International Falls goaltender Macey Marcotte never experienced a hockey victory last season. Minnetonka quarterback Luke Tollefson suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of an 0-9 season last fall. And Mankato East eighth-grader Isaiah Anderson finished last at the Class 2A cross-country meet in Northfield.

Yet the three personify a kind of dignity found beyond scores and times. Here are their stories:

Finding the positives

On what would be the final option carry of Tollefson's abbreviated football season, the Skippers quarterback planted his right leg to avoid a St. Michael-Albertville tackler just as a second defender crashed into him unseen from the right.

Tollefson's right leg tingled as he lay on Minnetonka's turf field, where the medical staff set his partially dislocated kneecap. Later learning of his torn ACL, MCL and meniscus confirmed what Tollefson knew right away: His senior season, not quite six quarters old, was over.

A team captain, Tollefson told teammates in the locker room at halftime, "We still got this." Then he was off to the hospital.

"I got carted off the field in front of the home stands," Tollefson said. "Fans were cheering for me and that was the toughest past — knowing this was my last moment."

On the field, anyway. Tollefson missed two weeks of school after surgery but never missed a game. The inspiration and motivation he sought to provide was reflected back to him as the Skippers battled throughout a winless season, losing five games by seven points or fewer.

"Losing every week is tough," said Tollefson, whose twin brother, Sandler, ranked among the team's top tacklers. "You could see it on the faces of the guys. They were kind of destroyed. But they kept showing up, giving it their all. It was still a mostly positive experience."

An unexpected success came during Tollefson's recovery process. An aspiring orthopedic surgeon, Tollefson has shadowed his surgeon to learn more about the profession.

"I didn't want this to happen," he said. "But I feel I made the most out of it I could."

Success by sticking it out

A father-daughter hockey state tournament adventure for Marcotte, a goaltender, and her father, Glen, provided a positive postscript to a trying season.

The pair took their Xcel Energy Center seats for the Class 1A title game near Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's fans. They cheered for the Lumberjacks team that had ended the Broncos' 0-20-1 season.

The praise was reciprocated.

"They saw our team jackets and they said, 'That goalie is so good,' " Macey said.

Those fans weren't aware it was Marcotte who had stopped all but three of C-E-C's 72 shots in a 3-0 playoff loss. Marcotte faced scores of shots all season and didn't take any at her teammates.

"We knew it was a rebuilding year, and we had girls that had recently switched from figure skating or basketball," Marcotte said. "I knew about five games in that we probably wouldn't win a game."

Marcotte snapped only once, during a lackluster game at Crookston.

"After the second period, I said, 'We might as well get undressed,' " Marcotte said. "I regretted it after I said it. But that helped me think before I said things and just focus on congratulating the girls for the little things."

A mid-January 3-3 tie at home against Prairie Centre was the season's apex. Down 2-0, the Broncos rallied to force overtime. Marcotte drew cheers for thwarting an overtime breakaway by diving to poke-check a puck away.

"We said all season that not every success will show up on the scoreboard," Marcotte said. "Every year, one or two girls quit because of playing time or something. But this year, everyone stuck it out. That shows a lot."

Last place and learning

Anderson, a rare eighth-grader at the cross-country state meet, readied for the 5,000-meter event confident he would finish.

He didn't know then that he would finish last, the caboose of the first Cougars team in a decade to advance to state.

"When I looked at the results, I said, 'Oh well, it doesn't really matter that much,' " Anderson said. "It was worth it to be with the team, to learn the course and what the environment was like."

Anderson, a Prairie Winds Middle School student, progressed as the season went along. Once the Cougars' No. 8 runner, he ran a personal best time at the Big 9 Conference meet and earned a spot as the team's seventh runner for the Section 2 race.

The state meet was only his third varsity race. One of only seven eighth-graders in the field, Anderson recalled the fast pace at which the overall group of 176 runners shot from the starting line. He remembers not settling into his groove until about the 1½-mile mark.

"We told him before the race, 'Just go get a number on the board,' " Cougars coach Chris Ward said. "We wanted him to just get out there and experience it so that he could come back with bigger dreams."

Anderson crossed the finish line in 18 minutes, 35.2 seconds. But he made it. Two other runners dropped out.

"I was telling myself, 'Just don't give up,' " Anderson said.

Near the finish line, senior Jett Oachs, the Cougars' top finisher in 23rd place, praised Anderson's effort and encouraged him to look forward to better races ahead.