The 2021 spring sports season is sprinting toward the finish line next week.
By Saturday, June 19, baseball, golf and track and field will all crown state champions, bringing a close to sports in a school year shrouded in adjustments and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There will be plenty of teams, athletes and storylines to follow in very short order, So, here’s a look at what to watch for next week:
In the end, the Cardinals and Falcons emerged as champions of Section 6AAA and 3AA, respectively. After making the section final for the third season in a row, Willmar will make its fourth trip to the state tournament after beating Delano on Thursday, 9-1.
Throughout the 2021 season, the Cardinals have been sporting throwback caps to the 1987 season. In that year, Willmar won the Class AA championship, beating Hopkins 5-4.
The goal was to emulate the success of the ‘87 roster, and the Cardinals believe they have the talent to make a run at a state title. And they should be one of the top seeded teams in the Class AAA field.
Including Willmar, seven of the eight teams in the Class AAA field have been decided: Albert Lea; St. Thomas Academy; Mahtomedi; Sauk Rapids; Grand Rapids; and Sartell. On Friday night, either Mankato West or Marshall, out of Section 2AAA, will join the fray.
Four teams will enter state ranked in the top 10: Willmar (2nd); Sartell (3rd); Mahtomedi (5th); and the winner of Mankato West (1st) and Marshall (10th).
The Class AAA quarterfinals and semifinals take place Tuesday and Wednesday at the Mini Met in Jordan, followed by the state championship game at 4 p.m. Friday, June 18 at Target Field.
In Class AA, ACGC is making its second state appearance after beating Paynesville 4-0 on Thursday. The Falcons’ previous trip came in 2001.
The field in Class AA appears to be wide open as the top three teams in the state — Foley, Rochester Lourdes and Luverne — did not qualify. There are six ranked teams in the AA field: Albany (4th); ACGC (6th); Glencoe-Silver Lake (7th); Perham (8th); Plainview-Elgin-Millville (9th); and Belle Plaine (10th). Also in the field are St. Agnes and Aitkin.
Among the AA field, only Glencoe-Silver Lake and Perham were in the 2019 state baseball tournament.
The Class AA quarterfinals and semifinals take place Tuesday and Wednesday at the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud, followed by the state championship game at 1 p.m. on Friday, June 18 at Target Field.
Four teams and 15 other athletes from west central Minnesota will be competing around the state when state golf gets underway on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Class A championship takes place at Pebble Creek Golf Club in Becker. The Class AA championship is at Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan.
For Class A boys, Benson is competing in its first state golf tournament since 1978 after winning the Section 5A championship last week at Eagle Creek Golf Club in Willmar. Also in the Class A field are: Lanesboro; Sleepy Eye United; Adrian/Ellsworth; Legacy Christian Academy; West Central Area; North Woods; and Fertile-Beltrami. According to MNGolf.com, four of the teams are in the state’s top 50 (between all classes), with LCA 31st, North Woods 32nd, Fertile-Beltrami 34th and Sleepy Eye United 42nd.
Community Christian School’s Brett Reid will try to cap off his prep career with a second state championship. As a sophomore, Reid took medalist honors after a two-day score of 145. After high school, Reid, who is ranked as the state's No. 2 golfer, is committed to play golf at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
For Class A girls, BOLD is back after winning the team championship by one stroke in 2019 with a score of 704. One golfer remains from that champion squad in junior Leslie Snow. The Warriors have a built-in advantage after winning the Section 4A championship at Pebble Creek.
Lac qui Parle Valley girls are also back in the mix after winning the Section 5A championship last week in Willmar. In 2019, the Eagles placed third with 720. Back from that squad are junior Sarah Halvorson, sophomore Isabella Jacobs and senior Brook Olson.
Along with LQPV (ranked 28th) and BOLD, the field includes: Fillmore Central; Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton; Adrian/Ellsworth; Park Christian (32nd); Braham (33rd); and Badger/Greenbush-Middle River (24th).
Other area golfers in the Class A girls field are: Alissa Maurer and Stacy Johnson, Benson; Rachael Lund, Ella Mork and Elly Stratmoen, Dawson-Boyd.
Two more area teams and a quartet of individuals will be scattered across the Ridges at Sand Creek for the Class AA tournament.
The New London-Spicer boys made state for the fourth time in school history after winning the Section 3AA tournament by 13 strokes. The Wildcats are the 24th-ranked team in the state. Joining them in the boys field are: Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa (39th); Blue Earth (29th); Totino-Grace (20th); Delano (18th); Staples-Motley; Cloquet/Esko (11th); and Roseau.
In the girls tournament, Minnewaska/Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa is back after taking second place in the 2019 state tournament. The Blue Jackets led by six strokes after Day 1 before ultimately finishing runner-up to Red Wing by a stroke. Senior Annika Stensrud (18th) is back from that team along with junior Berkley Steffen (75th).
Minnewaska/BBE won the Section 3AA championship over Redwood Valley by 65 strokes.
The Blue Jackets rank 13th. Other teams in the girls field include: Lake City (5th); Fairmont; St. Croix Lutheran (19th); Providence Academy (27th); Pequot Lakes (46th); Hermantown (22nd); and Fergus Falls.
New London-Spicer’s Ava Hanson also qualified for the tournament.
Track and Field
The state track and field championship meet takes place from June 17-19 at St. Michael-Albertville High School. All four 3,200-meter races take place on Thursday, starting at 4 p.m. Friday will be for Class A. Class AA competes Saturday, June 19. On both days, boys start at 10 a.m. and girls at 3:30 p.m. All events will be timed finals with no prelims.
As of Friday, a total of 24 girls and 24 boys from the west central area have qualified for state.
The Section 8AA championship, with Willmar, will take place Saturday in Fergus Falls. So far, the Cardinals have two girls in the state tournament in Ava Brogren (high jump) and Sam Christoffer (long jump).
For the Class A girls, Montevideo’s Avery Koenen qualified in an area-high four events: the 300 hurdles; high jump; long jump; and triple jump.
The Minnewaska girls, fresh off a second-place showing in the virtual Class A True Team championship, are sending 10 to state, including the 4x800, 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
Minnewaska has another pair of athletes to keep an eye on in Class A boys. Senior Peyton Johnsrud will try to win the high jump after finishing second as a sophomore in 2019. Then in the triple jump, senior Connor Johnsrud will look to improve on his sixth-place finish in 2019.