The year 2020 will be one to remember for several reasons. Of course, the main reason is the global pandemic going on that seems it will trickle into 2021.
High school sports were no stranger to the changes and craziness that this pandemic touched. From not having a spring sports season to all the changes that have affected the fall and winter sports season, it’s been a crazy year to be a sports editor for sure.
I started this year by covering four schools by myself. Then I added two more schools in Dassel-Cokato and Delano as Brad Salmen and Matt Kane stepped down from their positions. That left six schools to cover by myself and that was a challenge. It was a challenge I welcomed. I always knew what was going on with D-C and Delano sports with doing layout for all the sports sections, but it’s been fun to be directly involved in the coverage. Still, six schools to cover by myself was a lot to handle.
Being a sports editor is the best job I could ask for. I truly enjoy trying to find the stories that go beyond the stats and the games themselves. Over the past 5+ years as sports editor for the Herald Journal, I’ve been able to develop some awesome relationships with players, coaches, and athletic directors in the area. I look forward to continuing that in 2021, especially with the D-C and Delano communities.
Covering six schools can be a lot for just two guys. We sometimes 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 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. This year is different. We’re eagerly awaiting the start of the winter sports season as the season has been put on hold by the pandemic.
Each year around this time I take the time to look back on the past year of coverage. This year is even more important for that. Instead of looking back and remembering all that was taken away or lost, it’s important to look back on all the memories that were made.
I want to thank everyone for following along with this crazy year of sports coverage and I hope you continue to do so in 2021. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the top high school sports moments from the past year.
D-C’s Abfalter wins all-around at Maple Lake
Dassel-Cokato got back in the gym for competition when it took a short road trip to Maple Lake.
Maple Lake gymnasts claimed wins in three of the four events, but Dassel-Cokato’s Lauren Abfalter was the top all-around gymnast.
Abfalter scored a meet-high 32.075 points. She was the vault winner with an 8.90. That was the high score of the meet.
In her other three events, Abfalter scored a 7.275 in bars; a 7.8 in balance beam; and an 8.1 in floor exercise.
Marquardt closes the door in LDC’s shutout of Luverne
Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato Senior Cade Marquardt made 17 saves on 17 shots faced for Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato Feb. 1 to earn the shutout win over visiting Luverne. The skaters in front of Marquardt provided plenty of offense in the Dragons’ 7-0 win at the Litchfield Civic Arena.
Marquardt didn’t see much ice time this season, but he has looked good lately. He made 49 saves Jan. 31 in the Dragons’ 5-4 home win over Bloomington Kennedy, and made 34 saves Tuesday night in a 4-1 home loss to Monticello.
For the most part, the Dragon skaters kept the pressure off their goaltender, instead of putting it on Luverne goalie Colton Schutz, to the tune of 50 shots.
Schutz made 43 saves, including 16 in the first period to keep the game scoreless after one.
LDC got to Schutz for four goals in the second and three in the third.
Zach Zwilling scored the only goal that would ultimately matter at 2:23 of the second period. Goals from Logan Benson, Mason Schroeder, and Alex Heinonen followed before the middle frame came to an end.
Benson’s goal came on a power play. He found the back of the net on a power play again in the third period.
The Dragons’ three third-period goals all came in the first seven minutes of play.
Once rivals, DCL headed to state as one team
Everybody predicted the new co-op that is Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield (DCL) would be strong, as each school, historically, fielded strong wrestling teams on their own before the unification. Everybody was proven correct Feb. 14, when DCL won the Section 6AA team championship at Zimmerman High School.
The Valentines Day 35-22 win over top-seeded Becker was ever so sweet, as it put DCL in the Class AA State Tournament.
“When you have a team-first, rather than a me-first attitude, you will go places,” said DCL coach Bryan Clemen.
The place DCL was going was the Xcel Energy Center, the home of the state tournament.
The “team-first” mentality that spawned a spot at state has been preached by the DCL coaches all season long.
