John's Journal
Welcome Home: After A Year On The Road, Braham Is Back9/3/2017
BRAHAM – The key component of the word “Homecoming” is, of course, Home. Now imagine that your football team has to play its Homecoming game on the road. There is no such thing as Roadcoming. Now imagine that your football team has to play an entire season on the road. That’s almost unimaginable.

That, however, is what the Braham Bombers endured last season. Froyen Field, their home turf, underwent total reconstruction a year ago and the Bombers became road warriors, playing every game on someone else’s field. And yet they managed to maintain what has become another local tradition: advancing to the state playoffs.

The Bombers finished 8-3 last year, reaching the Class 1A state tournament for the fourth year in a row and five of the last six. They played in the state semifinals in 2014 and 2015.

They opened the 2017 season with a 55-0 victory over Chisholm on Thursday evening. And this time, they were at home where they belonged. The new Froyen Field is an absolute showplace, with new grass, a new track, new lights, new bleachers, new press box, new everything. It was a night to remember.

“I think there’s one word that sums it up pretty well, and that’s incredible,” said senior Zach Zierden. “It was such a great feeling getting back on our actual home field, playing with our team in front of our fans.”

Last season the Bombers played two neutral-site games (at Pine City and Rush City) and the rest of the regular season consisted of six true road games. The Homecoming game? It was played 27 miles from home at Hinckley-Finlayson, where the home team (Hinckley-Finlayson) won the road team’s Homecoming game.

“The group that it was most difficult for was last year’s seniors, because they knew that their last home game was as a junior,” said coach Shawn Kuhnke, who also is the high school principal and activities director. “For the rest of us, it was hard going on the road every week but we knew that we had this (new field) coming. We were able to persevere and battle.”

The Bombers looked right at home against Chisholm, scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter on a 40-yard pass from Hunter Giffrow to Josh Zimpel, a 66-yard run by Ryan Roslin and a 6-yard pass from Giffrow to Zach Carlson. The rest of the scoring came in the second quarter and the second half was played under running time by agreement of both head coaches and the officials.

Everything was new for everybody, including the officials. As the first half ended and the officials walked off the field, they weren’t sure where to spend halftime. One of them asked his crewmates, “Where do we go?”

The Braham school band, under the direction of Bryan Johnson, was out in full force, sitting in the brand-new bleachers and pumping out the tunes. Even though school had not started, the musicians had already held three rehearsals and one group dinner.

Tickets were purchased, burgers were grilled and free Bomber Rally Rags were distributed as community members arrived early to celebrate a special evening. When the home team took the short walk from the school to the field just before kickoff, the players held hands and heard cheers.

“It was hard not having a home game last year and having to go on the bus every week,” Giffrow said. “You kind of got used to it but you missed playing on your home field.”

Running back Grant Wilsey said about last season, “We didn’t feel the power of the community. We have such a great community in Braham, and they were so supportive with all our away games. But now that we’re actually here you can really feel it. They are amazing. Our fans are so good and they’re so supportive.”

Prior to Thursday, the most recent home game had been on Oct. 17, 2015, when the Bombers defeated Blackduck in the first round of the Section 7 tournament. That was followed by postseason games at Minnesota-Duluth, Bemidji and St. Cloud State.

So since that win over Blackduck, the Bombers had played 14 consecutive games on the road. And now they’re back where they belong. Home.
They had only practiced on their new field twice; once during the final week of preseason workouts and again the day before the game.

“I think we just kept getting more and more excited,” Zierden said. “As more and more of it came together, we were like, ‘This is going to be really cool. We can’t wait for this.’ That feeling just kept growing and growing in excitement.”

After Thursday’s game, players, families and friends didn’t want to leave their new home. Bombers young and old posed for photos, shared hugs and laughs and lingered until well after the lights were finally shut off.

“This is so big for the town, for the community,” Kuhnke said. “We’ve had so much support from the word go. Back when this thing passed two years ago with overwhelming support, this is the night that so many of us have been waiting for. It couldn’t have been a nicer night. It’s fun to have a home game again.”

