COLUMN: To heck with the bad; here's the good stuff from 2020

All of Panther Nation rejoiced when Monticello defeated Dyersville Beckman to advance to the State Boys Basketball Tournament for the first time in 60 years. (Express file photos)

Panther bowlers walk up to receive recognition after qualifying for the State Boys Bowling Tournament in just the third year of the program. From front are Logan Farmer, Easton Lee, Jacob Farmer, Gary Pasker, Levi Temple and Caleb Gillmore.
Pete Temple
Express Sports Editor

     When it comes to local sports, Monticello, like cities across Iowa and the nation, had plenty of sad and bad news in 2020.

     High school spring sports were shut down. Monticello coach, official and all-around good guy Steve Rucker passed away. The Monticello boys cross country team’s 23-year streak of qualifying for State came to an end.

     Chase Luensman qualified for the NCAA Division II wrestling nationals for Upper Iowa University, but didn’t get to compete because the tournament was cancelled. The Panther Prowl 5K race, though successful in its own right, had to be held virtually. The Monticello-Anamosa Cowbell Trophy football game was called off, and the teams didn’t play each other for the first time in 100 years.

     To heck with all that. I’m here to dole out awards for the many positive things that happened in the past year. So here goes. 

     How Sweet it Is Award: Monticello defeated Dyersville Beckman 42-41 before an absolutely packed house at West Delaware to qualify for the State Boys Basketball Tournament for the first time in 60 years. 

     Upstart Award: In just the third year of the program, the Monticello boys bowling team qualified for State, where it took seventh place.

     COVID-be-damned Award: COVID issues forced the Monticello dance team to perform its state meet routines on video, but that didn’t stop the Panthers from winning several awards, including a Class I state championship in the Lyrical category.

     At Long Last Award: The Panther football team got to play its first home playoff game since 1977, and then played another one, winning both, before losing at Waukon in the state round of 16. Monticello’s baseball team also broke a long drought, beating Dyersville Beckman 6-5 in a district championship game, ending a streak of 10 straight post-season losses to the Trailblazers dating back to 2003. Monticello then fell to Durant in the sub-state game.

     Conference Champ Award: Panther wrestling tied for the River Valley Conference North Division team championship. The aforementioned boys basketball team was named co-champ of the RVC North. Those Panthers actually finished a half-game behind Camanche, but were named co-champs when Mid-Prairie chose not to make up a late-season game against Monticello. The volleyball team clinched the RVC North title with a dramatic five-set win at Anamosa. And the boys cross country team was RVC champ as well.

     Individual Achievement Award: Kain Luensman became the fourth Monticello wrestler to qualify for State for a third time. Alaina Sunlin wrestled in the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association girls’ state tournament, and finished third in her weight class. Levi Temple earned an eighth-place medal at the State Bowling Tournament. Carter Kurt for the boys and Emma Althoff for the girls qualified for the State Cross Country Meet. Kain Luensman, Kale Hansen, Owen Ray and Ethan Tallman all qualified for the wrestling district meet.

     Milestone Award: There were a bunch. Jordan Kuper set the all-time rebounding record for Monticello girls basketball. Justin Recker became the Panther boys basketball all-time leading scorer, and later in the same game, reached the 1,000-point mark. Kain Luensman recorded his 150th career wrestling victory. Girls basketball coach Donnie Kremer guided the Panthers to victory for the 300th time in his career.

     Recognition Award: We had our share of these in 2020 as well. Panther cross country coach Dan Sauser was nominated for National Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association. Kylie Nagel of the Panther volleyball program was named Iowa Girls Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year for that sport. Panther football player Tyler Luensman was selected for the Iowa Shrine All-Star Game.

     New Venue Award: Outdoor pickleball courts opened on Diamond Drive, and were swarmed with players for most of the summer and early fall. The first practices and games were held in the gym at the new Monticello Middle School. Also, the Panther softball team started play at its new home, the refurbished West Field at the Monticello Athletic Complex.

     Anniversary Award: Girls’ athletics at Monticello High School, and the Moser School of Dance and Gymnastics, both celebrated their 50thanniversaries.

     Midland Award: Eagle wrestler Damon Huston reached the state meet finals last winter, and this season surpassed the 150-win mark.

     Maquoketa Valley Award: The Wildcat boys cross country team repeated as a state meet qualifier, and finished sixth.



     In a year that ranged from unsettling to horrifying, it is wonderful that Iowa State football and its fans got to enjoy a season featuring perhaps the best Cyclone team ever.

     Anything other than a victory in the Fiesta Bowl would have put a damper on all of the team's success, so it warmed a lot of hearts, including mine, when ISU prevailed.

     Congrats to all the Cyclones and their fans!


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