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Class 1A Girls Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/30/2018 3:35:21 PM

Provided by Minnesota Basketball News.

1. Minneota (1-0)
2. Mountain Iron-Buhl (1-0)
3. Heritage Christian (1-0)
4. Menahga (1-0)
5. Ada-Borup (0-0)
6. Pelican Rapids (0-0)
7. Grand Meadows (1-0)
8. Goodhue (2-1)
9. Lac Qui Parle Valley (1-0)
10.Southwest MN Christian (0-0)

Class 2A Girls Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/30/2018 3:34:58 PM

Provided by Minnesota Basketball News.

1. Roseau (1-0)
2. Sauk Centre (1-0)
3. Stewartville (1-1)
4. Minnehaha Academy (1-1)
5. Eden Valley-Watkins (1-0)
6. Rush City (0-0)
7. Proctor (1-0)
8. Holy Family (1-2)
9. Maranatha Christian (0-0)
10.Esko (1-0)

Class 3A Girls Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/30/2018 3:34:32 PM

Provided by Minnesota Basketball News.

1. DeLaSalle (1-1)
2. Alexandria (1-0)
3. Northfield (0-0)
4. Simley (0-0)
5. Willmar (1-0)
6. St. Paul Como Park (3-0)
7. Robbindale Cooper (0-1)
8. New Ulm (1-0)
9. Waseca (2-0)
10.Waconia (1-0)

Class 4A Girls Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/30/2018 3:34:05 PM

Provided by Minnesota Basketball News.

1. Hopkins (3-0)
2. Wayzata (1-0)
3. Eastview (2-0)
4. Roseville Area (2-0)
5. Centennial (1-0)
6. St. Michael-Albertville (1-0)
7. Stillwater (1-1)
8. Forest Lake (1-0)
9. Farmington (1-0)
10.Prior Lake (0-1)

Class 1A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/30/2018 3:33:29 PM

Provided by Minnesota Basketball News.

1. Minneota
2. Springfield
3. North Woods
4. Russell-Tyler-Ruthton
6. Ortonville
7. Minnesota Valley Lutheran
8. Cromwell
9. Mountain Lake Area
10.Mayer Lutheran

Class 2A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/30/2018 3:33:03 PM

Provided by Minnesota Basketball News.

1. Minnehaha Academy
2. Minneapolis North
3. Perham
4. Lake City
5. Caledonia
6. Breck
7. Melrose
8. Rochester Lourdes
9. Hawley

Class 3A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/30/2018 3:32:33 PM

Provided by Minnesota Basketball News.

1. DeLaSalle
2. Princeton
3. Robbinsdale Cooper
4. Mahtomedi
5. Austin
6. Waseca
7. Marshall
8. Mankato East
9. Delano
10.Columbia Heights

Class 4A Boys Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/30/2018 3:32:07 PM

Provided by Minnesota Basketball News.

1. East Ridge
2. Hopkins
3. Eden Prairie
4. Lakeville North
5. Park Center
6. Prior Lake
7. Cretin-Derham Hall
8. Wayzata
9. Shakopee
10.Rochester John Marshall

Class 3A Wrestling Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/30/2018 3:31:09 PM

From The Guillotine.

1. Shakopee (2)
2. Apple Valley (2)
3. Owatonna (1)
4. St. Michael-Albertville (5)
5. East Ridge (3)
6. Bemidji (8)
7. Anoka (7)
8. Willmar (8)
9. Blaine (7)
10. Northfield (1)
11. New Prague (2)
12. Rosemount (2)
Lean and Mean
Hastings (3), Coon Rapids (7), Stillwater Area (4), Mounds View (4), Lakeville South (2), Albert Lea Area (1), Cambridge-Isanti (7), Prior Lake (2)

Class 2A Wrestling Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/30/2018 3:30:46 PM

From The Guillotine.

1. Kasson-Mantorville (1)
2. Simley (1)
3. Fairmont/Martin County West (3)
4. Perham (8)
5. Scott West (2)
6. Foley (6)
7. Waconia (2)
8. Totino-Grace (5)
9. South St. Paul (4)
10. Grand Rapids (7)
11. Pierz (8)
12. Marshall (3)
Lean and Mean
Detroit Lakes (8), Hutchinson (2), Litchfield (6), Mora (7), Delano (2), Princeton (7), Thief River Falls (8), Watertown-Mayer/Mayer Lutheran (2)

Class 1A Wrestling Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/30/2018 3:30:15 PM

From The Guillotine.

1. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove (3)
2. Kenyon-Wanamingo (2)
3. LPGE-Browerville (5)
4. Goodhue (1)
5. Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (4)
6. Minneota (3)
7. Frazee (8)
8. Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie (6)
9. Badger/Greenbush-Middle River (8)
10. Canby (3)
11. Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena (7)
12. Ottertail Central (6)
Lean and Mean
Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (5), Minnewaska Area (5), GMLOS (1), West Central Area/Ashby/Brandon-Evansville (6), Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (5), Zumbrota-Mazeppa (1), Blue Earth Area (2), Aitkin (7), Fosston/Bagley (8)

Hutchinson Honors Its Humble Hometown Hero
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/28/2018 1:00:04 PM

Back in the day, a young girl in Hutchinson rode her bike to the gym for organized workouts and team practices, but she also spent a lot of time there all by herself, working on her basketball skills. Some people jokingly wondered if she had keys to the gym.

She doesn’t need any keys now, because her name is above the gym doors.

Whalen Gymnasium, named after Hutchinson’s most famous graduate, was inaugurated Tuesday evening in a ceremony before the Tigers hosted Annandale in a season-opening girls basketball game. Lindsay Whalen, Class of 2000, was honored in the same space where she signed a letter of intent with the University of Minnesota 19 years ago and where her No. 13 Tigers jersey was retired during her senior season with the Gophers.

The Tigers varsity players, sitting at center court during the ceremony, honored the legend by wearing gold warm-up shirts with large 13s on the front and back.

“You never think someday that this gym is going to be named after you,” Whalen told the capacity crowd in the 1,200-seat gym, which has been renovated as part of a $45 million project at the high school. More than 80 percent of voters approved the bond referendum that funded the project.

Before she led the Gophers to the Final Four, before she helped the Lynx win four WNBA championships, before she won two Olympic gold medals, before she became coach of the Gophers, Whalen was a somewhat unheralded high school player outside of her hometown. But her skills were apparent from an early age.

As a seventh-grader she played on the ninth-grade team. She joined the varsity as an eighth-grader and was a starter from the beginning of her ninth-grade year. She was a four-year all-conference selection but on a statewide level never was chosen higher than honorable mention all-state. Whalen’s senior season was marred by an ankle sprain, causing her to miss about half the games. That didn’t stop then-Gophers coach Cheryl Littlejohn from offering a scholarship, which Whalen immediately accepted.

The rest, as they say, is history. And Hutchinson celebrated Tuesday night.

Whalen called it “an amazing, humbling honor.”

“Looking back, there are so many good memories in this gym,” she said.

Andy Rostberg, her high school basketball coach (who now coaches football), was unable to attend the ceremony because of a long-planned hunting trip to New Mexico. But he recorded a video message that was played on two large digital video boards in the gym.

In the video, Rostberg talked about his decision to insert Whalen into a prominent role at an early age.

“Someone grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘Coach, I hope you know what you’re doing with this experiment with this little Whalen kid. If you don’t, there will be a storm that rains down on you.’ Little did they know. And you were the storm that was raining down on everybody. You did it with grace and grit and courage.’’

As fans entered the gym, black cloths covered the signs above the two main doors. Whalen, accompanied by seventh-grade basketball players, used a scissors to cut a string that caused the cloth to fall above one of the doors. Whalen Gymnasium was officially open for business, even though the hometown hero’s duties were not finished.

After the ceremony, Lindsay signed autographs and posed for photos in the lobby. At this point, the varsity teams were warming up in the gym that bears her name.

A few minutes earlier, when Whalen ended her remarks to the crowd, she thanked her husband, Ben Greve, for being there. Ben, who played golf at the University of Minnesota, is an Annandale alum.

“We play Annandale tonight,” Whalen said. “So go Hutch, right?”

The crowd roared.

To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Ending The Season With Past And Future Gophers
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/26/2018 7:06:08 PM

There was an interesting twist to the last game of the 2018 high school season Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium, related to football – past and future -- at the University of Minnesota. The final score in the final game, for the Class 5A state title, was Owatonna 14, St. Thomas Academy 3. The hero for the Huskies was senior Jason Williamson, who ran for second-half touchdowns of 71 and 44 yards.

Williamson will graduate early and enroll at Minnesota for the spring semester, getting a jump start on his Big Ten football career. At 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, he is strong, fast and tough to tackle, as evidenced by his first touchdown Saturday; the video ranked among that day’s Top 10 plays on ESPN’s SportsCenter and received another national television airing Sunday night at halftime of the Vikings-Packers game on the same field.

The Cadets held a 3-0 lead after the second quarter. During a quick television interview at halftime, St. Thomas Academy coach Dan O’Brien offered a warning about what Williamson was capable of.

“I said, ‘He only needs one, he gets a seam and he’s gonna be gone,’ ” O’Brien said after the game. “And sure enough, in the third quarter …”

He was speaking of the 71-yard burst in which Williamson was hit by several tacklers, somehow spun out of their grasp, put a hand on the ground, regained his footing and raced to the end zone.

“I thought we did a nice job on that play, but he made a great play,” O’Brien said

O’Brien knows big-time players, because he coached in the Big Ten as an assistant coach with the Gophers. The native of Winthrop was a team captain and all-MIAC defensive back at the University of St. Thomas before working as an assistant football coach at Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Lakeville and head coach at Bemidji from 1993 to 1995.

He became an assistant coach at Concordia University in St. Paul in 1995, was promoted to head coach and athletic director there and was athletic director at Hamline University from 2002-2007. From 2008 to 2016 he worked with the football program at the University of Minnesota in a variety of positions, including defensive backs coach, director of football operations, assistant to the head coach and senior associate athletic director.

He left the U of M in 2017 to work as an executive at Sun Country Airlines and also returned to high school football last season as an assistant coach at St. Agnes in St. Paul. That experience brought him full circle before he was named head football coach and director of community outreach and partnerships at St. Thomas Academy earlier this year.

It’s not much a stretch to imagine O’Brien, had he remained with the Gophers, helping recruit Williamson.

“I’ve had an absolute blast,” O’Brien said of his first season back in the high school game. “I get to coach kids like these (he was sitting next to seniors Luke Herzog and Brendan McFadden during the postgame media session) every single day. I see them in the hallways, I see them after school, I see them on the weekend. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I hate to use the word magical because our kids worked extremely hard to get where they are now, but it almost is a little bit of a magical season.

“It’s been fabulous. It’s been a wonderful year. The hard part about it is how do you do it again? We’ll take a couple weeks to enjoy this season and not focus on the last three hours of it. I talked to the kids a little bit about, ‘You need to think about how our season basically started with practices and workouts in June. And all the hours that we put in. You can’t let the last three hours of your season, particularly if you’re a senior, let that define you.’ ”

Owatonna’s season was capped by a repeat state championship. The Huskies began the season ranked No. 1 in 5A and never wavered, leaning on a strong defense and an offense led by Williamson, who had career totals of 7,011 yards and 110 touchdowns.

Williamson’s 44-yard score Saturday, putting him over 7,000 yards, came with 1:27 left in the game. In the end zone, he pointed to his fingers and then held up two fingers, signifying a pair of state championship rings. Before the final kneel-down of the game, Owatonna coach Jeff Williams sent in a substitute for Williamson, something that the senior didn’t always care for.

“He’s irritated when we take him off the field,” the coach said after a Week 2 victory at Rochester Mayo. There was no irritation in Week 13. Williamson walked slowly off the field as the Huskies fans cheered, and he and his coach embraced. Williams had tears in his eyes.

“He’s kind of the entire reason I’m in the position I’m in right now,” Williamson said of the coach. “Giving me a shot to practice with him as a freshman, having the confidence in me to play as a sophomore. I just kind of owe everything to him.”

Williams immediately laughed, saying, “Quite the contrary. Absolutely the opposite is true.”

Something most people weren’t aware of was the fact that Williamson feared last summer that he would miss his senior season and never play college football. He suffered a knee injury during a summer camp at Notre Dame, requiring surgery. He was unable to walk for two months.

He was in uniform when the season began but carried the ball only twice for two yards in the first game of the year against Faribault.

“We just wanted to ease him back in,” Williams said after the Week 2 win over Mayo. “When we’ve got a decent football team, we want to be playing in November, that section championship and state first round. That’s always our goal, and we need him around.”

Any doubts about Williamson’s condition disappeared against Mayo. He ran the ball on the first three plays of the game and finished with 34 carries, 270 yards and two touchdowns.

After the Prep Bowl on Saturday, the coach said, “It was important to have Jason be able to walk off the field one last time, victorious, in front of I don’t know how many thousand people. … For what he’s meant to this team, I just thought that was an appropriate way for him to end his career. No, we’re not going to do that for most kids, but this kid … the kid deserved to walk off to the ovation that he got.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

New, Old, Large, Small: A Great Day At Prep Bowl XXXVII
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/24/2018 5:21:29 PM

There was quite a mix of new and old, along with big and small, Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium when Mahnomen/Waubun and BOLD met to decide the state championship in Class 1A football.

Mahnomen and Waubun -- towns separated by 12 miles of Highway 59 in northwest Minnesota -- completed season No. 1 as a cooperative team with a 22-21 win over BOLD and a record of 13-0. Mahnomen went to state 26 times between 1974 and 2017, winning eight state titles (most recently in 2013). Waubun made four state appearances, including 2015 and 2016.

That was the new. The old was BOLD coach Steve Solem, who has led the Warriors for 33 years. Saturday’s game was his last before retirement; his teams won two state titles and this year’s runner-up finish was the Warriors’ fourth under Solem.

“I’ve got grandkids,” Solem said. “I’ve got two sons who coach football (Grant Solem is the head coach at Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial and Trevor Solem is an assistant at Minnewaska Area) and a daughter who raises cows. So I might go out and help her when I’m not watching the other two play games.”

A group of BOLD fans showed their admiration for the coach during the awards ceremony by holding up 17 sheets of white paper, each bearing one letter. The message was clear and from the heart: THANK YOU COACH SOLEM.

The big was BOLD senior Riley Weis, 6-foot-1, 300-pound lineman who left the game with an injury in the second quarter. Riley is usually double-teamed when he’s on defense, and his loss loomed large.

“You took a kid who’s going to play in the all-star game and is probably one of the best linemen in the state, and you put him on the sideline,” Solem said. “The kid that goes in there does a great job but it isn’t him.”

Nobody argued that the loss of Weis changed the outcome of the game, but still…

“With Riley, a big, strong 300-pound super-strong tackle, you can’t really single-team him,” said BOLD linebacker Hayden Tersteeg. “Having him in there drawing double-teams, he doesn’t get enough credit because he doesn’t make all the tackles. But he draws double-teams and triple-teams all the time, and that kind of lets the rest of us flow free. The guys that came in, they did what they could. Like coach said, they’re not Riley but they worked their tails off.”

The small was someone who made the biggest play of the game. Mahnomen/Waubun’s Jayden Heisler is listed at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, but Clark said he might be closer to 150.

BOLD was driving for what the Warriors hoped would be a game-winning field goal, and they had reached the Thunderbirds' 10-yard line. A running play went up the middle, where Heisler met the ballcarrier, stripped the ball and fell on it with 96 seconds to play. Ballgame.

Asked to explain the play, Jayden said simply, “I kinda blitzed.”

Clark followed up: “He’s an aggressive player. Like he said, he kinda blitzes and he blitzes a lot on his own. He’s going to make plays. He weighs 150 pounds and he takes on big kids head on and does a great job. He read the formation and he shot.”

Clark was choked up briefly when asked what the state championship means. He comes from a coaching family; his father John Sr. (better known as “Bomber”) coached for more than four decades and was the head coach at Waubun for 20 years, and John Jr.’s brother Paul was Waubun’s head coach for 10 years. All three are now coaching together. They have a combined head-coaching record of 362-154 over a total of 48 seasons.

“My father’s been coaching football for 44-plus years and he’s never won one,” Clark said. “And I wanted it a lot for him. Nobody knows that but myself, now I’m getting emotional thinking about that.”

Rochester Lourdes 24, Fairmont 7

Lourdes won its fifth state championship behind the running of Zach Jungels, who carried 27 times for 233 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his scores came in the fourth quarter, on runs of 50 and 22 yards.

Fairmont had one more total yard than the Eagles (339-338) but the Cardinals’ only points came on a 56-yard pass from Garrett Myren to Thomas Johnson in the third quarter. Myren completed 15 of 28 passes for 219 yards and teammate Jordan Wolter ran 22 times for 110 yards.

Owatonna 14, St. Thomas Academy 3

Jason Williamson ran for touchdowns of 71 and 44 yards to boost the Huskies to their second consecutive Class 5A championship and third overall. Williamson ran 23 times for 184 yards while St. Thomas Academy’s Brendan McFadden rushed 30 times for 105 yards.

Prep Bowl XXXVII

Friday, November 23

Nine-Man: Spring Grove 40, Mountain Lake Area 18
Class 2A: Caledonia 21, Barnesville 0
Class 4A: SMB 44, Willmar 18
Class 6A: Lakeville North 28, Eden Prairie 20

Saturday, Nov. 24
Class 1A: Mahnomen/Waubun 22, BOLD 21
Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes 24, Fairmont 7
Class 5A: Owatonna 14, St. Thomas Academy 3

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Pride In The Team, Pride In The Coach
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/23/2018 8:35:28 PM

Bryan Strand saw the script unfolding. It would be one of the great cliffhangers of all time, with the underdog pulling off the upset and a wild celebration ensuing all the way from U.S. Bank Stadium back to Barnesville, 210 miles up Interstate 94.

The coach could see it. His Barnesville Trojans were going to come out on top in Friday’s Class 2A Prep Bowl matchup with Caledonia, the team that had won the last three state titles and came in with a 53-game winning streak.

The halftime score was Caledonia 7, Barnesville 0. The score after three quarters? Caledonia 7, Barnesville 0. Strand could see the finish in his mind.

“It felt like a movie,” he said. “It felt like it was meant to be. It was going to happen, we were going to find a way to win it. I figured we were gonna win that sucker 8-7.”

Caledonia, however, flipped the script by scoring 14 points in a 61-second span of the fourth quarter. The knockout punch came when the Warriors’ Payton Schott returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown to seal Caledonia’s 21-0 victory.

The Warriors are the most dominant football program in Minnesota right now, and the folks from Barnesville knew their boys were not favored to win. The Trojans, in the school’s sixth trip to state, almost cleared the final hurdle before taking home their third runner-up finish (the others were in 1978 and 2010).

“I thought our kids just had a ton of grit today,” Strand said. “They didn’t let up. We made some mistakes. They’re kids, they’re going to make mistakes. But they made this coach pretty dang proud.”

The boys, as well as the community, are just as proud of their coach. He has lived a whirlwind life since suffering a stroke last March. A hospital stay was followed by rehab, using a cane to get around, not being allowed to drive, etc. But he was ready when football practice started, even if his health situation isn’t yet resolved.

