John's Journal
Six Years Later, Reuniting With An Exceptional Athlete 6/14/2016
BECKER – Six years ago this spring, I met an amazing high school athlete. In the years since, I have thought of her whenever I heard anyone use the word “inspirational.”

I first wrote about Trisha Kienitz in May 2010. I spoke to a gathering of athletic directors that month in Marshall, and I told them that as the new media specialist for the MSHSL I was always looking for stories to tell. “I’m convinced that there is at least one great story at every school in Minnesota,” I said.

The next day I received an email from Mike Dammann, the athletic director at MACCRAY High School in Clara City. The subject line said “Story?” It was indeed a story, a wonderful story.

Mike told me about Trisha and her goals, as a senior in 2010, to qualify for the Class 1A state golf tournament for the third time and hopefully finish high enough to take home a medal for the first time. I drove to Clara City to interview Trisha and write about her.

That 2010 story began like this …

Trisha Kienitz has heard the question several times during her golf career. She doesn’t know when it will be asked -- maybe at the first tee, maybe a few holes into a round -- but eventually a competitor’s curiosity at seeing Kienitz use a golf cart to get around the course will lead to the inevitable question.

It happened a couple weeks ago as Kienitz, a senior at MACCRAY High School, hit another tee shot straight down the heart of the fairway. A girl in her foursome asked, “Why do you have a cart?”

Trisha’s answer was short and sweet: “Artificial leg.” The reply was even shorter: “Oh.”

Oh. Right. Artificial Leg. Sweet.

Trisha, 18, tells the story – as she does just about everything else -- with a smile. She walks the school hallways in Clara City with a smile. She smiles as she pulls up the fabric of her jeans to reveal the flesh-toned prosthetic right leg that begins at her hip and is strapped around her waist.

She smiles as she recounts qualifying for the Class A state tournament the past two years, and continues to smile as she talks about her goal of returning this year.

Artificial leg? No big deal. …

The 2010 state tournament ended up being very special. Trisha finished eighth among individuals and indeed took home a medal. Trisha is now 24 years old and we had a wonderful reunion Tuesday at the 2016 state tournament.

She contacted me last week, asking if I would be in Becker for the tournament. Trisha was following Windom junior Hallie Will on the course; Hallie’s big sister Megan was one of Trisha’s college golf teammates at Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall. Because Trisha has a handicapped placard for her vehicle, she was allowed to use a golf cart at Pebble Creek Golf Club, and I rode along with her for a few holes. We had a blast, catching up, smiling and laughing.

Trisha graduated from MACCRAY in 2010 and earned a degree in agricultural business at Southwest Minnesota State in 2014. Her work career has taken her to an internship with the South Dakota Wheat Growers in Redfield, S.D.; a job as an agronomist with Cargill in Maynard, Minnesota; district sales manager for Simplex Seed in Ames, Iowa; and on Monday she will start a new job as a sales representative for Northwest Manufacturing in Red Lake Falls.

Eight individual medals are awarded at the state golf tournaments, so in 2010 Trisha received the last one. Her mom took a picture of Trisha and me that day, and a copy of that photo is framed in my office. (We posed for an updated photo Tuesday.)

“It was pretty awesome,” Trisha said. “ I remember on the last hole there was like a 35-mile-per-hour wind in my face and I hit a high drive so it went only 150 yards or so. The last hole was nerve-wracking.

“Getting that medal was surreal. That’s what I wanted to do for so long and I had watched everyone else do it the two years before.”

Trisha wore a SMSU sweatshirt and rain pants Tuesday. She talked about how much she had enjoyed playing college golf. (Trisha is pictured, left, with her friend Megan Will and the John's Journal Toyota Camry.)

“I absolutely loved it. We played all over the country.”

She was born without a right leg. Her flesh-toned prosthetic leg is long gone and she was proud to show me her newest prosthesis. She pulled up her pants leg, revealing a high-tech device that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.

I thought she was, uh, pulling my leg when she told me that she needs to charge the battery in her leg at night. That’s right, the prosthesis has electronic components that help Trisha walk smoothly, and they need to be refueled with electricity. Amazing.

Trisha and her boyfriend Jake ( a non-golfer) live in Thief River Falls, where Jake works as an engineer at Arctic Cat. Trisha coached middle school golfers this spring and gives lessons at Thief River Golf Club.

“I’m trying to teach Jake to golf but he doesn’t listen very well,” Trisha said with her ever-present smile.

That state tournament medal from 2010 remains where Trisha put it six years ago: Hanging in her bedroom at her parents’ farm.

