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Carlton County's top sports stories of 2012

Historic flooding leaves some area athletic facilities out of order Most days, there's a good chance a firmly hit ball could reach the Midway River from the Esko baseball field. On June 20, the river met the ballpark. With up to a foot of rainfal...

Kayaking on the Esko football field
File photo

Historic flooding leaves some area athletic facilities out of order

Most days, there's a good chance a firmly hit ball could reach the Midway River from the Esko baseball field.

On June 20, the river met the ballpark.

With up to a foot of rainfall in 24 hours, epic flooding hit the area June 20-21. Roads were destroyed, homes ruined and lives impacted. Local athletic facilities, including Moose Lake's hockey arena and Esko's multisport complex off Canosia Road just outside of town, were also severely damaged by the downpour.

Esko High School baseball coach Ben Haugen said the Midway River flooded the complex June 19, soaking everything from the hockey shelter to the football and softball fields as well as the parking lot. On June 20, he noticed the baseball field.

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"I was shocked when I went out there; the entire field was covered," said Haugen, who toured the destruction with his son. "We have a 6-foot outfield fence and the river went right up to the top. The entire field was completely under water. It was just sad to see."

Moose Lake may have taken the hardest hit from the torrential rain, as the school suffered significant damages with the overflow of both Moose Horn River and Moosehead Lake into town. The baseball field was swamped. Even worse, the hockey arena - with all its ice-making equipment - was in complete disarray despite the community's best efforts to keep the flood waters at bay.

"The Zamboni was under water, our skate sharpener and the entire concession stand and locker rooms and bathrooms will need to be redone," Moose Lake Area boys hockey coach Josh Gamst the following week. "The water must have been 3½ to 4 feet up the boards. It'll take some time and effort, but we're hoping to play next year. I'm not sure, though."

While the Esko kids couldn't play baseball at home this summer, repair work got under way at the fields this fall, thanks to community efforts and a $10,000 grant from the Minnesota Twins Community Fund's "Twins Fields for Kids" program. Remarkably, hockey is again being played in the Moose Lake Arena because rink officials were able to get the ice making equipment working again.

Esko girls cross country takes first at state

Two years ago, Esko's Marisa Shady shocked the state when she took first place at state. While she hasn't repeated her first-place finish since then, Shady and her teammates took it one step further this year. They won as a team.

Shady, the seasoned senior, and Kailee Kiminski, a speedy sophomore, helped steer the Eskomos to the Class A girls team title at the Minnesota state high school cross country championships Nov. 3 on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

The emotional victory marked the first of its kind since the Esko girls won the 1980 state championship. Longtime Coach Jerry Zimny was a part of both winning seasons and the state championship in November marked his final race.

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Zimny, 62, a retired teacher, had been with the program since first assisting Ted Wallace in 1978, while now-assistant Tim Lindquist has been involved since 1995. Both retired on top.

"Knowing this was [the coaches] last year was in my mind when I was running," said Kiminski afterward. "I think it was our best race ever as a team. We knew this was it together, so we put it all on the course."

Shady led Esko one last time as the 5-foot-6 runner finished the 4,000-meter course in 14 minutes, 44.8 seconds in fifth place. Kiminski followed in 15th with her time of 15:12.9 on the 40-degree, calm, pale day - perfect weather for cross country running.

Kallyn Knutson (60th), Erika Shady (84th), Karli Kulas (93rd), Molly Meysembourg (131st) and Mackenzie Carlson (149th) all contributed to Esko's state-title-winning 115 points. Annandale followed at 150, one point ahead of Minnehaha Academy in third. The Esko girls team took eighth in 2009, fifth in 2010 and third last season.

Rebels come closer than ever to state championship

Caledonia senior kicker Levi Schmitz put an end to the Rebels state championship hopes in just one second.

Schmitz sealed the state championship for the Warriors when he split the uprights on a 24-yard field goal as time expired in Caledonia's 25-22 win over Moose Lake-Willow River in the Class AA Prep Bowl XXXI last Friday afternoon at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Caledonia ran seven times during their final 9-play, 40-yard drive to set up Schmitz with one second left. ML-WR never had the ball in the final 3:11, falling short of their first-ever state title.

