Top sports stories of 2021: Albert Lea baseball, cross country make it to state for 1st time in decades

Published 11:34 am Monday, January 3, 2022

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Tigers baseball team competes at state tournament for first time in 52 years

The Albert Lea baseball team made history in June as it advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 1969 after a win against the Byron Bears. 

After a tough 8-1 loss in its first of two games, the Tigers persevered, taking the Bears to extra innings in the second game, where Albert Lea dominated 9-5. 

“I am incredibly proud and humbled to be a part of something as special as this,” said head coach Sean Gaston after the win. 

Family, friends and community members gathered at Jim Gustafson Field Plaza at Hammer Complex a few days later to send off the team before they left the parking lot in a bus to drive up to Jordan for the opening round of the tournament. 

The No. 7 seed Tigers (12-11) took on a tough No. 2 seed in the Sabres of Sartell (21-3). While the Tigers gained some momentum by taking an early lead, they were unable to hold on, coming up just short 3-2.

The Tigers ended their historic season with a loss in the quarterfinals, making them one of the final eight teams in Class AAA. 

The team graduated seven seniors from the team who will undoubtedly be missed as they try to build on the successes of this season.

The Albert Lea boys’ cross country team qualified for state after a runner-up finish in the Section 1AA championship. Alissa Sauer/For the Albert Lea Tribune

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 Albert Lea boys’ cross country team qualifies for state

For the first time in 40 years, the Albert Lea boys’ cross country team advanced to the Class AA state meet after finishing as runner-up in the Section 1AA meet in Faribault in October. 

Junior Gavin Hanke had punched his ticket to the state meet earlier than the rest of the team, winning the boys’ race outright with a time of 16:57.9. 

“The coaching staff is so proud of the effort and perseverance of the boys team as they ran their best when it counted most,” said head coach Jim Haney the day of the section meet. “The boys were able to overcome a good field of teams and a wet day to qualify for state.”

The team in early November competed at the state meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield, finishing in 16th place. 

Hanke was the top-finishing Tiger, coming in 34th place with a time of 17:06.80.

Haney said Hanke was a great leader all season and went out with a determined performance to finish where he did. 

There were 160 runners in the event. 

“The coaching staff is incredibly proud of the boys cross country team,” Haney said after the state meet. “The team has made so many strides this season and has rewritten history in regards to cross country in Albert Lea. The team will take away a lifetime experience using the experience they got during the week of the state meet to help fuel another run at state next year.”

Caleb Talamantes tries to throw his quarterfinal opponent at the Minnesota State Tournament. Tyler Julson/Albert Lea Tribune

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Two Albert Lea wrestlers compete at state tournament

Albert Lea wrestlers Cameron Davis and Caleb Talamantes advanced to the state tournament in March after competing in the Section 1AAA-2AAA state prelim tournament. 

Davis was the highest finishing Tiger at the prelim tournament, rolling his way through the championship at 138 pounds. He recorded a 13-0 major decision in his quarterfinal matchup, before winning in the semifinals 10-5. Despite a close match in the finals, Davis never trailed in the contest, eventually winning 5-3.

Talamantes also dominated through the first two rounds of the day in the prelim tournament, starting off with a second-period fall in the quarterfinals, followed by a 6-1 decision win in the semis. He met a tough opponent in the finals, falling in a 9-2 decision. However, due to defeating the third-place finisher in the semifinals, Talamantes automatically qualified for the state tournament.

At state, Davis finished in fifth and Talamantes finished in fourth. 

Talamantes, who was ranked No. 4 at 170 pounds, won his quarterfinal match, defeating No. 4-ranked 182-pounder and Coon Rapids senior Alex Kowalchyk in an 8-3 decision. The win for Talamantes marked Kowalchyk’s first loss of the season. 

Talamantes moved into the semifinals where he met Farmington freshman No. 3 Cole Han-Lindemyer. This was a rematch from the state prelim meet in which Han-Lindemyer defeated Talamantes in the championship final. 

The semifinal match was much closer than their previous meeting. Talamantes tied the match late in the third period, scoring a two-point takedown with 30 seconds remaining. Talamantes rode on top for nearly the remainder of the period. Unfortunately, Han-Lindemyer scored an escape point in the very final second to take a 6-5 decision victory. 

The loss moved Talamantes into the third-place match, where he took on No. 2 Mounds View senior Mannix Morgan. 

In the third-place match, Talamantes fell to a couple early takedowns and was battling an uphill slope for most of the match. He eventually fell in the match via a 10-4 decision. He ended his season and career as a Tiger with a season record of 30-4.

Davis, who was the No. 2-ranked 138-pounder, took on Anoka junior Brendan Howes (No. 4) in a quarterfinal match. Davis fought hard, but ultimately came up short in a 13-6 decision. The loss sent him into the consolation bracket, where he took on Willmar senior Caden Carlson and came out on top of a dominant 8-2 decision, putting him in the fifth-place match. 

In the fifth-place match, Davis battled No. 6-ranked Rochester Mayo senior Marshall Peters. Davis again controlled the match start to finish, eventually winning in a 5-2 decision. Davis finished his season with a 35-2 record. His only loss of the tournament came at the hands of the eventual state runner-up.

Albert Lea’s Drew Teeter hits his second shot on a hole early in his second round at the Minnesota state tournament. Tyler Julson/Albert Lea Tribune

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Area wrestlers compete in state golf tournament

Albert Lea sophomore Drew Teeter and United South Central freshman Kadyn Neubauer competed in June at the state golf tournament in their respective classes.

After the first round of the tournament, Neubauer finished in a tie for second place, just four strokes off the leader with a round-one total of 74 (+2). 

Teeter finished day one in a tie for 59th place out of 88 golfers with a one-round score of 80 (+8).

After the second day, Neubauer fell in the standings, finishing his second round with a score of 86 (+14). He finished with a combined score of 160 (+16), good enough to land in a tie for 22nd place. 

Teeter finished 55th in his class with a score of 158 (+14). 

Longtime Albert Lea wrestling coach Larry Goodnature was recently inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Minnesota chapter for his contributions to the sport. – Tribune File Photo

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Larry Goodnature inducted into National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Former Albert Lea wrestling coach Larry Goodnature was inducted into the Minnesota chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in April. 

Goodnature began his wrestling career in Albert Lea from 1967 to 1971 under Hall of Fame wrestling coach Paul Ehrhard. In addition to wrestling, Goodnature participated in football, cross country and track. He was a Minnesota state champion at 145 pounds.

He went on to wrestle at Mankato State University from 1971 to 1976, where he was a three-time All-American, finishing fourth in the NCAA II national tournament at 158 pounds in 1973; sixth in 1974; and fifth in 1976.

Goodnature had been a wrestling coach for 42 years, 39 of those years at Albert Lea with 25 of those years serving as head coach. 

His Hutchinson High School teams won three Suburban West Conference titles, and at Albert Lea his teams captured 10 Big Nine Conference titles. His Albert Lea teams reached the state dual tournament seven times and the state finals four times. He coached 142 state qualifiers with 71 as state place-winners. Eight of those were state champions. 

He was honored as Big Nine “Coach of the Year” 10 times, Section “Coach of the Year” 14 times and Minnesota Class AAA “Coach of the Year” three times in 2006, 2009 and 2015. He has accumulated an overall career coaching record of 546-166, which ranks him 11th All-Time among Minnesota wrestling coaches.

Lindsey (Horejsi) Kozelsky pauses to celebrate after breaking the national high school record in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 58.56 seconds in 2015 in the girls’ Class A state swimming prelims at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

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Albert Lea swimming standout competes in 2021 Olympic Trials

With the 2020 Olympic trials delayed because of COVID-19, Albert Lea graduate Lindsey (Horejsi) Kozelsky decided to push forward and try for a spot on the 2021 U.S. Olympic team.

In June, she competed in the 2021 Olympic trials, attempting to qualify for Tokyo in two events: the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststrokes.

In her first event, the 

100-meter breaststroke, Kozelsky finished 33rd out of 54 swimmers, with a time of 1:09.94. In order to qualify for the semifinals of the event, swimmers needed to place inside the top 16. 

The 16th-place finisher and final qualifier for the semifinals finished with a time of 1:09.00, just .94 seconds away from Kozelsky’s time. 

In the 200-meter breaststroke, Kozelsky outpaced the rest of her field at each wall to comfortably finis with the top time of the race at 2:29.85. 

The time remained the fastest of the morning through the first four heats, before it was bested in the final three to drop her final seeding to 13th entering the night’s semifinals. In the night’s semi, Kozelsky would hold that same spot, dropping nearly a full second to finish in a time of 2:28.78 for a 13th-place finish overall.

The Albert Lea graduate had been swimming competitively for the DC Trident in the International Swimming League in Budapest, Hungary.

The Northwood-Kensett football team made it to the state tournament this year in October but fell in the first round against Kee High School. Provided

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Northwood-Kensett football team plays at state

The Northwood-Kensett football team made it to the first round of the state football tournament in October when it played against Kee High School.

The Vikings came up short in the playoff game against the Kee Hawks, who won 50-45.

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Albert Lea Area Schools and otherdistricts across the state push back against MSHSL COVID fees for the 2020-21 school year

After the Albert Lea school board in December 2020 voted not to pay the Minnesota State High School League’s newly imposed COVID-19 fees for the 2020-21 school year, the league for a while labeled the district as “not in good standing.”

The new fees came in the form of a $9,000 payment that was split into two $4,500 payments throughout the year. The total payment varied by school, depending on total enrollment.

The fees came as result of decreased revenue for the league during the pandemic with the shutdown and elimination of several state tournaments.

The Albert Lea district, and others, expressed disappointment in a lack of transparency for the fees and the financial hardship the league faced. 

Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk at one point said roughly 20% of schools in the league were considered not in good standing with the league for not having paid the new fees.

The MSHSL’s board of directors voted in June on a plan for membership dues, which will now be based on a membership fee, a per-student fee and a per-activity fee. Through revenue sharing, excess funds at the end of the fiscal year would reduce membership fees the following school year.