John's Journal
A Big Loss For Wayzata Football And Latest Cross-Country Rankings9/7/2011
If you watched Wayzata’s 31-14 victory over Rosemount in the Class 5A football state title game last year, you remember the performance of then-sophomore Mitchell Underhill. He ran 12 times for 247 yards and touchdowns of 45, 66, 58 and 58 yards.

Underhill suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week’s 47-20 season-opening victory at Prior Lake. Wayzata will play at Eagan this Friday.

--The top-ranked teams remained unchanged in this week’s cross-country polls released by the coaches association, but there were some shifts at the top of the individual rankings.

In Class 1A girls, Blake’s Clare Flanagan has risen from No. 7 in the preseason rankings to the current No. 1 spot. And in Class 2A boys, Wayzata’s Josh Thorson has moved from No. 2 to No. 1.

Here are all the rankings…

CLASS 2A

Boys Teams
1. Stillwater
2. Wayzata
3. Rosemount
4. Edina
5. Moorhead
6. Andover
7. White Bear Lake
8. Eastview
9. Mounds View
10. Eden Prairie
11. Owatonna
12. Sartell – St Stephen
Others receiving votes: Burnsville, Forrest Lake, Mahtomedi, Monticello

Boys Individuals
1. Josh Thorson, Wayzata
2. Zach Roozen, Mounds View
3. Glen Ellingson, Moorhead
4. Cole O'Brien, Burnsville
5. Riley Macon, Rochester Mayo
6. Tom Linner, Stillwater
7. Nathan Rock, Rosemount
8. Mubarik Musa, Worthington
9. Jan Ketterson, Bloomington Jefferson
10. Joel Reichow, White Bear Lake
11. Joey Duerr, Chaska
12. Connor Olson, Wayzata
Others receiving votes: Tyler Broadwell, Sartell - St Stephen; Ahmed Bule, St Paul Central; Will Burke, Edina; Wayde Hall, Stillwater; Sidney Speir, Eagan; Parker Wharram, Mound Westonka

Girls Teams
1. Monticello
2. Lakeville South
3. Eden Prairie
4. Andover
5. Prior Lake
6. Wayzata
7. Roseville
8. Eagan
9. East Ridge
10. Sartell
11. Alexandria
12. Stillwater

Girls Individuals
1. Maria Hauger, 11, Shakopee
2. Jamie Piepenburg, 12, Alexandria
3. Erica Seidenkrantz, 12, Monticello
4. Nicole Heitzman, 11, Andover
5. Amber Seidenkratz, 10, Monticello
6. Kaelyn Williams, 12, Robbinsdale Cooper
7. Jenna Truedson, 9, Bemidji
8. Danielle Anderson, 11, Eagan
9. Emily Knapczyk, 12, Armstrong
10. Chrissy Monson, 11, Albert Lea
11. Taylor Scholl, 12, Prior Lake
12. Piper Bain, 12, Edina

CLASS 1A

Boys Teams
1. St. Cloud Cathedral
2. Minnehaha Academy
3. Perham
4. Esko
5. Winona Cotter
6. Waseca
7. Blake
8. Albany
9. Mora
10. Plainview-Elgin-Millville
11. LaCrescent
12. St.James

Boys Individuals
1. Brandon Clark Blake
2. Jonnathan Surber St. James
3. Shane Streich Waseca
4. Byron Schuldt Nevis
5. Matt Welch Proctor
6. Nick Stoks Canby-Minneota/LinHi
7. Jacob Siekmeier Math&Science Acad
8. Cade Ekstrom Madelia/Truman
9. Charlie Lawrence Foley
10. Jesse Delgado Waseca
11. Matt Schrupp Winona Cotter
12. Micheal Wagner Eveleth-Gilbert

Girls Teams
1. Adrian
2. St. Cloud Cathedral
3. Blake
4. LaCrescent
5. Waseca
6. Albany
7. Annandale
8. Park Rapids
9. Perham
10. United South Central/AC
11. Trinity at River Ridge
12. Esko

Girls Individuals
1. Clare Flanagan Blake
2. Jordan Kopplow Adrian
3. Cheyanne Bower S., James
4. Victoria Alexander Lake of the Woods
5. Emi Trost Cannon Falls
6. Greta Danielson St. Cloud Cath.
7. Jordan Chancellor Blake
8. Sally O”Brien Waseca
9. Kallyn Knutson Esko
10. Lydia Lutz Park Rapids
11. McKenzie Holt St. Cloud Christian
12. Megan Sauer Adrian
Volleyball Rankings: More Change At The Top In 1A9/6/2011
For the third time in as many weeks, there is a new team in the No. 1 spot in the Class 1A state volleyball rankings. Nevis was No. 1 in the preseason poll, Wabasha-Kellogg was in the top position last week and this week Bethlehem Academy is the new No.1.

The 3A and 2A leaders remain unchanged, with Bloomington Jefferson No. 1 in 3A and Jackson County Central No. 1 in 2A.

Bethlehem Academy has played two matches and has a record of 1-1. But the Cardinals’ opening opponents have not been slouches. Bethlehem Academy lost to Lakeville North (the defending 3A champ and current No. 2 team) 3-0 in the season opener and then went to Marshall (No. 5 this week in 2A) and came away with a 3-0 win.

Here are this week’s rankings, courtesy of the state volleyball coaches association…

CLASS 3A
1. Bloomington Jefferson (14) 261
2. Lakeville North (3) 236
3. Wayzata 222
4. Blaine 196
5. Lakeville South 175
6. Shakopee 174
7. Centennial 150
8. Eden Prairie 113
9. Andover 71
10. Eagan 59
Others: Hopkins (42), Chanhassen (32), Waconia (28), Hill-Murray (22), Burnsville (21), Apple Valley (8), Minnetonka (2)

CLASS 2A
1. Jackson County Central (8) 133
2. Stewartville (1) 127
3. Belle Plaine 112
4. Lesuer-Henderson 108
5. Marshall 103
6. Maple Lake 77
Kasson-Mantorville 77
8. Byron 74
9. Wadena-Deer Creek 67
10. Visitation 39
Others: Jordan (28), Esko (6), Caledonia (6) Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (4)

CLASS 1A
1. Bethlehem Academy (9) 190
2. Wabasha-Kellogg (2) 176
3. Nevis (2) 158
4. Mayer Lutheran 155
5. Minneota 144
6. Win-E-Mac 127
7. Southwest Christian 123
8. BBE 112
9. Canby 71
10. Ada-Borup 59
Others: MACCRAY (31), Mabel-Canton (7), Sebeka (6), Hancock (6), Martin County West (5)
Remembering A Teammate, An Opponent And What Sportsmanship Means9/6/2011
WABASHA – Across Minnesota last Friday, 104 high school football games were played. Every one of those games was important, but what took place prior to one specific game was very, very special.

It was a scene unlike anything I have witnessed in several decades of writing about sports of all kinds, from the professional ranks to the youth level. I doubt I will ever see anything like it again. The story, which began a year ago with a terrible tragedy, continued Friday evening with memories, tears and special tributes.

Cole Younker was 16 years old when he was killed in a car accident on Sept. 10 last year. He was a passenger in a car that collided with a semi-trailer on Highway 61 in Wabasha. Cole was a three-sport athlete at Wabasha-Kellogg High School.

On Friday, Southland High School’s football team played at Wabasha-Kellogg in the first game of the season for both teams. As Southland coach Shawn Kennedy told me, “We wanted to do something in honor of and in memory of the young man who was killed. We wanted to do something to really show true sportsmanship.”

It was a simple act, really, involving the planting of a tree and releasing of balloons. But simple acts can have the greatest impact.

The planning began when Southland athletic director Bill Feuchtenberger phoned Wabasha-Kellogg athletic director/football coach Nick Richmond. “He said Southland wanted to do something when the time was right,” Richmond said. “We decided we were going to do a tree and he said, ‘Whatever it takes, just send us a bill and we’ll do it.’ ”

Cole’s mother, Bonnie Younker, was asked to select a tree and she picked out a beauty. It’s a red maple, which will someday stand 35 to 40 foot tall. It was paid for by Southland. Between warm-ups and the start of Friday’s game, both teams lined up on either side of the planting site, which is in a corner of the football/track complex. Four captains from each squad placed the tree in a hole (that had been dug by Richmond a day earlier) and then used shovels to fill in the dirt around the trunk.

Bonnie stood with the Wabasha-Kellogg Falcons and cried while the tree in memory of Cole was planted. When the job was done, she hugged all eight captains.

It was quite a sight: young boys in football uniforms (minus helmets) taking their time and working together to get that tree started on its new life. A few fans gathered around to watch. Some of them cried and others sniffed back the tears.

“I’m very fortunate, along with the rest of the coaching staff, in that we get to play in a conference, the Three Rivers North and South, in which all of us coaches get along very well,” Kennedy had told me earlier. “When something like this happens, I think it affects everybody. He was a son, a sibling and it was a devastating thing. Why not try and do something in his honor, to really show that it’s only a game and to really show true sportsmanship? We always talk about being a class act at Southland, and Nick does the same thing over here, and that’s what it’s all about.”

On the right shoulder of each Falcons jersey this season are two small black numbers: 32. That was Cole’s number. Stickers with his number were affixed to their helmets. Some of the players had written Cole’s initials, CJR, on black anti-glare patches they wore under their eyes. Some have tattoos dedicated to Cole.

On Thursday, Richmond sat down to watch the film from last year’s game between Wabasha-Kellogg and Southland. He admitted that it was hard to watch as Cole made tackles, and he didn’t let the players watch the video.

“The one-year anniversary is coming up and the kids are still feeling it,” he said.

As a recording of the national anthem was played, the teams stood in lines at each end of the field. Bonnie Younker and several other women then brought out bundles of balloons and handed one to each Falcon. The players had written notes to Cole, which had been placed inside the balloons. As the balloons were released into the warm Minnesota sky, they floated up and began taking a southwesterly tack toward the nearby Mississippi River.

“I get goosebumps when I say this, but this is why we do this,” said Kennedy. “I’m starting my 27th year of coaching. And let me tell you something, I think this is pretty special to be able to be a part of this and help do something for Wabasha and for the family.

“I lost my father when he went in for gall bladder surgery and never came home. It just brings back those kinds of feelings for me personally. I am very blessed, because 55 of these kids drove six and a half hours in a snowstorm to be at my dad’s wake service. That’s pretty special. It’s only a game, and this puts it in perspective that there are more important things.”

The game ended with Southland winning 48-0. But that’s not the memory that will remain. The sight of a grieving mother, of young boys doing something larger than themselves and their game, of all those balloons sailing away ... all of it unforgettable.

“In a weird way, I expected a call from them just because I know coach Kennedy,” Richmond said. “From the first time I met him, he was a class act. I love the guy. So I knew it was coming. How do you show sportsmanship better than what they’re doing?”

As the season opener neared, some of the Falcons wrote notes to Cole that were separate from the notes that sailed away with the balloons. One of them read:

“Hey buddy, we miss you. It’s not the same here any more. We’re playing for you, OK? Thanks for everything you’ve ever done to and for me. Miss you.”

--To see a photo gallery of the tree planting and balloon release, as well as video, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 15
*Miles John has driven: 1,466

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Future Gophers QB Helps Journalist Break The Rules9/2/2011
NEW PRAGUE -- There is a cardinal rule in this business of sports writing: You never conduct interviews until after the game has ended. That’s why I was quite surpised when Mankato West football Mark Esch offered to let me violate that rule Thursday night.

There was no drama taking place. The West Scarlets had long ago tied a big ribbon on their season-opening victory over the New Prague Trojans. The score was 22-0 after one quarter, 52-0 at halftime and 60-6 with a few minutes to play in the fourth quarter as I stood on the West sideline chatting with Esch.

There was no mystery about who the media would interrogate after time ran out. West quarterback Philip Nelson, who might be the highest-profile high school player in Minnesota, had put on a big show. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound senior completed 10 of 16 passes for 184 yards and five touchdowns, and also ran the ball 11 times for 135 yards and another score. And that was just in the first half; he didn't set foot on the field after halftime.

Nelson committed to the University of Minnesota in February, and Thursday’s performance is sure to be noticed by Gophers fans. I was looking forward to interviewing the three-year starter following the usual timetable: 1) game ends, 2) teams shake hands, 3) coaches speak to their players, 4) reporters ask questions.

But out of the blue, Esch said, “John, would you like to talk to Philip now?” I stammered and stuttered a bit, surprised by the in-game offer. I said, “That’s something I would never ask to do, but if it’s OK with you, sure.” So the coach hollered, “Phil!” Nelson walked over to us, Mark introduced his quarterback to the guy from the MSHSL and the pre-postgame interview began.

“I just knew the Gophers was where I wanted to go,” Nelson said. “The coaching staff has such a hard-nosed program, they’re disciplining everybody, they’re going to make me a better person and I think they’re going to start winning sooner than what a lot of people think. That really excites me. I want to be part of my home state and help turn around the program.”

The final score was Mankato West 60, New Prague 14 and the entire second half was played under running time. Rules allow running time to be used in the fourth quarter when the margin is 35 points or more, but coaches have the option to speed the clock sooner. Shortly before halftime, Esch asked the officials if they would talk to New Prague coach Jim Benick about going to running time right away in the second half, and that’s what happened.

West is ranked No. 1 in Class 4A for good reason ... and Nelson is the biggest reason. He connected with Hunter Friesen for touchdown passes of 16, 11 and 24 yards, and found Konor Severns for scoring plays of 26 and 12 yards. Nelson also ran for a 12-yard score and Jordan Hage had a 5-yard TD carry for the Scarlets.

“I think the game has really slowed down for him, even from last year to this year,” Esch (right) said. “He put on an extra 20 pounds in the offseason. He sees things well and he’s focused.”

The West defense, meanwhile, held New Prague to less than 50 yards of offense in the first half; the Trojans never got within 45 yards of the end zone until the third quarter.

“He did a nice job,” Benick said of Nelson. “He executed, he’s physical, he put the ball on the money. He’s a nice player, a nice competitor. The best way to stop him is keep him off the field. And we weren’t doing that at all.”

Nelson, who kicked off four times and would have punted if the Scarlets had lined up in punt formation in the first half, said, “I think we played really hard. We executed really well offensively and defensively and we just played an all-around great game. But there’s always room for improvement.”

West had an overall record of 34-3 in the past three season. They won the 2008 Class 4A state title (when Nelson started one game as a freshman), lost in the state semifinals in 2009 and in the state quarterfinals last season. Nelson has started every game since the start of the 2009 season, and his goal this season is to take home another state championship.

“I’m so excited for my senior year,” he said. “This is our senior class’s last chance to play together and win state, and I’ve been looking forward to my senior year more than anything else. This is the most unbelievable year that you can ever experience, playing with the kids you grew up with. We’re taking it week by week.”

It’s safe to consider Week 1 a smashing success ... even if the rules of journalism were ignored.

--To see a photo gallery from Thursday's game, as well as a postgame video interview with Nelson, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 13
*Miles John has driven: 1,295

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
A Season Interrupted By Cancer, But Plenty To Be Thankful For9/1/2011
Nick Manzoni’s coach calls him a ridiculously talented soccer player. Which is part of the reason why not being able to play this season is ridiculously hard for the Orono senior attacker. But cancer does ridiculous things.

Manzoni, who was a Class A first-team all-state player a year ago, was considered one of the top candidates to be named Minnesota’s Mr. Soccer at the conclusion of the 2011 season. But over the summer, tests for recurring pain and soreness in his right calf showed Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare disease that accounts for only one percent of childhood cancers.

That means Manzoni (No. 10 at right) is undergoing chemotherapy, which is a weekly routine right now, followed by surgery in September and then more chemo. It also means no soccer this fall.

Not playing is “ridiculously hard, to be honest,” Nick said Wednesday night at Orono before the fifth-ranked Spartans lost a 3-2 overtime decision to St. Michael-Albertville. His doctors believe the cancer was found early enough that he should get a clean bill of health at the end of the treatment regimen. But again, sitting out his senior year is hard on him as well as his teammates.

Nick had 18 goals and 10 assists last season, when the Spartans reached the state quarterfinals. Fellow senior Willi Semsch said Nick’s play was crucial in getting through the Section 6 playoffs in 2010.

“In the section semifinals against Breck we were up 1-0 and he hit a shot from probably 35 or 40 yards out, chipped the goal, and that was pretty cool,” Semsch said. “And in the section finals against Benilde, which is probably our biggest rival, he pretty much dominated that game and scored two goals. That was huge.

“We’ve just got to step up as a team, all of us. No one of us is as good as him, so we’re going to have to do it as a team, as a whole. We’ve got to support each other.”

Another senior, Mason Whitney, said playing without Manzoni is “a huge difference because we had to completely change our offense. Generally our offense was kind of ‘Get Nick the ball, watch him dribble and watch everybody else run,’ because sooner or later about four people would draw to him and he would pass or just keep on dribbling and score a goal.”

Orono coach Brad Carlson said Manzoni is “a ridiculously good soccer player. He’s the complete package in soccer and he’s as smart as a whip.”

The cancer was diagnosed in June, and it wasn’t long before Debbie Manzoni saw a sight that brought her to tears … but these were tears of gratitude for Nick’s friends.

“He’s got some great, great, great buddies on the team and everywhere,” she said. “Nick started losing his hair and he got it buzzed but he said, ‘Nope, this won’t do. It’s still patchy.’ ”

So Nick and some of his friends shaved each other’s heads. “I came home to see all these bald heads sitting in the basement,” Debbie said. “I just started crying.”

At the Spartans’ first game this season, headbands bearing Nick’s number 10 and his initials (NWM for Nicholas William Manzoni) were unveiled. That’s just one of many ways Nick has been supported by his teammates, his friends and their families.

“He’s got good friends and they care about him a lot,” Carlson said. “His first week in the hospital, Willi and Mason spent the nights with him.”

Nick was preparing for a college showcase soccer event when the pain in his calf returned for the second time this year. He still plans to play college soccer, but the schedule has just been adjusted a little.

“I’ll see how I recover from this whole thing, but right now the plan is to recover by the end of January, get back on my club team and start playing a lot,” he said. “I might take a gap year to try and get in better shape.”

Semsch remembers Nick saying he had a pain in his leg, but soreness and minor injuries are nothing out of the ordinary for athletes.

“Then one day he said it might be cancer, and he told me a couple days later that it was cancer,” Semsch said. “I wanted him to be out on the soccer field with me, because he’s a really, really good player. And he’s one of my best friends, so it was tough in both senses.”

Before the Spartans opened the season at home against Maple Grove last week, Semsch asked Manzoni if he planned to be there. “He was like, ‘Oh, it’s going to kill me to not play.’ I know it’s just killing him,” Semsch said.

Whitney was on a school trip to Spain when he learned of Nick’s diagnosis. “It was a huge blow,” he said. “My friends told me online and I couldn’t really call him or anything. When I got home I just drove straight to the hospital.

“It’s really tough. It’s tough on all of us, and I would imagine it’s just tenfold and way, way worse for him. He doesn’t like to show his emotions that much but you can tell it’s just eating him up not being on the field, not playing with us. We’ve been building up to our senior year, we’ve been talking about it since day one. We went to state last year and we were planning on going even further this year.

“This is a huge wakeup call, when one of your best friends goes out. Everything’s fine and dandy, nobody’s ever been even sick, really. And then he ends up getting cancer.”

Cancer is certainly bad news, but there has been plenty of good news since Nick was diagnosed. The best bit of medical information came when the Manzonis learned that the cancer had not spread from Nick’s calf.

“We had so many people praying for us, and three prayers were answered,” Debbie said. “It could have spread to his lungs, to his bones and to his bone marrow. And each day for three days we received the results of those tests, saying, ‘Not in his lungs, not in his bones, not in his marrow.’ Thank you, Lord, for that good, good news.”

Nick goes into the hospital every Monday for chemotherapy, which is administered intravenously. He stays for three or five days each time. The chemo has had no side effects other than the loss of his hair.

“The doctor said he’s been like the poster child,” said Debbie. “There are a lot of things to be thankful for in the midst of a really awful, scary thing.”

--To see more photos, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 11
*Miles John has driven: 1,241

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn