Top 10 local sporting events of 2012

The top ten sporting Monticello sporting events of 2012, as decided and described by Monticello Times Sports Editor Clay Sawatzke. (Note: these only include games that Sawatzke witnessed in person. His apologies to girls soccer for missing their semifinal shootout with Park Center. Again.)

10. Jan. 12, 2012 – Reeves vs. Geyen: Big men fall hard

What happened: In a tag team match where Rob James and Craig “High Flyin’” Geyen took on the much larger duo of Johnny Parks and Johnny “The Hit Man” Reeves. But size turned out to be inconsequential, as the bad boy High Flyin’ Geyen reversed his way out of several headlocks and used leverage to win two different tests of strength with The Hit Man Reeves. Still, Reeves almost gained the upper hand, when in a stunning twist, Geyen’s partner entered the ring, knocked Reeves off Geyen, earned a tag-in, and proceeded to pin Johnny Parks to earn a shocking upset victory for the bad boys of American Wrestling Federation. Yet the surprises weren’t done. With the match over, the guilt of a cheating partner was weighing on High Flyin’ Geyen. So while James continued to beat on Parks after the match, Geyen and The Hit Man decided to join forces. Their tag team effort to toss James out of the ring ignited a combustible crowd, and sent everyone home with memories that surely weren’t soon forgotten.

My Take: Obviously this wasn’t the most serious of 2012 sporting events. Then again, they’re sports, and as we’re all reminded from time to time none of them are all that serious. But either way, this was one of the most enjoyable events to cover during the last year, especially as I was allowed to use a combination of sarcasm and hyperbole in a column format that wouldn’t likely be acceptable when writing about an actual high school athletic competition.

9. Nov. 8, 2012 – Magic cross country continues strong tradition

What happened: The Magic girls cross-country team was surely disappointed to not be back in the state meet, getting a chance to defend their state championship from 2011. But the individuals, both male and female, were able to take the sting off a little bit.
On the ladies’ side, Mariah Betzler and Amber Seidenkranz represented the program with pride (and plenty of ability). Betzler finished ninth and Seidenkranz was 12th, as each girl earned All-State honors.
The Monticello boys team sent three individuals, as many as Coach Dave Wik could remember sending individually, and each of them walked (or ran) away from the meet happy. With 176 runners at the meet, finishing in the top half is a pretty big accomplishment. Derek Secord and Colin Lyndorff both managed that, while Oliver Winsor finished 115th. Lyndorff led the team, finishing in 50th place, and finishing his career with a personal best time of 16:24.

My take: Certainly a disappointing team finish for the Magic girls team. But, the state meet ended up being one of very few events I covered this year where each athlete seemed to come away happy with their performance. Lyndorff was rightly giddy over his personal best and top 50 finish, while both junior boys were excited to have had the chance to be there, and showed potential that they could grow into top 50 runners with some work this offseason.
For the girls, well it’s tough to be mad about being All-State, and I don’t think Betzler and Seidenkranz were. It was a deserved finish to another outstanding season for the two big name runners who continue to improve year after year.
8. March 8, 2012: Magic Wrestling gets first state win in 31 years

What happened: Just a year removed from graduating one of its best senior classes ever (including two individual state champions), Monticello managed to win its section and return to the team state meet for the second year in a row.
In 2011, the Magic made a large impact at individual state. In 2012, they wanted to make an impact at team state. They did. After an opening round loss to Scott West High School, Monticello bounced back to beat Windom/Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin 39-31, earning their first state tournament team victory since 1981.
Midway through the second-round match, Monticello trailed 19-18 and Seth Gardner (160 pounds) trailed 2-0. But in an instant, a reversal from Gardner put his opponent on his back, flipping not just the kid, not just this round, but also the whole match. Seconds later Gardner would have a pin, and Monticello would hold a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

