John's Journal
4A Girls Basketball: It’s Going To Be A Wild Ride 2/4/2016
Three teams have held the No. 1 ranking in Class 4A girls basketball this season. That’s one sign of what should be a wide-open postseason. Two of those teams met Thursday night, with Hopkins defeating visiting Shakopee 70-54. Shakopee had risen to the top spot in the poll and came into the game unbeaten, but Hopkins will now move from No. 2 back to the No. 1 position, which is where the Royals began the season. The third team to sit on top was Eastview.

Summarizing that opening paragraph: Be ready for a wild ride.

“It’s more wide-open than I ever remember it being,” said Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff, whose team is the defending state champ. The Royals also won titles in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Thursday’s game was a treat for both teams, at least in the first half. Shakopee’s Taylor Koenen, a 6-foot-2 star who has signed with North Carolina, made a three-point shot in the final minute to force a 27-27 halftime tie. The second half was all Hopkins, as the Royals came out with intensity and hustle, seemingly grabbing every rebound and making layup after layup.

Koenen finished with a game-high 24 points but that wasn’t enough to overcome the swarming Royals, who defeated the Sabers 64-33 in last year’s state semifinals.

“I thought they brought more intensity, they were more aggressive at both ends of the court,” Shakopee coach Juan Mitchell said. “We couldn’t even get into our offense. Taylor tried to do too much and no one else really stepped up and played their game. It’s hard for her to try and carry the whole team.

“Other guys didn’t play up to their ability and we kind of got exposed; pressure, we didn’t box out right, we just didn’t do things that we talked about that we’ve done. But Hopkins does that. They bring pressure, they’re going to do what they do, and if you can’t adjust, if you can’t maintain it, you lose by 16.”

Shakopee wasn’t the only girls basketball team to lose for the first time this season on Thursday. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (Class 2A) was defeated by Pequot Lakes, meaning East Grand Forks Sacred Heart (Class 1A) is the only undefeated team remaining. Hopkins is 18-2 with losses to St. Michael-Albertville and Minnetonka.

Michigan State-bound senior Nia Hollie led Hopkins with 18 points, senior Ashley Bates had 15, eighth-grader Paige Bueckers 12 and senior Dee Dee Winston 10. Seniors Annie Rhinesmith and Caleigh Rodning each scored 10 for Shakopee.

The Sabers had practiced against their boys sophomore team in preparing to face Hopkins’ relentlessness.

“Still, that’s tough to simulate,” Mitchell (pictured) said. “But we didn’t play well and I think they had a lot to do with it. We’ve got to get better. We can’t match that tempo. We’ve got a couple girls who can get up and down, but we need five, like them. We’ve got two, they’ve got five. We got caught up in that tempo a little bit. And when you’re behind you press, press, press. We missed some shots, some fundamental little things that we’ve been doing well all season.”

Asked about the 4A playoffs, Mitchell ran down a checklist of some of the contenders.

“Eastview is good, Hopkins is Hopkins, St. Michael, Minnetonka is playing well. It’s good basketball, teams are playing well.”

Cosgriff, calling Thursday’s game “a very good confidence-booster,” added that the postseason “could be anybody’s gig this year. You’ve got to be ready to play every time.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 380
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 7,555
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
MSHSL’s Redman Among Recipients at Girls And Women In Sports Day2/3/2016
The 30th annual Minnesota Girls and Women in Sports Day was celebrated Wednesday in the 3M Auditorium at Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. The event has become an annual tradition, with awards given to pioneering women and girls who have made a difference in the sporting world.

Among the 2016 recipients was MSHSL associate director Jody Redman. She was one of 14 people to receive the Breaking Barriers Award.

Redman’s distinguished career in education warrants statements such as “passionate and an innovative leader” from her colleagues. She demonstrates leadership abilities and insights that have taken her from a teacher, coach and administrator to a national leader in the intentional growth and development of students through education-based athletic and activity programs.

