COLUMN: In the front row
For the Tower-Soudan Golden Eagles, it was a dream season.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.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.The March 19 Section 7A final at Hibbing wasn’t a nightmare, Tower-Soudan fans, it was reality.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.For Tower-Soudan, the loss was a bitter end to an otherwise extraordinary season.A highly-touted nucleus, who together had won the state sixth-grade title in 1998, piled up victory after victory throughout the season.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.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.The Golden Eagles won as a team, but individual efforts were extraordinary.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.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.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.Adding depth were junior Joe Frazee and sophomores Jesse Quick and Zach Schroeder.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.T-S and N-K squared off again in the section final, and the Spartans pulled the upset.A steady, patient offense put enough points on the board and the Spartans took very good care of the basketball.On defense, the N-K zone smothered Jamnick and the Spartans converged whenever the big man got the ball.Tower-Soudan was clearly frustrated and fell behind by as many as 10 points in the third quarter.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.Tower-Soudan would never come all the way back, in part because the Golden Eagles were ice cold from the outside.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.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.And so it was Nashwauk-Keewatin, instead of Tower-Soudan, that represented 7A at the state tournament last week.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.Instead the Golden Eagles are left dreaming about what might have been.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.It was, indeed, a season of dreams. Some that came true. Others that didn’t.• 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.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.Starkovich will evaluate the talent along with two other Mariners scouts.• Ely’s Craig Jankowski completed his third season on the hockey team at Gustavus Adolphus.The junior had three goals and eight assists while playing in 20 of the Gusties’ 25 games. Gustavus finished 10-12-3.• 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.• Brittany Dusich placed 16th in the 1,500 meter run at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference indoor track meet earlier this month.The former three-sport athlete (girls basketball, swimming and track) at Ely is a junior at St. Thomas.