The top 50 teams of the Fall from 2010-2019 continues. As before, squads from the “Journal 10,” FC, R-P, Chatfield, Kingsland, M-C, Houston, Lanesboro, GM, SG, and L-O, are eligible. Ranking across different years, and involving teams from three different sports, is difficult, and thus subject to debate. Ranking is by how far teams made it in the playoffs. Placing equivalent teams is done mostly via winning percentage (but also how far their section final vanquisher progressed at state, competitiveness of games, and subjective opinion). To expedite the process (for the start of winter sports), teams will be looked at in groups of six versus five. Starting at position #35 and going down to #17, it is the 19 teams that were Section runner-up in the decade. Fourteen “Journal 10” football teams and five volleyball squads lost in section title games from 2010-2019. This eight team installment also includes the first two state level teams of the list.
#22) Fillmore Central Football 2016
If Fillmore Central football was state quality in the decade, 2016 was the year. A season after going 8-2 and making the section title game (top 50 team #30), the Falcons were even more formidable. Defense was a calling card. FC’s first four games were all grinders, wins over J-W-P (14-6), Goodhue (10-7), and L-A 12-7, a loss to R-P (18-8). The Falcons then hammered their last four opponents by at least 25 points to finish the regular season 7-1. They shared the MSE-East sub-district title with R-P (as the Trojans fell to Goodhue to conclude the season). It was FC’s second conference/district title in football (1996). As the 2-seed, Chris Mensink’s group felled Hayfield 55-7 and Goodhue 28-14 in playoffs. For the 1A title, the #5 Falcons met the Noah Carlson led #9 Rushford-Peterson Trojans in a re-match of FC’s only loss of the year. It was an epic game. There was good defense, a big controversial fumble-no fumble, a critical blocked PAT, and a late Falcon drive. But FC’s shot at state came up a few yards short of a first down and of game-winning field goal range. They fell 22-21 in the decade’s most competitive county-versus-county section title football game. The Falcons finished 9-2. R-P (a top 10 countdown team) finished as state runner-up. Seven Falcons were named All-District, seniors Riley Means (QB/LB), Justin Ristau (OL/DL), Walker Ward (OL/DL), juniors Brady Ristau (RB/LB), Nate Haugerud (RB/LB), and Matt Lutes (RB/LB), sophomore Josh Peters (RB). Means had over 1,500 combined rushing/passing yards and 19 total TDs. B-Ristau was the team’s top tackler. Peters ran for a team-best 853 yards with 9 total TDs. Haugerud also had 9 total TDs. Four players on this team (B-Ristau, Means, Peters, and Luke Ristau) made the Journal’s All-Decade Top 20 football team last spring. A year later, FC went 7-3, making the Falcons 24-7 over a three-year span. The 2016 team was probably their best team of the decade right smack in the middle of their best period of the decade.
#21) Chatfield Football 2012
It was the year before Chatfield football’s best team of the decade. In 2012, the Gophers reconvened following a 2011 season where they went 6-4. Jeff Johnson’s best class was a good bunch of juniors headed by Jake Neis, Jayme LaPlante, and Nate Skare. Justin Viss was a key senior. The Gophers promptly started the year 5-0 including beating PEM (28-21) for the first time since 2000. It was a statement game, as PEM had beaten Caledonia the year prior, gone to state in Class AAA, and had been a power. The Gophers other four wins to start the year were all by at least 18 points. Chatfield’s sole loss came at #1 defending state champion Caledonia in week six by a 6-0 final, a highly competitive defensive game. Chatfield appeared close to contending in Section 1AA. The Gophers then won their last two regular season games to finish 7-1. They won their two playoff games by double-digits also, including beating undefeated (9-0) #7 in AA Lewiston-Altura 29-12. Eight of Chatfield’s nine wins were by double digits and an average of 22.8 PPG. The Gophers averaged 33.7 PPG in their nine wins. Unfortunately, they averaged 0.0 PPG in their two losses. Versus #1 in AA Caledonia in the Section 1AA title game, #10 Chatfield didn’t get a first down until the fourth quarter and fell 29-0. The Gophers finished the year 9-2 as 1AA runner-up. Caledonia went undefeated (13-0) and captured its third straight 1AA state title. Seniors Viss (RB/LB) and Luke Isensee (OL/DL), juniors Neis (RB/DB), LaPlante (TE/DE), and Skare (QB > 14 combined passing/rushing TDs) made the All-TRC South team. Viss was the Defensive Player of the Year. Neis (1,229 yards rushing, 16 total TDs) was Co-Offensive Player of the Year. Head Coach Johnson was Co-Coach of the Year. Neis, Viss, and LaPlante were all top 10 Journal All-Decade football players in last spring’s countdown. A year later, the Gophers were wrote a story of immortality (a top five countdown team).
