COLUMN: In the front row

By Tom Coombe

For the Tower-Soudan Golden Eagles, it was a dream season.<BR><BR>A number-one state ranking, 24 straight wins and a huge and loyal local following were all part of the 2003-2004 campaign for the Golden Eagles’ boys basketball team.<BR><BR>But while the Golden Eagles and their faithful had their alarm clocks set for Saturday, when the state tournament concluded in Minneapolis, to wake up from their winter-long dream, the Nashwauk-Keewatin Spartans had other ideas.<BR><BR>The March 19 Section 7A final at Hibbing wasn’t a nightmare, Tower-Soudan fans, it was reality.<BR><BR>The Golden Eagles’ hopes for the program’s first state tournament berth in nearly 60 years ended when N-K won 51-37 before a near sellout crowd of 3,500 fans at the Hibbing Arena.<BR><BR>For Tower-Soudan, the loss was a bitter end to an otherwise extraordinary season.<BR><BR>A highly-touted nucleus, who together had won the state sixth-grade title in 1998, piled up victory after victory throughout the season.<BR><BR>By the time the Golden Eagles beat Nashwauk-Keewatin in the finals of the Cook Holiday Tournament, it was clear that this would be a special season.<BR><BR>The wins continued to pile up until T-S was the last unbeaten team in Class A. That led to a number-one ranking by late-February.<BR><BR>The Golden Eagles won as a team, but individual efforts were extraordinary.<BR><BR>There’s no doubt that T-S had the best big man in the area in 6-10 junior Steve Jamnick, who swatted shots away in the paint and had double-digit averages in both points and rebounds.<BR><BR>Senior guard Josh Quick, a varsity player since his seventh-grade season, passed the 2,100-point mark for his career and became the all-time leading scorer in Tower-Soudan history.<BR><BR>Fellow seniors Justin Bjorgo and Tom Eloranta also had stellar season. Bjorgo was an outstanding defender and potent three-point shooter, and Eloranta burned opposing defenses that keyed on the Golden Eagles’ other big weapons.<BR><BR>Adding depth were junior Joe Frazee and sophomores Jesse Quick and Zach Schroeder.<BR><BR>The regular season win streak ended with a 50-48 loss to Nashwauk-Keewatin March 5. That proved to be an ominous sign of things to come.<BR><BR>T-S and N-K squared off again in the section final, and the Spartans pulled the upset.<BR><BR>A steady, patient offense put enough points on the board and the Spartans took very good care of the basketball.<BR><BR>On defense, the N-K zone smothered Jamnick and the Spartans converged whenever the big man got the ball.<BR><BR>Tower-Soudan was clearly frustrated and fell behind by as many as 10 points in the third quarter.<BR><BR>But the Golden Eagles weren’t done, as Bjorgo helped cut the gap to six and the T-S defense held the Spartans scoreless for nearly seven minutes.<BR><BR>Tower-Soudan would never come all the way back, in part because the Golden Eagles were ice cold from the outside.<BR><BR>They elected to fire away from long distance in the fourth quarter, missing 11 straight second-half three-pointers before Quick’s trey sliced the lead to three with under three minutes left.<BR><BR>That would be the last bucket the Golden Eagles would make this season. They misfired on five three-pointers down the stretch, and the Spartans clinched the win at the line.<BR><BR>And so it was Nashwauk-Keewatin, instead of Tower-Soudan, that represented 7A at the state tournament last week.<BR><BR>It wasn’t supposed to end that way for Tower-Soudan. There was a section championship celebration, plans for state, and the chance to play at Williams Arena and Target Center that were still to come.<BR><BR>Instead the Golden Eagles are left dreaming about what might have been.<BR><BR>It may take a while to get over the loss, but the Golden Eagles may one day come to appreciate their accomplishments this season and throughout their prep basketball careers.<BR><BR>It was, indeed, a season of dreams. Some that came true. Others that didn’t.<BR><BR>• It’s official. The Seattle Mariners will hold a one-day tryout camp in Ely May 15, as scouts will invite top high school and college talent from throughout the state.<BR><BR>Organizing the event is Elyite Paul Starkovich, who played several years of professional baseball and is the Mariners’ new scout for an area that includes Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.<BR><BR>Starkovich will evaluate the talent along with two other Mariners scouts.<BR><BR>• Ely’s Craig Jankowski completed his third season on the hockey team at Gustavus Adolphus.<BR><BR>The junior had three goals and eight assists while playing in 20 of the Gusties’ 25 games. Gustavus finished 10-12-3.<BR><BR>• Jerome Nemanich, a 1988 Ely graduate and one-time coach in the VFW and American Legion baseball programs, is starting his sixth season as the high school baseball coach at Sartell, located next to St. Cloud.<BR><BR>• Brittany Dusich placed 16th in the 1,500 meter run at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference indoor track meet earlier this month.<BR><BR>The former three-sport athlete (girls basketball, swimming and track) at Ely is a junior at St. Thomas.<BR><BR>