John's Journal
St. Clair’s Mitchell Weber: Winning With Either Hand4/17/2017
Mitchell Weber is not Superman, but the well-decorated junior from St. Clair High School has certainly accomplished some super things.

He was the Class 1A state champion in the discus as a freshman and finished second in the shot put. In his sophomore season last year he swept both throwing events at state and ran a leg on the Cyclones’ fifth-place 4x200-meter relay team.

This season began in a weird way for Mitchell, who stands 6-foot-6, weighs around 230 pounds and also plays football and basketball. His basketball season ended early when he suffered a broken left wrist – his throwing wrist -- in a snowmobile accident.

“I rolled over on top of the wrist,” he said. “Right away I knew it was broken. There was a huge hump on it. I knew it was definitely broken.”

The wrist was encased in a cast as Weber waited for track and field season to begin. And this is where the superhero theme begins: In the first three meets of the season, all indoors, the left-handed Weber threw the shot with his right hand. And he finished first in two of those three meets.

Did he even consider not competing?

“That definitely was not going to happen,” he said. “I was definitely going to compete whether it was with my right hand or whatever it was going to be. I just thought I could give it a try and do it for the first couple meets. It ended up not being too bad, but I’ve got to get back to it with my left hand.”

He was speaking after he had finished competing in the Chuck Halliday Invitational at Norwood-Young America. It was a pretty typical day for Weber: he finished second in the discus and won the shot put, long jump and joined senior Caleb Hall, junior Jack Thompson and sophomore Noah Schruin in winning the 4x200 relay.

That’s right. He runs, he jumps, he throws. And he wins.

The cast was removed from his wrist nearly a month ago and now he’s working on building up strength and focusing on technique.

“It’s definitely a struggle to get back to it, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’ve got to fix a lot of form and I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

His winning distance in the shot put at Norwood-Young America was 48 feet, 11 inches, which ranks as the fourth-best among Class 1A athletes this spring. His best discus attempt was 143-2; winner Frank Turek, a senior from LeSueur-Henderson, threw 147-3.

The all-time state records are 65-8 in the shot put and 201-7 in the discus. With nearly two full track and field seasons remaining, Weber is aware of those records and nearly offered a guarantee that he would break both.

“Those are definitely the records that I’m looking for. They will be beaten by the time I get done,” he said before restating: “They should be.”

Weber threw 59 feet in the shot and 174-0 in the discus in sweeping those events at the state meet last year. He said his goals this season are to hit around 63 feet in the shot and 195 to 200 in the discus.

He grew up watching his sister Katelyn compete in the throwing events at a championship level. She won both events at state as a senior in 2014 and also won the shot put as a junior. She now is on the track and field team at the University of North Dakota.

“I’ve been around it for I don’t know how many years and I still go to her meets,” Mitchell said.

He has made no college decision and is unsure which sport he would like to compete in after high school. He’s certainly hearing from lots of colleges.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet,” he said. “Right now I’m leaning towards track; it’s either going to be track or basketball.”

The Halliday Invitational was held on a chilly, overcast day and Weber kept his head warm in a noticeable way. He wore a woolly winter hat that was black with a monkey face on top and monkey ears on the sides.

It had a lot to do with staying warm but more to do with being someone who doesn’t always conform.

“I’m not usually the kid who wants to be like everybody else,” Mitchell said with a smile. “I always like being that kid who’s a lot different.”

He’s had unique headgear each year in high school: a dinosaur in ninth grade and a Minion in 10th grade.

“I just like to be different, that’s for sure,” he said.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 590
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 10,045
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
DeLaSalle to Drake: Dave Thorson Returns To College Hoops4/15/2017
Saturday was Dave Thorson’s second day on the job as an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. After 23 years as the head coach at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis – where Thorson’s teams won nine state championships, including the last six in a row in Class 3A -- the 51-year-old is beginning a new adventure with a new team at a new school in a new town. And he’s making an impression.

After a GPS-aided drive from a Des Moines hotel to the Drake campus Saturday morning, he was walking from his car to the basketball offices when he crossed paths with a member of the university maintenance staff.

The maintenance guy said, “You’re here early.” To which Thorson replied, “You’ll get used to seeing me.”

Thorson’s hiring was announced by the university Friday. Soon after, he was greeting a recruit and the young man’s family for a campus visit. When it was time for the visitors to take a tour of the campus, Thorson tagged along to make himself more familiar with his new school, a private liberal-arts university with an enrollment of 5,000. The Bulldogs play Division I basketball in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Thorson, his wife Rita and their 8-year-old daughter Ella will be moving to Des Moines, and the coach is excited about their new adventure.

“I’m only officially two days in,” he said during a Saturday afternoon phone conversation as he drove from Des Moines to the Twin Cities. “All of it’s been great. I love the fact that the school has a sterling reputation. It reminds me a lot of DeLaSalle, frankly.”

Thorson, a native of Fargo, N.D., began his coaching career as an assistant at South Dakota in 1989 and was an assistant at the University of Minnesota from 1990 to 1994 before taking over as coach at DeLaSalle. His Islanders teams had a record of 527-130 but the numbers mean less to him than the bonds he forged at the Catholic school that was founded in 1900.

“It was an incredibly hard decision,” he said. “I love my kids. The relationships that I have with them is something that I really value and cherish.

“As much as I loved going to DeLaSalle, I wouldn’t have predicted that I’d be there for 23 years. It was absolutely the greatest decision of my life. To be a part of the DeLaSalle culture; when I stepped into it I had no idea how it would impact me.”

Thorson initially taught social studies at DeLaSalle and was the school’s athletic director from 1997 to 2004, when he became the vice president of development. In that position, he helped secure nearly $30 million in funds for DeLaSalle.

During Thorson’s time as a Gophers assistant coach under Clem Haskins, one of the student managers (and later an assistant coach under Dan Monson) was a Roseville High School graduate named Niko Medved. After four years as the head coach at Furman University in South Carolina, he was named Drake’s head coach the day after this year’s MSHSL boys state basketball tournament ended. One of his first calls was to Thorson; they have been friends for two decades.

“He and I philosophically are a lot alike,” Thorson said. “Niko was kind of my right-hand guy at Minnesota; he was way more than a manager. And the relationship we have extends beyond basketball. My daughter was the flower girl at his wedding. His wife and my wife are very good friends. Our families have spent time together. That part of it, for me, that personal part, is extremely important.”

Medved, 43, was an assistant under Monson for one year before becoming an assistant at Furman for seven years. He then was an assistant at Colorado State for six years before returning to Furman as head coach.

“Adding a coach of Dave's caliber is tremendous for Drake basketball,” Medved said. “Dave is the entire package. He's one of the best coaches in the history of Minnesota and one of the best coaches I know. He's a tremendous leader and communicator who develops players in all areas of their lives. His vision is in direct alignment with my vision and the mission of Drake University.”

Thorson said, “Some would say that being a college basketball assistant coach is a young man’s game. I would say that I know right now I still have the passion.’

Anyone who has watched DeLaSalle play over the years has never doubted Thorson’s passion. He has been known to be in a full sweat before tipoff and he spends most of the time during games standing and exhorting his players, yelling “Contain! Contain!” while his teams play defense. At the end of his final game at DeLaSalle, as the starters were replaced one at a time at the end of a 72-44 state-championship victory over Austin at Target Center, he smothered each of them in a bear hug.

“I just felt like from a timing perspective that DeLaSalle basketball is at an apex right now,” he said. “I think it’s a premier program in the state and it will continue because it’s built on people. I was just the guy who happened to be the head coach, but there are so many people who make it happen. The program’s in great shape.

“If there was any wavering on that I wouldn’t leave because I believe too much in the place. Now someone can come in and keep it going. Some of the grinding work of getting it going, that field’s been plowed. From that perspective, I just felt like the timing was right.”

Thorson said he will miss his DeLaSalle players, along with other people he came to know so well there. Asked about the memories he holds, he said, “Without question it’s all the relationships. First with my basketball players. We sort of stand on the shoulders of others, and with that understanding, I think back to my first team that really sold out and worked hard. Frankly I think there was a little fear to buy in, in terms of preparation and intensity, but it’s grown to a championship level.

“It took a few years to establish that culture. I’ll forever be indebted and grateful to those players. And the relationships I’ve had with other students and people I’ve worked with over the course of time. One of the things I say all the time is ‘Once an Islander, always an Islander.’ I may be a Bulldog now but I’ll be an Islander for life.”

The Drake men’s and women’s basketball teams play home games at the on-campus, 7,152-seat Knapp Center, which is next door to a new $8 million, 44,000 square-foot practice facility that includes locker rooms, team lounges and a film room.

“They raised the money for the practice facility in one year,” Thorson said. “There’s no question that Drake wants a winner. If I didn’t think we couldn’t be competitive, I wouldn’t have done this.”

One of Thorson’s former DeLaSalle players is on the Drake roster. Samm Jones is a redshirt freshman who transferred from Northwestern at the end of the fall semester. Also on the team is Edina graduate Graham Woodward, who played in all 62 games the Bulldogs have played in the last two seasons, starting 27 games last season when Drake went 7-24 overall and 5-13 in the Missouri Valley Conference.

It’s a safe assumption that Thorson will work extremely hard in recruiting Minnesota players.

“I’m a Minnesota prep basketball fan, and Minnesota basketball is a place that in my mind is fertile for Drake,” he said. “I’m going to spend time in Minnesota making sure all the guys who want to play college basketball understand that Drake is a great option.”

--John Millea is a graduate of Drake University.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 590
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 10,045
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
So High So Early: Pipestone’s Woelber Makes His Mark 4/13/2017
LUVERNE -- Tyl Woelber had a pretty good day at his first track and field competition of the 2017 season. The junior from Pipestone competed in three field events, finished first in all three, and ran a leg on the Arrows’ winning 4x400 relay team at Tuesday’s Cardinal Relays.

The high jump stood out, with Woelber surpassing his own expectations and posting a mark that rang out statewide. The 6-foot Woelber cleared 6 feet, 7 inches, matching his personal best as well as his school record. He finished second at last year’s Class 1A state meet with a height of 6-5, and Tuesday’s 6-7 is the best performance in the state so far this season.

That he went so high so early in the spring was a surprise to everyone, maybe especially to Tyl.

“I was hoping to get to 6-5 because that was the meet record here,” he said. “But it’s the first meet of the year and I didn’t really know if it was going to happen.”

That meet record had stood for 20 years, and Woelber joined some familiar company among the record-holders at the Cardinal Relays. His sister Bree, a 2011 Pipestone grad, holds meet records in the girls 300-meter hurdles and long jump.

Bree was a two-time state champion in the 100 meters, also won a title in the 300-meter hurdles and was a state runner-up in the 100 hurdles and long jump. She competed in track at Iowa State for three years before transferring to Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., where she was a first-team All-American in the high jump, was named Field Athlete of the Year in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and earned All-Region honors in the heptathlon, high jump and javelin. She is now a graduate assistant coach at Augustana.

Tyl has three older sisters; Bree, Sarah and Brooke were all athletes.

“It’s a track family,” said Tyl, who watched Bree compete at Pipestone, Iowa State and Augustana. “I just wanted to grow up to be like Bree. She’s great. My other sisters were athletes, too, and I wanted to keep the family name going.”

Ty went to state in all three jumps and as part of the Arrows’ 4x400 relay team last year. Along with his runner-up finish in the long jump, he placed fifth in the triple jump, seventh in the long jump and joined Carter Nesvold, Devin Tinklenberg and Eli Stevens in a fifth-place 4x400 fifth.

With Stevens graduating, Woelber ran the third leg Tuesday on Pipestone’s winning 4x400 team along with Justin Kooiman, Nesvold and Tinklenberg.

“The 4x4 is my most favorite event, because it gets so hyped at the end. Everyone’s screaming and it’s awesome,” said Tyl, who also plays football and basketball.

Woelber’s winning distances in Tuesday’s other events were 21-2 ½ in the long jump and 43-2 ½ in the triple jump. The Pipestone school records are 22-2 ¾ (a mark that has stood since 1970) and 45-6 ½ (set in 1990).

In the high jump, he made three unsuccessful cracks at clearing 6-foot-8 on Tuesday. The state record in the high jump is 7-1, a mark first set by Rochester John Marshall’s Rod Raver in 1973 and matched by Chaska’s Jon Markuson in 1993.

“6-8 is super high,” Tyl said. As for 7-1? He smiled and said, “Maybe next year I’ll get it.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 582
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 9,959
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Class 2A Boys Tennis Rankings4/12/2017
Provided by the Minnesota Tennis Coaches Association.

CLASS 2A
TEAMS
1 Minnetonka
2 Rochester Century
3 East Ridge
4 Mounds View
5 Lakeville South
6 Rochester Mayo
7 Wayzata
8 Edina
9 Eastview
10 Benilde

INDIVIDUALS
1 Ben van der Sman, East Ridge
2 Nikita Snezhko, Armstrong
3 Sebastian Vile, Rochester Mayo
4 Ben Wheaton, Minnetonka
5 Gavin Young, Eastview
6 Maxim Zagrebelny, Eagan
7 Varun Iyer, Century
8 Connor Olson, Orono
9 Chase Roseth, Lakeville South
10 Sam Hochberger, Maple Grove
Class 1A Boys Tennis Rankings4/12/2017
Provided by the Minnesota Tennis Coaches Association.

CLASS 1A
TEAMS
1 Blake
2 Breck
3 Rochester Lourdes
4 St. Paul Academy
5 Litchfield
6 Hibbing
7 Holy Family Catholic
8 Mound Westonka
9 St. Peter
10 Luverne

INDIVIDUALS
1 Ben Ingbar, Blake
2 Jack Barker, Blake
3 Joe Mairs, Blake
4 Peter Erickson, Rochester Lourdes
5 Karthik Papisetty, Breck
6 Thomas Metz, Breck
7 Mathew Metz, Breck
8 Ryan Ortega, Winona Cotter
9 Rafait Solaiman, St. Peter
10 Jose Williamson, Minnehaha