By CHRIS TODD
STORM LAKE - With eight school districts in the area and a Division III college, choosing the top ten sports stories in any given year is easy in some respects but difficult in others.
Finding ten stories is never difficult, as it might be in some rural areas in the Midwest.
The hard part is narrowing down the choices. That's a testament to the athletic and coaching talent in the area.
2005 was no different.
This year's top ten stories were dominated by spring and summer high school sports.
Out of the top six stories, five were either teams or individuals from spring and summer prep sports.
The top story wasn't hard to pick, as the Laurens-Marathon softball team took second in Class 1A in the state tournament in August in Fort Dodge. The Newell-Fonda softball team also qualified for the state softball tournament, but lost in the consolation round.
This was a particularly strong year for area track and field athletes.
At the state meet in late May, Alta's Dee Hinkeldey won two state titles while Laurens-Marathon's Jacqulyn Schmidt won a state hurdles title.
Also, the Sioux Central girls track and field team had an remarkable run in 2005, winning all 11 of its invitational meets.
Those are just the highlights. There were a number of strong team and individual performances that didn't make the list.
Here's a look at the the top tens area sports stories in 2005.
1. Laurens-Marathon softball team - Most of this summer's Laurens-Marathon softball players had been to state in 2003 as underclassmen.
This summer, the Chargers, led by the pitching and hitting of Bryn Johnson, easily qualified for state, then cruised through the first two games before reaching the championship game. L-M fell to Alburnett 6-3 in that contest.
The Chargers opened state tourney action with a 3-0 win over fourth-ranked Murray. Johnson, a sophomore righthander, tossed a three-hit shutout and banged a two-run double in the top of the first to give her team all it needed to win.
"We've been waiting for this for two years, so we were really ready to play," Johnson said after the game. "We've made the most of it so far."
In the semis, the Chargers upset top-ranked Charter Oak-Ute 5-0 behind the five-hit pitching of Johnson. She struck out ten in the contest and also drove in two runs with two hits.
In the Class 1A championship game against Alburnett, L-M took a quick, 3-1 lead. In the fifth, Alburnett took advantage of three Charger errors and a couple of mental mistakes to retake a 4-3 lead. Using good team speed, Alburnett added two insurance runs in the sixth for the final margin.
The Chargers finished 27-5 overall. Johnson was named the All-Tournament team captain, with L-M shortstop Jacqulyn Schmidt and third baseman Lach Hall also named to the team.
2. Alta's Hinkeldey wins track titles - Last spring as a sophomore, Alta's Dee Hinkeldey was one of the top stories, regardless of team class, in the State Track and Field meet in Des Moines.
Hinkeldey went into into this year's state meet as the defending Class 1A champion in the 400 meter dash. In 2004 as a freshman, Hinkeldey won that state title with a new state meet record time.
She continued her streak in the 2005 meet, repeating her state title in the 400 dash and winning her first title in the 400 meter hurdles.
She set state meet records in both events, winning the 400 meters in 57.76 seconds, beating her old state record of 58.46. Hinkeldey won the 400 hurdles in a new state meet record time of 1 minute, 27 seconds, beating the second place runner by just under a second.
Alta High track coach Pamela Barnes said Hinkeldey was under a lot of pressure, particularly in the 400 dash and going in as the defending state champ.
"We knew she would have to beat her own record to win this year," Barnes said. "On the second to the last turn, she was watching the time on the big scoreboard and I think that really helped her."
In the 400 hurdles, Hinkeldey was simply too fast for the state meet field.
"Dee had the lead after the first hurdle and just kept on increasing it," Barnes said. "After the first turn, it was just a matter of not missing any hurdles, and she didn't."
3. Schmidt, L-M wins track titles - Schmidt, Laurens-Marathon's remarkable all-around athlete, concluded her track career at state last May by defending her title in the 100 meter hurdles and leading the Chargers' shuttle hurdle relay team to the Class 1A championship.
On Saturday morning, the L-M shuttle hurdle team of freshman Megan Cleveland, senior Kristi Brechler, freshman Diana Johnsen and Schmidt won the state title with a new school-record time of 1:05.45.
The state title and time were both surprises to the girls and L-M coach Kerry Feekes. The Chargers' shuttle hurdle team was seventh in the prelims a day earlier with a time of 1:07.39.
"It was a shock to win it," said Brechler, who was the Chargers' first baseman in softball. "I think the wet conditions hurt the other teams but didn't affect us at all."
Schmidt's day wasn't through. An hour later she won her second straight title in the 100 meter hurdles in 14.89 seconds. She beat the second-place runner by over half a second.
"In the finals, I didn't get off to a real fast start because I didn't want to have a false start. Once I got to the seventh or eighth hurdle, I had the lead and just held on to it," Schmidt said.
4. Newell-Fonda softball team makes state - The Newell-Fonda High softball team made school history last summer by becoming the first Mustang team to qualify for a state softball tournament.
Newell-Fonda, led by the pitching-catching battery of hard-throwing righthander Hanna Reis and all-state catcher Andrea Larsen, the Mustangs went into the tournament with a 30-8 record.
They opened state tourney action with a thrilling, come-from behind win over second-
Sports '05 / See Page 12A
ranked Southeast Webster.
In that contest, N-F spotted SEW three early runs, but rallied for five in the bottom of the fourth to take a two-run lead. Reis, who won over 20 games for the second consecutive season, made the slim lead stand up.
In the five-run fourth, five Mustang hitters hit singles along with a RBI double by
Said Jungers: "We've had quite a few big innings this season. We have kids throughout the lineup who make good contact."
In the semifinals, errors proved costly to N-F, as they committed ten in a 7-3 loss to Alburnett. The winners took an early 5-1 lead and although the Mustangs banged out 12 hits, they didn't hit well with runners on.
In the game for third place, Newell-Fonda trailed Charter Oak-Ute 8-2 going into the bottom of the seventh. The Mustangs nearly came all the way back, rallying for five runs before falling a run short.
In that frame, N-F bunched together five singles and two Charter Oak errors in the rally. They trailed 8-7 win one out and two on in the seventh, but Charter Oak got the next two outs on a sacrifice bunt and a nice play by its first baseman.
5. Newell-Fonda, Sioux Central football teams make state playoffs - The Mustang and Rebel football teams both made the state playoffs after a year of falling short.
The Mustangs, who returned a number of starters at key positions from 2004, used a devastating rushing attack and a physical defense to cruise to an 8-1 regular season mark.
In those eight wins, N-F allowed just three touchdowns and posted five shutouts, also averaging 38 points per game offensively.
On Oct. 21 in Newell, the Mustangs sustained their first loss of the season, a 9-7 loss to No. 1 West Bend Mallard. In that contest, the Wolverines won on a 25-yard field goal as time expired.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Mustangs held off LeMars Gehlen 35-34 in overtime. In that contest, N-F trailed 14-0 at the half but scored 28 unanswered points over the third and fourth quarters for their 28-14 lead.
Mustang running back Chad Buchholz made the big play in overtime. On first down from the Gehlen ten, he ran in for a score.
After making the PAT conversion for a 35-28 lead, Gehlen made a touchdown on its first overtime possession. Gehlen coach Tony Gunter decided to go for two and the win, but halfback Nick Loutsch was stopped short of the goal line by N-F defender Peter Olsen.
The Mustangs' season came to an end a week later when West Bend Mallard beat them, 34-21.
Sioux Central, meanwhile, had an excellent season, but it ended in frustration and controversy in an 18-7, first- round playoff loss to district champion Pocahontas.
The Rebels fought through a number of injuries during the regular season, but won their first five games before losing to Poky 7-0 Oct. 6. Sioux Central ended the regular season with three must-wins and made the playoffs.
