In many ways, a memorable 2011-12
A look back at 10 top stories in high school sports
Officially, first day of high school fall sports practice is Aug. 13, but in reality many of those athletes are preparing already because of summer waiver periods and a year-round commitment to training.
Essentially, there’s no off-season anymore. But before moving on to 2012-13, here’s a look at 10 compelling sports stories from 2011-12 in the Sun Thisweek coverage area.
Cougars pile up points
Lakeville South girls track and field coach Andrew Hilliard downplayed his team’s chances of winning the state Class AA championship, saying the Cougars could finish “anywhere from first to 10th.” It just so happened it was first place. The Cougars didn’t win any events at state but scored points in eight of them to win their first state championship.
Eastview quickly became competitive in athletics after the school opened in 1997, but in 2011-12 the school was still looking for its first boys state championship. The Lightning had a chance in soccer, but a loss to Eden Prairie in the Class AA title game ended what would have been a dream season. In June, fortunes changed. Eastview’s lacrosse team, led by offensive standouts Jacob Heppner and Ryan McNamara, drubbed Eden Prairie 10-4 in the state final. About 2 1/2 weeks later, Evan DeCovich pitched a two-hit shutout as Eastview defeated Bemidji 1-0 in the Class AAA baseball championship game at Target Field.
Fall from grace
Kurt Virgin is the only boys high school varsity coach in Minnesota with more than 400 victories in two different sports (soccer and basketball), but his career at Eagan High School ended abruptly. He was placed on administrative leave just before the start of boys basketball practice in November while School District 196 investigated a complaint against him. By January, he retired from his teaching and coaching positions, and it was announced that Eagan police were investigating his management of youth sports camps. In May, the Dakota County Attorney’s Office charged him with six counts of theft by swindle, accusing him of stealing almost $30,000.
Walking away on top
Apple Valley’s Jim Jackson surprised some in the wrestling community by retiring from coaching after leading the Eagles to 14 state championships and two national titles in 17 seasons. He cited a desire to spend more time with his family after being in the Apple Valley program for 32 years (including 15 as an assistant coach). He coached 56 individual state champions. Longtime Apple Valley assistant Dalen Wasmund was chosen to take over for Jackson. Wasmund is just the third head coach in the wrestling program’s 36-year history.
The Farmington Flash
Farmington took fourth place in the state Class AA girls track and field meet, and junior Nadia Lorencz had a lot to do with it. Lorencz earned a memorable victory in the 100-meter hurdles, edging defending champion Jessica January of Richfield by .03 seconds. January had set the all-time state meet record in the preliminaries. Lorencz also added a victory in the long jump and a fourth place in the triple jump, meaning she scored 30 of the Tigers’ 40 points at state. Lorencz also is an accomplished gymnast – she finished second on vault at the 2012 state meet – but indicated she likely would concentrate on track and field in her senior year.
Soccer power in south metro
As the 2011 high school soccer season progressed, it became clear that many of the state’s best Class AA teams were concentrated in two conferences – the South Suburban and the Lake. Therefore, it was no surprise that the two leagues supplied the participants in the state boys and girls championship games at the Metrodome. Eden Prairie stopped the Eastview boys’ march toward an undefeated season, defeating the Lightning 3-1 in the state final. Eastview finished 20-1-1, by far the best record in school history. In the girls championship game, Wayzata defeated Burnsville 2-1 in a shootout. The Trojans converted on four of their penalty kicks to Burnsville’s three in the shootout. One of the Blaze’s kicks banged off the goalpost, providing Wayzata with the opening it needed. Both teams had youthful lineups, raising the possibility that they could meet again in the 2012 championship game.
State hockey memories
Eagan and Lakeville South represented the South Suburban Conference in the state boys hockey tournament, and both teams gave fans moments to remember. Eagan, the South Suburban champion with four players headed to Division I colleges, won one of its three games at the tournament and placed sixth. Lakeville South pulled the tournament’s biggest upset in years, beating No. 1 seed Duluth East 3-2 in the quarterfinals. It marked the first time a Lakeville team had won a quarterfinal game at the state boys tourney. South lost to eventual champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s 10-1 in the semifinals before recovering to beat Moorhead 2-1 for third place. Senior forward Justin Kloos, the Cougars’ leading scorer, also was the first player from a Lakeville high school to receive the Mr. Hockey award.
A strong core
A core group of seniors helped lead Lakeville North to strong showings in football, boys basketball and boys golf. The football team, with Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year Trey Heid at quarterback, won conference and section championships before losing to Cretin-Derham Hall in the state quarterfinals on a last-second field goal. The basketball team, which featured seniors Tyler Flack, Ryan Saarela and Brett Rasmussen leading a deep rotation, went 30-2 but lost to Osseo 49-47 in the Class AAAA championship game on a basket at the buzzer. Three-sport athletes such as Heid and Joel Oxton also contributed on the golf team, which was ranked first in the state for much of the season.
Lakeville North was involved in two compelling high-stakes volleyball matches in eight days. First, the Panthers outlasted Lakeville South 25-20, 17-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-13 in the Section 3AAA final. The tension was cranked up even higher at the state tournament when North faced Eden Prairie for the championship. After the longest fifth game in state tournament history, Eden Prairie prevailed 22-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-18, 22-20. North’s Alyssa Goehner had 34 kills and 38 digs in the marathon championship match, and she’ll be back next season as the Panthers take another shot at the title.
Run to win
Dakota County runners were a factor in the state Class AA cross country meet last fall, with Burnsville’s boys and Lakeville South’s girls both earning team runner-up trophies. Senior Cole O’Brien finished fifth individually for Burnsville. Nathan Rock, who placed 21st overall, led Rosemount to fourth in the boys team competition. Ninth-grader Kaytlyn Larson finished sixth individually for the state runner-up Lakeville South girls team. Eagan junior Danielle Anderson finished eighth in the girls race and helped her team place ninth.