Joe Brown: One last look at 2021

·7 min read

Dec. 31—Trying to think of the highlights of the year is tough enough when you're trying to wrack your brain on things that happened over 12 months.

But in 2021, months almost feel like decades.

Heck, the 2020-21 winter sports season didn't even begin practice until Jan. 4. And let's not forget about the condensed seasons and the constant shuffling of state tournaments that, thankfully, were able to take place, albeit in strange new settings.

We're not out of the woods yet with the COVID-19 pandemic, but hopefully, 2022 can go off without a hitch.

This is the point in the column where I invite you to find the nearest piece of wood and knock repeatedly.

While you check your hand for splinters, let's take a final look at the highlights of 2021:

Tyson's trio

The West Central area had eight individual state champions in 2021.

In gymnastics, Benson/Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg's Libby McGeary scored a 9.6 on the balance beam to claim the Class A championship in that event. In track and field, Minnewaska's Metaya Jergenson's first throw of the discus was the best of her lifetime at 123 feet, 8 inches. That ended up holding the top mark as she became an unexpected state champ after entering state seeded seventh. Another Minnewaska athlete, Peyton Johnsrud, won the Class A boys high jump at 6-7. Then in girls golf, Lac qui Parle Valley's Sarah Halvorson tied for medalist honors with Park Christian's Emily Stueland with a two-day total of 166.

In wrestling, Benson's Thomas Dineen (Class A, 195 pounds) and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa's Blaine Fischer (A, 145) won their first championships and will look to repeat in 2022.

At that same tournament, Minnewaska's Tyson Meyer capped off one of the best prep wresting careers in the area with his third state championship at 182 in Class A. He joined Renville-Sacred Heart's John Miller (1982-85) and Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg's Kevin Steinhaus (2007-09) as the only area grapplers to win three or more state championships.

Wrestling: Minnewaska's Meyer makes it a three-peat

"It was my last match as a Minnewaska Laker," Meyer said after beating Chatfield's Grady Schott in a 14-4 major decision, "so I just wanted to leave it all out there."

Taking his talents to Division II power St. Cloud State, Meyer wrapped up his high-school career with a 222-30 record.

Success at LQPV

Along the Lac qui Parle River, three team champions continued their string of success.

In dance team, the Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd Shadows swept the Class A championships in Jazz and High Kick. It was the third straight year LQPV/D-B swept both disciplines.

"With a very humble heart, we are so proud to be three-time double state champions," Shadows coach Lisa Johnson wrote on Facebook following the High Kick championship. "There are no words to describe this ride that these amazing young ladies have taken us on."

Then in the spring, the LQPV girls golf team won its second Class A state championship after winning it all in 2018. The Eagles shot a two-day score of 720, beating Park Christian of Moorhead by 26 strokes.

State Class A Golf: Lac qui Parle Valley girls are back in the saddle

"It was a great season and an emotional season," Eagles head coach Kipp Stender said after the win. "They improved throughout the season and managed their emotions (at Pebble Creek Golf Club in Becker) to come away with the championship."

BBE girls battle for the title

Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa had a banner year in 2021.

Both wrestling and football made state for the first time. For the wrestlers, they beat the two-time defending state champs Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville in the Section 5A championship to make the final eight for the first time in school history. The football team snapped a 25-game losing streak with a win in the season opener against Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg. And the Jaguars kept finding a way to win, beating Upsala/Swanville Area in the Section 4A championship for a state berth.

Going the furthest for BBE was the girls basketball team, which went 23-2 and made the Class A state championship game.

State girls basketball: BBE goes down swinging

After holding off Sleepy Eye St. Mary's in the state semifinals, 51-50, the Jaguars met the only team that beat them in the regular season in the finals, the Minneota Vikings.

Minneota led by as much as 16 in the second half before BBE scored 25 of the last 33 points, cutting the lead down to one with five seconds to go before the Vikings hit a pair of free throws to put the game out of reach, 48-45.

"The girls, all year, played with heart and we never gave up," Jaguars head coach Kristina Anderson said after the game. "I've been so proud of this crew. I'm proud of their hearts and effort."

Kingery carries the Falcons

As far as the best individual performance among area athletes, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City's Josh Kingery was in a class by himself on the baseball diamond.

Named the Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year, the Prep Baseball Report Minnesota Player of the Year and the Class AA Player of the Year by the Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association, Kingery put up mind-boggling numbers.

The hard-throwing lefty led the state with 13 wins, and his 182 strikeouts ranks second in state history behind New Ulm's Bill Dittrich (187 in 1971). Batting leadoff for the Falcons, Kingery hit .554, including .652 with runners in scoring position with 32 RBI, 46 runs, seven home runs and 19 extra-base hits.

State Baseball: Belle Plaine out-duels ACGC

Pushing ACGC to a 22-3 record and the school's first state appearance since 2001, Kingery struck out 18 in the Falcons' 2-0 loss in the Class AA quarterfinals against Belle Plaine. He was one strikeout away from tying the state tournament single-game record of 19 set by Austin's Mike Davison in 1963.

"Josh had the most remarkable season that I have ever witnessed from a high-school player," said Mike Kingery, Josh's dad, head coach and a 10-year major leaguer. "He was, in many people's opinions, the best high-school player in the state. ... But as his coach and his father, the most impressive thing is his humility in his success. Never once did I see him disrespect the opponent. He never tries to bring the attention to himself and is more concerned with the team's success than his own."

The cardiac Cards

It's one thing to make team history. The Willmar boys soccer team did plenty of that:, going undefeated in the regular season for the first time, winning the Section 6AA championship and finishing fourth in the state for the school's best finish.

But the way they accomplished those feats, frankly, was bonkers.

The season looked like it would end at the section championship game against Princeton when the Cardinals trailed 3-1 with five minutes to play. But with a penalty kick by Gabriel Rodrigez and a score by Jemil Osman in the 77th minute, Willmar brought the section title game to overtime. There, Anthony Reyes Jimenez converted a penalty kick to get the walk-off win.

Then came the Class AA state quarterfinals against Worthington.

The Cardinals and Trojans battled through the rain and stiff wind for a scoreless 70 minutes. Then in the 74th, Worthington broke the scoreless tie when Ulises Barrera tallied a goal. With 10 seconds to go, Reyes Jimenez lined up a free kick and booted the ball toward the net, hoping for a miracle.

State boys soccer: Cardiac Cards do it again against Worthington

"The ref picked up the ball and gave it to me and said, 'This is your last chance. Good luck,'" Reyes Jimenez said. "I looked up to the sky and I said, 'Thank God for this, and I'm thankful for all that you did for us and for what you're going to do.;"

The free ball found Abdullahi Mohamud, who hit a header into the net with five minutes left in regulation, tying the game at 1-1.

After a scoreless overtime period, the game went to a shootout. Willmar won that 4-3, clinching the team's first trip to U.S. Bank Stadium.

"They've made history," Cardinals head coach Jeff Winter said afterwards. "It's amazing."

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