Sports editor’s note: This is the seventh installment of the ‘Celebration Saturday’ series highlighting top individual and team achievements in the West Central Tribune area. Today’s story looks at the Minnewaska girls golf program that won five consecutive state championships from 2006-10.
GLENWOOD — DY·NAS·TY.
A powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time. -- Merriam-Webster
During the first decade of the new millennium, the Minnewaska girls golf team, to a tee, fell under that definition.
The Lakers were crowned Class A state champions in 2006 before repeating in 2007. As the Minnesota State High School League moved to a three-class system, Minnewaska kept the train chugging along, capturing three consecutive Class AA titles from 2008-10.
Between boys and girls golf, the Lakers are the only team in the state to ever win five straight state titles.
Peggy Falk was there the entire way, taking over as head coach in 2006. With a pair of daughters who played key roles in the run, Falk occasionally reminisces on the program’s accomplishments with great fondness.
“We bonded as a team for all those years,” she said. “Being part of that as a coach and as a parent, I still look back at a lot of those moments and I laugh and I cry. It was pretty special. In 2006, I had no idea that this was going to happen.”
Falk was the team’s great motivator who helped foster her players’ competitive spirit. Along her side, Scott Dirck sharpen player mechanics. Serving as the golf pro at the Minnewaska Golf Club at the time, Dirck was the swing coach for most of the players on the team.
“He envisioned the dynasty and put it in our heads when we were little kids,” said Emily Roering, who played for the Lakers from 2004-09. “We fed into that and wanted to make that happen.”
Birth of a dynasty
As an eighth-grader, Roering was a part of the 2005 Minnewaska squad that kicked off a stretch of seven straight state appearances. But according to Roering, two others should be considered as the pillars of this run.
“Chelsey Falk and Lisa Blair were two of the older girls on my team who were definitely role models to me and good friends,” she said. “They were always building the team up and making sure the younger girls felt comfortable. ... Really, Lisa and Chelsea were the ones that started it.”
In 2006, the Lakers were ranked in the top five throughout the course of the season, but were considered underdogs when the state meet arrived. Clinging to a one-shot lead after day one, Minnewaska hung on to capture title No. 1 with a two-day score of 664, just four strokes ahead of Lake City.
Eighth grader Courtney Boe paced the team, finishing in a tie for ninth. Two other eighth graders figured into the first triumph and were each a part of all five championships: Allie Ostrander and Sarah (Roering) Iverson, Emily’s younger sister.
“Your first time is definitely your hardest,” Iverson said. “If you’ve never been in that situation before, you don’t know how you’re going to react. But it was pretty exciting to be able to put it together.”
Ostrander began her golf career as an eighth grader while Iverson joined the team while in seventh grade, but both ended every year of their careers at state.
Getting the ball rolling
If Minnewaska’s experience at state in 2006 was considered a nail-biter, then the following meets can only be categorized as absolute yawners.
The Lakers blew out their competition over the next three years. After a 47-shot victory in 2007 and a 51-shot victory in 2008, 2009 was the biggest laugher of them all. Leading the field by a whooping 41 strokes after day one, Minnewaska cruised to a record-setting fourth straight state title with a 67-shot victory.
For Emily Roering, she closed her career with not just another team crown, but her two-day mark of 146 was enough to win medalist honors.
“We wanted to win, set as many records as possible and shoot as many low scores as we could,” Roering said. “At the time, nobody had ever won four state championships in a row, so that had always been our goal. I know the juniors, Allie and my sister, wanted to send me off in a good way.”
With victory at the end of the day never truly in doubt, Minnewaska could have been complacent and fallen victim to their own success. After their fourth championship, some were calling the Lakers the best golf team the state has ever said. But for many of the players, it wasn’t just enough to win.
Since they knew they had a target on their back, they wanted to obliterate any team in their path. Over the course of their championships, Albany (A), Detroit Lakes (AA) and Red Wing (AA) were their stiffest competition.
“Winning by a couple wasn’t enough for us, we wanted to win by as many as we could,” Roering said. “Everyone wanted to take us down, so we couldn’t let that competitive drive slip up.”
That’s where Falk’s influence arguably comes in most.
The players were naturally competitive, so in playing an individual game masked as a team sport, teammates formed friendly rivalries to get the best out of each other. With that, Falk created challenges in practice and at meets for them to attack.
If the team was playing at an easy course, it wasn’t enough to put up a good score. Falk set goals for her players to play the best of their abilities. With that drive, it’s no wonder that the team at one point carried a 76-0 record in meets from 2007-10.
“It was amazing just to have a positive person that was truly trying to make us better athletes and people,” Ostrander said. “She was such a positive person and had such a positive impact on me growing up that I honestly couldn’t picture (the coach) being anyone else but her.”
What makes the Lakers’ run even more impressive is that on several occasions, the team was almost cut due to a lack of players. Minnewaska’s youth came to the table ready to contribute.
“We had just enough to have a team and the younger girls learned and wanted to compete with the older girls,” Falk said.
Drive for five
Unlike other programs that may lose a wealth of talent in one foul swoop, the Lakers never had to truly reload. They sustain their winning ways, which was on full display in 2010.
Iverson and Ostrander were the team’s lone seniors. With junior Sam Falk, sophomore Brianna Janu, freshman Alex Guggisberg and seventh grader Jenna Janu, Minnewaska did not field players in all but one class.
“Our phase for the beginning of that season was ‘One for the thumb,’” Ostrander said. “That was our mentality the whole season and I think that helped push us.”
Ostrander had added motivation heading into her final high school season as she twice finished runner-up to teammates for medalist honors.
“It definitely played a factor,” Ostrander said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled with how I played those two years, but it was kind of a bummer, too, because you’re so close and you’re right there. You wouldn’t want to lose to anybody but your teammates, so it was still a surreal experience.”
In 2008, Ostrander fell by two shots behind Roering for the title. In the prior year amidst windy and rainy conditions at Jordan’s Ridges at Sand Creek, Iverson overcame a three-shot deficit after Day 1 to win the individual championship, besting Ostrander by three strokes.
“I definitely didn’t come up with this on my own, I think either Peggy or Scott brought this to my attention, but they said ‘You could either complain about the conditions or you can thrive off of these conditions,’” Iverson said of her 2008 victory. “People always say in wind and rain, you have half the field already beat because you’ve already given up. I remember thinking that if I can just be mentally tough throughout the day, I got a shot.”
Winning their section with 48 strokes, the Lakers prepped for another state run. Yet, just because Minnewaska was the favorite year-after-year doesn’t mean the girls weren’t chocked full of nerves. The coaches identified that potential issue and devised a plan.
“Knowing that first tee, there’s going to be a lot of people watching you, we would sometimes have a bunch of people come up, whoever that was at the course, and have them tee off on No. 1,” Peggy Falk said. “It was getting them in that mindset that they weren’t just terrified when they got to the first tee.”
Off the strength of the short game, the Lakers ended Day 1 up by 14 stokes after carding a 305, one shot better than their smashing performance the year before.
Eyeing a team score of 300 in Day 2, Minnewaska fell short of their goal, shooting a 327. Still, the team closed the deal, winning title No. 5 by 15 strokes.
Following a close victory to start it off before demolishing the field the rest of the way, Minnewaska exhibit the true attribute of a champion by emerging on top even when it didn’t have its A-game.
“Just to break our records again and to do something that no team in the state of Minnesota had ever done, that was really cool,” Iverson said. “I remember it being so special because it was my senior year and I didn’t want it to end.”
Carding a 71 on the first day, Iverson held the clubhouse lead with Ostrander two shots back. On day two, Ostrander played ahead of Iverson, who was featured in the final group.
“I tried really hard to get back to each one of them,” Peggy Falk said. “Allie was in front of Sarah, so I’d go up to Allie and then I’d go back to Sarah. Then I would go back to Allie. They were really close and I knew they both wanted that championship. It was really fun to walk with them and talk with them.”
On the 18th hole, Iverson knocked down a 12-foot par putt to finish her day with a 79 and overall score of 150. She thought she blew a chance to win the medalist, but as she entered the clubhouse, Peggy Falk delivered her good news. Ostrander put up a second-round mark of 77 as the two seniors finished tied and named co-individual champions.
“It’s so hard to describe in words, because if you think about it, it’s really the fairy tale, storybook ending,” Ostander said.
Iverson added, “I think we both just completely lost it. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the crowd.”
Life after the dynasty
Minnewaska’s state-winning stretch came to an end in 2011 when the team finished third. Red Wing ended the Lakers’ reign that year. Since then, either the Wingers or Detroit Lakes have ended the year on top of Class AA.
Golf after high school did not end after the dynasty did. Each member of the 2010 champions played the sport collegiately. Iverson joined Roering at Colorado State University. Ostrander (Augustana University) and Brianna Janu (South Dakota State University) each headed west. Guggisberg and Jenna Janu took their talents to the University of North Dakota while Sam Falk played at Gustavus Adolphus College.
The players from Minnewaska still remain in touch through a group chat and maintain life-long friendships beyond the links, though they still occasionally meet up in the summer for a round or two.
When the players are in the community, they are reminded of the time they put Minnewaska on the map; that is the Lakers’ legacy.
“People in the community still recognize us and come up to us and talk about how we won state,” Iverson said. “It still surprises me and it never gets old.”
Here is a list of stories in the Celebration Saturday series with their publication dates:
May 16 — Alex Carlson and Chris Patten (2000 Litchfield boys tennis)
May 23, 26 — 2009 New London-Spicer football
May 30 — 1985 Willmar girls golf
June 6 — 2005 Paynesville baseball
June 13 — Nikki Swenson (LQPV/D-B cross-country/track, 2007)
June 20 — The 1979-80 and ‘80-81 Bird Island-Lake Lillian football and boys basketball teams
July 3 — 2006-10 Minnewaska girls golf