Athlete of the week: Ryan Ness, Elk River, soccer: Net gains

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

In his prep career Ryan Ness has played in five state tournaments, lettered seven times in three sports, made an all-state team, hit a game-winning goal in a section championship and served as captain in two sports.  And he’s still got his whole senior year to go.

“I’m hoping to get back to state in soccer. I think we can,” said the Elk senior co-captain about his first team goal for 2011-12. As for personal quests, Ness will soon be the Elk  all-time scoring leader in soccer, and should pass 100 tennis wins.

With 46 career points ( 23 goals, 23 assists), he is No. 3 behind Matt Foss (39-15-53) and Sam Milles (34-13-47). His teams reached state the last two years. He had 15 goals and 13 assists last year and was one of 24 players on the coaches’ Class AA all-state team.

Ryan Ness, Elks midfielder, is a fourth-year starter with 46 career points (23 goals, 23 assists), just seven points under the team's career record. (Photo by Bob Burley)

As a sophomore he had five goals, including the biggest of his career, in a 1-0 section finals win over Moorhead, hitting the far corner of the net from 20 yards after rushing the net with 17:52 left at St.Cloud State.

That goal ranks as one of his three personal highlights so far, along with sinking six 3-pointers in a basketball game against Blaine and going 3-0 in dual meets at state tennis last year. (He seems to thrive in sports with nets.)

Ness is a willowy 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds. Don’t let that fool you. “He plays a lot stronger than he looks,” said coach Tom Olson.

The coach assessed: “Ryan controls the ball really well. When the ball’s on his foot it’s very difficult to get it off. And he has tremendous vision. A lot of times you’ll go ‘How in the heck did he see that?’ when he finds an opening for a pass or a shot.”

Soccer is his favorite sport and the one he’ll pursue in college.

“What I like is the team aspect, moving the ball around with creative passing,” said Ness. “And the attack part, when you put balls up for people to score, or shooting it yourself.”

Ness started soccer and basketball in first grade and tennis in eighth grade. His father, Tom, a minister. who played tennis at Concordia and coached in Fargo, gave Ryan most of his early training and workouts. Despite the late start he’s been a singles starter since ninth grade and played in three state tourneys.

“Ryan knows how to win. He’s never nervous,” said coach Randy Ronning. “Kids who are in one sport, they’re nervous again at the start of each year, but Ryan has been competing all year.”

Ness has 88 career wins in tennis, mostly at No. 4 singles as the Elks have had strong players ahead of him. Also a tennis captain, he was 34-4 last year and 22-4 in 10th grade. His record in state tournaments is 7-6, including  last year’s 3-0 slate in duals with a 3-set conquest of a highly-touted Mayo player, and 2-2 in doubles with Mitchel Brandell.

Ness covers the court well, exploits weaknesses, and serves with purpose. “He picks things up on the court so well,” said Ronning. “Show him something and he’ll use it next week. He watches good players and learns from them, too.”

In basketball, Ness averaged 9.0 points and 3.4 rebounds as a guard and forward on a young team that went 7-20. “He makes good decisions, plays good defense, shoots OK, can  rebound when needed, and he’s a good teammate,” said coach Randy Klasen.

An “A” student, Ness plans to be an engineer.



Ryan Ness

Personal file – Age: 17 … Family: parents Tom and Julie; sisters Erin, 15, and Rachel, 13 … Sports: soccer, basketball, tennis … Other activities: Fellowship of Christian Athletes, National Honor Society … College plans: undecided where, engineering, soccer

Favorite stuff – Class: math … TV show: “Sports Center” … Movie: “Inception” … Music: country, especially Brad Paisley, Zach Brown; Christian rap, especiailly Lecrae … Food: steak at Texas Roadhouse … Drink: Gatorade blue … Teams: Vikings, Gopher basketball … Athlete: Lionel Messi … Place he’d like to visit: Europe