The 2020-21 high school sports year was unforgettable, especially for the seniors who recently graduated from Forest Lake Area High School.
The fall was an off-again, on-again scheduling nightmare as schools and leagues dealt with COVID-19. The football and volleyball seasons were pushed back to the spring, then flip-flopped back to the fall in a shortened timeframe with limited postseasons at best.
Once the winter sports were given the green light to begin in January, things began to stabilize, and by the spring season, sports inched closer to normal as mask restrictions and gathering limits loosened.
The good news is that sports was able to provide other long-lasting memories for local athletes. The Forest Lake Times spoke to three seniors who were gracious enough to shares those memories.
• Sami Boerboom was a standout in two sports at Forest Lake. In the winter she played hockey starting in eighth grade and was on the varsity roster every year. Then in the spring she played on the golf team as a freshman, continuing through her sophomore and senior seasons. She will be attending the College of St. Benedict this fall and will play on the school’s hockey and golf teams.
• Connor Brust was busy year-round, playing football in the fall, hockey in the winter and golf in the spring. He played on the varsity football team for part of his sophomore season before taking full-time reps starting as a junior. Brust was on the varsity hockey team as a sophomore, junior and senior, then earned a spot on the varsity golf team for a brief time as a senior. Next year he plans to play junior hockey in the North American Hockey League.
• Caleb Kasa focused on football during his time at Forest Lake. He played the sport for four seasons and was the starting quarterback for the varsity his senior year. Kasa signed a national letter of intent to play quarterback at Augsburg University starting this fall.
Here are their thoughts and memories, along with the advice they would share to those just getting started in high school sports.
BOERBOOM: “We were playing in a scramble at Dellwood, and I was partnered with Bella [Leonhart]. We were playing with girls from St. Francis, which was my old team until seventh grade. We were confident going in, but on our first hole we got a bogey, and we were just looking at each other. We turned it around and eagled No. 5 before walking up to No. 6. Bella hit first and finished about 20 feet away from the hole. I hit an eight-iron 120 yards into the wind, and it landed three feet to the left of the hole – and zipped right into the hole. I looked to my left and [Forest Lake girls golf coach] Andrea [Brischke] was right there. I had a hole-in-one as a 10th grader, and she didn’t get to see that one. My dad doesn’t even have one, and he’s been golfing way longer than I have.”
KASA: “Before our football game against Park, I remember our offensive coordinator, coach [Chris] Vogel, said over and over, ‘Play this game as if it’s your last game.’ That stuck in everybody’s mind. We won the game, and as we walked to the buses I remember looking back on the field. If it was our last game, I didn’t want to miss the moment of remembering high school football. I remember when my brother, Noah, was a senior, after his last game he went back to the field for one moment to reflect and remember. I still remember looking back at the field – because that turned out to be my last [high school] game.”
BRUST: “My sophomore year in hockey we earned a home section game for the first time in a long time, but we ended up losing the game. So my junior year we got another home section game – and this time we won. It was a close game against Duluth East that we won 1-0 to get our first shot to play at Amsoil Arena. But the final minutes of that game against Duluth East were the most nerve-wracking of my life, just trying to get the puck out of our zone to keep them from scoring. There was a lot of weight on our shoulders, but we realized we had to rely on our teammates and all of the training we had done leading up to that game. And when the final buzzer sounded, that was the happiest I have ever felt.”
BRUST: “The final game of my high school hockey career was a roller-coaster section game against Elk River. The goals went back-and-forth, but they led 6-5 in the final minutes. We pulled our goalie, and when they scored an empty-netter, my heart just sank. Everything I had done was over. My high school career was over.”
BOERBOOM: “I remember I was in math class with a couple of baseball buddies when we found out spring sports weren’t going to happen [because of COVID-19]. It was the last day of the school year, and I just started bawling. I love golf so much, and I knew I wasn’t going to get my junior season, and that was horrible. Remember, your junior year is one of the most important seasons for college recruiting. Since I didn’t have a junior season, I tripled my playing time last summer [so colleges could see me]. I had to.”
KASA: “At the end of the season, I remember the moment we got the email from football coach [Sam] Ferraro telling us the rest of the season was canceled. I shut down immediately. I was so heartbroken, I didn’t eat or anything. We weren’t scheduled to play a full season, and we couldn’t even complete that. We had a group chat, and everyone was so supportive. If I had not had that, I would have been worse off. I like to think I’ve gotten over it, but I haven’t completely.”
BRUST: “Because of COVID-19, we didn’t even know if we were going to have a football season until about two weeks before the season began. We knew we were good, but we didn’t know how good we could be. When we got our first win, we just kept grinding. We knew we only had six weeks, so we just tried to make the most of it. It was my favorite year of football even though we didn’t know if we would have a season, and then had it shortened when we did play.”
BRUST: “I remember sitting in the hockey locker room around some of the older players, and one day we decided to try and get a reaction from one of our teammates. So one kid would eat an orange and leave the seeds and peels on his chair. He’d leave, then come back and find another one. He started looking around to see if he could figure out who was doing it – and six or seven guys suddenly pulled out an orange and started eating.”
BOERBOOM: “At the beginning of my senior year we were in hybrid learning, and one day while I was at home I had some friends in a class called ‘Outdoor Ed’ and they were riding canoes on Forest Lake. I live on the lake, so I got on my Jet Ski while my friends were on canoes. I made them tip over and sprayed them with my Jet Ski. Then I took that class near the end of the year, and my whole class canoed to my house and sat on the beach there.”
KASA: “Hopkins had one of the top middle linebackers in the state, and every time our offense would walk up to the line of scrimmage this season, he would call out the play. Every time. After the game I walked up to him and asked him how much film he had watched to call out our plays. It was impressive. The next Saturday morning, someone in the room told our coaches that this linebacker was calling out our plays, and Coach Vogel went off. He yelled that he didn’t care if they knew our plays. It was hilarious, and we reminded him of that for the rest of the season.”
Memories of coaches
BRUST: “I knew our golf coach, Matt Schugel, because he was one of my hockey coaches. But I didn’t know if he could play golf well or not. So at the golf tryout my freshman year, he stepped up to the tee box with a sand wedge – and everyone else was using a driver. I thought, ‘What was he doing?’ He then proceeded to hit the sand wedge farther than three of the four guys using drivers. I knew right then I was out of my league.”
BRUST: “When I was in ninth grade at the middle school, I remember when Coach Ferraro came there to visit us. The first thing he taught us was PACCT, which stands for passion, accountability, commitment, competition and trust. Every day at football we were reminded of that, and I think he did a great job of building the program and changing the culture.”
KASA: “I think about the influence Coach Ferraro and the assistant coaches have had on me all the time. It’s easy to think you understand a coach, even if you don’t have close personal contact with that coach, and I know some people like to label coaches. I think Coach Ferraro has done a great job at Forest Lake. I know he personally helped me by bringing us the [run-pass option] offense that helped me develop. Most colleges run that system, so having played in that scheme for three years is a huge advantage for me. And I can’t list all of the things he has done to change the culture. He wants to see this program be successful, and he’s willing to put in the work to do that.”
BOERBOOM: “The most important thing I looked for from a coach was to connect with them. I wanted to be able to trust them, and I was able to do that with Andrea.”
BRUST: “I remember a hockey game where we were tied with White Bear 0-0 going into the third period. Everyone in the locker room was exhausted. Then our strength and conditioning coach, Jamie Laszczak, told us a story about his military career, when he was surrounded by the enemy sitting in the forest, and he had to sit there for hours. It was surreal – and it really pumped us up. We were so pumped up, we beat White Bear in that game.”
What advice would you give to young players?
BRUST: “I would tell a younger me to enjoy every moment. And take advantage of every moment. Instead of looking at the clock and saying, ‘I have 30 minutes left and I’m almost done,’ look at it and think, ‘I still get 30 minutes to practice and get better.’ You need to make the most of every moment. Don’t look at it as a grind; look at it as a chance to get better.”
BOERBOOM: “I would tell a younger me not to worry about what other people think or say about you. When I was young I really worried about what other people were thinking, and I’ve learned that it really does not matter. When I was younger, I looked up to the older girls and I watched them. I wanted to be them, but soon after that I wanted to be better than them, so I would always do an extra set of whatever we were doing. And I also would remind the underclassmen not to take everything for granted. Before COVID-19, who thought we could miss an entire season? Last spring, we did.”
KASA: “I know it’s cliché, but young athletes should take advantage of every second. I know there were times that I wasted time because I was, say, a sophomore and I wasn’t going to be on the varsity, so what was the point in taking part in a workout or a lift? I know a lot of my friends fell into that trap. You need to embrace the journey and try to get better every day, whether it’s in drills or lifts or the mental aspect of the game, or maybe focusing things like leadership or grades. You don’t just get better between your junior and senior years; every year is important."