From the return to competition, to state title runs, to journeys from halfway across the globe, here's a glance at the top 10 local stories from the 2020-21 North Dakota high school sports season.
COVID shakes things up
The COVID-19 pandemic shook up the high school sports season in 2020-21.
Sports finally returned in the fall after a five-month hiatus that began during the Class A basketball tournament in mid-march and wiped out the entire spring season. The return, however, wasn't without complications and struggles.
Players and coaches figured out how to practice and compete within a new reality that involved face masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing. Restrictions were placed on fan attendance. Games were canceled due to COVID exposure and athletic directors scrambled to replace and reschedule contests.
Among the most notable team affected by exposure was the West Fargo Sheyenne boys soccer team. The Mustangs varsity team was unable to play in the state semifinals and had to be replaced by their junior varsity squad.
The winter season was put on hold as case rates skyrocketed across the state in late November into early December. Sports were suspended on Nov. 13 and didn’t resume until Dec. 14. The state volleyball tournament was allowed to continue as scheduled.
Local boys sweep the hardwood
Local teams swept the boys basketball championships with West Fargo claiming the title in Class A and Kindred winning in Class B.
Thirty years earlier, his dad, Mike Birrenkott, made a free throw after being fouled at the buzzer to help the Packers win a state title in 1991.
West Fargo beat crosstown rivals West Fargo Sheyenne 78-73 in the semifinals behind a 28-point, nine-rebound performance by Carson Hegerle.
Paul Olson accounted for more than half of the Vikings’ points in the title game, pouring in 23. The 6-foot-4 junior missed time during the regular season after suffering a chest contusion.
Jaiden Peraza scored eight points in the title game and six-foot-nine forward Gavin Keller scored six.
Enock Sibomana’s journey
Fargo South’s Enock Sibomana’s trek to a commitment to play football at North Dakota State began in a refugee camp.
Sibomana, who is of Burundian descent, was born in Tanzania. He lived in Africa until he was about 7 years old. He came to the United States from the Mtabila refugee camp in Tanzania with his parents and most of his siblings. His older brother, who died in the summer of 2019, stayed, and his brother’s family is still there.
Sibomana rarely gets more than six hours of sleep per night. He works at Walmart while competing in football, basketball, and track to help support his family and send money back to help his brother’s family.
Sibomana is expected to play defensive back or linebacker for the Bison.
Sheyenne’s big spring
Perhaps no local school had a better spring than West Fargo Sheyenne. After having never before won a boys team state championship in any sport previously, the Mustangs claimed two this spring, in baseball and golf. Mimi Gu added a state singles tennis championship to boot.
The Mustangs baseball team ran through Fargo Shanley 11-1 in five innings for the school’s first boys team championship.
The following week, the boys golf team won the state championship, anchored by their depth with a team score of 598, edging out Grand Forks Red River’s 601. Each of Sheyenne’s scoring golfers finished in the top 16.
Gu defeated Mandan’s Elizabeth Felderman 6-4, 6-4 to claim the state singles tennis crown.
The Central Cass softball team continued its Class B softball dynasty, winning its third straight state title and fifth in nine years.
The Squirrels missed their chance to three-peat in 2020 with the season canceled, but they got the job done a year later. They defeated Thompson 4-1 in the championship game.
Peyton Nelson was 2-for-2 with a double and three RBIs for the Squirrels. Aubree Lindstrom won the game in the circle, allowing one run on five hits with seven strikeouts and no walks.
Scott Kost’s Squirrels have won championships in 2013, 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2021.
Davies wins girls state hockey title
The Fargo Davies girls hockey team won its first state title and ended Bismarck’s six-year reign over the sport.
The Eagles won an all-Fargo state championship game over Fargo North-South 3-2 to claim the title. The Spruins had defeated Davies in shootouts each of the previous two matchups.
Kaylie Zimmerman scored the game-winning goal late in the third period. Olivia Opheim and Kaia Johnson scored the other two goals.
Davies defeated the defending-champion Blizzard 6-1 in the semifinal in a rematch of the 2020 championship game.
Anderson dominates the pool
Fargo South-Shanley swimmer Eric Anderson capped off a stellar high school career with two more state championships and then went on to compete at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Anderson won state titles in the 50-meter freestyle in 20.66 seconds and the 100-meter freestyle in a state-record 44.86. The South Dakota State commit won three straight championships in the 50 and four straight in the 100.
Making a statement on the mat
Lisbon maintained its stranglehold on Class B wrestling, winning its fifth consecutive individual team championship, third straight dual championship, and putting two wrestlers on top of the podium.
The Broncos’ dual championship victory over rival South Border was as close as could be. They finished the dual tied 33-33 and were even on every tiebreaker criteria all the way down to tiebreaker criteria F: the team with the fewest forfeits.
Lisbon training partners senior 170-pounder Jordan Sours (31-0) and sophomore 152-pounder Boeden Greenley (33-0) each finished their seasons with state titles and unbeaten records. Sours capped his near-perfect high school career with his fourth state title in his fourth different weight class and Greenley won his second.
Fargo Davies 220-pounder Truman Werremeyer and Fargo South 145-pounder Jacob Thomas each became repeat champions.
The future of girls wrestling looks bright after the North Dakota High School Activities Association voted unanimously to sanction the sport. Just over 50 female wrestlers competed in the non-sanctioned girls state wrestling championship this winter.
Power Five commits
Three area athletes committed to compete at the highest level of college athletics.
Fargo Shanley’s Emmet Kenney will play football at Stanford. Kindred’s Abby Duchscherer will play softball at Alabama and Enderlin’s Joe Hurlburt is set to play basketball at Colorado. Alabama competes in the Southeastern Conference, while Stanford and Colorado are each in the Pac-12.
Kenney caught Stanford’s eye with an unofficial state record 58-yard field goal this fall.
Hurlburt was named the Gatorade North Dakota boys basketball player of the year and was on the Class B all-state team.
Last summer, Duchscherer competed on the Midwest Bombers softball team based in Bloomington, Minn., making the three-plus hour drive back-and-forth for practices.
Deebom’s triple gold
Fargo Davies freshman Cece Deebom burst onto the scene as a three-event champion at the Class A state girls track and field meet.
Deebom won the 100 meters in 11.97 seconds, tying an 11-year Class A state record. She won the 200 with a first-place time of 24.72, and captured first in the 100 hurdles in 14.62 seconds.
She also finished second in the long jump behind teammate Ellen Donat, who won with a leap of 18 feet, 17 1/2 inches.