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The stories that shaped '07

Another year is in the books, and unlike the sad state of sports on a national scale, the area scene we cover here at The Dickinson Press was outstanding once again.

Another year is in the books, and unlike the sad state of sports on a national scale, the area scene we cover here at The Dickinson Press was outstanding once again.

From area stars breaking out on an international level to state championships across the landscape, 2007 was another banner year in southwest North Dakota athletics. Together with other media members, the reporters at the Press put together the top 10 sports stories of 2007.

Before we get into the best stories of the year, here are some that just missed making the list:

-- Senior citizen Marlyn Seidler of Underwood won his third straight IMCA Modifieds title at the Southwest Speedway on Aug. 18. Seidler won a track-best six features during the season and defeated rival Darrell Bauer in the final race of the regular season to win the Season Championship by one point.

-- Killdeer senior Austin Dufault has a breakout summer playing basketball for numerous summer-league teams and becomes a sought-after NCAA Division I prospect. After numerous coaches - including Minnesota's Tubby Smith and Arizona State's Herb Sendek - visited Killdeer, Dufault signed with the University of Colorado and first-year coach Jeff Bzdelik on Nov. 15.

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-- Dickinson State volleyball team rode a high national ranking all season before being upset by Northwestern (Iowa) College on Nov. 17 in the NAIA Region III tourn ament. The loss caused the senior-laden Blue Hawks to miss the national tournament.

-- Ty Orton replaces the beleaguered Scott Berry as head men's basketball coach at Dickinson State on March 31. Berry announced he would resign from his post on Dec. 20, just days before the Blue Hawks' season ended.

No. 10: Kelsey Aide wins NAIA women's pole vault title as true freshman

As soon as Dickinson State's Kelsey Aide cleared 12 feet, 9½ inches at the NAIA national outdoor track and field championships on May 24, the possibility of winning four national titles in a row surrounded the true freshman.

Nevertheless, the 5-foot-6 Bottineau native is keeping a level head about defending her title as a sophomore.

"It's awesome that it happened and everything, but I can't look at that," Aide said. "I have to look at the beginning of this year as a whole new year."

Aide won the national title by a six-inch margin and believes she can improve upon last year's marks despite the hoopla that comes with chasing another title.

"My goal once again is to go in there and do my best," said Aide, who broke and rebroke her own DSU school records during her freshman season. "All-American would be great, but winning it is the ultimate."

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No. 9: Kyle Steffes signs with New York Jets before being waived two months later

Minutes after the NFL Draft was completed, Kyle Steffes received a phone call that finalized his dream of going pro.

The New York Jets signed Steffes almost immediately after the draft concluded on April 29, but the Dickinson Trinity graduate's time in the pros was limited. Steffes was released on June 25.

"I thought it was a great experience," Steffes said. "I think just going there and being able to get a little taste of the NFL and just to see what it really is like - it's really different than what is portrayed on TV."

Now, the North Dakota State graduate lives in Phoenix and works in medical sales. His dream of playing in an NFL game is likely in the rear view.

He's received offers to try out for European teams as well as the Arena Football League. However, he's not too keen on biting.

"I figure if it's not NFL, I think I'm going to move on with my life and just find a career that is less taxing on my body," Steffes said.

No. 8: DSU softball team breaks into national tournament, catches eyes

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Coach Guy Fridley jumped for joy after the Dickinson State softball team finally got past Morningside (Iowa) in the NAIA Region III tournament championship game.

However, he never expected the buzz the Blue Hawks would create once they arrived at the national tournament on May 18.

"We've gained a lot of respect at the national tournament," Fridley said. "... We had a nickname down there - the unknown terrorist. Nobody knew who we were or where we were coming from."

DSU finished 3-1 in pool play before losing a pair of games by one run in the double-elimination playoffs. The Blue Hawks finished with a 32-8 record, the best finish in school history.

Despite reaching only the national quarterfinals, the admiration poured out for the Blue Hawks.

Senior first baseman Dana Dunsmore was named a first-team All-American while senior outfielder Danielle Abrahamson and sophomore pitcher Mehgan Shaw were honorable mention All-Americans.

The North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association named DSU the top female college team of 2006-07 and Fridley was named college coach of the year for a female team.

"It was just an amazing year, an amazing run we put together," Fridley said.

No. 7: DSU men's track and field team finishes second at NAIA national championships

Despite having its three-year run as NAIA national champions snapped by Oklahoma Baptist, the Dickinson State men's outdoor track and field team did better than many expected and, for the fifth consecutive year, finished at least second at the national championships on May 26.