In the first round, the Rebels trailed just 3-0 at the half, and went on to take a short-lived 7-3 lead in the third quarter. Poky scored in the fourth quarter for a 10-7 lead, then added a late score for the final margin.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Rebels, still trailing 10-7, were inside the Poky 20 when SC coach Jeff Tiefenthaler complained when a Rebel ballcarrier was hit out of bounds late.
As Tiefenthaler was conversing to an official after the call, the coach said later, a Pocahontas player told Tiefenthaler to 'shut up," using an expletive in the process.
Said Tiefenthaler: (Coaches) go to sportsmanship meetings before the season, but they don't mean much when the officials don't enforce the rules."
6. SLHS softball team shares Lakes title - It was a record-setting year for the Storm Lake High softball team, which finished with a 40-11 mark, a new school record for wins.
The Tornadoes also finished 15-1 in Lakes Conference action, sharing the conference title with then top-ranked Spirit Lake.
The regular season highlight was a tense, 2-1 win over Spirit Lake on June 22 in Storm Lake. In that game, SLHS senior Jess Overturf scored the gamewinning run from third in a wild pitch by Katie Brown with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
It was a big win for Stoltzfus, and seniors Mel Fisher, Overturf and second baseman Anna Paulsen. According to Stoltzfus, the Tornadoes were 0-13 against Spirit Lake the previous six seasons. Fisher and Paulsen had been on the varsity for four of those years.
Fisher described the game's last play: "I just saw the ball go over the catcher's head and then kept my eyes on Jess as she ran from third to home. It's great to finally beat (Spirit Lake); we've been waiting for this for four years."
The Tornadoes lost 3-2 to Spirit Lake later in the season, but beat Sioux City Heelan 2-0 in their tourney opener before trouncing LeMars 6-1 in the regional semifinals.
On July 26, Storm Lake lost a 4-2 decision to Carroll in a 12-inning nailbiter. In that game, the Tornadoes were down to their last strike before tying the game in the bottom of the seventh.
In that half-inning, hard-throwing Carroll righthander Kora Behrens retired the first two hitters. SL shortstop Morgan Darrow had a key at bat; after falling behind 1-2 on the count, she coaxed a walk from Behrens.
SL's Lindsey Guenther beat out an infield hit, and with two strikes no her, Trish Halder lined a shot to the gap in rightcenter to tie the game at four.
Carroll scored the decisive runs in the top of the 12th by taking advantage of a couple SLHS defensive miscues.
The Tornadoes had the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the 12th but Behrens notched a strikeout to end the game.
7. BVU men make national basketball tourney again - It seems national tournament berths are automatic each year for both the Buena Vista University men's basketball team.
The 2004-2005 season was no exception as BVU missed the Division III Sweet 16 by just two points.
Wartburg, however, won the Iowa Conference title with a 15-1 mark, with BVU finishing second at 14-2. The BVU men had won the last four IIAC regular season titles.
To make sure of a spot in the national tourney field, the Beavers had to win the conference tournament for the automatic bid.
They did just that, beating Central College 103-80 in the first round, defeating Luther in the semis, 77-62, then gaining some revenge by topping Wartburg in Waverly Feb. 26 for the conference tourney title.
The six seniors on the BVU roster had gone 12-0 in conference tournament games.
"I'm not sure any group of seniors anywhere can match that," BVU coach Brian VanHaaften said.
In their national tourney opener, the BVU won a 91-47 decision over Edgewood College of Madison, Wis. They trailed 47-45 at the half.
"We had to be more aggressive on defense in the second half," VanHaaften said after the game. "Our guys have been behind at the half many times before,and we just had to come out and play our game."
The Beavers were edged the following week by Puget Sound 85-82 by Puget Sound University in Tacoma, Wash.
