Column: A great weekend for Austin sports

The Austin high school athletics program just wrapped up a banner weekend.

The Packer dance team earned its 11th straight trip to state, the Austin gymnastics team won its first Big Nine title since 1972, the Austin swimming team had one of its best Big Nine performances in years, the Packer boys hockey team snapped a tough losing streak and the Austin boys basketball team demolished arch rival Albert Lea in front of a capacity crowd.

Dancers are putting in work

The Austin dance team continues to turn out state appearances on an annual basis, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy for them.

When state is an expectation, it’s easy to get a little sidetracked or distracted, but the program has shown great focus and work ethic to continue advancing to the biggest meet of the year for more than a decade.

As for the high kick itself, I can only imagine how physically draining it is for the athletes to kick to their chins countless times in practice and on performance days.

The group has definitely put in some hard work and they deserve to be going back to state.

Unseating the Huskies

Last year Austin gymnast Sela Fadness wasn’t too shy about saying she wanted to beat Owatonna. She had never done it in her career and was hoping 2012 would be the year it finally happened.

The Packers lost a tough dual and had to settle second to Owatonna in the Big Nine last season, but this year was Austin’s turn to celebrate as they put up their best score in school history. They put an end to Owatonna’s four-year run as Big Nine champs.

The gymnastics team has put in an incredible amount of work over the summer to get where it is, but it’s also embraced a team concept that has kept every athlete involved at all times.

Those two factors have paid off big time.

Swimming strong

The Packer swimmers just finished off their best team season in five years as they took third in the Big Nine and Nick Brehmer won the team’s first Big Nine individual title in at least five years.

The good news for the Packers is that they could get even better in the future. The team has just five seniors and 15 of the athletes are freshman or younger.

That young roster has been competitive all season and if those younger swimmers put in strong work, the Packers will be a force in the pool again next winter.

The start of a turnaround

On paper, the fact that Packers’ six wins this year are the most they’ve had since the 2009-2010 season may not sound that great. But if you look a little deeper, Austin has vastly improved this season.

It used to be common for the Packers allow seven, eight or even nine goals in game but that has changed this season. Austin has allowed more than five goals just three times in 21 games and and nine of their 14 losses have been by two goals or less.

If first year head coach Erik LaRock continues to work on this team, they could be a team to watch in a year or two.

Everything but excited

When the Packers won their 20th straight game by throttling Albert Lea in front of a full house in Packer Gym Saturday night, I expected to see a little excitement out of the team.

After all, the Tigers had pushed them to the brink in a double overtime game Dec. 11. But what I saw when I was in the Packer locker room after the game was a group of players who might as well have been sitting in the middle of a math lecture.

There was no yelling or high fiving and it was nearly silent.

The Austin locker room has been like that a lot this season and I expect it to continue. The team is focused on the big picture as it’s biggest battles lie ahead of them.

That’s exactly what they should be doing when you have huge goals and there are still six games left in the regular season.

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