Redman has developed and produced extensive curriculum: WHY WE PLAY, which is designed to bring the focus back to the purpose of high school athletic and activity programs; Anyone Can Save A Life, which was developed to establish emergency planning protocols; and Coaching for Change, a sexual harassment and violence education program. Redman is a national speaker and has presented at multiple NFHS, NIAAA, MNIAAA, CHSAA, MSBA and MMEA conferences and at student, teacher, coach and administrator leadership seminars on topics designed to develop human potential in safe and healthy environments.

Redman currently administers the Minnesota Coaches Education Program for the 500 member high schools of the MSHSL, which includes both an in-person certification program and a continuing education requirement delivered through workshop and e-learning mediums.

Gov. Mark Dayton, the featured speaker at Wednesday’s event, talked about the days when women and girls did not have the opportunities that they have today.

“When I was in high school about a hundred years ago there really were no sports for girls or women,” he said. “I remember back when in basketball the girls couldn’t cross center court. I guess they thought it was just too exhausting for them to traverse the whole court. And when they first had hockey for girls it was ringette.

"Fortunately a lot of changed. Girls and women have been pioneers in sports, not only in their own sports as tremendous athletes, but also pioneers for the public consciousness of the importance of women’s sports.”

Other recipients of the Breaking Barriers Award were…

Shelly Boyum-Breen, Foundation IX, children’s books author
Jan Eifealdt, Ortonville Public Schools
Girls’ Initiative in Recreation and Leisurely Sports
Elizabeth Bye, Fatimah Hussein,
Salma Hussein and Chelsey Thul
Hornbills Flag Football Team - YWCA of Minneapolis
Kelly Klatt, Grand Rapids community
Bob Kuehl, Mound Westonka community
John C. Legeros, Mound Westonka community
Erin Lind, Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference
Jackie Lindsay, Crookston High School
Annette Margarit, Academy of Holy Angels
Minnesota Women’s Soccer League
Bonnie Jean Moren, Bloomington Public Schools
Wayne Olson, Glenville High School

Various other honors were awarded in several specific categories. Those recipients were …

Marie Berg Award
Cheryl King, Physical educator and coach, Anoka, Champlin Park and Park High Schools

Kwame McDonald Media Award
Anne Abicht, Former Director of Athletic Media Relations, St. Cloud State University

Wilma Rudolph Courage Award
Alexis Shifflett, US Paralympic Volleyball Team

Special Merit Awards
Kathy Fredricksen, Moose Lake High School
Barbara Knutson, Mankato West High School
Joan Paulson, Forest Lake Area Schools
Jeannie Thoren, Women’s Skiing

Minnesota Legacy Award
Eleanor “Ele” Hansen, Carleton College

Minnesota Milestone Award
Minnesota Lynx

“I have invited winners of national championships to the governor’s residence for receptions,” Dayton said. “I’ve been honored to have the Minnesota Lynx three times, Concordia University women’s volleyball, University of Minnesota women’s hockey team and other national champions. The trouble is, I’ve not been able to have a single reception for a male team.

“Female athletes are really impressive. Lynx players are going off to play somewhere else the rest of the year, they’re not overpaid, they show up for games and they actually do their very best every time. Not to make any contrasts with anybody else on professional sports teams, but there’s just a real commitment to the sport. And it’s the same with the high school girls sports and college women’s sports; there’s just a real commitment and they’re not looking for the multi-million-dollar contract if they leave college after one semester. They want to get a degree, they want to get an education and they want to play the sport they love. They want to have a chance to hopefully play at further levels.

“This is a very, very important day, I’m proud to be part of it and I’m proud to issue a proclamation that today is Girls and Women in Sports Day in Minnesota. Congratulations to all the recipients, who are not only great athletes but great leaders in our society and trailblazers.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 378
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 7,501
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Orono vs. Hutch: Vacation’s Over And The Real Fun Begins1/30/2016
HUTCHINSON – I was sitting in the high school gymnasium here on Friday night, watching the ebbing and flowing of a matchup between two highly ranked girls basketball teams. My favorite moment while watching Orono vs. Hutchinson came midway through the second half.

