The end of the year 2017 is closing in on us, and what a memorable year it was in the world of prep sports in the area.
Whether it was state titles and state tournament appearances, or individual accomplishments; whether it was thrilling games, or movements and stories that reminded us all that it’s more than a game, there were so many great moments from the year in the area.
Here’s a look at 10 of the best moments captured by the Herald Journal sports department.
10. MALLAK OVERCOMES INJURIES FOR STATE MEET BID
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted’s Gracie Mallak has become one of the top runners in the area. The sophomore already had one state meet appearance when the Lakers went as a team in 2016, and despite a season filled with injuries in 2017, Mallak managed to get back their once again, even with her struggles all season long.
At the Class A state meet, Mallak tool 26th place overall, just missing her goal of making All-State.
Returning as a junior next season, you can count on seeing Mallak back at the state meet once again, and hopefully this time, it will be with her teammates Gwen Helgeson, Erin Brabec, Brooke Baumann, Danielle Wood, and Katelyn Routhier.
9. ROYALS, CARDINALS BATTLE IN SECTION 5AA SEMIFINALS
Anytime the Annandale Cardinals and Watertown-Mayer Royals meet in boys’ basketball, it’s always a treat. After splitting their pair of games in the regular season, Trae Berhow and the Royals met up with the Cardinals for one last game in the Section 5AA semifinals.
Their previous two matchups did not disappoint, and headed in their playoff matchup, I thought those previous two games would be tough to top. Boy, was I wrong.
In triple overtime, the Cardinals came away with an 82-76 victory in an absolute thriller. It was one of the most exciting games I’ve seen in a long time, and watching those two rivals go at it was something to be seen.
8. HLWW FOOTBALL UPSETS NO. 2 CONCORDIA ACADEMY
It was a long and tough season in a stacked district for the HLWW football team this season. Going just 1-7 in the regular season, the Lakers were forced to hit the road and take on second-seeded Concordia Academy in the first round of the Section 4AA playoffs.
That was just fine for the Lakers, as they pulled off the upset with a 20-16 victory led by quarterback Brennan Barth.
Despite just winning three games in the regular season that past two seasons, it was the second-straight season the Lakers won a playoff game.
7. AREA TRACKSTERS COMPETE AT STATE MEET
When it comes to track and field, there’s no shortage of talent in the area between HLWW, Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, Watertown-Mayer, and Mayer Lutheran.
Between the four schools, there were five athletes competing at the Class A meet as individuals.
Mallak represented HLWW, while Tyarra English-Paulson and Ailsa Gilbert were representing W-M. Mayer Lutheran also had a pair of athletes competing, Cole Hagen and Rebecca Manteuffel.
All five athletes found success, including Paulson, who came away with the title in the 300-meter hurdles.
6. ROYALS KNOCK OFF DELANO FOR SECTION 5AA TITLE
The last time the Watertown-Mayer volleyball team went to state, head coach Andrea Raser was in a uniform. The Royals changed that this season as they knocked off rival Delano in the Section 5AA title game in a thrilling five-set match.
Advancing to the Class AA state volleyball tournament, the Royals didn’t win a match, but with a core group of girls returning next year, the Royals are one of the favorites to claim the Section 5AA title once again.
5. CRUSADERS BATTLE KIMBALL IN SECTION 4A SOFTBALL TITLE GAME
With school out, the Mayer Lutheran softball team was busy trying to clinch their first state softball tournament appearance in school history.
Entering the seventh and final inning in a scoreless game, it was the Kimball Cubs who came up with the walk-off hit to advance to the state and end an impressive season for the Crusaders. With multiple key players returning for Mayer Lutheran this upcoming spring, look for them to be extra hungry to make school history this time around.
4. MAYER LUTHERAN FOOTBALL REACHES STATE SEMIFINALS
The Minneapolis North Polars have been a thorn in the side of the Mayer Lutheran football team the past three years. With the Polars out of the picture, the Crusaders took full advantage as they dominated Section 4A tournament to reach their first state tournament appearance in football since 2012.
The Crusaders didn’t stop there, though. Instead of being like the previous five teams that lost in the state quarterfinals, the Crusaders made their own legacy, knocking off No. 1 ranked Goodhue in the quarterfinals in convincing fashion.
The ride ultimately came to an end in the Class A semifinals against Minneota, but not before the Crusaders made school history with an impressive season.
3. WATERTOWN-MAYER GIRLS BASKETBALL MAKES HISTORY
Throughout the years of the Watertown-Mayer girls’ basketball program, there’s been great teams and great players.
No team can say they’re better than the 2016-17 team that took third place at the Class AA state tournament, a school history best.
Between Clair Killian, Kirstin Klitzke, and Monika Czinano, along with other key players who are making their names known this season, the Royals capped off one of the best seasons in school history with an exciting win against rival New London-Spicer to take third place at the Class AA state tournament.
2. GAVIN KRITZECK RETURNS STRONGER THAN EVER
If you ever need inspiration about overcoming the odds, look no further than HLWW’s Gavin Kritzeck. The now-senior overcame the odds of being severely hurt in a car accident, to being the leader once again for the HLWW track and field team.
This year, Kritzeck returns as a senior and will be looking to reach his ultimate goal of getting to the state meet, something he came up just short of last season.
1. CRUSADERS REPEAT AS CLASS A CHAMPIONS
There’s only word to describe the Mayer Lutheran volleyball team, it’s dominant.
The Crusaders posted a record 32-2 this season on their way to winning back-to-back Class A titles.
Who were those two losses against? Maple Lake, the Class AA champion, and Eagan, the Class AAA runner-up. Not too shabby.
There’s no doubt the senior class of Maddy Hucky, Mya Chmielewski, Sophie Heuer, Nicole Klaustermeier, Madi Beck, Lauren Wandersee, Martina Saulsbury, Haley Rowher, and Mallory Kuntz have left their mark on program history. In the past two seasons, they’ve posted a record of 61-8, and back-to-back state titles. Not impressed?
Along with that overall record and accomplishments, the Crusaders have just three sets in postseason play the last two years on their way to two state titles, including going a perfect 27-for-27 in sets won on the way to the title in 2017.
It’s been a fantastic year for prep sports in the area, and I look forward to another fun year in 2018, and being able to share the stories along the way. Until then, always remember it’s more than a game.
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