Outside Looking In
In my many years of journalism, the majority of those spent as a sports editor at a large daily newspaper in Willmar, I had the pleasure of covering some phenomenal athletes.
We covered 25 schools districts and annually had an athletic program called the Hengstler-Ranweiler Award that was given to the top male and female athlete from among all those schools. The qualifications were that an athlete had to participate in three or more sports and had to be named all-conference in at least two of those sports.
Some of the past male winners of that award were: Mike Kingery of Atwater, who went on to play 10 seasons of Major League Baseball; John Carlson of Litchfield, who was a standout tight end at Notre Dame and for the Seattle Seahawks; Jeff Nordgaard of Dawson-Boyd, who was a standout basketball player who played for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and was a second-round draft choice of the Milwaukee Bucks; and Brad Rheingans of Appleton, who finished fourth in his weight class in wrestling in the 1976 Olympics.
Some of the past female winners included: Carrie Tollefson of Dawson-Boyd, a 13-time state high school champion runner, as well as an NCAA champion in cross country for Villanova University, and a member of the 2004 Olympic team in the 1,500 meter run; Kristina Ervin of MACCRAY, who went on to a standout volleyball career for Notre Dame; and Bonnie Henrickson of Willmar, a standout college basketball player who has been a longtime Division I women's basketball coach, currently at UC-Santa Barbara.
Each of those aforementioned prep athletes, as well as many others I have come across over the years, were a pleasure to watch compete.
While most of the Hengstler-Ranweiler Award winners excelled in two of their three sports, rarely did they dominate in all three.
Carlson is perhaps the best three-sport boys athlete I have ever covered. He was a standout basketball post player who led Litchfield to two state titles, a nimble tennis player for his size who made it to state three times, and an excellent tight end and linebacker, playing first with Notre Dame and then in the NFL with the Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings.
Among the females, Tollefson was an unbelievable runner in track and cross country, and was a 1,000-point scorer in basketball, although not someone on the court who could take over a game. Still, Tollefson was a sight to behold when competing in anything she did.
The female prep athlete that excelled in all three of her sports to the fullest that I've ever covered is Minneota senior Abby Hennen (see front page story).
In basketball, she could run the floor, dish to her teammates, drive to the basket, hit from the outside or play suffocating defense.
In volleyball, she was like a jackhammer hitting a ball or like an agile cat playing defense.
In softball, she is currently hitting over .500 and has belted eight home runs in the team's first 19 games this season, while also playing outstanding defense as a catcher.
When your three prep coaches marvel at your ability, you know you've done something right.
"An ultra-competitive person who had an unbelievable drive," said basketball coach Chad Johnston.
"A crazy gifted athlete," said volleyball coach Hayley Fruin.
"Intense, smart, confident, fun," said softball coach Heidi Boerboom.
Even more important, you can add compassionate to that list.
After Minneota easily swept a doubleheader earlier this season against a Camden Conference opponent, Hennen noticed the young opposing pitcher was very dejected. So Hennen reached out to her via social media and encouraged her by telling her to keep working hard because she was going to be a very good pitcher one day.
The coach of that team relayed that information to Boerboom.
While Hennen was All-State, All-Conference, conference MVP, a four-time state champion, and a Miss Basketball finalist, that aforementioned act of kindness is equally, if not more impressive.