“Every dual, we have a chat before the start and the message is usually the same thing but repackaged into different statements: Work hard, score points, work for each other. Work for the team and the common good of your teammates,” said Clemen. “As we reflect on our performance (Feb. 14), we did that. We had guys facing tough opponents with the job to minimize bonus points given up. We had guys with tough tasks of finding a victory against a tough opponent. We had guys finding ways to go wrestle a guy to get bonus points when he is well-coached to minimize damage for his team.”
Keith breaks a long DC draught with state berth
The senior season of gymnastics for Dassel-Cokato’s Kiana Keith has been extended to the state’s final meet of the season.
Keith is going out in style, at the Class A State Gymnastics meet as an individual performer Saturday at Roy Wilkens Auditorium in St. Paul. She punched her ticket to the capital city with an 8.90 and a sixth-place finish in balance beam Feb. 15 at the Section 6A Championships at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School.
“Beam is probably my best event,” Keith said Wednesday before practice. “I focused on my other events, and, once beam came around, I said a prayer and asked God, if it was his will, to let it happen.”
Apparently, it was his will, even if Keith didn’t realize it.
“I didn’t fall off and didn’t know what to expect, because it wasn’t my best routine. They called out places and I got sixth, and I didn’t know,” Keith said of being called to the medal podium, still not knowing she qualified for state. “They said, ‘These are the people going to state.’ I looked at my parents and coaches, and they were all crying, and I started crying.”
Keith is the first Dassel-Cokato gymnast to qualify for state since 2012, when her coach, Alex Halonen (then known as Alex Wente) did so in vault.
DCL sends nine wrestlers to individual state
One week after capturing the Section 6AA team title, the Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield wrestling team followed up with another stellar performance at the 6AA Individual tournament, sending a whopping nine wrestlers to state in front of their home fans at DC Saturday.
Advancing to the Class AA Individual State Tournament are:
• Andrew Joedeman, 11th grade, 106 pounds
• Victor Franco, 9, 113
• Eddie Simes, 10, 126
• Jerry Simes, 11, 132
• Jude Link, 10, 152
• Noah Halonen, 12, 160
• Will O’Brien, 11, 182
• Beau Nelson, 11, 195
• Brenden Rokala, 10, 285
Of those nine DCL wrestlers, three placed first, including Eddie Simes, Link, and O’Brien. The rest placed second. (The top two wrestlers advance to state).
Of those six second-place finishers, four – Joedeman, Franco, Jerry Simes, and Rokala – had to wrestle additional “True Second” matches to advance.
“We are proud of the effort our athletes put out on the mat, and the resilience they showed when things did not go their way,” said DCL co-head coach Bryan Clemen. “We look forward to watching each of these wrestlers compete in the Individual State Tournament.”
Keith goes out on the state beam
Kiana Keith wrapped up her only varsity gymnastics season on the balance beam at Roy Wilkins Auditorium Saturday afternoon at the Class A State Championships.
A club gymnast until this season, the Charger senior survived a fall to earn an 8.6625 in what was her only event of the state competition.
The fall came on an aerial (a cartwheel with no hands). It is a stunt Keith added to her routine the week before she performed it at state.
The fall did not phase her at all. In fact, Keith was proud of herself for finally performing the aerial.
“It was new. I was pumped because it has been my dream skill,” she said. “I did it. I fell, but I did it. At the end of the day, that’s good enough for me.”
Keith quickly shook off the fall, accepted some words from her coach, and re-mounted the beam to finish her routine.
“‘Breathe. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Breathe and focus,” Keith said of the simple message from coach Alex Halonen. “We are done with the skill; move on, and finish up your routine.’”
Keith did just that, finishing with a smile.
Keith performed with her fellow Section 6A gymnasts on beam as part of the eighth (final) rotation. She became the first Dassel-Cokato gymnast to perform at the state competition since 1997, when Kara Hedin did so in vault.
Halonen is the last Charger to qualify for state. Known then by her last name, Wente, she did so in 2012 in vault, but was unable to perform due to an injury.
That balance beam routine at state was the final performance for Keith as a high school gymnast.
Finishing at the state meet was special.
“It’s super cool, with everyone watching and recording, and seeing all of these amazing gymnasts. Being able to represent Section 6A is awesome,” she said. “It’s a great feeling, and I am so thankful that I was blessed enough to make it to the state tournament.”
DCL’s Christopherson to swim at state
The state-tournament drought for the Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield boys swimming team lasted just one year.
After the 2019 state meet was absent of any DCL Chargers, Logan Christopherson made sure that would not be the case this season by qualifying for the season-ending meet in the 100-yard breaststroke Feb 22 at the Section 3A Championships at Hutchinson Middle School.
Christopherson finished third in the breaststroke with a time of 1:03.95.
Link takes 2nd, Simes 4th at state wrestling tournament
The Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield wrestling team had two wrestlers place in the top-six at the Class AA Individual State Tournament over the weekend at the Xcel Energy Center.
Sophomore Jude Link came oh-so-close to winning a state title, finishing second at 152 pounds.
Junior Jerry Simes placed fourth at 132 pounds.
Throughout the 2019-20 wrestling season, there has been one constant: a win by 152-pounder Jude Link.
Link had one of the most successful seasons in either DC or Litchfield history, taking a 41-1 record into the state tournament.
Unfortunately, Link was hit by the flu at the worst possible time, just days before the state tournament. DCL co-head coach Bryan Clemen said the team held him out during the send-off through the DC and Litchfield schools to rest, as well as the team match against South St. Paul Thursday.
Despite being under the weather, Link scored a pin in his first-round individual match, and wrestled a smart 9-4 victory in his quarterfinal match Friday.
On Saturday, Clemen noted Link appeared to be more recovered from his illness, and indeed, Jude pinned Joe Stucky of Plainview-Elgin-Millville in his semifinal match.
This set up a championship match against senior Payton Anderson of Fairmont/Martin County West.
Anderson entered the match as the top seed, with a record of 45-1.
In the championship match, Link was the aggressor throughout, driving in deep on several shots, but unfortunately, he was not able to convert them into takedowns.
With the match tied 1-1 in the third period, Link pushed his tie a little too high, and Anderson countered low for a takedown.
Link escaped quickly, but could not take down Anderson in the last 25 seconds of the match, losing 3-2.
Simes will take home the Iron-Man award after his fourth-place finish.
Simes won both of his matches in the team tournament Thursday, before wrestling five matches in the individual tournament, a total of seven matches over three days.
Jerry won his opening individual first-round match against Triston Zuniga of Totino-Grace, before losing to top-seeded (and eventual state champion) Mitchell Petersen of Byron by an 8-2 score.
Pushed to the wrestlebacks, Simes then won his next two matches over Soni Soukchaleun of St. Paul Johnson 4-0, and Dusty Wilke of Grand Rapids 8-4, to put him in the medal round.
Simes advanced to the third-place match by injury default, before losing to Logan Vaughan of Kasson-Mantorville 12-2.
With his fourth-place finish, Simes is now a 4x state entrant and a 2x state place winner.
“Jerry should be a tired guy [after the state tournament],” said Clemen. “He wrestled hard in all of his matches.”
LDC boys fall just short of state tournament
The Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato boys hockey team finished just short of their goal of making the Class A state tournament under first-year head coach Brice Berggren.
The Dragons, the #2 seed in Section 3A, advanced as far as the section championship game against top-seeded Hutchinson at Gustavus Adolphus College.
In the title game, LDC trailed by just one, 2-1, after two periods. But the Tigers scored six unanswered goals in the third period to come away with an 8-1 victory.
The team ended the year with an overall record of 12-15-1.
The bad news for next season is, the Dragons will lose four out of their top-10 scorers, including their top two scorers in Jake Johnson (17-11-28) and Alex Heinonen (16-12-28).
Trent Raisanen (7-6-13), Cole Evjen (2-10-12), and Terrell Grangroth (3-5-8) will also be big losses for next season.
In total, the Dragons will graduate 15 seniors from this year’s team.
However, there is an abundance of returning talent that should make the next few years very interesting.
Along with a large number of returning underclassmen from this year’s varsity squad, the LDC JV team went undefeated this season, and the Bantam A team (15U) ended the season as one of the top-15 ranked teams in the state.
DCHS grad and Saints player Lindquist invited to select Pro Day tryout
A former Dassel-Cokato High School graduate was invited to a select Pro Day tryout in front of major league and four-year college scouts recently.
Ben Lindquist, who was in his second year as a pitcher for Century College this spring before the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, was invited to the Minnesota Blizzard Annual Pro day, which took place Feb. 29 at the Blizzard facility in Vadnais Heights.
The Minnesota Blizzard is an elite traveling club program and baseball academy, with over 50 players drafted and/or signed in the last 10 years.
Lindquist, a 2018 DCHS graduate, had been among a number of Century players featured in a Prep Baseball Report (PBR) film showcase designed to demonstrate the growth of the team’s players in the offseason.
The PBR Minnesota Assistant Scouting Director, Andy Judkins, liked what he saw from Lindquist. When Judkins heard there was a late opening for the Blizzard Annual Pro day, he convinced the organizers to give Lindquist a shot.
Lindquist was practicing with his teammates the day before the Pro Day when his coach, Josh Threlkeld, received a call inquiring about Lindquist’s availability.
“I asked Ben if he wanted the opportunity to throw in front of some scouts [the next day], and he said, ‘yeah,’” Threlkeld recalled. “I told him, alright, hop off the mound, you’re not going to throw today.”
And just like that, Lindquist was one of 15 other select invitees to the Pro Day tryout.
At the tryout, Lindquist said he was told to throw 3-4 fastballs, 3-4 curveballs/sliders, and 3-4 changeups before ending the session with a couple more fastballs.
As a senior in high school, Lindquist topped the radar gun at 86 mph for his fastball.
At the tryout, he averaged 90-91, with a top speed of 92.
Lindquist said he was happy just to be at the tryout and wasn’t expecting any serious attention. So he was surprised when a Colorado Rockies scout approached him after the session and offered words of encouragement.
“I wasn’t thinking anybody would actually talk to me, so [the Rockies scout] caught me by surprise,” said Lindquist. “He just basically told me he liked what he saw, and to keep working hard.
“It was a really cool experience altogether,” Lindquist said. “I never in my lifetime thought I would be invited to something like this, so just being asked to participate was pretty awesome.”
Saints prevail over Kernels in Bike Path Series
In front of a large “home” crowd, the DC Saints reclaimed the traveling Bike Path Trophy by defeating the Cokato Kernels 7-3 at Saints Field Friday night.
Last season, the two teams split their two games, but the Kernels took the trophy on overall run differential.
This season, with the late start due to COVID, there will be only one “Bike Path Series” game between the two rivals – meaning the trophy will be housed in the Saints Field clubhouse for the next year.
Jordan Flick was the big difference in Friday’s game. The Saints’ righthander had a stellar performance on the mound, scattering six hits and striking out 11 in a complete-game performance.
DC had eight players with at least one hit and took advantage of seven walks by three different Kernels pitchers. The four-run difference might have been even larger, except the Saints left 14 runners on base.
Kraemer takes top honors in first varsity meet
The DC boys and girls cross country teams opened the Covid-revamped 2020 season with a triangular meet at Annandale Rec Park against Annandale and New London-Spicer.
Behind a first-place finish from junior newcomer Lily Kraemer, the girls placed second, while the boys placed third.
“Overall, it was a great opener for our team,” said DC head coach Brian Bessingpas, who noted the middle school girls kick-started the excitement by securing spots 1-2-3 for the win.
The story of the meet was the performance of Kraemer. Kraemer, a top-flight track runner who up until this season had played volleyball in the fall, dominated the field in her first varsity meet, winning by 36 seconds.
“Lily pulled away from a very experienced, accomplished runner from Annandale early in the race, held her off despite battling a side ache, and then extended that lead towards the finish line,” said Bessingpas.
Kraemer was named “Runner of the Meet” for her grit.
