1990 FHS cagers reflect upon state

FAIRMONT – Three seconds … two … one … the scoreboard clock hits zero and the horn sounds.

The 14-year-old boy sprints from his seat at the St. Paul Civic Center, climbs the stairs and heads for the ticket window.

Current Fairmont Cardinal head boys basketball coach Jared Thompson fondly reminisced about his first-ever state tournament postgame experience back in 1990.

“I remember running to the ticket booth directly after Fairmont defeated Mahnomen to be one of the first people in line to buy a ticket for the next game,” Thompson reflected. “There weren’t any advance ticket sales back then, so you had to be on your toes if your team won.”

Now, 24 years after Hall of Fame mentor Ron Hested guided Fairmont to a third-place showing and 20-7 overall record, Thompson and his 2014 version of the Cardinals have earned free courtside seats at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis at 8 p.m. tonight.

“I think I knew from that moment in time that I wanted to be a basketball coach,” said Thompson, whose lineup faces South Central Conference rival St. Peter in the Class AA state quarterfinals tonight. “I got close as a high school player, but it feels great to be going to state as a coach.”

While Thompson and the Cardinals (24-4) likely feel the same euphoria experienced by Ron Hested and his hoopsters nearly a quarter of a century earlier, there are subtle differences in the two Fairmont programs’ pathes to the “Big Show” in the Twin Cities.

“It was a two-class state tournament back then (instead of four), and we were in the Class A that year,” Ron Hested said via a telephone interview from his wintertime residence in Arizona. “We had to win three games in the old District 5 tournament before winning two more in the regional.”

Fairmont tipped off the district playoffs by posting a 70-54 triumph over fellow Hall of Fame coach Randy Taylor’s Martin County West Mavericks before the Cardinals rolled to an 89-70 district semifinal win over Granada-Huntley-East Chain.

The Cardinals then posted a 73-50 victory over Wells-Easton – which is now part of United South Central – in the district championship clash.

Hested’s hoopsters then lit the scoreboard for 88 points in a 15-point margin of victory over Storden-Jeffers – now part of Red Rock Central – before outlasting Maple River in an NBA-style Region 2 championship game, 97-88, to qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 1955.

“While it was exciting to finish third at the state tournament, I think the regional final also was one of the most memorable games of my coaching career,” said Hested. “Our team liked to play an uptempo pace and Maple River liked to run, too, leading to one of the highest-scoring games I’ve ever been a part of.”

Sophomore guard Brad Hested, the youngest of Ron Hested’s three basketball-playing sons, scored 12 points off the bench, while senior point guard Lee Baarts tallied 11 points to guide Fairmont to a 76-47 state quarterfinal win over Mahnomen.

In fact, 12 of the 15 players on the Cardinals’ state roster reached the scoring column, including nine points each from junior forward Dan Engelby and junior guard Cory Kallheim. Senior center Dave Murphy chipped in eight points and a team-best eight rebounds, while senior forward Chris Vasecka and 6-foot-10 junior center Dan Jorgensen each delivered six points.

Junior post player Paul Katzenmeyer tallied five points, senior forwards Chad Lutterman and Paul Schultz chipped in three points each, while junior guard Mike Lueck and sophomore guard Dan Link added two each.

“It seems like a long time ago now,” Kallheim said in reflecting on his state experience during his junior campaign. “It was a three-day whirlwind. We beat Mahnomen by a lot, lost to Mankato Loyola in overtime in the semifinals (75-72), but came back to defeat (Minneapolis) DeLaSalle for third place (72-69).”

Kallheim, Baarts and Brad Hested each scored 15 points during the third-place contest, while Jorgensen led the way with a 20-point performance.

“I think growing up with that group of guys, and then working hard together to finally reach your goal of making the state tournament was very satisfying back then,” said Kallheim, who’s the vice president of legal affairs for LeadingAge, a Twin Cities company that represents nonprofit aging organizations in the metro area. “Having the whole community supporting us was a great feeling, too.”

While Kallheim has not watched the 2013-14 Cardinals play in person, he has kept a close eye on the team’s progress through his hometown newspaper.

“I’ve followed them by reading the Sentinel,” said Kallheim. “After I return from my (business) trip, I’m going to get together with Lueck, Katzenmeyer and (Joel) Sagedahl and head to Williams Arena to watch Fairmont play (tonight).

“After seeing their first-round draw, they don’t have the pressure of playing an unknown, plus they’ve already beaten St. Peter twice, so they should be confident going into the game.”

While Kallheim and his former teammates will get a bird’s-eye view of the Cardinals tonight, Ron Hested and 1990 starting forward Dan Engelby will not be available to be in attendance at Williams Arena, but will be checking KSUM radio’s online broadcast.

“I had the chance to watch them play before Christmas, and they have great athletes with a lot of varsity experience,” said Ron Hested. “My only concern was their lack of overall size, but they have managed to overcome that with tremendous athleticism and balanced scoring.”

Ironically, Engelby, who’s a creative manager in the marketing department at Target Corporation in the Twin Cities, offered some coach-like advice by emailing Thompson a congratulatory note, along with a couple of tips for the current Cardinal cagers in coping with the stress of competing for a state crown.

“Some of the best memories were the send-off events. Coach Hested arranged for us to visit the middle school gym where the whole school was assembled. When we (players) walked in, they cheered and went crazy,” Engelby said in his electronic message. ” … After that, we went to the high school and had a send-off from the horseshoe and a police escort out of town. Again, the excitement for what was happening was amazing.”

Engelby, who donned a mask after breaking his nose during the 1990 playoffs, also jokingly welcomed current senior point guard Mitch Pfingsten to the Cardinals’ broken nose club.

“It doesn’t look like the mask has evolved too much since I wore one at state,” Engelby said with a laugh via a telephone interview.

Now, 24 years later, Pfingsten and his Fairmont teammates will have the chance to make a new break-through in the Cardinal basketball program’s storied history with three more victories.

“Be appreciative of the fans … and be a fan yourself and use every opportunity to cheer for your teammates on and off the floor,” Engelby noted in his email. “Take it all in. Take photos, get memorabilia – it all goes so fast, so take time to enjoy what you are experiencing. Be good sports and take time to talk to other teams.

” … Play your game, play smart and play hard. For you seniors, these are the last games you will play in a Cardinal (basketball) uniform, so play with no regrets.”