John's Journal
Class 6A: Down To The Wire In A Game Of Inches 11/17/2016
After Totino-Grace defeated Blaine 21-20 on Thursday night at U.S. Bank Stadium, a member of the victorious Eagles defense made a profound statement about football, a game measured in yards but decided in much smaller increments.

“We know football can come down to one play, it can come down to inches,” said linebacker Charlie Waters, who led his team with eight tackles.

He was referring to the most critical stage of the game. Blaine scored with 59 seconds left in the fourth quarter to make it Totino 21, Bengals 20. Blaine went for two points and the win, with quarterback Connor Melton being sacked on the play.

“There was no doubt in our mind we were going to go for two,” said Blaine coach Tom Develice. “We were going to beat Grace. We were going with that play.”

Totino-Grace’s coverage, however, gave Melton no one to throw to.

“Yes, 100 percent, we knew they would (go for two),” Eagles coach Jeff Ferguson said. “We would, too. You’ve got to win or lose sometime.”

When these teams met in Week 5 of the regular season, Totino-Grace won 21-14. Thursday’s victory gave the top-ranked Eagles a record of 12-0 as they await the winner of Friday’s game between Eden Prairie and Champlin Park in next week’s Prep Bowl.

“This was a tough matchup,” said Ferguson, who spent 18 years as an assistant coach at Blaine. “They are really good. They have three really good weapons. Their quarterback is good, their protection is good, (running back) Chase Harper is good. Number 1 (receiver Byron Bynum Jr.) is good, 84 (receiver Kurtis Weigand) is a special player. They played really, really well. Credit to them. That’s a great coaching staff and a great football program.”

Harper carried 21 times for 99 yards and three touchdowns for the Bengals (9-3). Melton completed 22 of 39 passes for 286 yards. Totino-Grace’s Gayflor Flomo ran 17 times for 120 yards and Ivan Burlak rushed 18 times for 91 yards and a touchdown.

“The kids played hard,” Develice said. “It was 21-20 when 17 of 17 sportswriters didn’t give us a chance. The kids played their butts off. I’m proud of our kids.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 266
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,838
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Football State Semifinals At U.S. Bank Stadium11/14/2016
Here's the schedule of games this week...

11:30 a.m. Nine-Man/ Cleveland (12-0) vs. Cromwell-Wright (12-0)

2 p.m. Class 2A/ Maple River (10-2) vs. Eden Valley-Watkins (10-1)

4:30 p.m. Class 4A/ Marshall (11-0) vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (8-3)

7 p.m. Class 6A/ Totino-Grace (11-0) vs. Blaine (9-2)

9 a.m. Nine-Man/ Grand Meadow (12-0) vs. Waubun (12-0)

11:30 a.m. Class 2A/ Caledonia (12-0) vs. Barnesville (11-0)

2 p.m. Class 5A/ Owatonna (9-2) vs. Elk River (11-0)

4:30 p.m. Class 4A/ Winona (10-1) vs. Rocori (9-3)

7 p.m. Class 6A/ Eden Prairie (10-1) vs. Champlin Park (8-3)

9 a.m. Class 1A/ Rushford-Peterson (11-1) vs. Browerville/Eagle Valley (9-3)

11:30 a.m. Class 1A/ Minneapolis North (11-0) vs. Wabasso (11-1)

2 p.m. Class 3A/ Rochester Lourdes (11-0) vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (11-1)

4:30 p.m. Class 3A/ St. Croix Lutheran (11-0) vs. Pierz (10-1)

7 p.m. Class 5A/ Mankato West (11-0) vs. Spring Lake Park (11-0)

Tickets can be purchased in advance at and will be available at U.S. Bank Stadium all three days.

Ticket prices for the state semifinals as well as the Prep Bowl games on Nov. 25-26 are $14 for adults and $9 for students. Each ticket is good for all games that day.
State Volleyball: A 3A Championship Match For The Ages11/12/2016
Saturday’s Class 3A volleyball state championship match was something that will be remembered for a long time. If you were inside Xcel Energy Center watching Eagan and Champlin Park go at it hammer and tong in the final match of the volleyball season, you know what I’m talking about.

Here is a sample from my Twitter barrage during the match…

--I have been at every #mshsl state volleyball tournament for 15 years and I don't remember a crowd this large or a scene this exciting.

--Champlin Park sophomore Emma Schmidt goes up for a kill, senior teammate Sydney Hilley yells "Get on that!" Point Rebels.

--Timeout with Eagan leading 20-19 and the Champlin Park Show Band is playing Born to be Wild. This is fun. #mshsl

--Another timeout, Eagan leads Champlin Park 23-20 in first set. Eagan's big band playing We Are Family. Indeed we are. #mshsl

It was that kind of deal. Fun, exciting, thrilling. You get the idea.

The matchup was exactly what you want in a state title game. Eagan came in with a record of 30-1, and the Wildcats’ only loss was to Champlin Park in a tournament on the final day of the regular season. The Rebels were 31-2 with losses to Lakeville North and Hopkins.

Eagan came out on top this time, winning 3-1 to clinch its second consecutive championship and third in four years.

“It never gets old,” said Eagan coach Kathy Gillen. “Every tournament has a different feel and a different way to get to the finals.”

Gillen has been the Wildcats coach in two stints. She stepped down after 17 years in 2008 and returned before the 2011 season. She was inducted into the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2014. Eagan won previous state titles in 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2013 and 2015.

The Wildcats won the first set 25-20 Saturday before Champlin Park rallied to win the second set 25-17. The final two sets finished 25-21.

“It was a hard-fought match,” said Rebels coach John Yunker, whose team played in the championship game for the first time in school history. “We played them a couple weeks ago and it was very similar. They made a couple more plays than we did.

“Eagan’s a great team. They haven’t been challenged a whole lot this year because of their level of play.”

Each team was led by a player headed to a Big Ten volleyball team: Eagan’s Brie Orr will play at Iowa and the Rebels’ Hilley will go to Wisconsin.

Orr finished with 18 kills and 19 set assists, both team highs. Hilley, a force at the net, had a phenomenal 110 attacks and totaled 27 kills along with 18 digs.

“I didn’t even know I had that many swings,” Hilley said. “That’s a lot of swings. Every single time I took a swing they had a solid closed block. They got a lot of great touches on me.”

Class 1A
Fifth place/ Underwood defeated Kimball 3-0
Third place/ Tracy-Milroy-Balaton defeated Heritage Christian 3-0
Championship/ Mayer Lutheran defeated Caledonia 3-1

Class 1A Wells Fargo All-Tournament Team
Brenna Tinjum, Underwood; Bella Lien, Heritage Christian; Gabbie Gervais, Sydney Lanoue, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton; Madison Hucky, Olivia Tjernagel, Madi Beck, Mayer Lutheran; Madisyn Heaney, Adrianna Reinhart, Mariah Schroeder, Caledonia.

Class 2A
Fifth place/ Morris/Chokio-Alberta defeated Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 3-1
Third place/ Kenyon-Wanamingo defeated Kasson-Mantorville 3-0
Championship/ Maple Lake defeated Concordia Academy 3-0

Class 2A Wells Fargo All-Tournament Team
Karly Fehr, Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta; Peyton Suess, Kasson-Mantorville; Mara Quam, Megan Flom, Kenyon-Wanamingo; Brooke Weichbrodt, Anika Neuman, Erin Fallert, Concordia Academy; Amber Klug, Linsey Rachel, Brynn Paumen, Maple Lake.

Class 3A
Fifth place/ Prior Lake defeated Moorhead 3-1
Third place/ Lakeville South defeated Hopkins 3-0
Championship/ Eagan defeated Champlin Park 3-1

Class 3A Wells Fargo All-Tournament Team
CC McGraw, Prior Lake; Jasmyn Martin, Hopkins; Jenny Mosser, Halle Johnston, Lakeville South; Sydney Hilley, Izzy Ashburn, Champlin Park; McKenna Melville, Taylor Olstad, Brie Orr, Alyssa Doucette, Eagan.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 258
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,788
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Class 3A State Volleyball: We Meet Again11/11/2016
On October 22, two volleyball teams who were – it seems now – destined to meet again on a much bigger stage, squared off to decide who would be the champion of the Chaska Invitational. That match was in a high school gym on a Saturday afternoon. On that day, Champlin Park defeated Eagan 25-23, 23-25, 19-17.

That was Eagan’s only loss of the season. Prior to that match, Champlin Park lost to Lakeville North and Hopkins in tournaments.

Which brings us to Saturday at 5 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center. Eagan (30-1) and Champlin Park (31-2) will play in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd to decide the Class 3A state championship.

“It’s one match for the state championship and we’ll see what happens,” said Champlin Park coach John Yunker after both teams won semifinal matches Friday. The defending state champions from Eagan breezed past Lakeville South 3-0 in a 51-minute match and Champlin Park defeated Hopkins 3-0.

It’s a championship pairing that may have been foretold by the Class 3A coaches association rankings: Eagan is No. 1 and Champlin Park is No. 2; they hold those same spots in the state tourney seedings.

Champlin Park finished fifth at state two years ago and was third last season, losing to Eagan in the semifinals.

“We come back each year with a bigger goal in mind, that we want to do more,” said the Rebels’Allie Miller.

Eagan played nearly flawless volleyball against Lakeville South, winning 25-12, 25-13, 25-15. Wildcats coach Kathy Gillen said, “The girls played well today. There’s not a whole lot you can look at and change or tweak. They executed the game plan.”

Lakeville South senior star Jenny Mosser, who will play at UCLA, was held to eight kills in 45 attempts. This is the Cougars’ first trip to state, while Eagan is playing at the big arena for the fourth consecutive year. Eagan has also played in the last three championship matches, winning twice.

“I definitely think the experience they have (is a factor),” Mosser said of facing Eagan. “Playing here is a different game altogether. They didn’t make many mistakes and we didn’t rise to the occasion.

“You obviously know that you have to play really well if you even want to have a chance of competing with them.”

The Champlin Park-Hopkins match was also a dual between two of the top hitters in the state. Rebels senior Sydney Hilley will play at Wisconsin and Hopkins’ Jasmyn Martin will play for the Gophers. Hilley finished with 23 kills and a .305 attack percentage to Martin’s 19 and .135.

“They played really well,” said Hopkins coach Vicki Swenson. “They don’t do anything fancy, they’re very well-disciplined. And when the going gets tough they like to go to Hilley. With a player like that it helps elevate the play of the other kids.”

State Volleyball Tournament

Thursday's 3A Quarterfinals

Eagan defeated Grand Rapids 3-0
Lakeville North defeated Prior Lake 3-2
Champlin Park defeated Roseville 3-2
Hopkins defeated Moorhead 3-0

Friday’s 3A Semifinals
Eagan defeated Lakeville South 3-0
Champlin Park defeated Hopkins 3-0

Friday’s 3A Consolation
Prior Lake defeated Grand Rapids 3-0
Moorhead defeated Roseville 3-0

Saturday’s 3A Matches
9 a.m., fifth place/ Prior Lake vs. Moorhead
3 p.m., third place/ Lakeville South vs. Hopkins
5 p.m., championship/ Eagan vs. Champlin Park

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 258
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,738
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Class 1A State Volleyball: It’s Been 34 Years 11/11/2016
Mayer Lutheran won its only state volleyball title 34 years ago. In that 1982 Class 1A championship match, the Crusaders defeated Becker by a score of 19-17, 18-11. That’s right, winning two sets meant a state title from the first state tourney in 1974 until 1985, when winning three sets became the norm.

Joelle Grimsley has been the Mayer Lutheran coach since 1993 and has taken the team to state 10 times. On Saturday they will return to the spot their school last saw in 1982, in the hopes of adding a second championship trophy to the collection.

On Thursday the top-seeded Crusaders had cruised to a 3-0 quarterfinal victory over Stephen-Argyle. Their task in Friday’s semifinals was a much rougher go because they needed five games to defeat Heritage Christian 3-2. The score broke both ways and the final was 25-19, 22-25, 25-18, 22-25, 15-4.

“(Before the fifth set) we talked about getting back to our basics,” Grimsley said. “We had to stay aggressive and not get into a tipping game. We were there to win and we had to stay aggressive.”

The biggest challenge for the Crusaders was Heritage Christian senior Bella Lien. She stands 6 feet, 2 inches and is a force at the net. She will play at North Dakota State University.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that girl is 6-2. Yikes,’ ” said Grimsley.

Heritage Christian had also played five sets in defeating Underwood on Thursday. Ten sets within 24 hours can be a tall order.

“I saw the girls still playing well,” said Heritage Christian coach Tom Fuglestad. “I think Mayer really surged in that fifth set. Two five-setters in a row on consecutive days certainly could have taken a toll but they battled with everything they had.”

--Caledonia advanced to the title match against Mayer Lutheran with a five-set victory of its own. The Warriors held off Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 20-25, 25-19, 19-25, 25-21, 16-14. It was Caledonia’s first five-set match of the season.

“We’ve never been pushed to a fifth set this season,” said Warriors ninth-grade middle hitter Lydia Lange. “We didn’t want the first one to be a loss.”

TMB coach Katie Gervais said, “I thought both teams were so aggressive. They were very confident. Both teams were good, they just didn’t back down. That’s the kind of game you want. … I think it was just a good battle back and forth.”

State Volleyball Tournament

Thursday’s 1A Quarterfinals

Mayer Lutheran defeated Stephen-Argyle 3-0
Heritage Christian defeated Underwood 3-2
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton defeated Kimball 3-0
Caledonia defeated Cook County 3-0

Friday’s 1A Semifinals
Mayer Lutheran defeated Heritage Christian 3-2
Caledonia defeated Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 3-2

Friday’s 1A Consolation
Underwood defeated Stephen-Argyle 3-1
Kimball defeated Cook County 3-0

Saturday’s 1A Matches
9 a.m., fifth place/ Underwood vs. Kimball
11 a.m., third place/ Heritage Christian vs. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton
1 p.m., championship/ Mayer Lutheran vs. Caledonia

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 258
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,738
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn