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The Hall Of Champions Adds Title Number Five
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/28/2015 9:50:30 PM

Mark Hall is probably the biggest name in Minnesota high school wrestling, and the spotlight on the Apple Valley junior will only grow in the next 12 months.

Hall won the Class 3A title at 170 pounds Saturday night, capturing his fifth state championship at Xcel Energy Center and joining an elite club. Border West senior Cameron Sykora also joined the five-crown club with a title at 126 in Class 1A; he and Hall are only the fifth and sixth wrestlers to win five.

Next season Hall (pictured in gold) will have an opportunity to break new ground and become the state’s first six-time champion. That’s probably a pretty safe bet, too, considering that he hasn’t lost a high school match since his ninth-grade year.

Hall’s gold-medal victory Saturday came with a second-period pin against St. Michael-Albertville junior Evan Ronsen. Long before title No. 5 was in sight, however, he was being asked about being a six-time champion.

“All the time. It’s endless,” he said of the topic. “First and foremost, to be in this position is a blessing for me and my family. The way I respond to those people is I have to win my fifth one before I can win my sixth one. I have to stay focused, I can only win the state title that’s in front of me; I can’t go for my sixth state title this year. I’ll wait until next year for that.”

Hall said it can be difficult to maintain a one-match-at-a-time attitude, especially away from the wrestling room and wrestling season.

“It’s really hard. It’s really important for me to keep wrestling hard and keep a good mindset, not get off track and stay motivated. It can be hard; summer comes along, spring break, stuff like that. It’s hard to stay focused. But if I can keep wrestling one match at a time, that’s the most important thing.”

--Sykora defeated Austin Anderly of LeSueur-Henderson 4-3 in the championship match, ending Anderly’s quest for a third state title.


Totino-Grace senior Lance Benick ended his high school career with his fourth state title, taking home a gold medal at 195 pounds in Class 2A. He beat undefeated wrestlers in his final two matches, outscoring Wyatt Richardson of Grand Meadow 13-1 in the semifinals and Carson Hagen of Worthington 17-7 in the title round. Benick finished the season with a 42-0 record and celebrating by performing a cartwheel and back flip on the mat.

Benick said his tournament experience has changed over the years.

“My freshman and sophomore years I was a little bit nervous, but now I’m taking it all in, spending as much time here as I can and making the most of it, just trying to remember it,” said Benick, who will wrestle at Arizona State University.

Jim Richardson, Wyatt’s father and the Grand Meadow coach, said there is no easy way to prepare for or compete against Benick.

“He’s so explosive in all areas. You have to try to turn it into a Greco match, and we got out of our stance twice and it was two takedowns, it was as simple as that. And that’s why he’s the best in the country and that’s why he’s a great wrestler and a great kid.”


--Two Class 1A seniors won their third state titles: Louie Sanders (132) of Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial and Quinten Berres (138) of Kimball. Brady Berge of Kasson-Mantorville (152) did the same in Class 2A.

--St. Michael-Albertville and Apple Valley each won three state titles in Class 3A, as did Jackson County Central did the same in Class 1A.

--Sight of the day: Lucas Westrich of Lakeville North noticed a contact lens slipping out of place during his semifinal match at 3A 152. During a stoppage, he handed the lens to one of his coaches, who placed it inside an overturned water bottle cap, poured a little water over it and set it on the floor.

--Total attendance over the three days of the tournament was 49,218.


106 State Champions
1A/ Ethan Cota, Kenyon-Wanamingo
2A/ Josh Tarum, St. Thomas Academy
3A/ Peyton Robb, Owatonna

113 State Champions
1A/ Noah Bauer, Pine Island
2A/ Keaton Schorr, Kasson-Mantorville
3A/ Rylee Molitor, Sartell-St. Stephen

120 State Champions
1A/ Tanner Reetz, Frazee
2A/ Garrett Aldrich, Albert Lea
3A/ Brent Jones, Shakopee

126 State Champions
1A/ Cameron Sykora, Border West
2A/ Paul Fitterer, Cannon Falls
3A/ Mitchell McKee, St. Michael-Albertville

132 State Champions
1A/ Louie Sanders, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial
2A/ David Flynn, Scott West
3A/ Adam Hedin, Rosemount

138 State Champions
1A/ Quinten Berres, Kimball
2A/ Treyton Austvold, New London-Spicer
3A/ Ben Brancale, Eden Prairie

145 State Champions
1A/ Hank Friederichs, Chatfield
2A/ Griffin Parriott, New Prague
3A/ James Pleski, Forest Lake

152 State Champions
1A/ Shane Siewert, Lake City
2A/ Brady Berge, Kasson-Mantorville
3A/ Lucas Jeske, St. Michael-Albertville

160 State Champions
1A/ Paden Moore, Jackson County Central
2A/ Andrew Fogarty, Scott West
3A/ Matt Njos, Anoka

170 State Champions
1A/ Luke Norland, Jackson County Central
2A/ Carter Nielsen, Foley
3A/ Mark Hall, Apple Valley

182 State Champions
1A/ Keegan Moore, Jackson County Central
2A/ Jackson Striggow, Orono
3A/ Jordan Joseph, St. Michael-Albertville

195 State Champions
1A/ Nathan Brinker, Holdingford
2A/ Lance Benick, Totino-Grace
3A/ Bobby Steveson, Apple Valley

220 State Champions
1A/ Manuel Garcia, BOLD
2A/ Jack Ryan, Simley
3A/ Gable Steveson, Apple Valley

285 State Champions
1A/ Garrett Malstrom, Frazee
2A/ Brent Riddle, Monticello
3A/ Alex Hart, Prior Lake

*Schools/teams John has visited: 396
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,785

Wrestling State Championship Matches Are Set
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/28/2015 3:10:46 PM

Tonight’s championship matches are set at the MSHSL state wrestling tournament. Third- and fifth-place matches will begin at 4:30 p.m, followed by title matches in all three classes at 7 p.m. Here are the championship matchups…

106/ Jake Nohre, West Central, vs. Ethan Cota, Kenyon-Wanamingo
113/ Noah Bauer, Pine Island, vs. Tanner Pasvogel, Sibley East
120/ Tanner Reetz, Frazee, vs. Michael Suda, Pipestone
126/ Cameron Sykora, Border West, vs. Austin Anderly, LeSueur-Henderson
132/ Blane Tschida, Kimball, vs. Louie Sanders, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial
138/ Ryan Keach, Dover-Eyota, vs. Quinten Berres, Kimball
145/ Jared Willaby, Windom/Mountain Lake, vs. Hank Friederichs, Chatfield
152/ Dietrich Balsbaugh, Trinity, vs. Shane Siewert, Lake City
160/ Paden Moore, Jackson County Central, vs. Brad Kroll, Royalton-Upsala
170/ Gage Thom, St. Clair/Mankato Loyola, vs. Luke Nordland, Jackson County Central
182/ Keegan Moore, Jackson County Central, vs. Jake Wentzlaff, Sibley East
195/ Garrett Pemelton, DGF, vs. Nathan Brinker, Holdingford
220/ Dillon Card, Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale, vs. Manuel Garcia, BOLD
285/ Garrett Malstrom, Frazee, vs. Logan Nibbe, Prairie Valley

106/ Kyle Cavanaugh, Caledonia, vs. Josh Tarum, St. Thomas Academy
113/ Keaton Schorr, Kasson-Mantorville, vs. Jake Gliva, Simley
120/ Garrett Aldrich, Albert Lea, vs. Tyler Wagener, Waconia
126/ Tanner Vassar, Annandale/Maple Lake, vs. Paul Fitterer, Cannon Falls
132/ David Flynn, Scott West, vs. Jackson Sweeney, Watertown-Mayer/Mayer Lutheran
138/ Treyton Austvold, New London-Spicer, vs. Seoulec Gunvalson, Benilde-St. Margaret’s
145/ Griffin Parriott, New Prague, vs. Cody Ferris, Becker
152/ Devin Fitzpatrick, Mahtomedi, vs. Brady Berge, Kasson-Mantorville
160/ Andrew Fogarty, Scott West, vs. Nick Green, Waconia
170/ Carter Nielsen, Foley, vs. Jared Florell, Totino-Grace
182/ Jackson Striggow, Orono, vs. Isaac Florell, Totino-Grace
195/ Lance Benick, Totino-Grace, vs. Carson Hagen, Worthington
220/ Jack Ryan, Simley, vs. Kevin Kneisl, Delano
285/ James Huwe, Detroit Lakes, vs. Brent Riddle, Monticello

106/ Peyton Robb, Owatonna, vs. Victor Gliva, Farmington
113/ Tyler Eischens, Anoka, vs. Rylee Molitor, Sartell-St. Stephen
120/ Jamin LeDuc, Farmington, vs. Brent Jones, Shakopee
126/ Mitchell McKee, St. Michael-Albertville, vs. George Farmah, Eastview
132/ Austin Brenner, St. Cloud Tech, vs. Adam Hedin, Rosemount
138/ Ben Brancale, Eden Prairie, vs. Jake Allar, St. Michael-Albertville
145/ James Pleski, Forest Lake, vs. Miles Patton, Rochester Mayo
152/ Brady Nelson, Rochester Mayo, vs. Lucas Jeske, St. Michael-Albertville
160/ Matt Njos, Anoka, vs. Lucas Westrich, Lakeville North
170/ Evan Ronsen, St. Michael-Albertville, vs. Mark Hall, Apple Valley
182/ Jordan Joseph, St. Michael-Albertville, vs. Luke Dodd, Eastview
195/ Tristyn Hanson, Lakeville North, vs. Bobby Steveson, Apple Valley
220/ Jake Briggs, St. Michael-Albertville, vs. Gable Steveson, Apple Valley
285/ Jon Ziedler, Lakeville South, vs. Alex Hart, Prior Lake

Going For Five Titles With A Reminder From Twitter
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/27/2015 6:45:45 PM

Cameron Sykora is a confident wrestler, and with plenty of reason. The senior from Border West is hoping to become Minnesota’s fifth five-time state wrestling champion, and positive thinking is part of the plan.

Sykora first qualified for state as an eighth-grader and has taken home a gold medal in every appearance. Even though he’s now a veteran, he said his attitude is exactly the same as it was five years ago.

“It’s really the same mindset,” he said. “I always believe I can beat anyone.”

He opened the 2015 state tournament Friday with a technical fall over St. Charles junior Alan Spaeth and defeated Osakis junior Brendan Coyer 10-0 in the quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center. His opponent in Saturday’s semifinals will be Kyle Hennen of Minneota; the big name on the other side of the bracket is two-time state champion Austin Anderly, a senior from LeSueur-Henderson.

“I feel good, my conditioning’s good,” Sykora said. “It’s time to peak right now. It’s time to peak.”

The previous five-time champions were Matt Nagel of Frazee (1997-2001), Eric Sanders of Wabasha-Kellogg (1999-2003), Zach Sanders of Wabasha-Kellogg (2003-2007) and Destin McCauley of Apple Valley (2006-2008, 2010-11).

Current Apple Valley junior Mark Hall could become the state’s first six-time state champ; he already is a four-time champ and will shoot for No. 5 Saturday.

Sykora’s biggest victory this season came in the January Rumble on the Red tournament in Fargo, N.D., when he defeated four-time Montana state champion Gresh Jones, who will continue his career at the University of Minnesota.

But that’s not to say that Sykora’s confidence wasn’t already on a high level. Ever since his ninth-grader year, his Twitter username has been @cam5xtimer.

“It’s something to remind me of my goal every day,” said Sykora, who will wrestle at South Dakota State. “It provides a little motivation.”


St. Michael-Albertville junior Mitchell McKee’s mouth was bleeding after Friday’s semifinals in Class 3A at 126 pounds. McKee had just posted a convincing 13-1 victory over Lakeville North sophomore Wade Sullivan in a matchup of defending state champs.

But he was bleeding and he was a little upset. Not so much about the blood, however. McKee was hoping to break the school record for single-season pins, and he had Sullivan on his back for the final seconds of the match. He has 36 pins this season; the school record is 38, which he can tie with pins in Saturday’s two matches.

But what about the blood?

“Last summer I had two root canals and I just smashed them on that last takedown,” McKee said. “So that kind of hurt and they started bleeding. Other than that, I feel good after two matches. I guess it’s nice to get a full match there because I haven’t had a full match since The Clash (on Jan. 3).”

McKee is ranked No. 1 in his weight class and Sullivan is No. 2 But that doesn’t mean McKee is now looking past his opponents.

“Anybody can beat anybody at the state tournament,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re No. 1, No. 5, No. 10, it doesn’t matter. I still have to keep wrestling tough, no matter what.”

--Forest Lake senior James Pleski, top-ranked at 145 in 3A, might have had the toughest route to the semifinals. He beat second-ranked Taylor Venz of Farmington in the first round and third-ranked Brock Morgan in the quarterfinals. The win over Morgan came in four overtimes.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 396
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,745

Getting To State Is A Triumph In Itself
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/26/2015 6:55:36 PM

The state wrestling tournament is a hotbed of enthusiasm, with large crowds inhabiting Xcel Energy Center and cheering their boys through three days of intense competition. Thursday was devoted to team matches, with three rounds of duals to determine state champs; individual matches will be the flavor Friday and Saturday.

The first teams to exit the building and begin thinking about next year are those that lose in the quarterfinals and then fall again in the first round of consolation matches. Those matches can sometimes be lopsided, but the experience of wrestling in the big house in downtown St. Paul pays dividends long afterwards.

“We’ve been here four of the last six years,” said White Bear Lake coach Craig Nasvik. “It’s a great accomplishment to be here, but for a lot of our kids it was a first-time experience for them. So it’s a situation that opens up a lot of eyes when you get here, and the experience of being here says a lot.”

The Bears lost to top-seeded Apple Valley 64-6 in Thursday’s Class 3A quarterfinals, then lost to Farmington 38-20 in the consolation bracket.

“As a team your ultimate goal is to be here and be in the conversation as one of eight teams,” Nasvik said. “And when you get here, there aren’t any slouches. You’ve got eight teams that deserve the opportunity to be here. We had a lot of veterans in this group, but only one who was involved the other three times we went to state.”

Centennial was in a similar position, losing to Willmar 38-24 and Moorhead 38-26. Cougars coach John Bergeland said the experience is what matters.

“Part of being part of a team is knowing that you have a contribution to make. And that is something we try to sell all year long,” he said. “Every person matters. Every time you step on the mat you are capable of winning. You are capable of doing something that helps the team, whether that’s lose in a close match, lose small, don’t get that big fall. Everybody matters.

“If you only wrestle with your individuals who qualify, you wouldn’t be much of a team. You see that with teams who don’t get here; they might have five state place-winners but they’re not here as a team.”

And even for the teams that went two and out Thursday, next season is on a lot of minds.

“Some of them are hungry,” Bergeland said. “Once you’re at state with some of your classmates coming to watch you and you don’t get what you want; it forces them to consider whether or not they’re going to have enough fuel in the offseason to go and do something.”

Thursday’s Team Wrestling Results

Championship: Minneota 31, Zumbrota-Mazeppa 30
Third place: Jackson County Central 40, Frazee 31
Fifth place: Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial 40, West Central 17

Championship: Simley 34, Albert Lea 21
Third place: Scott West 42, Totino-Grace 31
Fifth place: Perham 30, Foley 26

Championship: Apple Valley 36, St Michael-Albertville 30
Third place: Prior Lake 46, Willmar 20
Fifth place: Moorhead 33, Farmington 29

*Schools/teams John has visited: 396
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,705

A Dance Routine, Gymnastics Teams And A Wedding Proposal
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/24/2015 3:22:53 PM

Jeremy Torkildson was a man with a plan. All he needed was an engagement ring, some Valentine’s Day secrecy and the assistance of 10 high school gymnastics teams to pull it off.

Jeremy, an assistant gymnastics coach at Columbia Heights High School, knew he was going to propose to head coach Jolene Miske. They have been together for more than eight years, they have three children and he had been developing his proposal plan for a couple of months.

“I played it in my head a thousand times beforehand,” he said. The plan went like this…

1) Have his gymnasts practice a dance routine to the song “Marry You” by Bruno Mars.

“On Wednesdays she coaches park and rec in Columbia Heights, and I was supposed to be weight training with the girls,” Jeremy said. “Well, we were practicing the dance, of course.”

2) Shoot a video of his team doing the dance, then send the video to the other teams who would be competing in the Class A, Section 4 meet at Roseville High School on Valentine’s Day so they could practice it.

3) Cross your fingers.

It went off pretty darn well. As you can see on the YouTube video, the Columbia Heights gymnasts left the bleachers during the break before awards and began dancing on the floor. That’s not odd; gymnasts like to have fun during such breaks.

Jolene was sitting at a table near the balance beam, with a scoreboard partially blocking her view of the dancers. One by one, other teams came on the floor and joined the party. Jolene began thinking something was up.

“All of a sudden I realized, ‘There are girls dancing. Did I miss a memo?’ Then I realized what was going on and I thought, ‘Oh no, he didn’t.’

“It was perfect. When my girls know the choreography, I was like, ‘OK, they put this together. Something’s in the works.’ ”

Near the end of the song, the girls parted and Jeremy came walking through the middle of the pack. He approached Jolene, got down on one knee and – as wedding bells ring in the song – he popped the question. Kisses, hugs and cheering from the gymnasts. Perfect.