My take: A year after a thrilling individual state wrestling tournament for Monticello, the team came back to the state meet with lowered expectations. After all, they had lost a handful of the best wrestlers that the program had seen in decades. The first round beating from Scott West did nothing to change that perspective. But, the second-round match, a battle that came down to Monticello turning a couple of big matches (including a decisive upset victory by Ross Henderson) proved that at times depth and balance (and a favorable matchup) can outweigh star power. The match also gave Monticello one more performance on the huge stage at the Xcel Center. The Magic didn’t disappoint in that one, taking Milaca to the wire in a thrilling match that had the whole stadium paying attention.
“The ‘X’ got really loud when Milaca was wrestling Monticello,” stated Coach Andy Zigan after the tournament.
A great way to end another good season for the wrestling program.
7. June 14, 2012 – Magic go five for five at track and field state meet

What happened: Monticello qualified a rather low number of five athletes for the state track meet this year. But, those athletes made a rather large impact. Sadie Fedor, the lone girls representative, and Colin Lyndorff, Derek Secord, Sam Johnson and Phil LaVallee, representing the boys, all turned in All-State performances at a track meet that no one left disappointed. Fedor, a senior, went out on top by securing her personal best and reaching the finals of the long jump competition. There, she finished in ninth place, earning the All-State recognition. The boys 4×800 team, made up of all four boys competitors at the meet, earned a sixth-place finish, guaranteeing All-State honors for each of them. A couple of individuals weren’t satisfied though. Johnson, like Fedor, turned in a personal best in his individual event, the 400-meter dash, on his way to a ninth place finish. LaVallee meanwhile finished third in an 800-meter race that came down to the final steps. The senior, already tired from the relay ran earlier, still managed to kick it down during the stretch run, outrunning a group of three runners within tenths of a second of each other, for third place, and one final All-State finish for the Magic.

My take: You probably won’t see a more impressive collection of high school athletes in Minnesota than at the state track and field meet. And the Magic representatives competed with the best of them this June. Each event was special for different reasons, but the long jump was memorable to me.
Fedor was at her best with her back against the wall. As she did multiple times during her senior year, she turned in her best possible jump when she needed it most. After qualifying for state on her last possible jump of sections, she was in the same position at state. She needed a personal best on her last jump of prelims to get to the final round (and earn All-State). Somehow, she got it. And if there is one thing more satisfying than winning in sports, it’s watching athletes be at their absolute best at the absolute most important times. Fedor was.

6. May 10, 2012 – Softball team walks off against Cambridge

What happened: A late rally pushed Monticello past Cambridge in a thrilling conference game. Down 2 going to the seventh and final inning the Magic scratched together a rally that was punctuated by a two-out, two-run double from Carly Towner to tie the game, and followed by a walk-off single from Kelly Watson that allowed Towner to come in to score the game-winning run.

My take: One of the most exciting games I covered all year. The Magic certainly missed a couple of opportunities earlier in the game, but that just built the excitement and meaning of the final inning. Watson had come up short in an earlier at bat with runners on, making her final swing all the more satisfying. In contrast, Towner had been perfect nearly all game, seemingly building the momentum to the final crescendo of her delivering the game-tying hit and then wheeling around the bases to score the game-winning run.
There are few things in sports more exciting than a walk-off win, and as far as I can recall, this was the lone one that I was actually witness to this season. That is definitely worthy of a spot on this list.

5. Nov. 1, 2012 – Volleyball season ends in a thriller

What happened: Monticello’s season came to an end in the section semifinals, but not before a nail-biting roller coaster of a battle against the eventual section champions from Bemidji. Monticello was the host and higher seed, but the Lumberjacks were the more experienced team with a much better record. Still, Monticello looked deserving of the high seed early. The Magic jumped out to a big lead in the first set, but Bemidji didn’t panic. The Lumberjacks slowly chopped away at the lead, and eventually worked their way back to a first set victory. But neither team could keep momentum going for long. Monticello again started fast in the second and held the lead through the end of the set. The Magic also took the third set. But the hosts couldn’t quite close the door. Monticello held a lead in the fourth, but couldn’t finish it. And in the fifth, Bemidji looked like a state tournament team as they led the whole set on their way to a 15-8.