Hutch senior Erica Ellefson, daughter of coach Tim Ellefson, fired up a three-point shot in the hopes of cutting Orono’s lead from eight points to five. The basketball looked to be right on target, but as it bounced on the rim and fell away, the Tigers fans – as if they had been practicing in unison for days – uttered the same elongated word: “Ohhhhhhh.”

Twenty-four earlier, the scene was much different for me. On Thursday evening my wife and I were hustling through the Denver airport while changing planes on our way home from a California vacation. At that point, the realities of life were pretty simple: What gate do we need? How far away is it? Do we have time to grab something to eat? We made the flight, pounding down a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza (me) and a pretzel (my wife) before boarding.

It was nearly midnight when we arrived home from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. As I unpacked I had this thought: I sure hope there’s a great game I can find to attend Friday night. That surely happened, and watching Orono (ranked No. 1 in Class 3A) and Hutchinson (No. 3 in 3A) was the finest way imaginable to transition from vacation back to the magical world of high school sports.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a great trip. Our oldest son and his wife of several months live in the San Francisco Bay Area and -- bonus -- they have a guest room. We looked out the windows at palm trees, ate in great restaurants, explored San Francisco and a few vineyards, wore light jackets. By golly, I even came face to face with a hummingbird on one sunny afternoon.

The highlight of the last few days for me however, just might be Friday’s crowd exhaling out that loud “Ohhhhhhh.”

“To think of girls basketball and how far it’s come, to see crowds enjoying girls basketball like they did tonight. I’m proud to be a part of that,” Tim Ellefson said after his Hutch Tigers came out on the short end of a 52-50 decision won by the Orono Spartans.

Orono’s record is 15-2 with losses to Hopkins and Eastview, which are ranked second and third in Class 4A. Hutch is also 15-2, losing earlier to Annandale. Friday’s game was a Wright County Conference contest, and the Spartans and Tigers will meet again Feb. 16 at Orono.

Hutch came out like the home team should, with two layups by Morgan Kurth and one by Erin Corrigan staking the Tigers to an early 7-6 lead. Orono then put on a scoring run, which set a theme for the rest of the game; defensive stands and offensive outbursts on both ends of the court. Orono used a 5-0 run to lead by five late in the first half. Hutch answered with eight unanswered points, cutting an eight-point deficit to a slim 28-26 Orono lead at halftime.

After halftime, a 7-0 Spartans run (three layups and a free throw) put them up by nine and then 10. The margin was still 10 with 10:23 left in the second half. Kurth drove the lane, attempted a layup and one of her teammates on the bench yelled “Yeah Morgan!” a full second before the ball went through the hoop. That made it Orono 48, Hutch 44.

Morgan’s layup was made easier because 6-foot-4 Orono senior Meghan Mandel was on the bench. Spartans coach Ellen Wiese put Meghan and her long shot-blocking arms back in soon after. Things looked a bit dire for the home team when sophomore starter MaKenzie Rensch fouled out with 3:52 left and Orono up by six.

The Spartans went to the stall at the three-minute mark, dribbling and passing outside the three-point line. A traveling call gave Hutch (trailing 52-47) the ball with 1:45 to go. Tori Wortz missed a three-point shot and Hutch was called for a foul on the rebound. The Tigers’ press led to an Orono turnover and Kurth scored from the baseline with 1:26 left. Orono 52, Hutch 49.

The teams traded turnovers, Orono retained possession on a jump ball. Wiese called timeout with 21 seconds remaining and the Tigers fans chanted “LET’S GO HUTCH!” Wortz stole the ball, she was fouled by Tori Andrew and it was the fifth foul for Orono’s season scoring leader.