#20) Mabel-Canton Volleyball 2018
Cougar volleyball has long been a power. But state trips have been hard to come by for a while for Mabel-Canton. In 2018, the Cougars had very real hopes of making St. Paul. Lonnie Morken’s group had a little blip early in the season. For the first time ever, they lost the championship match of their own Labor Day Weekend Tourney. Spring Grove (top 50 team #41) clipped them 2-0. But the Cougars went unblemished in SEC play, beating the Lions 3-0 and 3-1 in two re-matches. M-C went 4-1 at the Class A Showcase, winning the “Silver Bracket.” Their only loss in Burnsville was to Minneota (36-1), which won the Class A state title. Though losing thrice at the Brainerd Tourney (minus Payton Danielson), M-C beat GM in the East/West Showcase game and finished the regular season 27-5. They went 14-0 in the SEC to win the East title. In the playoffs, #6 in A M-C took care of Kingsland 3-0, Caledonia 3-1, and then SG 3-0. It was the Lions best volleyball team maybe ever (27-4). The Cougars grabbed their first 1A East title since 2015. In the finals, M-C battled Medford. The Cougars had hopes. But the Tigers size was too much. Medford jumped out 2-0, M-C got a set, but fell 3-1. The Cougars finished as 1A runner-up for a second time in the 2010’s with a 30-6 record. The Tigers went on to be Class A state runner-up (falling to Minneota). Kenidi McCabe (sophomore setter > 101 kills, 868 assists, 379 digs, 54 aces) led the way for M-C, earning Class A 1st Team All-State, repeating as All-SEC. Senior Maddy Michels (MH > 264 kills) earned her third All-SEC honor, senior Lexi Thorson (OH/libero > 391 digs, 91 aces) her second. Thorson finished with 1,591 career digs. Junior Payton Danielson (OH > 315 digs, 210 kills) was the Cougars fourth All-SEC pick. Junior Sarina Stortz made All-SEC HM. A year later, the Cougars (top 50 team #17) got even closer to state.
#19) Spring Grove Football 2012
With five season records, the 2012 Lions (10-1, 7-0 SEC) won their first 10 games, including a 22-20 win over Grand Meadow that clinched an unprecedented third straight conference championship. Their next closest win was 32-22 over Lanesboro. All others were by at least 28 points. SG closed the regular season at 8-0 with a school-record 16 straight league wins, the top section seed, and a #3 state ranking by the AP. But with both running backs/linebackers suffering injuries during the section title rematch, SG fell to the Super Larks, 25-6. GM (12-2) would finish as state runner-up. Only seven turnovers in 11 games is a remarkable Lion record that may not be broken. The 66% third-down conversion rate is also still a school record. The 46.2-point scoring average set another program record (and still ranks fourth). Zach Hauser’s group scored 50-plus points in six games and 40-plus points in eight. The record third straight SEC title and 16-game SEC winning streak were both extended in 2013. SG also broke several single-game scoring records against Lyle/Pacelli (when they won 80-14). Three-time All-SEC RB/LB Josh Olerud was Conference Defensive Player of the Year and received Honorable Mention on the All-State team that covered all seven classes. Olerud rushed for 1,658 yards and 34 TDs, scoring 36 total TDs. He also led the defense with 110 tackles. The Lion MVP was joined on the All-SEC Team by Conference Lineman of the Year Brandon Schuttemeier, Lineman Nick Holty, QB/LB Blaine Storlie and RB/LB Caleb Happel. Storlie (955 yards passing, 129 yards rushing) accounted for 10 total TDs. Happel (786 yards rushing) had 11 total TDs, a team second-best 95 tackles, and a team-best 6 sacks. Freshman end Alex Engelhardt received All-SEC HM. Starting with this team, SG would fall to GM five straight years in the section final. But this team was the second in an unprecedented 8-year stretch of making the 9-Man Section 1 final title game.