“It doesn’t like feel like six years ago,” she said.

I agree.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 826
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 12,138
Wadena-Deer Creek Track: Running For Sam6/13/2016
Something very special took place at last weekend’s state track and field championships. Nobody noticed, but one of the medal-winning relay teams had five members.

Sam Kelderman wasn’t there in body but he was there in spirit with the boys 4x200 team from Wadena-Deer Creek High School. Two members of that relay team were honorary pallbearers – along with the rest of the Class of 2017 -- at Sam’s funeral in January.

Sophomore Jonathan Pantages, eighth-grader Bereket Loer, junior Josh Daigneault and junior Konnor Stueve finished sixth in the Class 1A 4x200 relay on Saturday. They wore their medals proudly, but had even more pride in the t-shirts they brought to honor Sam at state. Sam was a track star who would have been a member of the relay team this season. (Pictured, left to right, are Josh, Konnor, Jonathan and Bereket.)

“When it came to track that guy was by far the fastest kid in our team,” Konnor said. “When it came to a relay, no one could beat him. In an open event, yeah maybe you could beat him here or there. But in a relay there was no touching him.”

The t-shirts dedicated to Sam show a running shoe with a halo above it, and the words “Wadena-Deer Creek Track & Field ’16 … Sam’s Season … Forever a Wolverine.”

Sam was 17 when he died in an afternoon auto accident. He lost control of his south-bound vehicle and collided with a vehicle driving north. He was taken to Tri-County Hospital in Wadena, where he died. Sam’s obituary included this…

“He was a Junior at Wadena-Deer Creek High School. He enjoyed the outdoors, whether it was snowmobiling, ice fishing, 4-wheeling, running track, playing football, Ultimate Ping Pong or beach volleyball. Sam also favored gaming with ‘the guys,’ being at the Pizza Ranch, church youth group activities or anything that involved his family and friends. He will be remembered as funny, smart, kind and very social.”

The members of the 4x200 relay team told me how hard Sam worked on handoffs; getting the baton from one runner to the next as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“He was the best at handoffs,” Konnor said. “He never messed one up. He would walk us through every single one and make sure we got that thing off cleanly.”

Pantages, Loer, Daigneault and Stueve also qualified for state in the 4x100 relay, but didn’t advance past Friday’s preliminaries to Saturday’s finals. They broke the school record in the 4x200 four times this spring, the fourth time coming Saturday when they finished in 1 minute, 31.84 seconds. The winning team from Foley finished in 1:30.49.

It’s obvious that the Wadena-Deer Creek kids miss their friend.

“Sam was a really good guy. Everyone in the school loved him. You really never realized how much he touched people until he was gone,” Konnor said.

Jonathan said, “He was the most passionate kid I ever met. When it came to school, he was passionate about doing his homework. When it was friends, he would call his friends and we would hang out. Every weekend we would go to his cabin and fish for 12 hours a day. And when it came to track, we would be the last ones there, until at least 7 or 8 o’clock.”

Sam’s death left a hole on the relay teams, filled by first-year runners Daigneault and Loer.

“At the beginning of the season we didn’t even know if there was going to be a 4x2 team,” said Jonathan. “We didn’t know if these two were going to come out. And them coming out was the best thing that could have happened to us. It made me happy because without Sam I was really sad when track started. And when they came, I felt like he was still there and he helped us to get them out.”

Joshua said he came out for the track team this year for Sam.

“These guys talked to me and asked me to run track with them. All I know is that no one on earth could take Sam’s place on this team and do better than he did.”

Jonathan is the first runner on the 4x200 team, and he asked Sam for help before every race this season. As he placed his feet in the starting blocks and got settled, he touched his forehead and pointed to the heavens.

“I ask Sam to push me the whole way,” he said. “Before every race. I can feel it. He’s definitely there with me.”

Konnor said, “We’re the only relay team with five people. Every single time, he was there with us.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 810
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,998
Saluting Three-Sport Athletes Who Specialize In Success 6/11/2016
Two of Minnesota’s greatest all-time multi-sport athletes live 280 miles apart, one of them way up in the northwest part of the state and one way down in the southeast. But while mileage separates Meleah Biermaier and Andrianna (Andy) Jacobs, athletic accomplishments do not.

The two seniors – Biermaier from Thief River Falls and Jacobs from Rochester Century – ended their MSHSL careers in grand fashion at Saturday’s state track and field championships, which is no surprise considering their gold-medal history. Biermaier won the Class 2A 300-meter hurdles for the third time and broke her own state record. Jacobs claimed her fourth state title in the 2A pole vault; she holds the state record in that event.

The duo is testament to what can be accomplished by athletes who choose not to specialize in just one sport. Both will be track athletes in college, Biermaier at the University of Minnesota and Jacobs at Nebraska.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I think it’ll sink in later tonight,” said Jacobs, whose career-best height is 13-7 ¼. She won with a vault of 13-3 Saturday at Hamline University’s Klas Field, three inches better than runner-up Julia Fixsen, a ninth-grader from Mounds View.

Biermaier won her first 300 hurdles title as an eighth-grader, finished second as a ninth- and 10th-grader, broke a 28-year-old record last year at state and set another record Saturday. Her time was 41.35 seconds.

“Honestly, my goal this year was to go 41 (seconds),” she said. “When I finished and I kind of heard it, I was like, ‘There’s no way. I must have heard it wrong.’ It felt fast, it felt really good, actually. Normally I die at the end or something but this time my adrenalin was going so fast.”

Meleah has also played volleyball and basketball for the Prowlers; in addition to going to state in track five times she has played in two state volleyball tournaments and two in basketball. She was a member of the third-place 4x100 relay team Saturday along with eighth-graders Carley Johnson and Miah Nelson and senior Kira Johnson.

“This whole thing has been awesome,” Meleah said. “My teams in my other sports have been phenomenal, the relay this year was great, the coaches who always pushed me to do my best. It’s been really fun.”

Saturday’s event was Jacobs’ 14th state tournament. She also has been a regular on the medal stand as a diver at the state swimming championships as well as in gymnastics.

She suffered a sprained right ankle three weeks ago, which hampered her down the stretch of the track season. At the Big Nine Conference meet she attempted only one vault, clearing 10-6 to win the competition after all the other vaulters had gone out at lower heights.

“I was feeling pretty good today,” she said with a big smile. “It felt a lot better.”

MORE STATE RECORDS

In addition to Biermaier’s 300 hurdles mark, two other all-time state records were broken over the weekend. East Ridge senior Karina Joiner set a 100-meter hurdles record of 13.94 in Friday’s preliminaries; she won the event Saturday in 14.01. The Edina girls 4x800 relay team set an all-time record of 8:59.69 Saturday.

TRIPLE CROWN WINNERS

Two distance runners completed the Triple Crown in that specialty, sweeping first-place finishes in the state cross-country championships last fall and winning the 1,600 and 3,200 meters on the track this weekend. That was accomplished by Wayzata senior Jaret Carpenter in 2A boys and Winona Cotter seventh-grader Grace Ping in 1A girls.

Ping’s success at such a young age marks her as someone who could, if she swept the Triple Crown each year for six years, finish her high school career with 18 individual state championships.

TEAM SCORES

Class 2A girls: 1. Alexandria 44.25; 2. Chanhassen 44; 3. Armstrong 42; 4. St. Michael-Albertville 40; 5. Mounds View 35.

Class 2A boys: 1. Wayzata 75; 2. Edina 44; 3. Woodbury 34; 4. Eden Prairie 32; 5. Elk River 31.

Class 1A girls: 1. Minneapolis Edison 46; 2. Blake 42; 3. Pequot Lakes 37; 4 Watertown-Mayer 34; 5. Tri-City United 33.

Class 1A boys: 1. Rushford-Peterson/Houston 57; 2. Pine Island 55; 3. Minnehaha 53; 4. Pipestone 37; 5. Foley 33.

--Senior twins Bethany and Megan Hasz of Alexandria ended their illustrious high school careers by finishing first and second in the 2A 1,600 Saturday. They were the top two finishers at the state cross-country meet the last three years and Bethany won the 1,600 and 3,200 last year at state.

--Chanhassen senior Jedah Caldwell repeated as the 2A champion in the 100 and 200 and Wayzata senior Ruby Stauber won her second 800-meter title in two years. Other repeat 2A girls champs were Honour Finley of Bloomington Kennedy in the 400, Eden Prairie senior Ashley Ramacher in the high jump, St. Michael-Albertville in the 4x100 relay and Waconia in the 4x200.

--On the 2A boys side, Armstrong senior and state record-holder Evan McClellon repeated as champion in the 100, as did Elk River senior Lucas Trapp in the 800 and Hopkins in the 4x800 relay.

