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Park 2012 graduate R.J. Alowonle finished high school with a highly impressive seven state track titles after winning four -- the maximum possible -- at the 2012 state meet.

2012: The year in south Washington County sports

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2012: The year in south Washington County sports
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In 2012 record books were re-written, milestones were set, streaks were broken and championships were won. Old coaches said goodbye, new coaches were brought in and some longtime leaders were honored.


There was a litany of ups and downs, highs and lows and tears of joy and sadness shed throughout the year. For many of the area's sports faithful, 2012 will not soon be forgotten, and for a select few, moments from the past 365 days will last an entire lifetime.

Here's a look back at some of the most notable events in area sports from 2012.

Alowonle steals show, wins four state track championships

R.J. Alowonle certainly had some kind of year in 2012.

The 2012 Park graduate finished high school with a highly impressive seven state track titles after winning four -- the maximum possible -- at the 2012 state meet.

"He's one of the best there ever was. No doubt about it," said Park head coach Mike Moran.

At last year's state meet, Alowonle defended his state championship titles in both hurdle events, won the triple jump state championship and helped Park's 400-meter relay team become state champions.

"I know I'll look back on my life and say that he was something really special," said Park head girls track and field coach Matt Maher, who was Alowonle's hurdles coach. "He's meant so much to Park and to Park track and to track in this state. Everybody knows him. He walks through the stadium and people are saying, 'There's R.J.' They all knew how special he is and how fun he is to watch."

Alowonle, who was named as a finalist for the Lions Club Male Athlete of the Year Award and the Gatorade Minnesota Male Track Athlete of the Year in 2012, left Park as the greatest track and field athlete in the school's history -- and will be regarded one of the best ever in the state of Minnesota.

In addition to seven state championship gold medals, Alowonle holds a remarkable five Park High School records -- in the 110 and 300 hurdles, the triple jump, the 400-meter dash and as part of the 400-meter relay and two Minnesota state records in the 110 and 300 hurdle events. The Park and state records were each over 25 years old. In all, he is in the top eight on the Park all-time list in an incredible seven different events.

At his historic 2012 state meet, Alowonle won the triple jump state championship with a mark of 47 feet, 11 inches. Then, after breaking the state meet record in the 110-meter hurdles in the prelims Friday with a time of 13.88 seconds, Alowonle won the event in a time of 14.04 in the finals. He then ran the third leg of the 400-meter relay, along with fellow senior D'Monte Farley and juniors Irving Gutierrez and Dylan Smallidge, helping the Wolfpack win the state championship with a time of 42.19. To cap the meet, in his final high school race, Alowonle won the 300-meter hurdles in a time of 36.59, which broke Dan Bannister's state meet record of 36.97 set in 1985. Alowonle never lost a 300-meter hurdle race in his high school career.

"I really did want those records, but it wasn't my main goal," Alowonle said at the state meet. "My main goal was to come here to the state meet, and compete and get first place in four events. I'm really happy."

Buoyed by Alowonle's four state championships, Park scored 64 points to finish in second place as a team, behind Class AA state champion Wayzata, which scored 81 points. Last year, the Wolfpack finished tied for third in the state as a team.

"It's pretty amazing. I can't say enough about these guys," Alowonle said at the time. "It's not going to be the same without them. It's a special group. It's hard to find a group like that. It's crazy to get a group of guys that can run like that. It's a great feeling."

Park foursome takes second in state, wins 400-meter relay title

Park's fantastic foursome of 2012 grads R.J. Alowonle and D'Monte Farley and juniors Irving Gutierrez and Dylan Smallidge -- earned second place at last year's state track and field meet. It was the best by a Park track team in school history.

"We're all really close," said Farley, who qualified for the state meet in the maximum four events. "We see each other at school every day. At practice, we're always together, helping each other out. We share a really close bond and that showed. To come here to state and to do what we did is amazing. I love those guys."

Led by Alowonle's four state championships, which included a 400-meter relay state title, Park scored 64 points to finish behind Class AA state champion Wayzata, which scored 81 points.

"We weren't coming here looking to win, but I thought they had a shot," Park head coach Mike Moran said. "It took one of the best teams ever to beat them."