#18) Mabel-Canton Volleyball 2015
Coming off back-to-back seasons where the Cougars lost to Fillmore Central in the 1A East finals, M-C circa 2015 finally punched through to their first section title game of the decade, their first since 2008. The Cougars began the year winning 17 straight. Included was taking their own Labor Day Tourney. Lonnie Morken’s bunch lost just two regular season matches, both in pool play at the Class A Showcase. They went 4-2 overall in Burnsville, winning the Silver Bracket. The Cougars also won the Brainerd Tourney. M-C marched perfectly through the SEC regular season (14-0), dropping just one set, winning the East division. The Cougars easily swept Schaeffer in the East/West Showcase game. In the playoffs, M-C beat L-A 3-0, R-P 3-1, and Caledonia 3-2. The Cougars, ranked #7, came back from down 2-1, to beat the #11th-ranked Warriors. With that win, M-C won its 19th straight match. In the finals, #1-ranked Faribault B.A. was too much, as the Cougars fell 3-0. The Cardinals went on to be Class A state runner-up, falling 3-2 to W-E-M in the finals. The Buccaneers were one of M-C’s losses (at the Class A Showcase), thus two of the Cougars’ defeats were to teams #1 and #2 at the end of the season. M-C finished the year with a school-record 35 wins versus three losses. Headlining M-C’s All-SEC picks was repeat Player of the Year, setter Coranda Vickerman (807 assists, 323 digs, 207 kills, 76 aces). The junior also made Class A 1st Team All-State. Savannah Slafter (sophomore OH) earned her second All-SEC honor (398 kills, 271 digs, 64 aces). Her 398 kills was a decade-long single-season high for M-C for a player. Courtney Graves (junior MH > 180 kills) also repeated as All-SEC. Dakota Delaney (sophomore MH > 234 kills) made All-SEC for a first time. Lexi Thorson (freshman OH) was All-SEC HM. M-C would miss the Section title game the next two seasons. They returned in 2018 (top 50 team #20) and 2019 (top 50 team #17).
#17) M-C Volleyball 2019
Of the five “Journal 10” volleyball teams to lose in a section title match, M-C in 2019 was the one with the best chance, and the one that came to closest to making state. The Cougars entered 2019 having been section runner-up in 2018 (top 50 team #20). They lost 3-1 to Medford. Lonnie Morken’s group won its first 17 matches of 2019, including their own Labor Day Tourney, all by sweep before finally falling twice in the Gold Bracket of the Class A Showcase. M-C then won 13 more matches to end the regular season, dropping just one set. Included was taking the Decorah Tournament, Coach Morken getting his 700th win. M-C went 14-0 in SEC action, sweeping every match, then sweeping GM in the East/West Showcase game. In the playoffs, R-P and FC fell by sweep before the Cougars downed #9 Caledonia 3-1 to claim a second straight 1A East title. The Warriors (25-6) went undefeated in TRC play. The win ran M-C’s streak to 16. In the 1A final, it was #6 M-C and #7 Medford again. The teams battled in the best “Journal 10” section title volleyball game of the decade, the only of six to go five sets. Medford took the first two sets only for the Cougars to rally to take the next two. In the deciding game five, the Tigers led 13-12, then took the final two points to send M-C to crushed-ville. Medford (26-9) won the match 3-2. They went on to take third at state. M-C’s finished at 34-3, other losses to Kittson County Central (28-3) and Mayer Lutheran (27-4). Four Cougars made the All-SEC team headed by junior setter Kenidi McCabe (195 kills, 850 assists, 450 digs, 118 aces). The volleyball virtuoso earned the SEC Player of the Year honor while repeating as 1st Team Class A All-State. Seniors Payton Danielson (OH > 265 kills, 397 digs, 72 aces) and Sarina Stortz (MH > 314 kills, 65 ½ blocks) also made All-SEC, Danielson repeating. She finished with 1,432 career digs. Like Stortz, junior Jordyn Newgard (OH > 124 kills, 310 digs, 53 aces) earned her first All-SEC honors. Molly Lee made All-SEC HM. Mabel-Canton volleyball nation will have to wait to see if a state trip is in the works. The 2020 post-season was wiped out by COVID (M-C finished undefeated). In 2021, volleyball will go from three classes to four, possibly helping the Cougars’ state aspirations. This top squad helped M-C volleyball go 316-43 (.880 winning percentage) for the decade and was one of nine 30-win seasons. All ten M-C volleyball teams made this top 50 countdown.
#16) LARP Boys Cross Country 2019
LARP boys cross country ended the decade (and began a new one) amidst a running dynasty. The building blocks for the 2019 season (the dynasty) were laid earlier. In 2018, team black and red took second at the TRC Meet and fourth at the Section 1A Meet, getting two state qualifiers in sophomore Luke O’Hare and senior Aidan Ellinghuysen. O’Hare was an individual juggernaut, winning multiple races including being crowned TRC Meet and Section 1A Meet champion. In reality, seeds for LARP’s late decade ascension were probably laid in the early 2010’s, when O’Hare’s older brother Austin was a multi-time state cross country entrant. But in 2019, a sword was firmly stabbed into the sand. Matt Kingsbury’s guys were a race-to-race power, winning three invites on the year. Junior Luke O’Hare was again the section’s top runner, as he brought home five regular season race titles. But sophomore Tyler Rislov also emerged, finishing top three at the first four races of the season (before taking time off per injury). At the TRC Meet, LARP finished second for a second straight year. O’Hare defended his championship, but sophomore Andrew Hoiness, senior Ricky Buchanan, and frosh Grady Hengel all finished top 12 to earn All-TRC. At the Section 1A Meet, O’Hare repeated as individual champion. Rislov returned to take fifth with Hoiness, Hengel, and Buchanan all finishing top 25. The LARP guys took second to Lake City to earn their first trip to state since 2005. They became the first ‘Journal 10” boys cross country team to earn a state trip in the 2010s. In Northfield, sledding was much more difficult and LARP took 15th and 16. O’Hare placed highly though, taking 17th. This past year, LARP was again was state quality, though because of COVID, there was no state race. O’Hare and Rislov (#2 and #14 in the All-Decade Cross Country Top 18 last spring) were arguably the best tandem in the section, taking 4th and 2nd at the 1A Meet. Hoiness wasn’t far behind, taking 5th. One decade ended and another will began with Matt Kingsbury at the reigns of a very good LARP boys cross country program.
#15) GM Football 2019
A strongest argument can be made they were the top 9-Man Section 1 (maybe state) program of the decade. It was only fitting, in the last year of the decade, Grand Meadow football made state. After a two-year hiatus from the 9-Man Section 1 title game, Gary Sloan’s Super Larks claimed the 2019 title. The berth gave GM its sixth state berth of the decade. Team Lark suffered just one loss in the regular season, to South-East District champ LeRoy-Ostrander 30-19 in week three. Their only other close games were with Spring Grove, beating the Lions 21-7 in the regular season and 24-14 in the section semifinals. Every other foe fell by at least 20 points, as GM scored 40-plus six times. In the section final, the Larks handled 5-seed Houston (top 50 team #35) by shut-out, 35-0. It was GM’s eighth straight win. But in the state quarterfinals, eventual perfect (14-0) state champion Mountain Lake Area (14-0) took out the Larks 42-12. Team Super-L ended at 10-2. It was their sixth 10-win season of the decade (though the only GM state team of the decade to not make the title game). Making All-District were seniors Nolan Skifter (RB/LB > 475 yards, 8 TDs rushing) and Wyatt Weiss (OL/DL), juniors Ben Kraft (TE/DE) and Cameron Sneed (OL/DL), and sophomore Dusty Copley (RB/DB). Skifter, Weiss, and Kraft all repeated. Copley was the team’s leading rusher (1,302 yards, 21 TDs, 22 total TDs). Luke Speer (Jr. WR/DB) and Taylor Glynn (sophomore DB) made All-District HM. Coach Sloan’s worst season of the decade was 7-3. Collectively, GM teams went 107-16 from 2010-2019 (.870 winning percentage)