Lion alums battle injury as well college competition
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 7:27 AM
Eight Spring Grove alumni - five women, three men - were on college sports rosters in school year 2012-'13.
If any SGHS graduate playing college ball was omitted from this coverage, please contact Lee Epps at the Herald firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, was the academic home of three former Lion stars with two each playing for Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Another matriculated at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
There were four basketball players, two on the volleyball court with one each in football, golf and baseball. There was one two-sport athlete.
There was a twin brother-sister combo but playing at different schools in different sports. There were two high school teammates who became college teammates as well.
Only one athlete completed a four-year college career, especially notable while contributing to two college teams. Meanwhile, two freshmen earned instant credibility earning starting roles at the dawn of their college debuts.
Unfortunately, injury was the most common denominator as four of the eight Lion alums had their seasons cut short. Two underwent surgery.
Garrett Cross (SG Male Athlete of the Year 2009) was the only senior closing out his four-year, two-sport career at Coe. He earned eight varsity letters, four each in both golf and basketball. He was a mainstay on the golf team throughout his career and a valued basketball reserve.
"Garrett was a pleasure to coach. He did a great job in embracing his role as our sixth man and provided a nice scoring punch off the bench for us all year," said Bryan Martin, head basketball coach.
"Garrett started the season off slowly coming off of his fall golf season, but really improved throughout the year and gave us great energy and leadership. Garrett truly cared about the success of the team first and was a great example of what it means to be a great teammate to our younger guys."
He shot 53.6% percent from the field including a strong 47% from three-point range. The 6-foot, 175-pound senior guard netted 74.4% from the free throw line for the Kohawks who finished 15-11.
On the links, Cross graduates tied for third in the Kohawk 18-hole record book with a 69 and also the 10th best score of 71. He has the sixth best 36-hole score on record with a 146.
Cross is the son of Gary Cross and Kay Capps Cross of Spring Grove.
Dakotah Rostad (SG 2010 Male Athlete of the Year) has completed three years of collegiate baseball, last spring lettering at Luther after two seasons at Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC). The junior infielder had an .875 fielding percentage.
"Dakotah played a big role for the Norse baseball team in the 2013 season, serving as our defensive third baseman playing in 29 games while starting 11," said head coach Alex Smith.
"His positive attitude and passion for baseball is respected amongst all members of our program."
The highlight for Rostad was a bases-loaded double that drove in all three runs in the season-ending 3-1 win over Central College
Next spring, he will be one of only four seniors on a younger squad that seeks to improve on the recent 14-22 season.
Rostad continues to work on a degree in sports management that will be completed at the Minnesota State University, Mankato after his baseball eligibility ends at Luther.
He is the son of Andy Anderson and Lynn Rostad-Anderson of Spring Grove.
After losing almost an entire season due to injury, Jordan Olerud (SG co-Female athlete of the Year 2011) has been working toward a return to the basketball court at Coe.
"Jordan tore her ACL early last year, so she was not able to play for us this past season. She did a great job cheering on her teammates and supporting everyone else throughout the year," said head coach Randi Peterson.
The December injury, sustained in practice, came five games into the 2012-'13 season. In January after the holiday break, Olerud underwent knee surgery and has been rehabilitating ever since. The first few months consisted of strengthening. "Learning how to walk again," she described it while the trainer helped her limp less and walk more.
Early this summer (after more than three months), she was cleared to run. But to be able to play basketball, she must next be cleared to cut and move laterally. Physicians will assess her progress again at the end of August. Formal basketball workouts begin in October.
After spending almost all of last season attending but watching practice and games, Olerud should be back at full strength this winter; precisely when is the question.
Although a junior academically, she is a sophomore in basketball eligibility with the possibility of playing three more years. Olerud, who lettered as a freshman in 2012, has thus far been a valuable reserve guard for the Kohawks.
Jordan is the daughter of Todd and Patti Olerud of Spring Grove.
Katelyn Bjerke (SG co-Female Athlete of the Year 2011) saw her sophomore volleyball season at Luther cut short by injury and eventually surgery.
The highlight of the season was the junior varsity team winning the conference tournament. She also saw action in several varsity matches.
"Kate has been a dominant presence on our team since she walked onto campus last winter," said head coach Danielle Lynch. "With her height and strength in the front row, she makes our team better in practices and during competition.
"Unfortunately Kate has had her share of shoulder injuries this past season, which hindered her from competing at the top level that I know she has. We will look to Kate to come back in 2014, after a year of rehab on her shoulder, to dominate the front row again."
Bjerke said her pain was "manageable" early in the season but eventually was diagnosed as a torn labrum in her shoulder. After missing the final few matches of the season, her off-season physical therapy did not prove to be successful. Surgery followed in late May with rehabilitation expected to extend through the volleyball season, until November.