Park, which has an enrollment of 1,656 students, had four athletes in this year's state meet. Wayzata, the state's largest school with an enrollment of 3,060, had 18 competitors.

"The team that beat us had 87,000 guys there and the team that finished third had 86,000 guys and we had four guys," Moran said. "The winning teams were jogging around the track with their trophies after the meet and the Wayzata team looked and said, 'There are only four of you?'"

At the meet, Alowonle won the 110-meter hurdle and the 300-meter hurdle state titles along with the triple jump state championship and running the third leg in the state champion 400-meter relay team. In addition to Alowonle's exploits, Farley finished his high school career by earning All-State in four events. Along with running the anchor leg of the 400-meter relay, Farley earned third place in the long jump with a mark of 21 feet 9 inches, took fourth place in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.88 and finished in eighth place in the 200-meter dash with a time of 22.47.

Park football ends 21-game losing streak in big season opener

The Park football team opened the 2012 season on a high note.

The Wolfpack crushed Suburban East Conference foe Forest Lake 47-12 on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, at Park High School, bringing an end to a 21-game losing streak that dated back to Oct. 9, 2009.

"It's unbelievable," said Erick Black, a senior linebacker, tight end and team captain. "We've wanted this for so long and we did it. I've never wanted something this much. It's been two-and-a-half years. Things are changing."

The last time Park had won a football game was a 27-25 squeaker over East Ridge on Park's Homecoming in 2009. Park went on to lose its remaining three games that season then went 0-9 in each of the previous two seasons. Thursday night's victory was the first time Black and the rest of the Park seniors got to experience a varsity win and the first for second-year head coach Darin Glazier.

"I'm just so proud of these seniors to knock off this losing streak -- and to not only knock it off, but destroy it with this big victory," Glazier said after the win. "That's an exclamation point right there."

In the win, Park opened up a 27-0 lead on Forest Lake. The Rangers scored just before the first half ended to make it 27-6. However, Park scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to make the score 41-6, blowing the game wide open. The Wolfpack rested the majority of their starters in the fourth quarter.

Despite only playing three quarters, Park senior running back Dylan Smallidge - a three-year starter - ran for 222 yards and three touchdowns. In addition to Smallidge's dominance, junior quarterback Sam Domeier had a huge game in his first varsity start. Domeier had 225 total yards and three touchdowns. He was 6-for-6 passing for 108 yards and had 117 yards rushing in the game. Domeier had two rushing scores and one passing - a 9-yard toss to sophomore Brandyn Tulloch. Also, Park junior running back and defensive back David Giadyu rushed eight times for 80 yards and scored Park's final touchdown of the game on a 20-yard run.

In all, Park amassed 551 yards of total offense - 434 rushing and 117 passing - and the Wolfpack defense allowed only 191 yards.

Juba wins No. 400

Park head girls soccer team head coach Greg Juba celebrated a milestone in 2012, earning his 400th career win, as the Wolfpack beat Bemidji 3-0 at Park High School.

Juba, the first and only head coach of girls soccer at Park, finished the year with a record of 408 wins, 155 losses and 50 ties.

"For me, personally, it's not that big of a deal. It's just a number," Juba said after reaching the milestone. "But, there are a lot of people behind those 400 wins -- all those players, coaches, parents, community members, teachers and administrators. The number and the milestone is super for Park High."

According to the Minnesota State High School Soccer Coaches Association, Juba ranks fourth in all-time wins, behind state record holder Chuck Scanlon, who has 541 wins as head coach of the Apple Valley boys team. Stillwater boys head coach Phil Johnson, who is retiring at year's end, is third in wins with 435. Juba has the most wins of any girls head coach in state history according to the MSHSSC ranks.

Since starting in 1982, Juba's girls soccer teams have gone to the state tournament six times and won the state championship in 1990. Park also took second place in 1989 and was a semi-finalist in 1988 and 1992. Besides the state participation, his teams were section runner-ups eight times, conference champs six times, and were second in the conference on 11 occasions.

