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 play-offs. Starting at position #35 and going down to #17, it is the 19 teams that were Section runner-up in the decade. Placing each is done mostly via winning percentage (but also how far their section final vanquisher progressed into the state tournament, competitiveness of games, and subjective opinion). Fourteen “Journal 10” football teams lost in section title games from 2010-2019 and five more volleyball teams.
#35) Houston Football 2019
Of all the football teams on this list, it is maybe the biggest “Cinderella run.” Last year’s Hurricanes came from a 5-seed to make a section final. But Houston was amidst a strong run of football. The 2018 ‘Canes were Section runner-up (9-2), and teams in 2017 (8-2) and 2016 (7-3) had been strong too. Three of the four losses in 2017 and 2018 came to Spring Grove, which was an undefeated state champion each season. Cody Hungerholt’s group rode tradition to the 9-Man Section 1 final in 2019, after a competitive regular season. The ‘Canes fell to Southland (9-8), Spring Grove (29-22), and Grand Meadow (43-6) to go 5-3 in the South-East. Their closest win was 38-28 over Madelia. Going on the road in the section quarters, they avenged the loss to the Rebels emphatically (46-18). Houston then beat previously unbeaten LeRoy-Ostrander, the 1-seed and District Champion, convincingly (44-18) in the semis. The win earned team double-H its second straight 9-Man Section 1 Final berth. But GM was again too strong, by a score of 35-0. Houston missed state for a second straight year by a single game, finishing at 7-4. Only seniors were selected All-District. Mikkel Schutte (QB/S > 80-134 passing, 1,388 yards, 13 TDs, 4 INTs; 3 rushing TDs), Alex Van Gundy (WR/CB > 50-835 receiving, 6 TDs; 44-270 rushing, 2 TDs; five INTs), and Alec Francis (OL/DL) were named A-D. Ben Walters (RB/DB > 111-848 yards, 17 TDs rushing; 8-127, TD receiving) and Wyatt Walters (RB/LB > 168-1,049 yards, 10 TDs rushing; 7-138, 3 TDs receiving) were A-D Honorable Mention. It was a great underdog play-off run, head-lined by maybe the biggest ‘seed’ upset of the decade in 9-Man section 1.
#34) Grand Meadow
It is a team that holds both the distinction of being the first Super Lark football section finalist of the decade, and the only such GM squad to make that game and not make state. The other six all punched through to the big dance. GM’s 2012 regular season had a pair of close wins, a 25-22 victory over G-E and a 19-6 win over Houston. The Larks posted four 20-plus point wins. Beating Lanesboro 49-22 in week seven was noteworthy. The Burros were 5-1 at the time and the defending 9-Man Section 1 Champs. GM fell to Mabel-Canton 20-14 and Spring Grove 41-12 in the regular season to head to the play-offs with a 6-2 record. After beating GHEC/Truman in the quarters, GM avenged the loss to the Cougars in the semis courtesy of a 34-20 win. Gary Sloan’s group then faced Spring Grove in the section final. It was the first of six straight 9-Man Section 1 title game match-ups between the two, typically highly-ranked, teams. It was the only one SG won, 28-0. They ended GM’s season at 8-3. The win made the Lions 11-0, but they fell in the state quarters 8-7 to Wheaton/Herman-Norcross. Making All-Conference for the Larks were senior Richard Bain and juniors Bryce Benson, Brock Johnson, and Perry Stejskal. Making All-SEC HM was Andrew Bell. After this season, Sloan’s Super Larks won the next five 9-Man Section 1 titles, bringing home four state 9-Man titles (with three undefeated teams). They became, and still are, a football dynasty.
#33) Chatfield Football 2018
It is tough to truly rank Class AA Chatfield football teams in a Top 50 when comparing to 9-Man and Class A teams. The 2018 team only had one truly dominant regular season win, but AA and even AAA football is a different game than A and 9-Man. Jeff Johnson’s Gophers were tough, and their grind-it-out wins indicated as much. The Gophers beat Pine Island 21-7, Cannon Falls 13-6, Triton 14-0, Lewiston-Altura 18-13, and St. Charles 22-6 to truly earn five of their six regular season wins. The Bombers made state as the Section 4AAA champion. The Panthers boasted stand-out Josh Navratil, who went on to play at North Dakota. The Saints were 6-0 before the Gophers ended their perfect season. Chatfield fell to Caledonia 20-0 and D-E 31-12 to post a 6-2 regular season record. In the play-offs, the Gophers ratcheted things up, beating Cotter 44-6 and Triton 42-14 to make the 1AA Section final. There waiting, as usual, was Caledonia. The Warriors ended Chatfield’s season with a 34-7 win. Chatfield finished at 8-3. Caledonia (13-0) posted a perfect season a racked up a Class AA state title. The 20-0 win over the Gophers was their second closest of the season. For their efforts, six Gophers were named All-Southeast-White. Five seniors made the list, Gage Tuohy (RB/S > 219-1,356 yards, 9 TDs rushing, 10 total TDs), Carson Larrabee (RB/LB > 106-692 yards, 8 TDs rushing, 9 total TDs), Seth Allen (WR/CB > 8 INTs), Nathan Goldsmith (TE/LB), and Zach Roline (OL/DL). Chance Backer (TE/LB > 5 total TDs) was the lone junior A-D pick. Juniors Johnny Frank (OL/DL) and Isaiah Froese (OL/DL), senior Davontae Goldsmith (OL/DL), were All-White Honorable Mention. It was a typical Chatfield ground-and-pound, play defense, year on the gridiron.
