John's Journal
Season 2, Season 58: Lessons From Quality Coaches8/31/2019
By the time Travis Martin was born, Ron Stolski had been a head football coach for 29 years. And now, 29 years later and more than half a century apart in age, they are equals; Martin is in his second season as the head coach at Windom and Stolski is in his 58th year overall and 45th at Brainerd.

While their histories vary, their season openers were similar. Brainerd lost at Elk River 57-0 on Thursday night in a Class 5A game and Windom lost to fellow Class 1A team Martin County West 43-0 on Friday night in Windom's first home game in two seasons; the Eagles played every game last year on the road due to disastrous flooding of their home field.

Stolski turned 80 a few weeks ago but you would never know it, and he's not sure he believes it.

"I don’t feel like I’m 80," he said, standing in a parking lot a couple hours before the first game of his 58th season. When I mentioned that I would be going to Windom a day later, Stolski recalled his third season as a coach. A graduate of Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School and Macalester College, he began his career as a 22-year-old in 1962, coaching eight-man football in Kensington, and after two years moved to Slayton, which is 36 miles west of Windom. He was in Slayton for one season, Princeton from 1965-70, Park Center from 1971-74 and went to Brainerd in 1975.

Stolski’s advice for young coaches is pretty simple, offering three main points. Number one: Care about the kids. Number two: Learn as much about the profession as you can. “Most of us coach the way we were coached. But there's so much out there now,” he said. “And thirdly, have patience. Don't be hard on yourself. It's a process. Coaching is a splendid way to spend a life.”

Stolski said that when he was a young coach, punching blackboards or lockers resulted in a broken hand more than once. “You have to have passion, and passion lasts a lifetime,” he said. “But you must be prepared before you decide to kick the doors down. That's what you learn. You can't always do it all on fire. You prepare your team as best you can.”

Martin, a North Dakota native, is learning about preparation as well as building a football program. He was a Windom assistant coach for two years before taking over last season. The Eagles won three games in 2015, two in 2016, three in 2017 and lost all nine road game last season. But positive signs are afoot: Windom’s roster has grown from 28 players in 2017 to 36 last year, and 53 players are on the current roster.

Brainerd has 83 players this fall, and the Warriors and Eagles both are young. Brainerd has 44 sophomores and Windom’s roster has 21 ninth-graders and 11 sophomores.

Before their first home game in two seasons, Martin told the boys, “We have waited an agonizingly long time to play here.”

Things went Martin County West’s way from the get-go, and the Mavericks led 29-0 at halftime. As “Welcome to the Jungle” played on the P.A. system, the Eagles gathered behind the home-side metal bleachers.

Before the coaches joined them, senior wide receiver Esteban Sandoval told his teammates, “Keep your heads up! Be proud to be an Eagle!” A couple minutes later, Martin’s message brimmed with optimism: “Guys, one play at a time, that’s how it happens. They scored 29, so can we.”

It wasn’t to be. Martin County West finished with 332 total yards (259 on the ground) to Windom’s 97 and the Eagles turned the ball over too many times. But the Mavericks’ accomplishment may provide somewhat of a road map for the Eagles; MCW won just one game last season, beating Windom in Week 3.

“It didn't go the way we wanted it to,” Martin said. “But you know, that's part of the game. I've told the boys that I've played and coached a lot of football games and I can't tell you the score of very many of them, because that's not what you remember. And that’s the big point.”

Stolski would certainly agree. Before the Warriors played at perennial 5A contender Elk River, he presented this message to the team:

“We’ve talked about some past teams, the 2017 team, the 2010 team that stopped Eden Prairie on the 3 in the playoffs.” And now, the coach’s voice began to rise. “Listen, it’s your story now. One day, God willing, somebody will be telling the story of you. A coach will stand up and say, ‘Let me tell you about the Warriors of 2019.’

“Play clean. Play sharp. Rattle the pads. It’s going to be a beautiful journey. I envy you. Tonight, we stand as one.”

Elk River’s vaunted misdirection T-formation offense was brilliant for Week 1. The Elks did not throw a pass but ran for 563 yards, including touchdown bursts of 40, 53, 75, 83 and 63 yards.

After Windom’s season-opening loss, Martin encouraged his team. “This is Week 1,” he said to the silent group. “We have a long way to go. We’ll get there together. We’ll get there. You’ve got to believe it.”

Brainerd’s postgame gatherings are for players only, who meet in an end zone and talk among themselves. While this was taking place in Elk River, Stolski – retired English teacher that he is -- was quoting Hemingway.

“We’re disappointed, not discouraged,” he said. “Hemingway wrote, ‘Now is not the time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.’ ”

Those words are from “The Old Man and the Sea.” And they ring true with all people, no matter their age … but maybe especially among coaches.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Two Knees, Two Lost Seasons: Edina’s Ashlen LeVoir 8/27/2019
Count your blessings. Be grateful for your opportunities, because they can be taken away. Ashlen LeVoir, a senior midfielder on the Edina High School girls soccer team, knows this well. The scars on her knees tell the story: A torn ACL in her right knee before her sophomore season put her on the shelf, and a partial tear of the same ACL prior to her junior year cost her another full season of soccer.

During the second surgery, a portion of the patellar tendon in her left knee was removed and used to stabilize her right knee. She came home with full-length casts on both legs, nearly immobilized and wondering, after missing two seasons, if she would ever play soccer again.

"I was just so angry, I couldn't leave the house for two weeks, I couldn’t bend my legs or anything,” she said. “I was strapped in like a mummy. It was not fun.”

“I cried with her,” said Hornets coach Katie Aafedt. “It was tough and it came like a gut punch. I can’t imagine what it was like for her.”

The ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) helps stabilize the knee joint, connecting the femur to the tibia. Studies have reported that female athletes are two to 10 times more likely to have ACL tears than male athletes. The odds of blowing the same knee twice in two years? Ashlen doesn’t want to think about it; she just wants to immerse herself in a senior season that -- fingers crossed -- is memorable because of what happens on the field, not off it.

“I try to keep a positive attitude about things,” she said. “They can seem like the worst thing, but then the best thing can come out of it. I’m so happy to be back. It’s been two years too long.”

The Hornets are 2-0 after victories over Minneapolis Washburn and Chanhassen. Ashlen’s minutes on the field are being expanded each week, and her teammates are thrilled to have her back.

“I just can’t imagine how hard that must have been, but she’s always had a smile on her face and a positive attitude,” said senior Abby Swanda. ‘It’s so cool that she’s back and she looks so good, it’s so much fun to watch her play again. Everybody is really happy about it.”

Ashlen was a starter on Edina’s ninth-grade team and on the cusp of playing with the varsity that year, Aafedt said. Her first injury happened during a club soccer tournament. Surgery was followed by grueling rehab and a sophomore season spent as a team manager. She was cleared to play for the summer club season before her junior year, and the second injury took place during club tryouts.

“Same knee, same everything,” she said. “It didn’t feel exactly like the first time I did it because it was a partial tear. That was the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. I couldn’t believe it. I just told myself that after all this, something had to come out of it. I tried to keep my head up.”

Ashlen was listed on the varsity roster last year, which helped her maintain a strong connection with her teammates even though she was unable to play.

“We’ve all been playing with her since a young age and we’ve all been friends for life,” said senior Megan Phillips. “It’s cool to see her story unfold.”

Aafedt said, “She attacked rehab both times. To her credit, mentally she was very strong, but she had two, three days where you could tell it was really tough, and then she kind of flipped her mentality to, ‘Let’s do this.’ She’s a very athletic, strong soccer player, very technical, very quick. She’s one of the most hardworking, sweetest kids I know.”

Several of her teammates have finalized college soccer plans, and Ashlen is hoping that even with two lost seasons she will get a similar opportunity.

“I’m trying to see if maybe any colleges need anybody,” she said. “It’s hard because most people have been looked at. Missing two years, I still want to fulfill my soccer career. I’m just taking it game by game; playing 30 minutes this week and it’ll go up 10 minutes each week. I’m taking it slow, hopefully it will turn around and I’ll have the best season.”

Asked if she has felt trepidation about Ashlen playing at full speed, Aafedt smiled and said, “Oh yeah, very much so. The first couple days of preseason I flinched quite a bit when she went near the ball or she was in a situation where she was going to cut or change directions. It was a lot of fun to put her in that first game.”

Ashlen doesn’t wear a knee brace or anything, other than the scars, that would identify her as an athlete who has had knee injuries.

“I’ve been asked if I want to wear a brace, but I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to have it in my brain, I don’t want it to affect how I play. I’m just going into it like I’m doing whatever I can to help the team win. I want to look up, and that’s all behind me now.

“I have all this great stuff ahead.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Class 1A Girls Tennis Team Rankings8/25/2019
Provided by the Minnesota Tennis Coaches Association.

1 Blake
2 Breck
3 Rochester Lourdes
4 Virginia
5 Litchfield
6 Blue Earth Area
7 St. James
8 Pequot Lakes
9 Minnewaska
10 Osakis
Class 1A Girls Tennis Individual Rankings8/25/2019
Provided by the Minnesota Tennis Coaches Association.

1 Arlina Shen (12) Blake
2 Clare Palen (12) Rochester Lourdes
3 Sonia Baig (11) Blake
4 Bella Suk (10) Blake
5 Allison Jay (9) Blake
6 Ally Agerland (10) Holy Family Catholic
7 Avery Stilwell (11) Litchfield
8 Danielle Thorfinnson (12) Minnewaska
9 Elise Bierbaum (11) Litchfield
10 Ellie Pirtle (10) Breck

Class 2A Girls Tennis Team Rankings8/25/2019
Provided by the Minnesota Tennis Coaches Association.

1 Edina
2 Minnetonka
3 Mounds View
4 Rochester Mayo
5 Eastview
6 Lakeville North
7 Prior Lake
8 Lakeville South
9 Elk River
10 Mahtomedi