Juba graduated from St. John's University in 1980 and starting teaching and coaching at Park right away. Currently a math teacher at Park, Juba has coached all three seasons - fall, winter and spring - for 32 years. He's coached soccer, basketball, track and golf at Park. Currently, he is the Park head girls soccer coach, assistant boys basketball coach and head girls golf coach.

Roese becomes 400 state champ

Nate Roese made his mark on Minnesota track and field in 2012.

As a junior, Roese won the 400-meter dash state championship at last year's state meet, running the race in a scorching 47.79 seconds, beating out defending state champion Austin Salargo, a senior from Hopkins, who had a time of 47.91. Roese, who also earned a fourth-place finish in the 200-meter dash at the state meet, finished second to Salargo at the state meet the previous year.

"I'm pretty happy right now," Roese said after the state championship win. "This was my goal this whole year, along with beating Austin Salargo, who beat me last year. This was both in one. I couldn't ask for more."

Roese's time was within .2 seconds of tying the all-time state meet record of 47.59, set by Randy Melbourne of Minneapolis Washburn in 1993.

The 400 championship wasn't Roese's only All-State finish at the state meet: He earned fourth place in the 200 in 22.15 seconds. The 200 winner was Keelon Brookins of Tartan, who finished in 21.90.

The All-State finishes were not simply season goals, but components of something bigger, Roese said at the time.

"I want to leave a good legacy behind at my school," he said. "I want people to know about my accomplishments.

Robinette wins state vault championship

In 2012, Leah Robinette was East Ridge's golden girl.

In her final high school meet the 2012 graduate won the state championship in the vault at the 2011-12 Class AA individual state meet at the University of Minnesota, becoming the first gymnast to win a state title from East Ridge.

"It's amazing," Robinette said after the meet. "It's the best score I've ever had. I could tell after I stuck it. I'll look back on this and have no regrets."

In her first event of the night, Robinette uncorked a 9.825 for first place in the vault. The score was a personal-best for her and an East Ridge record. Fellow Section 3AA opponent Nadia Lorencz, a junior from Farmington, finished second in the event with a 9.7875.

Robinette's vault -- a 1/4-on, 1/4 off front tuck -- was unique to her in high school competition and had a maximum score of 10.0. She began doing the skill three years prior and honed it in hopes of winning a state championship.

In addition to her state title, Robinette finished in fourth place in the all-around with a 38.1 score. Along with her 9.825 vault, Robinette scored a 9.625 on the bars, a 9.075 on the beam and earned a 9.575 in the floor exercise.

At the state meet, East Ridge first-year head coach Brittany Simmons said Robinette was a "phenomenal all-around gymnast."

"Leah is a joy to watch, in competition or practice. She's been an undercover coach. The girls have really looked up to her as a leader and for motivation," Simmons said. "I'm going to miss her and watching the amazing things she can throw and do. It's going to be hard not having her in the gym. But, we'll always remember her - she's going to be a Raptors legend."

Sikich named Class AA Coach of the Year

The coaching performance by longtime Park gymnastics coach Mark Sikich in 2012 could've been scored a perfect 10.

Sikich was honored as the 2012 Minnesota Class AA Gymnastics Coach of the Year by the Minnesota Girls Gymnastics Coaches Association. It was the third Coach of the Year award for Sikich. He

He also earned Section 3AA Coach of the Year honor last year as well.

"I was very surprised," Sikich said at the time. "It's very humbling. It's also very special because it is voted on by your peers. It really means something when your peers recognize what you're doing. There's a lot of people that have a say in the matter. It's a great award."

Sikich earned last year's Coach of the Year honor in his 30th year as a coach in District 833 and 20th year as head coach of the Park gymnastics team.

Sikich, a physical education teacher, grew up in Hibbing and is a 1983 graduate of Concordia University where he was a standout football and tennis player. After graduating college, Sikich honed his coaching skills at Concordia University, DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis and at St. Paul Central High School.

Sikich is also a member of the Minnesota Girls Gymnastics Coaches Association Hall of Fame as well as being a Concordia University -- St. Paul Athletic Hall of Fame member. Sikich said what he tries to get across to kids is that they are entitled to an opportunity, but that's all their entitled to -- the rest is up to them. He said he also preaches there are no shortcuts in sports -- or in life.

"Bottom line is you hope to have an effect on the kids in a positive way," Sikich said. "You try to teach them about work ethic, character and right and wrong. It's about dedication, goal setting and helping kids achieve their dreams. You're going to get out of something what you put into it. That's what you want the kids to understand. I was born and raised on the iron range and we brought our lunch pail to work every day."

Wolfpack gymnastics takes fourth in state

Despite battling numerous injuries over the course of the season, the Park gymnastics team scratched and clawed to a fourth-place finish at the 2011-12 Class AA state meet.

"I'm extremely, extremely proud and excited about where we came from to where we ended up," Park head coach Mark Sikich said after the state meet. "We peaked at the right time."

Park scored a season-high 147.3 as a team in their 14th appearance at the state meet Feb. 24 at the University of Minnesota. Roseville won the Class AA state championship with a score of 149.325, edging two-time defending state champion Northfield, which scored 149.150. Park last won the state championship in 2004.

"We came a long way from where we were and we got through a lot," Park senior Hayley Van Pelt said at the state meet. "It was great to see everyone do their best today."

Last season, Park returned seven of its top eight gymnasts from the previous year's third-place team and seemed destined for greater things. However, with a number of key gymnasts sidelined with injuries, Park limped through the 2011-12 season, hitting a low roughly a month ago, losing to Mounds View 135.8 to 122.9 on Thursday, Jan. 26.

But, with a number of key gymnasts returning to the mat, Park scored a 144.45 and edged Suburban East Conference and district 833 rival East Ridge to earn the Section 3AA championship and a second-straight state meet berth.

At state, Park's high score came on the floor exercise, where it registered a 37.525. Park also scored a 37.450 on the vault, a 36.30 on the bars and a 36.025 on the beam. Park junior Kasondra Tulloch led the way for the Wolfpack at state. Her all-around performance would have netted a 38.125. Tulloch, who finished in second place in the all-around last season with a 38.375, scored a 9.750 on the bars, a 9.725 in the floor exercise, a 9.625 in the vault and a 9.025 on the beam. Park junior Rachel Deephouse fought through a back injury that kept her out for two months of the season to score a 9.575 in the floor exercise, a 9.45 in the vault, a 9.150 on the beam, a 9.0 on the bars for a 37.175 all-around score. Other top scores by Park were turned in by McKay Zurn with a 9.425 in the floor exercise, a 9.275 by Sarah LaBrosse in the vault, a 9.1 by Van Pelt in the vault and a 9.050 by Michaela Thielfoldt in the vault.

"Just to make it to the state meet was incredible," Sikich said. "For what the girls did here and how they performed was very admirable. It was incredible. We as a coaching staff and as a community are just so, so proud of what these girls accomplished at the end of the year."

Tulloch, Deephouse medal in floor

Park gymnasts Kasondra Tulloch and Rachel Deephouse showed their grit at last year's state meet and came away with medals to prove it.

Both Tulloch and Deephouse fought through injuries and medaled at the 2011-12 Class AA individual state meet Saturday, Feb. 25, at the University of Minnesota. As juniors last season, Tulloch placed second and Deephouse earned sixth place in the floor exercise to reach the podium at this year's state competition.

Tulloch scored a 9.725 and Deephouse scored a 9.625 in the floor exercise. Eden Prairie senior Mackenzie Dent also scored a 9.725 but won the championship with a tie-breaker.

Two years ago, Tulloch and Deephouse took second and third place, respectively, in the all-around competition, becoming the first Park gymnasts to medal at the state meet since the 2006-07 season.

Last year, though, injuries slowed the two powerhouses' progress. Deephouse was out two months with a back injury and Tulloch missed a month with a shoulder injury. Both gymnasts were icing the injuries throughout the individual competition, after helping lead Park to a fourth place finish in the team competition the night before.

"I'm extremely proud of them," Park head coach Mark Sikich said following the state meet.

Ogunrinde takes third in 400-meter dash

In her first trip to the Minnesota State Track and Field Meet, Park's Temi Ogunrinde took third place in the 400-meter dash, earning All-State honors.

"I'm really happy," Ogunrinde said. "I made it to the finals, which is what I wanted to accomplish. That alone was a big accomplishment for me. I'm proud of myself and I'm happy I made my school proud."

At last year's state meet, held at Hamline University in St. Paul, the then-sophomore ran a personal-best time of 57.27 seconds in the state finals to earn third place. Cretin-Derham Hall sophomore Megan Linder won the state championship with a time of 56.53 and Irondale senior Kianna Carter took second with a time of 57.07.

Ogunrinde, who earned her first trip to the state track and field meet by winning the 400-meter dash at the Section 3AA Championships with a time of 58.32, is third on the Park all-time list in the 400.

Linssen makes a statement

Cody Linssen made a statement in 2012.

As a sophomore 195-pound wrestler, Linssen finished in sixth place in the Class AAA state wrestling tournament, held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, earning All-State honors in his first tournament appearance.

Linssen became the 17th All-State wrestler in Park history and the first All-State wrestler from Park since 2009, when Jared Flaata finished in fifth place.

Linssen, who entered his first state tournament ranked 10th in his weight class in Class AAA, went 2-1 at state, reaching the championship semifinals, before suffering a shoulder injury that ended his tournament prematurely. He finished the year 34-4 overall.

Linssen pulled off an upset in the opening round of the state tournament, beating Sartell-Saint Stephen junior Brady Goebel, who was ranked eighth. Linssen then went on to work over Shakopee senior Scott Bode, who was ranked sixth in Class AAA, 14-0 in the quarterfinals.

The two wins vaulted Linssen to the championship semifinals and garnered All-State honors, because the worst he could do was place sixth. However, the second day of the 2011-12 state tournament was a rough one. Linssen lost 11-4 to No. 4-ranked Roseville junior Trae Story in the semis, re-injuring a lingering shoulder injury in the first period of the match. Because of the injury, Linssen forfeited the rest of his matches on the day, finishing in sixth place in the Class AAA 195-pound weight class.

"I'm just proud of him and the way he handled himself," Park head coach Jim LaBrosse said after the tournament. "To make All-State is obviously a huge accomplishment. It doesn't happen very often. The way he was wrestling, if he didn't get hurt, I think he would have placed higher than sixth."

Lyden makes history, for Raptors wrestlers

East Ridge sophomore wrestler Reid Lyden set the bar last year.

Lyden defeated Mound-Westonka freshman Sam Bennyhoff in the first round of the 2011-12 state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center at St. Paul to become the first Raptors wrestler in history to win a state match. He then went on to finish in sixth place, garnering All-State honors.

Lyden, who finished the year 39-6, said he felt good about being the first to win a match at state and to be the first All-State wrestler in East Ridge history.

"My main goal was first just to make it to state," Lyden said after the tournament. "Then, I wanted to place in the top six, which I did. So, I'm happy with myself. It's really hard to get All-State. It feels pretty good."

In his first state tournament, Lyden, ranked eighth in Class AAA at 106 pounds, beat Bennyhoff, ranked fourth in the weight class, 11-7 in the opening round. In the quarterfinals, Lyden beat unranked Bemidji freshman Brian Mass with a 11-10 score. The two wins guaranteed the worst Lyden could do was sixth place, which earns all-state honors. On day No. 2, however, things went south.

In the 106-pound championship semifinal round, Lyden lost 8-4 to No.-1 ranked Albert Lea junior Trevor Westerlund. After the loss to Westerlund, Lyden dropped into the consolation semifinals or "wrestlebacks" where he lost to Alexandria sophomore Trent Piepenburg 4-2 in overtime for a chance at the third-place match. Lyden also suffered an injury in his match and forfeited fifth place, finishing in sixth overall at 106 pounds.

"I think that's huge for our program," East Ridge head coach Hans Horning said at the time. "It's cool to get that attention and get those younger kids fired up about our program. He's got two more years and has something to focus on for next year. But, it's big for our program."

Morse finalist for Goalie of the Year in two sports

Park graduate Allie Morse doesn't let much past her.

In 2012, she was honored for just that.

Morse was one of 10 semifinalists for the 2012 Let's Play Hockey Senior Goalie of the Year Award, presented to the top senior girls high school hockey goaltender in the state of Minnesota. She was also one of two goaltenders named finalists for the girls lacrosse Ms. Goalie 2012 award.

