The Valley City High School football team was among the highlights of 2012.
Editor's note: 2012 was my first full calendar year as a staff member of the Times-Record, and what a year it was. Barnes County saw championships on both the state and national levels, and even the teams that fell just short gave fans a heck of a ride. Although there were too many sports stories to choose from, I worked with other members of the editorial staff to choose this list of 10 biggest happenings in local sports from the last year. With any abbreiviated list, there is sure to be a bit of disagreement. If you feel I missed anything big, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll publish responses at a later date.
At the high school and collegiate level, there was no sport that saw more consistent success around Barnes County than football.
Of the four area high school teams, three (LaMoure/Litchville-Marion, Valley City, and Maple Valley/Enderlin) made the playoffs, and Valley City State University finished 7-3, just a smidgen short of the NAIA playoffs.
Among the highlights was a trip to the state semifinals for Valley City High School, which upset Bishop Ryan, the top seed in the AA West, before losing 14-8 in Grafton in the state semis. The team finished with three All-State players (Jesse Hass, Spencer Meyer, and Tayler Lentz) and eight All-Region selections (Hass, Meyer, Lentz, Steven Horner, Caleb Peterson, Shane Undem, Anthony Olstad and Brandon Breckheimer.)
Though the Vikings missed getting their second straight trip to the playoffs, they finished the year with a winning record and a No. 24 spot in the final national poll. The season ended with a 21-20 win over Robert Morris, in which the Vikings trailed 20-0 at halftime, before coming back in the second half with 21 unanswered points. On an individual level, tight end Ken Eliacin was named a 3rd team All-American by the Beyond Sports Network, and was one of seven players (along with Aaron Freije, Garrett Jackson, Jake Thurston, Thomas Cortez, Derek Elliot, George Trujillo, and Tommy Zinke) named to the A.I.I. All-Conference team. Aditionally, Freiji was named the conference's defensive co-MVP, Zinke was named Most Valuable Senior, and coach Dennis McCulloch was named the A.I.I. Coach of the Year.
If that wasn't enough, defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Gregg Horner was named the 2012 NAIA Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association.
Enderlin/Maple Valley Makes History
The Enderlin/Maple Valley High School softball team made North Dakota history this spring when the Falcons won the sport's inaugural Class B state title with a 2-1 win over Central Cass.
The title brought the program full circle for coach Neva Hamre, who started the program in Enderlin two years before the sport was sanctioned by the NDHSAA, and has stepped away from the head coach position since winning the state title.
At times, the Falcons made it look easy, using the speed of leadoff hitter Abbie Tinjum to get on base, and following her with a powerful lineup that included twins Megan and Kaylee Johnson, Cassie Pautz, Krista Thielges, Lakken Boeder and Megan Kasowski.
It led to 33 hits in the first two days of the state tournament, though the offense was slowed down to six in the six in the state championship game. Tinjum scored both of the Falcons' runs in the win over Central Cass, and Kaylee Johnson held her own on the mound to get the win.
EMV finished the season 18-1, its only loss coming on the opening game of the year. The Johnson twins were both named to the All-State team and Hamre was named Class B coach of the year.
Darien Moore Wins National Title
VCSU's revamped track and field program brought back its first national championship in 2012 when Darien, a junior, took first place in the hammer throw at the NAIA National Championships in Marion, Ind., in May.
Moore, who was a junior during the outdoor spring season but was eligible as a freshman during last winter's indoor season, entered the NAIA meet ranked first in the hammer entering the event, and had a throw of 60.89 meters to win title.
But the national title was merely the tip of the iceberg for Moore, who was an All-American in the shot put after taking 5th place at the outdoor meet with a personal best of 17.35 meters.
During the indoor winter season, Moore set the pace with two All-American performances in the weight throw and the shot put. He finished with a fifth place finish in the weight throw (18.87 meters) and seventh place (16.34 meters) in the shot put.
VCSU was also represented by Wayne Engelhard (800 meter run) at the indoor championships and Amber Volanti (Javelin) at the outdoor championships.
VCSU Women Get 2nd Straight National Berth
The VCSU womens basketball team had its ups and downs during the 2011-2012 season, but ultimately got the wins it needed to when it beat Dakota State University and Jamestown College in the A.I.I. tournament to advance to the team's second straight NAIA tournament, despite returning only three players from the 2010-2011 season.
Though the Vikings lost to Cal State San Marcos in the A.I.I. championship, the team's automatic berth took them to Sioux City, Iowa, where they had an extra day to take in the national experience before narrowly losing to eventual national runner-up College of the Ozarks in the first round.
It was a game in which the Vikings pushed a top-caliber team, but couldn't finish the upset as key players ran into foul trouble.
Though the Vikings didn't get the first-round win they were hoping for, coach Jill DeVries was pleased with what her young team accomplished.
â€śI think itâ€™s a successful season, particularly considering the adversity with kids getting hurt and kids not being on the team anymore,â€ť DeVries said at the tournament. â€śWe never really felt sorry for ourselves and Iâ€™m very proud of the kids for that.â€ť
Thus far in the new season, the success has continued. The 2012-2013 Vikings return all five starters from the NAIA tournament team from last year, along with many of the team's key role players from last year and a few new freshman that have their sights set on trip number three.
