Column: The joys of state track and state softball

Published 3:23pm Sunday, June 10, 2012

Over the past few days, I went on sort of high school sports marathon.

Over a period of 72 hours, I saw the Blooming Prairie softball team reach the heart of jubilation, then watched them have their hearts broken, I saw an Albert Lea distance runner show as much heart as any athlete I’ve seen, and I even got to ride home in a tow truck.

Here are the tales and misadventures of covering two state events in three days.

Day one: It’s raining again

The last two years BP played in the Class ‘A’ state softball tournament, there were serious rain delays. Two years ago, there were puddles in the infield before play was suspended and last year, the Blossoms had to finish up their semifinal game at 8 a.m. the day of the title round.

With a sunny forecast, I thought we’d be clear of weather this year, but instead everyone had to sit through a three-hour rain delay before Thursday’s quarterfinals even began. Rain delays can test the patience of even the calmest athletes, but I think BP’s fans and players are used to them by now.

The Blossoms won their first game at state easily enough, but they had they had their focus tested greatly in a semifinal matchup with New Ulm Cathedral. The Greyhounds scored their first run of the game on a play where BP pitcher Shelbi Swenson appeared to clearly tag the runner in the shoulder, but the home plate umpire ruled the runner safe after about a three second delay.

Needless to say the BP fans weren’t happy, especially after the Greyhounds tacked on another run. But BP showed its mental toughness as it stayed in the game, even after blowing a couple of scoring chances. Finally the Blossoms broke through when freshman Tessa Ivers lifted a soft liner that scored two runs and her older sister, Sam Ivers drew a walk-off walk to win the game 3-2.

The joy the Blossoms showed after the game was as great a celebration I have ever seen. There were hugs, smiles and words of encouragement floating around everywhere.

Day 2: It’s all over

BP had a very good chance to land its first state softball title in school history in the finals, but a couple of errors and a costly wild pitch in the seventh inning saw them fall to Cherry 2-1.

While there were a lot of tears after the game, I hope the Blossoms look back on this season that is truly one to remember. They played with the best teams in the state for two days and left no doubt that BP has one of the truly dominant softball programs in the state.

The Blossoms will truly miss longtime starters Tricia DeBoer, who plans to play for the University of North Dakota next season, and Hunter Henderson, who has been solid behind the plate her entire career. But I have a hunch they’ll be one of the top teams in the state again next season.

Day 3: Monson’s fall

Since the Herald helps cover the state track and field meet for the Albert Lea Tribune, I’ve gotten to know Albert Lea junior Crissy Monson a little over the past few years. I even saw her win a state title in the 1600-meter run last year.

So I knew something was wrong when Monson was losing a lot of ground in the last two laps of the 1600-meter finals this year. She slipped from fourth to the back of the pack and ended up in the trainer’s tent after the race.

When Monson said she had injured her hip and had never felt that much pain running in her career, she earned my respect for even finishing the race. Especially because Monson pushed through the pain and ran down a few runners down the stretch.

The afternoon races brought extreme heat and while plenty of runners were falling and being escorted to the medical tent, none of the Grand Meadow-LeRoy-Ostrander-Southland state qualifiers showed any signs of weaknesses.

They all ran their hardest and put up a very good showing as they put six runners on the podium.

I would expect a few of them to be back at state next year with a chance to do even better.

Day3 (continued): Not so fast

Just when I thought my whirlwind three-day tour was coming to an end, Herald photographer Eric Johnson and I ran into a little trouble on the way back to Austin from the twin cities.

Johnson’s car decided to have some technical difficulties about 20 miles north of Faribault and we had to take a tow truck home.

While waiting for the ride, Johnson and I reminisced on all the excitement we had witnessed after an entire day at the state track meet. Mostly we talked about a photographer who has attended every state cross country and state track and field meet since I started at the Herald five years ago.

We simply know him by the name ‘Dennis’ and he stands out like none other amongst media members. With his long gray hair and his tame mustache, Dennis is always wearing green track pants and he usually has a green track jacket, but this year it was too hot so he settled for a white sweatshirt instead.

We’re not sure where Dennis works, but I know he loves to do what it takes to get the shot. I’ve seen him lay out on his back and point his camera towards the sky as runners go by and I’ve seen take some of the strangest stances a photographer has ever used. He also uses an ‘antique’ film camera in today’s age of digital cameras.

I imagine Dennis was quite the runner himself in his day and I imagine he’s been to a lot of state events in his career. He’s probably seen a lot of great things and a lot of letdowns.

As the tow truck pulled me and Johnson back into Austin, I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘maybe it’s pretty cool to be Dennis.’

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