2016-17 was a successful year for North Branch athletics, with many teams and individuals making deep postseason runs, while others made gains on their competition.
The girls soccer team stunned the entire state over two weeks in mid-October, turning Section 7A on its head as the No. 6 seed. In consecutive rounds, the Vikings upset No. 3 Cloquet, No. 2 Duluth Marshall and No. 1 Princeton. The Vikings moved on to the state tournament, where they were beaten in the quarterfinals by Mankato East.
In matching pink headbands the Harper sisters, eighth-grader Khyah and sophomore Sadie, led the Viking offense, combining for 47 goals.
Seniors Rhianna Rinke and Jillian Yerges led the girls cross-country team to fourth place of 10 in the Mississippi 8 Conference and sixth of 16 in Section 7AA. Both girls qualified for the state meet: Rinke finished 68th, Yerges 102nd.
Sophomores Aiden Bear and Matthew Stuber took over the leading spots on the boys cross-country team around midseason and continued to lower their times. The boys placed sixth in the M8 and 10th at sections. Stuber and Bear will be athletes to watch this fall.
The volleyball team lost the core of the team that won the state consolation title in 2015, but the youthful Vikings played above their experience, finishing 13-16 and advancing to the Section 7AAA semifinal after knocking off top-seeded Elk River. Junior Sophie Linder, freshman Cianna Selbitschka and freshman Haley Hadrava will be among the returners who will bring extensive varsity experience to the 2017 squad.
The football team struggled to score points early in the season and finished the regular season 0-8, including a last-second heartbreaker at Princeton. The Vikings then scored a 19-10 victory over Duluth Denfeld in the first round of Section 7AAAA play; senior running back Micah Hindt rushed for two scores and junior quarterback Aaron Robillard accounted for the third.
The fall was long and cold for the boys soccer and girls tennis squads, with the two groups combining for four wins; both were swept in M8 play.
The Viking gymnasts were the shimmering stars of the winter season, opening a brand-new home gym and winning all five of their competitions therein. The Vikings earned a berth to the True Team state meet for the first time in program history and placed sixth. Junior Keeley Ertl advanced to the MSHSL state meet on vault, floor and all-around; junior Alexys Olson and sophomore Angie Fish joined her on the balance beam.
After recording single-digit wins in seasons past, the boys hockey team soared to a 17-9-1 record and reached the Section 5A semis, led by the high-scoring trio of sophomore Brady Meyer (33 goals), junior Cody Moline (26) and senior Nick Fairbanks (20). Junior goalie Trevor Mellen held opponents to 2.17 goals per game.
Low numbers prevented the wrestlers from doing much damage in team competitions, but the Vikings put strong individuals on the mat, most notably freshman Austin Sonnek, who won several tournament titles and qualified for the state tournament at 132 pounds.
The Viking basketball squads were inexperienced coming into this season, with the girls finishing 7-20 and the boys 5-22. The scoring leaders were juniors Savannah Linkert (10.5 points per game) and Brady Brodin (12.9).
The Vikettes dance team’s kick routine “Thunder” earned a victory at the Forest Lake Invitational and a sixth-place finish at the Section 2AA meet on their home floor. The jazz feature “Unsteady” finished fifth at sections, just two spots shy of a state berth. Yerges and senior Abby Callahan were named to the all-conference team.
Junior Kaylyn Forliti was the lone North Branch player on the St. Francis/North Branch girls hockey co-op, but the Saints welcomed her presence at the center of the first line. Forliti finished with nine goals and six assists, while the Saints finished 13-12-1.
The girls track team qualified for its fifth-straight True Team state meet, coming from behind to pass challengers Cloquet in the final race at sections to claim the berth. The Vikings placed eighth at True Team.
Senior Katie Burnside won the Vikings’ lone M8 title in the pole vault, but at sections she yielded to stronger competition. Rinke advanced to state in the 1600 for the fifth time, while eighth-grader Kate Carlson advanced for the first time in the high jump.
The boys team was led by junior pole vaulter Evan Amunrud, who finished 11th at state and cleared a lifetime-best height despite being hampered by a hamstring injury.
The adapted bowling team qualified eight bowlers for the state championship meet: senior Neal Dielke, juniors Marie Rogde and Joy Edyvean, sophomore Kevin Seekon, freshmen Logan Ricard and Matt Fox, eighth-grader Victoria Kent and seventh-grader Eli Black. The highest state finish was achieved by the ASD quartet (Seekon, Ricard, Fox, Black; seventh).
The softball team surprised its more storied M8 and Section 7AAA foes, rolling to a 17-8 season that include a victory at the Sauk Rapids tournament and a third-place finish in the section. Junior Samantha Pederson led the team on the mound and at the plate.
Baseball endured a slow start to its season before coming on late to finish with a 9-15 record and place third in the Section 7AAA tournament. Senior first baseman Ryan Byrkit brought the power at the plate while sophomore shortstop Clint Mattson hit for average. Brodin was the ace on the mound.
The boys tennis team went from one win in 2016 to seven in 2017, highlighted by M8 victories over Cambridge-Isanti, Princeton and St. Francis and a second-place finish in the Bluejacket Invitational. Seniors Bryant Meyer and Trenton Corbett led the team at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively. Senior T.J. Reis and freshman George Blackwell comprised the top doubles team.
The boys golf team placed fourth in the M8 East. Senior Reece Armistead earned all-conference honors and later made the second-cut at the Section 7AAA tournament, placing 15th overall, just three strokes shy of a berth to state.
The girls golf squad continued to grow, with a program-high 15 players out on the links in 2017. Sophomore Alyssa McClaskie provided a highlight when she claimed the bronze medal at the PurpleHawk Invitational. The Vikings finished fifth in the M8 East.
NEXT WEEK: Rush City Year in Review