"I was expecting it to be fun, but I definitely didn't expect it to be this fun," admitted Groth, the team's centerfielder. "It was the best experience of my life."
Neighboring Moose Lake-Willow River was oh-so-close to qualifying as well, but the Rebels ran short, according to second-year coach Brad Hubred. With the 7AA Championships held last Thursday at Giants Ridge in Biwabik,
Smiles were also common for Esko, as the hosts qualified all four of their boys' relay teams, including the 400-, 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter squads for a second straight spring. Yes, 8-for-8 if you include this year and last. "I guess so," said Esko boys coach Gary Beaudot with a chuckle. "The relays are so fun for the kids. We're just so happy to have all four of them go again this year."
With a quartet of seniors themselves, including a variety of pitchers, the Panthers can play with anyone. They are seeking their school's first state appearance. Meanwhile, Panther Nick Carlson was a busy kid Tuesday. Prior to their win over Silver Bay, the junior competed in the Section 7A track and field meet in Esko where the junior participated in the triple jump, the long jump and the 400-meter relay. He ran in the morning and then hurried to baseball, where he plays centerfield and has pitched to a 4-0 record this spring.
"Our coaches did well and got a lot of kids in. We got a chance to actually see what we have," Prosen said. "And the good thing is, we have a lot of options, too." That may be the understatement of the spring. Prosen's numbers have steadily increased over time. This year, he said he has his largest team ever. In fact, his participation has again eclipsed the triple digit marks. Track team members have to travel in two buses to road meets and, in doing so, take almost one-quarter of the school's 572-student enrollment with them. "We put quite the dent into the school attendance," said Prosen, an economics teacher at the high school.
"Top to bottom, it's one of the nicest groups I've ever had," said Haugen. "I have 11 or 12 varsity guys that I can move around and not miss a beat."
> "It was their first time in a varsity tennis match," said Johnson of his talented tandem. Also in doubles, No. 2 Bryan Broten and Drew Doesken won the closest match of the evening in the tiebreak after being down late. No. 3 Ryan Fredrickson and Cal Pertler also prevailed in three sets. "All in all, I was really impressed," added Johnson. "It was a good feeling, not only for the coaches, but the kids, too.
However, in describing Esko's crowded event — against Duluth East this past February — along with a hallway streamed with "Wall of Hope" cards, Rengo said it's not all about the money, but the awareness and the stories. "You just sit back and look at all of the people, kids and the impact it makes," Rengo said. "It's been everything we've hoped it to be — just fantastic. It's even better than I envisioned."
That's speaking of senior twin sisters Marnie and Maddie Wagner, who scored 15 and 14 points. The Wagner family name has been customary in the small communities near the Iowa border for quite some time now. While both Marnie and Maddie are the current NRHEG nucleus, their older sister Carlie is a standout at the University of Minnesota, now in her junior season.
And in their opening-round rout of Red Lake last Thursday, Cromwell-Wright tied a state tournament single-game record by making a baker's dozen worth of triples. Their 29 total long balls in this year's three state playoff games also equaled a state tournament best of any school all time. "We always have the green light," said freshman Taya Hakamaki, who sank the deep left-wing shot in front of her team's bench against Red Lake to give the Cardinals the most 3-pointers of any prep team ever.