Wortz made one of two free throws and it was Spartans 52, Tigers 50; 13.7 seconds on the clock. Hutch had to foul but the ploy worked when Danielle Jorgenson missed the front end of a one-and-one. The final shot of the night was attempted by Wortz in the lane as the clock wound down to zero.

The shot may have been right on track, but we’ll never know for sure. Mandel, with her 6-foot-4 frame stretched from floor to what seemed to be the ceiling, put those two lengthy arms straight up as she faced Wortz and the ball hit nothing but flesh. Orono 52, Hutchinson 50. An old-timer exiting the bleachers said to me, “Well, that’s about as good a game as you’re gonna see.”

Wortz scored a game-high 15 points, Corrigan had 13 and Erica Ellefson nine for Hutch. Orono’s Andrew had 12, Lily McKown 10 and Mandel nine.

Neither postgame locker room was especially jovial.

“We got up by 10 and then we lost it,” Wiese said. “It was a very quiet locker room. We know that we did not play that well in the second half and we didn’t shoot well the whole game. But we came out of here with a win. It was a hard environment to play in, and I told them that. I told them this was going to be the hardest road trip you’re going to have. They did what they had to do to win.”

Tim Ellefson said, “Both teams played their hearts out. They took us out of our offenses, we took them out of their offenses, and the girls just had to make plays. And they made a couple more than we did. We had the ball in the air with a chance to win it, and the 6-4 girl got there and swatted it.”

Yes, there will be a February rematch. And maybe a third game between the two teams. They are both in Section 6, and unless one or both of them go belly up they will be the top two seeds in the section playoffs.

Hutch’s last trip to the state tournament was in 2012. Orono finished third at state last season, losing to Marshall in the 3A semifinals. Marshall has defeated Hutchinson in section title games the last two years but section shuffling has moved Hutchinson from Section 2 (with Marshall) to Section 6 (with Orono).

“I sure hope the next two games are like this one,” Tim Ellefson said, “because it’s worth the drive to come out and watch a game like this.”

Indeed, it’s well worth the drive. As well as a couple of flights from California.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 378
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 7,449
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Behind The Headlines: Cleveland At Madelia Boys Basketball 1/15/2016
MADELIA – As the final horn sounded on one whale of a boys basketball game here Thursday evening, the word spread quickly via two types of media: social and traditional. Tweets, radio reports and newspaper scoreboards carried the word that Cleveland had been defeated for the first time this season.

The Clippers came to Madelia with a record of 16-0; the homestanding Madelia Blackhawks were 10-5. The result of this game would have implications on the Valley Conference race and the Class 1A Section 2 postseason playoffs, as well as the civic pride of residents of two towns in southern Minnesota.

After the game, one of the coaches said to me, “It was an awesome crowd. This was a great high school basketball atmosphere.”

The stage had been set in Thursday’s Mankato Free Press. The Clippers headlined veteran reporter Chad Courrier’s Prep Basketball Notebook: “Cleveland enjoying hype of winning streak.” As Chad’s story noted, “It’s not like Cleveland sees this kind of success very often. The Clippers, who were 9-18 last season, haven’t had a winning season since going 14-10 in 2005-06. The best season in program history came in 1960, when the team went 19-3.”

Clippers coach Dan Fredrickson reiterated this point when we chatted before the game. He wondered how the spotlight of being unbeaten so deep into a 26-game regular season would play out with his young team, which has three sophomores among the top seven players.

Both schools reached the nine-man football state playoffs last fall (both were defeated in the state quarterfinals), and the basketball rosters are stocked with multi-sport athletes who know how to work and how to win.

Before tipoff, I made two key realizations: 1) Chad Courrier, who is an MSHSL basketball official as well as a journalism pro, would work the game with partner Mike Barten, the softball coach at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton; 2) Madelia has the sweetest warm-ups I have ever seen.

Madelia coach Jeff Van Hee had told me as much in an email inviting me to the game. The warm-ups are black and orange with vertical stripes on the arms and legs and a casual hoodie look.

