So long 2021, hello 2022.

The past year brought lots of big stories in the Hutchinson area, some good and some bad. On the sports pages, however, it’s been mostly positive as local athletes and competitors have given fans plenty to cheer about.

From state champs and national records to conference title streaks, the Leader was there to cover it all and remind readers that we have some pretty talented people living among us. So we’re celebrating the new year by taking a look back at these remarkable achievements.

As always, this list is my opinion, and opinions can differ. Some readers may not agree with the order of these stories, or they may feel some stories were left out or should not have been included on this list. In the end, this is all about fun and remembering what a great year it’s been for Hutchinson sports fans.

So without further delay, here are the Leader’s top 10 sports stories of 2021.

Huskies back on top

The year 2020 changed the world. In North Star League baseball, it was the first year since 2015 that the Hutchinson Huskies missed playing in the state tournament.

It was an odd feeling for the team to have its season end so early, especially after making it all the way to the championship game in 2019. The good news is that Hutch’s state absence was short lived.

With a chip on their shoulders, the Huskies tore through competition this past summer. They wrapped up the regular season on a nine-game winning streak to finish 24-6 and claim the team’s first NSL title since 2017.

In the Region 12C playoffs, Hutchinson was one of the first teams to punch its state ticket by winning its first two games. The Huskies would go on to take the No. 3 seed and face a buzzsaw, the Sartell Muskies, in the first round of state.

Although Hutch fell 5-1 to Sartell to end its season, the young team appears back on track for more state appearances in the future.

Two wrestlers medal at state

Thanks to COVID-19, the Hutchinson/BLHS wrestling team didn’t even know if it would have a season at the start of 2021. Fortunately, with some adjustments to the schedule, the Tigers were able to hit the mat and attempt to defend their section title from the year before.

Although the Tigers fell short in their team goal, two individual wrestlers were able to make the most of their opportunity. Out of hundreds of Class AA wrestlers in Minnesota, Cale Luthens and Hayden VanderVoort were among 42 in the state who finished their seasons with a win.

Both Tigers made it through the section and super section tournaments to wrestle in the final state tournament. Luthens took fifth place at 170 pounds, and VanderVoort also took fifth place at 195 pounds. For Luthens, a senior, it was his second fifth-place finish at state. For VanderVoort, a sophomore at the time, it was his first individual state appearance and he’s looking forward to going back later this year.

Girls LAX continues conference streak

Most people don’t think of Hutchinson as a “lacrosse town.” Hutchinson High School’s girls lacrosse team is doing everything it can to change that.

The Tigers continued their dominance in the Wright County Conference this past spring, winning 11 straight games and locking up the team’s fifth consecutive conference title.

Things got a bit tougher in the playoffs with only one class of lacrosse in the state, but again the Tigers held their own. They beat Chaska 16-14 in opening round before losing to Chanhassen in the semifinals.

Only time will tell if Hutch can continue its streak of WCC titles for a sixth year, but it’ll be tougher without the program’s all-time leading scorer, Maddy Seifert. She’s been a fixture on the team for all five conference titles and last year graduated with 328 total career goals. She followed in the steps of her older sister, Lex Seifert, by joining the Concordia University women’s lacrosse team in St. Paul.

Lauer raises the bar

When Tammy Lauer sets her sites on something, nothing can stop her. The 56-year-old mother of three is Hutchinson’s most prolific powerlifter, and she proved why yet again this past summer by adding to her resume of national titles and records.

Lauer lifted 93.5 kilograms, or 206 pounds, to set American and Minnesotan records in the age 55-60 women’s raw master 69-kilogram (152-pound) division. But it didn’t stop there. Her 206-pound bench press was enough to take American and state records in age groups as young as 45 as well, meaning she lifted more than women 10 years younger.

Of course setting records is nothing new for Lauer, who has regularly competed in powerlifting since 2015 and has been to national and international competitions. Following her trip to the USA Powerlifting Bench Press National Championship in June, she was the holder of 14 American records and an astounding 49 state records at multiple weight and age divisions.

Boys swimmers look good at state

Hutchinson High School’s boys swimming and diving team continued to build on its success from 2020 to have a stellar 2019 season, all the way up to the state meet.

Although the Tigersharks weren’t able to defend their Wright County Conference title from the 2019-20 season due to COVID-19 canceling the conference meet, they were able to win the team’s second straight Section 3A championship. It was the program’s 11th section championship and its first back-to-back titles since 2002 and 2003.

But Hutch didn’t stop there. The boys went on to the Class A state meet to take fourth place, their best team finish in 15 years. They had 10 top-16 finishers and 10 events, including state runners-up Conner Hogan in the 100 backstroke, and the 200 medley relay team of Hogan, Noah Tague, Tristin Nelsen and Dane Thovson.

Tigershark girls are state runners-up

While teams in the Wright County Conference and Section 3A continued to gain ground on the Hutchinson High School girls swimming and diving team, the Tigersharks once again showed that they were among the best in the state when it comes to its top-end talent.

The ’Sharks won their 13th straight WCC Championship with six first-place finishes out of 12 events, narrowly beating Delano and Mound Westonka. At sections, Hutch won seven individual titles and had eight swimmers qualify for 15 state entries, but it was limited by its team depth and finished third behind Orono and Delano.

At the state meet, the Tigersharks saved their best for last. Hutch racked up four state titles and took second overall as a squad, finishing behind only the state champ, Visitation.

Among Hutch’s winners were Grace Hanson in the 50 and 100 freestyle, as well as relay teams in the 200 medley and 400 freestyle. Those teams included Kasidy Brecht, Madilyn Gehrke, Hailey Farrell and Madison Witte, and Hanson, Jaiden Mezera, Brecht and Farrell.

It was the fifth straight time Hutch’s 400 freestyle relay team won the state title, not including 2020 when the state meet was canceled.

Stephenson races into history books

Blaine Stephenson has been racing snowmobiles since he was a child. But this past winter the 22-year-old man from Hutchinson accomplished a feat he never imagined.

Back in 2020, Stephenson made history by becoming the first racer ever to win three straight World Championships in Eagle River, Wisconsin, one of the sport’s most prestigious events. He matched that accomplishment this past year by winning his fourth straight World Championship.

With the win in 2021, Stephenson’s four overall titles tied the record of legendary snowmobile racer P.J. Wanderscheid. Stephenson even received a congratulatory message from his childhood idol.

The 2022 World Championship is just around the corner, Jan. 14-16. We’ll be watching to see if Stephenson makes history once again.

Schmitz runs for state title

Winning races is nothing new for Isabelle Schmitz, Hutchinson High School’s star distance runner. She’s usually one of the first to cross the finish line in both track and field and cross-country. But this past year she took her efforts to a new level.

It started in spring track and field, when Schmitz earned state medals with an eighth-place finish in the 3200 race and fifth-place finish in the 1600 race. Her domination continued into fall cross-country, when for the first time the sport was divided into three classes rather than two. With that change in the format, the door was wide open for Schmitz, and she delivered.

Schmitz won every cross-country race she ran in this past fall, winning her second conference title as well as her second section title. She then went on to win the Class AA state race, winning her first championship by eight seconds. It’s just the second time a Hutchinson girls cross-country runner has won state, following Kasandra Hendricks, who won in 1999.

As a sophomore, Schmitz may get two more opportunities to add to her trophy case.

Hanson cements swimming legacy

While I already included the girls swimming team’s tremendous season earlier on this list, I felt it was appropriate that the best girls swimmer in Hutchinson history, Grace Hanson, receive her own separate mention.

There can often be debate when declaring someone the greatest of all time (GOAT), especially in a program with as many great swimmers as Hutchinson has had. But I don’t think there is any denying that Hanson is deserving of this title.

In her six seasons with the Tigersharks, Hanson has amassed 14 state championships. She’s a 14-time All-American and three-time Class 1A Swimmer of the Year, and could very likely add a fourth title to that later this year. She holds several school records and no doubt dozens of pool records throughout the state, as well as Class 1A state meet records in three events: the 50 freestyle (22.57), the 100 freestyle (49.56), and as a member of the 2019 400 freestyle relay team (3:26.41).

It’s no coincidence that Hutch’s 400 freestyle relay team has won five straight titles, and she along with teammate Hailey Farrell have been a part of all five wins. Imagine if the 2020 state meet hadn’t been canceled. Hanson would most likely have added at least two or three more titles to her resume.

Before this past season even got started, Hanson was well ahead in her training. She had to be to race against the best in the country in the 50 freestyle competition of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Hanson was a generational talent, the GOAT, and she’ll surely be missed by the Tigersharks next season. She’s joining the University of Missouri’s Division I program, where we’re sure she’ll make a splash.

Tigers cash in at ‘The Bank’

It’s not often that I have to decide between multiple state champions when I’m writing this annual list of top sports stories. Both of the last two stories would have been No. 1 in most years, but 2021 was not most years for the Hutchinson High School football team.

It wasn’t an undefeated season for Hutchinson, which lost one game to Becker in the regular season, but it didn’t matter. The Tigers, not the Bulldogs, were the last team standing in the Class 4A Championship at U.S. Bank Stadium.

After finishing with a 7-1 record in the regular season, Hutch barnstormed the playoffs on its way to the program’s sixth state title. The Tigers wrapped things up neatly with a 42-14 blowout over Kasson-Mantorville in the championship. Hutchinson head coach Andy Rostberg now has three titles to his name, the same as his father and the team’s former coach, Grady Rostberg.

It was a great way to wrap up the fall season, and my list of the top Hutchinson sports stories of 2021.