The Blue Hawks entered the season with many unknowns and few established leaders before a group of youngsters surged to the forefront.

"We grew so much from the beginning of the year to the end of the year that way," DSU coach Pete Stanton said. "At the beginning of the year, we had question marks on leadership and things like that because we didn't have a big senior class."

Despite having just one national champion - sophomore Dominic Goodman in the triple jump - the Blue Hawks had seven individual top-five finishes and saw their 1,600-meter relay take second.

"It was a pretty special year considering we lost so many," Stanton said.

No. 6: Badlands Activities Center begins to take shape

At the beginning of the year, rumors circulated that the time had finally come to do something about the faded, yet cherished, Whitney Stadium at Dickinson State.

Now, as the year ends, plans for a proposed solution to the stadium's problems have moved swiftly. The project's steering committee is in the process of naming an architect and a general contractor for the project that is now known as the Badlands Activities Center.

"Our committee is extremely pleased," DSU athletic director Roger Ternes said. "We've actually been raising money for just over 60 days. Right now we're on that threshold of $5 million committed or pledged to the project."

The plans for the new stadium include the capability to hold more than 4,000 spectators, have at least nine club-level suites and a main concourse of 16,000 square feet that can be used throughout the year for a variety of events.

On the ground, a new track and a turf field could be installed by the fall. Locker rooms are planned to be built at the north end of the field in the coming years.

However, fundraising for the facility is only one-third complete and money needs to continue to flow if the full project is to become a reality.

"If we can get everything flowing together that way and the dollars are all raised and in the bank, we can move forward," DSU alumni and foundation director Kevin Thompson said. "The fundraising will continue, so that's an important piece of this whole thing."

No. 5: DSU football team has first losing season in three decades

Hank Biesiot believes a completion here, a fumble recovery there, and a glimmer of good luck would have helped the Dickinson State football team finish with a winning record.

But the Blue Hawks didn't. They went 3-7, finishing with a losing record for the first time since 1977 and having the undistinguished honor of having the worst record of any DSU team in Biesiot's 32-year career.

"I think anytime you have a change of direction, or a flip-flop in record, there's a number of reasons for it," Biesiot said. "There's probably more than 10 reasons why it happened."

The Blue Hawks struggled offensively from start to finish, despite being one of the Dakota Athletic Conference's top defensive teams yet again.

All three of DSU's wins counted toward conference standings. They defeated South Dakota Mines, Mayville State and Dakota State, which defeated the Blue Hawks for the first time ever during a nonconference game in the third week of the season.

DSU won two of its last three games and ended the season on a high note by defeating Dakota State 19-10 on Nov. 3 at Whitney Stadium.

"It was just a year where it was an accumulation of a whole bunch of things," Biesiot said.

No. 4: Dickinson Trinity's boys basketball team makes record seventh straight trip to state

Dickinson Trinity boys basketball coach Gregg Grinsteinner is taken aback by his status as the man at the helm of the teams that have set a new standard for what it is to be a North Dakota Class B boys basketball dynasty.

The Titans completed their state-record seventh consecutive trip to Class B state tournament on March 17, but fell to Parshall 49-36 in the state championship game.

"The first thing that comes to mind is just being fortunate we were able to do that," Grinsteinner said. "It's something the kids and coaching staff will be able to look back at later on."

Throughout the year, Region 7 was looked at as the best grouping of teams in the state. The Titans survived in fine fashion, finishing 21-5 despite playing with expectations they would struggle after losing almost every key element from their 2006 state championship team.

"It's a team that very much overachieved and really played above expectations," Grinsteinner said. "They did what needed to be done to win."

After surviving the daunting Region 7 tournament and defeating Hazen 42-35 in the championship game, the Titans went on to beat Four Winds and Minot Ryan in the Class B state tournament before losing to Parshall.

"I thought we were an underdog team," Grinsteinner said. "We weren't by far the most athletic team in the region, we just happened to be the most fortunate team."

No. 3: Mott-Regent wins state title with two of its top players on sideline

Mott-Regent capped a storybook high school football season with senior linebacker Jay Grosz's goal-line stand on what would have been Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter's game-tying two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter of the nine-man state championship game.

Grosz and other members of the Wildfire team played the game of their lives to beat defending state champion Imperials 16-14 on the Fargdome turf for their first state championship as a co-op on Nov. 9.

"A lot of those guys did step it up and come through," Mott-Regent coach Ron Benson said.

With star seniors Brock Gion and Blaise Kautzman on the sidelines in casts - both suffered season-ending injuries during the playoffs - the Wildfire did something few expected them to do.

They finished the season 12-0 and marched 325 miles home with a state championship trophy.

"It's a worthy story, especially with the kids going down like that," Benson said.

No. 2: Dickinson High athletics has amazing winter and spring

There may never again be a year like 2007 at Dickinson High School.

The Midgets won three of a possible eight state championships available to Class A schools in the winter and spring seasons with one of the most dynamic group of student-athletes the school has ever seen.

"Pretty much the talk of the hallway was this was one of the best groups of athletes Dickinson High has had for quite a few years," said baseball coach Pete Dobitz, whose team beat Minot High 5-1 to win the state championship on June 3.

Three teams - baseball, boys basketball and gymnastics - won state championships and a state-record holding boys relay team won its second straight state title to cap a school year that also included Dickinson's second consecutive volleyball title the previous fall.

The success helped Dickinson be named Sports Illustrated's top North Dakota high school for athletics during 2006-07 school year.

The Dickinson boys basketball team, behind Gatorade player of the year and Mr. Basketball candidate Tate Kick and a variety of experienced players, defeated Bismarck High 59-55 in the Class A state title game on March 10 to finish the season 21-4.

"The thing that I think kind of gave those kids the opportunity to be successful was how hard they worked," Dickinson boys basketball coach Dean Winczewski said.

However, the most surprising state title was won by the gymnastics team on Feb. 23. The Midgets - with help from some Dickinson Trinity students - won their first state title since 1988.

"In a way, it would be unexpected," said Dickinson gymnastics coach Kent Van Ells, whose only senior was his daughter, Mara Van Ells. "Over the years, I've gotten used to the fact that there have been some powerhouses around the state that kind of took turns and they were almost untouchable."

The Midgets scored 145.238 to beat second-place Minot, which scored 143.750.

Nakoa Baker, Skyler Beaudoin, Taylor Bruhschwein and Mitch Kudrna nearly outside themselves when they won the 1,600-meter Class A boys relay title in 3:21.92 on May 26. Their time was just .11 seconds off their own state-record pace they had set in 2006.

Two weeks later, the Midgets' baseball team capped North Dakota's first wood-bat only season with a state title behind a stable of competent pitchers and a tough-to-top batting order.

Only two boys - Kyle Schroeder and Tyler Steffan - played on both the basketball and baseball teams, leading most coaches to believe this year was truly unlike any other.

"It's a more well-rounded group of athletes than there ever has been walking the halls at Dickinson High School," Dobitz said.

No. 1: Former DSU star Derrick Atkins breaks out on an international level

Before even mentioning the astonishing strides he made in his sprinting career in 2007, Derrick Atkins paused and pointed to his newborn daughter as to why the year is one he'll never forget.

"I feel like basically this year was my Christmas present," said Atkins, a former Dickinson State standout. "My daughter was born this year, I was able to turn pro in my first year and I also got a medal for my country. How much more can you ask for?"

How about a gold medal in the 100 meters at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?

At the beginning of the year, that goal seemed out of the question. Now, it's a widely accepted expectation that Atkins will be in the hunt for one of the world's most prestigious athletic honors.

"If I can stay focused, work hard and stay healthy, hopefully I can be on top of the podium in Beijing," Atkins said.

In the span of five months last spring and summer, Atkins went from being an unknown to one of the world's top 100-meter sprinters.

He eclipsed the 10-second mark in his first race of the season with a 9.98 on April 28 in Berkeley, Calif. Atkins ended the year with a 9.91 and a silver medal at the IAAF World Championships on Aug. 3 in Osaka, Japan.

"It's been a very blessed year," Atkins said.

"I don't think you could script a better story unless it (Atkins' finish at Osaka) was first," said Pete Stanton, who coached the sprinter at DSU.

Atkins, who won three NAIA 100-meter championships while at DSU, has recovered from an appendectomy at the beginning of December and is looking forward to 2008 and the possibilities it could hold.

"It's a minor setback for me," Atkins said of the surgery. "Just staying focused, that's my biggest thing right now. I find myself drifting a lot mentally."

After a short break and a return to Dickinson for Christmas, Atkins is back to his daily grind, training for what he hopes is a shot at the coveted gold medal.

"Ever since the (2007) season was over, it seems like I've been up-and-down and up-and-down," Atkins said. "I'm looking back to getting back and settling in and refocusing on the task at hand."

Monke is the sports editor of The Dickinson Press. He can be reached at dmonke@thedickinsonpress.com . Read his blog at www.areavoices.com/monke .

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