Hengstler-Ranweiler Award: Honor means a lot for Litchfield’s Stilwell

Hengstler-Ranweiler Award: Honor means a lot for Litchfield's Stilwell

For the first time in 19 years, the Hengstler-Ranweiler Award returns to Litchfield with the honor going to senior athlete Avery Stilwell.

Throughout her varsity career, Stilwell competed in tennis, softball, and hockey. She was a six-year starter and letterwinner for the tennis team. In both hockey and softball, she started and lettered four years.

Stilwell is the first Litchfield athlete to earn the award since Krista Rambow won in 2002. She is the fourth Dragons female in H-R history to earn the achievement.

“That definitely means a lot,” Stilwell said. “Especially after all the time put into it and many, many hours of work.”

In all three sports, Stilwell proved to be a force not to be taken lightly.

In tennis, her favorite sport, Stilwell helped lead the Dragons to four state tournaments, placing second in 2018, third in 2019 and consolation champions in 2017. The Dragons won the Section 2A championship in 2020 for the team’s fourth straight section title. There was no state tournament due to COVID-19 precautions.

As a doubles competitor, Stilwell was a four-time state entrant. She was a Class A state runner-up in 2019 (with Elise Bierbaum) and 2018 (with Shanna Kinny). She took third in 2017 (with Kinny) and sixth in 2016 (with Vaida Behnke).

Individually, Stilwell’s overall record stands at 168-31 and she was ranked within the top five tennis female athletes in Minnesota her junior and senior years.

“The only word I can use to describe this athlete is special,” Litchfield tennis coach Matt Draeger said. “Stilwell has been one of the most dominant outstate tennis players in the history of (Litchfield) high school tennis. Off the court she is one of the most positive kids I’ve ever been around. A phenomenal teammate, she is a relentless worker, she has set the bar and led by example for all other kids in our program on how to work at the game while enjoying every minute of it.”

Stilwell has committed to Division II University of Minnesota-Mankato to play tennis and is planning on majoring in marketing and minoring in creative writing.

“Playing three sports I never really had the opportunity to play tennis all year round,” Stilwell said. “Being able to fully focus on tennis I think it will really give me a chance to hone my skills basically and I can really become an all-around tennis player that I’ve wanted to become. I’m excited about the possibilities with that.”

In softball, as a catcher, Stilwell was a three-time All-Wright County Conference selection in ‘18, ‘19 and ‘21. After being an All-Area honorable mention in 2018, Stilwell was named to the All-Area first team in 2019 and 2021 and was selected to play in the Class AA All-Star Game in 2021.

In 74 career games, Stilwell hit .459 (119 of 259), slugged .795 and had an on-base percentage of .504. She recorded 97 RBI, 45 runs, 28 doubles, 19 home runs and one triple.

“Avery is an extremely talented player,” Litchfield softball coach Luke Braaten said. “She is the one I want up to bat with runners on base. … Her ability to throw out base runners and pick them off has deterred teams from running on us. She is a game changer.”

At goalie for the Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato girls hockey team, Stilwell made All-Wright County all four years and finished her varsity career with 28 wins and a 92% save percentage.

Stilwell finished her junior year as one of the top five goalies in the state and is second in school history in wins.

“Avery was a huge part of our team the past four years,” Dragons girls hockey coach Brett Damerow said. “She played well against some top competition and proved herself with some big wins over the years. Avery is an extremely gifted athlete who will be missed.”

Stilwell explained why she played all three sports throughout her varsity career.

“I’m a very active person, I have a lot of energy throughout the day specifically. So having something all the time to go to and kind of escape from school or stress, it’s such an advantage,” she said. “I’ve played all these sports for a while and I’ve just loved them. It’d be too hard to let one of them go, I’d say, trying to skip it during the school year.”

She explained what helped her transition to be successful in each sport she played.

“I know my teammates and my coaches have played such a great role and what not,” she said. “I would definitely not be where I am today without the teammates and coaches that I’ve had along the way.”

Stilwell now bids adieu to her softball and hockey careers as she prepares to become a tennis athlete at Minnesota State-Mankato.

“(I’m) realizing that I’m probably not going to wear these 2014 softball state tournament shirts anymore, or the random hockey shirts,” Stilwell said. “It’s weird to think that and it makes me sad sometimes.

“I’ll definitely miss it but I’m also super excited for this next chapter. It’ll be fun and it’ll be a great experience.”

Despite her high-school chapter coming to an end, the legacy that has been left behind is sure to be looked upon by current, and future, Litchfield athletes.

“I just want to give back to the community that helped me and supported me,” she said. “It means a lot to have all of the accomplishments that I have and know that people are watching and paying attention and what not.”

Stilwell gave advice to those that may be thinking about playing, or are currently, three-sport athletes.

“Don’t give up, I’d say,” she said. “It’s a lot of work and it’s frustrating, you’ll absolutely get frustrated at times and stressed. But in the long run, it is such an advantage.

“I know, skill-wise, me playing three sports has been a defining factor with how my skills carry over. Like hand-eye coordination, hockey and softball carrying over into tennis, it makes me a real well-rounded athlete.

“I think it makes you a real well-rounded person as well with your characteristics,” Stilwell added. “You’re always put in these tense situations or high-pressure situations and sports will help you teach yourself how you react to that in a way.”

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