Another year is coming to an end. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, and not just because it was Christmas, and New Year’s is coming up. It’s one of my favorite times of the year because I get a chance to look back on the last year and realize how many great teams, athletes, moments, and achievements have happened throughout the last calendar year.
Being a sports editor that covers four high schools all on my own, I have the habit of getting through one week of coverage, and then moving right on into putting together the next week’s paper. There’s so much going on that you really don’t have much time to to look back and see what you all did.
That’s what I like about this time of year. It’s been a crazy year, as I’ve taken on more responsibilities with the Delano Herald Journal and Dassel-Cokato Enterprise-Dispatch. Things tend to slow down a bit here in the sports world due to the holidays, and it gives me a chance to look back on a fun year in the world of high school sports.
I absolutely love what I do and I really enjoy looking back at all the coverage from the past year and finding the 10 best moments, games, or performances throughout the year. It’s incredibly tough to narrow it down to just 10, with many great teams and athletes in the area. The best part of this gig is that those talented athletes and coaches are even better people than they are athletes and coaches. I find myself lucky to get to cover you, and I thank you all for following along and look forward to even more coverage in 2019.
With all that being said, let’s get to the good stuff. The following is the 2018 Top-10 sports moments in the Herald Journal coverage area.
10. Rivalry games
It might be a broad subject, but anytime two of the area teams get together, it’s always a fun atmosphere. Whether it’s Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted and Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, or Mayer Lutheran and Watertown-Mayer, anytime those four schools face off against each is something that is truly special.
It’s the atmosphere, as both sides of the court or field are packed with fans of all ages. It’s knowing that these kids know each other really well, and will give that extra bit of effort in order to gain bragging rights.
I absolutely love when two of those four schools play each other, because you never truly know what might happen. They give it their all in front of a loud crowd, and that’s what it’s all about.
9. HLWW boys track and field
2018 was the year of magical seasons for area teams. The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted boys track and field team had one of their own. The Lakers won the Section 4A True Team for the second time in three years, but this time, it was all together.
When the Lakers won it in 2016, they did so without their teammate, Gavin Krtizeck, who was injured in a car accident. Fast forward to 2018, and the Lakers won the title once again, with Kritzeck helping claim the title alongside his teammates.
It was a cool moment to see Kritzeck competing once again and then celebrating with his teammates. I was fairly new to the area when Krtizeck was injured, but his story and resilience still sticks with me today. It was a great moment seeing him hold that section trophy, knowing everything he went through to get back to that moment with his teammates alongside him.
8. Orphans get hot at the right time
It was an up-and-down season throughout for the Howard Lake Orphans baseball team. Despite all the struggles midway through the season, the Orphans got hot at the right time, making another state tournament appearance in exciting fashion.
It was an impressive feat by the Orphans just to make the Region 12C tournament in 2018. They needed to string together some wins, while also getting help from other teams in the league. In the end, they snuck in as the No. 7 seed to keep their hopes alive of reaching the state tournament.
After falling to Hutchinson in the first round of the Region 12C tournament in tough fashion, the Orphans rallied for back-to-back wins over Buffalo and Loretto to claim a spot in the Class C State tournament.
The run ultimately came to an end for the Orphans in the first round of the state tournament, but the way they played their best ball down the stretch against tough teams to make it there was impressive and fun to watch.
The Orphans are a team on the rise in the North Star League with a ton of young talent coming up through the ranks.
7. Leadership and character of the HLWW football team
The HLWW football team did not win a single game this season. In fact, they didn’t even play in a game that was determined by less than 20 points. Why are they on this list?
The answer to that question is easy. Despite not winning a single game, and in all reality, not being very close to winning a game all season, the character of the seniors on the team was remarkable.
These kids were playing in their final season of high school football for the rest of their lives. With several younger players being forced to step in due to low numbers, the Lakers struggled all season long. Instead of blaming the younger and inexperienced players, who made mistakes, the seniors on that team blew my mind. They were encouraging. They were supportive. It was refreshing to see, and honestly, it impressed me to see the character these kids had while down multiple touchdowns every game in their final season of high school football. It’s kids like them that make this job so enjoyable. It’s not always about wins. It’s about doing the right thing and playing for the love of the game. Kudos to those young men once again.
6. HLWW wrestling has hard work pay off
The wrestling program at HLWW has not been the gold standard in years past. That doesn’t mean they can’t be someday.
After years of struggling seasons, the Lakers came into the 2017-2018 season with two goals. Get to eight wins, and reach the final four of the section tournament.
