Winning conference championships, section champions, state championships, even national championships, Marshall-area athletes used 2012 to showcase how hard work truly pays off.
The Marshall volleyball team continued its dominance in Class AA, repeating as state champion. Minneota and Dawson-Boyd athletic squads also had runs at state, and Southwest Minnesota State's volleyball and men's basketball teams both won conference tournament titles for the first time in school history.
The Independent sports staff reflects on some of the area's top stories of 2012, listed in chronological order:
Members of the Marshall volleyball team celebrate during the Class AA state championship match against Caledonia Nov. 10 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Marshall won the match 3-1.
Gimmestad wins national title with NDSU
Marshall High School graduate Tyler Gimmestad started 2012 in style, earning a title that few athletes ever have the opportunity to attain - national champion.
Gimmestad started on the offensive line for the North Dakota State football team as a sophomore and helped the Bison capture the Football Championship Subdivision title with a 17-6 victory over No. 1 seed Sam Houston State in Frisco, Texas.
NDSU had won national championships before - five Division II championships and three others via wire service polls - but their 2012 title was the first since the Bison made the jump from Division II to Division I athletics in 2004.
"This is crazy," Gimmestad said after the win. "The tradition with this school goes way back and it's pretty cool to be a part of starting something new. NDSU made the transition (to Division I) not long ago, and to win the title, we couldn't be more excited."
Gimmestad and the Bison have a shot at another ring, as they'll meet Sam Houston State for the national title for the second straight year on Saturday.
Minneota's VanOverbeke claims wrestling crown
The powerhouse Minneota wrestling team won third place at the Class A state wrestling tournament for the third straight year in 2012, but one of the Vikings managed to reach the top of the podium.
In a clash between two Marshall-area wrestlers, Minneota's Josh VanOverbeke won a 6-0 decision over Wabasso/Red Rock Central's Cody Welch in the 220-pound championship match to bring home the gold and close out his season with a 41-1 record. It was the second time in less than a month that VanOverbeke beat the top-ranked Welch, as he won a 3-2 decision to win the Section 3A title at 220.
Welch was one of six area wrestlers to earn a runner-up finish at state, but VanOverbeke was the only individual champ.
SMSU men's basketball wins NSIC tourney title
The Southwest Minnesota State men's basketball team has had great success over the years, consistently proving itself to be a contender in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and winning Central Region titles twice. In 2012, the Mustangs achieved something the program had never accomplished by winning their first-ever NSIC Tournament championship.
Down 11 points to Minnesota State-Moorhead in the the title game, the Mustangs went on a 24-4 run over the final nine minutes thanks to their pressure defense and slayed the Dragons for a 76-72 win.
"This has been our goal since the beginning of the season, to get to the conference championship and win it," said SMSU center Nick Smith after the win. "No one in Southwest has ever done this before, so it's really something special."
Marshall athletics faces coaching changes over summer
Mainstays on the Marshall High School sports scene hung up their Tiger stripes in what turned out to be a busy summer for Marshall activities director Bruce Remme. Remme had to replace a head coach in boys' hockey, boys' basketball and baseball, as the leaders of those three sports all stepped down within a one-month period.
Kori Pearson helped the Tiger boys' hockey team capture five Southwest Conference titles in eight years, compiling a record of 128-72-10. He resigned in early June to take an assistant coaching position at East Ridge High School in Woodbury and was replaced by Dave Coudert.
A week later, Tom Critchley Jr. resigned as head coach of the boys' basketball team to accept the girls' basketball head coaching position at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton to have an opportunity to coach his daughters. He amassed a 151-71 record in eight seasons leading the Tigers, winning five conference titles and helping lead Marshall to a state tournament appearance in 2010-11. He was replaced by Travis Carroll.
In early July, Marshall baseball coach Steve Fleck resigned to move his family to Waconia. Fleck was involved in growing Marshall's youth baseball association over the years and was the head coach of the high school team for four years, leading the Tigers to a 60-30 record and conference titles in 2010 and 2011. Taking over for Fleck was 2004 Marshall grad Chace Pollock, who had been an assistant with the team.
