham Arena.