It has been a very special run by a very special group of seniors for Warner High School.
Powered by seven seniors, the Monarchs football team won the school’s first-ever Class 9A state champions with a 76-54 win over Deubrook Area.
Six seniors from the volleyball team helped the Monarchs to the top seed in the Class B tournament, falling just short of a third-straight state championship. Warner fell in five sets to Chester in the title match.
“It’s been awesome around here, there’s just been so much energy, the kids are jacked-up, the community is jacked-up, everyone is just really excited,” Warner High School Business Manager Angie Vetter said in the days leading up to the tournament. “The boys are ready to support the girls, just like their girls did in Vermillion for them.”
Local business “all-in” on Monarch support
One example of the type of support both the football and volleyball teams received came from BankNorth at 2 W. Main St. in Warner.
During the Monarchs 76-54 win over Deubrook Area, bank employees put the 9A title game on a TV and watched the game during bank hours.
“We closed our drive-up window, closed our east door and just said to come in through the west door because we were in the conference room watching the game,” BankNorth Customer Service Supervisor Calli Bunke said.
As for Thursday and Friday’s volleyball state tournament matches, Loan Specialist Lindsay Forkel says it will be business as usual.
“Oh, it’s the same plan for volleyball,” Forkel said. “We’ll have a few people here at the bank, with some people going to Rapid. We’ll close the drive-up, close the (east) door. Basically, you’ll have to ring a bell to get in.”
As you would expect, according to Forkel, there probably won’t be too many people around to begin with.
“(Warner) was essentially a ghost town, for football,” Forkel said. “We were here, at our stations, but we were watching football. And we’ll be watching volleyball (on Nov. 16).”
What possibly stands-out the most about these two teams is the fact that not one senior on either squad has ever experienced a loss at home.
Jason Jung, a loan officer, is an assistant football coach and his daughter Jaycee plays for the volleyball team, and believes this current run of success is part of a much longer process.
“It’s not that they’re just teams, they’re programs and these seniors have bought-in to what we’ve been trying to do back when they were eighth-graders and freshmen,” Jung said, “And the Warner community kind of expects (success) and is always there to support those kids. That really shows when we travel. You saw the ‘Sea of Blue’ (Nov. 9) and you’ll see it again (at state volleyball).”
Nilsson family sports calendar very full
Rhonda Nilsson and her husband, Marlin, have two grandsons on the football team, and their niece, Ava Nilsson, plays volleyball. Their son’s girlfriend is also on the team. Between the two sports, the Nilssons don’t miss many games.
“It’s just been so much fun, and the kids are just excited. They just seem to want to do well and show us what they’re capable of,” Rhonda Nilsson said. The couple traveled to Vermillion for the football championship and left Wednesday for Rapid City to watch volleyball.”
“It’s a great time watching, and it’s even more fun having special people to watch.”
Nilsson said there were a lot of people going to Rapid City who don’t even have kids in the sport, but are still going for support and for the spirit of the game.
“I think it’s just the fact that we’re the little town of Warner,” she said. “Everyone’s so excited for these kids because they have done great things. And I just think everybody wants to be in on that fun feeling. Just fun, fun, fun–that’s all I can say.”
Retired teacher and volunteer football coach Doug Griffith said the success has been fun to see.
“It’s nice for the town to see this kind of success,” Griffith said.
While he’s been busy with football and hasn’t been to many volleyball matches this year, Griffith said he knows both teams have put a lot of work into this.
“And any time you put in a lot of time and effort into things, you have success, and that’s what these kids have done,” he said.
Championship football game was physically and emotionally exhausting
Warners championship football game on Nov. 9 was the fifth trip to the DakotaDome in Vermillion since 2012, but the first win.
Warner resident Terry Evans has had two sons play for Warner in championship football games. His youngest, Zachary, is currently a junior.
“It’s a huge deal to go and we’ve been there five times in 11 years,” he said. “To me that’s a huge testament to the program.”
Evans said the atmosphere at the local football games is fun and he’s surrounded by the same families at each game.
“It’s almost like we have season tickets,” Evans said.
Throughout the regular season, Evans said, he sat behind the Mikkelsens and when he found himself near them in the dome he sat behind them one last time. He didn’t want to do anything to jinx the team’s chances for a win.
For him, he said, the championship football game was, “physically and emotionally exhausting.”
With so many highs and lows throughout the game, Evans said, he was on pins and needles throughout the game.
“You just want to see them bring one home,” he said. “The smile on those kids faces after was pretty priceless.”
Looking back at the season, Evans said, it was a, “fairly tale year,” with games for 12 consecutive weekends.
“Still, wow. We’re state champions. And, they’ll always be state champions,” he said.
Evans said he’s amazed at what both the football coach and volleyball coach have accomplished with the Warner programs.
When it comes to the volleyball team, Evans said he wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a serve or spike.
“They’re freaking crazy how good they are,” Evans said of the volleyball team.