Eight Ranger athletes sign on with college programs
Family, friends and coaches gathered in the Forest Lake High School media center on Wednesday, Nov. 13, to support eight senior Rangers athletes who signed on to compete at the collegiate level.
As Forest Lake Activities Director Joel Olson put it, the athletes are a part of one of the largest signing classes in school history and represent the “best of the best.”
“They come up through our programs and they’ve got great coaches who have coached them throughout the years, and they stay here and they want to be here and compete for Forest Lake,” Olson said. “We get to see them and the fruits of their labors as they enter the next phase of their life. Before you know it, seven months from now, they’ll be alumni. I know it is kind of scary to think about, but we are very proud of them and have watched them grow. We just couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Representing girls basketball were seniors Bailey Norby and Emily Peters, both of whom committed to Division I programs. Norby said she expects to see court time immediately as the Jays anticipate her tall frame and versatility.
Rangers head coach Jen Wagner said she wouldn’t be surprised to see Norby on the Creighton floor in 2014.
“She’s such a hard-working kid that she knows what she has to do and what she needs to accomplish that she will just flourish,” Wagner said. “I know that, when (Creighton coaches) talked with her, they not only enjoy the fact that her intensity level is always high, she can communicate well, she has the skills and the ability to compete well on the floor, but she also has those intangibles — she’s a great teammate, she understands what it means to be a hard worker and she’s a great student.”
Norby earned all-conference honors last season and team Most Valuable Player for the third season in a row (shared with senior Anna Eckert). Norby has set four school records so far: most free throw attempts in a season (192 in 2011-12), most free throws made in a season (136 in 2012-13), best single-game free throw percentage (10-10 on Feb. 19, 2013) and most career rebounds (746 and counting).
Creighton is currently 2-1 this season, including wins over Minnesota and South Dakota State. They went 25-8 last season and fell to No. 2 Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Peters committed to the University of New Hampshire to assist the Wildcats at the point guard position in 2014-15. She proved herself a constant at the helm of the Rangers offense as a sophomore.
Peters earned all-conference honorable-mention honors last season despite a season-ending knee injury in late January. Wagner called Peters one of the hardest and most passionate workers she’s ever coached.
“It’s amazing when you think she’s recovering from an ACL injury, she hasn’t played since February and she’s able to get a Division I scholarship,” Wagner said. “That just speaks volumes about the type of kid that she is and the type of kid people know she is.”
New Hampshire went 12-18 last year.
Natalie Wright and Mikayla Watters each committed to playing college softball following yet another state appearance last spring.
Wright, a multi-sport athlete who also stands out in tennis and dance, signed on to play softball for the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The senior second baseman earned first team all-state honors last season, as well as all-section.
The future Division II athlete recorded the second-highest batting average on the team in 2013 (.471) and led the Rangers in RBIs (30), hits (41) and stolen bases (10). In the field, Wright earned a fielding percentage of .970.
Forest Lake head coach Angie Ryan said the four-year varsity contributor will bring many strengths to the Bulldog program: Wright began in the outfield for the Rangers as a freshman and sophomore before moving to second base her junior year.
“Natalie will bring speed for sure — softball is such a game of speed, and she has a lot of that, plus she’s very versatile,” Ryan said. “She has power as well, really hits the ball well from the left side, so just that overall versatility.”
The University of Minnesota-Duluth softball squad went 41-13 last spring.
Watters will play for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire following an all-conference and all-section season last spring. The outfielder also made the state all-tournament team.
Watters led the Rangers in home runs with three, tied for second on the squad with doubles (eight), batting average of .457 (third-highest on team) and was second-highest in slugging percentage (.757).
“Mikayla is a very strong hitter — we pulled her up as an eighth-grader because of her hitting,” Ryan said. “I was lucky enough to be involved with talking to her college coach, Leslie Huntington, who had never seen her before. I showed her some short video and it was very clear (to) the Eau Claire coach as well that she could hit just by watching a few seconds of video.”
Watters attributed her skills to the Forest Lake softball program.
“I’ve never had coaches push me so hard,” Watters said. “Coach Ryan, Erin Casey and Don Cramer helped me and pushed me to accomplish things I never thought I could do.”
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire went 28-9 last season, including 2-2 in the regional round of the Division III NCAA Championship.
Another spring athlete extending his career is Joe Vacinek. The right-handed pitcher plans to play on the North Dakota State University baseball squad.
Although Vacinek played primarily third base last season for the Rangers due to a large number of seniors, head coach Tal Gravelle said the Ranger worked hard this summer and early fall. Vacinek participated in numerous camps to gain exposure and catch the eye of the Bison’s solid baseball program.
“I think this is very exciting for Joe,” Gravelle said. “He’s a strong kid with a tall frame who throws with excellent velocity, in the upper 80s, and has good, natural movement on the ball. Joe hasn’t seen a ton of time in our program, but he has a lot of potential, and I’m just very, very excited for him.”
North Dakota State went 40-20 in 2012 and 26-27 in 2013. They made it to the Summit League baseball championship title game, but fell to top-seeded South Dakota State.
Daniel Massey signed on to golf for St. Cloud State University, following in his brother, Drew’s, footsteps.
“They have a good program, and I liked the idea of being there with my brother for his senior year,” Massey said.
Head coach John Buck said he thinks St. Cloud State is the right fit for Massey.
“I expect him to fit right in, and he has an opportunity to play as a freshman, but since they have such a solid program, I’m guessing he’ll have to do his time,” Buck said. “He’ll bring his overall competitiveness, willingness to work and willingness to get better.”
St. Cloud State University took first in the 2013 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Fall Preview, second at the St. John’s University Fall Invite and fourth place at their home tournament.
Two athletes who didn’t compete for Forest Lake High School, but who are students there, also signed to top-notch programs.
Emily Ramberg, who competes for Flyaways Gymnastics, will compete for the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
“People always ask me ‘Well, why Alaska?’ and my response is always ‘Why not?’” Ramberg said. “If you’re going to have an adventure, might as well go all-out for your journey and just start new.”
The gymnast also chose the Alaskan school for the academic program she plans to purse: a major in air traffic control with an emphasis in management.
Ramberg began her gymnastics career at 4 years old and puts in 20 hours a week of practice, and another 10 working at Flyaways. It’s paid off, as Ramberg, now a senior, qualified for the Junior Olympic National Championship the past two years.
“It takes a lot of dedication, a lot of repetition, and I’ve been through a lot of injuries,” Ramberg said. “But it’s worth it.”
UAA gymnastics went 2-4 in dual meets last year. The Seawolfs rank eighth nationally among gymnastics programs across all three NCAA divisions.
Shelby Sandstrom earned her way on to the Ole Miss rifle team for next season.
The Scandia resident started her rifle career six years ago after taking a firearm safety course and enjoying it. She practices at the American Legion in Richfield and in a short-range area in the basement of her house.
Sandstrom said she visited three campuses before deciding on the University of Mississippi.
“I got to Ole Miss and it was a really beautiful campus and their support for the student athletes is just amazing,” Sandstrom said. “I love the coaches there, it just seems like the perfect fit.”
Ole Miss is ranked No. 12 in the nation and posted a new school record in air bore in a win over Akron in early November. The Rebels just missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships the past three seasons.