The Thunderbolts eye another state run with a historic program

The idea of reaching the state tournament for the South Washington County Thunderbolts has changed from a goal to an expectation with the success of the program each season.

Whether it’s adapted soccer, floor hockey or softball, these coaches and players play with the expectation of reaching the state tournament each year.

The mentality shift is due to the growth of this program over the last five to 10 years and the amount of talent on each team for every season.

“These kids are amazing to work with each day whether it’s practices or games,” said head coach Bruce Fiedler. “It always makes my day when I get to come here and spend time with them throughout the entire school year.”

The District 833’s Thunderbolts Adapted Athletic program was built to give students with cognitive impairment an opportunity to play sports all year long.

Fiedler and Jeff Figlmiller are the head coaches for the three different sports and have seen the formation of all of these programs for the Thunderbolts. Along with the two of them, John Culbertson was a former coach for a number of years and he’s not on the coaching staff for the 2019-20 season.

Fiedler and Figlmiller said the key to the success of this program isn’t the coaches, it’s the players and the dedication they have to become better.

“These kids come in every day wanting to become better and they practice hard,” Figlmiller said. “It’s a joy just being able to see that hard work pay off with wins during the season.”

Along with wins in the regular season, the Thunderbolts reach the state tournament almost every year for all three sports. Last year was a great example of their success.

The Thunderbolts reached the state tournament in adapted soccer, adapted floor hockey and adapted softball with all of them being in the cognitive impairment division. They finished each tournament in championship game and ended each season with second place at state.

“We had a really good season last year,” said Matt Jenkins. “We really want to get first this year at state.”

The chance to win first at state was one of their goals to begin the season and they’ve showed their dominance during the regular season this year. The Thunderbolts capped off a 9-0 season and were automatically qualified to play at the state tournament.

It’s a new rule that’s been placed into the sport that if the team is in the top two of the conference standings, they reach state automatically without playing in the section tournament.

Once again, the Thunderbolts will be playing in another state tournament this fall and hoping to come out with that first-place title.

The key to the success of this team is pretty simple for the coaches and the players.

“We’re like a family and it helps us play better together during games,” said Tyler Tinnucci. “We are friends at school too and we spend a lot of time together during the year.”

Many of these players will play all three sports throughout the school year because they love the sports, but most importantly, they like the people on the team.

The players can begin playing on the team during their seventh-grade year and continue playing until they graduate as seniors. The Thunderbolts have many players that will play all three sports for all six years and that can form strong friendships.

The numbers have always stayed strong for each team each season and Fiedler said that’s due to generations of players within a family. “There are plenty of players that had older brothers and sisters play during their time,” Fiedler said. “Then, these players want to follow those footsteps because they saw how much fun their older siblings had on the team. Otherwise, these players just want to play a sport and this gives them an opportunity to play all-year round.”

After talking to the players, there’s a common theme that they all have a favorite sport during the school year. Ultimately, they love being with each other whether it’s practices or games.

The amount of time spent together really forms that family feeling and those memories are going to last forever for these players. That’s what they love the most as they high-five each other after goals and cheer each other on during each practice and game.

“I always have fun when I’m here,” said Jack Swedahl. “We are having a good season so far and that makes it more fun with everyone.”

The Thunderbolts will look to stay undefeated the rest of this season as they need to win three games to become state champions.

The state tournament will start on Friday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m. at Stillwater High School as the No. 1 seed Thunderbolts will take on the No. 4 seed Dakota United Hawks.

If the Thunderbolts win on Friday night, they will play on Saturday, Nov. 23, at noon at Stillwater High School. If they lose on Friday night, they will play on Saturday at 9 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. in the consolation bracket.

The state championship game will be at 4 p.m. on Saturday, while the third-place game will take place on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

The consolation championship will be at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday. All of the games will take place at Stillwater High School for the state tournament.

“We are ready for state and we want to win it this year,” said Carson Rinnels.