Dawson-Boyd claims Challenge Cup
With excellent seasons in nearly every sport, the Dawson-Boyd athletic program won the Minnesota High School League's Challenge Cup for Class A for the 2011-12 athletic year.
In boys' sports, the Blackjacks won the state title in football in 2011, were runners-up in Section 3A in boys' basketball and took third place at the Class A state boys' golf tournament. They also had six wrestlers qualify for state in their co-op with Lac qui Parle Valley, and Jack Hansen went to state in tennis.
In girls' track, Sara Melom, Alaysia Freetly and the 4x100-meter relay team qualified for state for the LQPV/D-B track team. The girls' tennis team also sent the doubles pair of Patricia Ott and Kelle Thompson to state, where they finished in fifth place.
Canby's Kraus leads state in rushing
When Canby running back Wyatt Kraus entered a football game, it wasn't a question of whether he would crack 100 yards, but whether he'd go over 200 or 300. The powerful 5-foot-11 back rushed for 130-plus yards in nine of 10 games, surpassed 200 yards in five games, and even had 351 yards rushing in one game.
At the end of the year, Kraus topped not just the area, but the state (all classes) with 2,180 rushing yards to go with his 21 touchdowns. He carried the ball 272 times, 50 times more than anyone in the area, and averaged 8.0 yards per carry while leading Canby to a 6-4 season after going 3-6 the previous year. Kraus accounted for 65 percent of his team's total offense and earned Independent Football Player of the Year Honors in 2012.
Minneota girls make state in basketball, volleyball
Minneota sports fans were busy making trips to the Twin Cities again in 2012, as the Viking basketball and volleyball teams each made return trips to the Class A state tournament.
Taylor Reiss finished a phenomenal freshman season on the basketball court by helping lead the Vikings to their second straight Class A state tournament appearance. Reiss and point guard Kelsey Hennen both earned All-State honorable mentions and led the Vikings to a 29-2 record. But like in 2011, Minneota's trip to state was a short one, as the Vikings lost to Ada-Borup 67-63.
Hennen graduated in the spring, but Reiss returned to help the Minneota volleyball team return to state for the fourth straight year as the Vikings rolled through the Section 3A tournament. Reiss and setter Megan Larson each earned All-State honors and helped the Vikings to a third-place finish at state for the third consecutive year.
Marshall volleyball team repeats as champion
Another year, another state championship for the Marshall volleyball team. The Tigers were ranked No. 1 in Class AA all year and didn't drop a match to a Class AA or Class A team in 2012 as they captured their fifth state title in program history and their second title in a row with a four-set win over Caledonia in the championship match.
Junior outside hitter Kenzie Beekman - the 2012 Independent Volleyball Player of the Year - made the All-Tournament team along with Tiger teammates Hannah Bennett and Sydney Griffin. But individual accolades weren't something the Marshall players cared much about. They just wanted the hardware at the end of the tournament.
"I think this group really got to the point where they really trusted each other and they really wanted to play hard for each other," Marshall head coach Dan Westby said after the title match. "It got to be where they didn't care who got the credit, they just wanted the team to do well."
SMSU volleyball has banner year
It was a year of firsts for Terry Culhane and the Southwest Minnesota State volleyball team in 2012.
The Mustangs were ranked first in the nation for the first time in school history after starting the season with an 18-1 record. Once there, they kept rolling, finishing the season with an 18-2 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference record to claim a share of the regular-season crown for the first time since 2001. Then they headed to St. Paul and won the NSIC Tournament for the first time in school history by taking down defending national champion Concordia-St. Paul in a dramatic five-set win.
The Mustangs' season ended with a loss to Nebraska-Kearney in the Central Region semifinals. They finished the year 30-3 overall, recording the most wins in school history since 1991 behind the leadership of talented senior hitters Mary Groth, Brooke Burmeister and Devin Diedrich. Groth and Burmeister earned All-American honors, and setter Emilee Gutzmer was named the AVCA Freshman of the Year.