Before tipoff, Van Hee’s son Derrick (who would end the night with a game-high 23 points) was honored in a brief ceremony for recently scoring his 1,000th career point. The Madelia pep band played songs from Taylor Swift and the Blues Brothers, the lights went out and a spotlight came on for the home-team introductions and the game began.

Madelia had the edge in size and experience, starting four seniors who included 6-foot-3 Kyle Schultz, 6-5 Jack Kortuem and 6-6 Austin Denn. Cleveland’s tallest starter is 6-3 senior Tyler Piotter, with 6-4 junior Jaiden Zishka coming off the bench. Sophomore guard Carter Kopet, already in his third year as a starter, quarterbacked the Clippers to the football state tournament and is also the QB on the basketball court. He leads the team with an 18-point average and Piotter is at 17.

The atmosphere was high-level from the get-go. Three minutes into the game, an exuberant Clippers fan sitting behind me hollered at his team, “Speed it up! They’re tired!”

Cleveland wanted to run, Madelia wanted to throw down roadblocks in the lane. The Blackhawks focused on Kopet, with three or four defenders collapsing on him when he drove to the hoop. Fredrickson is not a teacher, but he sounded like a high-intensity geography instructor as he called out plays: “ALABAMA!” “OHIO!” “ARIZONA!”

The score was tied 12-12 midway through the first half. Fouls came fast and furious, and Cleveland’s final eight points of the half came on free throws. Madelia caught a nice break in the final minute when Kortuem, attempting an off-balance, up-in-the-air, one-handed pass from the lane – intended for Augie Reihs – watched the ball bounce off the rim and drop through.

The Blackhawks led 32-25 at halftime and came out hot in the second half. They went hard to the hole, scored eight straight points on layups and led 40-30 with 15:20 to play. Fredrickson winced when one of his players missed an open layup, but the Clippers regrouped. Two layups by sophomore Austin Plonsky (who would lead Cleveland with 18 points) bookmarked an 8-0 run that cut the deficit to four.

A three-pointer by Plonsky and a drive by Zishka put Cleveland in front 43-42. Steals by Kopet and Zishka resulted in a free throw (Kopet) and layup (Zishka) and the Clippers were up 48-44 with five-plus minutes remaining. A three by Mitch McCabe and a fadeaway shot by Kopet made it 55-49 and the Clippers appeared to be in control with 4:12 left.

Zishka, who played 20 minutes off the bench, came out for a breather with 2:27 left. Fredrickson told him, “As soon as you’re ready, we need you back in.” He didn’t sit for long.

The teams traded free throws. McCabe hit a three to make it Cleveland 62, Madelia 56 with 1:59 to go. During a timeout the fans on either side of the gym traded proud chants: “CHS! CHS!” was countered by “MHS! MHS!” The place was electric.

The darn thing came down to the final 17 seconds. Two free throws by Kopet gave Cleveland a 64-61 lead. The Clippers allowed Madelia’s Van Hee to drive and score a layup, because two points wasn’t the dagger that three would have been. His layup made it Clippers 64, Blackhawks 53 with 11.5 seconds to go.

Madelia had to foul somebody and Kopet wasn’t their first choice, but he held the ball and they swiped at him. Courrier’s story that day had noted that Carter shoots 73 percent from the line and came into the game having made 31 of his last 34. I didn’t hear anybody yell “jinx!” but this time he missed the front end of a one-and-one. Madelia got the rebound, Denn – the tallest player on either team -- got the ball down low and scored the biggest two of his 12 points. Madelia 65, Cleveland 64. Two seconds to play.

The Clippers had to go the length of the court, and 84 feet looks like a football field at times like this. One pass, another pass and the ball was outside the three-point line. Shot went up, shot missed and the Madelia students – all wearing black on Blackout Night – rushed the court with a whoop and surrounded their boys.