Next week, Strand, 45, will undergo heart surgery. After the stroke, tests revealed a hole in his heart that led to the stroke. He feels very fortunate.

He tried to hug as many of his players (pictured above) as possible Friday. They were understandably downcast after falling short of their goal, but their coach reminded them of what they had accomplished together.

“It’s the journey with these kids that you’re going to remember,” he said. “It’s not so much the end result. … our kids prepared for this game as well as they could have.

“The end result isn’t what we wanted but the journey, I think, is the most important part of it.”

Strand has been wearing a red hat during games, which doesn’t fit with the school colors of purple, gold and white. But he has a good reason for wearing a hat that bears the words “Carlin Railroaders.”

Carlin High School is in Nevada. The Railroaders football coach is Myron Branning, who was Strand’s college teammate at Mayville State in North Dakota. Branning is dealing with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

If this is a movie, it’s quite a script.

Spring Grove 40, Mountain Lake Area 18

The Lions captured their second consecutive Nine-Man championship, stretching their unbeaten streak to 28 games over two years. Spring Grove’s last loss was to Grand Meadow in the 2016 Section 1 playoff finals.

Spring Grove quarterback Alex Folz (pictured) finished his high school football career in style, carrying the ball 30 times for 257 yards and four touchdowns, including scores of 88 and 50 yards. He also completed 10 of 19 passes for 90 yards while being intercepted three times (he was picked off only five times in the previous 13 games this season).

Mountain Lake quarterback Abraham Stoesz ran 21 times for 241 yards and two touchdowns while completing 12 of 27 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.

SMB 44, Willmar 18

SMB, a Twin Cities cooperative team with players from St. Paul Academy and Summit School, Minnehaha Academy and Blake, led 24-12 at halftime and held off the Cardinals. SMB’s Jalen Suggs completed nine of 11 passes for 216 yards and three scores, rushed 23 yards for a TD and returned an interception 97 yards for another touchdown. Willmar’s Drey Dirksen completed 10 of 19 passes for 149 yards and two scores.

Lakeville North 28, Eden Prairie 21

The Panthers defeated Eden Prairie for the second time in 2018, the first coming in a 14-0 decision in the second week of the regular season. Raja Nelson scored touchdowns for Lakeville North on runs of 5, 1 and 10 yards. It was the first state football title for North; when the school was Lakeville High (before Lakeville South opened in 2005), it won three championships.

Tournament Tidbits

--The Mountain Lake Area team includes a second and third generation of football coaches and players. Dan Brinkman was a longtime assistant coach at Hutchinson who retired a couple of years ago to watch the Mountain Lake Wolverines. His son Nate Brinkman is the team’s defensive coordinator and his grandson Mace Herrig is a two-way player.

--Mountain Lake Area senior Regan Syverson has been busy. Following last Friday’s state semifinal, he returned home to play the lead role in the school play, “High School Musical,” on Saturday and Sunday. His character, Troy, is the star of the basketball team who ends up trying out for, and getting, the lead role in the school play, scheduled for the same day as the championship basketball game.

--Eden Prairie senior lineman Josh Rahman, who has epilepsy, advocates for others with epilepsy and helps create epilepsy awareness through a campaign he has created called EPforEpilepsy. He raised has more than $1,000 for the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota.

Prep Bowl XXXVII

Friday, November 23

Nine-Man: Spring Grove 40, Mountain Lake Area 18
Class 2A: Caledonia 21, Barnesville 0
Class 4A: SMB 44, Willmar 18
Class 6A: Lakeville North 28, Eden Prairie 21

Saturday, Nov. 24
10 a.m. Class 1A: BOLD (13-0) vs. Mahnomen/Waubun (12-0)
1 p.m. Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes (13-0) vs. Fairmont (11-1)
4 p.m. Class 5A: Owatonna (12-0) vs. St. Thomas Academy (12-0)

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

How To Watch Prep Bowl XXXVII On TV, Online
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/22/2018 6:07:20 PM

How to watch Prep Bowl XXXVII if you can't make it to U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday or Saturday...

TV: KSTC Channel 45

Webcast: prep45.com

Friday, November 23
10 a.m. Nine-Man: Spring Grove (13-0) vs. Mountain Lake (12-0)
1 p.m. Class 2A: Caledonia (12-0) vs. Barnesville (11-2)
4 p.m. Class 4A: SMB (12-0) vs. Willmar (11-1)
7 p.m. Class 6A: Eden Prairie (10-1) vs. Lakeville North 12-0)

Saturday, Nov. 24
10 a.m. Class 1A: BOLD (13-0) vs. Mahnomen/Waubun (12-0)
1 p.m. Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes (13-0) vs. Fairmont (11-1)
4 p.m. Class 5A: Owatonna (12-0) vs. St. Thomas Academy (12-0)

In Barnesville, Giving Thanks For More Than Football
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/21/2018 2:35:11 PM

There are lots of reasons to give thanks. During this week, which in Minnesota includes Prep Bowl XXXVII as well as Thanksgiving, folks in Barnesville are especially thankful.

One reason? The Barnesville High School football team will play for a Class 2A state championship against Caledonia on Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Another reason? Trojans coach Bryan Strand is still the Trojans coach.

Not that he ever had any doubts. But when the coach suffered a serious stroke last March, people worried about his health even though he never worried about giving up coaching.

“I wasn’t going to let that stop me. It just wasn’t going to,” Strand said after his team defeated Minneapolis North in last week’s state semifinals. “It’s a passion. It’s part of who I am, it’s part of my job.”

The stroke hit Strand on a Saturday night. He and his wife Meg, who have five children, were out playing bingo when the coach began feeling dizzy and started vomiting. He was unconscious at times as he was driven to a hospital, with the right side of his body numb.

Somehow, he left the hospital after only three days. He walked with a cane at first and has undergone therapy. He was with the team when practice began in August; he said he had to sit down at halftime of the first game this season because of high blood pressure, but otherwise he has not missed a beat.

Strand is also the principal at Barnesville, another role he relishes.

“I think I’m a better principal because I’m a football coach,” he said. “I’ve got the respect of the kids, they listen very well, and they’re not going to be out there screwing around because they know they’ll have to come and see me.”

The challenge in Friday’s game is a big one. Barnesville will attempt to win its first football state title against a Caledonia team that is the three-time defending champion and has won 53 games in a row, a streak that is currently the longest in the nation. The Minnesota record is 76 in a row by Stephen-Argyle between 2003 and 2008.

Adam Tonsfeldt, Barnesville’s sophomore quarterback, said of Caledonia, “They haven’t lost in a long time. The last two weeks have been incredible preparation. They’re a good team but I guarantee you we’ll be ready for them.”

Asked about Strand, Adam said, “We were all really devastated when he had his stroke. We went up right away and talked to him. He is such a big part of this team. I guarantee we’re not as good a football team without him. He gives us so much inspiration. He went through a lot and we know we’re going to push ourselves. He wants to do it for us and we want do it for him.”

Junior running back Hunter Anderson smiled as he said, “I don’t think every student can say this, but I love my principal. I think that’s how all our team members feel. That’s the type of coach he is. Everyone loves him.”

And everyone is grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.

Prep Bowl XXXVII

Friday, November 23

10 a.m. Nine-Man: Spring Grove (13-0) vs. Mountain Lake (12-0)
1 p.m. Class 2A: Caledonia (12-0) vs. Barnesville (11-2)
4 p.m. Class 4A: SMB (12-0) vs. Willmar (11-1)
7 p.m. Class 6A: Eden Prairie (10-1) vs. Lakeville North 12-0)

Saturday, Nov. 24
10 a.m. Class 1A: BOLD (13-0) vs. Mahnomen/Waubun (12-0)
1 p.m. Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes (13-0) vs. Fairmont (11-1)
4 p.m. Class 5A: Owatonna (12-0) vs. St. Thomas Academy (12-0)

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

As Fall Season Ends, Lots Of Reminders About What’s Important
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/20/2018 5:29:36 PM

The 2018 Minnesota high school fall sports season will come to an end this weekend with Prep Bowl XXXVII football games at U.S. Bank Stadium. There will be seven state championship contests, capping months of competitions in many sports in which athletes and teams give their all, coaches do everything they can to prepare, and fans follow along with pride and enthusiasm.

It’s not all about winning and losing, as we know. This isn’t professional or college sports, and nobody is involved in high school sports and activities for the money. There are always lessons to be learned, and this fall’s sporting calendar has provided, as prep sports always do, strong reminders of what’s truly important.

Let’s revisit some of the special moments from this fall’s championship calendar, starting with the top cross-country athlete in Minnesota. Minneapolis Washburn senior Emily Covert capped her cross-country career by winning a second consecutive Class 2A championship on Nov. 3 at St. Olaf College in Northfield, and her words afterwards were just as strong as her performance.

“Honestly, I feel so blessed to be able to be here and compete among all these amazing and talented women,” she said. “It’s so humbling to know that there are so many people cheering me on and cheering everyone on. It makes the experience so much more amazing.

“I love Minneapolis. When I was in seventh grade my parents asked if I wanted to transfer to a really strong running school. And I said, ‘No, I want to go to Washburn and I want to help the team at Washburn.’ I know if you talk about it and you get young girls out there, they’re just going to keep on having fun and keep on wanting to do more.”

Pride in your school and your community is special, whether you live in a tiny village in rural Minnesota or the largest city in the state. And that feeling extends way beyond what we consider the prime time activities.

Last weekend inside Stillwater High School, the adapted soccer state tournament was held over two days. In the division for physically impaired athletes, the team from St. Paul Humboldt captured the state title with a 5-4 win over Dakota United. Any championship is a great accomplishment, but how many teams can look back with pride on an entire season in which they played shorthanded?

Adapted soccer rules allow teams to have a maximum of seven players in action at a time. But Humboldt had just five players throughout the season, yet they finished with a record of 11-1, closing with three victories at state.

