John's Journal
Experience At State Can Be A Great Teacher3/15/2016
In the biggest surprise of Tuesday’s first-day Class 4A action at the girls state basketball tournament, unseeded White Bear Lake upset second-seeded St. Michael-Albertville 72-69 in overtime. The Bears came to state with a record of 22-7, compared to the Knights’ 27-2.

White Bear Lake’s seven losses included defeats to the teams seeded second, third, fourth and fifth in the 4A state tournament. So the fact that the Bears were unseeded was probably no shock. But they did come to state with some important experience gained a year ago.

In the 2015 state tourney, a young White Bear Lake team lost to Shakopee 62-56 in the quarterfinals. With six seniors among 10 players who saw action Tuesday at Target Center, the Bears were not going to be surprised.

“It’s huge,” Bears coach Jeremy Post said of having experience under the bright lights of state. “The first time it’s like an event. It becomes a game the second time. And the second time, you understand the event and you play the game. So it’s huge.”

Last year the Bears were seeded fourth and lost to fifth-seeded Shakopee. They shot only 38 percent from the field last year at Target Center; they shot 51 percent against St. Michael-Albertville on Tuesday.

Five players scored in double figures for the Bears on Tuesday, including senior Kate Brabenec with 13.

“Last year we were kind of just happy to get here, because none of us had ever done it before,” Brabenec said. “I feel like we got a little satisfied. This year we definitely really didn’t want to be done any time soon, so that helped calm the nerves a little bit for most of us, because most of us were on the team last year. Already knowing what to expect is helpful.”

Post said, “We talked about today just being a second chance. We got a second chance to show what we think we are. We think we’re pretty good. They’re great, and we think we’re pretty good. They were just determined today.

“These kids just didn’t get rattled. They’ve been here before, and they’ve been through a lot of adversity this year.”

--Unseeded Thief River Falls pulled off the first day’s biggest shocker in Class 3A, defeating top-seeded Hutchinson 61-59. The Prowlers came to state with a 25-3 record, with fewer losses than any of the five seeded teams. Hutchinson ended its season with a 23-6 record.


After conducting several rounds of one-on-one interviews following his team’s quarterfinal victory Tuesday, Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff (pictured) noticed something on the floor. It was a penny.

“I’m going to take this,” he said, looking at the coin. Noticing that it was a Canadian penny, he wondered what the quotient of good or bad luck may be with such an object. He pondered that for a second and then stuck the penny in his pocket. The message from the coach? Better safe than sorry.

Cosgriff is admittedly superstitious. (Which brings to mind a quote from Michael Scott -- played by Steve Carell -- on The Office: “I'm not superstitious, but I'm a little stitious.”

Cosgriff is more than a little stitious. He never wears the same shirt twice while coaching. He always hands out Life Savers mints to his assistants, stat crew and athletic trainer before games. He has done so for a long time and he really has no definitive explanation for it.

“I don’t know what it is, but here’s the thing,” he said, smiling. “We’ve done it, we’ve done it, we’ve done it.”

Cosgriff works as the announcer at Hopkins baseball games, and the mints have become a staple there, too. Although the timing of the mint distribution is crucial

“They were down 5-3 to Edina,” Cosgriff said, “and you don’t want to give them out too early. I gave them to the coach and the kid who was about to bat. He cranked out a home run, they won 6-5. It’s the power of the mint, I’m telling you.”

With Tuesday’s 81-69 victory over Park Center, top-seeded Hopkins advanced to Thursday’s Class 4A semifinals at Williams Arena against White Bear Lake. This is not new ground for the Royals, who have played in seven state championship games since 2004 and own six state titles (including last year’s).

Cosgriff's career record is 447-61 (25-3 at state) in 17 years at Hopkins and this is his 10th state tournament appearance as a head coach.


St. Michael-Albertville was attempting to become the first school to win state titles in three different classes. The Knights won the Class 2A crown in 2001, Class 3A in 2009 and are now in 4A. In 2006 the graduating class consisted of approximately 240 students; the class of 2016 has 427.

--Hopkins 81, Park Center 69
--Eastview 52, Lakeville North 35
--White Bear Lake 72, St. Michael-Albertville 69 (overtime)
--Minnetonka 71, Anoka 40

--Thief River Falls 61, Hutchinson 59
--Holy Angels 69, Marshall 47


10 a.m./ Grand Rapids vs. Winona
Noon/ Becker vs. St. Paul Como Park

2 p.m./ Holy Family vs. Plainview-Elgin-Millville
4 p.m/ Pequot Lakes vs. Roseau
6 p.m./ Norwood-Young America vs. Sauk Centre
8 p.m./ New London-Spicer vs. Minnehaha Academy

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 578
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,838
The Bombers Are Back: Braham Celebrates A State Title 3/12/2016
It doesn’t seem like 10 years, but when the Braham boys basketball team won the Class 2A state championship Saturday, it ended a 10-year period between titles for the Bombers.

This year’s team finished 31-2, defeating Jackson County Central 96-90 in the gold-medal game at Target Center. If you were following the sport a decade ago, you remember Braham’s dominance.

The Bombers won state titles in 2004, 2005 and 2006, stringing together a three-year record of 95-4 that included 65 consecutive wins. That’s the second-longest winning streak in Minnesota boys basketball history; Edina (1965-68) and Hopkins (1951-54) share the top spot at 69.

The coach of those teams was Bob Vaughan, who retired after the 2014-15 season. He was the coach for 30 years. Among the stars of that 2004-2006 championship run were Vaughan’s son Josh and the Dahlman brothers, Isaiah and Noah.

Josh Vaughan played basketball at North Dakota State and is now an assistant coach at the University of Mary in North Dakota. Isaiah Dahlman was the state’s career scoring leader when he graduated. He played at Michigan State and now lives in Michigan. Noah Dahlman played collegiately at Wofford and currently plays professional basketball in Romania.

Current Bombers coach Jeff Eklund, a 1995 Braham grad who played under Bob Vaughan and was an assistant before being hired as the head coach, said he heard from some of those former players during the state tournament, including an email from a world away.

“Noah sent me an email this morning from Romania, saying how proud he was of the team and wishing them luck,” Eklund said. “He said, ‘Bring one back to Braham. The tradition’s alive.’ ”

Indeed it is. Four Bombers scored in double figures Saturday, led by Chris Olson with 33 and Ryan Larson with 28. Fourth-seeded Braham led 50-29 at halftime and held off a frantic finish by unseeded Jackson County Central (25-6) as the Huskies scored 61 second-half points.

The Braham players don’t need to be reminded of their school’s basketball tradition, Eklund said.

“We walk in the gym every day and we see those three banners hanging up there on the wall,” he said. “And this group, they’ve been playing together for a long time. Some of them are four-year starters.

“They’ve been building for this. They’ve put an incredible amount of time into the game, in the gym in the summer. They work so hard.

“I’m a first-year coach, but I’ve known them for a long time because I’ve been in the program,” said Eklund, the Braham elementary principal. “From seventh grade up, practice ends with one word: ‘Family.’ ”


The top-seeded Polars (29-5) broke open a close, low-scoring game in the second half to defeat third-seeded Goodhue. The Wildcats (24-10) led 26-25 at halftime before North outscored them 43-19 in the second half. Isaac Johnson had 15 points for North and Ben Opsahl led Goodhue with 12.


Top-seeded DeLaSalle became the first boys basketball team to win five consecutive state championships, ending their season with a 24-4 record. Minneapolis Henry (2000-03) and Southwest Minnesota Christian (1999-2002) each won four titles in a row. Gabe Kalscheur led the Islanders with 27 points. Harrison Christensen scored 22 for the third-seeded Otters (28-4).


The second-seeded Royals completed a 31-1 season by holding off the fifth-seeded Panthers (26-6). Amir Coffey led Hopkins with 19 points. Nathan Reuvers had 16 for Lakeville North.


As the Jackson County Central Huskies were posing for a team photo after their loss to Braham, junior Jacob Christopher held up the proceedings for just a moment. He stepped out of the picture, placed his All-Tournament team trophy out of range and returned to his spot. The lesson: The team is more important than individual accomplishments.


Goodhue coach Matt Halverson on his undersized team facing Minneapolis North: “I think we should have dunked it more on them.”


CLASS 1A/ Central Minnesota Christian 79, Red Lake 45
CLASS 2A/ St. Croix Lutheran 81, Annandale 45
CLASS 3A/ Red Wing 75, Monticello 59
CLASS 4A/ Apple Valley 93, Osseo 82


CLASS 1A/ Will Morrison, Rob McClain, Red Lake; Ethan Brouwer, Taylor Slagter, Central Minnesota Christian; Ben Opsahl, Jacob McNamara, Jacob Pasch, Goodhue; Tyler Johnson, Jamil Jackson Jr., ODell Wilson IV, Minneapolis North.

CLASS 2A/ Jarod Wilken, Annandale; Trenton Krueger, Aage Rovney, Ade Murkey, St. Croix Lutheran; Matt Ringkob, Bodey Behrends, Jacob Christopher, Jackson County Central; John Larson, Chris Olson, Ryan Larson, Braham.

CLASS 3A/ Matt Todd, Monticello; Travis Toivonen, Joe Sevlie, Ben Munson, Red Wing; Nathan Rund, Matthew Monke, Harrison Christensen, Fergus Falls; Gabe Kalscheur, Goanar Mar, Samm Jones, DeLaSalle.

CLASS 4A/ Allan Anderson, Osseo; Tre Jones, Gary Trent Jr., Cameron Kirksey, Apple Valley; Carter Brooks, Nathan Reuvers, Nick Fossey, Lakeville North; Xavier Johnson, Amir Coffey, Vinnie Shahid, Hopkins.


North Suburban captured the CI division state title with a 6-5 victory over Anoka-Hennepin in the championship game at Bloomington Jefferson. Josh Hamann had a hat trick for North Suburban and Anthony Bengtson had two goals. Cole Denny scored all five goals for the Mustangs.

In the PI division, Dakota United won the state championship with a 3-2 win over Anoka-Hennepin. Grayson Nicolay led the way for the winners with two goals (including the game-winner) and goaltender Johnathan Lyons made 26 stops. Scoring for Anoka-Hennepin were Joey Manion and Tyler Ezell.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 566
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,838
Red Lake: A Team With Heart, Having Fun At State 3/11/2016
The journey from Red Lake to Target Center is a lengthy one, 249 miles of southbound Minnesota highway. Despite the distance, however, the Red Lake boys basketball team is the toast of downtown Minneapolis.

They brought a massive throng of fans with them to this week’s state tournament. Williams Arena was awash in Ogichidaag (“Warriors”) red and white on Thursday when Red Lake defeated Browerville/Eagle Valley 66-52 in the quarterfinals. The fans were at Target Center for Friday’s semifinals, where Red Lake lost to top-seeded Minneapolis North 82-61.

The game was not exactly a thing of beauty (the teams combined for 49 turnovers), but the Red Lake players, coaches and fans were more than a thing of beauty. The kids never stopped hustling, the fans never stopped cheering, the fun never stopped.

The finest moments came after the outcome was decided but before the clock ran out. Reserves were on the court for both teams, and the Red Lake starters cheered and smiled and yelled encouragement to their backups. Baskets on the court were followed by fist pumps on the bench.

And after the teams shook hands, the love shown between players and fans was as sweet a thing as you’ll ever see in our world of high school sports. I feel fortunate to have witnessed it.

“I want to win. I don’t like to lose. But at the same time this is special for these boys,” Red Lake coach Roger White said in a postgame media session that will long be remembered for its honesty and grace.

“You can’t take the fun out of it. That’s what it’s about, having fun. There’s more to life than basketball. Sometimes basketball brings us together, it brings our community together.”

White and his players have been playing for reasons that go beyond basketball. The coach’s son Aaron was 15 when he died on November 1, eight days before the first basketball practice. Aaron had cancer, and dealing with something like that can add perspective to what’s truly important.

