A YEAR IN REVIEW: A look at the top moments of the 2019 sports season

Another year has come to an end. 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 who 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 look back and see what you did.

At this time of year, 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. 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. I thank you all for following along, and I look forward to even more coverage in 2020.

With all that being said, let’s get to the good stuff. The following is the 2019 Top-10 sports moments in the Herald Journal coverage area.

(10) Tjernagel and Lade hit career milestones

Hitting a career milestone is always a special moment for a high school athlete. Having all your hard work pay off in a great moment is something that I always try to make sure I highlight.

It’s been fun to see how many athletes have reached career milestones this past year, but it was even more special to see Mayer Lutheran’s Olivia Tjernagel and Emma Lade hit career milestones in the same match.

As Mayer Lutheran took on Concordia Academy, Tjernagel and Lade both entered the match on the verge of reaching career milestones. Tjernagel recorded her 1,000th career kill, while Lade recorded her 1,000th career assist in Mayer Lutheran’s thrilling 3-2 win.

It was special to see two talented athletes hit career milestones in the same match. It was also cool to see Tjernagel get the kill on Lade’s 1000th career assist.

(9) W-M gymnastics goes to state for a fifth-straight year

One of the most dominant teams in the area in recent years has been the Watertown-Mayer/Mound Westonka gymnastics team. After dominating the Section 5A meet, the Royals reached the Class A state meet once again, for the fifth year in a row, in 2019.

The Royals posted a team score of 145.55 to win the Section 5A title. That was more than 12 points better than second-place finisher Delano who posted a score of 133.80.

W-M/MW was led in 2019 by seniors Ailsa Gilbert, Teagan Schmidt, and Taylor Hix. While those key athletes are gone this season, the Royals bring back plenty of talent that has them searching for a sixth-straight state meet appearance in 2020.

(8) Tjernagel plays for Team USA

Representing your high school is always a big thing for high school athletes. Representing your country is even more impressive. Mayer Lutheran’s Olivia Tjernagel had the luxury of both because of her volleyball skills.

Tjernagel, one of the top players in the state, had the opportunity to train and play with the USA Junior A1 team. She got the chance to play with and against some of the top players in the country and the world leading up to her senior season.

Playing with and against great players from all over the country had Tjernagel ready for her senior year. She reached the 1,000 career kills milestone and helped lead the Crusaders to the Section 2A title game once again.

(7) HLWW girls cross country takes 3rd at state

It was reload, not rebuild for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted girls cross country team in 2019. After making program history in 2018, with a second-place finish at the Class A state meet, the Lakers were just as impressive in 2019.

Despite losing two key runners in Gwen Helgeson and Erin Brabec, the Lakers not only got back to the state meet again but finished on the podium again with a third-place finish.

It was fun to see what the Lakers did after losing two huge pieces from last year’s team. They worked hard throughout the season, and it all paid off on the state’s biggest stage.

“I don’t think many people thought that a podium finish was possible for us this year,  being that we lost two key contributors (Gwen and Erin) from last year’s team,” senior Gracie Mallak said. “It was awesome to see our hard work pay off on the big stage”

(6) Noennig becomes school’s all-time leading scorer

Getting 1,000 career points is pretty impressive for any high school basketball player. Being the school’s all-time leading scorer is taking it to a whole other level.

Mayer Lutheran senior Baden Noennig became the school’s all-time leading scorer Feb. 9 with 22 points in a win against Belle Plaine.

Noennig has been around Mayer Lutheran basketball for nearly his whole life. Becoming the all-time leading scorer was just one of the goals he’s had since he was little.

“Being the leading scorer of all time at Mayer has been a dream of mine since I was young,” Noennig said. “Especially, since all of my siblings went to Mayer, as well. I couldn’t have done it without all of the amazing teammates I’ve had around me throughout the years, my coaches, fans, and my family. I will never forget my years playing at this high school, and I enjoyed every minute of it. We aren’t done yet, though, because we have a bigger goal ahead of us to achieve.”

(5) Radtke’s 1,000th point comes on a special night

Sports have a way of creating special moments. That was the case for Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity’s Marissa Radtke when she scored her 1,000th career point.

Thanks to a big night, Radtke reached the career milestone on a special night. It was her late grandmother’s birthday. While Radtke misses her grandmother for sure, she knows for certain that she was in that gym to witness her reach a career milestone.