“It’s teenage girls,” Jeremy said. “Throw some music on and they can wing it. The first time we ever practiced they did the dance and I was like, ‘That was perfect.’

“We basically had a song played beforehand to give everybody a warning, and the rest of it was kind of, ‘Here we go.’ I was hiding under a table behind them and I had a little hole poked. I couldn’t miss it, I wanted to see it, too. I didn’t want to wait to see the video.”

Jolene said, “It was crazy. I was in shock because we’ve been together for eight and a half years. It was like it was never going to happen. And then here we are at sections with the two things that I completely love in my life, gymnastics and him.”

The tentative wedding date is July 16, 2016.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 372
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,665

A Hockey/Family Gathering In St. Cloud
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/23/2015 1:37:01 PM

St. Cloud Cathedral and St. Cloud Apollo will meet on Thursday in St. Cloud for the Section 6A boys hockey title and a trip to the state tournament. The game will be played at the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud, which is the home arena for both teams and the ice that most of the players on both teams grew up playing on as teammates in St. Cloud Youth Hockey.

The interesting angles don’t end there…

--Because the teams use opposite benches for their home games during the year, both teams will be on their normal bench for the game.

--Apollo won the section title in 2013, Cathedral won it last year.

--Cathedral's Jeron Hirschfeld and Apollo's Noah Bissett -- both are ninth-graders playing significant varsity roles -- were bantam teammates last year. Many of the other players on both varsity rosters were teammates within the last two or three years in youth hockey.

--Apollo goalie Nick Althaus' dad, Jeff, played goalie at Cathedral and at the University of Wisconsin

--Cathedral goalie Zach Fritz's dad, Troy, played goalie at Apollo and at St. John's University

--Cathedral forward Jack Petroske's dad, Mike, was also a goalie at Apollo -- immediately after Troy Fritz.

--Cathedral assistant coach Tom Bruce played at Apollo

--Apollo coach Pete Matanich and Cathedral coach Eric Johnson are very good friends.

Seeing Is Believing: The Amazing Courtney Durant
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/21/2015 2:21:02 PM

Nearly 100 athletes competed Friday during the team portion of the state gymnastics championships at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion. Very few of them, and nearly no one watching from the stands, realized how remarkable one of the competitors was.

Her name is Courtney Durant and she is a senior at Cambridge-Isanti. Courtney, a two-time team captain for the Bluejackets, competed in floor exercise and vault. During the regular season she also competed on the balance beam and uneven parallel bars.

The remarkable part of the story is that Courtney’s vision is less than perfect. In fact, she sees about 20 percent of what others see. She has ocular albinism, meaning her retinas are whiter than normal and cause white spots in her vision. She also has astigmatism and nystagmus.

Just think about that: run at full speed, leap off a springboard, hit the vault mat with your hands, spin, twist, stick the landing … with 80 percent of your vision gone.

“What everyone respects the most about her is that she could complain, she could use that as an excuse, and she never does that,” said Cambridge-Isanti coach Wendy Rooney.

Courtney knows nothing different, either in attitude or vision. Her vision has been impaired since birth and to her it’s no big deal. She started in gymnastics when she was 4 years old.

“My mom put me in it because it was kind of the easiest thing,” she said. “I can’t really catch a ball; well, I can but it’s not the easiest thing to do.”

When Courtney was younger, coaches would put white chalk lines on the edges of the beam for her. These days, a coach stands near the vault springboard and in the corner of the floor exercise area to give Courtney some visual assistance.

Rooney said, “When she does a back one and a half twist on floor, it’s kind of funny because we call that a blind landing. And for Courtney, that’s even more true than for anyone else. I always stand in the corner because she’s not able to focus on something to spot her landing like most gymnasts.

“We always joke that when I wear a hot pink sweatshirt she makes her tumbling passes the best because she’s able to see the color the easiest.”

Courtney wears corrective lenses but she is not able to drive a vehicle. But her drive is incredible, as is the inspiration and team leadership she provides.

“Oh my gosh,” Rooney said. “The girls absolutely adore her. She’s one that they go to.”

Courtney has amazed a lot of people with what she has accomplished, including a certain medical professional.

“Her eye doctor has actually come to some meets,” Rooney said, “because he cannot believe what she does.”

--Photo by MNPrepPhoto.com

*Schools/teams John has visited: 372
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,665

Cymbals Of Excellence, Energy And Fun
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/19/2015 8:33:52 PM

The best game of the girls state hockey tournament, as well as the game that provided the biggest crowd and best atmosphere so far, took place Thursday afternoon when second-seeded Edina defeated Buffalo 3-1 in the Class 2A quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center.

It was a whale of a game. After two scoreless periods, the unseeded Buffalo Bison (21-8) took the lead on a goal by Abby Halluska in the first minute of the third period. Bison goaltender Kendra Carlson was the star of the game at that point, repeatedly turning back the Hornets (21-7-1) and finishing the game with 37 saves.

Edina tied the score 1-1 when Emily Oden scored at 3:32, and another goal by Odin made it 2-1 before en empty-netter by Taylor Williamson secured the victory.

Halluska, Carlson, Oden … they were heroes on the ice. The best performance off the ice came from Anna Albitz, who plays the cymbals in the Edina band. Anna is a senior and one of six cymbals players in the band. She plays the contrabass clarinet in concert band, but she loves the cymbals because clanging those two big discs against each other and twirling them around while boogying is just too much fun.

“You can dance and sing while you play them, and be super energetic,” she said in what became a very historic moment for me in my many years of writing about sports: The first time my postgame interrogation process was focused on a band member instead of athletes and coaches.

“I definitely have a lot of fun,” Anna said. And there is no doubt about that. Other people in the Xcel Center press box noticed Anna as she stood in an aisle, swaying, dancing, singing and having more fun than anyone.

“Anna is an amazing kid,” said Edina band director Andy Richter. “She is full of energy and life and she just exudes the epitome of a band student.”

You go, Anna.

Laura Anderson scored two goals for the defending state champion Pioneers, who will meet Edina in Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinal. Hill-Murray (23-5) had 38 shots on goal to 14 for the Lightning (14-13-2).

The top-seeded Skippers (22-6) got two goals from Kipper Keller and outshot the Huskies 25-4 in advancing to the semifinals. Andover (14-13-2) goalie Cassidy Stumpo made 20 saves.

Morgan Morse had a hat trick before the second period ended and the fourth-seeded Cougars (24-4-1) held off the fifth-seeded Bengals (20-8-1) to advance to Friday night’s semifinals against Minnetonka.

--This is a busy week for the pep band from Thief River Falls. They played a formal concert at home Tuesday, came to St. Paul and performed at the Prowlers’ quarterfinal victory in Wednesday evening’s 1A hockey tournament, arrived home at 2:20 a.m. Thursday, played at a boys hockey section game at home Thursday evening, and will load up at 4:45 Friday for another trip to St. Paul and the girls state semifinals at 1 p.m. That's roughly 1,200 miles and five performances at three venues, playing two different sets of literature (pep band and concert music) over five days.

--Frances Marshall, senior goalie for the Prowlers, is also a math wiz. She was named first-team all-conference for the Thief River Falls Math League team, meaning she was one of the top eight season scorers in their division.

--Teams that play the first game of a session usually get a chance to walk out on the ice before dressing for the game. The Minnetonka players were on the ice about 90 minutes before game time Thursday, taking pictures of each other and having a great time. One of them looked up at the giant mega-scoreboard and screamed: "Hey guys! I can watch TV while I play!"

Class 1A Semifinals
Blake vs. Red Wing, 11 a.m.
Thief River Falls vs. South St. Paul, 30 minutes after end of first game

Class 2A Semifinals
Hill-Murray vs. Edina, 6 p.m.
Minnetonka vs. Lakeville South, 30 minutes after end of first game

*Schools/teams John has visited: 356
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,585

Girls State Hockey: Prowlers Take Their Shots
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/18/2015 8:48:01 PM

The Thief River Falls Prowlers made a pretty strong offensive statement in Thursday’s Class 1A girls state hockey quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center. The top-seeded Prowlers defeated New Ulm 5-1, but that wasn’t the big number. The eyebrow-raiser was this: Thief River Falls (24-1-3) put a tournament-record 58 shots on goal.

New Ulm (19-9) goaltender Karlie Ries played a tremendous game, stopping 53 of those shots. The previous record for shots on goal in one game was 56, set by Breck in a 12-1 quarterfinal victory over New Ulm in 2011.

Thief River Falls needed 24 shots to get its first goal, with Kora Torkelson scoring twice in a two-minute span of the second period.


Wingers goaltender Ashley Corcoran stopped 25 shots, Reagan Haley scored twice and Maddy Hardman had one goal. Hardman’s goal at 5:57 of the second period broke a scoreless tie and gave Red Wing (20-8) a lift.

“In the first period I think we had some nerves, but we settled down after that,” Corcoran said. “Once Maddy got that first goal I think we all got pumped up and excited for the rest of the game.”

Third-seeded Red Wing, which also had 25 shots on goal, will meet second-seeded Blake in Friday’s semifinals. Red Wing has lost to Breck in the state semifinals the last two years, and three years ago the Wingers fell to Breck in the semifinals.

“They looked pretty good,” Red Wing coach Scott Haley said of Blake, which beat Hutchinson 9-0 in the day’s first game. During the regular season Blake beat the Wingers 6-1.

“We know Blake well, probably too well,” Haley said. “We played them during the regular season and we struggled against them. Candidly they might be the best team in girls hockey. They could possibly win a double A championship. We’re going to have our hands full.”

Asked if Blake was a good fit for Class 1A, Haley said, “No. I love (Blake coach) Shawn (Reid) dearly and they are good kids over there. But it’s not really a fair fight. But that still makes it really cool that we get an opportunity to play them.”

Haley and Reid were teammates at Lakeville High School.

“It’s really difficult in the sense that we’re not even a co-op school,” Haley said. “My area to pull from is Frontenac to Welch. But that doesn’t mean that they’re the evil empire or anything like that. They’re pulling from the whole Twin Cities. But that doesn’t mean every private schools needs to go up to Double A.”


Karlie Lund had three goals while Carly Bullock and Lucy Burton each had two goals for the second-seeded Bears (25-4). The two-time defending state champions had a 42-3 advantage in shots on goal over Hutchinson (16-11-1).

Blake goaltenders Anna Kruesel Halley Fine each tied the state tournament record for fewest stops in one period (zero). Kruesel did so in the second period and Fine did the same in the third. Hutchinson’s Ellie Lenarz stopped 42 shots.

Abigail Felton and Anna Barlow each scored two goals and Sydney Conley made 23 saves as the fourth-seeded Packers (16-11-2) advanced to Friday’s semifinals against Thief River Falls.


Eastview (14-12-2) vs. #2 seed Hill-Murray (22-5), 11 a.m.

Buffalo (21-7) vs. #3 seed Edina (20-7-1), 30 minutes after 11 a.m. game

Andover (14-12-2) vs. #1 seed Minnetonka (21-6), 6 p.m.

#5 seed Blaine (20-7-1) vs. #4 seed Lakeville South (23-4-1), 30 minutes after end of 6 p.m. game

*Schools/teams John has visited: 348
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,545

Eighteen Years After Debut, Natalie Darwitz Is Back At State
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/16/2015 6:17:22 PM

In February 1997, a 13-year-old seventh-grader took the state of hockey by storm. She was a quick-handed, fast-skating little bit of a thing from Eagan High School and she finished with nine goals and three assists in three state tournament games.