--Minneapolis North’s T’Nia Riley was a double winner among Class 1A girls, sweeping the 100 and 200 titles. Jaime Salone of Blake won the girls shot put and discus while Millie Klefsass of Staples-Motley won the pole vault and 100 hurdles. Boys relay teams from Foley finished first in the 4x100 and 4x200, and Blue Earth girls relay squads won the 4x200 and 4x400.

--Winning back-to-back state titles in Class 1A were Jordan’s Jenna Kes in the girls triple jump, Noah Carlson of Rushford-Peterson/Houston in the boys long jump (he also won the 200 meters), St. Clair sophomore Mitchell Weber in the discus and shot put and the Minneapolis Edison girls in the 4x100.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 810
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,998
Seeing Is Believing: The Amazing Julia Stenberg6/10/2016
NORTH MANKATO – Imagine you are a softball pitcher. You stand 43 feet from home plate and you must be able to read the catcher’s signs, know the strike zone and fire the ball to exactly the right spot.

Now imagine doing that with one working eye.

That’s what Julia Stenberg does every day. The senior from Badger/Greenbush-Middle River finished the season with a 15-2 record on Friday when the Gators were defeated by Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian 12-0 in the Class 1A state championship game at Caswell Park.

Julia lost the sight in her right eye as the result of a sledding accident when she was in first grade. The injuries resulted in a detached retina and the gradual loss of vision.

“I don’t even remember when I lost sight totally, but my whole softball career has been with one eye so I really haven’t had to adapt to anything. I’ve practiced pitching pretty much from when I was this big,” she said, holding one hand about belt high.

She has been pitching since ninth grade for the Gators, who are nearly regulars at the state tournament. Their 2016 appearance is their seventh since 2000 and they were the 1A state runnersup last season.

Julia's fastball is not dominating and her changeup is not thrown often, but she relies on the ability to hit spots. She came into the state tournament with an earned-run average of only 1.46, striking out 55 and walking just 12 in 86 1/3 innings.

“I rely on my accuracy, and once in a while I’ll get a changeup in but I’m not really consistent with that,” said Julia, who also was a member of Greenbush-Middle River’s state championship robotics team this spring.

Fielding can be a challenge, as well as hitting. Julia said depth perception is an issue in those instances.

“Anywhere else in the field I’m slow to my right side,” she said. “In the outfield, I have zero depth perception so it’s like, uh …” And then she laughed.

Fun is part of the game plan for the Gators. And Julia’s vision is something everyone who knows her is used to.

“I think they know but everyone kind of forgets,” she said. “My teammates will just joke around; I’ll miss something and somebody will say, ‘Julia, geez. What are you, blind?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And they’ll go, ‘Oh, I forgot! I’m sorry!’ ”

--Friday’s softball state championship games were delayed by storms. The fields were cleared at 3:11 p.m. – all games were underway -- when lightning flashed, followed by heavy rain, high winds and hail. The North Mankato Police Department was well-prepared and fans took shelter in nearby Dakota Meadows Middle School. Teams returned to their fields at 7 p.m. and play resumed soon after.

STATE SOFTBALL RESULTS

Championship Games
Class 1A/ Edgerton/SW MN Christian 12, Badger/Greenbush-Middle River 0
Class 2A/ Zumbrota-Mazeppa 7, Pequot Lakes 0
Class 3A/ Mankato West 4, Winona 3
Class 4A/ Chanhassen 5, Buffalo 3

Third-Place Games
Class 1A/ Mankato Loyola 6, Cherry 2
Class 2A/ Rockford 3, LeSueur-Henderson 0
Class 3A/ Hermantown 18, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 6
Class 4A/ Woodbury 12, Hopkins 0

Fifth-Place Games
Class 1A/ New York Mills 13, Pine River-Backus 1
Class 2A/ Pipestone 8, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 3
Class 3A/ Alexandria 5, Becker 1
Class 4A/ Park 8, Forest Lake 0

STATE TRACK: DAY ONE

The state track and field championships began Friday with mostly preliminaries and will conclude Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul. Here are some of the highlights from Day One:

--East Ridge senior Karina Joiner set an all-time state record in the prelims of the girls Class 2A 100-meter hurdles. Her time of 13.94 seconds shattered the previous record of 14.13 set by Ann Harlos of Eden Prairie a year ago.

--Forest Lake senior Emma Benner won the girls 2A 3,200 meters, holding off Alexandria twins Megan and Bethany Hasz, who were second and third. Bethany won the race last year, and Bethany and Megan have finished first and second at the last three Class 2A state cross-country meets.

