Rocky Hulne: Farewell to a great class

Published 9:34 pm Monday, June 11, 2018

I’ve been around high school sports for much of my life and there’s one scene that still stings. We’ve all seen it before at different levels and it never gets any easier.

The final game comes to close an athlete crumbles to the ground. Their head hangs low and their thoughts wander on why they came up short and why it’s all over. Usually a teammate or coach, picks them up, whispers something reassuring in their ear and pats them on the back. The pain is sedated for a moment, but the feeling never really goes away.

The end of a high school sports career is a tough pill to swallow for any athlete, for various reasons. First off, most every athlete who’s ever put on a uniform has the hopes of winning a championship and the harsh reality is very few athletes ever feel that joy. Knowing the battle is over with a title is a difficult revelation to face.

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However, the biggest loss for most athletes who see the clock strike zero isn’t measured on the scoreboard. It’s the loss of camaraderie and it’s the loss of the unique bond that forms when a group of people commit themselves to the exact same cause for a long period of time. With the commercialization and money being put into big-time college sports, high school sports are one of the last refuges where the game is still pure and players are still playing for the love of the game. It’s truly a joy for me to be along for the highs and lows of area athletes when I see the passion they compete with and they tremendous joy they gain from their successes.

This year brought a typically hard set of goodbyes as the area is graduating some great kids and great athletes alike. There is not enough room in this column to name every single one of them, but I will share a few of my favorite memories from a phenomenal senior class.

Austin’s Duoth Gach watches as the last seconds tick off in the Packers’ loss to Delano in the Minnesota Class AAA semifinals in Target Center. Herald File Photos

There was the game were Both Gach was brought up as a nervous freshman and his older brother, Gach Gach, continued to encourage him to shoot. Eventually Both converted a three-point play and Gach gave him a giant hug under the basket. The Gach family had a huge impact on Austin basketball and it will be strange seeing a Packer team without a Gach on the roster next season.

It’s also been really cool to see Tate Hebrink grow up from the kid I used to see shooting hoops at halftime of his mom Suzy’s games at Riverland to a solid quarterback in football and a great point guard in basketball.

The Austin boys soccer team was truly special this past season as the team had its best season in school history. I’ll remember OJ Cham’s bright smile, Lonyjera Okal’s quiet demeanor, but explosive offense and Sam Bailey’s steady presence as a leader.

The Lyle-Pacelli girls basketball broke through its first state title in program history behind the strong play of Kristi Fett, who officially wrapped up her LP career in the shot put at the state track and field meet this past weekend. Fett, Brooke Walter and Kendal Truckenmiller all experienced a huge heartbreak three years ago when LP was bounced from the state title loss in a very difficult loss to Goodhue. It was good to see them rebound and finish on top.

Last but not least, the Hayfield girls senior classes is truly one that will not be forgotten the group not only had a lot of success on the court as they combined for 12 winning seasons and four state tournament appearances with a record of 244-93 overall in volleyball, softball and basketball over the past four years, but they’ve been a fantastic bunch to cover. They’re simply great kids on and off the court, who probably have great things ahead of them in life.