#32) Chatfield Football 2019
That philosophy didn’t change much a year later. The 2019 Gopher season could be termed “The Year of the Backers.” Senior Chance continued his on-field wreckage while brother Sam put on the best freshman-on-a-varsity-football-field performance of the decade. Jeff Johnson’s crew again had to tough their way through regular season wins. They had three real close ones, beating PEM 18-16, St. Charles 7-0, and Pine Island 15-8. The other three wins were by 22-plus points. Chatfield fell to Triton 16-14 and Caledonia 41-8. At one point, the Gophers were 2-2. But they won their last four regular season games to finish 6-2. In the play-offs, they thumped Kenyon-Wanamingo 40-14 and beat previously unbeaten Lewiston-Altura 20-0. It was the Gopher defense’s fourth shut-out of the year, joining a 30-0 win over D-E, a 34-0 win over Z-M, and the St. Charles victory. It was their sixth straight win. Naturally waiting in the section final again was Caledonia. Noah King to Eli King was too much and Chatfield bowed 27-7. The Warriors (14-0) went on to another dominating Class AA state title. None of Caledonia’s state level foes got as close as Chatfield in the post-season (20 points). Chance Backer head-lined the Gophers All-Southeast-White picks. He was selected as the Defensive Player of the Year. Sam Backer also was All-District after an unbelievable frosh season; 194-1,429 yards 17 rushing TDs, 20 total TDs. He had nine 100-yard rushing games in the ten games he played. Also making A-D were two guys that paved the road, senior lineman Isaiah Froese (DL/OL) and Johnny Frank (OL/DL). Rounding out the Gophers All-District picks were juniors Masyn Remme (WR/S) and Austin Koenigs (T/DE). Juniors Ben Roline (RB/LB), Max Aug (WR/CB/P), Corey Ericson (WR/CB), and Reid Johnson (QB)) made All-District Honorable Mention. This crew gave Chatfield four Section 1AA title game appearances in the decade, second most to Caledonia’s ten.
#31) Chatfield Volleyball 2013
Amidst a lot of really good Gopher volleyball teams of the early to mid-2010s, the 2013 squad is the only one that got past the 1AA East finals. It is Chatfield’s best of the decade, posting the most wins as well as advancing the furthest. Many pieces returned from a 2012 club that went 21-10. The Gophers start wasn’t super impressive though. They went 10-7 to begin the season. Four of the losses came at the Class AA Showcase. They did make the championship bracket of that tournament after a 2-1 pool play effort. But from thereon out, Troy Swancutt’s Gophers would lose just twice. They took on the Decorah Tourney in late September and won it, losing just one set. They beat Rochester-Mayo 3-2, and the Spartans went 26-5 and made Class AAA state. Chatfield’s only regular season loss after the Class AA Showcase was essentially a match for the TRC volleyball crown. The Gophers fell to Fillmore Central 3-0 in Preston in a big contest. Chatfield finished the regular season 22-8. They went 10-1 in the TRC, taking second to the eventual Class A State Runner-Up Falcons. Team Chosen Valley was 1AA East’s top seed. They swept Lake City and St. Charles in the first two rounds, then bypassed their arch-1AA-final-nemesis Caledonia. The Warriors were dropped 3-2 by Dover-Eyota in the semis. Chatfield beat D-E 3-1 in the 1AA East finals to advance to the Section 1AA title match. There, they took a set from Kasson-Mantorville, but fell 3-1. The Gophers finished 25-9. Senior Alex Duxbury (341 digs, 59 aces) was a key catalyst in all the success. The four-year stand-out libero earned All-TRC for a third time, Class AA All-State for a third time. She finished her career with 1,665 digs and went to play some collegiate ball at both Concordia-St. Paul and Winona State. Joining her in making All-TRC were senior Gabrielle Salisbury (setter > 545 assists, 57 aces), juniors Kirsten Keefe (OH > 203 kills, 326 digs) and Brook Irish (MH > 232 kills, 50 blocks). G-Salisbury finished with over 1,000 career assists. Junior Maddy Kammer (OH > 236 kills, 40 ½ blocks), sophomore Sheridan Salisbury (setter/OH > 246 assists), and junior Maddie Talamantes (DS) made All-TRC Honorable Mention. Gopher volleyball would be strong for a couple years after this season, culminating in Sheridan Salisbury’s senior group winning a TRC title. Chatfield volleyball hasn’t returned to those hay-days since.