John's Journal
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
Columbia Heights Boys Tennis Reaches The Heights 6/7/2016
When the boys tennis team from Columbia Heights High School qualified for this week’s Class 1A state tournament, it was major news. The school, located directly north of Minneapolis, hasn’t exactly been a hotbed for state qualifying teams in recent years.

Historically, the Hylanders are best known for volleyball success. Between 1977 and 1998 Columbia Heights went to state in volleyball 19 times, winning Class 2A state titles in 1986, 1987, 1989 and 1990.

Most recently, the boys basketball team was Class 3A state runner-up in 2011; its only previous trip to state had been in 1930. The Hylanders were Class 2A state football champs in 1979 and went to state in 1980 and 1991. The boys hockey team went to state in 1983 and baseball did the same in 1978. And that’s the bulk of the state-tournament pedigree for the Hylanders.

When the boys tennis team won the Section 5 championship last week, coach Ya Yang said it was “a very big deal. I’ve gotten a lot of texts from past administrators, and people on Facebook who went to Heights are cheering us on. It’s a big deal. It’s a big thing for the community. Going to state hasn’t been something that’s occurred often, especially with the tennis team.”

This is the first time a Hylanders boys tennis team has gone to a state tournament, an event that is 66 years old. The team is senior-laden, including trailblazer Blake Kuether, who broke a two-decade Hylanders drought by qualifying for the state individual tournament two years ago.

“It’s history for our school,” Kuether said Tuesday at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis. “On paper it’s obviously the biggest thing that we’ve done as students in our whole high school. And as individuals, working for this for the last six years, personally it’s one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve had in my life. For the whole team, it feels great.”

Kuether will be joined in the singles and doubles competition later this week by teammate Manij Ghishing in singles and the doubles duo of Elyazid Chiboub and Mahir Ibrahim.

The Hylanders lost to four-time Class 1A champion St. Paul Academy 6-1 in Tuesday’s quarterfinals, then fell to Luverne 5-2 in the consolation bracket, ending their season.

Yang, who has been on the coaching staff for seven years, knew this season could become something special. The goals included winning the Tri-Metro Conference championship as well as the section title. Yang was excited about the possibilities, but he didn’t want to seem too overly optimistic.

“I tried to hide it from them, to be very honest,” he said. “We did very well last year in our conference, so with all the guys returning I knew we were going to be very competitive in the conference. With the section reassignments, I knew we were going to be competitive, as well. I said we had a chance to do something really special. I tried to share that but also tried to hide that a little bit.”

Michael O’Leary, one of the senior leaders, said the most difficult and nerve-wracking part of the season was winning the berth at state.

“Winning the section was huge,” he said. “The section tournament for the team was actually really scary, facing St. Anthony and Fridley. The biggest sigh of relief was when we won the section final. That was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been.

“I’m almost not as nervous for this match (at state). There’s nothing to lose now. Getting here was the hardest part. We knew that this year we had the best chance we’ve ever had to get here. Everyone put in all the work all year to get here. It was huge.”

The school year is complete and graduation was held last Friday. But the Hylanders have created some sweet memories.

“We’ve been talked about in school,” said senior Nick Hosch. “A lot of people actually started to know who we were. That’s the truth.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 738
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,761
Aitkin High School Honors Fallen Hero6/6/2016
(I'm happy to post this news item, sent from Aitkin High School.)

This past year the community of Aitkin experienced a loss felt throughout the country as Deputy Steve Sandberg was killed in the line of duty in October of 2015. On May 20 the Aitkin High School baseball team continued the healing process by celebrating the retirement of jersey number 15, which was worn by Steve Sandberg and will never be worn again by another Gobbler player.

Steve was quite an athlete as he brought ability, commitment and passion to the game every time out on the court or field. That is a trio of pretty good attributes for life, as well, and he brought them to his routine every day.

The only major league baseball player who has had his number 15 retired is the late Thurman Munson of the New York Yankees, but the inscription on Munson’s plaque in Yankee Stadium is a perfect way to describe Steve. It reads, “Our captain and leader has not left us, not today, not tomorrow, not this year or next...our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him.”

Steve loved Aitkin, loved athletics and was a big contributor to the Aitkin baseball program. Steve played high school baseball in Aitkin from 1971-1973 and helped lay the foundation for Aitkin’s baseball program. He was coached by baseball legend Truman Buisman. Steve also played baseball for the Aitkin Stags town team in the late 70’s and early 80’s; current head coach Jeremy Janzen was the bat boy for that town team.

Number 15 will never be worn by an Aitkin varsity baseball player again. Steve’s character, commitment and passion will be remembered by this. His number 15 jersey is on display at all home baseball games and in the Aitkin high school showcase.