“It’s always been a dream of mine,” Radtke said.  “It’s my grandma’s birthday. She’s always been my biggest supporter. It was really cool to get it tonight. She’s definitely here. She’s up in heaven, but she was definitely here. I just thought it was so cool to do it tonight.”

(4) Paige Thibault’s impressive week

It was a week to remember for Watertown-Mayer’s Paige Thibault. The University of Virginia commit recorded her 1,000th career kill against Dassel-Cokato Sept. 19. Just five days later, Thibault picked up her 1,000th career dig in a 3-0 sweep over Norwood Young America.

“It was a very special moment,” Thibault said. “It’s crazy to think I’ve already reached 1,000 kills. I was also very fortunate that I got to share my moment with my sister because she had the assist on my 1000th kill. After I hit my 1000th kill, the team went insane and ran onto the court to congratulate me. It’s an awesome feeling when you get recognized for all of your hard work. It was definitely special. Moments like that can’t be recreated. I am very lucky to have experienced this milestone with my team. It’s nice to get recognized for the hard work you put in. I have an awesome team. They’re just so supportive. It means a lot.”

(3) Gold for Gilbert

There’s no better way to wrap up a high school career than by winning a state title. That’s what Watertown-Mayer’s Ailsa Gilbert accomplished in her final season as a Royal.

Gilbert wrapped up her high school sports career by winning the state title in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 15.09 seconds.

“It feels amazing,” Gilbert said. “Crossing the finish line with no one in front of me today was the best feeling. It was awesome.”

It was Gilbert’s second career state title after winning the triple jump a season before. While she is certainly sad that her high school career was over, she’ll always remember the experiences she’s had.

“It’s sad that it’s over, but it was a good time,” Gilbert said. “I made a lot of memories. I’ve accomplished a lot of goals. It’s set me up for my future, and I’m just really thankful I was able to be a Royal and was given these opportunities by my coaches and by my school.”

(2) HLWW football snaps losing streak

It had been 728 days since the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted football team had won a game. It was time for that streak to end.

Despite losing their last 18 games, the Lakers came with some confidence into their matchup with Concordia Academy in the first round of the Section 4AA tournament. They left even more confident as the Lakers used a quick start to help them pull off the upset in a 26-7 victory over second-seeded Concordia Academy.

“The bus ride was great,” HLWW coach Ben Anderson said about the excitement of his team. “The boys were emotionally and physically drained.  Our motto all year has been, ‘Anchors Up’.  To our guys, that means to keep moving in the right direction.  Ninety-nine percent of teams would have gone into that game expecting to lose. Our guys have hung together long enough to see each others’ improvement.  That improvement is what gave us confidence the last few weeks.  The first thing the coaches told the boys is how proud they are of them.  What they have endured the last two seasons demonstrates the type of character these young men have.  Rather than finding excuses, the players and coaches searched for answers.”

It’s been a long time coming for the Lakers. At long last, the losing streak was over. Coming into their first-round matchup of the Section 4AA tournament, the Lakers had lost 18-straight games. That didn’t bother them one bit, and they came in confident.

Good things happen to those who work hard. The HLWW football team knew that, and now they are no longer the team that has a huge losing streak. They were the team that was one win away from playing for a section title.

(1) Brady Harnung delivers game-winner

Sometimes, special moments and stories write themselves. That was the case for my number-one sports moment in 2019. It was even more special because I wasn’t even supposed to be there.

I was on my way home after a long day of work when I saw that the lights were on for the Mayer Lutheran boys’ soccer team. They were opening their section tournament against Maranatha Christian, and I decided to stop and cover the game. It proved to be an instant classic.

Regulation and overtime were not enough for the two teams as the game would come down to a shootout with the season on the line.

As both teams prepared for the shootout, I noticed senior Brady Harnung having a moment with his older brother, TJ, before taking the field. The two were in an embrace as only brothers can do, and I can only imagine the words that were shared between the two.

Harnung then took the field for the shootout as Maranatha Christian Academy had the first shot. Harnung made the save on the first shot attempt he faced, but the Mustangs found the back of the net on their next two attempts.

Through three rounds, the Crusaders trailed Maranatha 2-1. That’s when Harnung seized the opportunity.

A save by Harnung on Maranatha’s fourth attempt gave the Crusaders life. The Crusaders took advantage as they tied things up at two with a goal of their own, leaving one shot left for each team.

Needing just one more save to keep his high school career going and his team’s season alive, Harnung came through. His third save of the shootout gave Mayer Lutheran’s next shooter a chance to win it. Who was the next shooter? None other than Harnung himself.

As Harnung put the ball down on the grass for Mayer Lutheran’s final kick in the shootout, the student section was going crazy. As Harnung stepped away from the ball to get ready, he calmly told the student section to quiet down. They did just that, but not for long.

Harnung found the back of the net for the game-winner, completing the comeback for Mayer Lutheran in dramatic fashion.

As the ball found the back of the net, Harnung let out a scream of joy, only to be mauled by his teammates, coaches, and peers, as this was his moment.

I wasn’t supposed to be there. I already did my job for the night. I was ready to head home and possibly get to bed at a decent time for once. That didn’t happen, and I’m forever thankful.

Sports are a special thing. I’ll never forget that, and I’ll never forget what I saw that night – only because the lights were still on as I drove home.

HONORABLE MENTION

I’ll admit it. I couldn’t narrow it down to just 10 sports moments this year. There have been so many great moments.

As I went back through all the issues of the Herald Journal from 2019, I had more than 20 moments, games, or performances written down. So with that being said, here are a few more awesome sports moments that happened in the area in 2019.

Cologne Hollanders’ state tournament run

The only reason this one wasn’t in the top 10 is that it’s a little bit out of my coverage area. If it were a bit more local, it definitely would be near the top.

Herald Journal is your go-to source for the Crow River Valley League baseball teams, and the Cologne Hollanders are included in that. What the Hollanders did this season was something special for sure.

It had been 47 years since the Hollanders had played in a state tournament. That streak would end in 2019.

After one of their best regular seasons in a very long time, the Cologne Hollanders punched a ticket to the Class C state tournament after taking third place at the Region 7C Tournament. The run didn’t end there.

The Hollanders opened state tournament play against the Hadley Buttermakers. They won that game 5-2 for their first-ever state tournament win. Even then, the run didn’t end there.

They kept the magical run going with another win, this time a 2-0 win over perennial powerhouse, Nisswa. The win sent the Hollanders to the final weekend, a moment any team in the state strives for each and every year,

Cologne’s run ultimately came to an end in the Sweet 16 with a 4-2 loss to Bemidji, but that doesn’t take away from their magical season.

The Hollanders were a team people loved to rally around. They played hard. They played the right way. People took notice. Even Star Tribune’s Pat Reusse developed a soft spot in his heart for the Hollanders, putting them in the well-deserved spotlight with stories only he could tell.

With a new scoreboard at a beautiful field ready for 2020, I can only imagine how many more fans the Hollanders will have on their side next year after their success in 2019. I ask just one thing – save me some cheese curds.

Cody Dickhausen has a round to remember

Sometimes, high school golf gets overlooked, but there’s no way this moment from HLWW’s Cody Dickhausen could be left off the list. It’s something I would love to do just once in my life, and he did it twice in one round.

Dickhausen and the Lakers were taking part in a nine-hole round at Prairie View Golf Course April 26. He shot a 41, but that’s not what stands out. Not once, but twice, Dickhausen holed out on a Par 4 from just over 100 yards out to record two eagles in nine holes.

His impressive shots and a round of 41 helped moved the Lakers into third place in the Central MN Conference standings.

Fox 9 comes to Memorial Park

Going back to amateur baseball, the Howard Lake Orphans had a special visitor for their game against the Cokato Kernels June 19. Fox 9 News was in the house as part of their Town Ball Tour, which gave the Orphans and the town of Howard Lake a chance to showcase their team and community.

It was very cool to see how many people showed up for the game. I’m sure many people came out to the park while recording the broadcast at home. As part of their Town Ball Tour, Fox 9 broadcasted live from Memorial Park and shared stories about the Orphans, Howard Lake, and community members that tie those two together.

It was fun to see the Orphans and their park be showcased like that. It’s one of my favorite parks I’ve been to, and I find myself lucky to take in a bunch of games their every summer.

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