My take: As the only loss to make the list, this game clearly earned its way in. It was a strange situation, aided by subsection seeding, which allowed Monticello to be the host, the high seed, and the underdog. And while Coach Beth Modaff admitted to playing up the underdog card with the Magic, they certainly played like a favorite for various stretches against a team that would cruise in their eventual section final. The Magic showed incredible heart and determination in earning so many chances against a highly skilled volleyball team.
Also, this was another game that featured one of the best individual performances of the year. Jamie Maus was nothing short of brilliant as the Magic went to her time and time again to keep pushing them in front in the continual back-and-forth battle. Maus finished the game with a career-high 38 kills, despite being the clear focal point of the Bemidji defense.

4. Sept. 20, 2012 – Last minute march keeps Magic football perfect

What happened: In a matchup of 2-0 teams that proved to be as even as their record, Monticello used some last minute heroics to keep their unblemished season going.
The game was back and forth from start to finish. In the end, Monticello made more big plays. After Will Bauman blocked a field goal with four minutes left, each team traded possession quickly. Ultimately, Cambridge punted back to the Magic with two minutes left. A big return from Hayden Laimer set the Magic up near midfield with one last chance at regulation heroics. It wouldn’t be the last time Laimer’s name was called. But first, quarterback Matt Bonk found Michael Witschen, twice, down the middle of the field for big plays. That set Monticello up at the 16-yard line. It was Laimer’s turn again. Bonk found him on a quick out, and he did the rest. He broke a tackle. He juked away from another. Broke one more. And then, a clear path to the end zone and 3-0.
“Big players make big plays,” said Coach Jason Telecky after the game.

My take: The other game that qualified as an almost walk-off win. But while the softball game lacked drama late, this one had it from the opening kickoff. It was the old unstoppable force vs. immovable object game. Monticello’s offense vs. Cambridge’s vaunted defense. For most of the game, the teams played to a draw. When one team seemed to take the upper hand, the other would snatch it right back with a big play. For Monti, many of those big players were made by All-Conference senior Hayden Laimer. His heroics down the stretch were as noteworthy as any individual effort throughout 2012; but the Magic may not have even been in that position if not for an earlier interception by Laimer, or maybe not even with the help of his earlier field position shifting punt returns, or lock down defense coverage. For combination of thrill, meaningfulness, and individual greatness, this game was tough to beat.

3. Oct. 17, 2012 – Magic football clinches first conference championship in decades

What happened: On the final night of conference play, Monticello hosted St. Michael-Albertville for one of the biggest regular season football games in program history. The Magic entered the game in control of their own destiny for a conference championship and a section bye. They never lost control. Monticello dominated almost throughout. They fell behind 3-0, but responded immediately (as they did all year) by moving down the field to take a 7-3 lead on a 39-yard touchdown run by Jake Olson. A field goal from Jake Kounkel extended the lead to 10-3 before the half. The Knights wouldn’t get any closer than that. A late 62-yard scamper by Olson provided the final touchdown, and the first conference championship (or share of, as the Magic shared it with Rogers) in 25 years.

My take: In a vacuum, this game wasn’t nearly as thrilling as the other football game on this list, or many of the other games on this list for that matter. But the beauty of sports is they aren’t played in a vacuum. For varying reasons, certain games take on special significance.  The meaning of this one was obvious. With a conference title, section bye and rivalry bragging rights on the line, it was likely the most meaningful regular season Monticello football game in 25 years. And the Magic played that way. Their attitude, focus and intensity were unmatched in a game that they controlled nearly from start to finish. The brilliance of Jake Olson was also on display this game, as he broke two long touchdown runs, including the conference-championship clinching 62-yarder in the game’s final minutes.
This one was also extra special to cover because of the sheer amount of people that get invested into a high school football team. I went home and wrote a short recap the night of the game, and I think it took hours, if that, for the story to climb to the top of the most read list on our website.
Lastly, it was special because of the history. Going 25 years without a conference championship for a once-proud program is a long long time. With Coach Jason Telecky here, I don’t believe we’ll be seeing that kind of championship drought again anytime soon. It’s a program that is trending upward fast, and it’s been memorable to cover it from near the ground floor.

2. March 15, 2012 – Magic girls basketball earns first state appearance

What happened: In the 100th year of the state tournament, the Monticello girls basketball team decided to see what the fuss was all about. Despite a regular season that hovered around .500, the girls got hot at the right time to get to the section final and once there they grinded out a 43-38 victory over Dassel-Cokato to help realize their state dreams. Monticello led the section championship game throughout, and even though they never extended it past eight, it felt in control in such a low scoring game. Yet, suddenly everything spiraled out of control. Monticello stopped making layups and started turning the ball over, and an eight-point lead turned into a five-point deficit over the course of about nine minutes without a Magic bucket. But the Magic weren’t ready to give in. Bailey Bechtold hit a jump shot to snap the skid. After a few minutes of back and forth, a Grace Sawatzke layup cut the lead to one with under four minutes left. A minute and a half later, a free throw from Kallie Gau tied the defensive struggle up for the first time in 10 minutes. Mo Sawatzke and the Chargers traded a hoop to knot it at 38, but then the Magic took the lead for good. A steal by Morgan Lindenfelser lead to free throws for Grace Sawatzke and a lead for the Magic that they wouldn’t relinquish in the game’s waning moments.

My Take: This one was obviously personal for me. With two cousins in the starting five and a sister getting minutes off the bench, it is fair to say that I was a bit invested in the results of this team. After years of building to this team, and this year, late in the season the Magic seemed in danger of squandering all of those years of work. But then, they got hot at exactly the right time. They won three straight to earn the section one seed. They cruised in a first round victory. Grace Sawatzke facilitated a second-half flurry to get by Delano in the semifinals. And in the finals, Monticello showed enough grit to grind out a historic win in the history of the program (and the school). As special as it was to watch for family reasons, it was also special to watch a team where so many different players made key impacts. Beyond the usual suspects of Grace, Mo Sawatzke, and Tish Jude, the Magic got star-level play from Morgan Lindenfelser, and big time plays from roll players such as Gau, Bechtold, Gabby Laimer, Kelly Watson and Laura Sawatzke.
In short, watching a dream that was years in the making finally unfold was an unforgettable moment.

1. March 8, 2012 – All is Fair

What happened: Monticello boys swimming and diving earned its highest-ever state meet finish (second place) behind another perfect state meet for junior Paul Fair. For the second straight year Fair played a prominent role in each of Monticello’s four individual state championships on their way to racking up enough points to earn the second place finish overall. Individually, Fair won state in the 100-meter butterfly and the 200-meter freestyle. In two relays, Fair used significant help from his teammates to add to Monticello’s championship totals. In the 200 freestyle relay his teammates got to the anchor leg (Fair) in a virtual tie with St. Thomas Academy. In the 400-meter freestyle relay, the Magic used the same set up. Getting to the anchor at a dead heat made the result a foregone conclusion. It was a fourth gold for the Magic and a big boost toward their second place finish overall, as they came in just 11 points ahead of Breck/Blake.

My Take: My goodness. As Paul Fair has proven time and again (including his recent signing with the University of Minnesota), he is simply on a different level than most high school swimmers, or for that matter, athletes. The performance he turned in at the state meet was downright dominating for the second straight season, and it provided some of the best quotes of the season, from his teammates – some of whom are pretty incredible swimmers in their own right.
After the Magic cruised to victory in the 400-meter relay, I asked the relay team if it was really that easy.
“It is when you’ve got Paul,” responded his twin brother, Jack, rather immediately.
Later, after Fair had beaten the 50-meter state champion in a 50-meter race down the stretch of the 200 relay, I asked the team if they were nervous when Paul jumped in at the same time as the reigning state champion in that distance.
No, they said.
“You don’t beat Paul,” said senior Erick Topp.
Enough said.