By the time locals turned the calendar past 2022 to 2023, sports teams in Isanti and Chisago counties had experienced a number of highs and lows.
Whether it was the thrill of victory that led to state tournaments, or the sting of defeat that often ended a season, athletes in these two counties experienced a range of emotions.
Here is a look at some of the biggest sports news items for the year that just recently ended.
Mark Solberg has been associated with Cambridge-Isanti High School for 41 years, serving as a teacher and coach before spending 23 years as the school’s activities director.
But on Jan. 20 Solberg announced his retirement, which was effective on June 30.
Rest assured that Solberg will still be a familiar face: In November he was the top vote-getter to join the Cambridge-Isanti School Board.
This area was well-represented at the state gymnastics meet, which was held at Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul on Feb. 19.
North Branch’s Dakota Esget posted a score of 9.250 to place 15th in floor exercise in the Class A meet, while Cambridge-Isanti had two competitors – Abby Kryzer and Laci Leverty – perform in the Class AA meet.
Leverty placed 14th in the all-around competition with a 36.1500, with her best individual event performance coming on the floor, where she placed sixth with a 9.425 mark. She lost the tiebreaker to just miss stepping onto the podium for state honors.
Leverty made the most of her freshman year, placing 12th in the all-around (36.0875) with a top effort on the floor, where she scored a 9.225 mark good for 25th place.
North Branch’s Brandt Bombard and Ashton LaBelle earned a spot in the record books, as did Leo Edblad of Cambridge-Isanti.
But C-I Kami Senlycki made history.
Senlycki finished second at 162 pounds at the first-ever state girls wrestling tournament hosted by the MSHSL. Her loss in the championship match was nothing to be embarrassed about, as her opponent, Ella Pagel of Northfield, is considered one of the top women’s wrestlers in the country, regardless of weight class.
In the boys meet, Bombard was the top local finisher, placing second at 160 pounds in the Class AA meet, while teammate LaBelle finished fourth at 170.
Edblad earned third place at 113 pounds in the Class AAA meet.
Braham girls hoops reach section title game
The Braham girls basketball team fought its way through a tough Section 5A subsection, eventually reaching the subsection title game against Ogilvie.
In that contest on March 9 the Bombers trailed by 17 in the second half, yet fought back and claimed a 43-40 victory.
That lifted Braham to the Section 5A championship game, where it suffered a 38-27 loss to Nevis at Little Falls on March 11.
George Larson passes
George Larson, the hall of fame football coach who led Cambridge-Isanti to three state titles, died on April 29 at the age of 89.
Larson coached the Bluejackets for 38 years and amassed 307 victories, more than any other coach in Minnesota high school football history at the time of his retirement. C-I earned state titles in 1986, ’87 and 2000.
He also served as activities director at the school before retiring and starting a second career as an Isanti County commissioner.
Larson was first elected to the county board in 1992 and spent 22 years as a commissioner.
Track standouts abound
The North Branch girls track team earned a berth in the Class 2A True Team state meet, finishing 10th in that event.
Individually there were a number of local standouts at the state meet, which was run at St. Michael-Albertville.
In the Class 3A meet, Cambridge-Isanti’s Anika Larson placed seventh in the 100 (12.20) and was ninth in the long jump (17-1) while also running a leg on the school’s 4x100 relay that placed 14th.
North Branch was well-represented at the meet, as the Vikings’ 4x200 placed fifth (1:45.54), while Ella Dick took seventh in the pole vault by clearing 10-0. On the boys side, Justin Ramos took 10th in the long jump with a best leap of 40-6.75.
Rush City had two competitors in the Class A meet as Owen Dick cleared 12-6 in the pole vault to place seventh, while Nolan Anderson just missed running in the finals of 110 hurdles with a time of 15.68.
Braham also had two runners in the Class A meet: Julia Kuhnke placed seventh in the 800 with a time of 2:20.05, while Ella Doble finished eighth in the 200 with a 26.81 clocking.
Braham wins GRC girls golf crown
For the second year in a row the Braham girls golf team earned top honors in the Great River Conference Championship held at Izaty’s on May 18.
The Bombers posted a team score of 479 to beat their nearest competitor, Pine City, by 27 strokes.
Nystrom medalist for M8 girls golf
Cambridge-Isanti’s Emily Nystrom was the Mississippi 8 Conference’s girls Player of the Year thanks to her consistent performance all season long.
Nystrom carded an average of 84.6 per round, two full strokes better than her nearest competitor. North Branch’s Hailey Bistodeau placed third in the league with her average of 87.4 to also earn all-league honors.
Redbirds roll again
The Isanti Redbirds cemented their position as the top team in the Eastern Minny League to earn a berth in the Minnesota Baseball Association’s Class C tournament for the fourth year in a row.
The Redbirds posted a 14-1 record to run away from the competition in the league’s Central Division. Then in the Region 1C tournament Isanti won all four of its games by a combined margin of 27-9 to claim the title and a first-round bye in the state tournament.
In the state tournament the Redbirds opened with a 3-2 victory in 11 innings over Brownton in Dundas on Aug. 28. The following weekend Isanti saw its season come to a close as they were shut out 5-0 by Delano at Faribault on Sept. 3.
Mallards struggle, Outlaws thrive
The Rum River Mallards struggled in the U.S. Premier Hockey League during the 2021-22 season, posting an 11-31-2 record and finishing seventh in the eight-team Midwest West Division before losing its first-round playoff season.
So the franchise changed its name over the summer, becoming the Isanti Outlaws.
The change appears to be a good one as the Outlaws rank among the better teams in the USPHL at the midway point of the current season. Isanti, which features a number of local players, is tied for third in the Midwest West Division with a 17-11-1 record good for 35 points.
North Branch football makes history
The North Branch football program earned the first state tournament berth in school history.
The Vikings posted a 6-2 record during the regular season, including a 4-2 mark in the Northeast Red Division that was good for a second-place tie.
But in the postseason North Branch raised its game, avenging a regular-season loss to Hermantown by beating the Hawks 28-20 in the Section 7AAAA semifinals, then whipping Cloquet 34-6 in the championship contest.
The Vikings Class AAAA quarterfinal game against Rocori at Blaine was unusual in that North Branch held the ball for nearly all of the first half, yet still trailed 6-0 at halftime. The second half was a back-and-forth affair that saw Rocori take control and eventually claim a 22-12 victory.
That loss did nothing to dampen the excitement of an 8-3 season and state tournament berth.
Rush City volleyball makes history
The Rush City volleyball program also earned a berth in the Class 2A state tournament, a first for the program.
The Tigers swept through the Great River Conference schedule undefeated, then rolled to a pair of three-set victories over Proctor and International Falls in the Section 7AA tournament to advance to the finals. There the Tigers knocked off Esko in a five-set spellbinder to punch their ticket to state.
In the state tournament Rush City lost to Annandale in its first match, then was knocked out of the tournament with a loss to Pipestone Area.
Still the Tigers finished an impressive season with a 27-3 record.