I remember the frustrations of the fall sports season: the ever-changing weather, how practices start even before classes resume for the year and worst of all, how short the season is.
So with the winter preview just around the corner, I’m taking a step back to recall my favorite sports moments and to give awards and honors to Forest Lake fall athletics:
Most Impressed: Without a doubt, I was most impressed by the training and dedication it takes to be a cross country runner. As a high school senior in 2007, two of my friends in Albert Lea decided to take up cross country running in the fall rather than playing soccer or football. I thought it was a waste of athletic talent, of competitive spirit.
Forest Lake proved me wrong.
The Roy Griak Invitational at the University of Minnesota was the most humbling experience of the fall. The head boys coach, Deno Johnson, warned me of its magnitude and importance, but I went in with camera in hand and work shoes expecting to find a spot on the green, and camp out until I saw a Ranger jersey… Wrong idea.
As if finding parking wasn’t hard enough, navigating through the hordes of toned high school and college-caliber athletes stretching by their team tents throughout the golf course made me more than curious to see the race course, which was lined with parents, coaches and recruits of every level.
I walked over a half-mile before finding what I thought was a good spot on the course for pictures. Too far away to hear the starting gun, I knew the boys were getting close by the stampede of parents and coaches running to head off the pack with words of encouragement and pictures of their own. I ran after them, thinking they’d know where to go next. This was the only good idea I had had that day.
Nearly missing senior Jacob Jankowski at the first pass, I reached the second location in time for a quick shot, with ninth-grader Tommy Babcock and sophomore Leo Hipp coming up next. Each shot felt rushed, since the boys were flat-out sprinting within inches of opposing runners.
With the results in, Jankowski finished in 18th that day, but the boys took 36th out of 44.
Despite the placement, I was dumbfounded by the sheer competitiveness of the sport, and later, discovered the dangers as eighth-grader Miranda Overland of the Forest Lake girls’ team dropped in front of me at a back turn just a half hour later with an injured foot. The athletic-training cart that came to pick her up was full of girls who had swollen ankles and blood running down their legs from being spiked by other runners.
Aside from the Griak and how it made me swallow my previous words and thoughts regarding cross country, I saw first-hand the comraderie among runners when the Ranger girls competed and excelled with a fourth-place finish at the Class AA state meet in Northfield on Nov. 3.
Immediately following the race, I saw two Forest Lake runners in particular, eighth-grader Allison Bartlett and ninth-grader Emma Benner, walk up to the opposing racers to chat, hug and congratulate each other. Even though they just ran head-to-head against one another, they appreciate the competition and they respect the sport. If that’s a direct reflection of head coach, Eric Kaluza, then I’m impressed by his coaching and the sportsmanship his squad shows.
More than a record: If there is one squad whose record does not even hint at its athletic ability, it’s the Ranger girls’ soccer team. Led by seniors Olivia Norman, Skye Finley and junior Lara Steinhoff, the girls outran, out-hustled and controlled the majority of their opponents this season, but just couldn’t pull out many “W’s” in the end.
Highlight: The Rangers defeated East Ridge at home for their first conference win in two years with the game-winning goal coming from Finley with less than 10 minutes to go in the game.
Most underrated: While the Forest Lake boys’ soccer team had its share of win/loss runs, I never found a match uneventful, and unfortunately for the Rangers, injuries plagued the squad throughout the season. But that didn’t stop the boys from fighting until the end of their extended season under the leadership of senior captains Austin Rizzo, Matt Eiden and Dan Mollett.
Highlight: The Forest Lake boys broke a five-year streak of losing in the first round of section playoffs with a 3-2 win over Andover on the road with a winning goal by senior Matt Keith off a Rizzo assist.
Most enthusiastic: No matter the score, I’ve never witnessed such an encouraging bench as when watching the Forest Lake swimming and diving team. Take the large amount of Ranger swimmers and confine them to a small pool area, and you won’t hear correctly for a week. Forest Lake’s aquatic athletes definitely get the award for cheering on their teammates.
Highlight: I decided to travel to White Bear Lake on Oct. 25 to watch the Rangers take on the Bears for an eventful and close matchup. The atmosphere was fun since the divers were able to compete in the same pool as the swimmers, and Forest Lake got the 100-84 win during the final heat of the day in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
Best chemistry: Nearly every match I came away with more celebration pictures than action shots, as the Forest Lake volleyball girls hid no emotion after a long rally or big hit this season. These girls were a blast to watch, and it’s clear they enjoyed their teammates and the game in general.
Highlight: Although it ended their season, the girls’ best game was the 3-2 loss to St. Francis in the Section 7AAA quarterfinals as they all showed up ready to play and gave the Fighting Saints a run for their money.
Most dedicated: No reason to be shy here, the football team had a tough year. But kudos to the kids who stuck in there for the team and the community during a transition year under new head coach Billy Kirch.
Highlight: The homecoming atmosphere was fantastic for any newcomer to the community. Despite a winless record, the Forest Lake stands filled to the brim with students, parents and fans alike who came out to cheer on the Rangers.