John's Journal
On A Busy Tournament Friday, Fun And Excitement Abound6/7/2013
How busy was Friday? Let me count the ways. And it was easy to do so simply by looking at the top of the MSHSL website. Streamed across the page were links to state softball results, state track results, brackets from the boys state tennis tournament, brackets for next week’s state lacrosse tournaments and day one tee times for next week’s state golf tournaments.

I’m no math expert, but it’s pretty clear that this current stretch of events is the busiest time of the year for postseason action in Minnesota. If some courageous soul wants to figure out how many individual athletes are involved in all these state tourneys, let me know what you come up with.

I spent Thursday in North Mankato at the softball tournament and drove home to the Twin Cities late Thursday evening. Friday began with an eye on the state track meet via social media and another eye on boys tennis. I drove back to the softball tournament, arrived in time for lunch – perfect timing! – and kept several eyes focused on all the events, including a handful of section championship games in baseball.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know how busy things are right now. But busy also means fun when the topic is high school activities.

This message was dispatched to me via Twitter at 8:30 a.m. Friday: “You gotta have the best gig in the world!”

My response consisted of two words: “ I concur.”

NEW ULM CATHEDRAL SAVES THE DAY FOR NEW ULM PUBLIC

Long before New Ulm defeated Kasson-Mantorville 1-0 in the Class 2A state championship softball game, things were looking a little dicey for the defending champion Eagles. Simply put, their bus broke down in the parking lot of a Mankato Hy-Vee grocery store. The team arrived at Caswell Park about a half hour behind schedule, went through a hurry-up warmup and played the game.

“It was a little rambunctious of a morning, but our girls are troupers,” said New Ulm coach Kristi Andersen Loose. “I’m crazy proud of them.”

The team had stopped at the Hy-Vee so the girls could get a bite at the buffet, but when they loaded the bus it wouldn’t start. Andersen Loose and her sister/assistant coach Danielle Andersen “immediately panicked,” the head coach said. “Dani said to me, ‘Do we have a backup plan for this?’ I said, ‘We will.’ ”

They tried to get a shuttle from their hotel. No good. Some cabs were called, but it didn’t seem like a good idea to put the girls into cabs with no adults along. The next call went to folks from New Ulm Cathedral, which had already finished the fourth-place game in Class 1A.

“It was a mass flurry of calling, and we finally got ahold of their coach (Bob Mertz), who is the bus driver as well,” Andersen Loose said. “They were eating at Big Dog (Sports Café). He said the bus was free and we happened to have an extra bus driver with us. We randomly flagged down a guy in the Hy-Vee parking and lot and said, ‘Can you please do us a favor?’ He gave our bus driver and our assistant coach a ride to Big Dog, they got on the Cathedral bus, we got here way late and did our thing.

“The moral of the whole thing is there is nothing that we can’t deal with as far as adjusting. I said, ‘We’ve adjusted to this, so we’ll be able to deal with anything that happens in the game.’ ”

How did I first learn of the Eagles’ predicament? Twitter, of course. Danielle Andersen alerted me with a Tweet after the team was safely en route to the park.

Andersen Loose said, “She asked me if she could Tweet about it and I said, 'Absolutely.' ”

--New Ulm’s victory over Kasson-Mantorville was decided when pitcher Sydney Schuck hit a one-out RBI single in the fifth inning. Schuck and Kasson-Mantorville pitcher Maddie Damon each allowed just five hits. Damon struck out nine.

--In Class 1A, Jenna Krell, Shelbi Swenson and Sam Ivers drove in runs as Blooming Prairie beat New Life Academy 3-1 in the title game. Swenson held New Life to four hits and struck out eight. New Life pitcher Valerie Hohol struck out nine.

--Elk River needed eight innings to beat Prior Lake for the 3A title. Elk River led 3-0 after four innings and the Lakers tied it in the fifth on a solo homer by Shayne Barton and two-run, two-out double by Libby Bingham. In the seventh, Barton hit a drive to center that was caught by Jayme Langbehn as she went over the wall to rob the home run. After the Elks took a 4-3 lead in the top of the eighth on an RBI single by Courtney Jensen, Langbehn took away another possible home run in the bottom of the eighth, catching a drive by Sam Buhmann.

BOYS TENNIS CHAMPIONS

-- Junior Joey Richards of Minnetonka won the Class 2A singles state title and the Wayzata duo of senior Jack Graven and freshman Nick Beaty won the doubles title.

--In 1A, Blake sophomore Charlie Adams was the singles winner and the doubles title went to Blake senior Kai Skallerud and junior Taylor Parr.

TRACK: DAY ONE HIGHLIGHTS

No state records were broken Friday, but there were some great performances. One of the most eye-opening came from Shakopee eighth-grader Tess Misgen, who led the prelims in the Class 2A girls 800 meters with a time of 2:10.46. The state record is legendary, because it’s the oldest on the books for girls. Blooming Prairie’s Jeanne Kruckeberg holds the mark of 2:08.24, set in 1984. Misgen will run the 800 again in Saturday’s finals, and then have four more years of high school running left.

Deidre Hahn of Warroad was a double champion, winning the girls 1A long jump and high jump. Maria Hauger of Shakopee won the 2A girls 3,200 for the third time and St. Francis’ Maggie Ewen won the 2A girls discus for the third time.

The meet will conclude Saturday.

SPORTSMANSHIP ON THE MEDAL STAND

Foley senior Charlie Lawrence won his second consecutive Class 1A state title in the 3,200-meter run Friday, but the rest of the medal winners also have plenty to be proud of … and it has nothing to do with what happened on the track.

Fourth-place finisher Ashenafi Hatte, a sophomore from Washington Technology Magnet School in St. Paul, was injured and unable to climb up to his spot on the podium for the awards ceremony. Runner-up Perham junior Keeghan Hurley helped Hatte get up to his spot, and Ashenafi leaned on sixth-place runner Isaac Overmyer, a sophomore from Park Rapids, while medals were given out and photos were taken. Hurley and Overmyer helped Ashefani get back down from the podium.

Well done.

FACEBOOK LOVE

A nice message was posted on the MSHSL Facebook page after the softball tournament. Here’s an edited version…

“I just wanted to drop a note and say WOW. This was our first trip to state (New York Mills). From the time we got to the gate to the time we left, it was a well-run tournament. The facility was great, prices for concessions were reasonable. … Thanks for all you guys do to put this on for the girls. It has created many great memories for all.”

AERIAL SUPPORT

As New Ulm was facing Kasson-Mantorville in the 2A softball title game, the Eagles got some support from above. A single-engine plane circled the Caswell Park complex; written on the underside of the wings were “GO NU EAGLES.”

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 701
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 9,821
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
State Softball Is All In The Family … Including The Umpires 6/6/2013
NORTH MANKATO -- By the time the state softball tournament comes to a conclusion, 33 games will have been played at Caswell Park. But no game will equal the family ties that were on display during one of the first games of the two-day event.

In a Class 1A quarterfinal that began at 9 a.m. Thursday, Eden Valley-Watkins defeated New York Mills 4-2. That was the headline from the game. But the subtext offers much more. Such as …

--Both teams are nicknamed the Eagles. But that’s nuthin’.

--One-third of Eden Valley-Watkins’ starting lineup consists of the Forcier sisters: senior center fielder Kaylee, sophomore left fielder Mindy and ninth-grader Faith. (In the photo, left to right, are Mindy, Kaylee and Faith.)

--One-third of New York Mills’ starting lineup consists of the Roberts sisters: senior shortstop EmaLeigh, junior pitcher/outfielder Autumn and seventh-grade outfielder Rhiana Roberts. Their cousin, junior Mckenna Roberts, is the catcher.

--The three umpires for the game were brothers: Chuck, Rich and Tim Murry.
I knew about the sets of sisters days earlier, but the surprise came after the game when Eden Valley-Watkins coach Dave Dziengel said to me, “Your story got even better, because the three umps in our game are brothers.”

The Murry boys (pictured) combine for 80 years of softball and baseball officiating experience, with Chuck in his 37th year, Rich is his 26th and Tim in his 17th. The Murry boys worked a total of 17 state softball tournaments and 18 state baseball tournaments.

Cool stuff, these high school games. Am I right?

Eden Valley-Watkins is making its second appearance in the state tournament, with the first coming a year ago. New York Mills qualified for state for the first time in the softball program’s 26-year history.

The Forcier sisters combined for five of their team’s 13 hits in the quarterfinals. Mickael Lies (two RBI), Jamie Scherer and Holly Schumacher (home run) drove in the runs. For New York Mills, Emaleigh Roberts, Autumn Roberts, Amy Nebosis and Alexia Rankka each had one hit against EV-W pitcher Baylee Lahr.

“Everybody’s contributinging,” Dziengel said of the Forcier sisters. “That’s one-third of the equation. They kind of police each other because they’re sisters, and yYou don’t have to say too much. They’re always positive and helping each other out. They have that sister bond. It’s been fun.”

Eden Valley-Watkins mets New Life Academy on the semifinals later Thursday.

Eden Valley-Watkins lost to New Life Academy 6-4 in the semifinals later Thursday.

CHAMPIONSHIP FRIDAY LINEUP

--3A/ Elk River and Prior Lake will meet in the championship game at 1 p.m. Friday. The third-place game will be between Forest Lake and Maple Grove at 11 a.m., and the fifth-place game will be between Orono and Bloomington Jefferson at 9 a.m.

--2A/ Kasson-Mantorville and defending champion New Ulm will decide the title at 2 p.m. Hermantown and Rockford will meet for third place at 11 a.m., and St. Anthony Village will face Maple River in the fifth-place game at 9 a.m.

--1A/ New Life Academy will take on Blooming Prairie in the championship game at 1:30 p.m. The third-place game will be between Eden Valley-Watkins and Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg at 11 a.m., with Cherry and New Ulm Cathedral meeting for fifth place at 9 a.m.

TOURNAMENT NOTES

--No school brought a more exuberant crowd of students than Rockford. The kids painted their faces (and bodies), made signs (my favorite: "I'm skipping graduation for this!") and had an absolute blast cheering for their team from beyond the outfield fence. Well done.

--The state quarterfinals were not especially kind to defending state champs. In Class 3A, Maple Grove (last year’s runner-up) knocked off 2012 champ Stillwater 3-1 in eight innings. In Class 1A, New Life Academy beat defending champion Cherry 6-3. New Life’s trip to state is its its eighth in a row, tying the tournament record set by Winona Cotter from 2000 to 2007. New Life won state titles in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. The third defending champion – New Ulm in 2A – beat Maple River 12-0 in the quarterfinals.

--This has been an especially challenging season for the Rockford Rockets. Like every team, they had to deal with terrible weather, but Rockford’s season also was disrupted by construction at their school. That means the Rockets played only one home game in 2013 and haven’t even practiced on their home field since May 10.

----Maple Grove pitcher Sydney Smith was outstanding in the Crimson’s 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Bloomington Jefferson. She gave up only three hits with three strikeouts and three walks. Smith’s record is 20-0 this season. She is only a sophomore but has accepted a scholarship offer from Louisiana State for the fall of 2015.

OTHER SPORTS

--The state track meet will begin Friday at Hamline University in St. Paul. Most of Friday’s running events will be preliminaries with the exception of the 3,200 meters for girls and boys in both classes. Half of the field event championship will be decided Friday, with the remainder of the running events and field events contested Saturday.

--The boys tennis state tournament will conclude Friday with semifinal and championship matches in singles and doubles in both classes. Class 2A is at the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center and 1A is at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in south Minneapolis.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 701
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 9,681
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
For Thief River Falls, Tennis Season Meant Shoveling Snow6/4/2013
This was an unforgettable spring for the boys tennis team from Thief River Falls. For tennis reasons, yes, especially because the Prowlers qualified for this week’s state team tournament, their 10th consecutive appearance.

But 2013 also will go down as the spring with the worst weather in memory. There are no indoor tennis courts in Thief River Falls, meaning if the Prowlers wanted to swing a racket indoors on a real court they had to drive about an hour to Grand Forks, N.D.

“We had a couple players who went over in the winter, and once the season began a few would go over and hit,” said Thief River Falls coach Tim Engelstad. “It’s just not as easy as if you’re living down here (in the Twin Cities).”

Their season was short, with little time to practice on clear, dry courts and a big portion of their competitive schedule wiped out by the weather. Tournaments in Park Rapids and Pine City were erased by a late winter, and the Prowlers – who are the northernmost team in the state tournament -- were unable to travel to a tournament in Virginia because of a snowstorm.

“You try to bunch it up in a short period of time at the end of the year and we lost some real quality matches,” Engelstad said after the Prowlers fell to Breck 7-0 in Tuesday morning’s Class 1A quarterfinals at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis.

If there was a state championship in shoveling snow, however, the Prowlers would surely be wearing gold medals. The players spent hour after hour clearing snow from their six home courts, even as the snow kept falling.

How much snow did they shovel?

“Too much,” said senior Sam Olson. “The very first day, when we started, it was up to our waists. And as soon as we thought we were getting somewhere, it would snow five more inches.”

They tried to make do. A tennis court was set up in the elementary school gym, with a makeshift net and tape used for lines on a rubberized floor.

“It was a really fast surface,” said senior and coach’s son Logan Engelstad, who qualified for the state singles tournament, which will be held Thursday and Friday. It will be Logan’s third trip to state in singles after he qualified on a doubles team as a ninth-grader.

In the course of shoveling snow, hitting balls in the elementary gym and making trips to real tennis courts in Grand Forks, the Prowlers used the adversity to grow closer as a team.

“We did a lot of team bonding,” Tim Engelstad said. “Like I said at the banquet (Monday) night, I challenge anybody to shovel more snow than we did.”

Said Olson, “We just tried to make the best of it. We tried to cherish every moment we could get. We made our own fun.”

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 677
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 9,541
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Who’s Ready For Some Outdoor Prep Bowl Action?6/3/2013
Yes, it’s June. But football season and the Prep Bowl were major topics discussed at Monday’s MSHSL board of directors meeting. Here’s a summary of where we’re at …

--There will be no changes for the 2013 season. The season will start as scheduled, the playoff format will not change and the Prep Bowl games will be played on Thanksgiving weekend at the Metrodome. The dome will be demolished after the 2013 Vikings season, which means the Prep Bowl will be played in the elements at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium in 2014 and 2015 while a new stadium is built on the Metrodome site.

--The 2014 football season also will follow the familiar format, with changes coming in the state tournament. State semifinals will be played at multiple sites (not TCF since the Gophers have a home game) and the Prep Bowl will be held the weekend before Thanksgiving at TCF. The season will end prior to Thanksgiving in the hopes of better weather conditions.

--Bigger changes could come in 2015, when the University of Minnesota football team will play home games the Saturday before Thanksgiving as well as the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In 2015 the high school season could start one week earlier than usual and section playoffs could consist of two rounds instead of three (effectively cutting the number of teams involved in section playoffs in half). State semifinals also are likely to be played at multiple sites (not TCF) and the Prep Bowl could be played the weekend before Thanksgiving. Decisions about the 2015 football season will not be finalized for a few months.

On another football matter, scheduling problems continue to be an issue for many schools, especially in light of ongoing conference shakeups. As MSHSL associate director Kevin Merkle told the board, “We need to do something. We need to make some changes.”

Administrators were surveyed at meetings around the state this spring as staff gathered input on the topic. One possibility is to place football teams into groups of eight, 12, 14 or 16 teams and have those teams work out their schedules with each other, with geography an important factor and no team playing an opponent who is one class larger of smaller.

“No matter what we do, there will be winners and losers,” Merkle said. “And if we stay with the status quo, there are winners and losers.”