While those goals were set high for HLWW, they reached them thanks to their hard work. In the Section 4A quarterfinals, HLWW defeated Norwood Young America 40-34, to advance to the final four, and accomplish their goal.
I didn’t get to as many wrestling events as I wanted to last season, but I made sure to get to this one. I wanted to see if the Lakers could reach their goal, and they sure did.
It was a cool moment to see how they progressed throughout the season, got better, and accomplished their goal. HLWW coach Joe Puncochar has the program headed in the right direction, and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see the Lakers back in the section final four this season once again.
5. Crusaders leave a legacy
The Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team had all the talent in the world coming into the 2017-2018 season. They were one of the top-ranked teams in Class A all season long, and under Pat Buchanan’s first year as head coach, the Crusaders did something no other team in school history has done, even the ones I was on.
Mayer Lutheran advanced to the Class A state tournament for the first time since 2000, and just the second time in school history. In their final two wins in the Section 2A tournament, the Crusaders won both games by a total of four points. A shot here or there, and the Crusaders would have missed the state tournament.
It was incredible to watch, as Section 2A was one of the most talented sections in any class last season. Each game brought huge crowds and big games, and there’s nothing like postseason high school hoops.
In the end, reaching the goal of a state title came up just short, but the Crusaders capped off the best season in school history with a third-place finish. As a former player at Mayer Lutheran, it was really cool to be along for the ride and see all those games throughout the year. It’s been a long time since Mayer Lutheran got to showcase what they could do at the state tournament, and it was a joy to be there for it this time.
4. Royals shine at state meet
One of the coolest and most unique events throughout the year is the state gymnastics tournament. The Watertown-Mayer team was back once again, and this past year, they put on a show.
The Royals took second place, finishing just behind Detroit Lakes, which has been at the top of Class A for several years now. On the biggest stage, the Royals put together one of their best performances ever, to take second place.
If you’ve never been to the state gymnastics tournament, I suggest you try it once. It’s different than anything else you may have seen. While all eight teams are competing against each other, there’s a common sense of togetherness that is truly unique. Whether it’s the teams entering for the parade of champions, or each team cheering loudly for each other when results are announced, it’s a special scene to take in.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Royals put on a show, and it wound’t surprise me one bit to see them back there again in 2019.
3. LP/HT’s run to state
When each season begins, I usually take a good look at what teams I think may be able to make a run to the state tournament. When football season came around, I can honestly say that I did not plan on covering LP/HT football at the state tournament this season, and that’s just one of the reason why high school sports are the best.
It was incredible to watch how the Bulldogs came together and made a run to remember. Although more experienced now, these were mostly the same kids who lost their first-round playoff game at home the past two seasons.
That group of seniors rallied their team together at the right time, and made an impressive run that was fun to watch and cover. Beating rival Mayer Lutheran twice in one season was impressive, but the Bulldogs took care of business in the section title game against Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, as well.
As I have said in previous editions of this paper, it was simply a run to remember, and one of the best times I’ve had covering high school football.
2. HLWW girls cross country makes history
It’s a sport that doesn’t get as much attention or credit as it deserves. What the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted girls cross country team did this season was simply remarkable.
The Lakers took second place at the Class A meet, capping off an incredible season in which they dominated the competition. To end the season, the Lakers won their last three meets heading into the state meet, where they took second.
After making school history, the Lakers got the recognition they deserved as they were introduced and honored between the boys’ and girls’ basketball games between HLWW and Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity Dec. 20.
1. The Shot (Cole Hagen)
It’s something every kid dreams about when they think of basketball. Whether it’s messing around in the driveway or laying in bed dreaming of hoops glory, hitting a game-winning shot is as good as it gets.
For Mayer Lutheran’s Cole Hagen, it couldn’t have come at a better spot or on a bigger stage. Hagen’s buzzer-beater to send the Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team to the state tournament for the first time since 2000 is the top sports moment in 2018 for many reasons. A game-winning shot might be enough reason to be No. 1, but it also knocked off the No. 1 ranked team in the state to send Mayer Lutheran to the state tournament.
To add even more to the moment, it couldn’t have happened to a better kid. After missing two months of the season and dealing with injuries all season long, for Hagen to hit that shot was something I’ll never forget. The patience he showed all season long to be ready for that moment and to deliver in the clutch is incredible. It’s a moment that wasn’t only the best moment, in my opinion, this year, it’s one of the best I’m sure I’ll ever see in my sports writing career.
The video of that shot comes across my computer once in a while and each time I watch it, I still get chills. The moment, atmosphere, and celebration was an incredible moment to take in and one I will never forget.
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter.