STORY NO. 1 — Wolves football battles through adversity
This was supposed to be the year.
After a miraculous run to the 2016 state championship game, and with the core of that group back for their senior seasons, the Harris-Lake Park football team was supposed to not only get back to the championship game in 2017, but win the first state championship in program history.
They entered the season as the top-ranked team in the 8-Player classification, nudging out 2016 champion Don Bosco in the first week of Associated Press rankings.
They had it all.
First Team All-Staters at running back and linebacker. A second-year quarterback who led the classification in touchdown passes a year ago. Big, physical and talented offensive and defensive fronts that were going to make life difficult for opposing lines. A solid group of young athletes that would add depth and gain valuable varsity experience. And a head coach who rebuilt the program from scratch, and oversaw everything from the time this current crop of athletes were in Pampers.
Then, after just one quarter of football, it all began to unravel.
First Team All-Staters Keegan Carpenter and Trevor Gunderson exited the season opener with lower leg injuries. Carpenter was expected to miss just two weeks, but a later diagnosis discovered further damage that required surgery, ending his season. Gunderson was put on the shelf for at least four weeks with a broken bone in his ankle.
The Wolves soldiered on.
A Week 3 loss to fourth-ranked Remsen St. Mary's put them in scramble mode. A big win over Clay Central-Everly and a bye week were a welcome relief. Gunderson made a speedy return for a homecoming win over West Bend-Mallard, but the win cost the Wolves dearly.
Senior linebacker and homecoming king Zach Heikens went down with a season-ending ACL injury in the first quarter. Senior quarterback Bryce Perkins was called for a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, forcing him to miss the rest of the contest and an additional game — a Week 7 matchup with perennial power Newell-Fonda.
The fifth-ranked Mustangs put the final nail in the Wolves' coffin with a 20-7 win on a rain-soaked night in Newell.
Harris-Lake Park coach Lane Gunderson was proud of how his athletes battled but, days later, struggled to come to grips with how quickly the season slipped away.
"To have the game not go so well, I told the kids afterward that I was proud of them," he said. "I just feel so bad because this team had so much promise and had such a great attitude and had guys who put in everything I've ever asked … For them to not even have a chance to play (together) with all of the injuries this year, it's just kind of an emotional night. I'm still kind of not over it."
Still, in the face of all of that adversity, the Wolves' coach said his athletes never flinched.
"It kind of makes me feel like a liar," he said. "Because I've told them that if they work hard and do as good as they can and do all of the workouts and be good guys, things'll work out. It's like it's been exactly the opposite of that. We've had injuries. We had that happen to Bryce, which I don't think should have happened ever. Even through all that, they're much more resilient than me. Keegan has had a great attitude. He hasn't questioned why it's happened to him. Trev worked his hardest to come back and never complained about it. Now, of course, Zach has his heart ripped away from him. He's the homecoming king and gets injured in the first quarter of the homecoming game. Then for Bryce to have to sit there and watch us and not be able to help when his guys are out there. I just feel so sorry for my guys. It's weird to say but, as a coach, I look up to them. It's just, I dunno, the only word I have for it is heartbreaking. I'm just glad that they have such good character and that they can handle it so well."
- STORY NO. 2 -- SL-O girls win 10th straight Lakes Conference crown (01/02/18)
- STORY NO. 3 -- Spirit Lake softball clinches 4th straight Lakes Conference crown (01/02/18)
- STORY NO. 4 -- Longtime Okoboji softball coach Dennis Baschke hands over the reins after 18 seasons (01/02/18)
- STORY NO. 5 -- Dickinson County places 3 on state wrestling podium (01/02/18)
- 2017 SPORTS YEAR IN REVIEW: Honorable Mention (01/02/18)