Board member Tom Conzemius of Sauk Rapids-Rice said, “It’s no different at conference meetings or section meetings. Most of our time is spent on football.”

2013-14 SPEECH TOPICS

The board approved these titles…

--Discussion topic: “Building the Future: U.S. Infrastructure Challenges in the 21st Century.”

--Extemporaneous Reading-Poetry: “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.

--Extemporaneous Reading-Prose: “Read All About It! Great Read-Aloud Stories, Poems, and Newspaper Pieces for Preteens and Teens” edited by Jim Trelease.

--Storytelling: Grimms’ Tales for Young and Old, The Complete Stories” translated by Ralph Manheim.

ADVISORY COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS

--Nordic skiing: Coaches have proposed to change the single-class state meet by having two teams per section advance to state instead of one. Currently, the first-place team in each section and the next eight individuals from each section qualify for state. The proposal is for two teams and the next five individuals to advance from each section. This proposal was not approved.

--Dance team: Currently, dance teams register with the MSHSL in separate categories for High Kick and Jazz, with enrollment numbers used to classify teams into classes in each dance segment, with enrollment cutoffs different for each segment. Coaches proposed to have schools no longer register separately in High Kick and Jazz,using the same enrollment numbers for both. This proposal was approved.

--Music: A proposal was made to allow schools to decide which students will participate in section contests and festivals, including students in seventh grade and above. This proposal was approved.

BOARD CHANGES

--Board officers for 2013-14 were elected. The new board president will be John Hamann, who is the principal at Underwood High School. The vice president (and president-elect for 2014-15) will be Scott McCready, athletic director at St. Charles High School. The treasurer will be Steve Eklund, public representative from Stanchfield.

--Board members whose terms ended with Monday’s meeting are Laurie Esau, public representative from Orono; Mark Frederickson, principal at Waconia, Rick Bleichner, superintendent from Breckenridge; Tom Conzemius, activities director at Sauk Rapids-Rice; Walt Hautala, school board member from Gilbert; and Mike Rusinko, public representative from Eden Prairie.

--New board members who will begin their four-year terms in August are Emmett Keenan, activities director at St. Cloud Cathedral; Tom Graupmann, activities director at Northfield; Mike Olson, assistant principal at Little Falls; and Deborah Pauly, school board member from Jordan.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 669
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 9,503
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Kicking Off A Big Stretch With A Board Of Directors Meeting6/2/2013
This is a busy time, with spring state tournaments in boys tennis, softball, track and field, golf and lacrosse filling up the schedule for the next two weeks. Before all the action, we will begin this stretch with a meeting of the MSHSL board of directors on Monday morning.

The list of action items on the agenda probably won’t grab any headlines. But the table will be set for the 2013-14 year when new board officers are elected. One candidate is running for each of the three positions, so there won’t be any mystery in the balloting.

The new board president will be John Hamann, who is the principal at Underwood High School. The vice president (and president-elect for 2014-15) will be Scott McCready, athletic director at St. Charles High School. The treasurer will be Steve Eklund, public representative from Stanchfield.

On the discussion section of the agenda, football will take center stage. The board will be informed about three topics that were discussed with administrators from all over the state during spring area meetings: statewide scheduling for football, the 2014 Prep Bowl and the 2015 football playoff format. Changes are in the offing due to the impending demolition of the Metrodome, and the Prep Bowl games will be played at TCF Bank Stadium for two years while the new stadium is under construction. No decisions will be made at Monday’s meeting.

State tournaments will begin Tuesday, when boys tennis kicks off its four-day run in team, singles and doubles with Class 1A action at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in south Minneapolis and Class 2A at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center. The three-class state softball tournament will be held Thursday and Friday at Caswell Park in North Mankato and the two-class state track meet will be held Friday and Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul.

The three-class state golf tournaments are scheduled for June 11 and 12, and the single-class boys and girls state lacrosse tournaments will also be held that week. Finally, the three-class state baseball tournament will begin June 13, with championship games scheduled for June 17 at Target Field.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 669
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 9,503
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn