John's Journal
Marshall’s Kaia Sueker: Two Sports At Once 11/5/2016
Kaia Sueker is a girl on the move. The sophomore at Marshall High School is constantly involved … in something. It might be music, where she plays the violin and is also a percussionist. It might be the basketball team in the winter, the track team in the spring, or the volleyball and cross-country teams in the fall.

That’s right, Kaia (“KY-uh”) is a two-sport athlete during what for most athletes is a one-sport season. You want to see someone who stays busy? Here she is.

“I do have a little free time to get my homework done,” she said. “And I like art, drawing or painting, stuff like that.”

Fall is Kaia’s busy season, and it was capped at Saturday’s state cross-country meet. The Marshall Tigers finished fourth in Class 2A and Kaia placed 28th among individual runners. In the field of 175 runners, Marshall’s Claire Boersma placed 20th, Natalee Sample was 25th, Morgan Radel was 44th, Alison Mortier was 79th, Bellamy Sukalski was 87th and Sydney Blomme was 162nd.

“I thought the race went well,” Kaia said. “I thought we gave it our all. Even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, there’s nothing to be sad about because we gave it our all and pushed hard.” (Kaia, wearing 778, is pictured warming up Saturday with Boersma.)

Kaia’s after-school schedule included volleyball practice on non-game days, usually followed by getting in miles as a cross-country workout. Volleyball, a highly coordinated team sport, requires everyone to be at practice; cross-country is more of an individual activity where Kaia could get her work done around her volleyball schedule.

“It’s really unique,” said Marshall girls cross-country coach Marie Sample. “I’ve never known a kid to be able to do both sports at the level she has.”

After Kaia’s freshman season on the Tigers track team, Sample came up with an idea. Sample is also the girls track coach and she knew Kaia was talented on the track. So …

“I talked to her about this shared thing and said, ‘Why don’t you try it?’ She got in it and realized she’s a pretty good little runner.”

Kaia, Boersma, Nichole Sample and Natalee Sample (daughters of Marie) went to state in the 4x800 relay last spring, finishing 12th in Class 2A. Marshall competes with the state’s biggest schools in track, volleyball and cross-country, which makes Kaia’s dual-sport experience even more remarkable.

“It’s obviously difficult but the reason it’s able to work is because Kaia is a kid who’s really mastered the skill of time management at an early age,” said Marshall volleyball coach Dan Westby. “I’ll never get it right. My desk looks like World War III. She’s really got that part down.”

The Tigers volleyball season ended a week ago with a loss to Prior Lake in the Class 3A Section 2 playoffs. That gave Kaia a rare week with just one sport as the Tigers prepared for Saturday’s cross-country championships.

“It is a little weird this week,” she said with a giggle.

Kaia and the Tigers cross-country team also went to state last season, where they finished second behind Edina in the team race and Kaia placed 27th among individuals. Saturday was Marshall’s fourth consecutive appearance at state as team.

Cross-country, especially on the girls side, is filled with small athletes and Kaia fits that bill at 5-foot-2. She stands out on the volleyball court, however, where height is important at the net. She’s a specialist, coming onto the court to serve and defend in the back of the court. Even playing a part-time role, she led the Tigers in serve attempts, serve percentage and ace serves this season.

“She’s a kid who’s always been really driven,” Westby said. “If she sets her mind to do something, she’ll do it well.”

Kaia was the Tigers’ No. 2 finisher at the Section 2 cross-country championships.

“Without Kaia we’re a different team,” Sample said. “She adds a punch. The thing about Kaia that’s really cool is she is a competitor. She’s kind to everyone, a great teammate. But she competes.”

Kais said she loves the team atmosphere of cross-country.

“Everybody’s always there to support you,” she said. “Even after races other people will give you a hug and say, ‘Great job.’ I love the nature of the sport.’ ”

After playing volleyball “since I could probably walk,” Kaia said, “I love volleyball, too. It’s a team sport and it’s just like a great atmosphere. I love that, too.”

When Sample proposed joining the cross-country team, Kaia got excited.

“My track coach kind of brought up the idea of, ‘Why not try both this year and see how it would work?’ Track was really fun and she thought (cross-country) would be a great opportunity, too. My reaction was like, ‘Oh, that would be awesome, I hope this could all work out.’ I was very excited but I did think, ‘How would this work?’ ”

Turns out it worked just fine.

Basketball practice starts in 11 days.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 234
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,638
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
1A Boys Soccer Championship: St. Thomas Academy 1, Northfield 011/3/2016
After 80 minutes of regulation, one 10-minute overtime period and 3 minutes, 5 seconds into a second overtime Thursday, St. Thomas Academy became the first high school team to win a state championship inside U.S. Bank Stadium. The Cadets scored the only goal of the elongated game on a penalty kick by Devin Kennedy.

The championship is the first in boys soccer for St. Thomas Academy, which finished the season with an 18-4 record. The Cadets were the third-place team at state last year; their best previous finish was second in 1999.

Last year’s trip to state provided plenty of motivation for the 2016 team. Finishing third a year ago “didn’t really cut it for us juniors,” Kennedy said.

Northfield goalkeeper Cristian Fuentes-Rivera, who made nine saves in the game, guessed correctly that Kennedy would go to the keeper’s right with the penalty shot. But the ball found the corner of the net as Fuentes-Rivera stretched out.

“I was exhausted,” Kennedy said. “I was hanging around near half field and I saw (teammate Vernon Lovegreen) go down in the box. As the referee blew the whistle and signaled the penalty I kind of got chills all the way up my back. I knew I might be able to take this and win it for the team, and not go through the drawn-out shootout.

“I was confident until I made eye contact with the goalie. He was kind of staring me down, making me nervous.”

The Cadets finished with 13 shots to seven for Northfield (16-4-3), which was also the state runner-up in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Cadets goalkeeper Matthew Wahl made four saves.

“It’s probably the worst way to end a game,” Northfield coach Scott Wopata said. “That was a really close match. There wasn’t going to be an obvious winner after we went to overtime 0-0. We withstood their waves of attack, which is what we did all season. It’s clearly a tough way to walk away from the game. At the same time, there wasn’t a lot of difference between the teams.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 168
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,585
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Three Stadiums, Four Titles For Benilde-St. Margaret’s11/3/2016
The Benilde-St. Margaret’s girls soccer team is on a pretty good little run in the last few years. And one thing is clear: the Red Knights can play anywhere and be successful.

--In 2013 Benilde-St. Margaret’s defeated Blake 1-0 to win its second consecutive state championship in the final year the tournament was held at the Metrodome.

--Last year the Red Knights beat Orono 4-2 in the title game at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium.

--Thursday they held off Mankato West 2-1 to become the first girls team to win a state title inside U.S. Bank Stadium. Pretty cool, huh?

“We kind of talked about it all season long, that it would be really cool to do that,” said coach Scott Helling-Christy. “And we knew it would be really hard. And to get the opportunity, it really fueled us to make it happen.”

The Red Knights (17-4-1) have made 11 trips to state with four titles and three runner-up finishes. Mankato West (18-3), at state for the third time, played in its first championship game.

Benilde wasted no time in scoring against the Scarlets, with Amanda Cassidy putting the ball in the net after only 35 seconds. Maren Noble made it 2-0 late in the first half and the Scarlets’ Rachel Luedtke scored in the second half.

“Obviously if you can score a goal in the first 30 seconds of a game that can give you an edge,” Helling-Christy said. “Amanda is a fantastic player and she does a great job of getting in behind and getting the ball to somebody else or scoring herself. That was like, ‘Wow! 30 seconds into the game and we’re already up 1-0.’ As a coach, you like that.”

Mankato West coach Crissy Makela -- the only coach the Scarlets have had since the girls soccer program began 21 years ago – used the word “proud” several times in a postgame media session. She was proud that her young team, which has only two seniors (Lauren Colway and Dana Bohks) made it all the way to the state championship game.

“I’m really proud of the effort the team put into this,” Makela said. “We have two seniors. It was their last 80 minutes and we wanted to give them the best possible ending we could.

“I’m exceptionally proud of this team. It’s like being a proud parent. It’s like having 22 of your own daughters out there playing.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 168
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,585
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Class 2A Boys Soccer: Stillwater Finishes Unbeaten11/3/2016
Defense wins championships, and it also wins games. Evidence is provided by the Stillwater boys soccer team, which beat Wayzata 2-0 in Thursday’s Class 2A state championship game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Ponies not only completed an undefeated season at 22-0, they also displayed one of the best defenses you will ever see. Their opponents only scored 11 goals in those 22 games, which if you do the math comes out to half a goal per game.

“They’ve been tremendous," Stillwater coach Jake Smothers said of his defensive specialists. “We have a great back four, with six or seven players who can play back there.”

The Ponies won their first title in Class 2A; they won single-class crowns in 1995 and 1996.

Colman Farrington scored early in the second half and Kohei Adams made it 2-0 late in the game. The second goal was crucial.

“When it was 1-0 we knew any mistake of ours would mean a tie game,” Farrington said. “Kohei putting that one away was a tremendous feeling, knowing that we got this. It was amazing. We knew we had a little bit of a cushion. I think it took some of the pressure off us.”

Wayzata had pitched four shutouts in five previous postseason games.

“I just love the run we made this year,” Trojans coach Dominic Duenas said. “I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. Our senior leadership was top-notch. I told the boys that sitting here in our 22nd game of the season and our first loss; there’s nothing to hang our heads about. I’m extremely proud of the players.”
Class 2A Girls State Soccer: Centennial Reigns 11/3/2016
Centennial capped the soccer season and the first run of MSHSL state tournaments at U.S. Bank Stadium in style Thursday, recording the first state championship in the program’s history. And the Cougars did it from a rare place, as the fifth-seeded team in the eight-team field.

They held off second-seeded Rosemount 2-1 to win the Class 2A state championship. Centennial (18-0-3), which lost in the state quarterfinals last year, was making its sixth appearance in the state tournament and first time in the championship game.

Rosemount (17-2-2) had been to state five times previously (most recently in 1997) and also was playing in the title game for the first time.

Both teams reached Thursday’s game by narrow margins. Centennial had defeated Lakeville North 2-1 in a shootout in the quarterfinals and beat Andover 2-1 in Tuesday’s semifinals. Rosemount outlasted Minnetonka 2-1 in overtime in the state quarterfinals and beat Minneapolis Washburn 2-1 in the semifinals.

“To get to the moment is something that only two teams in the state do,” said Irish coach Gretchen Stramel, who played on Rosemount’s last state tournament team. “The girls played hard and they came up a little bit short. They fought to the end. What they did in order to get here was nothing short of spectacular. They have to hold their heads up high and be so proud of everything that they accomplished.”

Tessa Trettel scored both goals for the Cougars, one in each half. Her goal eight minutes into the second half made it 2-0. The Irish kept battling, with Lauren Bangh making it 2-1 on a goal with 6:40 remaining in regulation.

“It’s unbelievable,” Trettel said of the tournament experience. “It’s amazing that the hard work we put in during practice pays off on the field.”

Centennial coach Ginger Flohaug said her team’s position as the fifth seed “probably” provided evidence that the Cougars were overlooked when the eight tournament head coaches went through the electronic seeding process.

“I feel like in the coaches rankings, they either don’t know our opponents from the north (suburbs) or don’t respect them,” she said. “Having Andover (which finished third) and us in the final four should help that in the future.”

One of Flohaug’s pregame goals was to make sure everyone on the roster saw playing time. And that indeed happened.

“I’m so proud of every player,” she said. “It’s great to get everybody in and touch the field and know what it’s like to play in a championship game.”

STATE SOCCER TOURNAMENT

MONDAY SEMIFINALS

2A boys/ Stillwater 6, Andover 1
2A boys/ Wayzata 2, Edina 0
1A boys/ Northfield 3, Mankato West 0
1A boys/ St. Thomas Academy 1, Blake 0
1A girls/ Benilde-St. Margaret’s 3, Hill-Murray 2
1A girls/ Mankato West 3, Dover-Eyota 0

TUESDAY SEMIFINALS
2A girls/ Centennial 2, Andover 1
2A girls/ Rosemount 2, Minneapolis Washburn 1

TUESDAY THIRD-PLACE GAMES
1A boys/ Mankato West 2, Blake 0
1A girls/ Hill-Murray 3, Dover-Eyota 0
2A boys/ Edina 3, Andover 0

THURSDAY
THIRD-PLACE GAME

2A girls/ Andover 2, Minneapolis Washburn 1
CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES
1A boys/ St. Thomas Academy 1, Northfield 0 (2 OT)
1A girls/ Benilde-St. Margaret’s 2, Mankato West 1
2A boys/ Stillwater 2, Wayzata 0
2A girls/ Centennial 2, Rosemount 1

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 168
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,585
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn