It has been a year with the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows in North Iowa sports. It saw championships won and lost, with plenty of home runs, crucial fourth-quarter touchdowns, buzzer-beating 3-pointers, and big-time kills.
In the spring, Iowa’s high schoolers were dealt a crushing blow, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of spring sports season. But after Iowa sports returned in the summer, the state and sports community (mostly) did its best to adapt to this strange new world.
The year 2020 has been one to forget, but on the fields and courts of North Iowa, it gave us plenty of moments to remember.
North Iowa’s Top Sports Moments of 2020
With a 3-0 sweep of Mount Vernon on Nov. 5, the Osage volleyball team made school history, as the Green Devils won the program’s first ever state title. The Green Devils beat the Mustangs by set scores of 25-6, 25-17, and 25-20, and ended their season with a celebratory dog-pile on the floor of the Alliant Energy Powerhouse in Cedar Rapids.
After four straight seasons of losing in the state semifinals, Osage went on a tear in 2020, with a 34-2 overall record while placing second in Class 3A in assists and kills, and leading in serve aces.
“You know that cliché where they say ‘Pinch me I’m dreaming?’ That’s what it feels like,” head coach Bryan Tabbert told the Globe Gazette after the final victory. “I know why people say that now, because we just did it.”
In a year filled with such heartbreak, Osage’s championship brought Mitchell County and North Iowa some much-needed joy.
On the other end of the emotional spectrum, the state’s high school athletes were given the worst possible news on April 17. After a spring that saw the rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that schools would remain closed through the remainder of the school year.
Following that news, the IHSAA and IGHSAU pulled the plug on spring sports for 2020. It was a day unlike any in Iowa athletics history, and one that ensured the 2020 Iowa spring sports record books will forever be blank.
Following the announcement, Newman Catholic Athletic Director Alex Bohl paid tribute to the class of 2020, who never got play their senior seasons.
“You just have to thank them for the effort that they've shown over their high school careers," Bohl said. "You just try to shed some positivity for them going forward, and share anything positive so we can brighten their day a little bit."
It wasn’t necessarily the final score that made this game memorable, but the atmosphere surrounding it. Only one week before the Golden Bears’ boys lost to Wapsie Valley, 65-53, in the first state title game in program history, the school’s girls team suffered a heart-breaking two point loss to Newell-Fonda in the state championship game, as the Broncos clinched the trophy in front of a big crowd at Wells Fargo Arena.
For the boys, the experience ended in similar fashion, but was otherwise about as different as could be. After the IHSAA restricted attendance at the event due to COVID-19, the game took place with only around 70 people in the stands, a harbinger of the shut-downs soon to come across the country.
The empty stands created a strange and ghostly atmosphere, with little of the pomp and festivities typical of a state championship game. Though his team came up short of a title, Bishop Garrigan head coach Mark Meister made it clear that it was still a better outcome than the alternative.
“We said ‘Think about if they shut this down, and they say everybody is a state champion,” Meister said. “That wouldn’t have felt good. I would’ve rather lost this game than they shut this down. I was very happy we got to play this game.”
For the first time in four years, the Newman Catholic baseball team did not win the Class 1A state title, but they came heart-wrenchingly close.
The Knights managed to make it back to the state title game after losing seven seniors off of their 2019 championship squad, and after a 90-pitch, three-hit, seven strikeout outing from starting pitcher Doug Taylor, the Knights brought in ace reliever and star catcher Max Burt to try to close it out against Don Bosco.
But disaster struck for Newman, as the Dons clubbed three consecutive two-strike doubles off of Burt, who came into the game with a 0.00 ERA in 9 ⅔ innings of work on the season. In the top of the seventh, the Knights failed to score, and the Dons clinched their first state title since 1978.
The moment marked the end of a memorable baseball season in North Iowa, one that at times looked unlikely to even happen after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of spring sports. While the loss was painful for the Knights, just the chance to play baseball was a blessing in itself.
“You get the chance to play baseball during a difficult time for our country, and across the world,” head coach Alex Bohl said after the game. “For our team to make it to championship Saturday, and have a one-run lead in the sixth and have a chance in the seventh, you couldn’t have asked for a better ending. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out on top.”
Coming off of a two-year stretch that produced a total of one victory, not many people would’ve predicted a playoff win for the Mohawks in 2020. But they got one, nonetheless.
At halftime of Mason City’s postseason opener against Gilbert on Oct. 16, the Mohawks trailed the Tigers, 14-0. In the second half, the Mohawks scored on two rushing touchdowns from Ben Amundson, and kicked a field goal on a drive that included a 37-yard pass from Sebastian Brock on a fake punt.
After a tough couple of years, the Mohawks managed to score the program’s first playoff win since 2002. In the first season of head coach John Lee’s second stint with the Mohawks, the team finished with a 3-4 overall record, after falling to Webster City, 41-29, in the second round of the postseason.
The team dealt with several challenges, including a three-game losing streak, along with a two-week COVID induced break early in the season. Lee was proud that the team managed to fight back and snag its first playoff win in 18 years.
“I’m proud of them, but we also put a lot of pride back into the program,” Lee said. “I think pride sums up this season for me.”
With a 7-4 win over Lisbon's Cole Clark at the Iowa wrestling state finals in February, West Hancock's Tate Hagen capped off an epic senior year, and earned the Eagles' first state title since 2001.
With 23 seconds left in the match, Hagen clinched the win with a takedown. When the match ended, Hagen leaped into the arms of head coach Mark Sanger in celebration. The win was the program's first championship since Sanger won it all for the Eagles back in 2001.
“I had to go out there and take that one from him,” Hagen said of Clark. “He’s a great wrestler, and a great competitor. It was my time.”
Shane Lantz covers sports for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at Shane.Lantz@GlobeGazette.com, or by phone at 641-421-0526. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneMLantz.