Mustangs’ winning streak continues

One of the most dominant streaks in Minnesota high school adapted athletics continued Saturday when Anoka-Hennepin won its third consecutive state CI Division softball championship.

Anoka-Hennepin’s Alyssa Lilledahl reaches second safely as Dakota United players Grayson Nicolay and Armette Damon handle the play.  Photo by Bill Jones
Anoka-Hennepin’s Alyssa Lilledahl reaches second safely as Dakota United players Grayson Nicolay and Armette Damon handle the play. Photo by Bill Jones

But the Mustangs’ success isn’t limited to that one sport. Saturday marked their eighth straight state title in three different sports – softball, floor hockey and soccer. The Mustangs haven’t lost a game in any of the three since 2009.

Now the question becomes, how long can this go on? The Mustangs expect to remain competitive but figure to have a tough time replacing seniors Tyler Kurkowski and Zach Theroux, two of the best adapted athletes in state history.

“I’ve been coaching since 1984, and I’ve never seen two kids who did so much,” said Anoka-Hennepin head coach Ted Johnson. “They are just something special, those two.”

Kurkowski, the Mustangs’ pitcher, and Theroux, their shortstop, helped orchestrate Anoka-Hennepin’s 7-2 victory over Dakota United in the CI (cognitively impaired) Division championship game at Coon Rapids High School. Kurkowski had two hits and scored twice while Theroux had two hits and one run.

Anoka-Hennepin (12-0) also slowed Dakota United’s offense to a crawl. The Hawks (11-1) went into the final averaging almost 15 runs a game, but the Mustangs held them scoreless until the seventh inning. The Mustangs turned two double plays and ended another inning on outfielder Cole Denny’s sliding catch near the right field foul line.

“These kids are very good in the field, but that was probably the best defense I’ve seen since I’ve been coach,” Johnson said.

This was the second consecutive year Anoka-Hennepin swept the CI Division soccer, floor hockey and softball championships. Johnson estimated about 90 percent of the program’s adapted athletes play all three sports.

One reason Anoka-Hennepin was able to stay on task this year was it dedicated its season to Lacie Bickford, a Mustangs adapted athlete who died unexpectedly last summer. She played for last year’s state championship soccer and softball teams.

“She was such a nice girl, and we miss her,” Kurkowski said. “I talked with the team before the (state championship game) and told them, ‘Do you want to win the state championship? Do you want to win it for Lacie? Then let’s go and win it.’ ”

Kurkowski said one reason for Anoka-Hennepin’s success is having a lot of boys and girls who want to play. He said he thought it was the responsibility of older players on the team to encourage younger players to participate and help them develop their skills.

Next year he’ll find out how successful he was at training the next generation of Anoka-Hennepin players. Kurkowski, Theroux, outfielders Angie Gunter and Angie Goss and infielder Cassie Thompson closed their high school adapted sports careers with Saturday’s victory. Kurkowski, Theroux and junior infielder Troy Couch were named to the all-tournament team.

Anoka-Hennepin defeated Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee 10-3 in the state quarterfinals Friday as Denny, Couch, Theroux, Addese Ferguson-Mason and Paul Hendrickson had two hits each. Dillon Domeier banged out four hits and Kurkowski, Theroux and Couch had three each as the Mustangs routed South Washington County 17-2 in the semifinals.

The championship game against Dakota United was the closest all season for the Mustangs, who outscored opponents 160-31 this season.


PI Division

Anoka-Hennepin upset previously undefeated Dakota United 10-8 in the first round of the PI (physically impaired) Division tournament and went on to take third place.

The Mustangs lost to Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville 10-6 in the semifinals before beating Wayzata/Minnetonka 14-2 in the third-place game to finish 6-6.

Corey Gieske was 5-for-5 and scored four runs for the Mustangs in the third-place game. Chris Walen, Joe Manion and Ben Schmitz had three hits in the semifinal game.

Gieske and pitcher Erik Santa were named to the all-tournament team.

Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka won its fourth consecutive PI Division title with a 9-2 victory over Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville in the championship game Saturday afternoon in Coon Rapids.

Mike Shaughnessy is at
[email protected]

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