“I needed a break from basketball after my sophomore year at Bethel,” he recalled. “I was a little burned out.” As the season went on, Chris felt something missing from his life and realized he missed playing basketball. The competitive juices brought him back to the court and he decided to rejoin the team last year.
Chris enjoyed personal success, as he was named MIAC Sixth Man of the Year, and had the satisfaction of helping the Royals to a second place finish in the regular season and in the MIAC Playoffs. This year, Chris has emerged as Bethel’s leading scorer.
“As a fifth-year senior, Chris Vavra brings to our program a confidence and fiery competitive spirit that is contagious,” stated coach, Jeff Westlund. “He has the heart of a winner. As he wraps up his senior season, the marks he leaves on our program are of someone who has worked tirelessly to improve his game to become a multidimensional scorer and an exceptional on-the-ball and help defender along with growing as a man and leader. His intense and focused individual skill work dramatically improved his game.”
Chris was raised on a farm outside of Cambridge, where his family grows corn and soybeans. He grew up in an athletic household. “My dad played football at North Dakota State and mom was a swimmer and cheerleader in high school,” he stated. “My sister, Annie, played basketball and swam in high school. She is a junior at Bethel and is an athletic trainer. My brothers are athletic, too. David is a sophomore at Bethel and is on the football team. He also played basketball in high school. Erik is a junior in high school and plays football and basketball.”
Their farm is in the Cambridge School District, and Chris attended Cambridge High through his sophomore year. For his junior and senior years, he took advantage of Minnesota’s open enrollment and attended high school in nearby Braham. “My decision was mostly because of Braham’s success in basketball,” he said. “I played there with Isaiah and Noah Dahlman, who are now playing Division I, among others.”
At Cambridge High, Chris was a running back and cornerback on the freshman football team and played both positions on the sophomore team the following year. That season, he also dressed for some varsity games. On the basketball court, Chris was a shooting guard, starting on the JV as a ninth-grader and splitting time between the JV and varsity his sophomore year.
After transferring to Braham, Chris did not play football his junior year but started at running back and cornerback his senior year. He earned All-Conference honors as he helped the Bombers reach the Class 2A state tourney, where they lost to BOLD in the quarterfinals.
As a senior, Chris decided to join the golf team. “Two friends of mine were on the team and they talked me into trying it,” he said. “I had nothing else to do, so I decided to try.” He did well for a novice, earning All-Conference honors.
While in high school, Chris attended summer basketball camps at Bethel. “My mom is a Bethel grad and an aunt of mine teaches here, so there has always been a family connection,” he said.
Most of the Division III schools in the Upper Midwest, as well as some Division II schools recruited Chris as he was coming out of high school. He mainly looked at Saint John’s and Bethel and ultimately chose to become a Royal. “I was familiar with campus and the school,” he stated. “I also liked the Christian atmosphere on campus.”
In his first year at Bethel, Chris split time between the JV and varsity. He saw limited action in 10 games, averaging 1.3 points a game, as the Royals finished 10-10 in MIAC play. They advanced to the MIAC Playoffs but were beaten in the opening round by Gustavus, 73-49.
Chris played in all 26 games as a sophomore, averaging 5.7 points a game. He ranked 11th in the MIAC in three-point shooting, connecting 39.3% of his treys. Bethel improved to 13-7 in league play and a third place finish. They were upended by St. Olaf, 81-79, in overtime in the opening round of the MIAC Playoffs to close the season 18-8.
By the end of the season, Chris was beginning to feel drained by the game he grew up loving. That feeling led him to make the decision not to play ball in the 2007-08 season. However, as that season went on, he began to have second thoughts about his choice. He missed playing and the camaraderie with his friends on the team. In the spring, he had discussions with Coach Westlund and the rest of the Bethel coaching staff, and they welcomed him back to the team for the 2008-09 season.
He traveled with the team in the summer of 2008 on a two-week trip to Sweden and Norway. “It was great. We spent about half the time in Oslo and half in Stockholm,” he said. “We played eight games and did a lot of sightseeing as well.”
That season, Chris had a remarkable year, averaging 12.3 points a game and emerging as Bethel’s fourth- leading scorer. He helped the Royals to a tie for second place in the MIAC, ranking among the league leaders in three-pointers made. Chris and the Royals defeated Augsburg 70-59 to reach the title game of the MIAC Playoffs, but lost to St. Thomas, 68-51, to end the season with a 20-7 overall record. The MIAC coaches recognized Chris’ contributions to the team’s success and voted him MIAC Sixth Man of the Year.
Chris is majoring in Physical Education and Health, and will graduate in May. He has spent much of the fall semester student teaching at Maple Grove Junior High and will do more student teaching in the spring.
He plans to continue as a teacher after graduating. “I’d prefer to find a job in a smaller town, someplace like Cambridge,” he said. “Something in the area back home would be nice.”
The summer will be a busy time for Chris, as he will be getting married to Justie Krueger. “She is a Bethel grad, class of 2009,” he said. “She is teaching kindergarten in Minneapolis this year. We met in an Education class.”
Coach Westlund is proud of what Chris has accomplished on the court, and is equally proud of what he has done off the court. “Chris pursued the challenge of learning how to lead. His leadership shows in how he connects with our guys on a personal level while also pushing them to be great competitors and players. Leaders always show up and this is the legacy Chris leaves with us."
[Photos are courtesy of the Bethel University Sports Information office.]
<em>The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.
This feature will be included in the "Profiles of Excellence 2009-2010" book which will be available for order at <a href="http://www.rdmpublishing.com/products/book08.html">RDM Publishing</a>. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s "Mapping the MIAC" columnist Rich Mies.</em>