The Top 10 Local Sports Stories of 2006
1. WILLMAR BOYS CROSS COUNTRY TEAM REPEATS AS STATE CHAMPS The Willmar boys cross country team became not only local heroes, but also became a state and national story as well. The Cardinals made it look almost too easy this season, outpointing R...
1. WILLMAR BOYS CROSS COUNTRY TEAM REPEATS AS STATE CHAMPS
The Willmar boys cross country team became not only local heroes, but also became a state and national story as well.
The Cardinals made it look almost too easy this season, outpointing Rosemount by 73 points en route to winning a second straight Class AA state title Nov. 4 at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
The top five runners, alll natives of Somalia, finished in the top 25 individually -- Kaafi Adeys was fifth (15:30.5), Abdi Awale seventh (15:36.4), Mahad Hassan 14th (15:54.0), Mohamed Bedel 16th (15:57.1) and Mustafa Yusuf 23rd (16:09.0).
The Cardinals finished meets with "perfect 15" scores three times in 2006.
The team drew statewide attention when a Twin Cities television station featured them on a Thanksgiving broadcast. And the Somalian sensations were even splashed on a page in Sports Illustrated with a story and photo.
2. CAR ACCIDENT CLAIMS LIVES OF TWO CENTRAL MINNESOTA CHRISTIAN SCHOOL BASKETBALL PLAYERS
In the morning of March 23, an automobile accident took the lives of two senior members of the Central Minnesota Christian boys basketball team on March 23.
Jon Bonnema and Adam Mikelson were passengers in a car driven by Shean Gerdes that was involved in a head-on collision at the intersection of U.S. Highway 23 and Kandiyohi County Road 1, seven miles north of Prinsburg. Mikelson, who was riding in the back seat, was pronounced dead at the scene. Bonnema, in the front passenger's seat, died the next day at St. Cloud Hospital.
Gerdes was treated and released the same afternoon from Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar.
There were eight seniors on the basketball team who were very close friends and the loss of two of them hit the other six extremely hard. They leaned on one another for support and comfort.
"When you decided to become a coach," said CMCS coach Bob Stoel, "you know a lot of the things that go along with it. There are going to be things that kids go through that you try to help them with. But there is nothing to prepare you for something like this."
3. DAWSON NATIVE CARRIE TOLLEFSON WINS WOMEN'S UNITED STATES CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIP AND USA INDOOR 3,000-METER TITLES
Dawson native Carrie Tollefson won the United States Cross Country Championship on Feb. 18 in Van Cortlandt Park, N.Y., then followed that up by winning the 3,000-meter run in the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships Feb. 25 in Boston.
Tollefson, who was a member of the 2004 United States Olympic Track and Field team that competed in Athens, Greece, finished in a time of 12:32, five seconds ahead of runnerup Lauren Fleshman, to win the cross country title. She then competed in the World Championships in April in Japan.
Tollefson ran a 9:05.8 to win the 3,000 title. She also competed in the World Indoor Track and Field Championships March 10 in Moscow, finishing in seventh place.
Tollefson was the Tribune's 1995 Hengstler-Ranweiler award winner for top female athlete in the area. She runs professionally for Team Minnesota USA and is training for the 2008 Olympic Games.
Tollefson, a 13-time state champion in high school and a 12-time All-American at Villanova, was even honored on Sports Illustrated's Web site in a recent issue where she was ranked No. 4 on the list of the world's most beautiful female athletes.
4. RIDGEWATER VOLEYBALL TEAM WINS NJCAA DIVISION III TITLE
The Ridgewater Lady Warriors volleyball team won the second national title in program history at the NJCAA Division III tournament Nov. 18 in Rochester.
Ridgewater defeated top-seeded Central Lakes College of Brainerd 31-29, 26-30, 30-27, 30-23 in the semifinals, then disposed of Edison Community College of Pique, Ohio, 30-21, 30-25, 30-22 in the championship.
Ashley Olson, a sophomore from Murdock (KMS High School), was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Joe Sussenguth, in his first year as coach, was named the Coach of the Tournament.
Freshmen Hilary Groothuis of Maynard (MACCRAY), Ashley Hennen of Taunton (Minneota) and Jackie Noyes of Ghent (Minneota) were named to the all-tournament team.
5. DAWSON NATIVE NIKKI SWENSON WINS HER FOURTH STATE TRACK TITLE AND SECOND STATE CROSS COUNTRY TITLE
Nikki Swenson, a senior at Dawson-Boyd, captured her fourth state track and field title and her second state cross country title in 2006.
Swenson won the 800-meter run (as a junior) at the state track meet June 10 at Hamline Univesity's Klas Field in St. Paul.
Swenson won in a time of 2:12.08, over two seconds ahead of runnerup Nikki Schultz of Cedar Mountain. She had also previously won gold in in the 400 and 1,600 runs as a sophomore and the 1,600 as a freshman. She was second in the mile in 2006 and now has nine top-three finishes in her career with another season to go in the spring.
In cross country, Swenson won her second title (she also won as a freshman) in 14:23 at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Swenson was second each of the previous two seasons.
She recently signed a national letter of intent to run track and cross country for the Minnesota Gophers next fall.
Swenson is also a standout basketball player.
6. LITCHFIELD WRESTLING COACH CHIP RANKIN IS DEPLOYED TO IRAQ
hip Rankin was deployed to Iraq in March as a member of the National Guard unit, leaving behind a solid wrestling team.
Rankin, a, captain with the 2nd Battalion, 136 Infantry Regiment, had taken Litchfield to the state tournament in three of his last four seasons, winning a Class AA state title in 2003 and finishing second in 2002.
Rankin has compiled 105 wins in seven seasons. Mike Fiedler has been coaching the team the past two seasons.
7. LITCHFIELD NATIVE JOHN CARLSON, A NOTRE DAME JUNIOR, BECOMES ONE OF THE NATION'S TOP TIGHT ENDS
It seems to be the dream of every young boy, to play football for Notre Dame. John Carlson of Litchfield was no different, except that he fulfilled his dream, starting for the Fighting Irish at tight end and developing into one of the nation's top players at his position. He was one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award given to the top Division I tight end in the nation.
Carlson, a redshirt junior, caught 46 passes for 621 yards and four touchdowns this season before missing the final two regular-season games with a knee injury. He is expected to play in tonight's Sugar Bowl against LSU.
Carlson has not yet announced whether he will return for another season with Notre Dame or declare himself eligible for the NFL draft. Indications are that he will stay and play one more season with the Fighting Irish.
8. BENSON'S FRAGODT, WILLMAR'S NIELSEN VOTED AREA'S TOP ATHLETES
Joey Fragodt of Benson and Laura Nielsen of Willmar were selected the Tribune's Hengstler-Ranweiler Award winners as the top male and female athletes in the area, respectively, on June 5 at Ridgewater College.
Fragodt earned a record 18 letters in four sports at Benson. Twelve of those letters came in the spring where he lettered six times each in tennis and track. He qualified for the state tournament in track, tennis and basketball in his career. He was also a standout in football.
Nielsen, a Division I basketball player for South Dakota State, is the school-record holder for career points and rebounds at Willmar. She was All-Area in basketball, volleyball and softball and played in state tournaments in two of those sports. She earned 11 letters.
9.MILLER, CARLSON LATEST TO ENTER TRIBUNE'S SPORTS HALL OF FAME
The Tribune added two more members to its Sports Hall of Fame in late December when John Miller and John Carlson became the 18th and 19th to be inducted.
Miller was a four-time state wrestling champion for Renville-Sacred Heart, compiling an impressive 173-12-1 record before graduating in 1985. Even more impressive was Miller lost only one match in his final four seasons on the mat. He and his father, Ray, who also was his high school coach, were inducted into the Minnesota Coaches Association Hall of Fame this year, too.
Carlson, the father of our No. 7 story by the same name, was a 1,000-point scorer in high school for Litchfield, then returned to coach boys basketball the past 18 seasons and tennis for the past 20 seasons. He won three state titles in basketball and has taken 14 teams to the state tennis tournament.
10. LITCHFIELD'S PENK BECOMES FIRST AREA WRESTLER TO REACH 200 WINS
Beau Penk of Litchfield had a remarkable season season. He won the Class AA state title at 135 pounds to finish the season 39-1.
Along the way, Penk became only the 20th wrestler in state history to win 200 matches, then finished his career with 235 wins, currently the second most all-time among Minnesota wrestlers. He also had 100 career pins.
Penk rallied late in his championship match, scoring a two-point reversal with 18 seconds left to edge St. Michael-Albertville's Joe Grygelko 3-2.