Crowning one male and one female as Fall Sports Athletes of the Year was no easy task. The early sports slate was filled with historic performances and team success. The North Dakota State College of Science football team started 8-0 for the first time since 1997 and the Wildcats volleyball team earned a trip to nationals. Breckenridge football made an improbable run to the section championship and Wahpeton football completely turned its program around. Breckenridge volleyball reached the state tournament for the first time in 41 years. From swimming to golf, the Twin Towns Area watched local sports records change hands on pretty much every playing field.

Ultimately, Caden Kappes and Camryn Kaehler broke away from the pack to earn the inaugural awards and elevate their respective programs to new heights.

Kappes, a junior three-sport athlete, became Wahpeton’s Randy Moss with a 19-touchdown receiving season that included four separate games with three TD catches. He set new Wahpeton High School records in receiving yards (879) and touchdowns, while finishing third in the EDC in tackles (74.5) despite sitting out one game on defense. Kappes earned his second selection to the North Dakota 11A All-State Team. All of this follows a summer where Kappes won a Class A State Baseball Championship as the shortstop for Wahpeton Post 20.

“A two-year all-state wide receiver coming back is unprecedented. You just don’t get that,” Huskies Head Football Coach Wade Gilbertson said. “He’s going to anchor both sides of the ball for us next season. To be honest, he might even get more touches on the offensive side. We’re going to find new and inventive ways to get him the football.”

Yikes, that’s bad news for an Eastern Dakota Conference that had no business defending Kappes through the air. His high-point, toe-tap catches in the end zone provided explosive highlights for the Huskies, but his leadership made him a perfect choice for Athlete of the Year.

“He leads by example for us. Our entire football team follows him based on what he does every single day and how he goes about his business,” Gilbertson said. “He’s helped us raise our level of expectation. I expect us to come into next season excited because we have one of the best players in the state at all levels.”

Kappes relishes his leadership role as a keeper of the culture.

“I would consider myself a leader. I like to lead by example at practice and games,” Kappes said. “Coaches trust in me to play multiple positions. I try to teach and help underclassmen if I notice they’re doing something wrong or if they ask me a question.”

Switching gears to the volleyball court, Kaehler was equally unstoppable in her arena. The 5’10” outside hitter broke Breckenridge records for season kills (426) and career kills (1,022). Kaehler was an unselfish superstar, never reaching the school record of 25 kills in a single match, often sliding back to lead the serve-receive effort and allowing other attackers to get involved during Breckenridge’s 30-4 season. Kaehler launched missiles at opposing liberos, earning her the nickname “Killer” during the Cowgirls’ winningest season ever.

“This sport has always meant so much to me. The competitiveness and energy that it brings is so much fun. The best feeling ever is the adrenaline when the game is intense,” Kaehler said. “I love the feeling of winning those close games and I love doing it with my teammates. I enjoy volleyball the most because of the people I play with. I wouldn’t have as much fun without them.”

Kaehler is a three-time Heart O’ Lakes All-Conference selection and became the school’s first Minnesota All-State selection since 1979. What makes Kaehler’s kill numbers even more impressive is the fact that Breckenridge played the cream of the crop in schools like Barnesville, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Hawley and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.

The Cowgirls had no sugar cookie losses on their schedule, falling to Hawley, Bethlehem Academy and Legacy Christian Academy, who all finished top five at state. Their only other defeat came to Section 6AA runner-up Pequot Lakes, who finished 10th-ranked in Class 2A with a 24-7 record.

“I have so many favorite volleyball memories from the last two years. Beating Barnesville last year to be HOL champs and of course winning the section championship this year against BBE will always be two huge moments that I could never forget,” Kaehler said. “Besides the awesome games we’ve had, a lot of my favorite memories come from the daily practices and bus rides. I love being weird and goofy with my teammates. I will always remember our inside jokes and weird sayings we came up with.”

Kaehler and Kappes will both hit the hardwood as key pieces to their basketball programs. The Cowgirls finished 12-7 last year and dropped down to Class 1A this season, where they have a real shot at making a deep run. Kaehler’s older sister, Ashtyn, will be her assistant coach and her younger sister, Katlyn, may push for varsity playing time.

“It would be awesome if our basketball season is just as successful as our volleyball season. I think our team has potential and it will be a fun year. I’m excited to possibly play with my younger sister and to have my older sister as a coach. Outside of volleyball, my family is definitely the most important to me. I love my sisters,” Kaehler said.

Wahpeton surprised the EDC with a 13-11 season and returns several players alongside Kappes, a defensive dynamo whose ability to turn the corner to the rim on offense figures to be improved this season.

It’s no secret that offensive linemen often get snubbed in the media, but Kappes made it clear, the credit for his insane receiving numbers goes to the big boys up front and the rest of Wahpeton’s tight-knit football team.

“Sometimes I’m so locked in that it just feels like I did my job. The best part about catching a touchdown is when our offensive line is the first one down to lift me up and celebrate,” Kappes said. “Anytime you break a record, it’s a good feeling. It’s an honor to hold a record knowing all the great players who have played before you. Even though I have some of those records, I couldn’t have done it without our offensive line, Blake (Schafer) at quarterback, my fellow receiving corps and our coaches putting their trust in me.”

It takes a village to develop into the best volleyball player in Breckenridge history, so Kaehler had plenty of people to thank along the way as well.

“I’ve had so many amazing coaches that shaped me into the player I am today. Sue Smith taught me the fundamentals of volleyball, and during junior olympics, Alicia Finkral and Rizzi Heger were always so encouraging and pushed me to be aggressive and play confidently,” Kaehler said. “And of course, Coach (Margaret) Wilson and the assisting staff developed my volleyball skills even further. They saw potential in me as a freshman and pushed me for four years so that I could achieve great things. I appreciate every coach that I’ve had and everything they have taught me.”

Kaehler is considering playing college volleyball, but remains undecided. On the football field, Kappes looks up to his older cousin, Dayton Bird, Wahpeton Huskies/NDSU Bison legend Ryan Smith and many skill players at the college and professional levels. He, too, remains undecided on his sports future.

“I’ve had a few schools show some interest in me in baseball and football. I’m going to continue to work hard in the classroom and on the field and see where it takes me,” Kappes said.

Thank you to Life Fitness Pros for sponsoring our coverage of Male Athlete of the Year and to the Daily News readers and viewers for making the fall awards season a success.

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