That state tourney was held at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum. When the 2015 state tournament takes place this week at Xcel Energy Center, that little bit of a thing will be back on the big stage as a head coach.

It’s been 18 years since Natalie Darwitz made her state tournament debut. Now 31 years old, she will be behind the bench when Lakeville South meets Blaine in the Class 2A quarterfinals Thursday night. Darwitz played on two NCAA championship teams at the University of Minnesota and is a three-time Olympian, but her high school memories remain fresh.

“I talked to my dad before the first game (at state in 1997),” Darwitz, 31, said Monday. “I was so nervous. He said, ‘Hey kid, it’s just another game. Go and do your thing.’ ”

She did just that, scoring four goals, all unassisted, in a 9-3 win over Hopkins. A throng of reporters waited outside the Eagan locker room, and when the youngster stepped out to be interviewed, she seemed even tinier without her skates. I was there and I will never forget watching her play and watching her interact with the media.

“I remember coming outside to the reporters,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘This is awesome, we won the game, we’re moving to the right (side of the bracket).’ It was quite a first impression for me and my teammates.

“After the game it felt good to get that first one under your belt. It calmed us down. That first game is so huge.”

Facing Mounds View in the 1997 state semifinals, Eagan won 6-1 with Darwitz scoring her first goal 29 seconds into the game, having a hat trick before the second period ended and sitting on the bench for the final five minutes.

After that game, Eagan coach Steve Eggleston told me, “On one of her goals she went through two people, went to the left, went to the right, then hung on and hung on and put it in. I keep saying it: She's so exciting that you never know what she's going to do.”

Darwitz scored two more goals in the championship game, in which Eagan lost to Hibbing 6-3. She played in two more state tournaments as an eighth-grader and a sophomore before skipping her junior and senior years at Eagan while taking classes online and training and playing with national teams.

“I remember growing up always watching the boys play at the Civic Center,” she said. “For me, to go to state as a seventh-grader, I was as nervous as all get out. It’s such a big deal. Especially in my path, growing up, those four days in March you were glued to the TV or you were going down to the hockey expo. It was really a built-in tradition.”

Now there’s a new tradition at Lakeville South. Darwitz is in her fourth year as the Cougars coach. They have a record of 23-4-1 and decades of coaching experience. Darwitz’s staff includes her father Scott Darwitz and Merlin Ravndalen; both are former Eagan head coaches. Ravndalen coached the Wildcats at state in 1998 and 2000, while Scott Darwitz did the same in 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2012.

“Those two have tons of state tourney experience,” Natalie said. “Between the three of us, it’s always good to fall back on experience. They can bring their knowledge of when they coached at Eagan.”

There is plenty of excitement at Lakeville South, including among the hockey players. Darwitz is trying to make sure excitement doesn’t get in the way of playing hockey.

“We’re pretty clear as a coaching staff. I’ve been a part of teams in the past that fell victim to saying, ‘OK we got here.’ We tell them we’re going to compete for a state championship. We’re not going just to participate.

“It’s drastically changed over the last 10 years. There’s more hoopla, more distractions, and I can relate to that with the Olympics. There are so many distractions and you’ve got to remember that we’re here to play. Enjoy the moment, take it all in, but we’re here on a mission and we have goals. The girls are on board with that; 8 p.m. Thursday against Blaine is our objective.”

That’s another way of saying, “Go and do your thing.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 340
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,505

She Dances To The Music (Even Though She Can’t Hear It)
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/11/2015 5:52:32 PM

(NOTE: With the state dance tournament being held this week at Target Center, it's a good time to reprint one of my favorits stories from the winter. This story originally appeared on Dec. 18.)

Imagine this: You are a member of a high school dance team, and nothing is more important to your performance than hearing the music and the cues it provides.

Imagine this: You are deaf.

Erin Barrett doesn’t imagine this scenario. The junior at Roseville High School is indeed deaf and she is indeed a member of the Raiders’ varsity high kick dance team. How does she do it? Through a combination of visual cues, practice, experience and the assistance of a sign language interpreter. It is not easy, even if Erin makes it look easy.

“Sometimes I feel like she can hear because she always gets it,” said Roseville coach Brittany Rehling. “It’s super amazing.”

With the assistance of interpreter Alene Ray (pictured with Erin), Erin told me, “I’m not really hearing the music so I have to follow what everybody else is doing. I have to think about it, like ‘What are we going to do?’ and I’m counting as well, plus I’m looking at the coaches and the interpreter. I’m picking up all this visually and the team is sort of communicating with me and it sort of flows that way. If I’m stuck I just sort of follow what they’re doing and keep in the flow. It’s not easy.”

Erin was born in China, lived in an orphanage and came to the United States when she was 13, adopted by Sue and David Barnett of Roseville. She doesn’t remember ever being able to hear; she thinks she may have lost her hearing when she was ill as a very young child.

She splits her school days between Metro Deaf School in St. Paul and Roseville High School. She joined the Raiders dance program last year, which was an adjustment for her new teammates.

“I think they were at first kind of like, ‘Oh, OK.’ I instill a lot of trust in the girls,” Rehling said. “I noticed on the first day it was kind of an adjustment, everyone tried to not watch her interpreter. This year it’s really come together and everyone just talks to Erin like she can hear us.

“We don’t really acknowledge it, but at the end of the day you look back and realize she doesn’t hold back and isn’t treated any differently at all. That’s the most beautiful thing of all. She’s just like any other member of the team.”

Prior to Monday’s Suburban East Conference dance championships at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, the Raiders high kick dance team was going through its final practice. Rehling sat high in the gymnasium bleachers, directing traffic.

The coach asked, “Erin, are you behind Fortune?” Ray relayed the question and Erin nodded. Rehling then counted off “1! 2! 3! 4! …” as the team resumed its routine. As the coach counted, Ray held up fingers to match the count so Erin knew the cue. And once the routine began, she was perfectly in step with everyone else.

“She somehow finds that beat and stays on the beat,” Rehling said. “Sometimes girls who can hear have trouble keeping up.”

According to Sue Barnett, “When competition started and people started to find out that there was a deaf dancer on the team and they couldn't pick out who the deaf dancer was, it made Erin feel good. During last year’s dance season, we started to see a girl become more confident within herself, seeing that she can do something that is very challenging and being successful at it. …

“She learned about being challenged with something and keeping at it, and it gave a good feeling when she accomplished it, that she was just part of a team and that her deafness wasn't stopping her from doing things that hearing people do.”

Rehling, a 2007 Roseville graduate, said one of her high school dance teammates was partially deaf.

“Erin kind of resonated with me,” she said. “Everyone thinks, ‘Oh, someone hard of hearing is on the dance team?’ I was really excited to hear about Erin. She’s great.”

Erin said, “When I came in the first year they were all talking and I was like, ‘Sorry, I can’t hear you’ and they were looking at me like, ‘What? How are you going to do this?’ I knew I would be fine. They started to understand, we went along and everything was good. I’m not afraid of anything.”

In Barnum, Where The Bombers Are King
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/7/2015 1:03:43 PM

BARNUM – The high school was alive with activity here Friday night, including a silent auction for cancer awareness, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts presenting the colors before the national anthem, and a dance for students. Heck, on Saturday night down the road in Moose Lake, there was going to be a donkey basketball game between the Barnum and Moose Lake fire departments.

But the main attraction, the big show here in this town 35 miles south of Duluth, comes when the Barnum boys basketball team hits the court. The Bombers are undefeated, winning by an average score of 72-39, and continuing a theme of basketball excellence.

Barnum won the Class 1A boys state championship in 1983 and placed fourth at state in 1A in 2007, the team’s most recent appearance. Since then, the Bombers have had records of 25-5, 17-11, 24-5, 22-7, 24-6, 26-4 and 26-3. But all of those seasons ended before the state tourney, including losses the last three years in section title games.

So it’s safe to say that this year’s players are determined to break that streak and reach the Class 2A state tourney.

“I’ve been in all those losses. It’s always in the back of my mind to get back there,” said senior Brandon Newman, son of coach Rich Newman, the leading scorer with a 27-point average and a four-year starter.

“It always hurts. I know the first one we lost by one point or something like that. It’s always a goal to get back to the section championship. We’ll play our hardest and see if we can win it. That’s our goal this year and hopefully we can keep going.”

Newman scored 29 points in Friday’s 64-37 Polar League victory over Moose Lake-Willow River, with Hunter Fetters scoring 11 and Andrew Naslund 10. The game was a pure basketball exhibition, with the Bombers playing dominant defense and scoring most of their points from under the basket or on passes from underneath to the perimeter.

“It went better than I had hoped it would,” Rich Newman said. “Our kids came out and played some pretty good defense. They’ve got three guys who can shoot it and their big guy (6-foot-3 Rex Janke) is a matchup problem; our big guy (6-5 Fetters) had to go out and guard him and he did a good job. I was pretty happy with our defense tonight.”

Here’s one example of that defense: Barnum held the Rebels scoreless for a stretch of four minutes early in the second half, giving up only three shot attempts. The rest of Moose Lake-Willow River’s possessions ended in turnovers created by the quick hands and feet of the Bombers. Most of those turnovers led to layups or free throws. (Pictured are, left to right, team captains Nathan Jelinek, Naslund and Newman.)

“We take pride in our defense and we did a really good job tonight,” Brandon Newman said. “We try to keep our opponents under 40 points a game. On offense we work to try to get it inside, get those layups, and also those kick-outs for threes. We try to work the ball and get the best shot. We also try to get fast breaks and get as many layups as we can.”

Getting to state isn’t a frequent topic of conversation; the Bombers are taking a one-day-at-a-time approach.

“Right now we’re just trying to get better every night,” Naslund said. “We can’t be focused too far into the future. We’re just trying to play hard and get better.”

Nathan Jelinek said, “We try to take it game by game most of the time. I don’t know about these guys but I don’t even think about what our record is. We just move on to the next game.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 300
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,013

Changes Approved For Tennis, Football, Cross-Country, Lacrosse
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/5/2015 1:40:55 PM

The MSHSL board of directors made changes in several sports at its meeting Thursday. None of the changes are earth-shattering; they are more in the line of tweaks in how the sports operate.

Here’s a quick recap…

--Cross-country/ The board approved a change in distance for girls races from 4,000 meters to 5,000 meters (same as boys). In all but six states, girls run 5,000 meters.

-- Lacrosse/ The game-ending procedure for state quarterfinal, semifinal and championship games was adjusted. If those games are interrupted by weather, they can be finished at a later date rather than be declared completed games.

--Tennis/ Each coach will submit three lineups to use throughout the postseason, with coaches ranking their players 1 through 10 based on singles skills. Also, postseason rosters were expanded from 13 to 15 players.

--Football/ This is a change for Class 6A playoffs only. At the end of the regular season, each of the four eight-team sections will seed their teams 1 through 8. One of six random, rotating brackets will be used, with seedings from the four sections used to place teams in the 32-team bracket. The eight teams remaining after two rounds will be re-seeded for the state tournament by the coaches of those teams.

In another football change, summer practice regulations were amended to include a maximum of 11 summer practice dates with mandated recovery periods and limits on contact, daily practice time, team camps and seven-on-seven competitions. In addition, the rules for preseason heat acclimatization and practice for all sports was adjusted.

The board also approved the hiring of a director of officials.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 298
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 6,745

MSHSL Board of Directors Meeting
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/4/2015 5:32:05 PM

Tennis, lacrosse and athletic safety are among the topics that members of the MSHSL board of directors will discuss Thursday morning when they meet at MSHSL headquarters in Brooklyn Center. The 20-person board meets six times each year.

A change to postseason certified tennis lineups will be considered. The proposal would simplify the lineup rule, making the process easier for coaches. In lacrosse, game-ending procedures for state quarterfinals, semifinals and finals may be amended to allow for games suspended due to weather to be completed. The board also will hear a proposal to adjust safety guidelines for some sports and will hear about a proposal to increase girls cross-country races from 4,000 to 5,000 meters.

The board meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. I will provide instant updates on Twitter. You can stay in the loop by following @MSHSLjohn

Minnesota Girls and Women in Sports Day 2015
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/4/2015 5:28:05 PM

Myron Glass was telling a story from the old days Wednesday afternoon in St. Paul, and the tale provided a perfect summary of why celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day is important.

Glass (pictured), who retired last year as girls basketball coach at Rochester Lourdes, is well-known in Minnesota high school sports circles. His basketball teams won eight state titles, and his track and cross-country teams also were highly successful.

Right out of college, Glass was hired as a teacher at Lourdes. This was in 1968, when there were no sports for girls. One day, a group of female students came to him with a question: “Why do we only have intramurals? Why don’t we have sports? Why can’t we have a team?”

Glass’ answer was simple: “Why not?”

He formed a girls track team and 70 girls showed up for the first practice. Glass had them run around the track one time, and only one person made it without stopping.

“She became our 400 runner,” he said, laughing.

He began contacting other private schools, and his efforts led to Minnesota’s first track meet for girls. There were six teams and the longest race was 800 meters. In 1971 he started basketball and tennis teams, all the while writing to other schools to urge them to start teams for girls.

“It was a great time period,” Glass said. “I’m so proud to have been that little pebble in the sand, to help with the growth of women’s sports.”

Glass was one of 19 honorees during Minnesota Girls and Women in Sports Day event at the Minnesota History Center. They ranged from pioneers like Glass to current coaches and athletes. The Milestone Award was given to the Edina High School girls tennis program, which has won 18 consecutive state titles.

Minnesota Girls and Women in Sports Day also onors a member of the media each year, and from this day forward that award will be known as the Kwame McDonald Media Award.

Kwame, who died in 2011, was a fixture in Minneapolis and St. Paul sports coverage. He loved to highlight inner-city athletes and female athletes and teams.

Accepting the award was Kwame’s son, Mitch. He said, “I’m amazed at the impact my dad had on everyone else’s life, because he had a major impact on mine. I don’t know how many people he helped. They come up to me every day, saying thanks to my dad.”

I am one of those people. Kwame always had a smile and a friendly word for everyone he met. I’ll always remember something he said as we sat side by side at a state basketball tournament.

Kwame looked at me, smiled and said, “These kids, they keep you young.”

They sure do.

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

*Schools/teams John has visited: 298
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 6,745

The Girls Basketball Hotbed Of Southeast Minnesota
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/2/2015 1:37:11 PM

ST. CHARLES – As the girls basketball team from Dover-Eyota made the 10-mile journey east on Highway 14 to meet the St. Charles Saints on Friday night, it was an occasion to think about all the good girls hoops teams in southeastern Minnesota.

--The Eagles of Dover-Eyota are No. 1 in the Class 2A rankings; they will play No. 2 Chatfield on Friday in the biggest game of the season in the Three Rivers Conference and beyond. Plainview-Elgin-Millville, another Three Rivers team, is ranked eighth in 2A.

--The Class 1A rankings include No. 5 Goodhue from the Hiawatha Valley League, No. 6 Blooming Prairie from the Gopher Conference and No. 10 Lyle/Austin Pacelli from the Southeast Conference.

Let’s zero in on Class 2A Section 1. This much we know: A very solid team will emerge from this section and play at the state tournament. After Dover-Eyota defeated St. Charles 66-44, I asked Eagles coach Brian Harris about surviving that section tournament.

“We have some of the top teams in the state,” he said, quickly mentioning the upcoming game at Chatfield. “Plainview’s tough, Kenyon-Wanamingo finished second in the state last year and they’re still tough, Hayfield, Lourdes, Caledonia. Very tough. We’re hoping to get out of the section, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Nothing worthwhile is easy, of course. Dover-Eyota is talented and tall, with a front line of 5-foot-11 Brandi Blattner, 6-1 Madison Nelson and 6-1 Megan Hintz. Nelson and Hintz each scored 17 points against St. Charles, Blattner had 11 and 5-9 Danielle Higgins scored 10. The other starter was 5-7 Emily Roseboom. All are seniors or juniors

The Eagles like to run up and down the court, and they scored lots of points via layups and rebounds against the smaller Saints. St. Charles coach Dan Sternberg put together a smart strategy of slowing the game and grinding down the clock, hoping to keep Dover-Eyota from running, gunning and scoring at will. (Pictured is Harris during a timeout.)

Several of the Saints’ possessions lasted a minute or longer and the tactic worked very well for most of the first half. The Eagles led 30-21 at halftime before locking up the win in the second half.

“They have incredible athletes,” Sternberg said. “To our mind, really the only way we could stay in the game was to shorten the game, to have long possessions and make them work defensively. They like to get up and go, so part of our plan was to make them play defense, maybe we get some shots knocked down early and stick in the game, and see where it goes from there. I thought our kids did exactly what I asked them to do.”

Those St. Charles kids are actually kids, too. There are no seniors on the roster, and the young Saints had put together an eight-game winning streak before Friday. Carolyn Shanahan matched her team-leading season average with 18 points Friday; the other starters were Ty Thoreson, Anna Hershey, Haley Ludens and Katelyn Ihrke.

“We have a nice group of kids,” Sternberg said. “Our future is bright and we look forward to the rest of the season and what happens next year.”

In other words, southeastern Minnesota will continue to produce great basketball.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 296
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 6,693

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