Local athletes help make 2006 another memorable season
Having local athletes win a national title, earn all-American honors and compete at state tournaments highlighted another memorable year in sports.
Among the local highlights of the 2006 sports scene were Park Rapids' Luke Herbert, Ryan Chmielewski and Dan Long lead Oak Hills Christian College to the ACCA National Basketball Championship; Menahga's Kirby Anderson earning All-American honors in wrestling; Park Rapids' Jim Harding being inducted into the NJCAA Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame; and several athletes compete in various state tournaments.
Following are some of the major accomplishments of our area athletes in 2006.
Oak Hills wins title
Not many people think of Oak Hills Christian College in Bemidji as a power in men's basketball.
Thanks to Ryan Chmielewski, Luke Herbert and Dan Long, Oak Hills can now be considered a national champion.
The three 2002 graduates of Park Rapids Area High School were three of the five starters on the Oak Hills team that captured the title at the Association of Christian College Athletics Division II National Basketball Championships in Bethany, OK in March.
Oak Hills entered as the No. 6 seed out of 10 teams and defeated No. 3 Barclay College (Kansas) 86-83 in the quarterfinals, No. 2 Association Free Lutheran Bible School (a fellow Minnesota school located in Plymouth) 70-63 in the semifinals and No. 1 Emmanus Bible College (Iowa) 66-63 in the finals to give Oak Hills its first national title in any sport.
"No offense to my guys, but we weren't the most talented team I've had in my nine years," said head coach Dan Hovestol, who has been the head coach for all nine years Oak Hills has offered basketball. "But they were the team that put in the effort to realize the dream. I'm really proud of them."
Oak Hills got off to a rocky start this season by opening with an 0-7 record. Six of those losses were by at least 23 points with five being by at least 30 points.
Oak Hills turned things around when the Park Rapids trio joined the team during the second semester after Christmas break. Oak Hills went 18-7 the rest of the way, including three close wins at the national tournament.
"When the season began, I was more concerned with winning a game than having the potential to win a national title. Because we lost a few of our solid recruits at the start of the year, I was first and foremost hoping to have enough bodies to field a team. I lost seven of my 10 players. At that point I had severe doubts about even attending the national tournament, much less winning a championship," said Hovestol. "We added six new players in the spring to round out our nine-player group. Ryan, Luke and Dan joined us during the second semester and all three were starters. It's no coincidence that our 18-7 record in the second semester occurred when they decided to join us. There would have been no way we would be celebrating a national title without the efforts of the Park Rapids group."
The Park Rapids trio played well in all three tournament games.
In the win over Barclay, Herbert had 17 points (on 7 of 11 shooting), 13 rebounds and four assists while Long had 16 points (on 6 of 8 shooting), 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. Chmielewski ran the offense, finishing with one free throw, four rebounds and four assists. Glen Bratz led the team with 34 points.
In the semifinals, Oak Hills claimed a 32-15 lead at the half in the win over Association Free Lutheran. Long had 13 points and 11 rebounds, Herbert had 10 points and six rebounds and Chmielewski had 3 points, six assists and five rebounds. Bratz again led the way with 22 points.
The championship game was also close as Oak Hills saw a 35-21 lead in the second half vanish. Emmanus led 60-59 with two minutes remaining before Chmielewski hit a 3-pointer to give Oak Hills the lead for good. Bratz scored 27 points to earn tournament MVP honors while Herbert had 11 points and six rebounds, Long had 6 points and six rebounds and Chmielewski had 6 points and two assists.
For the season, all three Park Rapids players put up consistent numbers.
Herbert, a 6-4 post, averaged 16.9 points for second on the team and a team-leading 10.9 rebounds a game. In 25 starts, Herbert shot 58 percent from the field (170 for 293, including 36 of 88 3-pointers) and 60.5 percent at the free-throw line (46 for 76) with 273 rebounds, 83 assists, 12 blocked shots, 20 steals and 422 points.
Long, a 6-6 post, also played in 25 games and averaged 13.6 points (for fourth on the team) and 9.6 rebounds (to trail only Herbert) a game. Long shot 53.9 percent from the field (137 for 254) and 59.9 percent at the line (66 for 112) with 241 rebounds, 50 assists, 21 steals, 340 points and a team-leading 40 blocks.
Chmielewski, a 6-foot point guard, led the team with 166 assists (7.2 per game) while averaging 5.4 points a night. Chmielewski made 41 of 144 shots (including 18 of 81 3-pointers) and 24 of 45 free throws while tallying 124 points, 98 rebounds and 17 steals.
"The impact the three players from Park Rapids had on our team was incredible," said Hovestol. "Ryan provided stability at point for me and was a solid leader in running our offense and setting people up defensively. Dan was an inside presence that we desperately needed. Dan was a solid rebounder and shot blocker and was hard for teams to contain offensively. Luke was simple solid all-around. He could play with his back to the basket but also go out and knock down 3s. Teams had a hard time controlling him because of his inside/outside capability."
Anderson an All-American
Menahga's Kirby Anderson can add an All-American honor to his wrestling resume.
Anderson capped off his senior season by earning All-American honors with an eighth-place finish at the Senior Nationals High School Wrestling Championship at Pittsburgh in March.