VCHS Gymnastics Takes 7th in State
The Valley City High School gymnastics team isn't the largest team, but in a sport like gymnastics, that doesn't always matter.
The Hi-Liners made the most of what they had, taking 4th in the Eastern Dakota Conference and 7th in the state in their final season with then-coach Carina Roehrich.
During the state team meet, the Hi-Liners got personal best scores from numerous gymnasts including Sara Gilbertson, Taylor Johnson, Jordyn Sayler and seniors Molly Willson and Tera Laney-Uecker.
The Hi-Liners also had Johnson, Brienne Roehrich and Willson competing in the state individual meet.
Roehrich was named the EDC coach of the year for her efforts with the team.
The Hi-Liners are looking to continue the success this year, the first with new head coach Dave Fisher, whose wife and assistant, Suzanne, heads the Valley Twisters program.
VCHS returns plenty of faces from last year and also has a few new standouts as the team hopes to shine when they host the state meet at the Hi-Liner Activity Center.
An extremely mild winter early in 2012 gave local spring sports teams a chance to see something different than they're used to in the preseason â€” the outdoors.
Though the temperature wasn't always ideal, the Valley City State University baseball and softball teams got to practice on the turf of Shelly Ellig Field at Lokken Stadium in early February, where they were able to see live ground balls well before either baseball coach Casey Olney or softball coach Chad Slyter had experienced during their tenures at VCSU.
Though the work in their rare outdoor workouts wasn't much different than what took place inside, Olney said it gave the players a chance to work in a more familiar environment and allowed players to use real baseballs, compared to the softer practice balls indoors.
"For anybody whose played baseball, it's an entirely different feel being outside in an open space with the backgrounds that you're used to," Olney said in February.
But it wasn't just VCSU where the weather difference was apparent.
All spring long, high school baseball and softball was played largely as planned, with minimal delays due to weather.
In the high school track season, teams including Valley City were even able to start their outdoor seasons earlier than expected due to the lack of snow, thus giving athletes an extra meet or two to qualify for state.
Even golfers got a boost, with the Valley City Town and Country Club opening March 16, nearly a month ahead of the course's target date.
Brandon Larson Wins 195-Pound State Title
In all his years of wrestling, the only thing that Valley City High School's Brandon Larson couldn't seem to pin down was a state title.
But February in Bismarck, Larson accomplished the feat in his senior season, getting a 16-0 tech fall win against West Fargo's Drew Johnston in the 195-pound state championship match.
It wrapped up a career in which he achieved school records in wins, takedowns and team points scored in a career.
He also had a second-place state finish in 2010, when Valley City was Class B, and a fourth-place finish in state in 2011, a finish that was affected by illness.
But in Bismarck, he achieved his goal, getting the win and ending his high school career with the state title and only one loss in the entire season, which happened at the Rumble on the Red tournament last December.
It helped pace the Hi-Liners, who finished 7th at the state meet and six total placers. Mark Miller (126), Shane Undem (138) and Reed Beckman (145) all took fourth place in their divisions. Steven Horner took fifth place in the heavyweight division and Brady Beckman took seventh at 220 pounds.
â€śI thought we wrestled great,â€ť VCHS coach Aaron Larson said after the tournament. â€śEvery kid wrestled to or above their seed, so anytime you can do that itâ€™s a great tournament.â€ť
Maple Valley Basketball Takes Charge
The Maple Valley High School boys basketball team has become somewhat of a local dynasty, winning four straight Barnes County Tournaments and narrowly missing state in that same time span.
But last year, it was the school's girls that turned a few heads when they pulled out a fourth-place finish in the always-tough District 2 tournament, and nearly upset Kindred in the district semifinals, eventually losing 63-52 to Northern Cass in the Region 1 3rd place game.
It wasn't bad considering the team had only one win against District 2 opponents in the three years prior, and had only four wins total the season before.
But with a core young core that includes now-freshman Rylee Nudell, current senior Cassie Pautz, and now-junior Abbie Tinjum, the Raiders were scrappy, confident and even took home the Barnes County Tournament trophy in a win over Valley City High School.
But the boys weren't too shabby either, riding the depth of seniors Ty Smith, Ethen Preston, Dylan Lerud, and then-junior Jordan Haseleu to a double-digit win streak.
The Raider boys finished the season with a 79-54 win over Kindred in the Region 1 third-place game.
VCSU, Hanna Field Continue Upgrades
VCSU's Lokken Stadium and VCHS's Hanna Field were among the local sports facilities that received changes throughout the year, as both schools made efforts to improve the experiences for fans, coaches, and players at local sporting events.
At both Lokken Stadium and W.E. Osmon Fieldhouse, large video boards were added this year to help improve fan experiences with things such as in-game statistics, advertisements, and pre-made video content such as player introductions.
It continued a recent slew of improvements at VCSU, which included a new scoreboard last year, alongside the addition of field turf to Shelly Ellig Field at Lokken Stadium.
