2018, we hardly knew you.
The time has come again to turn the calendar to a new year, the swan song of a decade that has come and (nearly) gone faster than an eager child opening presents on Christmas.
With this year came plenty of national and statewide sports memories. Whether it be the Minneapolis Miracle, Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, the Timberwolves’ return to the playoffs or Joe Mauer’s retirement, there is plenty to take from 2018.
In addition to such headlines on the national scene, there were plenty of headlines to be had on the local sports scene as well. Many athletes had tremendous accomplishments, and it’s never easy compiling a list of them all.
Like always, this list comes with the following disclaimer: There were lots of great stories that happened and it was hard to leave some off this list. Some will disagree with my choices or the order I put them in, but in the end we can all agree that it’s been another great year for Hutchinson athletics.
Nevertheless, here is a list of the top 10 sports stories in Hutchinson for 2018.
There are a number of candidates for honorable mention: Brock Luthens placed fifth at state wrestling; Hutchinson boys track and field finishes fifth at True Team State; Hutch alum Grace Bordson earns All-American in the high jump for St. Thomas at the NCAA D-III track and field national championship; a third straight region championship for the Hutchinson Huskies; conference titles from Hutch boys swimming, girls basketball, girls golf and girls lacrosse.
10. Nunvar earns two top-fives at state
Anton Nunvar capped off his junior season with the Hutchinson boys swimming and diving team as one of the best in his individual events.
Nunvar earned a spot on the medal podium at March’s Class A state meet in both the 200 IM and 100 backstroke for the second straight season. This year’s results were a career best, however, as he placed fourth in the backstroke and fifth in the IM.
He was also a member of the Tigersharks’ 200 medley relay, which reached the second day of state and placed 14th overall.
9. Hutch football upset in section playoffs
One of the top sports stories of the year isn’t a pleasant one for Hutchinson fans, but the Hutch football team’s upset loss in the section playoffs certainly qualifies.
The Tigers were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, and came into its late-October home section semifinal matchup with Waseca as the favorite to advance to the section final, if not the state tournament. Hutch averaged nearly 38 points a game, and had won all but one contest by more than 13 points.
Along came the Bluejays, playing their second game in five days, who scored 35 unanswered points in a 48-20 rout to eliminate the Tigers for the second year in a row. Hutch’s playoff run was ended before it even got started, while Waseca continued on to the state semifinals.
8. Schmitz runs onto scene
At the beginning of the cross country season, seventh-grader Isabelle Schmitz was a junior varsity runner. By the end of the season, she was Hutchinson’s first girl state qualifier since 2010.
Schmitz set a new school record time in her first varsity race, and didn’t slow down on her way to a second-place finish at the Wright County Conference meet and a fourth-place finish at sections, securing her spot at state.
She finished 22nd at November’s Class 2A state meet, Hutchinson’s highest girls finish since 1999 and sixth-best in school history.
7. Len Lasley retires after 51 seasons
Following more than half a century as a coach of the Hutchinson boys track and field team, Len Lasley called it a career at the conclusion of the 2018 season.
The former state Coach of the Year became head coach in 1973 and helped the Hutchinson boys to eight conference championships, nine True Team Section titles and one MSHSL section crown.
Lasley closed his coaching career with his second state champion at June’s Class 2A state meet (more on that later).
6. New gym opens, dedicated to Whalen
Months of rebuilding gave Hutchinson High School a shiny, new gymnasium that hosted its first events in early October. Expanded space, a new floor, new lightning, new seating, new sound system and new scoreboards were a few of the changes made to the revamped space.
Adding to the allure of the gym is its new name — Whalen Gymnasium. Hutchinson alum, former Minnesota Lynx star and current head coach of the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team Lindsay Whalen received the honor of having the gym named after her for her contributions on and off the basketball court.
Whalen spoke at the naming ceremony, along with a swarm of media and hundreds of fans, calling the dedication “an amazing honor … it’s really humbling and overwhelming.”
5. Runner-up finish for Tigersharks
The Hutchinson girls swimming and diving team continued its winning ways with another remarkable season, culminating in a second-place finish at the Class A state meet in November.
It’s the second straight season the Tigersharks finished runner-up at state, and third straight with a top-three finish. Hutch also won its 11th consecutive conference title and 12th consecutive section title on its way to being one of the highest-ranked teams in the state all season.
The Tigersharks had 18 events qualify for the state meet, the most in recent history, and had 16 of those events reach the second day of the state championships. Twelve of those reached the medal stand, and four won state titles. Which leads us to our next top story …
4. ‘Sharks relay sets state record – twice!
It’s not often that a state record gets broken, but in 2017 the Hutchinson girls set a new high mark in the 400 freestyle relay. In 2018, the Tigersharks bested their own mark and set a new state record in the event — twice.
Hutch’s relay team of Grace Hanson, Mikayla Witte, Hailey Farrell and Lexi Kucera broke their 2017 record by more than half a second in the Class A state girls swimming and diving prelims in November to again put their stamp on the record book. Approximately 24 hours later, before the ink was dry on their previous record, the team shaved almost a second off its prelim time to set a new record — at least until next year, as all four swimmers are due to return to the Tigersharks.
Hutchinson’s state titles didn’t stop there, as Farrell was also a state champion in the 500 freestyle, while Hanson defended her state title in the 50 freestyle. Hanson, Kucera, Bella Thovson and Ainslea Jensen were also crowned state champions via their victory in the 200 freestyle relay.
3. Petersen ends 40-year drought
For the first time in 40 years, the Hutchinson boys track and field team had itself a state champion at June’s Class AA state meet.
Senior Maguire Petersen battled wet conditions to win the high jump competition with a leap of 6-8 in his third trip to the state meet. He was the first Tigers boy to win a state title since the late 1970s, when Tom Coles won three straight 400 dash titles.
His state title capped off a 51-year career for coach Len Lasley, whose coaching career officially entered retirement with Petersen’s final jump.
“I couldn’t be any happier,” Petersen said. “I knew he was sticking around for me, and hopefully bring home one more championship. And I’m really glad I did.”
Petersen, who is now a member on the University of Wisconsin – Madison track and field team, was also one of three finalists for the state’s inaugural Mr. Track and Field award.
2. Perfection at state in Timm’s finale
The ending of athletic playing careers, be it professional or amateur, are usually not flashy and rarely storybook. But Hutchinson Huskies pitcher Matt Timm made sure that his final game would be remembered for years to come, throwing a perfect game against Sleepy Eye in the Class C state tournament.
Timm’s performance capped a 6-0 victory for the Huskies to advance them to the state quarterfinals, and was the first perfect game in the 95-year history of the amateur state baseball tournament.
Though the Huskies were eliminated from the playoffs the next day, Timm’s five-strikeout, blemish-free performance will not soon be forgotten.
“This is as good as it gets,” Timm said. “I plan on retiring after the year, so this is most likely my last game. No better way to go out than that.”
1. Whalen retires from Lynx, named ‘U’coach
As far as local stories and sports figures go, none received quite the attention this year as Lindsay Whalen, and for good reason
The 2000 Hutchinson graduate announced her retirement from the WNBA in August, following a 15-year playing career. She played nine seasons with the Minnesota Lynx and helped them win four WNBA championships.
She closed her playing career as a five-time All-Star and three-time First Team All-WNBA, and finished as the Lynx’s all-time leader in assists.
Prior to her retirement, however, Whalen had post-playing career plans lined up. In March, the University of Minnesota announced that Whalen was named the next head coach of the women’s basketball team.
Whalen balanced being head coach of the Gophers and playing for the Lynx until her retirement, and now is in the middle of her first season at the helm of her alma mater. She helped the Gophers to their most recent Final Four appearance in 2004, and has them out to an undefeated 11-0 mark as of Friday, along with being ranked No. 12 in the nation.
The end of one era of Whalen’s career combined with the beginning of another on the national spotlight made for the top Hutchinson Leader sports story in 2018.
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