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Caledonia handled much of the opening half Friday, leading 15-7 at the break on pair of rushing and receiving touchdowns from Brad Strub, and a 36-yard field goal from Schmitz late in a second quarter in which the Warriors outscored the Rebels 9-zip.

The Rebels' responded in the third quarter when superstar running back Jake Disterhaupt darted 71 yards for his second touchdown of the day, while teammate Michael Pender plunged in for the two-point conversion to knot things at 15-15.

On their next possession, quarterback Tony Adamczak completed his only pass of the afternoon for an 84-yard touchdown on a lob pass to Isaac Coil, who went untouched down the right sideline. Ben Moonen's extra point made it 22-15, as Rebels regained the lead shortly before entering the final 12 minutes.

Caledonia then charged 63 yards on 17 plays only to watch Alex Varney's fourth-and-goal quarterback keeper get stuffed by the Rebels' Jake Christopherson two yards shy of the end zone.

Three plays later, Adamczak misfired a third-down pass over the reach of Disterhaupt and into Varney, who sprinted 14 yards for the interception return to tie things 22-22 with 5:45 left.

A Rebels' three-and-out and punt gave the ball back to the Warriors with 3:11 to go; as the state's best team took over from there. Caledonia called their final timeout with one second, while Louzek countered for ML-WR, looking to ice Schmitz late.

It was a much closer game than the 2011 27-0 loss to Caledonia in the final.

The Rebels have finished as the state's second-best team in three of the previous four seasons.

ML-WR went 13-1 this year.

Wilderness Junior Hockey team moves to Cloquet

The two-time defending Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL), champion Wisconsin Wilderness moved to Cloquet this winter, bringing a gaudy record and some pretty good Junior A Tier II players with them.

"Cloquet has a long history of being a great hockey town," Coach Rod Aldoff said. "We have wanted to have a team in Cloquet for some time now and we're now able to do it. Cloquet was a no-brainer for us."

The team, now the Minnesota Wilderness, went 49-6-1 in its 56-game schedule last season, including a perfect 28-0-0 at its home in Spooner. The Wilderness are continuing their tradition of high-quality hockey in Cloquet, with a ?? record (?? At home in Cloquet's Northwoods Credit Union Arena). The Minnesota Wilderness are currently ranked No. 2 in the ??

As part of the SIJHL, their regular opponents include the Duluth Clydesdales, the Minnesota Iron (an Iron Range team), Thunder Bay North, Dryden Ice Dogs, Fort Frances Lakers and the Sioux Lookout Flyers.

Aldoff, a former UMD defenseman from 1991-95, takes understandable pride in what he's helped to build. He noted that all of his team's 20-year-old players from last season are moving on to play college hockey this winter.

"We do recruit good players," he said. "We hope the people of Cloquet come out and see some good hockey."

Thunder football rolls to division championship, enters playoffs

For the first time ever, the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College football team played in the MCAC playoffs as a division champion.

The Thunder (5-3) dismissed Vermilion Community College 47-22 in October to win the North Division championship on a tie-breaker - and then turned right around to play Vermilion in the first round of the playoffs.

They won that game before falling 31-24 to Rochester Community College in the semifinals.

Thunder Coach Keith Turner was very proud of his young team.

"This season was a quantum leap for the program," Turner said. "If you look at the national rankings you see Rochester at number 10 in the country and Central Lakes at No. 8 and we had No. 10 on the ropes."

When the team turned in its equipment9, Turner said players were already in the weight room preparing for next season.

"They've already been saying it to me," he said. "We had a dozen kids lifting and doing footwork drills. They're talking about coming back, keeping their grades up, and they want to stay together, play together and win a championship."

Esko girls win True Team Championship

The Esko girls track team ran to its second consecutive Class A state girls track and field True Team championship May 18, in Stillwater, Minn.

Esko finished with 465.5 overall points, nearly 40 ahead of Blue Earth as distant runner-up at 426. Longtime Eskomos girls Coach Tim Lindquist said that convincing victory was nice to see, crediting all involved.

"There are way too many girls to mention," said Lindquist, who noted around 20 athletes accounted for their title. "The team was able to put it together and win. They take this sport pretty seriously."

Participating in roughly the last half a dozen state True Team events and even more consecutive state meets, Esko has proven themselves as a track state powerhouse year after year.

Senior mid-distance runner Kate Shelerud said the True Team championship describes their well-balanced, depth-laden squad.

"I think winning the True Team defines us," she said. "We have a lot of girls who can compete in a lot of different events. Our younger girls contribute just as much as our older ones. We kind of just feed off each other."

Cloquet softball team earns third place at state tourney

Chandler Beaupre threw a two-hitter and the Cloquet Lumberjacks pounded out 11 hits to beat Maple River 8-3 and earn the third-place trophy Friday, June 7, at the Minnesota Class AA softball tournament in North Mankato, Minn.

Shania Paulson's three-run double in the bottom of the fourth inning broke a 3-3 tie and sent Cloquet (16-10) on the path to its best state tournament finish in school history.

Kelly Carlson was 3-for-4, including a double, and scored two runs to overcome her misfortune in Thursday's semifinals. Carlson was at-bat with the bases loaded in the seventh but struck out in a 3-2 loss to St. Anthony Village the day before.

In the title game New Ulm defeated St. Anthony Village 9-5 in eight innings.

"I wish we had had some of those (hits) last night," Cloquet coach Ron Tondryk said. "But it's a credit to these girls to come back and stay focused. We had some timely hits, which was nice to see."

Lizz Jezierski drove in a run in the first inning but it was Paulson's key hit that broke open the game for Cloquet.

Cloquet girls soccer goes to state

It all came down to penalty kicks ... three games in a row.

First it was the the Section 7A high school girls soccer semifinals, Cloquet versus Princeton on Oct. 16. The two teams were tied 2-2 after two overtime periods, so the Section 7A semifinal came down to a shootout. Kristi Konietzko, Gracie Sinisalo and Emily Rikkola all scored before Cloquet goalie Kenzie Rathe stopped the top-seeded Tigers' final three shot attempts en route to Cloquet's comeback.

Two days later, the Lumberjacks played Esko-Carlton in the championship game, which also went to double overtime followed by penalty shots. Kristie Konietzko, Carley Esse, Grace Sinisalo and Emily Rikkola scored in the shootout and Cloquet goalie Kenzie Rathe stopped two of the three shots she faced to give Cloquet a 4-1 shootout victory over the Eskomos after the teams had played to a 1-1 tie.

Cloquet - which entered the playoffs as the fourth seed - faced Totino-Grace High School in state Class A quarterfinals Oct. 25 at Roseville High School.

For the first time in extra minutes during the postseason, Cloquet proved beatable as Totino-Grace edged Cloquet 5-4 in an eight-round penalty-kick shootout after 100 scoreless minutes.

The Lumberjacks took a defensive approach by stacking the penalty area with defenders and going forward only on counterattacks.

That plan worked to perfection through 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime.

Rathe was outstanding as well as lucky, making several difficult saves and having a few more shots bounce off the frame of the goal before Nicole Hagen ended the sudden-death shootout by drilling a shot to the back of the net in the eighth round.

Cloquet (12-6-3) shot first in the shootout and missed. The Eagles made their first two chances but then shot wide and hit another crossbar on consecutive chances, while Carley Esse, Emily Rikkola and Alyssa Lamirande scored for the Lumberjacks.

Annmarie Umland's goal sent the shootout to extra rounds, where Cloquet's Rebecca Hammond put her team ahead 4-3. Chaselyn Miller equalized off the left post in Totino-Grace's sixth round.

Neither team scored in the seventh round, but Rathe needed to make two saves to keep the match going. The referee whistled her for moving off the goal line before Grace Steinhauser took her first shot, a call Rathe agreed with.

Minus Grace Sinisalo after the junior defender took a hard hit in the first half and did not return due to concussion symptoms, Cloquet was without one of its top penalty-kick takers. Senior Emily Wangen missed her attempt to lead off the eighth round, leaving the game in Hagen's hands.

"It took one of their shots off the post squeaking in," Randall said. "It was a good fight, it just wasn't our night. I am so proud of this group. They are hard workers and hung in there. That's all we could ask for. Eventually they will be proud of their season."

Barnum, Esko football teams go to state

Barnum senior Daniel Warpula rushed for 148 yards on nine carries, including touchdown runs of 58 and 60 yards, to lead the Bombers to a 30-18 victory over Cook County in the Section 7A championship game at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth Nov. 1.

With the win, the Bombers headed to their third state tournament in the past seven seasons, their first since 2010. Barnum (9-2), winners of nine straight, faced top-ranked Mahnomen in a state Class A quarterfinal Nov.10.

Unbeaten Mahnomen (12-0), last year's Class A runners-up, led 14-0 at halftime and never trailed in recording their eighth shutout of the fall. The Bombers fell to Mahnomen 26-0.

Esko

Esko quarterback Marc Peterson perfectly placed a pass to tight end Brock Carlson to complete the conversion as the Eskomos held on to a thrilling 28-26 victory over Proctor in the Section 7AAA championship game Nov. 1 at Malosky Stadium in Duluth. In addition to the game-winning heave, Peterson was a perfect 15-for-15 passing for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Esko senior Ryan Holte caught seven passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns as Esko formed a 20-6 lead before allowing 20 straight Proctor points and finally finding the win late.

However, the Eskomos fell 42-8 to the Perham Yellowjackets in a Class AAA state quarterfinal football affair Nov. 10. Junior fullback Earl Brinkley scored the only touchdown for the Eskomos on a 25-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter in the school's first state appearance since 2005. Esko finished 8-3.

Trapp chooses UCLA

Standing 6-foot-9, Savanna Trapp was courted by a number of Division 1 basketball teams. In the end - before her senior year in high school even started - she decided she wanted to play for the UCLA Bruins.

It was an easy choice for the Esko senior superstar, who verbally committed to the Division I university women's basketball program in late August.

Trapp averaged 20.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season, setting a single-season school record with 604 points. This year she is on track to break that record.

She signed an official letter of intent for UCLA in November. Trapp plans to major in marine biology.

Honorable Mentions

Voters say 'Yes' to schools in Esko

Esko School Superintendent Aaron Fischer admitted he had no inkling of how the district's dual referendum questions were doing at the polls most of the Election Day. Sometime between 8:30 and 9 p.m., however, he received a text message from one of his board members informing him both issues had passed.

"I was just so pleased that the community came forward to support these issues," Fischer commented Wednesday morning. "They will provide tremendous opportunities for our students, both academically and athletically. This is a great day for Esko."

And indeed, the voters of Thomson Township turned out in significant numbers - some 3,107, or 84.06 percent, of registered voters, to be exact.

In the end, they voted 1,896 to 1,172 in favor of increasing School District 99's general education revenue by $341 per pupil unit for the next nine years. The referendum revenue will be used to finance school operations.

On a vote of 1,793 to 1,266, voters also authorized the district to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $2.7 million in order to rebuild the school's outdated and flood-damaged athletic facilities. A similar, but more expensive, referendum brought before the voters in 2009 failed by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

Ogichidaa finish strong

The FDL Ojibwe found themselves on the short side of a gut-wrenching 75-71 double overtime loss to North Woods in the Section 7A semifinals March 21 at the Hibbing Memorial Arena. Despite being seeded sixth, the small tribal school Ogichidaa were four points away from the championship game.

The Ogichidaa had been there before. A year ago, FDL lost in the same semifinal round to Chisholm 64-62 in their first-ever playoff appearance. Plagued again by late-game chaos then and foul trouble this year, the Ogichidaa watched things slip away again.

First-year Coach Earl Otis said opportunities were missed.

"We should have won the game before then," he said, referring to a last minute foul shot by North Woods that sent the game into the first overtime. "There were a lot of things that we could have done differently. I can't blame the refs."

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