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John's Journal: Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Makes History In Two Girls Sports

After Winning State Volleyball Title, Softball Team Goes To State For First Time

Posted: Friday, June 7, 2024 - 7:13 PM


The Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Knights receive their third-place medals.


RTR's Paisley Thooft, Gabrielle Borresen, Brezlyn Buchert and Laken Baartman.

NORTH MANKATO -- It’s been quite a school year at Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, a high school with an enrollment of 178 students. The campus is in Tyler (population 1,121), a short drive from the South Dakota border.

Last fall, the RTR Knights volleyball team qualified for the state tournament for the first time in recorded history. They came to Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, weren’t fazed by the big barn and the bright lights even one little bit and took home a Class A state championship.

This week, with spring moving into summer, the Knights softball team made more school history by reaching the state softball tournament for the first time. They came in as the No. 4 seed in Class A, defeated fifth seed Moose Lake/Willow River 10-0 in five innings in the quarterfinals, lost to top-seeded New Ulm Cathedral 4-2 in the semifinals, and on Friday they defeated unseeded West Lutheran 12-1 in another five-inning contest.

“We’ve had a good run of kids, really a great run of kids and really good coaches and advisors,” said softball coach Darren Baartman, who also is the school’s activities director.

Russell-Tyler-Ruthton’s one-act play group also went to state this year, as did the speech team.

Over the winter, the RTR boys basketball team played at state, losing to eventual state champ Cherry in the quarterfinals at Target Center. A year earlier, the Knights were Class A state champions, their fourth small-school championship since 2004.

“It's been just teams and kids that have gone and done some really great things,” Baartman said.

A big link between the volleyball and softball teams can be found in four athletes who played on both squads and now have added third-place softball medals to their championship volleyball hardware. Senior Gabrielle Borresen, sophomore Brezlyn Buchert and ninth-graders Paisley Thooft and Laken Baartman were asked about their dual tournament experiences after the win over West Lutheran.

“Definitely from winning state volleyball, we all had the drive to continue going through every sport,” Thooft said. “It can be any sport, but it definitely helped the softball team to reach our goal to come to state.”

The Knights finished the softball season with a sterling record of 24-5. They lost during the regular season to Pipestone, Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian and Wabasso. In the Section 3 playoffs, they had to beat Wabasso twice to advance to state. It’s a safe bet that the volleyball pressure cooker from last fall paid dividends this spring.

“It's an unreal feeling to be here,” said Laken Baartman. “It was tough to get out of our section but just to be at state and the opportunity to end with a win is unreal.”

The Knights pounded out 10 hits on Thursday, with senior pitcher Kya Alderson getting four hits and driving in two runs while striking out 12 and walking one. Laken Baartman had two hits and two RBIs.

“It is a lot different, and it feels really special to be here, especially with a different group of people,” said Buchert. “And even though volleyball was inside and this is outside, it's still a great feeling.”

The players were talking while taking a brief break from posing for photos and receiving congratulations from their fans who made the 113-mile drive to Caswell Park.

“Just like volleyball, we've had a great turnout with our fans and I would just like to thank them for all that they do for us,” Laken Bartman said.

Before long, with a new trophy, more medals and lifelong memories in tow, the Knights headed for home, smiles everywhere you look.

“This was a great way to cap off a fantastic school year for us,” said Darren Baartman.

Postscript: During next week’s Class A girls state golf tournament at Pebble Creek in Becker, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton will be represented by senior Shae O’Leary, junior Jenna Gossen and sophomore Teigyn O’Leary.

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] or [email protected] 

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