While team sports like football, hockey and basketball might receive the most public attention and media coverage, so-called “individual” sports offer their own set of challenges. Still, the term is something of a misnomer.
That’s because when skiers, swimmers or other solo athletes toe the starting line, they feel the presence of people who have coached them along the way with technical tips, advice on the mental game and other insights. Such is the case for each of the St. Croix Valley-area high school athletes profiled here. Read on for your own personal inspiration.
Hudson High School, Track
At 5 feet 10 inches tall, Hudson High School senior Parker Holum is shorter than most high-jumpers, but he’s consistently placed within the top five finishers in Big Rivers Conference meets.
Since his mother, Jami Holum, is a longtime track coach at Hudson, Parker grew up going to meets and began competing himself in eighth grade. Jami Holum, a former high-jumper and distance runner at the University of Minnesota–Morris, was his first coach.
After Parker started competing as a grade-schooler, mother and son began a regular routine of going to the high school track on weekends to “play around” and do some workouts, Holum recalls. In the process, she imparted much of her high-jumping knowledge. She’s proud of the fact that her son has worked hard to overcome the potential disadvantage of being relatively short in a sport usually dominated by long, lanky athletes.
Another important mentor has been Gerry Uchytil, one of his current track coaches, Parker says.
Like all sports, high-jumping also has a mental/psychological component, so Parker’s coaches have counseled him on maintaining the right mindset. “Some days you can’t get loose and you’re struggling to get over the bar,” Parker says. “It’s important to learn from your mistakes, not letting them drag you down, and always work hard, even if you’re having a bad day.”
Stillwater High School, Alpine Skiing
As a sophomore, Maddie Neubauer won her second straight individual conference championship last season and helped her team win its fifth consecutive suburban east conference title.
A varsity skier since seventh grade, Maddie developed a love for the sport early on, enjoying the speed and rhythm of slalom skiing. “It feels like a dance, and I love the speed,” she says.
Her primary skiing role model has been Julia Mancuso, an American ski-racer and Olympic gold medalist. “At the end of the day, first or last place, she just wants to enjoy the sport and have fun doing it. That is something I have always looked up to and admired about her,” Maddie says.
The current Stillwater girls head coach is her father, Kevin Neubauer, who has been her primary mentor. “Being my dad, he is really easy to talk to, so I can ask the dumb questions that others might not ask,” Maddie says. “At home, we constantly talk about things that work and things that I don’t understand, which is nice.”
Hudson High School, Dance
Hudson High School senior Rosa Dunn is going into her third year as a member of the varsity dance team, following in the footsteps of her sister, Emma, who graduated in 2014. The team has a history of success, finishing second in the state in Rosa’s sophomore year and third in her junior year. “We’re a year-round sport, and I love the friends I’ve made,” she says.
Rosa says that participating in a sport like dance team has taught her to balance many different activities and responsibilities. Her schedule includes student council, Peer Helpers program, Youth Action Hudson, prom committee, teaching Sunday school and the religious group Teens Encounter Christ. She’s also a National Honor Society member.
Co-coaches Kristen VanDen Broeke and Heidi Shimon also help Rosa develop a positive mental attitude and “have taught me a lot about work ethic and having confidence in myself,” she says.
Rosa gets a kick out of improving each year, pun intended. “Dance takes a lot more strength than people might think,” and perfecting an extended dance routine can be mentally and physically taxing, she says. But the biggest challenge is overcoming nervousness. “You work all season to perform a routine that takes two minutes,” she says. “But that just makes it more rewarding when you do well.”
Stillwater swimmer Jon Busse, who will be a junior this year, made an auspicious debut two years ago as a freshman, winning a state title—making him the youngest of Stillwater’s five state individual champs.
He’s been a varsity swimmer since seventh grade. As an eighth-grader in the state tournament, he set a Stillwater record time in the 100 yard backstroke. A year later, Busse won a state title in the 100 yard backstroke. Introduced to the sport of swimming by his dad Norman, a former lifeguard, Busse has been a competitive swimmer since age 9 as a member of the St. Croix Swim Club.
One of his key mentors was former Stillwater High School swim coach Elmer “Grandpa” Luke, the father of his current coach, Brian Luke. “What he’s taught me most of all is that swimming is really a mental game, more so than physical. You will have fatigue and pain, but if you get your mind really set to deal with it, you can do amazing things ... Your mind puts limits on yourself. But whatever your mind believes you can do, your body can follow through,” says Busse, who hopes to someday swim in college, preferably at the Division I level.
Stillwater, Nordic Skiing
Josh Albrecht’s earliest and probably most influential coach was his mother, Bonnie Weiskopf. She is a competitive skier who, while at Western State Colorado University, won nine National Collegiate Ski Association titles. His father John Albrecht competed as a speed skater on the U.S. national team in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Josh says his mother is a stickler for learning proper technique, which is the key to performing well: “When she sees a skier with poor technique, she says, ‘They have a lot of potential.’” Stillwater boys coach Torry Kraftson also has been a big help with mental preparation and coming up with a plan to handle terrain challenges, Josh says: “Before a big race, he walks us through the course (verbally), the whole day. He talks to us as if we are doing it on the course.”
At 5-foot-3 (a diminutive height his mom says is due to a congenital growth delay), Josh says his size disadvantage actually has been an advantage, spurring him to work harder to compete with—and often beat—taller skiers. This past season, Josh helped his team take first place in the suburban east conference and second place in the state. In the latter event, he won the 5K classic race and finished second overall as an individual.