Caledonia might have history on it's side, and in 1997 it was magical
By Dugan Thomas
Article archive courtesy of The La Crosse Tribune.
CALEDONIA, MN - 03/10/2014
When I think of Caledonia High School sports, I always think of it's history.
The word history defined by the dictionary. "a continuous, systematic narrative of past events, usually written as a chronological account. The record of past events and times, especially in connection with the human race."
It's an important word.
Caledonia High School sports history...is legendary in my mind.
In 1997, the Caledonia High School boys basketball team was one word. "Magical".
It was a show that lasted all season long. The old high school gym was packed to the rafters, every seat filled, standing room only.
They made it to state for the third year in a row, behind current Austin, Minnesota head-coach Kris Fadness.
6-foot-5 Division-1 recruit Aaron Middendorf could jump out of the gym.
6-foot-7, 240-pound center Andy Foster was a muscle-filled two-handed dunking machine.
6-foot-3 sixth-man Nick King brought energy off the bench, and could light-it-up from behind the arc.
Pete Kittleson was always there for the offensive rebound and put-back. Mike Murphy, Dorian Nelson, Kevin Meiners, and John Hauser all brought energy and defense.
They had a strong bench, all with the ability to come in and contribute, including Korey Moore, Kyle Solberg, Jerrod Klug, Bobby Schieber, Kevin Klug, and current Caledonia assistant-coach Jeremy Leis.
And they had a flashy, lightning-quick point-guard who could hit the pull-up shot from anywhere, and make pin-point passes like Steve Nash. He left Onalaska Luther and came back to his hometown school for his senior year. Current Caledonia boys basketball head-coach Josh Diersen was the best point-guard in southeast Minnesota that year.
They pounded Kenyon-Wanamingo in the Section 1AA title game 69-41. Aaron Middendorf drove the baseline and pounded a two-handed dunk to set the tone. Andy Foster had three dunks and led the team with 27 points. Kenyon-Wanamingo had no chance, and the powerful Caledonia Warriors put them away easily.
The state quarter-final in Rochester was their toughest test, against the formidable Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton squad. Nick King came off the bench and hit two key three-pointers in the second quarter, and finished with 12 points. Aaron Middendorf dominated with 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Josh Diersen had 17 points while dealing-out 8 assists. Andy Foster controlled the middle, chipping in 14 points, and the Warriors pulled out the 71-66 win.
The state semi-final at the old St. Paul Civic Center was the location of the most amazing Caledonia sports highlight I've ever seen. The place erupted in an instant, and that was the first five-seconds of the game against the (26-1) Albany Huskies.
Big center Andy Foster was able to get a clean tip to point-guard Josh Diersen, who wasted no time pushing the ball down the left side. Just outside the 3-point arc, he pin-pointed the most beautiful alley-oop pass to Aaron Middendorf, who took off like a rocket to the basket down the right side. The two-handed thunderous dunk sent shock waves through the Albany players, and sent the Caledonia faithful into hysteria.
That play will forever be ingrained in my head. I haven't seen it in 17 years, and I can still picture it perfectly in my head. The tip, the pass, the dunk, the Caledonia grandstand explosion.
Caledonia's press forced 18 turnovers, and they steamrolled to a 42-16 halftime lead. Aaron Middendorf showcased why he was one of the best players in the state. He took over the game with 3 three-pointers and 22 points, while Andy Foster cleaned-up with 16 points and 10 rebounds. The 65-44 win catapulted Caledonia to it's first ever state championship game.
The 1997 Class AA state championship game was, and will always be to Caledonia fans, that one word..."magical".
The Caledonia full-court press created endless turnovers, and they out-runned and gunned De La Salle to take a commanding 16-0 lead early. They continued shooting the lights out, and caused havoc on the defensive side of the court. The lead was 29-4 at one point in the first-half.
Aaron Middendorf's 45-point performance is stilled talked about, as one of the best ever in the history of the MSHSL Boys Basketball State Championship Tournament. He was unconscious, as they say in basketball terminology. He hit 18 of 30 field-goal attempts, 6-for-9 from three-point range, and had a team-high 9 rebounds.
De La Salle finally regained their composer and kept it within 20, but Aaron Middendorf and the Caledonia defense was too much. They never got close, as the Warriors forced 18 turnovers in the game, and won the state title game easily 69-47. Aaron Middendorf, Andy Foster, Josh Diersen, and Nick King all made the Class AA All-Tournament team.
Caledonia finished the year out with a perfect 29-0 record, and there were many in the state who thought Caledonia could go toe-to-toe with the vaunted Khalid El-Amin led AAAA Minneapolis North team.
Who was the best overall basketball team in the state in 1997?
To Warrior fans that remember that magical run, there's only one.
The Warriors should have a chip on their shoulder, and there's a good reason why
The 27-2 Caledonia Warriors have the best record of all 8 teams in the Class AA state tournament this year, but the Warriors received the #4 seed from the coaches committee.
The 23-6 Annandale Cardinals received the #1 seed. Annandale lost to the Chatfield Gophers in their own tournament on December 28th, 61-60.
Caledonia beat Chatfield 73-63 at home, then again in Chatfield on February 6th, 75-57.
Caledonia only cracked the Minnesota Basketball News Top-Ten Poll on February 5th, ranked #8 with an 18-1 record.
The Warriors were left off the final Minnesota Basketball News Poll on February 26th, with a 25-2 record.
It's clear that everyone with the Minnesota Basketball News thought Caledonia couldn't beat Plainview-Elgin-Millville or Byron.
The Warriors were clearly the better team in both Section 1 games, beating P-E-M 96-63, and Byron 59-44.
If I were the Caledonia Basketball Team, I'd keep that chip on the shoulder, and get the eye of the tiger this week. Momentum is huge in high school sports, and the Warriors are riding a ton of it coming off the last six games.
As a Caledonia sports fan, I can see Kris Fadness taught Josh Diersen well. I can see the similarities in the full court press from 1997 to 2014. Both teams had length and quickness, and could turn turnovers into quick scores.
Sophomore Colton Lampert might be the quickest player on the court with the ball in his hands, and he's fearless when he's on the break to the basket, averaging 12.2 points per game.
6' 3" senior Josh Nord has the long arms to take advantage of the press, and has been lights-out behind the three-point arc this year, averaging 11.7 points per game.
Junior guard Austin Bauer (11.1 PPG) can stop-and-pop from three, or drive the lane to the hoop. If he does, you better guard the baseline, because the high-flying West Spier might dunk one in your face like he did to P-E-M in the sub-section final. Spier (12.1 PPG) has also developed a nice low-post game this year, and has multiple moves in his repertoire.
6' 7" junior Kyle Sorenson doesn't have the bulk of Andy Foster, but Foster didn't have Sorenson's inside-outside game. You better stay on him at the top of the key, or he'll drain the three. Kyle leads the team with 14.9 points and 9 rebounds a game, and you better box him out down low. He has the length to compete for those offensive rebounds, and if he gets it, it's usually a lay-up, or he'll be at the line.
8th-grader Owen King chips in 8 points per game, and he's hit 58 three-pointers this year. If he can get that deadeye shot going, he can score in bunches and ignite the Caledonia fan base.
Seth Twite is a versatile athletic junior guard who can do it all, and 6' 4" junior forward Justin Burg battles hard down low and rebounds well. Three sophomore's who can be relied on in a pinch, are Tanner Gran and Gavin Schroeder, with Hunter Hoscheit who passes well for a big man. This Caledonia squad is deep, and they've proven that foul trouble doesn't hurt them one bit.
The one thing that Caledonia has on it's side going into the state tournament is tournament experience. Maybe not in basketball, but the bulk of the team are Caledonia football players. Caledonia Football has what I call controlled confidence. I see it every year. Caledonia Football has that winning confidence, even to the last play against Chatfield this year. That team did not believe they were going to lose, and competed 100 percent to the end, giving everything they had.
I believe this Caledonia basketball team is the best in Minnesota Class AA, and if they get that controlled confidence, that eye of the tiger, that 1997 swagger...there's nothing that can stop them.