John's Journal
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
Class 4A Baseball Rankings4/12/2017
The Associated Press rankings for Minnesota high school baseball, provided by Let's Play Baseball newspaper.

CLASS 4A
1. Minnetonka
2. Burnsville
3. Woodbury
4. Maple Grove
5. Eden Prairie
6. Champlin Park
7. Wayzata
8. Lakeville North
9. Forest Lake
10. Edina
11. Centennial
12. Eastview
13. Chanhassen
14. Chaska
15. Blaine
16. Stillwater Area
17. Anoka
18. Cretin-Derham Hall
19. St. Michael-Albertville
20. Coon Rapids
Also receiving votes: Totino-Grace, Shakopee, Duluth East, Hill-Murray, Apple Valley, Elk River, Grand Rapids, Buffalo, Osseo, Moorhead, Andover, Eagan, Hopkins