“We tried and tried and tried to get more players,” coach Mary Bohland told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It was either we didn't play or we played with five, and we played with five. It was hard. We got tired. We had a lot of close games. These guys have been playing together for five years. They know each other and what they can do. We worked. We kept going and going and going.”

At the state volleyball tournament, emotions and tears were a theme on Championship Saturday. After unseeded Medford advanced all the way to the title match before losing, coach Missy Underdahl wiped away tears.

“These aren't tears of sadness,” she said. “These are tears of our season has come to an end, and you’re going to miss these girls so much because it’s just been an incredible season. I’m not having tears of sadness here, it’s tears of the reality that I won’t get to see these girls.”

Last week, the Pierz football team saw its season end with a narrow loss to Rochester Lourdes in the Class 3A state semifinals. After the game, Pioneers senior Reese Kapsner was asked about the memories he will take from high school football.

“Just having fun with your friends and being teammates and having a good team and enjoying the time playing football with your friends,” he said.

On Tuesday, 33-year Pierz coach Leo Pohlkamp (pictured with Kapsner and Alex Gross) announced that Saturday’s game was his last as he transitions into retirement. His career record of 276-84 ranks among the top 15 all-time in state history, but he also knows that winning wasn’t the only thing that mattered. In what became a routine at state semifinals and Prep Bowl games, when the postgame press conferences ended the coach would personally thank every media member in the room for their devotion to high school activities.

After the other Class 3A semifinal last weekend, in which Fairmont beat the Perham Yellowjackets, Perham coach Kyle Knutson was asked about his talented quarterback, senior Jenson Beachy. (They are pictured here.)

“I love him,” the coach said. “A kid like Jenson comes along not too often. I feel blessed to be able to work with him over the past few years and he’s a great example for younger kids and the type of athlete we want on our team. He’s very coachable, he’s a great poised leader. It’s just been a privilege to work with him.”

Asked about the team’s seniors, Knutson said, “This senior class is a bunch of tremendous young men and they’re going to go off and do great things beyond high school, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. I’m indebted to them and I wish them all the best. It’s going to be pretty emotional saying goodbye to those guys. They’re a great group of men and I’m going to miss them.”

Another team that saw a stellar football season end in the state semifinals was Blooming Prairie in Class 1A. Coach Chad Gimbel talked about what made the season special.

“The guys,” he said. “Honestly, practice was fun every single day. Leadership was great, underclassmen leadership was great. I’ve been doing this for 24, 25 years and the No. 1 thing that it takes is chemistry on the team. That’s the most important thing, that’s what these guys had this year.”

Win or lose, year after year, there are always important themes. School pride, community spirit, working hard, fun with your friends, setting an example for others.

The fall season was outstanding.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Lumberyard’s Loss Is BOLD Football’s Gain
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/17/2018 8:31:01 PM

Following a late-October win over Ortonville in the Section 5 playoffs, BOLD football coach Steve Solem told his players that he was retiring at the end of the season, whenever the end arrived.

It hasn’t arrived yet. The Warriors advanced to the Class 1A Prep Bowl with a 37-7 victory over Blooming Prairie on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium, and that means the season will go the distance. And to think, if Solem had used the college degree he earned in lumberyard management from Huron College in South Dakota instead of becoming a teacher and coach, well, that would have been different.

“I could see myself being a lumberyard manager, just sitting there passing out two by fours,” a smiling Solem said after Saturday’s game. BOLD (Bird Island, Olivia, Lake Lillian District) will take a record of 13-0 into Saturday’s 10 a.m. game against Mahnomen-Waubun (12-0).

Solem has spent his entire 33-year high school coaching career at BOLD. He was there when the school district was formed and he helped design the football uniforms. He also has coached boys and girls basketball and softball. His football record of 291-77 ranks among the top 10 in state history; he was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.

The Warriors are pursuing their third state championship. BOLD won it all in 1990 and 1991 and finished second in 1992, 1998 and 2014. Another championship would be a great way to close his career, but Solem knows this is about more than winning and losing.

“I don’t think there’s a better way to go out than have these young men lead you to a state finals game,” he said. “Win, lose or draw, we lay it on the line every game. And when we’re done, we look at the scoreboard. If it’s in our favor we like it. If it isn’t we’re not as happy but we know we played as hard as we could.”

A 1978 graduate of Windom High School, Solem played football at Worthington Community College before transferring to study and play football at Huron. He was a graduate assistant coach there for two years before taking a job teaching physical education in Bird Island. He was an assistant football coach for one year before taking over the team.

This year’s team returned nine offensive starters and eight on defense from last season’s 10-1 squad. “We knew we were going to have a decent team,” the coach said.

Some of Solem’s early players are now the parents of current players. He was asked about senior Riley Weis, a 6-foot-1, 300-pound senior lineman who will play in the Minnesota High School All-Star Game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Dec. 15.

“I coached his dad the first year I was there, and his mom was a basketball player who was tougher than a nail. I said, ‘You two should get married.’ And they came up with a 290-pound tackle.”

--Mahnomen/Waubun defeated Springfield 38-0 Saturday. The Thunderbirds and BOLD have been dominant all season long, scoring seemingly at will and rarely giving up points. BOLD, which has trailed only once in 2018, has held all but two opponents to zero points or single digits. The Mahnomen/Waubun Thunderbirds have given up double digits only three times.

--Rochester Lourdes and Pierz have dominated Class 3A, with each winning two state titles in the last four years. Lourdes came out on top Saturday, defeating the Pioneers 25-20 in a game that went down to the wire. Pierz won it all in 2015 and 2017, and the Eagles were champions in 2014 and 2016.

--Fairmont defeated Perham 29-14, moving the Cardinals into a matchup with Rochester Lourdes in Prep Bowl XXXVII at 1 p.m. Saturday. Fairmont’s last Prep Bowl appearance was a runner-up finish in 2011.

--St. Thomas Academy advanced to its fourth Prep Bowl with a 33-21 victory over Bemidji in Class 5A. The Cadets, who won a state title in 1975 and finished second in 2000, 2006 and 2015, will meet defending state champion Owatonna at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Football State Semifinals

Thursday, Nov. 15

Nine-Man: Spring Grove 48, Cromwell-Wright 12
Class 2A: Caledonia 40, Paynesville 6
Class 4A: SMB 23, Waseca 15
Class 6A: Eden Prairie 34, Blaine 14

Friday, Nov. 16
Nine-Man: Mountain Lake Area 42, Mountain Iron-Buhl 8
Class 2A: Barnesville 34, Minneapolis North 20
Class 5A: Owatonna 39, Elk River 8
Class 4A: Willmar 62, St. Paul Johnson 20
Class 6A: Lakeville North 35, Lakeville South 13

Saturday, Nov. 17
Class 1A: BOLD 37, Blooming Prairie 7
Class 1A: Mahnomen/Waubun 38, Springfield 0
Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes 25, Pierz 20
Class 3A: Fairmont 29, Perham 14
Class 5A: St. Thomas Academy 33, Bemidji 21

Prep Bowl XXXVII

Friday, November 23

10 a.m. Nine-Man: Spring Grove (13-0) vs. Mountain Lake (12-0)
1 p.m. Class 2A: Caledonia (12-0) vs. Barnesville (11-2)
4 p.m. Class 4A: SMB (12-0) vs. Willmar (11-1)
7 p.m. Class 6A: Eden Prairie (10-1) vs. Lakeville North 12-0)

Saturday, Nov. 24
10 a.m. Class 1A: BOLD (13-0) vs. Mahnomen/Waubun (12-0)
1 p.m. Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes (13-0) vs. Fairmont (11-1)
4 p.m. Class 5A: Owatonna (12-0) vs. St. Thomas Academy (12-0)

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/16/2018 7:55:02 PM

Football fans coming to U.S. Bank Stadium please take note and tell others...

Interstate 35W will be closed south of downtown Minneapolis from 10 p.m. Friday through Monday morning.

If you plan to attend Saturday's state semifinal football games at U.S. Bank Stadium, please plan ahead. Light rail is a great option.

The Old-School Offense That Fits Minnesota To A T
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/16/2018 7:38:50 PM

The T formation is often said to be the oldest offensive formation in American football and is claimed to have been invented by Walter Camp in 1882. – Wikipedia.

The hottest offense in Minnesota high school football is 136 years old, and Elk River coach Steve Hamilton has become a guru of the T formation. The Elks won the Class 5A state championship two years ago, lost to Owatonna in the 2017 title game and fell to the Huskies 39-8 in Friday’s semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.

And to think, Hamilton began his career as a head coach running a spread offense. But he has long been running the T formation with the Elks and said Friday he has heard from 16 other coaches in Minnesota who wanted to learn about it.

“Some have taken pieces, some are all in,” he said. “That’s why I went to it; we needed something to level the playing field and compete with the teams we had to play with. It’s certainly helped me in my career. I’m sure it’s made my career last longer than I ever thought it would. Twenty-one years as a head coach and I don’t know if I ever thought I would still be coaching at this point.”

Barnesville, which beat Minneapolis North 34-20 in Friday’s Class 2A semifinals, uses the T, as does Lakeville South, which met Lakeville North in the 6A semis in Friday’s last game. The basic T formation is very simple: seven linemen bunched in tight, quarterback under the center and three running backs lined up a row behind the quarterback. (Photo: Elk River on offense.)

“I watched Elk River run theirs and it’s very similar to what we want in our wing T,” said Barnesville coach Bryan Strand. “Misdirection, angle blocks, you don’t have to have gigantic linemen. I emailed (Hamilton) and he was fantastic.

“We went down there and met with him over the summer and he gave me all of their film, he answered questions, he’s been the go-to guy even during the season. He’s just there to help us out. He was smiling really big when we walked through at halftime (leading 28-8) because we run their offense.”

Hamilton said, “Did I ever think I was going to come to Minnesota and suddenly people would come to me about the offense I’m running? It’s been pretty cool.”

Owatonna clearly was prepared for the Elks on Friday. Elk River averaged 44 points and more than 400 rushing yards per game this season; the Elks rushed 45 times for 125 yards in scoring eight points against Owatonna.

“To be able to hold those guys to eight points and actually force them to throw to get their touchdown, we felt like that was a major accomplishment,” said Huskies coach Jeff Williams.

“It’s not really a secret,” Hamilton said. “If you’re really disciplined and you’re better than us up front, and that’s what they’ve been the last two years.”

Elk River’s record over the past three years is 34-4.

“If you would have said 34-4 and a state title, we would all have jumped on that,” Hamilton said. “It’s been an incredible run and this group of kids has been awesome. And it’s really them, the kids do this. This isn’t about the coaches, it isn’t about the families, it’s about the kids. The game’s for the kids and they’ve been incredible kids to coach.”

Hamilton taught and coached in Michigan and Georgia before coming to Elk River in 2011. He used a spread offense in Michigan but ran into issues.

“We found out real quick that if guys can’t get open, they can just pin their ears back and it’s a long night for the quarterback,” he said. He contacted a longtime successful coach there who ran the T and learned about it.

“He’s still the guy I call every week,” Hamilton said, “and every year I show him the Owatonna film and he says, ‘You guys are in trouble.’ ”

Tournament Tidbits

--Mountain Lake Area
junior quarterback Abraham Stoesz had a big day, completing 10 of 16 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown, and rushing 15 times for 102 yards and another score in the Warriors’ 42-8 nine-man win over Mountain Iron-Buhl. The Wolverines advanced to next Friday’s Prep Bowl XXXVII, where they will face defending champion Spring Grove for the nine-man state title.

Mountain Lake Area is a cooperative team with students from Mountain Lake High and Mountain Lake Christian. It’s the third version of Mountain Lake to go to state in football. Mountain Lake High was the Class C state runner-up in 1980, Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin went to state three times between 1991 and 2003 (finishing as 1A runner-up in 2002) and the current Mountain Lake Area program is at state for the fourth time since 2012.

Friday’s game was the Wolverines’ first at U.S. Bank Stadium, and Stoesz was asked about pregame jitters.

“We come out, we’re on the field and we had a little bit of nerves,” he said. “But when the game starts, stick your chest out and turn your nerves into pride.”

--Mountain Iron and Buhl have a tournament history similar to Mountain Lake’s. Mountain Iron High was the Class B state champ in 1972 (the first year of football playoffs) and also went to state in 1973 and 1982. Mountain Iron-Buhl made its sixth state appearance since 1983.

--Barnesville’s victory put the Trojans into the Class 2A Prep Bowl game against three-time defending state champion Caledonia at 1 p.m. Nov. 23.

--Willmar rolled past St. Paul Johnson 62-20 in Class 4A. The Cardinals will face SMB in the Prep Bowl at 4 p.m. Nov. 23.

--In Friday night’s final game, Lakeville North beat Lakeville South 35-13 in Class 6A. North will face Eden Prairie in the Prep Bowl at 7 p.m. Nov. 23.

Football State Semifinal Schedule
At U.S. Bank Stadium

Thursday, Nov. 15

Nine-Man: Spring Grove 48, Cromwell-Wright 12
Class 2A: Caledonia 40, Paynesville 6
Class 4A: SMB 23, Waseca 15
Class 6A: Eden Prairie 34, Blaine 14

Friday, Nov. 16
Nine-Man: Mountain Lake Area 42, Mountain Iron-Buhl 8
Class 2A: Barnesville 34, Minneapolis North 20
Class 5A: Owatonna 39, Elk River 8
Class 4A: Willmar 62, St. Paul Johnson 20
Class 6A: Lakeville North 35, Lakeville South 13

Saturday, Nov. 17
9 a.m. Class 1A: BOLD vs. Blooming Prairie
11:30 a.m. Class 1A: Mahnomen/Waubun vs. Springfield
2 p.m. Class 3A: Pierz vs. Rochester Lourdes
4:30 p.m. Class 3A: Perham vs. Fairmont
7 p.m. Class 5A: Bemidji vs. St. Thomas Academy

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Ill-Timed Injuries Strike Cromwell-Wright, Paynesville
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/15/2018 8:15:05 PM

The story of two teams that played in the state football semifinals Thursday at U.S. Bank Stadium could be told through the medical devices that were seen: One wheelchair, four crutches. The teams from Cromwell-Wright and Paynesville were each missing a key player who happened to be their starting quarterback as well as an important defensive component.

Cromwell-Wright senior Drew Libbon navigated the big stadium on crutches. Paynesville senior Max Weidner came on and off the field in a wheelchair, then used crutches on the sideline. Both teams came up short, with Cromwell-Wright losing to Spring Grove 48-12 in a Nine-Man game and Paynesville falling to Caledonia 40-6 in Class 2A.

Libbon was injured in the Section 5 championship game, a 26-8 win over South Ridge. He suffered a dislocated hip when two tacklers brought him down and fell on him. Weidner’s injury, a broken ankle, happened in last week’s 52-14 state quarterfinal win over Pillager. His incident was similar to Lisbon; Weidner’s left foot was caught underneath a tackler when they both went to the ground.

Both were two-way players who saw their seasons -- and high school football careers -- end while all they could do was watch and cheer.

“The hard part is to see a kid who invested so much not be able to go out on his own terms,” said Paynesville coach Max Meagher. “I have four kids at home, and my third-oldest kind of put it in perspective when she said, “Well, at least it didn’t happen in the first game.’ It’s just hard to get right on the brink of his dream of playing in U.S. Bank for the second time and just like that it was gone.”

Both players knew exactly what they were missing because they had played in the big stadium before. Weidner was the quarterback last season when Paynesville lost to Caledonia in the semifinals, and Libbon saw some action as a reserve two years ago when the Cardinals lost to Cleveland in the semifinals.

“I guess it is better that it didn’t happen in the first game of the season and I don’t have to sit out the whole time,” Weidner said. “But it’s not exactly what I wanted.”

When Max was injured, some of his teammates thought his shoe was coming loose, but it was his foot that was coming loose. It was a severe injury, which will keep him sidelined during basketball season. He’s hoping he will be cleared to play baseball in the spring.

When the Dragons left the locker room before kickoff, Max’s wheelchair was pushed out to lead the team onto the field.

“I would have rather been running, but it was kind of nice to be in the front of the pack and leading the dogs out there,” he said.

Libbon, who is hoping to be on the basketball court in January, was maintaining a positive attitude despite his inability to be in uniform. Cardinals coach Jeff Gronner said, “He’s a two-year captain, and I haven’t had a lot of two-year captains. He’s a phenomenal kid, tough kid, intense kid, our vocal leader. So those are all the things that we lost.”

In both cases, roles were shuffled when the No. 1 quarterbacks were lost. Cromwell-Wright senior wide receiver Isaac Shelton became the Cardinals quarterback, and Paynesville junior running back Grady Fuchs made the same position change,

“I’m always telling him to stay confident,” Weidner said. “Grady is one heck of an athlete and I know if he keeps his mind right he can do amazing things. And I know he’s going to be a great quarterback for this team next year.”

Caledonia coach Carl Fruechte sought out Weidner before and after Thursday’s game.

“He stopped me and said he wished I could be out there,” Max said. “He was super thoughtful about it. After the game he said, ‘I know you would have made a huge difference.’ It was super nice.”

Tournament Tidbits

--In Spring Grove’s win over Cromwell-Wright, Lions senior Alex Folz completed 25 of 34 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns while rushing 19 times for 85 yards and three scores. He also kicked off eight times, punted once and made 5.5 tackles. The Lions will face Mountain Iron-Buhl or Mountain Lake Area (who play Friday) in Prep Bowl XXXVII at 10 a.m. on Nov. 23.

--Caledonia advanced to the Prep Bowl, where the Warriors will meet Barnesville or Minneapolis North at 1 p.m. on Nov. 23. Those teams will meet Friday.

--In an exciting Class 4A semifinal, SMB defeated Waseca 23-15. SMB, a cooperative team with players from St. Paul Academy and Summit School, Minnehaha Academy, Hope Academy and Blake, will meet Willmar or St. Paul Johnson in the Prep Bowl at 4 p.m. om Nov. 23. Those teams face off Friday.

--Eden Prairie’s 34-14 victory over Blaine in Friday night’s Class 6A semifinals put the Eagles into the Prep Bowl against the winner of Friday night’s game between Lakeville South and Lakeville North.

--All of this week’s action from the state football semifinals and girls swimming and diving state championships can be viewed online at no charge. Go to prepspotlight.tv/MSHSL

--TRAFFIC REMINDER: Interstate 35W will be closed south of downtown Minneapolis from 10 p.m. Friday through Monday morning. If you are coming to girls state swimming and diving at the University of Minnesota or football at U.S. Bank Stadium, please plan ahead. Light rail is a good option.

Football State Semifinal Schedule
At U.S. Bank Stadium

Thursday, Nov. 15

Nine-Man: Spring Grove 48, Cromwell-Wright 12
Class 2A: Caledonia 40, Paynesville 6
Class 4A: SMB 23, Waseca 15
Class 6A: Eden Prairie 34, Blaine 14

Friday, Nov. 16
9 a.m. Nine-Man: Mountain Lake Area vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl
11:30 a.m. Class 2A: Barnesville vs. Minneapolis North
2 p.m. Class 5A: Elk River vs. Owatonna
4:30 p.m. Class 4A: Willmar vs. St. Paul Johnson
7 p.m. Class 6A: Lakeville North vs. Lakeville South

Saturday, Nov. 17
9 a.m. Class 1A: BOLD vs. Blooming Prairie
11:30 a.m. Class 1A: Mahnomen/Waubun vs. Springfield
2 p.m. Class 3A: Pierz vs. Rochester Lourdes
4:30 p.m. Class 3A: Perham vs. Fairmont
7 p.m. Class 5A: Bemidji vs. St. Thomas Academy

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

State Football Semifinal Schedules At U.S. Bank Stadium
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/13/2018 8:02:50 PM

Daily Schedules

Thursday, Nov. 15
11:30 a.m. Nine-Man: Cromwell-Wright vs. Spring Grove
2 p.m. Class 2A: Caledonia vs. Paynesville
4:30 p.m. Class 4A: SMB vs. Waseca
7 p.m. Class 6A: Eden Prairie vs. Blaine

Friday, Nov. 16
9 a.m. Nine-Man: Mountain Lake Area vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl
11:30 a.m. Class 2A: Barnesville vs. Minneapolis North
2 p.m. Class 5A: Elk River vs. Owatonna
4:30 p.m. Class 4A: Willmar vs. St. Paul Johnson
7 p.m. Class 6A: Lakeville North vs. Lakeville South

Saturday, Nov. 17
9 a.m. Class 1A: BOLD vs. Blooming Prairie
11:30 a.m. Class 1A: Mahnomen/Waubun vs. Springfield
2 p.m. Class 3A: Pierz vs. Rochester Lourdes
4:30 p.m. Class 3A: Perham vs. Fairmont
7 p.m. Class 5A: Bemidji vs. St. Thomas Academy

Class-By-Class Pairings

Cromwell-Wright vs. Spring Grove, Thursday 11:30 a.m.
Mountain. Iron-Buhl vs. Mountain Lake Area, Friday, 9 a.m.

BOLD vs. Blooming Prairie, Saturday, 9 a.m.
Mahnomen/Waubun vs. Springfield, Saturday, 11:30 a.m.

Paynesville vs. Caledonia, Thursday, 2 p.m.
Barnesville vs. Minneapolis North, Friday, 11:30 a.m.

Pierz vs. Rochester Lourdes, Saturday, 2 p.m.
Perham vs. Fairmont, Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

SMB vs. Waseca, Thursday, 4:30 p.m.
Willmar vs. St. Paul Johnson, Friday, 4:30 p.m.

Elk River vs. Owatonna, Friday, 2 p.m.
Bemidji vs. St. Thomas Academy, Saturday 7 p.m.

Eden Prairie vs. Blaine, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Lakeville South vs. Lakeville North, Friday, 7 p.m.

Tears And Cheers On Volleyball’s Championship Saturday
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/11/2018 3:55:21 PM

There’s a quiet tradition in high school athletics and activities. It comes when the season ends, whether that happens at a state tournament, a first-round section game or at the close of the speech or debate or marching band season. It doesn’t happen with every team everywhere, but when it does it’s worth a few words.

The main theme? Tears, often from the winning team. I first experienced this years ago at the state volleyball tournament. Bethlehem Academy, a Class 1A school in Faribault, had a tremendous run of volleyball success starting in 2002; the Cardinals played for state championships eight years in a row and 12 times through 2015.

In one of those championship years, coach Franz Boelter exited the locker room with tears in his eyes. A few minutes later as the players came out, they also had been crying. But they won? Why the tears?

The coach explained that everyone was sad that their time together as a team had ended, that the seniors had played on the team for the last time, and they wouldn’t be going to practice the following Monday. (Pictured are happy team members from Ada-Borup after a third-place finish in Class 1A Saturday).

We saw several similar episodes on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center. After Minneota defeated Medford 3-0 in the Class 1A championship match, Medford coach Missy Underdahl began the post-match media session apologizing for wiping away a few tears.

“These aren't tears of sadness,” she said, beginning to smile. “These are tears of our season has come to an end, and you’re going to miss these girls so much because it’s just been an incredible season. I’m not having tears of sadness here, it’s tears of the reality that I won’t get to see these girls.”

In their first trip to state, the Medford Tigers were the story of the tournament. They came in as one of three unseeded teams in the 1A field and beat No. 2 seed Mayer Lutheran and No. 3 seed Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa to reach the finals against top-seeded Minneota.

As Medford senior Rachael Luebbe said, “My goal at the beginning of the year was to get to (the late rounds of the Section 1 playoffs in) Rochester. I could never dream of getting this far.”

Junior teammate Izzy Reuvers added, “We’re amazed that we made it this far.” And Izzy wore a big smile when she said that.

In the Class 2A championship match, North Branch – like Minneota a state runner-up last season – battled with Marshall before winning a 3-2 decision for the Vikings’ first state title. While the North Branch players were posing for photos and celebrating with their fans, Marshall coach Dan Westby gathered his team together on the court.

This was a private moment for the team. There were tears and smiles as the coach spoke to the girls. Later, I told Dan that it was none of my business but I was curious about what he said. He was emotional as the two of us stood alone in a quiet corridor.

“I just said, because of the fact that they’re such good kids (he hesitated to gather himself) … I could not do this anymore and I would be fine, but I just wanted them to experience that feeling. I’ve had it, it’s not about me, I don’t need to do it, but I just wanted them to experience it. They’re good kids.”

Marshall was playing at state for a record 28th time. The Tigers have won six state titles (most recently in 2013) and finished second seven times.

Westby again talked about his players in the postgame media session.

“They’re great kids. I know that sounds like a cliché, but they really are,” he said. “I recall our assistant coach Alex Boddy saying on the first day of practice, ‘There’s not one kid in here who’s ever going to bother me on a given day. These are great kids.’ And she’s right. They’re leaders in our school and in our community.”

Erica Jones, one of six Marshall seniors, said she was “currently disappointed, but looking back it was a great season.”

One of the best postgame celebrations I have seen came after Champlin Park defeated Eagan 3-2 in the Class 3A championship match.

Eagan has been a regular at state, winning seven titles since 1997 and finishing second three times, including last season. Champlin Park was making its sixth trip to state, finished second to Eagan two years ago and had never won it all.

It was the Rebels’ first state championship in any team sport since the school opened in 1992. After posing for a team photo, the players carried the championship trophy to the stands and sang the school song with their classmates, friends and family members. Before the final note faded, everyone cheered.

It was grand.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/10/2018 8:27:11 PM

State Volleyball Tournament


Minneota defeated Medford 3-0
Third place: Ada-Borup
Fourth place: Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa
Fifth place: Mayer Lutheran
Sixth place: Carlton

Wells Fargo All-Tournament team: Olivia Tjernagel, Mayer Lutheran; Allison Gruber, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa; Kora Kritzberger, Ivy Johnson, Ada-Borup; Emma Kniefel, Kinsey Cronin, Kiley Nihart, Medford; Abby Hennen, Lydia Sussner, Morgan Kockelman, Natalee Rolbiecki, Minneota.


North Branch defeated Marshall 3-2
Third place: Kasson-Mantorville
Fourth place: Concordia Academy-Roseville
Fifth place: Belle Plaine
Sixth place: St. Cloud Cathedral

Wells Fargo All-Tournament team: Mikayla Coops, Belle Plaine; Taylor Brunn, Concordia Academy-Roseville; Peyton Suess, Emilee Terry, Kasson-Mantorville; Paige Sheehan, Cianna Selbitschka, Kylie Kline, North Branch; Mia Schnaible, Paige Andries, Bria Morris, Marshall.


Champlin Park defeated Eagan 3-2
Third place: Lakeville South
Fourth place: Stillwater
Fifth place: Shakopee
Sixth place: Moorhead

Wells Fargo All-Tournament team: Rachel Kilkelly, Shakopee; Maddie Whittington, Stillwater; Alena Moldan, Lakeville South; Ellie Husemann, Kaylyn Madison, Kennedi Orr, Eagan; Izzy Ashburn, Jordan Stalpes, Emma Schmidt, Kaitlyn Weimerskirch, Champlin Park.

Battling Though The Meat Grinder At State Volleyball
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/9/2018 6:33:00 PM

The 2018 volleyball season will come to a close Saturday at Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul, with state championships decided in all three classes. The entire endeavor started when practices began on Aug. 13 with every team in Minnesota dreaming of glory at the finish line.

The season was still young when the team from Champlin Park played at Lakeville North. On a warm Tuesday evening in mid-September, the visiting Rebels lost a five-set match, after which Champlin Park coach John Yunker talked about his team’s challenging schedule.

“It’s a meat grinder when you play teams like this, and it’s in preparation for the postseason,” he said then.

Champlin Park’s only other defeat this season came in the championship match of the Shakopee Invitational on the final day of the regular season. The opponent was Eagan … and those are the teams that will decide the Class 3A state title in the big barn at the corner of Kellogg Boulevard and West 7th Street.

Eagan defeated Stillwater 3-1 in Friday’s semifinals and Champlin Park got past Lakeville South (the team that beat Lakeville North in the Section 1 final) by the same 3-1 score.

Afterward, Yunker was asked what he most liked about his team’s performance.

“The battle factor,” he said. “They just competed. … they battled.”

I haven’t seen any team t-shirts bearing the phrase “Battle Though the Meat Grinder” but that’s a fair theme for this sport at this level.

Eagan, the top seed, will play in the title match for the sixth year in a row. The Wildcats own seven state championships since 1997, including 2015 and 2016. Champlin Park, the No. 3 seed, lost to Eagan 3-1 in the state final two years. The Rebels are seeking their first title.

“Honestly, this is high-level volleyball,” Yunker said. “Eagan has been in this match, for what, six years in a row? It’s not new to them and they’re here for a reason. They keep graduating people and everybody goes, ‘Oh, they’re going to be down.’ Well, they’re not. Their program’s an outstanding program.

“I think that’s us this year, too. We’ve been very fortunate to have the group we have. When we’re on, it’s very low-error and a lot of high-level volleyball players. We’re very fortunate with the kids we have.”

Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said her team has never assumed it would be playing for another title and that's not been stated as a team goal.

"Never. I would never put that on a kid. That’s too much.

“We never take it granted. This was a battle today, every match is a battle, every point is a battle. It’s a great way to end your season, playing on that court. And we hope we bring our A game tomorrow.”

The Wildcats’ Ellie Husemann, a 6-foot-3 senior who will play at the University of Minnesota, said, “Every team’s going to bring their best against us. We know that in these big moments we have to bring our best. Every game is a big game.

“This place is such a cool environment to play in and we don’t want to take anything for granted. We just want to go out and give 100 percent every single point.”

Back on that warm September evening, Champlin Park libero Kaitlyn Weimerskirch talked about the need to keep grinding away.

“The goal right now is to continue to get better and believe in the process and just grind it out,” she said. “But obviously we want to make it all the way to the end, because we know that we have what it takes to make it there.”

And here they are.

In Saturday’s other championship matches, it will be Minneota vs. Medford in Class 1A and North Branch vs. Concordia Academy-Roseville or Marshall in Class 2A.

State Volleyball Tournament


Thursday’s quarterfinals
Minneota defeated New York Mills 3-0
Ada-Borup defeated Carlton 3-1
Medford defeated Mayer Lutheran 3-2
Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa defeated 3-0 New Life Academy

Friday’s semifinals
Minneota defeated Ada-Borup 3-1
Medford defeated Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 3-1

9 a.m. fifth place: Carlton vs. Mayer Lutheran
11 a.m. third place: Ada-Borup vs. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa
1 p.m. championship: Minneota vs. Medford

Thursday’s quarterfinals
Kasson-Mantorville defeated St. Cloud Cathedral 3-0
North Branch defeated Watertown-Mayer 3-2
Concordia Academy-Roseville defeated Belle Plaine 3-1
Marshall defeated Park Rapids 3-1

Friday’s semifinals
North Branch defeated Kasson-Mantorville 3-2
Marshall defeated Concordia Academy-Roseville 3-1

11 a.m. fifth place: St. Cloud Cathedral vs. Belle Plaine
1 p.m. third place: Kasson-Mantorville vs. Concordia Academy
3 p.m. championship: North Branch vs. Marshall

Thursday’s quarterfinals
Eagan defeated Forest Lake 3-1
Stillwater defeated Shakopee 3-2
Champlin Park defeated Moorhead 3-0
Lakeville South defeated Edina 3-1

Friday’s semifinals
Eagan defeated Stillwater 3-1
Champlin Park defeated Lakeville South 3-1

9 a.m. fifth place: Shakopee vs. Moorhead
3 p.m. third place: Stillwater vs. Lakeville South
5 p.m. championship: Eagan vs Champlin Park

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Medford Makes History In State Volleyball Debut
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/8/2018 7:30:52 PM

When Medford High School’s volleyball team won the Class 1A Section 1 championship last week, the Tigers knew they would play at state for the first time in school history. When the seedings and brackets were announced Sunday, they realized something else: Their opening-round opponent would be Mayer Lutheran, a team that was playing at state for the 14th time, had earned the No. 2 seed, and for good measure was the two-time defending state champion.

The thinking outside the Tigers team was probably something along the lines of, “Uh, good luck with all that.”

Inside the team it was more like, “OK, let’s play and let’s have fun and let’s see what happens.”

The result could be heard in the ear-splitting hysteria from the Medford fans when the Tigers rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the Crusaders 3-2 Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. The scores were 25-18, 14-25, 21-25, 25-15, 19-17. The victory gave Medford a record of 28-5.

Afterwards, coach Missy Underdahl and junior hitter Emma Kniefel (pictured) were brought to the postgame interview room, adding one more chapter to all the firsts.

“I’m sorry, this is kind of new,” a smiling Underdahl said, sitting on a raised platform in front of reporters, microphones and bright lights. “I’ve never been here before. It’s kind of a lot to try to process when you come off of a game like that.”

Indeed, it was quite the match. But if there were any jitters on the Medford side of the court, it didn’t show.

“As far as our nervousness goes, honestly I thought we did a really good job,” Emma said. “I feel like our freshmen were the most nervous, but we’ve all played on some pretty big stages and we all just took that pressure and we were like, ‘We have to trust in each other, go out and have fun.’ This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We just knew that if we went out there and tried our hardest, we would be satisfied no matter the outcome.

“We do so many things together. This is the best chemistry I think I’ve ever been on a team with. We just know each other. We know each other’s secrets, we know each other’s boyfriends, we just know everything. We trust each other.”

That kind of trust, the coach said, can be crucial at stressful times, especially when her team trailed 2-1.

“We talked about totally believing that we deserved to be here and that we’re not going to go down without a fight,” she said. “I thought the girls did a great job."

“We’re rookies here,” Underdahl added. “No one in our school has ever been to the state tournament. So sometimes the pressure can get to the girls emotionally, mentally, not knowing how we would be able to acclimate to that kind of setting. We struggled in that second game, and we kind of had a talk going into the third game, that we needed to believe in each other and believe in ourselves. That second game we had a lot of downs, we didn’t have a lot of ups. We talked about that, saying we have to stay up, we have to let things go and we have to play our game.”

The Tigers are one of three volleyball teams playing at state for the first time. The others are Edina in Class 3A and Park Rapids in Class 2A. Edina lost to Lakeville South 3-1 in the quarterfinals, and Park Rapids met Marshall later in the day.

Tournament Tidbits

--Marshall qualified for state a record 28th time. And Richard Tuttle, the band director at Class 1A Ada-Borup, has taken Cougars pep bands to 28 state tournaments (in several sports) over the years.

--My favorite family-related fact from the volleyball state tournament: Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa senior Allison Gruber has four sisters, and now all five have played at state.

*Katie Class of 2007
*Sarah Class 2008
*Maggie Class of 2011
*Becca Class of 2014
*Allison Class of 2019

State Volleyball Tournament

Thursday’s quarterfinals
Minneota defeated New York Mills 3-0
Ada-Borup defeated Carlton 3-1
Medford defeated Mayer Lutheran 3-2
Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa defeated New Life Academy 3-0

Friday’s semifinals
1 p.m.: Minneota vs. Ada-Borup
3 p.m.: Medford vs. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa

Thursday's quarterfinals
Kasson-Mantorville defeated St. Cloud Cathedral 3-0
North Branch defeated Watertown-Mayer 3-2
Concordia Academy-Roseville defeated Belle Plaine 3-1
Marshall defeated Park Rapids 3-1

Friday’s semifinals
5 p.m.: Kasson-Mantorville vs. North Branch
7 p.m.: Concordia Academy-Roseville vs. Marshall

Thursday’s quarterfinals
Eagan defeated Forest Lake 3-1
Stillwater defeated Shakopee 3-2
Champlin Park defeated Moorhead 3-0
Lakeville South defeated Edina 3-1

Friday’s semifinals
9 a.m.: Eagan vs. Stillwater
11 a.m.: Champlin Park vs. Lakeville South

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

MSHSL, Second Harvest Heartland Join Efforts to Sack Hunger in Minnesota
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/5/2018 11:51:22 AM

The Minnesota State High School League and Second Harvest Heartland, one of the nation’s largest, most efficient and most innovative hunger relief organizations, have joined forces to fight hunger in Minnesota.

The MSHSL/Second Harvest “Sack Hunger” campaign will kick off in conjunction with Minnesota State High School League football semifinal and state championship games in November. During this pre-Thanksgiving period, schools whose teams advance to state semifinals (November 15-17) and the Prep Bowl (November 23-24) are encouraged to accept donations of non-perishable food at their schools and in their communities, which will be distributed to those in need by Second Harvest Heartland and partner organizations around the state.

The campaign is being spearheaded by MSHSL media specialist John Millea via his Twitter account (@MSHSLjohn) and the League’s other social media platforms. Participating schools are encouraged to Tweet photos of their efforts to John so they can be shared around the state.

“The MSHSL and its member schools are proud to partner with Second Harvest Heartland to help provide hunger relief across Minnesota,” said MSHSL executive director Erich Martens. “Knowing that hunger affects children and families in every community, our member schools are happy to harness the excitement of playoff football as a way to help feed those in need. We encourage fans to donate food items at their local schools and in their communities, and to consider making monetary donations to Second Harvest Heartland.”

Like games on the field, the Sack Hunger campaign will be a competition to see which schools contribute the most food to those in need. With donations measured by weight, the top schools will be publicly recognized by the MSHSL and Second Harvest Heartland, with schools that donate the most food being recognized as Champion Hunger Fighters.

Schools are also encouraged to have friendly competitions within their communities, with grade levels, school buildings or civic groups vying to see who can donate the most food.

“Fans can kick off the season of giving by filling the plates of hungry Minnesotans, including the one in six children who face hunger each day,” said Marsha Shotley, Chief Philanthropy Officer for Second Harvest Heartland. “The holidays—like a great day on the football field—are better shared with your neighbors. Second Harvest Heartland and the communities and agencies we serve are grateful for the support of those joining forces to sack hunger.”

Second Harvest Heartland is a member of Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that helps feed people across the country. Second Harvest Heartland sources, collects and provides food for individuals who worry about having enough to eat, touching the lives of more than half a million people every year. Second Harvest Heartland serves children, parents, seniors and working adults.

Second Harvest Heartland helps the one in 11 people in Minnesota and western Wisconsin who face hunger every day. In 2017, Second Harvest Heartland helped provide a record 81 million meals to more than a half million people. They will continue to leverage their unique position in the emergency food chain to advocate, educate and provide food until everyone in the service area has what they need to thrive. For more information, visit 2harvest.org or call 651.484.5117.

The Minnesota State High School League is a voluntary, nonprofit association of public and private schools with a history of service to Minnesota's youth since 1916. Today, more than 500 schools are members of the League, providing opportunities for athletics and fine arts competition for more than 200,000 high school students statewide each year. More information about the MSHSL is available at www.mshsl.org

Washburn’s Covert Operation: Be True To Your School
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/4/2018 4:20:23 PM

NORTHFIELD -- Emily Covert was smiling, which is nothing new. The Minneapolis Washburn senior is known for her smile, whether she’s preparing to run, running or post-race. This time, Saturday at St. Olaf College, the smile came on the heels of a second consecutive Class 2A cross-country state championship and was grounded in a grateful attitude.

“Honestly, I feel so blessed to be able to be here and compete among all these amazing and talented women,” she said. “It’s so humbling to know that there are so many people cheering me on and cheering everyone on. It makes the experience so much more amazing.”

Emily’s winning margin was 25 seconds. The Farmington duo of senior Lauren Peterson and sophomore Anna Fenske (the 2016 champion) were second and third.

Two girls state cross-country titles have been won by runners from Minneapolis public high schools, and both belong to Covert (pictured). On the boys side, which has held state championships since 1943 (girls have been running at state since 1975), runners from Minneapolis public schools have won 16 state titles. The first was Clarence Johnson of Minneapolis Southwest in 1946 and the most recent was Hassan Mead of Minneapolis South in 2006.

Representing her neighborhood school means a lot to Covert, who ran training mile after training mile with her teammates around the Minneapolis chain of lakes.

“I love Minneapolis,” she said. “When I was in seventh grade my parents asked if I wanted to transfer to a really strong running school. And I said, ‘No, I want to go to Washburn and I want to help the team at Washburn.’ I know if you talk about it and you get young girls out there, they’re just going to keep on having fun and keep on wanting to do more.”

The state championship meet capped a busy period for Emily, who had announced six days earlier her intention to study and run at the University of Colorado. She’s also an accomplished track athlete, winning a big-school state title at 3,200 meters and finishing second at 1,600 last spring.

“The mindset was just to have fun and have a smile on my face throughout this race, knowing that it’s my last cross-country race on Minnesota soil,” she said. “I just wanted to kind of cap off my high school career with a bang, I guess. It was just fun to be out here and have fun.”

Covert is the kind of athlete who inspires other athletes, whether it’s congratulating fellow finishers, working with younger runners or encouraging girls to give cross-country a try.

“I just want young girls to know that the sport is so much fun,” she said. “If you’re not having fun, then there’s no point in doing it. And honestly, the cross-country running community is so great. I have never been in a sport with this much hype and so many positive vibes around it. It’s just awesome.”

Roseville senior Acer Iverson, who will attend Harvard, won the Class 2A boys championship in a tight finish. His time of 15 minutes, 14.8 seconds was less than a second ahead of runner-up Andrew Brandt of Wayzata, and Edina’s Max Manley was third.

Sophomores won titles in Class 1A. Winona Cotter’s Grace Ping, who won the event as a seventh-grader, added another gold medal, with her eighth-grade sister Lauren placing second (22 seconds back) and Murray County Central-Fulda sophomore Morgan Gehl third. Two-time defending champion Tierney Wolfgram, a sophomore from Math & Science Academy in Woodbury who had placed sixth among females in the Oct. 7 Twin Cities Marathon, did not finish Saturday’s race.

On the 1A boys side, Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin’s Geno Uhrbom was the champion with an 18-second margin over second-place Cooper Lenox, a junior from Mora. Third was Staples-Motley sophomore Emmet Anderson.

Perham became the first school in Class 1A history to win the girls and boys team titles in back-to-back years. The Yellowjackets boys had 64 points to easily outdistance second-place West Central Area (140), and the Perham girls had a 94-99 edge over runner-up Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted.

St. Michael-Albertville won its first girls Class 2A team title with 70 points, five ahead of Wayzata. In the 2A boys team race, Edina’s score of 88 was enough to hold off Mounds View at 99.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

A Miracle Shot And A Miraculous Response
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/2/2018 5:46:49 PM

Some remarkable things happened Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium, site of the MSHSL soccer state championship games. In the Class 1A boys contest between Bemidji and Blake, the first remarkable thing took place in the opening second of the second overtime.

Blake sophomore James Keegan stood near midfield, on the eyeball of the Vikings logo. As a whistle blast from the official started the clock, Keegan took four quick steps toward the ball, which was motionless on the 50-yard line. In most cases, a game or the second half or an overtime period begins with a player gently nudging the ball from the midfield stripe to a teammate as an offensive attack begins forming.

Not this time. Keegan struck the ball perfectly. It sailed high, slowly losing its battle with the forces of gravity and arcing over the head of Bemidji senior goalkeeper Joe Fletcher. Final score: Top-seeded Bears 1, non-seeded Lumberjacks 0.

On the official statistical sheet, the play was described like this: “shot from kick off flew over the goalkeepers head and into the goal.” Time of the goal: Ninety minutes, four seconds.

The second remarkable thing happened in a much quieter spot, the Vikings postgame media room. With no more than four or five reporters present, Bemidji coach Rick Toward and players Ben Hess and Aspen Galdamez talked about the loss and the team and the season and the memories. It was golden.

“Obviously we’re very proud of what we accomplished this year,” the coach said. “Disappointed in the way the final game turned out, but we couldn’t be more proud to watch this team grow from where we were at the beginning of the season to a legitimate threat to basically anybody in the state.

“What can I say? Proud, proud, proud as a coach.”

If Minnesota geography isn’t your thing, you should know that the Lumberjacks do not hail from a metro school unless you consider Beltrami County a metropolitan area. Bemidji High School is a four-hour drive from U.S. Bank Stadium, and finding soccer opponents often means traveling two and a half hours one way. Blake, located in Hopkins, is 11 miles from the stadium.

“Living where we live, playing the schedule we play, we don’t get the opportunities that Blake would get,” Toward said. “It’s so hard for us to play quality, high-level opponents. So when we get the opportunity to go over to Duluth and play East, we’re playing one or two or three games like that a year. We have to balance burning our kids out with travel, late nights, with prepping them for this type of environment. That’s been a challenge for us geographically and I don’t know how to fix that.

“We’ve been fortunate that we have activity directors around the state who recognize that (he mentioned St. Cloud Cathedral, Moorhead and Duluth East). It’s very hard to get people to travel. We do as well as we can. But I think if we play the level of competition that you see Blake get to play all year long, we might have a different result today.”

This was Bemidji’s third consecutive trip to state and the first time the Lumberjacks advanced past the opening round. They defeated third-seeded Mahtomedi 1-0 in last week’s quarterfinals at St. Cloud State and got past second-seeded Holy Angels 3-1 Tuesday at U.S. Bank Stadium. So all they accomplished was beating the second and third seeds and taking the top seed to overtime before getting beat on a miracle shot.

“Five years ago we were saying we just want to get through the section,” Toward said. “Two years ago we were saying we want to get to the Bank.”

As soon as the ball sailed into the goal and the Bears began a delirious celebration, the Bemidji players went directly to their goalkeeper. Fletcher didn’t even play soccer until this season, and he had seen action in only a handful of games. He came onto the field Friday when starter Jedidiah Bitter was injured at the 69-minute mark.

“Immediately upon that goal going in, my kids went to the keeper. That was their number one concern,” the coach said. “They didn’t drop their heads, they didn’t feel sorry for themselves, they went to their teammate.”

Galdamez said, “It was obviously a really good shot, probably a once-in-a-lifetime shot for him. Joe had nothing to be ashamed of. It’s been a good season and I’m proud of what we accomplished.”

Hess added, “When someone scores from 60 yards out you’re kind of in shock. You don’t expect that to happen. But he hit it well. It was a really good season, I loved every second of it and Joe’s probably the best teammate I’ve ever had. He gives us pep talks before every game, he keeps us pumped on the bench, his first year out. I can’t say enough about him.”

And then there’s this fact, which Toward pointed out as the postgame media session wound down:

“We’ve never cut a kid. Every kid who comes out for soccer in Bemidji plays. So for me, that’s kind of a testament to what high school sports is supposed to be all about. I had a couple kids on the bench this year that didn’t get a ton of minutes but they got to enjoy the ride. We as a community are super proud of that. We are inclusive. We want everybody to have an opportunity.”

State Soccer Semifinals and Championship Games
At U.S. Bank Stadium

Tuesday, Oct. 30

Class 2A girls: Minnetonka 1, Eagan 0 (4-3 shootout)
Class 2A girls: Wayzata 2, Stillwater 1 (7-6 shootout)
Class 1A girls: Mahtomed 2, Holy Angels 1
Class 1A girls: Orono 2, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 1
Class 1A boys: Blake 3, Austin 1
Class 1A boys: Bemidji 3, Holy Angels

Wednesday, Oct. 31
Class 1A girls third-place game: Holy Angels 0, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 0
Class 1A boys third-place game: Austin 1, Holy Angels 0
Class 2A boys: Duluth East 2, Minnetonka 0
Class 2A boys: Stillwater 2, St. Paul Central 1
Class 2A girls third-place game: Eagan 4, Stillwater 2

Friday, Nov. 2
Class 2A boys third-place game: Minnetonka 1, St. Paul Central 1
Class 1A girls championship game: Mahtomedi 1, Orono 0 (overtime)
Class 1A boys championship game: Blake 1, Bemidji 0 (overtime)
Class 2A girls championship game: Minnetonka 1, Wayzata 0
Class 2A boys championship game: Stillwater 2, Duluth East 1 (overtime)

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

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