John's Journal
On The Ice And Off, Blaine’s Emily Brown Is A Leader 2/23/2017
In this age of single-sport specialization, Emily Brown is a throwback. The Blaine senior is a member of her school’s soccer, hockey and track squads and is a team captain for all three. In fact, this is her third season as a captain on the Bengals hockey team.

The Bengals are flying high on the ice after defeating Roseau 7-1 in Thursday’s Class 2A state quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center. They will face Hill-Murray in Friday’s semifinals. Emily, who plays defense, had one goal and one assist in Thursday’s game, giving her 15 goals, 28 assists and 43 points this season.

Her accolades are far-ranging: She won a gold medal with last year’s U18 national team and is one of five finalists for the Ms. Hockey Award. She will play collegiate hockey at the University of Minnesota. She has been named the winner of Blaine’s Athena Award, which is bestowed on the school’s top female athlete. She has a 4.0 grade-point average and ranks No. 1 in her class.

But there’s more. A lot more. Blaine girls hockey coach Steve Guider calls Emily “perhaps the most self-disciplined person I have ever met. You have to witness Emily amongst her teammates and peers to really see how truly special she is. She changes the lives of people around her.”

The Bengals have a team motto this season that has nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with serving others. The motto is “Make A Difference” and the goal is to make a difference in at least one person’s life every day.

“Emily has embraced this, she has led our team effort by leading our weekly team Make a Difference projects where they visit senior centers or bring treats to the police department and similar things,” Guider said.

Those outreach efforts can include simple things like holding a door for someone, picking up trash at school or buying coffee for the person behind them in line at Caribou.

“This group of players is the most incredible group of kids I’ve ever coached,” Guider said. “They’re great hockey players but they’re far better students and people than hockey players.

“You watch them interact with little kids, how they stand for the national anthem, little things like that. We’ve talked about making a difference in the lives of people.”

Emily said, “It’s pretty incredible to see the effect that such a little action we perform can have on a person. We go to senior living centers and spend time with them, and just to see how much their day is made by talking about what they had for lunch or what they’re having for dinner, the games they’re playing. It’s pretty sweet to see.”

Playing three sports, getting straight A’s and contributing to the community means very little down time. Emily said she has learned to manage her time, even if it means doing homework in the car while her mom drives her to practice.

“There’s lots of homework and it can mean staying up a little bit later than usual,” she said. “It’s tough but it’s a good skill to learn.”

On the ice Brown is a tremendous competitor. She is not a highly vocal team leader but what her coach calls “a calming presence.”

“It doesn’t matter how much pressure she is under, she never gets rattled,” Guider said. “During games if we have a bad period Emily will come into the locker room and say, ‘Stay calm, settle down, get focused, we got this.’ If we are playing well she will make statements like, ‘Keep it up, we’re doing great, keep the energy going.’ If it’s a big game and competitive she will make statements like, ‘This is fun, this is why we play this game’ She has a great read on her teammates and all of her statements have a positive spin to them to keep her teammates relaxed and positive.”

Blaine girls soccer coach Scott Zachmann has similar praise for Emily.

“In 20 years of coaching at many levels -- college, high school and youth -- I can honestly say I have never met a more dedicated student-athlete than Emily,” he said. “She embodies what it means to be a student-athlete as she is disciplined in success in both academics and athletics. Great leaders make everyone around them aspire to be better. Emily does that. She inspires her coaches, her teammates, her teachers to become better versions of themselves every day.

“As her soccer coach the past four years I saw daily her impact. She led by example, hard work and commitment. A true leader cares not only about others and about how hard she needs to work for success, but cares about sportsmanship. It has always been important to Emily to show true character. She's the first to hand the ball to the other team, pick up a puck for an official or stay after practice to help put equipment away. She’s not looking for a pat on the back, she's just that kind of person. There is not a better representative of the word leadership.”

If Emily has one fear, it’s a fear of heights. Or as she told me with a smile, “I’m more like afraid of falling.”

During a hockey team-building trip to Camp Ripley, the players went through a confidence course that included vertical challenges such as a 30-foot cargo net that the players had to climb, go over and come down the other side. Guider said, “Emily is deathly afraid of heights. She was standing in line and you could just see the fear in her eyes. Just before it was her turn, she said, “I really don’t want to do this, but I don’t want to be that 80-year-old woman sitting in a wheelchair saying I never went up that rope.”

So up she went, fears and all.

“I ended up doing that and the feeling at the end was pretty incredible,” she said. “So now I won’t be that 80-year-old woman, so mission accomplished.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 459
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,457
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Despite Lopsided Outcome, 'It Was A Lot Of Fun'2/22/2017
What a bummer, right? The girls hockey team from Mankato East/Loyola came to the state tournament for the first time and lost by 10 goals. That’s a bummer, right?

Well, yes, of course. Nobody wants to lose at state and nobody wants to lose 10-0. There were some mitigating circumstances in play during the opening game Wednesday in the Class 1A state tournament at Xcel Energy Center.

*The East/Loyola Cougars were stone-cold rookies at this (a combined Mankato East/West team went to state in 1999, which was before any of the current players were born).

*The team from St. Paul United is not new to this endeavor. United was the state runner-up last season and also played at state in 2014. Only five or six United players were new to the state tourney experience Wednesday.

Such things can make a difference. A big difference.

“They’re a good team and we weren’t expecting anything less,” said East/Loyola senior center Ali Schreiber. “They came out ready to play.”

That is a true statement. United scored three goals before the game was five and a half minutes old. The score was 4-0 after the first period and 9-0 after two. United outshot the Cougars 41-9, with Joie Phelps scoring three goals and Samantha Burke and Maggie Conners getting two apiece.

“The effort was there early and all game; they capitalized on a few early opportunities,” said East/Loyola coach Nate Fuller, who coached New Prague to state in 2005 and 2006. “We had some chances early and came up short. The game kind of snowballed. I think their speed and puck handling overwhelmed us, for sure. For us to come out and play a team that good and not be our sharpest, it put us in a hole big time.”

St. Paul United, a cooperative team with players from Visitation and St. Paul Academy and Summit School, is the second seed in the tournament. Their record of 20-6-1 includes five games against teams playing in the 1A or 2A state tournaments. Mankato East/Loyola (17-8-1) has played only team that’s at state (Northfield in 1A).

Phelps, who is playing at state for the third time, said it’s always special.

“We need to be good role models for the younger kids,” she said. “The atmosphere can be super intimidating.”

Conners said, “You have to appreciate the experience, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing to be here. But you also have to focus on the game, which is what we tried to do.”

They clearly were focused, putting 19 shots on net in the opening 17 minutes. United’s talents were simply too much for the Cougars.

“The girls were pretty excited to play and it was a good nervousness,” Fuller said. “We wanted to keep their shots to the outside, block shots, not give up a whole lot of odd-man rushes. We knew this was going to be an un uphill battle. We’re capable of playing at a better level. But that’s a really good team.”

East/Loyola will play at Ridder Arena in the consolation bracket Thursday morning against Hibbing/Chisholm, which lost to Warroad 5-2 in Wednesday’s second quarterfinal game. The Cougars will take some good things with them from the big NHL arena in downtown St. Paul.

“It was a really great experience being here for the first time,” Schreiber said. “We came out ready to play and it was a lot of fun.”

New Look For Hibbing/Chisholm

Pete Hyduke was the coach at Hibbing/Chisholm for 16 years and took the Bluejackets to state eight times (with three runner-up finishes). The veteran stepped aside last summer because he knew there was someone on the staff ready to become head coach. That person was Emily Erickson, who led the Bluejackets to state in her first season at the helm.

“It’s been fun,” said Erickson, who was an assistant coach for three years. “I came into a program that had a solid foundation and the kids have been great. There’s always something to learn, which we’ve done as a team this year. That’s what I’m trying to do, too, to keep learning.”

Input From Afar

The Warroad Warriors scored three goals in the second period against Hibbing/Chisholm but they thought it should have been four goals. Using video replay, the officials confirmed their original call that no goal was scored because the puck had been kicked in.

After the game, Warroad coach David Marvin disagreed. “I got two text messages from refs back home saying it was a good goal and there was no kicking.”

Marvin also talked about the difficulties of facing Twin Cities traffic, mentioning the team’s plan to eat dinner Wednesday at the hotel where the players’ parents are staying and then returning to the arena to watch Wednesday’s evening session.

“In Warroad you can play a round of golf and catch some fish in a day,” he said. “Down here it’s like, ‘Well, let’s try to get a meal and get back.’ ”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 451
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,407
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Timberwolves' Cole Aldrich: The Pride Of Bloomington Jefferson 2/19/2017
With another NBA All-Star break at hand, Cole Aldrich is doing what he has done throughout his seven-year career as a professional basketball player: Get together with his entourage, his posse, his crew.

The thing is, Aldrich’s entourage consists of his high school buddies from Bloomington Jefferson. Their 10-year class reunion will take place this summer and Aldrich will stand out for two reasons: he is 6-foot-11 and he plays in the NBA. And yet he remains nothing more than one of the guys, just like in high school.

“My high school buddies have always been my best friends,” Aldrich said during a recent interview before a Timberwolves practice. “I’ve met thousands and thousands of different people in different states and played with a number of teammates, but those are always my guys. We have a mass text with each other and we just sit there and talk crap to each other.”

Aldrich’s ties with Bloomington Jefferson are deep. He was a varsity starter from his first game as a ninth-grader and after graduation played at Kansas University for three years before being taken by New Orleans with the 11th pick in the 2010 draft. That same day New Orleans traded his rights to Oklahoma City, and his NBA career has taken him to Houston, Sacramento, the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers and now the Timberwolves. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images.)

Cole was 15 years old the first time I interviewed him, after the second game of his ninth-grade season. He was 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds. As I wrote in that story for the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“The raw material is certainly there. Aldrich has good feet, a soft touch and a wingspan of 7-4. Genes might be a factor. According to Walter (his father), there are rumors of an 8-foot-tall Norwegian lurking somewhere back deep in the family trees. The freshman isn't quite a human swizzle stick, but he could use some biscuits and gravy. And, most important, some time to grow up.”

Back then it was hard, even for Jefferson head coach Jeff Evens, to envision Aldrich as a seven-year NBA veteran.

“When he was a kid I didn’t really think he would be a big Division I player,” Evens said recently. “But his picture should be right next to ‘Jefferson basketball’ in the dictionary.”

Aldrich was named the 2007 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year as a senior, when he was a 61 percent shooter who averaged 23 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks per game. His only appearance in a state tournament came that season, with the Jaguars losing to Apple Valley 68-66 in the big-school quarterfinals at Williams Arena. Aldrich has not forgotten many details of that game from 10 years ago.

He finished with 32 points and 21 rebounds in his last high school game, but the final time he touched the ball – in the final seconds -- really stands out. “I took kind of a half-court heave and if it would have been like three inches left I think I would have sunk it,” he said. “But it kind of hit right at that side.”

He can laugh about it now, especially when one of his buddies brings it up.

“He’s still pretty down to earth,” Evens said. “Other than size, you wouldn’t recognize that he’s a professional athlete. The impact that he makes is that he doesn’t stray too far from his roots. He knows where he started. His best buddies to this day are the kids he played basketball with in high school.”

During All-Star breaks as well as in the summer, Aldrich likes to work out with current Jefferson players. He also takes part in an annual golf fundraiser for the Jaguars team. As always has been the case, he brings the fun with him. (This photo is from high school.)

“He’s the same goofy kid that he always was,” Evens said. “When he was in high school, I made a comment that I really hated raking leaves, and for two consecutive weekends Cole and his buddies dumped like 18 bags of leaves in my yard. They did it late at night so I didn’t know who did it. But one of the bags ended up in the hoop in my yard, so it was clear somebody who was really tall did that.”

Aldrich and his wife Britt have been married for almost four years. She attended Irondale High School – 25 miles from Bloomington Jefferson – but they didn’t meet until they were both in their first year at Kansas. Cole is being paid more than $7 million this season, the first year of a three-year Timberwolves contract worth more than $21 million.

The NBA is most assuredly a business, but mention high school basketball and Aldrich’s eyes light it up. It’s clear he treasures that time in his life, mostly because he simply had fun. And that’s a major portion of his advice for current high school athletes.

“Just enjoy it,” he said. “My parents wouldn’t know how to tape a game and sit there and break it down with me. There was no way my dad was doing that. I think that kind of helped me become successful; I didn’t really have that pressure. I was playing and I was having fun. The only pressure that was on me was what I was giving myself.

“I almost played football and baseball in high school. And he (Evens) was kind of all for it. He said, ‘I think you should have fun in high school.’ For me now, looking back at it, I had a great time playing with my buddies.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 443
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,357
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
A Full House, High Drama And A Night To Remember 2/18/2017
A fellow walked into a high school gym at 6:15 p.m. on Friday and walked out at 10:25 p.m., having lost all track of the time. As he stuck the car key into the ignition, he said to himself, “Man oh man that was really fun.”

The fellow says that a lot, because he’s fortunate to be employed in a position that takes him to high school events all across Minnesota. And this is a time of year, with a lot on the line, when dramatic and fantastic things happen everywhere you turn. One example from Friday night: the girls hockey team from Roseau defeated Brainerd/Little Falls 3-2 in a four-overtime game in Bemidji that sent the Rams to next week’s state tournament. You just know that everyone who was there in person will never forget it.

That is high drama, and that is also what took place at Rosemount High School. The sport was wrestling, and this was special. Here’s the tantalizing backstory …

On Dec. 1, in the opening match of the season for both teams, Shakopee went to Apple Valley and defeated the Eagles 29-28. That was the Eagles’ first dual-match defeat to a Minnesota team since 2006. Apple Valley has won the last 11 Class 3A state team titles and that Dec. 1 result upended the wrestling world in our state. Since that day, the Shakopee Sabers have held the No. 1 ranking in 3A with the Eagles No. 2.

Friday’s event was the Section 2 team tournament. Both teams won easily in the quarterfinals and semifinals, setting up the rematch that everyone knew was coming since that first day in December and that would send the winning team to state.

Apple Valley has qualified for every team state tournament since 1982. The question was: Can the Sabers end that streak?

And if that wasn’t enough of a storyline, how about this? Second-year Shakopee coach Jim Jackson spent 32 years at Apple Valley. His record as head coach there was 618-27-3 and the Eagles won 14 team state titles under him.

The anticipation was high and the wrestling lived up to it and more. The Sabers won three of the first four matches and led 10-3. The first sign that it might be the Eagles’ night came in the fifth match at 132 pounds. Shakopee senior Brent Jones is top-ranked at the weight and holds three state titles. But an Eagles sophomore named Sebas Swiggum pulled off the stunner, beating Jones 7-5 in overtime.

This Tweet was issued by @AVHSAthletics at 9:27 p.m.: “Regardless of the outcome, this has been an awesome night for Minnesota wrestling.”

The next big bolt of thunder came at 195 pounds. Another Apple Valley sophomore, Tyler Kim, scored in the final seconds to beat Shakopee senior Abe Ngaima 5-4. That forged a 19-19 tie, the fifth deadlock of the dual and sent the Eagles and their fans into a frenzy.

An 8-5 win by Apple Valley’s Tanyi Besong at 220 was the all-but clincher, with the Eagles leading 22-19 and the top-ranked heavyweight in the nation up next.

In the middle of that 220 match, the fellow received this Twitter dispatch from someone who knows Besong well: “Thank you so much for these Tweets. I am an airline pilot and my brother is wrestling so I'm ‘watching’ your tweets from airport.”

Gable Steveson, Apple Valley’s unbeaten and two-time state champion junior at 285 pounds, won by fall in 38 seconds to cap the evening and give the Eagles a 28-19 victory.

A few minutes later Gable told me, “After we lost on December first, I think it set a fire under the team. Today we came in and showed that we can wrestle with these guys. We can wrestle with anybody out there; we’re toe to toe, we’re head to head with everybody.”

Dalen Wasmund, who moved from assistant coach to head coach when Jackson left Apple Valley in 2012, gathered his wrestlers around him for a post-match chat. There were grins and hugs in the huddle.

“Sebas Swiggum beats a three-time state champion, how can it get any better than that?,” Wasmund said after the cluster broke up. “That was a real key match. Then we won at 152 by one. And to kind of salt it away, our 95-pounder gets a takedown with less than two seconds to go. All those really close things kind of added up to a victory for us. We’re just really happy, really proud of the kids.”

Jackson, who has been through the wrestling wars for a long time, took the long view.

“It was a great experience to be in this kind of situation. And you know, it’s all about learning and improving,” he said. “They won a couple of really close matches, which obviously when you win the close matches that’s big. There were a lot of close matches. They won at 32 and that was a big one, and at 95. I’m proud of our kids, I’m proud of how they competed. I thought it was a heck of a dual meet for the fans and it was great for high school wrestling.”

Indeed it was. The gym was overflowing with humans, including large student sections from both schools that kept the volume turned up to 11. At the above-mentioned key moments, fans roared, wrestlers leaped into the air, and everyone had the same thought: Man oh man this is really fun.

Everyone who was there will never forget it.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 407
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,307
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
State Dance Recap: Jazz2/18/2017
Congratulations to all the teams competing in the state dance team tournament at Target Center. Friday's event was the jazz competition and here's a recap of the results:

Class 1A Finals
1 Aitkin
2 Frazee
3 Yellow Medicine East
4 St. Charles
5 LqPV/Dawson-Boyd
6 Duluth Marshall

Class 2A Finals
1 Benilde-St. Margaret's
2 Totino-Grace
3 Sartell-Saint Stephen
4 Rocori
5 Fairbault
6. Mound Westonka

Class 3A Finals
1 Eastview
2 Maple Grove
3 Edina
4 Wayzata
5 Prior Lake
6 Lakeville North

All-Tournament Teams

Class 1A
Aitkin Shelly Stephani
Aitkin Courtney Conner
Frazee Juliana Diemert
Frazee Cassidy Nelson
Marshall School, Duluth Clarissa Pederson
Marshall School, Duluth Katie Cherro
*Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd Savannah Erickson
*Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd Josie Munsterman
St. Charles Allie Doty
St. Charles Emily Reps
Yellow Medicine East, Granite Falls Raelin Enstad

Class 2A
Benilde-St. Margaret’s, St. Louis Park Molly Segner
Benilde-St. Margaret’s, St. Louis Park CiCi Fortney
*Faribault Alana Bresnahan
*Faribault Gracie Donahue
Mound Westonka Sydney Ryan
Mound Westonka Bailey Kahmeyer
Rocori, Cold Spring Isabella Torborg
Rocori, Cold Spring Madeline Spanier
Sartell-St. Stephen Alyssa Brix
Sartell-St. Stephen Sloan Schwarzentraub
Totino-Grace, Fridley Julia Johnston
Totino-Grace, Fridley Allie Wollman

Class 3A
Eastview, Apple Valley Katherine Hebig
Eastview, Apple Valley Mikayla Koles
Edina Etta Winje
Edina Verena Stockl
Lakeville North Abbie Zell
Lakeville North Beth Bauerman
Maple Grove Chole Bauer
Maple Grove Shelby Dobratz
Prior Lake Emily Schriever
Prior Lake Erin Palmer
Wayzata Jenna Rathbun
Wayzata Leah Kasner