I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to go down memory lane and pick some of my favorite high school spring sports memories for this story. I do admit that most of those special moments are from the past couple years - maybe because my memory isn’t as sharp since I recently joined the 60-year-old club.
I always enjoyed the unpredictability of the spring season, especially the weather. Some years teams opened the season in cold, rainy conditions. A few months later, the spring season could end with temperatures close to 90 degrees for the state track meet.
My favorite area sports memories are from the past 37 years, especially after covering the talented Pequot Lakes athletes as publisher/reporter for the Echo Journal the past 16 years. I also have special memories as a Dispatch sports writer in the 1980s and 1990s, along with filling in last year to help the Dispatch staff cover winter and spring sports. Here are my top five memories:
PL girls win state golf titles
In the spring of 2004, I just moved into my Pequot Lakes office as the new Echo Journal publisher. I hadn’t covered Pequot Lakes sports for almost a decade, and I didn’t realize the dynasty that the Patriot girls’ golf team had built.
That explained my surprise the afternoon that former Pequot Lakes girls’ golf coach Judy Heslop called me and said: “We won it!”
I asked: “You won the state title?”
She proudly responded: “Yes. We won by 25 strokes.”
It wouldn’t have been a surprise if I would have known their team history as the Patriots won the Class 2A title in 2002 and finished third in 2003.
In hindsight, I should have been at the state golf tournament with my camera and notepad covering the Patriots at Izatys Golf & Yacht Club in Isle. It would have been a dominant performance to witness.
Pequot built a 17-stoke lead after the first day, and eventually won by 25 strokes over Albany. Senior Kim (Larson) Rollins shot an 82 to finish fourth individually while teammate Val Meschke was sixth with 83. Other Patriot team members were Ali Gravdahl, Kendra Larson, Brooke Keys and Becky Swanson.
“In 2004, we had already won (state) once, and taken third the year before, which made it even more difficult to hold steady both days to walk away with another title,” Rollins recalled. “We had the lead on day one and It took a lot of mental determination from our whole team to not fall apart the second day.”
In 2002, Pequot Lakes captured the first state team championship in school history by winning the Class 1A girls’ title. The Patriots’ lineup included: Jackie Heslop, Ashley and Val Meschke, Larson, Courtney Suemnick and Gravdahl. Pequot trailed three-time defending champion Roseau by four strokes after the first day, but rallied on the final day to beat the Rams by 12 strokes. Jackie Heslop tied for fourth individually with a 157 total.
“No one thought we could compete with Roseau,” Rollins said of the 2002 title. “They had won two years in a row and were going for their third title. I remember coach Heslop telling us that we were the ‘snakes in the grass’ and that no one would see us coming. Which was true, no one thought we could win and we pulled it out.”
What made those Patriot teams successful?
“Coach Heslop did a great job of ensuring our team had a deep bond of companionship, but also made sure we worked hard as a team,” Rollins said. “We were like family, who had one collective goal and who strived to achieve it.”
The Patriots’ girls golf success continued years later, especially in 2014 when Pequot Lakes finished as Class 2A state runners-up and junior Maggie Heggerston tied for state individual medalist. The Patriots also placed third at state in 2015. One thing I remember from that year was Pequot Lakes’ Amanda Nies playing 36 holes through the constant pain of a serious knee injury during state competition.
Patriots softball team 2nd at state
In the spring of 2016, Pequot Lakes finished as state runners-up after falling to Zumbrota-Mazeppa 7-0 in the Class 2A state championship softball game in Mankato.
It was a tough finish to an admirable season as the Patriots reached the state title game for the first time in program history. The only thing that stopped Pequot Lakes from winning state was a Cougar team that set a tournament record by not surrendering an earned run in three games at state.
What I remember most about that game was a storm, with heavy rains and high winds, that quickly blew into Mankato. The players quickly loaded into buses and were transported to a nearby school. I remember sitting in my car listening to a radio report about the storm. They talked about area counties where people needed to take shelter and which direction the storm was traveling. The only problem was I didn’t know what county I was in that day.
No one knew how long the delay would be because of water puddles around the softball complex, so I headed back to Brainerd to write my story on deadline for The Dispatch. The game was eventually finished later that night. It was a tough ending to an impressive season, but it marked the best finish in program history as Pequot Lakes finished 25-3 overall.
The Patriots, who advanced to the title game by defeating Pipestone 5-1 and Rockford 2-1, were led by pitcher Kathryn Miska and infiedler Alex Kotaska, who both made the all-tournament team.
Patriots track success
Continuing with Pequot Lakes sports, it’s hard to overlook the successful track and field run for the Patriot girls and boys over the past decade, especially the PL boys winning the team points title and the girls finishing third at the state meet in 2018 at Hamline.
The boys’ won the state team title as senior Reid Pierzinski scored all of the Patriots’ points - the first time that was achieved in state boys’ competition.
The Patriot boys and girls also both finished as state runners-up in the spring of 2017 while the girls were also third in 2015. Pequot Lakes athletes won many state individual titles and set many school records during those dominant years, especially in the relay events.
As a sports writer/photographer, you definitely stayed busy covering the large contingent of Patriot athletes at the state meet.
Perfect game for Warrior pitcher
The neat thing about high school sports is you never know what you might witness on any given day. In the spring of 2019, a regular-season softball game between the Brainerd Warriors and the visiting Fergus Falls Otters became memorable, especially for freshman pitcher Emma Tautges.
Tautges turned in a stellar effort with 10 strikeouts in pitching a perfect game as Brainerd triumphed 10-0. A neat twist was that Tautges’ twin sister, Olivia, scored the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning to end the game on the 10-run rule.
Emma didn’t need to pitch the final inning, but it may not have mattered the way she was throwing that night.
“I was nervous,” said Tautges, who became the first Warrior pitcher to toss a perfect game since Nikki Anderson in 2012. “I was thinking, okay, please get this game over.”
Flyers at State baseball
Also last spring, I covered the Little Falls Flyers facing St. Thomas Academy in the Class 3A state baseball tournament at the University of Minnesota’s Siebert Field in Minneapolis.
Playing at state was nothing new for the Flyers, who qualified for the 15th time in program history. But the day was memorable for me because of the opportunity to cover my first state tournament at Siebert Field.
St. Thomas defeated the Flyers 3-1 in a memorable matchup that was scoreless until the Cadets scored all three of their runs in the fourth inning.
STA won behind standout pitcher Duke Coborn, who struck out 11 and allowed just three hits. Meanwhile, the Flyers’ Travis Wenzel kept his team in the game with six strikeouts. It was the first time all year that Wenzel allowed three runs in one inning.
The state appearance came on the 40th anniversary of Little Falls’ Class 2A state championship win over Minnetonka. The Flyers also won state in 1957.