By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
The fall sports season is drawing to a close and, while there are still significant games to be played, it’s worth looking back.
The football team has had an improbable season up at Minnesota State. Head coach Todd Hoffner was suspended before the first game but the Mavericks have rallied around interim coach Aaron Keen and put together a perfect 10-0 year.
They still have to beat Upper Iowa on Saturday but there’s a good chance they can finish the regular season unbeaten and enter the playoffs as the top seed in the region. The result could be two home playoff games, which has never happened before for MSU in the NCAA D-II football tournament.
The MSU women’s soccer team has also had an amazing run, getting ranked No. 1 in the nation at one point and going unbeaten in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play. The Mavericks host a central region semifinal game on Sunday.
Mankato West’s football team has also had an excellent year, overcoming a big bump along the way to the state tournament.
The Scarlets had to forfeit four games due to the use of an ineligible player but survived that punishment to win the Section 2AAAAA championship. West will play unbeaten Owatonna Friday night at Lakeville North High School in the first round of the state tourney.
Three other area football teams are still playing as well. Blue Earth Area is in the Class AAA tournament, Sibley East is in the Class AA bracket and a surprising St. Clair squad is in the Class A tourney.
St. Clair was forced to cancel its varsity season at the last minute due to lack of numbers in the fall of 2011. The Cyclones wound up playing an abbreviated junior varsity schedule. Now, a year later, they are appearing in the state tournament for the first time in 20 years.
In volleyball, traditional powers Le Sueur-Henderson and Belle Plaine were ranked among the top teams in Class AA all season. Both lived up to that reputation by meeting in the finals of the Section 2AA tournament.
I was at the section finale and watched as Belle Plaine overcame an injury to middle hitter Kirsten Johnson to survive a five-set match. The Tigers play in the state tourney at 5 p.m. tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
In cross country, Waseca again had a banner season in Class A. The Bluejays, who have been legitimate state-meet contenders over the last few years, wound up with a third-place finish in the Class A boys meet and a fourth-place finish in the Class A girls competition.
Mankato Loyola did not have the depth to qualify for state as a team but the Crusaders may have surprised even themselves by qualifying two individual runners to the Class A meet. Junior Wyatt Elmer ran his season-best time at Northfield last Saturday and seventh-grader Kyla Haas burst onto the cross country scene by placing 44th at state.
Waseca sophomore Shane Streich and United South Central senior Emily Mantor were the area’s top two runners. Streich finished third and Mantor was fourth.
In girls tennis, perennial southern Minnesota powers Waseca and St. James both finished strong. The Jays wound up third in Class A while St. James was fifth. Saints’ senior Aryn Eckstrom had the best individual finish, winning the consolation singles title.
In swimming, the Danielle Nack-led West team finds out Friday night how many swimmers it will advance to the Class A meet. The Scarlets finished eighth out of 42 teams last season and could be poised for another Top-10 finish. Nack is the reigning state champion in both the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-butterfly.
All in all, the fall sports scene has been marked by some first-rate team and individual efforts. It was fun to watch a lot of them first hand.
Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. To contact him, call 344-6381 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.