The stadium also had its track surface repaired in a joint effort between the university and Valley City Public Schools.
Further north in Valley City, Hanna Field, the Hi-Liners' home, received a new press boxes and a new scoreboard.
The two press boxes, each of which is larger than the one box it replaced, were made by students at the Sheyenne Valley Area Career and Technology Center and feature plenty of room for media, coaches, and scoreboard operators. The Hi-Liners also got a new scoreboard on the south end of the stadium, which includes an L.E.D. message display system at the top. Additionally, Hanna Field got a set of play clocks, one of which is below the scoreboard, the other of which is behind the north end zone, allowing players to more easily keep track of the time left before a play.
Babe Ruth, Legion Teams Narrowly Miss State
Although the VCHS baseball team struggled in its spring season, the summer proved to be a different story as the Valley City Post 60 American Legion and Babe Ruth baseball teams had state tournament berths in reach, with the Legion team taking second in their section and the Babe Ruth team taking second in their district.
For the legion team, the season started rough. The team got out to an 0-8 start, but clicked as the summer continued, and eventually finished with the No. 3 seed in the Section 1 tournament.
When the Legion team got to the section tournament, they got the wins they needed to, including a 2-0 win over second-seeded Kindred, in which pitcher Chase Carpenter allowed only three hits and three walks to advance to the sectional championship, where they lost to 28-1 to Wahpeton.
"It's a rough way to end it but from how we started, we've improved 100 percent," Valley City infielder/pitcher Josh Gilbertson said at the time.
The Babe Ruth team came even closer in its potential state berth, losing 1-0 to Oakes in the District 6 championship game in Steele.
In the deciding game, Valley City pitcher Dalton Ondracek allowed only two hits, and the game was decided by a run scored on a sacrifice fly. Valley City had several chances to score but couldn't get a run past Oakes, which was undefeated against district opponents all year.
It capped off a season in which Valley City had strong hitting and pitching, but eventually were seeded fourth in the district tournament.
When they got to the tournament, they eliminated LaMoure, the No. 3 seed, and Steele, the No. 2 seed, before playing the nail-biter with Oakes.
It left coach Lance Lukes plenty pleased.
"They kept growing and growing and we peaked at the right time," Lukes said after the season-ending loss to Oakes. "The defense came around, the players got set in positions, so it was what you want to do."
VCHS Seniors Place at State Track Meet
The VCHS track teams sent three seniors out on high notes this spring when Jenna Coghlan, Paul Viland and Jenna Jacob all placed in events at the state meet in May.
Viland, the only member of the boys team that went to the meet, took fourth place in the pole vault. Coghlan, who spent that weekend going between state in Bismarck and regional softball in Fargo, took fourth in the javelin but had the top performance in the EDC. Jacob took 6th in the 100 meter dash, the only time she'd place individually in her career.
LMM Basketball Ends Co-Op
When the Litchville-Marion/Montpelier basketball teams played in their district tournaments in last February, it marked the end of an era. The tournaments were the last time the co-op played together, at least on the basketball court, as Litchville-Marion moved to co-op with LaMoure, and Montpelier left to play with Edgeley/Kulm.
The co-op remains, however, in girls volleyball, where the Rebels played a strong season in the fall.
VCHS seniors Nick Jenson and Ben Sorenson finished their senior seasons with strong performances at the Class A boys golf meet. Jenson finished with a 155, which tied for sixth place, making him an all-state selection, and Sorenson wasn't far behind with a two-day total of 160.
â€śThese guys (Sorenson and Jenson) have both played in state tournaments for probably four years, so theyâ€™re probably used to this,â€ť coach Buff Murray said. â€śTo have them go out with a good round, thatâ€™s good for them.â€ť
Jared Lentz also represented the team at the meet.
The VCHS volleyball team advanced to its first EDC tournament since 2008 when it beat Devils Lake 3-1 in a play-in match at the Hi-Liner Activity Center.
It ended a season in which the Hi-Liners showed their depth at different points, getting big games from players all around the court. including Mariah Olstad, Jasmine Stevens, Dierra and Danica Diegel, Jessica Denholm, Claire Olson and Brenna Dieterle.
"There was a lot of heart with some of those girls and I hope they can bring that into next year's season because there was good talent and next year there's going to be good talent, if not even better talent with the girls we have coming up," coach Katy Van Dyke said.
The VCHS tennis teams had success from both genders this season, with both the boys and girls advancing to their respective EDC tournaments.
The girls made it to their EDC tournament, led by Claire Olson and Kierstin Lorenz, but couldn't get any representatives to the state tournament, though Lorenz was named to the All-EDC team. The boys hosted an EDC tournament play-in match, sweeping Wahpeton 5-0 to advance to the regional tournament. It marked the first time that one of VCHS coach Matt Nielson's teams had swept had opponent.
VC Team goes to Nationals
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The Valley City Xtreme girls fast pitch softball team, which includes members of the VCHS softball team, won the 16U state championship this summer in Fargo and advanced to the Northern Nationals tournament in Greenfield, Wisc., in late July and early August. The Xtreme played teams from Illinois, Missouri and Wisconson in the tournament before being eliminated.