Welcome home, Bombers.

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

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Place Of Pride: Sibley East’s New Facilities 8/30/2017
ARLINGTON – Chip Wolverton used to have it so easy during volleyball season. The coach at Sibley East High School lives in Gaylord – which joins the communities of Arlington and Green Isle in the school district – and that’s where matches were played until this year.

Wolverton’s home is a block from the school in Gaylord, which was home to a small, old gym. A multi-million-dollar facility renovation included the construction of a new, spacious gym in Arlington, which means the coach now has to drive eight miles instead of walk one block.

He’ll take the tradeoff.

“It’s big. The gym is big,” he said before the Wolverines hosted Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop in the first event inside the new space Tuesday evening. “It’s been amazing these first couple weeks for practice. We have space.”

Space indeed. The Wolverines’ new home is bright and spacious, even though the walls are a bit spartan in these early days. There is no clock in the gym (other than the scoreboard) and when the teams and fans stood for the national anthem Tuesday, there was no flag on the wall. No problem: members of the Sibley East football team carried in a large flag, which they spread out and held in front of them; it covered much of the volleyball court.

Getting the gym ready for competition was important. A nearby commons area, office space and other sections of the new construction are works in progress, and school will start one week later than normal so finishing touches can be applied. It will be a showplace and point of pride.

“It’s pretty awesome,” said senior volleyball player Taylor Brinkman, who was talking about the gym but could have been speaking of the entire building.

The Wolverines opened the gym in high style, defeating G-F-W in a drama-filled five-set match. Sibley East won the first set 25-18 before the Thunderbirds took the second and third games, 25-15 and 25-22. After Sibley East won game four 25-22, the Wolverines ended the festivities with a 15-12 decision in the deciding set.

Afterwards, the Wolverines and their fellow students gathered together on the court for a photo, with index fingers held aloft.

“We were literally just hyped for like three weeks straight, getting ready to play,” said senior Morgan Stearns.

Wolverton, a sixth-grade teacher who also is an assistant girls basketball coach, joked that since he now has to drive rather than walk, “I have to be a little more organized. I can’t just run home to get something I forgot.”

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

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Class 2A Girls Tennis Rankings8/28/2017
1 Edina
2 Mahtomedi
3 Eagan
4 Hopkins
5 Wayzata
6 Rochester Mayo
7 Prior Lake
8 Minnetonka
9 St. Cloud Tech
10 Princeton & Duluth East

1 Sophie Reddy (12) Edina
2 Nicole Copeland (10) Edina
3 Meagan Brown (12) Elk River
4 Samantha Nichols (12) Eagan
5 Maddie Suk (11) Hopkins
6 Aili Hietala (9) Duluth East
7 Lauren Ferg (11) Eagan
8 Abbie Kelm (12) Bemidji
9 Ellen Puzak (11) Minneapolis Southwest
10 Grace Riermann (12) Mahtomedi
Class 1A Girls Tennis Rankings8/28/2017
1 Blake
2 Rochester Lourdes
3 Litchfield
4 Holy Family Catholic
5 Virginia
6 Breck
7 St. James
8 Mounds Park Academy
9 Roseau
10 Osakis

1 Lainey Axell (12) Blake
2 Arlina Shen (10) Blake
3 Katie Mulvey (11) Trinity at River Ridge
4 Clare Palen (10) Rochester Lourdes
5 Cindy Li (12) Winona Cotter
6 Sophie Lynch (12) Holy Catholic Family
7 Shanna Kinny (11) Litchfield
8 Natalie Allison (11) Rochester Lourdes
9 Sophia Martin (11) Breck
10 Emma Barnd (12) United South Central
Class 2A Girls State Swimming and Diving Rankings8/26/2017
1. Edina
2. Minnetonka
3. Wayzata
4. Eden Prairie
5. Rosemount
6. Stillwater
7. Minneapolis Southwest
8. St. Michael-Albertville
9. Prior Lake
10. Eagan