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Ending on a high note: Hazen’s Cieslak didn’t disappoint in senior season

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Press Photo by Royal McGregor Hazen’s Austin Cieslak, left, practices against Towner-Granville-Upham’s Luke Bacon to prepare for the 21st annual Badlands Bowl on Thursday at the Biesiot Activities Center.2 / 2

Every senior wants to end their high school career on a high note.

No other athlete did that better this year than Hazen’s Austin Cieslak.

Whether it was in football, basketball, baseball or track and field, the 6-foot-3, 270-pound standout was leading the way for Hazen.

“It went about as good as I could have asked for,” he said. “It was a fun year.”

The Bison won their second straight North Dakota Class 1A state football championship. Hazen placed runner-up in the Region 7 boys basketball championship while its baseball team finished runner-up in its first Class B state tournament appearance. Cieslak also won a state shot put title and placed runner-up in the discus during the Class B state track and field meet.

Though he wanted to reach the Class B state basketball tournament and win a state baseball title, Cieslak doesn’t have any complaints about his final year of high school.

“It definitely meant a lot more the second time, because it was my senior year and my last chance to do it,” Cieslak said about winning a second state football title. “It was my last season and we played as hard as we could all the time.

“I was definitely happy with all the sports that I played. Everything went really well.”

Cieslak’s performance during his senior year didn’t go unnoticed either. He was named Class 1A senior athlete of year in football, was the Region 7 senior athlete of the year in boys basketball and was a first-team all-state football selection and received Class B second-team all-state basketball honors.

He also received recognition when he was one of 34 players selected to Team North Dakota for the 21st annual Badlands Bowl. Team North Dakota plays Team Montana in the Badlands Bowl at 6 p.m. today at the Biesiot Activities Center.

“It’s really cool, because all these guys are the best players in North Dakota,” Cieslak said.

Though Cieslak is surrounded by players from all over North Dakota, he can look across the field and find his head coach, Rick Philion, and Bison teammate Hunter Fears.

Cieslak said having Philion and Fears around made this week a little more relaxing.

“It definitely makes it easier learning a new offense, because (Philion) is there to help me all the time,” Cieslak said. “Knowing that I have somebody that I know really well, it helps.”

Philion knew before Cieslak reached high school he was going to be an integral part of the varsity football program.

Cieslak started for the Bison as a sophomore, but his junior season was cut short due to a fractured tibia.

“It’s going to be different not having him around anymore because he’s been with us for three years,” Philion said. “He’s a very good football player and one that only comes around every once in a while for us. He’s definitely going to be missed.”

When Cieslak heard his tibia was fractured in his junior year, he expected the worse and his season would be over.

It was far from over.

Cieslak sat out for six weeks and returned to the Bison for the last game of the season to help the school to its first state championship since 1996.

“It was crushing,” he said. “I thought my season was basically over, because it was six weeks and I didn’t know how far we were going to go in the playoffs. Being able to come back and make a run in the playoffs, it meant a lot.”

Though Cieslak and Fears won’t see a field in Bison uniforms anymore, they are both part of Badlands Bowl and the 11-man West Team in the Shrine Bowl, which is in July.

Fears said it was a great experience to play with Cieslak during their high school careers.

“It’s been awesome practicing with him and I know he’s a really good football player,” Fears said. “It’s quite an honor to play with someone like him.”

Cieslak will continue his football career in the fall with the University of North Dakota.

The thought of playing football at the NCAA Division I level didn’t come to mind until his sophomore season when he attended UND’s football camp.

“It just started rolling from there,” Cieslak said.

Cieslak ended up in Hazen through chance. He was born in Houston and seven days later, Cieslak was adopted by his parents, Joni and Sheldon, of Hazen.

The Hazen standout couldn’t imagine growing up anywhere else.

“I knew that something was supposed to happen and I was supposed to be here,” he said. “It was kind of fate.”