While majoring in management, Bjerke will serve as a team manager this fall looking forward to a productive senior season a year from now. She is the daughter of Tom and Tina Bjerke of Spring Grove.
Michaela Neuzil (SG Class of 2012) was a freshman volleyball player at Wartburg College. She was a right side hitter and part of the serving rotation for the junior varsity.
Hampered by nagging pain early in the season, she was finally diagnosed with tendonitis in her ankle. She was fitted in a boot and missed about a month of volleyball. Neuzil returned but was never at full strength during the remainder of the season.
She does now feel completely rehabilitated and looks forward to volleyball again this autumn. Wartburg lost only one player to graduation, so Neuzil should probably return to mostly junior varsity action during her sophomore campaign.
Michaela is the daughter of Danny and Samantha Neuzil of Spring Grove.
The Spring Grove 2012 co-Female Athletes of the Year both made the Dean's List after joining the basketball program at UW-River Falls. "Richell (Mehus) and Taylor (Elton) have been terrific additions to our team," said Cindy Holbrook, head women's basketball coach. "Coming from Spring Grove they've had excellent coaching; they're super competitive. They're very team oriented, and they know how to win."
Taylor Elton (co-Female Athlete of the Year 2012) was a reserve point guard at UW-RF. The 5-7 freshman played in 21 games before breaking a finger during practice that sidelined her for the final five games.
"Taylor is going to be an amazing college player," said Holbrook. "We were working on changing her position when she had a season ending injury. I'm expecting Taylor to have a breakout year for us this season. She's going to be a huge scoring threat for us."
Elton was back at full strength right after the season ended and has been playing in a summer league in Eau Claire, Wis., while working on strength and conditioning back in Spring Grove.
Elton said the college game was faster (than high school) and the offense more complex. She enjoyed her first year and looks forward to what appears to be increased responsibility in 2014.
Elton is the daughter of Kasey Thompson and Tanya Elton of Spring Grove.
Richell Mehus (SG co-Female Athlete of the Year 2012), assumed a starting role in her second college game. "Richell jumped right in and started for us all year," said Holbrook. "She's tough and versatile at the wing spot for us. She can score, play defense and be an impact rebounder."
The 5-foot, 8-inch guard ranked second on the team in rebounds (5.8 rpg), minutes played, free throws attempted and free throws made (54). Mehus was third in assists and steals for a winning 14-12 team. She was the Falcons' fourth leading scorer averaging 9.0 points per game.
"It was super fun; I'm looking forward to it again," said the first-season standout who was nominated for the Freshman Athlete Award. Holbrook said, "Any freshman athlete can be nominated by any staff in the athletic department. Has to be a stand out performance year as a first year UW-RF kid. She was a perfect example of that award."
Richell is the daughter of Bryan and Joni Mehus of rural Spring Grove.
Making an immediate impact on the gridiron was Luther College Defensive Rookie of the Year, freshman Aric Elton (SG Male Athlete of the Year 2012). One of three starting safeties, the 200-pound defender recorded 29 tackles including 17 solo stops and one sack.
Most memorable was recovering two fumbles in the same game against Central College. They were not only recoveries but also runbacks, both of which came close to scoring.
"Last year Aric saw some significant playing time both on special teams and in the secondary on defense." said his position coach Mike Tangen. "Aric has a great work ethic and caught onto the scheme of the defense pretty quick.
"I would say his greatest contribution to our team both last year and what he is bringing into this season, is his leadership. Aric has a unique way of getting others to trust in him and follow his lead. He doesn't need to say much but he lets his work ethic and actions take care of it."
Coach Tangen is one of few assistants returning with extensive turnover at the top of the staff that followed a winless season. The new staff will change to a formation employing fewer safeties. The 200-pound defender said he expects to be part of the new four-linebacker set, his high school position. "It feels more natural."
"We are very excited about Aric and what he will bring to our team this season," added Tangen. "He is a hardworking "blue collar" type of kid, and that is exactly what we love around here."
Twin brother of Taylor, Aric is the son of Tanya Elton and Kasey Thompson of Spring Grove.
The Spring Grove footprint in college athletics will become larger as only one graduates while five recent 2013 SGHS graduates and one former junior high Lion intend to step onto the larger stage next year.
Seeking to be another two-sport athlete is Nikki Hansen who takes her basketball and pole-vaulting prowess to UW-Whitewater.
Also included are the reigning SG Athletes of the Year who will extend their basketball careers. Randi Mehus will be the third Lion lady alum at UW-RF while Blaine Storlie heads to Hamline University in St. Paul. Basketball is also in the future for Addison Cross at RCTC.
Josh Olerud will be another former Lion on the Luther College football team as will Ethan Murphy, a former Spring Grove junior high classmate now living in Green Lake, Wis.