D-C makes history at Section 2AA meet
An exciting season that will be one to remember came to an end for the Dassel-Cokato cross country teams Tuesday afternoon. Competing at the Section 2AA meet at Gale Woods Farm, the Chargers season came to an end with no state meet being held this season.
The D-C girls finished in 10th place as a team with a team score of 254. Waconia won the Section 2AA girls title with a score of 48.
The D-C boys finished in 11th place as a team with a score of 255. Buffalo won the Section 2AA boys title with a team score of 45.
“This was the highest we have had both our girls and boys teams finish at the Section 2AA Championships,” D-C coach Brian Bessingpas said. “The race was run in waves due to COVID-19 restrictions. Both teams won their waves, and Haydn Veith was the individual winner for his race, as well. For the day, five races were run for both the boys and girls. Results were merged at the end. It was great to see the kids perform so well against these bigger schools.”
Chargers take sixth at Section 3A meet
A crazy season for the Dassel-Cokato girls swimming and diving team all came to fruition at the Section 3A meet. With a new format to fit COVID-19 guidelines, the Chargers finished in sixth place overall with a team score of 144.
“Overall, I was very happy with our results,” Chargers coach Nathan Youngs said. “There were so many variables that had changed I was not sure what to expect. The lack of a big meet feel with only four teams and no fans were a big factor in the relays and some of the events but the girls still swam well. Due to the timing of the season being shortened, there were four or five girls who did not practice, so I was not surprised that some of the girls did not drop time. MEA Week is traditionally a time for seniors to go on college visits and families often take vacations so that hurt their chances to have the meet that we and they wanted.”
The Chargers had one athlete who would have qualified for the state meet if there was one this year. Britanie Borg, the top diver for D-C all season long, finished in third place overall with a score of 377. Her score also moved her into third-place all-time on the school record.
Also having top-10 finishes for the Chargers were Aubrie Thompson, Amelia Travis, Kezia Lee, and Veronica Stenberg.
Chargers get first win, beat HLWW in five sets
In a battle of winless (albeit tough) Wright County West teams, the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted gym was loud and energetic Monday night. Dassel-Cokato scored a come-from-behind victory over HLWW Nov. 9 in five entertaining sets (12-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-20, 15-7).
“This was a nice win and a hard-fought match,” D-C coach Linda Resop said. “After starting slow, we were able to flip a switch and find a new sense of purpose.”
For D-C, the first win of the season means a lot and Resop added they’re hoping to carry that over in the final weeks.
Chargers continue postseason dominance with win over G-SL
The postseason is what the Dassel-Cokato football team lives for. That was on full display once again as the Chargers finished off their season with a convincing 35-7 win over Glencoe-Silver Lake Friday night.
“I’m super proud of our guys,” Chargers coach Ryan Weinandt said. “We had three really tough losses in the regular season. We take a lot of pride in the playoffs. These seniors over the last three years are 9-2 in the postseason. I don’t think there’s a team in D-C that’s had a run of nine playoff wins in three years. They play well when it counts.”
“When playoffs come around, everybody just kind of realizes that we need to elevate our game that much more,” senior Collin Asplin said. “We’ve always been a playoff team. We want to win during the regular season, but we’re preparing for the playoffs.”
The win for the Chargers caps off another impressive season, especially for their seniors. With all the uncertainty and changes they’ve had to deal with, they’ve left a legacy at D-C for years to come.
“It feels good,” Bergquist said. “We put in the work through the summer and everything. We didn’t know what we were going to get out of this season, but we just prepared to be the last man standing. Here we are.”
“Coming into the year, we didn’t even know if we would have a real season,” Asplin added.”Now at the end, we were ready to play Litchfield and then switched to play these guys. Basically, we had one day to prepare for these guys. Ending the season on a win is an amazing feeling.”
Selfless play and the hunger to win has been the motto for the Chargers all season long. With so many different players playing different positions this season, all that mattered was winning.
“If you ask anybody about this team, nobody is going to care about their stats,” Asplin said. “We want to win. We don’t care where we’re playing. We want the best for the team. Whoever is called up, they’re ready to step up.”