--The top three finishers in the Class 1A girls 3,200 meters were two seventh-graders and an eighth-grader. The winner was Winona Cotter seventh-grader Grace Ping, who also won the 1A cross-country title last fall. Second was seventh-grader Tierney Wolfgram of Math & Science Academy and third was Breck eighth-grader Morgan Richter.

--Weather also was an issue at Hamline. After the Class 2A portion of the meet concluded, the Class 1A events were delayed by storms.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 770
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,956
Two Sports, Two State Tournaments For Esko Athlete 6/9/2016
NORTH MANKATO – Esko senior Alexis Smalley is running all over as her high school athletic career comes to a very busy end. While most kids are thrilled to be competing at either the state softball tournament or state track meet this week, Alexis has qualified for both. Which is a tough thing to do.

Track is her true spring sport; she has earned 12 varsity letters in track, soccer and hockey. She qualified for state on relay teams as a freshman and sophomore and will run in the Class 1A preliminaries of the 4x100 and 4x200 relays Friday in the hopes of qualifying for Saturday’s finals. So after spending Thursday at the state softball tournament, she will be at Hamline University in St. Paul on Friday for the state track meet.

On a whim, she joined the softball team well into the season, and on Thursday she was with her Eskomos softball teammates at Caswell Park. They lost to LeSueur-Henderson 6-0 in the opening round and and fell to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 8-2 in the consolation bracket.

At the track championships, Alexis (pictured) will run the two relays with Ashlie Johnson, Olivia Rengo and Suntina Spehar. On the softball field Thursday, she didn’t get into the first game. That’s almost standard procedure; her main role is pinch-running.

After track practice this spring she routinely walked next door to the Eskomos’ softball field and watched her friends work out. She admits that joining the softball team started out as little more than a prank.

“I’ve always joked with my friends about wanting to play,” she said. “One day I just signed up. I talked to the coach (Jeff Emanuel) . I’m pretty close with his family, I asked him if I could play and he said, ‘Go for it.’ ”

She’s not in the team photo that’s published in the state tournament program, but that doesn’t matter.

“I’ve gotten in more games than I expected,” she said. “I just wanted to enjoy it and have fun.”

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--Hopkins sophomore Natalie DenHartog didn’t waste a moment at the state tournament, driving the first pitch of the Royals’ Class 4A quarterfinal game over the fence for a home run. That sparked the Royals to a 4-3 victory over Spring Lake Park. They fell to Chanhassen 10-1 in the semifinals. Buffalo beat Woodbury 3-1 in the other 4A semifinal; Chanhassen and Buffalo will play for the state title Friday.

--Kimball lost to Mankato Loyola 7-3 in an eight-inning Class 1A quarterfinal, but the Cubs’ Mackenzie Leither did all she could. She drove in all three Kimball runs on a two-run homer and a solo homer. She tied the single-game tournament record for homers, set seven times before, and joined 17 others who have hit two home runs in the tournament. Jenny Nelson hit two home runs and drove in three runs in leading Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian to an 11-0, five-inning 1A quarterfinal win over Pine River-Backus.

--Hermantown matched a long-standing tournament record in defeating Simley 18-12 in the Class 3A quarterfinals. The Hawks’ 18 runs equaled the record set in 1978 by Hopkins Eisenhower in an 18-4 win over West St. Paul Archbishop Brady (the first state tournament was held in 1977). The 26 total runs in the Hermantown-Simley game broke the previous record of 25 set in 1983 when St. Agnes defeated Rockford 13-12.

FRIDAY’S SCHEDULE

Championship Games
Class 1A/ Edgerton/SW MN Christian vs. Badger/Greenbush-Middle River, 2:30 p.m.
Class 2A/ Zumbrota-Mazeppa vs. Pequot Lakes, 2 p.m.
Class 3A/ Winona vs. Mankato West, 1:30 p.m.
Class 4A/ Chanhassen vs. Buffalo, 1 p.m.

Third-Place Games
Class 1A/ Cherry vs. Mankato Loyola, 11 a.m.
Class 2A/ LeSueur-Henderson vs. Rockford, 11 a.m.
Class 3A/ Hermantown vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s, 11 a.m.
Class 4A/ Hopkins vs. Woodbury, 11 a.m.

Fifth-Place Games
Class 1A/ Pine River-Backus vs. New York Mills, 9 a.m.
Class 2A/ Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton vs. Pipestone, 9 a.m.
Class 3A/ Becker vs. Alexandria, 9 a.m.
Class 4A/ Forest Lake vs. Park, 9 a.m.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 770
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,886