In our last issue of the 2010s, we got started on our look back on that decade in Forest Lake sports with five big stories. We now stand at the beginning of the 2020s, but before we dive headlong into the new decade, here is Part 2 of our look back at the last one.
FOREST LAKE WINS
Something major must have happened when a headline is in all-caps, as the words above were in the Sept. 15, 2016 edition of the Times. Following a 43-42 victory over Roseville on Sept. 30, 2011, the Forest Lake football team suffered a streak of 41 consecutive losses, including 0-9 campaigns in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. A loss to Apple Valley in the first game of 2016 made it seem like nothing was going to change. Then, White Bear Lake came to town for the Rangers’ home opener on Sept. 9, and the Rangers pulled out a stunning 20-14 victory that set the stadium on a roar. Soon the field was filled with fans, and the celebrations carried on for an hour.
Quarterback Mitch Jerde led the charge, rushing for the game’s opening touchdown in the second quarter after strong running from Justin Rivard, Charlie Payne and Remy Brisbois brought the ball into the red zone. The lead extended to 14-0 when Sam Jackomino returned a White Bear punt 45 yards for a score. The Bears came back to tie the game in the third quarter, but the Rangers pulled ahead 20-14 on a pass from Jerde to Charlie Payne.
With under two minutes to play in the final quarter, and the home team held the visitors short on a subsequent fourth down play, the Bears completed a pass to the end zone, but to the Rangers’ relief, it was nullifed by a holding penalty. The same flag was thrown on a 83-yard touchdown dash by Jackomino that would have been a grand explanation point on the win, but the Rangers nevertheless managed to keep hold of the ball and wind off the remaining time.
“This is a big football community, and this what we want to bring to Forest Lake,” head coach Jeff Wilson said. “We want that winning tradition, and this is a big step for us.” Eyeing the raucous celebration that was continuing around him during this post-game interview, Wilson added, “You can’t beat this.”
Jerde summed up the night very simply by saying, “Forest Lake is happy.”
Cross-country’s long, long run
For the Forest Lake girls cross-country team, the only “down” years in the past decade were the seasons where the Rangers finished second of 16 in the Section 7AA meet instead of winning it. Both the winning team and the runner-up advance to the state meet, so the runner girls have made themselves a constant sight in Northfield in a streak of state appearances that exactly spans the year of this decade, 2010-2019 and counting. No other team can claim a similar streak, not even powerhouse teams like Edina, Wayzata and St. Michael-Albertville which have won titles during the decade – each has failed to qualify for the championship at least once in the 2010s.
The Rangers finished 16th and last at state in 2010, but have since finished in the top 10 seven times and the top 6 six times, with a peak of fourth place in 2012. Individually, four runners have earned all-state status by placing in the top 25: Emma Benner (fourth in 2014 and 2015), Regan Duffy (15th in 2016), Ava Wilson (21st in 2017) and Allison Bartlett (25th in 2012). A total of 29 runners have represented the Rangers at state at least once during the streak.
Ellie Hanowski, the current leading runner on the team, said, “It’s a ritual now to go to state,” when her 2019 team clinched a full decade’s worth of state trips by winning the Section 7AA title in October. “We talk about things like what color are we going to dye our hair at state this year, and I’m like, slow down, we [have to qualify first], but when we do, it’s not a surprise.”
The boys team is also building a streak of state appearances, which stands at four as the calendar turns to 2020. Those Rangers made it to the big race six times overall in the decade, and placed three boys on the all-state podium: Jake Jankowski (14th in 2012), Charlie Babcock (24th in 2017, 11th in 2018) and Max Charlsen (ninth in 2019).
Dance, dance, dance at state
The Forest Lake dance team advanced to state for the first three times in its history this decade, beginning with a 12th place showing in jazz in 2013. The next two years, FLDT sent teams to state in both available categories, placing 10th in kick and 11th in jazz in 2014, and matching those finished in 2015.
Head coach Cheryl Smoczyk, a local legend in dance circles, led those programs; upon stepping away from her duties after the 2016 season, she said, “With how many amazing programs there are in Minnesota, making it to state was huge for us, for our program,” Smoczyk said. “It meant so much to the kids and to me.”
A leading performer on the first two state groups was Rachel Rue, who has since taken over as coach of the program.
A new rivalry
Much has been written lately about the expansion of the two Forest Lake charter schools, North Lakes Academy and Lakes International Language Academy. NLA started out with the upper grades and LILA opened as an elementary school, but both have recently opened new buildings and expanded their academic offerings to include the full range of elementary, middle and high school grades. The schools’ athletic programs have expanded as well, with NLA offering new teams this decade and LILA joining the sports world for the first time. Thus, a local rivalry has sprung up in those sports in which both the Huskies and Dragons play at the varsity level.
The first head-to-head meeting occurred in boys basketball on Dec. 28, 2018, when a more experienced NLA squad beat a sophomore-led LILA side 63-18. The NLA hoops team beat LILA again, 62-45 on Feb. 1, 2019. LILA got its first varsity win in the series when the Dragon boys soccer team upended their Husky counterparts 12-6 on Sept. 3. NLA extended its overall lead to 3-1, and its lead in the girls series to 1-0, when its volleyball team swept LILA’s on Oct. 13. Most recently, the LILA hoops team got its first victory over NLA on Dec. 21 by a score of 73-56, tightening NLA’s basketball series lead to 2-1 and the Huskies’ overall varsity lead to 3-2.
The rivalry is a friendly one, however: In many sports, the two teams join forces to play as NLA/LILA, an alliance that has led to conference titles in softball and girls track and field. The combined girls soccer team is also a tough out, having earned a program-high No. 4 seed in the 16-team Section 7A tournament this fall.
After the opening game in the series, NLA boys basketball coach Mark Kosloski said, “I think this will develop [into a rivalry] down the road. How could it not?”
Hockey’s talented class of 2020
Much has also been written lately about the Forest Lake girls hockey class of 2020: 13 stars who have played together for years. As noted recently, a team consisting of many current varsity players won the 12UA state championship in 2015. These girls will hope to match the playoff success of the Ranger teams of 2013, 2016 and 2017, all of which won the Section 7AA title and moved on to state. Indeed, they will be hoping to go one, two, or three better than those past teams, which were all swept out of the state tournament without a win.
Section 7AA is one of the deepest in the state, as local fans well know, but hockey’s quest for a state return will likely be the top story we watch as we head into the beginnings of the next decade.
Best of luck to the hockey girls and all of our Ranger, Husky and Dragon athletes... the 2010s were a big decade in local sports, so here’s to another big one in “The Twenties!”