It was a long winter. Harsh temperatures and blowing snow caused the rescheduling and cancellations of numerous games in numerous sports this past winter, keeping teams, coaches and athletic directors on edge.
Turning boys into men can often be accomplished through a competitive sport. The boys diligently work to improve their skills … and also show off their pride. Boys as young as seventh grade were honored Monday night at the yearly boys basketball potluck and award ceremony at Hazen High School. Head coach Randy Johnson proudly acknowledged his young men, some of which he might not see for awhile after graduation. Five senior basketball players will leave HHS as letter winners after a tough 14-8 season. Their eligibility to become letter winners was through playing at every varsity game, showing up for all practices and acting as an upstanding student off the court. Seniors present at the award ceremony were Clay Brinkman, Jordan Cieslak, Chad Marshall and Tad Ploium. Joe Westman, also a senior letter winner, was not present.
"That is progress and we are going to have more of it!" That was the theme of the night as Hazen head coach Leland Opp congratulated his team on an "exceptional season" at the banquet Sunday night but reinforced that there was still more to come from the Bison basketball players. But in order to have an exceptional team you need exceptional players. Opp started off the awards portion of the banquet explaining just how to develop such exceptional players. His advice was for all the athletes, younger or older, to take part in Steve Ziegler's accelerated training program.
A possible new era in high school boys and girls basketball as well as volleyball could be on the horizon as the North Dakota High School Activities Association introduced its new three-class system proposal last month. Under the three-division plan, schools with nine through 12 enrollments of 400 or greater would be Class AA, the next 32 schools less than 400 would be Class A and the remaining schools would be Class B. Both Hazen and Beulah would be pitted in Class A according to the projected numbers. Although the idea of a three-class system is not new, both Hazen Athletic Director Brad Foss and Beulah Athletic Director Mitch Lunde see potential in the new system. The drop in enrollments is causing such a discrepancy between large schools and smaller schools inevitably causing change in athletic dynamics in North Dakota. The current situation leaves small towns, such as Center-Stanton with 78 students competing against towns such as Valley City at 381. Valley City would move into Class B under the current system next year. "To say that 400 is the right number or where anyone belongs is tough to decide but what this plan does is maybe put these smaller enrollment schools in an opportunity to compete for a State championship," Lunde explained. Beulah, Hazen and the schools in the middle don't have a place to go. With current seventh through 10th grade enrollments Beulah at 262 and Hazen at 244 are too small for the true Class A division. On the other hand being toward the top of a smaller enrollment division may not be a good fit either.
Brianna Beecher has had a prep sports career most high school athletes can only dream about. Beecher is widely considered one of the best volleyball setters in the state; she has a permanent place in the Hazen record books not only for career stats but individual as well. A room in the Beecher family house is stacked with medals, trophies and award certificates. Even with all her achievements, Beecher couldn't add her most prized honor to her resume until last weekend when Hazen made the Class B Girls State Basketball Tournament held at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
The Hazen-Beulah boys' hockey team set out early in the season with a goal to advance to the West Region Tournament, avoiding the play-in game that plagued their advancement the past few years. After they had achieved that with the defeat of Dickinson Feb. 12, the North Stars final season game against Minot slipped off the radar, ending in a 9-2 loss. But the atmosphere was completely different less than seven days later as Minot and the North Stars were matched up again in the opening day of the West Region Tournament Thursday.
Calm, confidently Kate Berg wiped the beads of sweat away from her face before giving her teammate a nod. Then Berg flicked the ball off her fingertips and in for the free throw. The Hazen junior made 4-of-4 from the charity stripe and 20 points in the contest as the Bison defeated Dickinson Trinity to claim the District 14 Championship Monday. "I don't know what to say; I had a job to do and I did it," Berg said of the final two free throws that clinched the game. "You have to be in your own world. We practice that a lot in practice."
Even though the Hazen girls' basketball team has a perfect record, they are allowed a bad day or two. Head coach Leland Opp is just thankful it happened before the postseason. Hazen 65, Washburn 62 Hazen has played every kind of team this season but they couldn't have expected the night they were walking into Friday. A solid Region 5 contender, Washburn didn't have a very exciting start. The Bison sure did with 22 points in the first eight minutes.
It has been seven weeks in the making but the Hazen girls' basketball team can finally say they set out to do, at least in part, what they envisioned at the beginning of the season. Saving one of the best for last, the Bison claimed a 53-35 victory over rivals Beulah Jan. 29 to officially lock up the District 14 regular season title as well as the No. 1 seed going into the district tournament beginning Feb. 13 in Hazen. "It gives us a lot of confidence and more drive to keep working hard in practice," explained Hazen's sole senior Brianna Beecher. "It's a lot of pressure but it's good pressure."
The rivalry is as old as the two towns but the atmosphere of the gym when Hazen and Beulah meet is historic. Last Friday night was no exception in the Beulah High School gym as the Bison claimed the first meeting with a 56-52 win that counts toward the District 14 standings. Hazen started the contest with an 8-2 lead after sneaking in a pass to Clay Brinkman. But the Miner Gabe Goetz was not about to let the Bison get on a roll as he confidently drained the 3-pointer.