Sports editor Bruce Strand compiled this list of ten “Bests” as top stories of 2012 in Star New area sports.
BEST TEAM: Elk boys tennis
State tennis championships are normally the domain of your well-heeled schools like Edina, Rochester Mayo, Blake and Breck, not your blue-collar towns like Elk River, as Elk teams were well aware from eight previous state trips never getting past the semifinals. But in 2012 the Elks were too deep, too talented, too hardened to lose, even to the longtime elite teams. Against the toughest schedule in the state lined up by coach Randy Ronning, the Elks went 31-0, with no match closer than 5-2, beating three state tourney foes each for the second time, capped by Wayzata in the finals. The unbeatable lineup usually had Josh and Sam Gearou, Ryan Ness and Matt Odegard in singles, and Mitchel Brandell-Josh Chuba, Dylan Berger-Jesse Bragg, and Nathan Chanthamontry and Steve Delain or Logann Burns in doubles. The Elk netters were the school’s seventh state champ in seven different sports, and the first to go undefeated. Ronning, longtime pied piper of Elk River tennis at all levels, was voted state Coach of the Year by peers.
BEST CAREER: Michaela Schulz
Michaela Schulz finished her six-year tennis career at ERHS this fall with a 198-33 record, the last 100 wins coming at No. 1 singles the last three years, 30-4 this year. Schulz, a singles starter since seventh grade, played in six state tournaments — with team six times, including one runner-up season, and as a singles or doubles qualifier four times — and never had a bad one, going 16-10 in state matches. She’s second all-time in wins behind Katie Jesperson’s 215.
BEST MEDAL HAUL: Courtney Grunewald
Elk River swimmer Courtney Grunewald capped her stellar six-year career by nabbing three medals at the state meet in November — third place in the butterfly, seventh in individual medley and fourth in the 200 freestyle relay. In a strong program (at least one all-stater every year in coach Colleen Killpatrick’s 19-year career), Grunewald is the team record holder in butterfly (55.38), I.M. (2:05.74), 50 free (23.91 leading off the 200 free relay at state) and that relay (1:36.61).
BEST SEASON (GIRLS): Jonna Curtis
Elk River’s Jonna Curtis was one of five finalists for the Ms. Hockey award, finishing her five-year career with 155 goals and 123 assists for a school record of 278 points in a program with six Division I players (including her). The 5-foot-3 forward had 36 goals this year after a career-high 48 as a junior. She played three state tournaments and fell one game short twice, including this year in an epic four-overtime loss to Grand Rapids-Greenway. Curtis got off to a great start at New Hampshire this winter with a goal and six assists in six games before a broken collarbone sidelined her, the first time she’s ever missed games, after 157 straight for the Elks.
BEST SEASON (BOYS): Denis Bardashevskiy
We suggested a nickname for Denis Bardashevskiy (the “Russian Rocket”) as the fleet junior fullback reeled off a series of huge games that netted him Elk River’s all-time rushing record of 1,938 yards and helped the Elks win their first section title since 1992. The 6-foot, 160-pound junior (a varsity rookie), running through nice holes cleared by the line and past defenses frequently fooled by the Elks’ masterful misdirections, ran for 283 yards against Park Center in the regular-season final, then 211 against Willmar, a school-record 370 and five TD’s against Rogers, and 142 against STMA in the section. St. Thomas Academy held him to 103 in a state quarterfinal loss. Bardashevskiy broke Jeff Hawkins’ 1973 record of 1,655 yards and tied his record of 19 TD’s.
BEST GAME: Elks 53, Rogers 42
Elk River won a spectacular shootout with closest neighbor and new arch rival Rogers 53-42 in a section football semifinal showdown that saw seven lead changes Saturday afternoon, Oct. 27. Denis Bardashevskiy ran wild for 370 yards and five touchdowns — from 81, 22, 25, 69, and 90 yards, the last three on consecutive carries. The Elks totaled 516 ground yards, and had a Terry Hadden pick-six and a 27-yard TD run by third-string QB Clay Elrod with the top two guys injured. Rogers capped another strong season (7-2) with a big game by its offense and special teams, and led 32-27 at halftime, but were repeatedly fooled by Elk River’s misdirection plays.
BEST FINISH: Sadie Martin
The most admirable aspect of Sadie Martin’s golf career at ERHS was her knack for improving every year at every stage of the season, no easy feat in an exasperating sport like golf. This four-time all-conference player and four-time state qualifier would, each year, garner a better placement or score, or both, at conference, section and state levels, than the year before. Also the dance team’s captain, Martin’s golf ledger this year was a conference medal (her third) with 77, a section medal (her second) with 145, and a fourth-place state finish with 154 (up from 69th, 40th, and eighth previously). She’s now golfing for Augustana.
BEST BIG TEN ATHLETE: Jessie DeZiel
Nebraska gymnast Jessie DeZiel of Rogers was Big Ten Freshman of the Year and made All-American by placing sixth on floor and 11th all-around at NCAA nationals at Georgia. At the Big Ten meet, DeZiel was second all-around (behind teammate Emily Wong) with 39.525 and tied for first in floor exercise as her Cornhuskers won the team crown.
To reach nationals, DeZiel won NCAA regional titles in all-around, vault and floor at Salt Lake City. DeZiel (picked as one of our top newsmakers three straight years) competed for Twin Cites Twisters while attending Spectrum High School and won Junior Olympics national all-around titles twice.
BEST WIN STREAK: Corey Muenzhuber
Rogers senior golfer Corey Muenzhuber was the early-season sensation of state prep golf as he won five consecutive tournaments. He grabbed medalist at a conference meet at Monticello with 72, the Brainerd Invitational with a career-best 68, the Tri-State (the state’s biggest, most prestigious invitational) at Edinburgh USA with 71-76–147, the Purple Hawk Invitational at Cambridge with 69 and a conference meet at Fox Hollow with 68. (He shot 70 his next time out but Zach Johanns of host Becker shot 69.) Muenzhuber cooled a bit at season’s end, placing third at sectionals with 71 and 15th at state with 71-82–153. He’s now golfing for Mankato State.
BEST COACHING CAREER: Tony Sarsland
The turbulent 27-year tenure of Tony Sarsland with Elk River boys’ hockey did not end happily, as the coach resigned under fire late in the 2011–12 season rather than deal with an investigation for dealing too harshly with a player. But Sarsland goes down as the winningest coach in Elk sports history and architect of the school’s most high-profile state championship. Sarsland made Elk River a perennial puck power as his ledger included a 588-277-27 record, six state tournament trips, the state crown in 2001, and three graduates advancing to the NHL. The school needed a big hire to replace Sarsland and came through with Gordie Roberts, a USA Hockey Hall of Famer whose 15-year NHL career included several seasons with the North Stars.