On the ice, Morse finished the year 11-10-1 for the Wolfpack with a 2.39 goals against average, a .916 save percentage and one shutout in 2012. In addition to on-ice talent, criteria for the Let's Play Hockey Senior Goalie of the Year Award included academics, community/extracurricular activities, citizenship and coachability.

Morse, who was also Park's Athena Award winner last year, committed to play Division I hockey for Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island and has played in four games as a freshman for the Friars.

For the Park lacrosse team, Morse was 7-5 in 12 games played with 145 saves, a .587 save percentage and three shutouts.

McGowan gets his shot with Park baseball

In 2012, John McGowan was hired as the new head coach of the Park baseball team.

McGowan, a Park graduate who has been involved with the baseball program for many years, was hired to take over the job from another Park grad - Kerry Ligtenberg, a former Major League closer and another Park graduate who stepped down from the job last fall.

In the history of Park baseball, there have been only a handful of head coaches -- Granville "Granny" Smith, Bill Kroschel, Reid Tschumperlin, Ligtenberg and, now McGowan. In addition, Park graduate Mike Walseth was a co-head coach with Kroschel at Park. McGowan played for Kroschel and Walseth during his playing days at Park.

McGowan, a math teacher at Park, is 1990 Park graduate and has been an assistant coach in the program for the past five years. He is also the defensive coordinator for Park's football team and has been very involved in Cottage Grove Athletic Association baseball, holding the title of traveling director. Prior to coming back to Park, McGowan, who lives in Cottage Grove, was a teacher at Edina High School and coached football, baseball, and basketball at Edina High School.

"I love the game, I love Park athletics and I just want to continue the rich tradition that our baseball program has had in the past," McGowan said after being hired. "I want to carry that tradition on. I think I have that passion for Park and the community."

Raptors girls runners take fifth in state

In 2012, the East Ridge girls cross country took another step forward.

Led by an all-state performance by sophomore Emily Betz, East Ridge finished in fifth place in the Class AA state meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

After winning a third-straight Suburban East Conference championship and second Section 4AA title this past season, East Ridge was ranked third in Class AA heading into the state meet, only finishing second twice this season - behind No. 1 Eagan and No. 2 Wayzata in separate races.

Two years ago, East Ridge finished in sixth place after taking eighth the year before. At the state meet this year, Betz led the way for the Raptors with her 13th place finish overall and a time of 14 minutes, 33.1 seconds in the 4 kilometer race. At state, the top 25 individual finishers earn the All-State designation. After Betz, junior Bailey Ness was the second Raptors' runner to cross the finish line, coming in 33rd with a time of 14:54.5. Sophomore Brenley Goertzen had East Ridge's third-best time, taking 85th overall, in 15:25.7. Senior Taylor Jackson (15:27.3) and eighth-grader Megan Schiferl (15:28.8) took 87th and 93rd, respectively, to round out the Raptors' scoring five runners.

Wayzata won the Class AA state championship with 50 place points, beating out second-place Eagan, which had 93 points. Edina (129 points) was third and surprise Forest Lake was fourth (161 points).

Individually, Shakopee senior Maria Hauger won a fourth-straight state championship with a record time of 13:42.

East Ridge totaled 163 place points to tie Lakeville South, however the Raptors nabbed fifth place on the tie-breaker, which is the finish of the team's six runner. East Ridge junior Sandra Gramer had the Raptors' sixth-best finish in 15:33.8 for 58th place. Lakeville North junior Mariah Gallagher was the Panthers' sixth-best runner, taking 61st with a time of 15:35.2.

"Every single person counted," East Ridge head coach Chad Cronin said. "That's a good lesson to learn. They ran well today. We're certainly proud of these girls. It was a great season."

Hinzman hired as E.R. activities director

In 2012, Jon Hinzman took the reins of a bourgeoning East Ridge High School athletics program.

Just weeks before the 2012-13 season began, Hinzman was hired as the new activities director at East Ridge High School. Hinzman took over the East Ridge activities director job from Trent Hanson, who was hired as an assistant principal at East Ridge last spring.

Most recently, Hinzman, 37, was a principal in the Baldwin-Woodville Area School District in Wisconsin. He has also been an athletic director for the Elmwood School District in Wisconsin.

Hinzman's background also includes time serving as an assistant principal, special education teacher and basketball and football coach. He recently completed his superintendent licensure through the University of St. Thomas, adding to his educational specialist (principal) licensure also with St. Thomas, and a master's of education in teaching and learning, and bachelor of science in special education.

Before being hired as activities director, Hinzman said he heard "a lot of positive things about East Ridge and the south Washington County School District."

"There are a lot of great people in the area and it's a growing community with very supportive people," he said upon being hired. "That's what led me to apply for this position at East Ridge. I think it's a great opportunity for me to professionally and personally grow and connect with the great students, coaches, athletes, parents and community members."

Park's new boys lacrosse team hits field for first time

The Park boys lacrosse team hit the field for the first time in history in 2012.

First-year head coach Greg Rinzel, a 1989 Park graduate, led the Wolfpack this spring.

"The kids worked a long time to get this program on their own," Rinzel said at the start of the year. "I'm excited for them. It's exciting to see all the kids coming back and all the new kids. It's fun to watch them grow."

In south Washington County, lacrosse began at Woodbury High School, with Park having a few players in the cooperative program. After East Ridge opened in 2009, the three area high schools formed a one-team cooperative for one year. In 2010, however, Woodbury was separated and East Ridge and Park formed a cooperative for the past two seasons.

A total of 45 players came out for Park lacrosse this past season. It's a number that doesn't yet match the more established metro teams, who may get roughly 80 kids trying out, but it was more than Rinzel expected.

Rinzel, 40, played baseball, hockey and football at Park. After graduating high school, he went to Mankato State University (Now Minnesota State-Mankato) where he picked up lacrosse and played for the club team.

By taking the reins of the Wolfpack lacrosse team, Rinzel joins the growing ranks of Park graduates who have returned to Park to coach, along with baseball coach Kerry Ligtenberg, boys and girls hockey coaches Jay Moser and Steve Morse, respectively, cross country and track coach Mike Moran and boys basketball coach J Schwartz among others.

"It's a positive thing," Rinzel said. "It's just nice to see people from the community come back and share their experiences and what they've learned with the kids in the area."

Rydberg represents U.S. in Paralympic Games in London

In 2012, Jon Rydberg's hard work paid off.

Rydberg, the head girls tennis coach at East Ridge High School, was selected to represent the United States in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

It was Rydberg's third Paralympic Games, which have been part of the Olympics since 1960.

Rydberg was injured in an accident when he was 13 months old and is now in a wheelchair.

Roughly two years ago, Rydberg got back into competitive tennis with the hopes of playing in the London Paralympics. Since then he worked hard, playing in numerous tournaments in the U.S. and internationally, to regain the form that had him ranked as the No. 1 wheelchair tennis player in the country in years past. Rydberg, 35, peaked at No. 11 in the world in 2007. He entered the Olympics ranked 27th in the world and No. 2 in the United States.

At the Games, in Men's Singles, Rydberg won his first match - in the round of 64 - with a 6-7, 6-3, 6-1 defeat of Agustin Ledesma of Argentinia, but fell in his second match - in the round of 32 - 7-6, 6-1 to France's Michael Jeremiasz. In the Men's Doubles competition, Rydberg and his partner Stephen Welch fell 6-1, 3-6, 6-7 to Brazil's Mauricio Pomme and Carlos Santos in the round of 32.

In addition to his two Paralympics appearances in 2004 and 2008, Rydberg has played in three US Opens and is an 11-time United States Wheelchair World Cup team member.

He said the Paralympic Games were a special event.

"It's always on the top of everyone's list," he said at the time. "All the top players in the world are there and it means the most to us tennis players."

Koprucki finishes second in state as team takes fifth

Elizabeth Koprucki continued to ascend to the top of the alpine skiing ranks in 2012.

As a junior, Koprucki led the East Ridge girls downhill ski team to a fifth-place finish at the state meet, taking second place as an individual.

Koprucki finished 1.12 seconds behind the champion, Megan Danelski of Hermantow