“Being through what I’ve been through as a coach, losing my son, things that really, really are important sometimes don’t seem as important,” Roger White said. “When we got here it’s all about these boys and what they do, using basketball as an instrument for life.

“It’s special for me, it’s special for our boys. It’s more than basketball. We’re just having a great time. These boys deserve it. They’ve worked hard and it’s fun.”

Jamil Jackson scored 21 points for Minneapolis North. Will Morrison led Red Lake with 19 points and junior Rob McClain scored 14. McClain’s total pushed him past the 1,000-career-point mark.

“I liked that I got my 1,000th point at Target Center,” Rob said. “But I would rather have a win than 1,000 points any day.”

Aaron White was Rob’s cousin and Rob called him “the heart of the team.” Most of the Red Lake players were in a fall league tournament – three hours away from home – the day Aaron died. They forfeited their final game and raced back to Red Lake when they heard the news.

“It was heartbreaking,” Rob said. “When he passed I think that pushed us harder. He would be the one trying to outwork everyone. That’s what I go in the gym knowing. He was smaller than me but he had the biggest heart. He was just a terrific kid and an amazing cousin.”

The Ogichidaag will face Central Minnesota Christian in the third-place game on Saturday morning at Concordia University in St. Paul. The team will then return to Target Center for the 11 a.m. championship game. There surely will be more cheers of appreciation for a job well done and a community well represented.


The Wildcats advanced to their first state championship game appearance with a grinding victory over the Bluejays. Goodhue shot only 38.7 percent to Central Minnesota Christian’s 39 percent; the winners made 12 field goals to the Bluejays’ 16 but Goodhue made 11 free throws and CMC made just three. Jacob McNamara led Goodhue with 14 points and nine rebounds. Taylor Slagter scored 11 for the Bluejays.



The fourth-seeded Bombers made 21 free throws in beating the top-seeded Crusaders. Braham went 21 of 24 at the line; St. Croix Lutheran made 34 field goals to Braham’s 30, but the Crusaders made only five of 11 free throws. Chris Olson led Braham with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Ade Murkey had 26 and 12 for the Crusaders.


Jackson County Central became the only unseeded team to advance to the championship round, protecting the ball and outscoring a poor shooting Annandale team. The Huskies, who will meet Braham in Saturday’s title game, had only six turnovers while shooting 46 percent. Annandale shot just 30 percent, making 16 of 53 field-goal attempts. Bodey Behrends led Jackson County Central with 20 points and eight rebounds. Alex Hohenstein had 12 points for the Cardinals.


Minneapolis North 82, Red Lake 61
Goodhue 41, Central Minnesota Christian 38

Braham 86, St. Croix Lutheran 77
Jackson County Central vs. Annandale

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 566
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,796
A ‘Statement Game’ At State By Minneapolis North 3/10/2016
This is what you call a concise, accurate scouting report: “They’re a big, good defensive team and they move the ball really well, attack the basket, good rebounders and they get out in transition. They’re a really good team.”

Those are the words of Red Lake boys basketball coach Roger White talking about Minneapolis North. Those two teams won quarterfinal Class 1A state tournament games Thursday at Williams Arena, albeit in varying manners, and will meet in Friday’s semifinals at Target Center.

North, which is the top seed, cruised past St. Clair 80-27, with running time used for the final nine minutes (by rule when the margin is 35 points or more). The Polars are everything White described, too.

They had 16 offensive rebounds (and 23 on the defensive end), and North’s belly button-to-belly button defense helped them pile up 21 steals (and contributed to St. Clair’s 32 turnovers). Five Polars scored in double figures, led by future University of Minnesota football player Tyler Johnson and Jamil Jackson with 18 each.

“I think this is kind of a statement game, to make teams a little bit worried,” Johnson said. “Whether they’re worried or not, we’re just going to come out day by day and just come out pretty strong.”

St. Clair coach Charlie Freitag said his team practiced against eight defensive players in preparing for the Polars. The Cyclones shot only 24 percent in the loss.

“It’s hard to replicate,” he said. “Even if you have speed, you’ll never duplicate their length and athleticism. Preparation only goes so far. You still have to knock down shots.”

Part of North’s preparation included a strong schedule. Yes, their enrollment puts them in Class 1A, but their regular-season schedule was loaded with larger schools.

North is 27-5 with losses to 4A state tournament contender Hopkins, 4A Champlin Park, 4A Wayzata, 4A Minneapolis Washburn and a team from Georgia. Teams the Polars have defeated include St. Croix Lutheran (the top-seeded team in 2A at state), Fridley (a 3A state tourney team) and Central Minnesota Christian (the No. 2 seed in 1A).

North nearly defeated Hopkins on Jan. 19, losing 98-96 in the Polars’ gym.

“Hopkins, that was a pretty good team,” Johnson said. “We played a pretty good game that day. Even though the outcome was a loss, I feel like that was one of our best games of the season. We learned a lot from that game. We learned how to play with a big crowd on a big stage. That pushed us for the rest of the season.”

Red Lake advanced with a 66-52 victory over Browerville/Eagle Valley. Four players scored in double figures for the Warriors, led by Kendall Whitefeather’s 18.

There surely will be a big crowd at Target Center for the semifinals. Red Lake fans nearly filled half the lower bowl at Williams Arena on Thursday to watch the Warriors (27-4), while North brought an equally enthusiastic contingent.

“It should be an up-and-down game,” Red Lake’s White said. “I don’t think our guys know how to slow down. It’s going to be a good game and hopefully we can play defense and get some rebounds and hit some shots.”

--One of the great scenes Thursday at Williams Arena came after St. Clair’s loss to Red Lake. The Cyclones were playing at state for the first time in school history and they finished with a record of 22-8.

After the teams shook hands, Freitag and his players gathered for a quick huddle. As they broke formation, the players and coaches all turned to face their fans and began applauding. The crowd returned the applause and cheered loudly for their boys.

“Our fans, they were amazing,” Freitag said. “They almost filled the whole side of Williams Arena. It was great to see and we had to show appreciation back. Hopefully they know our community knows how much we value them and their support throughout this. I hope they enjoyed what we’ve done throughout the year and even enjoyed the experience here today.

“This (loss) doesn’t define our team or our season at all,” he said. “Our season’s already been defined. We wanted to go out and enjoy this experience. I hope they did. We told them to keep their heads up and understand what they’ve accomplished. In no way does this define what our seniors have done. Basically it’s just a bad draw. I can’t be more proud of them.”


--Minneapolis North 80, St. Clair 27
--Red Lake 66, Browerville/Eagle Valley 52
--Central Minnesota Christian 50, Mountain Iron-Buhl 32
--Goodhue 54, Lake Park-Audubon 29


--Lakeville North 60, Osseo 56
--Hopkins 84, Apple Valley 59

--DeLaSalle 59, Monticello 45
--Fergus Falls 58, Red Wing 55


Noon/ Minneapolis North vs. Red Lake
2 p.m./ Central Minnesota Christian vs. Goodhue

6 p.m./ St. Croix Lutheran vs. Braham
8 p.m./ Jackson County Central vs. Annandale

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 566
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,796
Coach Is Stepping Down, But Not Quite Yet 3/9/2016
Everyone in Red Wing knew how big Wednesday’s game at Williams Arena was. The Wingers boys basketball team has made it to the state tournament for the first time since 2004 and the first time under head coach Doug Toivonen.

Toivonen will step down from that position when this season ends. The journey will live on for two more games, thanks to Red Wing’s 73-51 victory over Simley on Wednesday. The Wingers will meet Fergus Falls in Thursday’s Class 3A semifinals at Target Center, and then will play in the state championship game or the third-place game.

Doug’s youngest child, Travis, is a senior on the team. Travis was one of four Wingers who scored in double figures Wednesday and he also had a game-high 13 rebounds.

I attended a game in Red Wing in early February and was not aware then that Toivonen (pictured) was resigning. After Wednesday’s game I asked him when he had made that announcement. Turns out he never really made an official announcement. The news just sort of came out.

“I really didn’t tell any of our guys,” he said. “I told my juniors probably about three or four weeks ago. Basically what I said was, ‘You guys all know I’m stepping down, right?’ They knew. It wasn’t a secret. I had talked to other coaches and they said, ‘Hey, is this your last year?’ I said yes. I don’t need to make a big announcement. I’m a high school basketball coach.”

He also said he won’t allow his impending resignation to get in the way of what has become a season to remember.

“This is about them,” he said, looking towards his players. “This is their senior year. I’m going to live in Red Wing for many, many years to come. This is their senior year and this is about them getting to enjoy the state tournament experience.

“One thing we talked about is if we come up here and lose the first game, we’re done. Let’s win that first game. And we did. Now you never know what’s going to happen. We’re just excited to move on and that was the biggest thing. We’ve guaranteed ourselves two more games.”

--In a surprise announcement after Fergus Falls defeated Waseca 70-63, Waseca coach Todd Dufault told his players that he was stepping down. Dufault, a Waseca graduate, brought the Bluejays to state for the first time since 2002. In five years he had a record of 91-47.


One of Thursday’s Class 3A semifinal games will be an interesting matchup between what some might call David and Goliath. David is the team from Monticello, which came to state – for the first time in 10 years -- with a 19-10 record and No. 5 seed. Their opponent is top-seeded DeLaSalle (22-4), which is trying to become the first boys team in state history to win five consecutive championships.

DeLaSalle beat Fridley 65-52 Wednesday and Monticello defeated Chisago Lakes 60-55.

“Both teams are showing up tomorrow at the Target Center at noon for a showdown,” Monticello coach Jason Schmidt said. “Both teams want to win. I’ve said it a few times, we only have to beat them once. That’s the deal. Why not us? We’re excited for the opportunity. That’s why you’re here, the chance to have that storybook season.”

Islanders coach Dave Thorson, who needs to win two more games to reach the 500-victory mark, said his team is not under any pressure to extend their streak.

“There’s no question that this time we’ve talked about it more than we have in the past,” Thorson said. “It’s something that has never been done before in the state. There’s no way you can say we’re not thinking about it. We are. I wouldn’t call it pressure, I’d call it opportunity.

“We love the legacy and tradition of DeLaSalle. And for this team, and these seniors in particular, to write their own chapter in what we think is one of the best programs in state history would be really special.”

--Schmidt was a player on the first Monticello team to play in the state tournament in 1995. That gives him two perspectives on playing at state.

“The biggest difference is I’m actually on the court now,” he said with a laugh. “I was on the bench before. We had some pretty good players back then

“From a similarity standpoint, we’ve seen the community get behind us. It’s huge for the school. These kinds of things do so much for a community. They do things for other athletic programs, it’s a ripple effect. That’s what’s so cool for me, being a kid who grew up in Monticello, now getting to coach. Man, it’s really special. I didn’t realize how special it would be, but it’s really special.”

--Cooperation At State: While Hopkins was defeating North St. Paul 74-42 in the Class 4A tournament at Target Center, the Class 1A team from St. Clair was practicing in the Hopkins gym. The Cyclones will meet Minneapolis North in the quarterfinals Thursday at Williams Arena.

--History at State: For the first time, a female official was assigned to work a game in the boys state basketball tournament. M.J. Wagenson, a veteran official from Pine Island, was one of the three officials for the Fergus Falls-Waseca game.


--Osseo 85, Eden Prairie 73
--Lakeville North 60, Maple Grove 49
--Hopkins 74, North St. Paul 42
--Apple Valley 77, Blaine 57

--DeLaSalle 65, Fridley 52
--Monticello 60, Chisago Lakes 55
--Red Wing 73, Simley 51
--Fergus Falls 70, Waseca 63

--St. Croix Lutheran 86, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 51
--Jackson County Central 79, Caledonia 74
--Annandale 52, Esko 40
--Braham 67, Maple River 58

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 556
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,752
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn