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The Mahnomen Indians football captains hoist the Minnestoa Class 1A championship trophy high after their 20-14 win over Bethlehem Academy Nov. 23 in the H.H.H. Metrodome. Photo by - Brian Basham

A look back on the year's best

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A look back on the year's best
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It was a golden year for local sports in many ways: The Detroit Lakes boys and girls golf teams brought home double gold from their respective state tournaments, and Laker senior Quillan Oak also made headlines by capturing an individual state title in swimming.

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Meanwhile, the Laker boys basketball, girls hockey and football teams all made it to their respective state tournaments as well -- and in the case of girls hockey, it was the team's first state berth ever.

Less than a 45-minute drive up Highway 59 in Mahnomen, the Indians football team also played their way to the state tournament in dominating fashion, where they eventually claimed the crown to cap off an undefeated season.

And Frazee claimed a champion this year as well, when 18-year-old Beau Hanson captured the Pine to Palm title to cap off the 80th annual amateur golf tournament at the Detroit Country Club in August -- just a couple of months after competing in his last state tournament as a Hornet, where he finished third individually.

These were just a few of the more memorable moments in local sports this past year. Let's take a moment to look back at each of these unforgettable achievements as they unfolded during the course of 2012:

Double gold for Laker golfers

Though both the Detroit Lakes boys and girls golf teams have claimed state titles before, this was the first time that they did it in the same season.

The Laker boys were crowned as Class 2A state champions for the second consecutive year -- but they did it by the narrowest of margins, topping a surging Hermantown by one stroke, 601 to 602. The Lakers also won the 2011 title by two strokes and tied with Orono in 2008.

By contrast, the Laker girls dominated their state tournament in 2012, winning the Class 2A title by 35 strokes over runner-up Minnewaska, 619 to 654.

Detroit Lakes 8th grader Kate Smith also capped off an unforgettable season for the Lakers by capturing the state medalist laurels with a record-setting, four-under-par score of 140.

Her brother Karter Smith, a junior, finished as individual runner-up in the boys' Class 2A tournament with a two-day total of 145.

Frazee senior Beau Hanson, competing in Class 1A boys state action in Becker, Minn., tied for third individually with a two-day total of 151.

A couple months later, Laker boys head golf coach Bob Gorden was named as Coach of the Year by the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association, for helping his team claim back-to-back state titles.

Hanson wins Pine to Palm

The Pine to Palm Golf Tournament, held Aug. 6-12 at the Detroit Country Club in Detroit Lakes, saw an infusion of young talent in its 80th annual incarnation -- but there were none better than Frazee native Beau Hanson, who took the title.

Hanson, who caddied for his father in the prestigious tournament at the tender age of 11, claimed the championship a short seven years later with a 4-and-3 victory over University of Minnesota senior David Haley Jr., a native of Hilliard, Ohio.

"It feels great to win it," Hanson said. "It's been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid. The Pine to Palm has been my favorite tournament and it's great to win it."

Other division winners at the tournament included Mid-Am champ A.J. Greff; Seniors winner Scott Linnerooth; and Super Seniors titlist Chuck Renner, who won for the second straight year.

DL's Oak claims state

swimming title

DLHS senior Quillan Oak blossomed into one of the best swimmers ever to suit up for Detroit Lakes this past season, as he became the first DL native to claim an individual boy's state swimming title in Laker history.

Oak won the 100-yard breaststroke race with a time of 56.73, coming within .36 of breaking the state record.

A fast start set the stage for Oak's first state title, as he held off Dassel-Cokato junior Eric Dahlseng by pulling away in the final 25 yards.

"I couldn't have asked for a better race," Oak said. "I was very happy with my time."

He also claimed state silver in the 200-yard freestyle, and anchored the 400-yard freestyle relay, in which DL took bronze. The team finished in 8th place overall.

"This season was six years in the making," said DL head coach Rian Heimark. "I wouldn't have asked for any other way for how this season ended. It was perfect."

DL girls hockey makes

first-ever state trip

A 12-15-0 season record may not seem like much to shout about, but Laker girls hockey had plenty of reason to celebrate this past year.

For the first time in its history, the Detroit Lakes team earned a state playoff berth.

Head coach Gretchen Norby, who was also a starter on the very first DL high school girl's hockey team, said the state berth made her first year of coaching the girl's team a truly memorable one.

"I knew all along the girls didn't know how good we were going to be," Norby said. "But they gained confidence and we became a good team at the end of the season."

Ironically, Norby felt it was a 1-0 loss to Sartell in the team's regular-season finale that lit the spark leading them to their historic state run.

"The Sartell game was the best one we could have ended the season on," said first-year head coach Gretchen Norby. "It was one of our best games of the season against a very good team. It was a huge confidence booster for Veronica (Badurek, freshman goalie). It was when she started believing in herself."

That momentum rolled into the Section 8-1A playoffs, where DL earned the No. 2 seed and a home playoff opener against Fergus Falls.

The Lakers toppled their rivals, which put them in their section finals debut against No. 1 seeded Alexandria, which has made the championship game its annual destination.

"We didn't think we were huge underdogs, but underdogs nonetheless," Norby said. "They probably overlooked us. I heard by rumor Alex had already booked their rooms down in St. Paul, so I shared that with the girls before the game.

"That lit a fire underneath them."

Instead, it was the Lakers who were booking hotels for the state tournament, their first such appearance in DL's history.

The state tournament was a good learning experience, despite a 13-1 loss to Warroad in the quarterfinals and a tough 5-4 double overtime loss to New Ulm in the consolation bracket.

"We knew what we were going up against in Warroad, but the girls still enjoyed their experience," Norby said.

DL boys basketball earns state tournament berth

It was a long time coming, for sure.

Though it wasn't the first state tournament trip ever for the Detroit Lakes boys' basketball team, 2012 was the first time that the Lakers had accomplished the feat of qualifying for a state berth in 94 years.

Unfortunately, that's where the fairy tale ended, as a relentless defense, a talented freshman guard and a 32.8 shooting percentage led No. 2-ranked DeLaSalle to a 65-46 victory over Detroit Lakes in the Class 3A state quarterfinals on March 21 inside the University of Minnesota's Williams Arena.

The Lakers, who finished with a 22-8 season record, can console themselves with the fact that they lost to the eventual state champions.

And the 2011-12 squad has also inked a permanent spot in Laker history for ending that 94-year state drought by claiming the Section 8-3A championship.

In most cases, when a team surpasses the 20-win mark and wins a section championship, it's due to a senior core, and this was the case for the Lakers as well.

DL's top three scorers were three-year varsity players and all of them made their mark on the Laker program.

"This season was a culmination of five years of hard work," said DL head coach Robb Flint. "And all that hard work, over time, paid off for these kids. They are athletic and talented, but because they put the time in, they were able to get to where they wanted."

Joe Mollberg left the program as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer with 1,442 points and as the second-leading rebounder in the team's history.

He was second only to teammate and fellow senior Brian Labat, who topped the Lakers' all-time rebounding stats with 579, after leading the team in that category for his final two seasons, including 210 in this year alone. He also finished seventh in all-time scoring with 853 points and ninth in assists with 193.

Fellow senior Rick Hutchinson left as DL's fourth all-time in assists with 251 and 10th in rebounding at 381. His shooting ability was also key, as he scored 317 points for the season and was a 35.33 percent three-point shooter with 53 long-distance buckets.

Undefeated season for state champs Mahnomen

Entering the 2012 season, the Mahnomen Indians were considered one of the best Class 1A teams in the state.

By season's end, they were officially the best, having capped off an undefeated regular season by taking the state title with a 20-14 victory over Bethlehem Academy of Faribault in the Metrodome on Nov. 24.

The victory concluded a perfect season by No. 1 ranked Mahnomen, which finished with a record of 14-0 and claimed the school's seventh state title.

It was the Indians' second straight trip to the state 1A championship game; last year's title tilt ended in a runner-up finish against Dawson-Boyd.

This year, they ended their state run with a win instead.

"I told the kids before the game, to respect the tradition, you add to the tradition," said Mahnomen head coach John Clark Jr., who also won his first state championship. "This was their time, their championship."

Detroit Lakes football

reclaims gridiron glory

The Detroit Lakes football team was back in familiar territory this season.

Led by a stingy defense and a punishing rushing game, the Class 4A No. 3 ranked Lakers won their 12th section championship in a thrilling 29-28 victory over Rocori in the Fargodome Nov. 1.

It was, however, the first time that the team had earned a state playoff berth in 10 years, after going undefeated in the regular season and finishing on top of the Heart O'Lakes Northern Conference.

And while that state run ended in the quarterfinals with a heartbreaking 34-31 loss to Princeton, the Lakers also gave the Tigers all they could handle.

In fact, it took four overtimes for Princeton to finally claim victory, as the teams took turns making what appeared to be the winning score in a truly memorable contest.

"I feel bad for the kids, because they did everything in their power to win this game," said DL head coach Flint Motschenbacher.

"Life isn't always rosy and this is a game with 100 different plays which could have decided the game."

In the end, however, it was Princeton senior running back Austin Feero who ended it, on a two-yard dive play for the 34-31 victory.

After leading one of the most successful Laker football teams in recent memory, junior quarterback Michael Herzog was named Most Valuable Player in the Heart O'Lakes Conference this season.

Senior Brandon Johnson of DL also was named the conference's Most Valuable Offensive Lineman, while senior Stephen Erb was Co-Most Valuable Defensive Back, along with Josh Nordick of Perham.

Flint Motschenbacher rounded out DL's conference awards by being named the HOL Northern Coach of the Year.

Detroit Lakes Newspapers sports editor Brian Wierima provided most of the background material for this story.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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