Editor's note: In this series, the Grand Forks Herald's veteran sports staff ranks their top five memorable moments. Herald sports reporter Greg DeVillers continues his list with this No. 4 memorable moment.
Sports were at a virtual standstill in the spring of 1997 in Greater Grand Forks, brought to a halt by the flooding of the Red River.
The cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were evacuated. Citizens were scattered across the country, uncertain of what the conditions of their homes and businesses would be when they were allowed to return.
Amidst all of the chaos and the unknowns, Grand Forks Central High School somehow managed to not only field a girls soccer team, but win a state championship.
Central went 8-1-2 that season, beating Bismarck St. Mary’s 2-1 in the state tournament championship game. It was the program’s first, and only, state championship.
“You win a state championship and it’s the best feeling,’’ said Jessica Bina in 2017, the 20th anniversary of the championship. “But I think it meant even more to us, just because of everything we had to go through.’’
Bina, a senior on that team, was relocated to Jamestown during the flood. Kelly Ford Wilber was in Devils Lake. Other players were located elsewhere.
Approximately half the players on that team lived away from the river at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Players’ parents started calling around to see how everybody was. When it was discovered that there were enough players living within a reasonable distance to field a team, the process was set in motion.
Practices were set up on facilities at the air base. No school uniforms were available, so the team wore blue-and-white uniforms provided by the air base.
Central, playing Saturday regular-season doubleheaders, took a 5-1-2 record to the state tournament in Bismarck. The players wore the Central uniform at the state tournament -- Central boys soccer uniforms that then-coach Edgar Orgeton had found.
Central beat Jamestown 5-0 in the state quarterfinals as Ford and Jessica Rausch scored two goals each and Nicole Whitehead added one.
Bina -- playing goalie because Central’s expected regular goalie couldn’t be found that season -- had six saves in goal in the quarterfinal win. She registered her eighth shutout of the season with nine saves in a 1-0 semifinal win against Fargo South. Stacy Hallgren scored the lone goal.
In the championship, Hallgren broke a scoreless battle with a goal off a Rausch pass early in the second period. St. Mary’s drew even when Stacey Hintz scored on a 2-on-1 breakaway with eight minutes remaining.
But, with 56 seconds remaining, Rausch again assisted as Hallgren scored the tiebreaker with the first header goal of her career. Bina finished with 10 saves. Central’s stingy defense allowed only seven goals all season.
“I’m more proud now of what we did than I was 20 years ago,’’ Wilber said in 2017. “We had so many factors working against us. But we stuck together. It’s pretty crazy how it played out.’’