The 2016-17 athletics season was an “almost” year for Rush City in many ways – three teams rolled their way to a section championship game, only to fall short of state. In the end, only three Tiger athletes represented the blue and yellow in state competition.
Even so, there was much for the Rush City sports community to be proud of – including five conference titles – and there will be much to build on for the 2017-18 run.
The football team led by senior quarterback Tyler Oscarson and junior fullback Riley Sykes stormed its way to a six-game winning streak spanning the last four tilts in the regular season and two nail-biting wins in the Section 7AA playoffs, including the first playoff victory over Moose Lake-Willow River by any team since 2005. The Tigers finished 8-3 overall, seeing their season end in the sectional championship game against Royalton.
A reshuffling of sections will see the Tigers face new competition for their 2017 playoff run, possibly involving trips to the Twin Cities.
The volleyball team was the first of three Tiger girls squads to go undefeated within the Great River Conference. Sophomores Jamie Guptill and Shawna Mell provided the power up front, while senior Bailey Behrendt led the defense.
The Tigers picked up 22 wins overall, and advanced to the Section 7AA championship game against Hermantown. The
Tigers won two of the first three sets and led the fourth 17-14 before succumbing to a Hawk comeback.
The boys cross-country team finished third in the GRC and 13th in the sectional race. Freshman Ashton Langworthy led the Tigers late in the season. The girls placed second at GRC’s and 14th at sections; juniors Josefine Jager and Sydney Fulcher set the pace.
Girls basketball picked up where volleyball left off, dominating all competition during a run that saw the Tigers enter the Section 6AA title game with a record of 25-0. The starting five of Guptill, Mell, junior Stephanie Braund and sophomores Elena Herberg and Kaylyn Bowen could all be counted on to bring offensive and defensive firepower to the court. The Tiger run ended with a two-point loss to Sauk Centre in the sectional final, where Herberg’s last-ditch 3-pointer wouldn’t fall.
Mell was named the conference MVP, with the entire starting five earning a spot on the conference honors list.
The boys basketball team was driven by youth and had to learn on the fly, with most of the players seeing varsity minutes for the first time. The Tigers finished in the middle of the GRC table and 8-15 overall. The Tigers’ highlight was a 100-35 win over Ogilvie: Oscarson finished with a triple-double (22 points, 11 assists, 11 steals) while senior Dylan Groshens added 24 points.
Winter is a season of co-ops for small-town Rush City, with the boys hockey alliance with Pine City being the best-known. The Dragons skated their way to an 18-8 record, clinching the Two Rivers Conference crown with a thrilling win over St. Paul Highland Park in a de facto title game. The Dragons had visions of advancing to the state tournament but were upended in the opening round of the Section 5A playoffs by Princeton. Pine City students Brendan Westbrook (34 goals), Jonah Bergstrom (28) and Jake Lindblom (20) did the majority of the lamp-lighting. Rush City man T.J. Roth was the fourth-leading goalscorer with 12.
Rush City wrestlers teamed up with Braham grapplers, though it was a pair of Rush City brothers who made the biggest splash. Senior Dylan Mielke (145 pounds) and junior Dalton Mielke (160 pounds) placed in their weight classes at the Section 7AA meet to earn berths in the Class AA state championship. Dalton saw his state run end one round short of the podium.
Rush City formed one-third of the Flamingos gymnastics co-op, along with Pine City and Hinckley-Finlayson, and hosted the teams’ home meets at the Aquatic Center. Rush City eighth-grader Ellie Mae White saw spot duty in a varsity lineup dominated by tumblers from Pine City.
The boys and girls track teams both finished second in the GRC behind perennial powers Pine City. The boys were led by hurdler Groshens, who won two races at conference and subsections, while miler Herberg set the pace for the girls.
In cruel twists, neither Tiger star was able to place top-two at sections and move on to state, despite being favored to do so. The Tigers were instead represented at state by Guptill, who shattered her personal best in the shot put by more than 5 feet to qualify for the championship, where she placed 13th.
The softball team carried the theme of female dominance into the spring season, sweeping the GRC to match the feats of the volleyball and softball squads. Bowen, sophomore Katie McDonald and eighth-grader Ally Rood played for all three teams, going a combined 38-0 in conference play.
The Tigers met their match in the Section 7AA tournament, losing twice against International Falls to finish the season 20-4.
The boys golf team, led by all-conference players Roth, junior Jacob Scherer and sophomore Sam Sybrant brought home a GRC crown by outlasting Aitkin in a back-and-forth seasonlong struggle. The three leaders all qualified for the final round at the Section 7AA tournament.
The girls golf team placed fifth in the GRC. Junior Sarah Bjork made the second-day cut at sectionals; sophomore Kaylee Bowen was named all-conference.
Baseball struggled to find runs, finishing 4-12. The Tigers’ wins came against Barnum, Grantsburg (Wisconsin), Ogilvie and Isle.