When a sports fan thinks of Triple Crowns, thoughts turn to Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle or Secretariat.
A handful of Bismarck athletes, however, chased their own personal Triple Crowns last year and achieved the dream.
The Bismarck Governors won their first state American Baseball championship in 17 years last August to complete a trifecta that began with a Bismarck Demons state high school hockey championship in February and proceeded with a BHS state high school baseball title in May.
Jared Spooner was a major player in two of those state tournaments, winning most valuable player honors in both the state hockey and Legion baseball events.
Spooner added a fourth leg to his run of success. He joined the Bismarck Bobcats last fall and enjoyed a productive rookie year in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) with nine goals and 34 assists. At season's end he was named to the Central Division's all-rookie team. That led to his decison, in May, to sign a letter of intent to enroll at Division I Minnesota State-Mankato.
The state's sports media took notice. Spooner was named the state's top nonschool athlete by the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NDAPSSA). Likewise, the Bismarck Governors were awarded nonschool team honors. For the third time in four years, the Dakota Award went to Fargo native Laura Roesler for her track achievements at the University of Oregon.
Blake Lizotte of the Minot Minotauros was the other finalist in the nonschool athlete voting. Wahpeton's Legion team and the Minotauros were finalists in the non-school team balloting.
Spooner's rookie season in the NAHL began inauspiciously with two goals and three assists through the first six weeks of action. As October gave way to November, Spooner turned the corner, collecting 38 points in his final 43 games. He ran off two seven-game point streaks over the final five months of the season.
Spooner, a 6-foot, 185-pound forward, said skating on the power play ignited his season.
"I was struggling a little bit right away, trying to get a feel for the game," Spooner said. "I want to say the turning point was when Cullen Willox got hurt and I took his power-play spot. I'd been on the power play earlier in the year, but I felt like I wasn't ready. I was ready for the second shot and once I scored it just kind of took off from there."
Moving up from high school to the NAHL was a big step. The next step is the Tier 1 United States Hockey League (USHL), where he expects to put in two seasons at Green Bay before moving on to Mankato. Green Bay plays in the USHL's Eastern Conference. The Fargo Force competes in the Western Conference.
"For now I'm taking it day-by-day. I want to go to Green Bay and have a good year, and get bigger and stronger so I'm ready for the next step," Spooner said. "College hockey has always been a goal of mine and that's within reason. As far as aspirations, I'd like to play in the NHL some day and make a career out of it."
Spooner was contacted by several collegiate hockey programs before choosing Mankato. He said his play in the NAHL's Top Prospects Tournament
at Ann Arbor, Mich., in February probably put him on the radar screen of the Division I hockey programs.
"At Top Prospects I got a few points (3 assists), but what I was really trying to do was play a complete, 200-foot game," he recalled. "Being able to play in my own end, I think, is what got the attention of the (college) scouts."
The Bismarck Governors overcame the disappointment of the previous two summers to win the state AA Legion tournament in Jamestown. In 2012 and 2013 the Governors went into the last two days of the tournament unbeaten, lost twice and failed to make the championship game.
They found themselves in a similar position last summer, losing as one of two unbeaten teams.This time they rallied to win three straight games, take the title and advance to the Central Plains Region tournament at Fargo. Kole Bauer, Logan Krivoruchka and Trent Bohan won Bismarck's final three state tournament games.
Spooner said the victories in hockey and high school baseball proved invaluable when the Governors were confronted with three straight must-win situations.
"Once we got that taste of winning in hockey, the following two seemed to come a little bit more naturally," Spooner said. "We were a little more confident in those pressure situations where we had failed in years before. Winning was contagious in those tournaments. We knew we had the pitching to do it, and we were confident the whole way."
Bismarck won its first two games at the Central Plains Legion tournament last summer before being eliminated with a 2-2 record.
An ability to close fast is the common denominator among the Triple Crown teams. The Demon hockey team won its final eight games, the BHS baseball team closed with 12 victories in a row and the Governors went into the Central Plains with 10 wins in 11 starts.
Governors coach Mike Skytland said the groundwork for postseason success had been laid earlier in the year.
"We had a couple of really good streaks during the year. I think that winning culture throughout the year was the reason we had that really good streak at the end of the year," Skytland said. "The vibe from the players in the dugout and off the field was that they believed they could win every game they went into. They believed they could do the things they needed to do in the game to put them in position to win."
Skytland said that type of confidence was born of experience and a background of success.
"We were so fortunate to have so many kids with leadership qualities and experience that led to that winning culture and attitude," he said.
When faced with a win-or-go-home situation at the state tournament, Skytland said it was an advantage to be able to rely on fresh pitchers rather than tournament-weary arms.
"We were spoiled. We had so many quality arms," Skytland said. "Another unique thing was we had so many different types of pitchers. The teams we faced were facing different styles of pitchers all the time. They were quality pitchers who succeeded in entiredly different ways."
Dalton Feeney (8-1), Bauer (5-1), Krivoruchka (6-2) and Bohan (3-0) led a deep pitching staff that propelled the Governors to a 42-11 record.
Josh Seibel (.448, 7 HR, 53 RBIs), Hunter Walsh (.395, 3 HR, 43 RBIs), Quinn Irey (.374, 1 HR, 29 RBIs), Spooner (.343, 1 HR, 23 RBIs, 52 R) and Bohan (.331, 2 HR, 37 RBIs) were were the big guns in an offense that averaged almost eight runs per game.
Spooner, Irey, Bauer and Brandon Gieszler contributed to all three championships.
Former Fargo South track and cross country standout Laura Roesler wrapped up her collegiate running career at the University of Oregon a year ago by winning the women's 800 meters at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
When the national meet concluded, Roesler left the program the most decorated female track athlete in school history and for the third time in four years she earned the NDAPSSA's Dakota Award.
The award is given to North Dakota natives who excel in sports outside of the state. Roesler, 23, also won the award in 2012 and 2013.
Roesler raced to a time of two minutes, 1.22 seconds to earn the championship in the 800, which completed a season sweep in the event after she won the indoor 800 title earlier in the year.
"I couldn't have gone out any other way, I gave the crowd what they wanted," said Roesler, who won the title on her home track in Eugene, Ore. "It feels good to appreciate them as much as much as they appreciate me."
Roesler, a 17-time All-American, also won the 2014 Bowerman Award, which is track and field's equivalent to the Heisman Trophy given annually to the nation's top male and female track and field athlete.
Since leaving Oregon, Roesler has become a professional runner. She is currently working her way back from an Achilles injury, which kept her out of competitions the past couple of months.