The tournament, which is sponsored by the National High School Coaches Association, gathers the top wrestlers from around the country. Anderson, who finished third twice and fourth once in his three trips to the Minnesota state Class A tournament, was chosen as a wild card wrestler to represent Minnesota at 112 pounds. The majority of the wrestlers in this tournament were either champions or runners-up at state.
"Coming in as a wild card, Kirby was an underdog and not really expected to place. Truthfully I thought that if he could win a couple of matches, it would be a great tournament for Kirby," said Menahga-Sebeka head coach Kris Koll. "Kirby was a perfect example of why the invite wild cards. Like we all know in this area, Kirby could easily have been a state champ at some point in his career if a few breaks would have gone his way. Like the champ he is, Kirby went there with a winning attitude and was there to place and became the first Warrior wrestler to become a high school All-American."
Anderson defeated George Ester of Maryland 5-4 and pinned Matthew Humenik of Ohio in 2:17 in his first two matches.
Justin Paulsen of California defeated Anderson 11-4 in the third round. Paulsen ended up placing second.
In the wrestlebacks, Anderson defeated Gabe Lockett of North Carolina 9-6 before dropping a 6-0 decision to Brian Wright of Virginia. Wright ended up placing fifth.
The loss to Wright sent Anderson to the seventh-place match against Tyler Savage of Ohio. Savage prevailed 7-1 as Anderson settled for eighth place. The top-eight wrestlers in each weight class earned All-American honors.
"This is a huge accomplishment for a high school wrestler and a great way for Kirby to cap off an outstanding high school wrestling career," said Koll. "I think he wrestled the best matches of his high school career while he was down there. I feel that he has yet to hit his wrestling peak and would be an asset to any college wrestling program."
Harding inducted into Hall
Despite being 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Jim Harding considered himself more of a finesse offensive guard and defensive tackle during his playing days for the Normandale Community College football team.
Harding was a Minnesota Community College Southern Division All-Conference player in 1974 and received All-American honors that year for his offensive guard play. Normandale compiled a 9-0-1 record during the 1974 season as the Lions won the Mid-American JUCO Bowl Championship and ended the season as the nation's No. 2-ranked team. Harding became Normandale's first National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) First Team All-American Offensive Player.
For his achievements on the field and his success in the banking and finance business since his playing days ended, Harding has been named to the NJCAA Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame. Harding was presented with the award by Normandale President Kathi Hiyane-Brown in September on the college campus in Bloomington. The NJCAA Hall of Fame now has 122 members.
"It's a nice honor," said Harding, who is a lending officer at State Bank in Park Rapids. "I was a little surprised when I heard about it. I was fortunate to have a couple of good years there under a good system."
"Jim accepted this award with humility. He has always been grateful for the opportunity Normandale provided to play championship football and get an education," said Ralph Anderson, Normandale dean of students. "Without that opportunity, Jim feels that he would not have the career opportunities he has had during his lifetime."
Harding graduated from Minneapolis South in 1973 and chose Normandale to play for legendary head coach Fred Moyer.
"Normandale gave me an opportunity to go on and play football and continue my education," said Harding. "My two years there were a blast. Any time you win is fun."
After two years at Normandale, Harding transferred to North Dakota State University and helped the Bison win consecutive North Central Conference titles and appear in two bowl games.
Normandale was a football powerhouse among two-year colleges during the 1970s and 1980s before the school cut all intercollegiate sports programs in the early 1990s.
"It was a good experience. I feel fortunate for the opportunities Normandale gave me to play football," said Harding. "I worked hard but I was also lucky to play with some good players and for some good teams. I always say that if you work hard, you can get lucky."
Locals compete at state
Several area athletes competed in various state tournaments.
Last winter, Park Rapids' Joe Leacox, Brandon May, Joey Meinert and Colter Uscola qualified for the state Class AA wrestling tournament while Park Rapids' Colton Storseth qualified for the state Class A swimming meet in the 100-yard butterfly.
In the spring, Menahga's Charlie Hrdlicka qualified for the state Class A track and field meet in the 100-meter dash while Nevis' Taylor Schroeder qualified for the state Class A boys golf meet.
The summer saw the Park Rapids Storm Babe Ruth baseball team return to the state tournament and the Wolf Lake amateur baseball team qualify for state. Park Rapids also had two slowpitch softball teams place at the state tournament as the Pine Manor/ReMax women's team finished second at the state Class EE tournament while the Park Rapids Chrysler Center/Thelen's Excavating men's team placed fifth at the state Class DD tournament.
The fall season was capped off with Park Rapids' Victoria Lutz qualifying for the state Class A cross country meet and Park Rapids' Brandi Werner, Sarah Ament, Megan Goebel, Carly Helfrich and Kaitlyn Nelson qualified for the state Class A swimming meet.
Two milestones were reached by high school athletes as Levi Goeden became the sixth player in the history of the Park Rapids boys hockey program to record 100 points last winter and Janessa Wolff reached the 1,000 career mark in rebounds for the Park Rapids girls basketball team in December. Goeden finished in a tie for third place on the school's all-time scoring list with 122 points while Wolff continues to add to her school records for points and rebounds.