The Mayer Lutheran athletics program has seen its fair share of success over recent years, earning state appearances in volleyball (and a pair of championships), football and boys basketball, while appearing in section championships in girls basketball and softball, and having record-setting years in boys and girls soccer this past season.
“It’s crazy to think about how small a school we are but how much success we have had,” senior Olivia Tjernagel said. “It’s crazy how close we have become, not just my volleyball and basketball teams, but the boys and girls teams are there for each other, also the JV and C teams.”
That success is not limited to high school sports either, as many Crusaders have gone on to continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level. That includes atleast 11 Mayer Lutheran athletes from this senior class of 57 students. Almost one in five Crusaders graduating this year (19.3 percent) are set to compete in their respective sports.
“We have been pretty blessed these last few years, having pretty good athletes and success,” said athletic director Kris Gustin. “We have had a string of good athletes and good kids, that not only have success at high school, but further their careers at college. It’s very exciting.”
Competing at the Division I level are Zander Flucas (South Dakota football), Olivia Tjernagel (Northern Iowa volleyball) and Claudia Stahlke (Arizona State volleyball). The Crusaders also have college-bound athletes in Alexis Schermann (Gustavus Adolphus basketball), Anna Baumann (University of Minnesota at Morris softball), Parker Grahn (Northwestern St. Paul golf), Ashley Schwichtenberg (Luther College swimming), Brady Harnung (University of Dubuque soccer), Paige Stahlke (UW River Falls track and field), Cody Bonk (Gustavus Adolphus football) and Zach Froman (undecided).
“It’s great, I really can’t imagine not playing anymore,” Harnung said.
Harnung’s situation is unique among most of the college-bound Crusaders, as he rose to great success around teammates and rivals. The goalie of the record-setting 15-3-1 boys soccer team, Harnung played alongside Central Raiders, Watertown-Mayer Royals and other area schools that he competes against during the basketball season. But during the soccer season, they all united as one to put together the program’s best-ever season.
“We just come together every single year,” Harnung said of being rivals, then teammates. “We were all brothers on and off the field 100 percent.”
Harnung said he learned a lot from his teammates and coaches, including a fighting spirit that had the Crusaders go from 5-12 to 15-3-1.
“Teams didn’t expect us to win, but they expected us to fight 100 percent,” Harnung said.
And while Harnung was on a team that defied expectations to rise to the top, others like Claudia Stahlke and Olivia Tjernagel carried on the tradition of excellence set forth by their predecessors. The duo graduates after competing in four section championships in 4 years, winning two state championships.
“It’s great and exciting, we play at a competitive level and the students you surround yourself with are great,” Stahlke said.
Stahlke and Tjernagel started out playing as freshmen with a talented core of seniors and are now both moving on to play DI volleyball.
“Varsity is made up of all age levels, so we don’t even think about it, we all just get along, which has us clicking as a team and creates momentum to play at a high level,” Stalhke said.
But playing sports is more than about winning and losing, as success later in life is the goal.
“Our co-curriculars have been an asset to our ministry, as we prepare the next generation of leaders,” said Gustin. “They are an extension of the classroom. There certainly are a lot of benefits, whether it is clubs, sports or our drama program, it teaches you about resiliency. It’s about learning how to accept defeat and overcome challenges. That’s what we have to endure in life.”
Zander Flucas nows a lot about resiliency, as his promising career was derailed several times due to injuries. Yet he never let that stop him, bouncing back to become a DI football player.
“It has been a blessing to me in many ways,” Flucas said of playing at Mayer Lutheran. “Even with the injuries, if it’s one thing it has taught me, is how to step up and be a man. It has made me want to step up and be better.”
Flucas went from wondering if he wanted to play football his freshman year to a DI athlete. Between those two points, nothing came easy, even though at times they looked that way on the football field (like a 300 yard rushing performance in the first round of the 2019 playoffs). Flucas was injured late in the football season as a sophomore and a senior, missing the majority of both basketball seasons as well. But he never gave up, working hard to recover from injuries.
“I had really good friend groups around me and good teammates and coaches,” Flucas said. “It is all about hard work and dedication.”
Flucas is now part of the latest Crusader senior class that is looking to keep the success going after high school.
“I’m not stopping now,” said Flucas. “I want to do big things.”