BVU senior Eric Wiebers hit a three-point shot with 17 seconds left in regulation for a tie at 82. Puget Sound came back with a game-winning three-pointer with six seconds left for the win.
"It was a contested shot," said VanHaaften said. "We had a hand in the shooter's face but he just made a tough shot."
The BVU seniors - Randy Bissen, Jordan Campbell, Michael Cameron, Brandon Kies, Reece Viet and Eric Wiebers - had been the core of a team that averaged at least 25 wins in each of the previous four seasons. They won four consecutive IIAC playoff titles and were 100-19 overall.
Wiebers summed up the seniors' last season eloquently, saying: "This year was real special to us. We've been playing together for the past four years, so we were playing not for ourselves, but for each other."
8. BVU women win IIAC title, compete in nationals - The BVU women had another stellar season, winning their second straight Iowa Conference title with a perfect 16-0 mark in league play. The previous year, they also went 16-0 in IIAC action and entered this season with a 27-game conference winning streak.
Over the past two seasons, the BVU women are 52-6 overall, including a 25-1 regular season mark in 2004-2005.
Last March, however, the BVU women were upset 74-62 by Wartburg in the semifinals of the Iowa Conference Tournament.
Having gone into post-season play ranked eighth in the nation, BVU gained a rare at-large berth to the national tournament.
That caused some nervous moments for coach Janet Berry and her team as they anticipated being named as an at-large team to the tourney.
"We were the last at-large berth teams named," Berry said last March. "There were some girls starting to tear up just before we were named to the tournament.
Added junior forward Kelli Staley: "We knew we had a good chance to get in, based on our record and the season we had, but you never want to get your hopes up too high. When we learned we were in, we all threw our hands in the air and it got pretty loud. It was a nerve wracking weekend."
Unfortunately, the BVU women couldn't take advantage of their good fortune. St. Benedict's College, the playoff champs of the the MIAC, Minnesota's counterpart to the Iowa Conference, edged BVU 77-71. The game was played before 1,100 at Siebens Field House.
"I felt if we could have strung one more strong possession together, we could have won it," Berry said.
In the first half, BVU vaulted to an 8-0 lead and led 16-7 at one point.
"We were within a few points of being buried," St Ben's coach Mike Durbin said. "Just getting to halftime was the toughest test for us."
Despite the loss, BVU point guard Katie Maguire was named the Iowa Conference MVP while Berry was named IIAC Coach of the Year for the second straight season. Staley and senior center Kristina Kapler gained all-conference honors.
9. Sioux Central girls tracksters have banner year - In 2005, the Rebel girls had one of the most successful track and field seasons in school history.
Using both talent and depth, Sioux Central won all 11 meets they competed in, including a win in the district meet.
Veteran Sioux Central girls track coach Ken Rachuy called it a "dream season," adding it was the best team he's had in his 18-years at the helm.
"We've been strong in some areas but not in others in past years, " Rachuy said. "(In 2005) we have talent and depth in the sprints, middle distances and the distance running events. This teams is pretty much the whole package."
The coach said this year's team will long-be remembered for its accomplishments.
"Years from now, people will still be talking about the 2005 Sioux Central girls track team," Rachuy said.
10. St. Mary's girls cagers off to fast start - The St. Mary's high girls basketball team is off to its best start in 20 years.
The Panthers lost their season-opener to Lawton-Bronson, but reeled off six straight wins and went into the Christmas break 6-1. They are also undefeated in conference play (3-0) and have already beaten Alta and Sioux Central.
"We've been playing together a long time and we're starting to come closer to our potential with every game" St. Mary's junior Janie Imming said.
The Panthers have both talent and depth. It has an all-state caliber guard Abby Richardson, a defensive ace in guard Jess Lussman, and strong forward and post play from Imming, senior Cassie Weaver, Colleen Smith and Maggie Lange.
"This is probably the best girls basketball team we've had in some time, at least in the eight years I've been coaching," Berg said.