The quick sprint for the Comets into their locker room was done underneath a scoreboard that showed a 22-20 halftime lead for the Comets. Tough defense earned Hillcrest the lead, but the Rothsay Tigers showed the Comets they were there to play, sticking out their own defensive stands to hold the Comets to 22 points behind an athletic effort that locked down the Comet post game with a solid zone defense.
Hillcrest has been in the top two places the past five years for the overall competition, usually holding the trophy for the Founders award. The founders award celebrates the best and most innovative design of the robot in the competition field. Hillcrest is most often the team with the target on their back, consistently coming up with the most creative and innovative designs.
The snow surrounding Hillcrest's sand volleyball court looked like a massacre of snowmen. Gloves, hats, and jackets darted the hillside. Students from South Korea joined friends from Minnesota and North Dakota in shedding winter gear Sunday night on Hillcrest's broomball court.
Gregg Preston looked to his team and asked them how they'd like to finish the game. A call from one player to take the one shot with the remaining minute on the clock was agreed upon by the team. Then, another team member said, "let's go after it". The Comets looked at each other and agreed. Gabe Preston looked down the bench to see Freshman Micah Foss who was entering the game. Reaching down the line of players, Preston said, "Don't be afraid to shoot."
“The children were running through sewage rivers and dirty streets and they didn’t have even half the clothes they needed,” Elise smiles as she retells scenes from memories of Costa Rica. “But, they were still so happy to just be together and to be with us.” She freely shares about a place that seemingly holds her heart, remembering the impact her family was able to make through Christ.
School activities continued in Hillcrest's empty halls over the Christmas vacation. Four days after Hillcrest students boarded flights from the dormitories a handful of Comets lumbered into vans at 7am for the first knowledgebowl meet of the season in Concordia.
15 of Hillcrest's 27 first half points were put on the board from behind the arc. The Comet's shot 42% from three-point land on the night, and Gabe Preston was the main contributor.
Former Comets are liking the throwback look of the games Hillcrest is battling out on the court lately. In their home opener, the Comets smothered Brandon-Evansville, going on a 19-5 run to open the game as the athletic Chargers went to the bench in timeout after timeout to figure out how to break the Comets' defense. The second half held a different story for the Chargers.
With a new five standing around the circle at tip-off, some have positioned Hillcrest in a rebuilding year. Center Sander Frustol spent a majority of last season on the bench injured. Zak Zwiers and Eric Konynenbelt didn't see a lot of varsity minutes with the Comets stellar senior class last season. However, Hillcrest showed commitment to Preston's defense-first scheme, and it opened the game up for them early.
With the momentum from the defensive side, Hillcrest smoothly transitioned their upbeat energy to their offense, where Hillcrest provides a tough high-low look with Olivia Foss and Anna Murray. Throughout the night, Foss would take the ball at the elbow and dart to the basket. Murray would trail, ready to pick up what Foss wasn't able to put away. The two combined for 24 of Hillcrest's 38 points.
With the smallest group the club has had to date, and facing the stiffest competition ever at the BISON BEST competition, Hillcrest's robotics club took home the first place trophy after the two day competition.
"You don't have to be taught to be afraid of the dark," Heidi Konynenbelt, a Hillcrest board member and the Christmas banquet speaker said as she gave context to Hillcrest's banquet theme Light of the World.
Hillcrest has reformed a lot of their time-tested practices over the past ten years. One specific enhancement is the number of staff working in the dormitory. The school has encountered various studies that show students need anywhere from 4 to 8 meaningful adult supporters in their life. In response, Hillcrest ramped up the number of dorm staff and the type of training the staff go through. There are now 14 adults who work in the dormitory. In chapel on Friday students heard the power a meaningful adult has on a growing student.
The first time we met she was coming off of a long yellow school bus. Her lightly tinted strawberry blonde hair fell gently on her small black backpack. Surrounding her were a virtual forest of tall blonde Norwegian classmates who were now crowding in a circle in the parking lot behind the Hillcrest castle. The huddle broke, and she slowly moved down the line of Hillcrest students, who were eagerly greeting their new Norwegian classmates. She introduced herself to each one, reaching out a hand of greeting with a smile plastered to her face. I immediately recognized her name.
Flames danced in the glass pebbles of the fireplace in Hillcrest Lutheran Academy's Student Union while Christmas music rang out over the speakers. The entire student body blew in from the frosty Hillcrest campus on Wednesday, stomping cold feet and breathing into cupped hands to warm themselves. The students swarmed around a photo area to have pictures taken with their friends, pictures that would be printed to be placed inside boxes that read "Operation Christmas Child" as students participated in packing boxes for children in need.
There is nature in China, but according to Tracy Ding, a Chinese student attending Hillcrest this year, few enjoy it. So when Principal Isaac gave his pitch for his hiking club, one of six clubs added to Hillcrest's list of five from last year, Ding jumped at the opportunity and has not been disappointed.
Mayor Ben Schierer drew smiles and laughter, giving students a sense of confidence as he brought a greeting from City Hall to Hillcrest students Monday. In his personable presentation he had the Norwegian students leaning forward, students from Africa thinking to their Christmas traditions, and a host of local students brimming with pride.
Minute by minute the sky lightens, revealing tall prairie grasses bowing under silver frost. Empty milkweed pods with beards of snow-white seeds huddle companionably next to the skeletons of black-eyed susans. Faces among the crowd of Hillcrest students are now recognizable in the yellow light of day. The musicians are not alone but joined by dozens of teenagers who rose in the dark to greet the day with worship. They join all creation to praise the Creator in this perfect setting to begin the Lord’s Day.
Students shuffled between rows of chairs to circled groups Wednesday morning at Hillcrest. The groups were a small sample of the Hillcrest community. A junior high student sat amidst a student from Norway, one of Asia, and a handful of friends from the United States. There were over 16 groups meeting, led by a student from the senior class who would usher in the purpose of their gathering.
He cut his first teeth on the reins of his dad’s horse, wedged snugly between him and and the saddle’s pommel. Wyatt was on a horse before he could walk.
This is Wyatt Gilbertson’s third year at Hillcrest where he is a freshman. He sits quietly across the table from me now, blue eyes down, camo cap pulled low on his forehead. As soon as we start talking about the Minnesota State Fair, where he competed two weekends of last month, his face lights up. He talks of qualifying for two separate riding classes with two different horses and having to choose. He decides to take Ace, a 12 year old quarter-horse gelding down to St. Paul to compete at the state level. He tells of countless hours spent training for three minutes in the ring. Wyatt shows me the pattern he needed to memorize for the course which involved a bridge, a gate, and navigating narrow paths between parallel poles laid out on the ground. The horse must not nick the wood with his hooves. He must begin on a certain foot, pivot on a certain foot, move in very specific ways. Points are deducted for the smallest mistake. And they have just 3 minutes to complete the course. Ace has been trained to respond to the slightest shift of Wyatt’s weight, the least pressure from his knees or heels. Horse and rider must be in absolute sync and this does not happen without a lot of hard work.
Wyatt’s riding teacher, whose tutelage he’s been under since first grade, insists that four phrases never be used in response to his instruction or correction:
Wyatt pulls out his phone and shows me the video of his best ride, pointing out the significance of every intricate move, like an artist describing his favorite painting. Wyatt’s face is flushed and he smiles and laughs easily as we talk. Wyatt recalls the first time he met Ace. Ace was a young horse--unruly and willful. Wyatt was just a little boy and had to carry a whip with him when he was near Ace because the horse had a propensity to lunge and kick or bite. An accident a couple years later left Ace blind in one eye and it changed his demeanor. Instead of becoming more difficult and fearful, he became more mellow. Wyatt and Ace’s relationship also changed. Ace learned to trust his human and to work with him. In competition, no one in the arena knows what is going on behind the scenes. No one is aware that, with just one eye, Ace only has 50% of his field of vision. Half of his world is in total darkness. The horse needs Wyatt to “tell him” where the obstacles lie and he must trust him completely. There is leadership that Wyatt must provide. There is respect between rider and beast. Together they execute a wordless dance. Wyatt directs, Ace responds. Their first trip to State, they take 8th place.
The following weekend, Wyatt brings his two Australian Shepherd dogs; Kodie, a 9 year-old veteran of 5 consecutive trips to State, and an 11 month old puppy named Kacie to the show ring. Kodie completes a flawless performance a fraction of a second behind a tough competitor and is awarded Reserve Champion. And then Kacie goes on to wow everyone in her novice classes, placing 5th out of 16 in Beginner Obedience and 8th out of 19 in Pre-Novice Rally--pretty impressive for a pup! Wyatt attributes their success to the strong bond they share. Kacie adores Wyatt and never takes her eyes off him while working or playing. He is looking forward to the years ahead they’ll have to work together.
Wyatt’s favorite Bible verse is Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus does for us what we could not do for ourselves when we did not deserve it. Likewise, in Wyatt’s work with animals he is able to do with/for them what they could never do without him. And the result is a beautiful picture of humility and trust, something we can all learn from.