For the second consecutive year it was the Year of the Pioneer in lakes area sports.
In 2005, the Pierz Pioneers wrestling team captured its second straight Class 1A state title, an accomplishment that was voted the top local story by the Brainerd Dispatch sports staff.
The Pioneers won wrestling and football state titles in 2004. Those accomplishments were selected by the Dispatch sports staff as the top sports story of a year ago.
In 2005, the Pioneers' wrestling team, coached by Brainerd High School graduate and former Warrior wrestler Mark Jensen, captured its fourth straight section title on the way to the state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Pierz completed a 30-3 season by pummeling Canby 42-12 for the state title. The Pioneers jumped to a 10-0 lead and watched the Lancers climb within 16-12 before winning the last six matches. Jesse Zajac clinched the title with a pin at 189 pounds.
In the quarterfinals, Pierz triumphed 28-21 over New Richland-Heartland-Ellendale-Geneva before hammering Grand Meadow/LeRoy Ostrander 36-13 in the semifinals.
In the 1A individual tournament, Pierz's Kyle Bednar was runner-up at 119, Jon Andres (130) and Zach Solinger (171) were fourth and Nick Gruber (140) and Matt Mrnak (275) were fifth.
In the 3A individual tournament, Little Falls' Ted Wilczek (125) was runner-up.
2. State champions
Three area athletes brought home individual gold medals from state meets.
Little Falls gymnast Danielle Atkinson won the 1A uneven parallel bars state championship with a score of 9.70. She placed sixth in the all-around competition with a 37.1375.
Pillager's Laura Pace repeated as girls' 100-meter hurdles champion in 1A, fending off Alex Andrews of Triton with a winning time of 15.01.
Also in 1A, Wadena-Deer Creek's Eric Asfeld won the boys' 110- and 300-meter hurdles state titles. Asfeld posted a time of 15.33 in the 110s and 39.75 in 300s. He beat Watertown-Mayer's Tyler Geyen (15.56) in the 110s and Greenway's Zach Preble (40.31) in the 300s.
Brainerd's Ally Hartje was runner-up in the girls' 2A triple jump with a distance of 36 feet, 8 inches, two inches shy of a state title.
3. Stolski national coach of year
Brainerd Warriors football coach Ron Stolski received the Power of Influence Award, possibly the most distinguished honor in his 44-year career.
The fourth annual award, presented by the American Football Coaches Association and the American Football Coaches Foundation, will be presented to Stolski at the AFCA Convention Jan. 10 in Dallas. Stolski also will receive a $1,000 stipend from the AFCF.
The award honors a high school football coach for his effect on his players, school and community. The award is not based on wins and losses. However, coaches of powerful influence must have longevity and success.
In 44 seasons, all as a head coach, Stolski has compiled a 287-135-5 (.680) record. He has the most wins of any active Minnesota football coach.
His Warrior teams have gone 215-100-0 (.682) in 31 seasons, winning nine conference and five section championships. They have been section runners-up eight times and have had only four seasons below .500. The Warriors completed unbeaten regular seasons in 2004 and 2002.
4. Crosby-Ironton strike
The second-longest teacher strike in state history had a profound effect on Crosby-Ironton winter sports. The strike began Feb. 9 and ended April 6.
The girls' basketball and boys' hockey teams elected not to participate in section tournaments.
The boys' basketball team elected to play in the Section 7, Class 2A tournament without its coaches. C-I advanced to the semifinals of the section before the clock struck midnight on its Cinderella run, losing 65-37 to Moose Lake-Willow River.
5. State runners-up
Two area teams captured state runner-up honors.
The Pequot Lakes girls' basketball team finished second in the 2A state tournament, losing 50-33 in the final to Rochester Lourdes. The Patriots' Flecia Foster and Teresa Parker made all-tournament and coaches association all-state teams. Teammate Chelsa Schwegel made the all-tournament team.
Foster, now at Mankato university, also was named to the Associated Press all-state second team. Parker, now at Southern Illinois, received AP honorable mention.
The Staples-Motley girls' cross country running team finished second in the 1A meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield. The Cardinals' Hannah Landecker was eighth individually, Natasha Wenzel 14th and Courtney Robinson 21st. All three earned all-state honors.
6. National champions
The Central Lakes College Raiders men's golf team won the NJCAA Division III national title in June.
Trailing by four strokes entering the final day, the Raiders rallied to capture the championship by one shot at Chautauqua Golf Club in New York.
Entering the last round, Monroe Community College had 903 strokes to CLC's 907. The Raiders shot 303 the final day while Monroe carded a 308, enabling CLC to finish with a 72-hole total of 1210 to Monroe's 1211.
CLC's Theo Frentzos finished third individually, Brock Gasow was 22nd, Kyle Peterson 31st, Travis Wilson 50th and Jeff Grote 84th.
7. Third three times
For the third straight year the Central Lakes College Raiders volleyball team finished third in the NJCAA Division III national tournament.
Top-ranked CLC won its fifth Region 13B championship in six years, defeating Itasca 3-1.
At the national tournament in Rochester, the top-ranked Raiders beat Surry, N.C., 3-0, Columbus (Ohio) State 2-1 and Harper (Ill.) 2-1 in pool play.
Ridgewater of Willmar defeated CLC in the semifinals 3-1 before the Raiders (36-2) regrouped to finish third with a three-game sweep of Harper.
CLC's Amy Fleischhacker and Courtney Stach were named first-team All-Americans. They helped the Raiders set a program record with 36 victories.
8. Soccer forfeits
Brainerd High School girls' and boys' soccer teams forfeited victories, both for using ineligible players, during successful seasons.
The girls' team forfeited its first 11 games (10 wins, one tie). Brainerd's season ended in a shootout against Moorhead in the Section 8, Class 2A championship game. The section title game consisted of 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime before the shootout.
Without forfeits, Brainerd finished 15-2-1, the best record in program history.
The boys' team forfeited its first 12 games. Not counting forfeits, Brainerd finished 9-6-2, the first season above .500 in program history.
9. Pierz football
The top-ranked and defending 2A state champion Pioneers bid to repeat ended in the state semifinals when eventual champion Eden Valley-Watkins beat Pierz 26-7 at the Metrodome.
The defeat was difficult for Pierz to accept since it beat EV-W 39-14 for the 2004 state title and had squashed the Eagles 48-0 in the last game of the regular season.
Pierz finished 12-1, running its three-year mark to 33-6. During that span the Pioneers have played in the state semifinals three times, won a state title and played at the Metrodome four times.
10. Little Falls boys' hockey
The Flyers finished sixth in their first trip to the 1A state tournament.
Little Falls defeated Wadena-Deer Creek 4-1 in the Section 4 final.
At state, the Flyers lost 9-2 to Duluth Marshall in the quarterfinals, then beat Shakopee 4-3 in the consolation semifinals. Albert Lea beat the Flyers 9-1 in the fifth-place game.
The Flyers finished 21-10-0, setting a school record for wins.
Mike Bialka can be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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