“You’ve got to hand it to them,” Jeff Van Hee said. “They battled. I was thinking, ‘These (Cleveland) sophomores, eventually they’re going to cave.’ They really didn’t cave. Carter Kopet is a heck of a player; I don’t know what his free throw percentage was, but he missed one. And that was the one we needed him to miss.”

Fredrickson said, “We’re a young team, and I’ve got to do a better job of making sure they know situational basketball. The kids played their tail off in the second half. I thought we really fought to come back. I outcoached myself in the first half, went triangle-and-two, box-and-one, they got hot a little bit, got some confidence. The second half we came out man-to-man and the kids came back and fought hard.”

For the home team and their families and friends, there was postgame cake in celebration of Derrick Van Hee’s 1,000 points. Holding cake in one hand and a big victory in the other made the night especially sweet for the Madelians.

Jeff Van Hee said of Cleveland, “When they look back, they’ll probably say, ‘This helped us more than it hurt us.’ It helped us immediately. It gave us the confidence we needed.”

And then came the statement of the night.

“It was an awesome crowd,” Van Hee said, totally unable to conceal a satisfied grin. “This was a great high school basketball atmosphere.”

No argument here.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 376
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 7,295
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Mounds View vs. MSAD: A Game To Remember 1/11/2016
FARIBAULT -- One of the most interesting matchups of the basketball season took place here Saturday afternoon in an 85-year-old gymnasium.

The visiting team was from a big school: Class 4A Mounds View has 1,650 students. The home team from Class 1A Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf represented a high school with just 50 students.

What a matchup it was. And in the long run, the final score is almost meaningless.

“This is a game I think our kids will remember forever,” said Mounds View coach David Leiser. “When they get together 30 years from now, they’ll talk about this game.”

The Mustangs broke free from a 31-31 halftime tie to win 75-40. Not surprisingly, Mounds View had more size and depth than the Trojans of MSAD. But when you look at hustle and determination, this game was a dead heat.

“One of the things that impressed me about them was you could see how much playing for this academy means to them,” Leiser said. “This is everything to them, they put their heart and soul into this. I told our guys, ‘We’re Mounds View. We’ve got a lot to play for, too. We need to be proud when we come out on the floor and give the kind of effort that we have to give.’ ”

Nobody at MSAD – which was founded in 1863 -- could remember one of their teams playing a team from the state’s largest class. The game came about after Leiser saw MSAD play a year ago. One of his former assistants now coaches at Academy for Sciences and Agriculture in Vadnais Heights. When Leiser went to a game, the opponent was the Trojans. He came away very impressed and contacted MSAD athletic director David Olson about scheduling a game.

“I was just honestly mesmerized,” Leiser said. “I thought it was so cool how they communicated with each other, and they were good, too. We saw that in the first half; they’ve got guys who can play. They can compete.

“I’m a big believer that one of the great things about basketball, really all sports, is that it brings people together from different cultures, communities, cities. We play teams from small towns and I love to take our team to a small town. We get treated so well when we go to a small town.”

MSAD’s Lauritsen Gymnasium, built in 1931, is a showplace of a bandbox: Limestone walls, balcony seating behind one basket, sunlight streaming through windows.

“When we walked in, I thought, ‘What a great honor to be here,’ ” said Mounds View senior Nate Albers, who led all scorers with 24 points. “I’ve never played in anything like this gym before. It’s definitely unique.”

MSAD coach Lee Jones, his assistants and the players communicate via sign language. MSAD staff member Cheryl Anderson acted as a sign-language interpreter for the Mounds View coaches, officials and media. The public-address system wasn’t working Saturday, so Anderson and Olson stood at center court with Anderson verbally announced the starting lineups as Olson did the same in sign language.

“You could see a couple signs and they played through a couple whistles,” Albers said of the Trojans. “But it felt like it was just another game and we had to play like we always do.”

Trojans junior Kyrell Cummings, who led his team with 16 points, said, “The first half was great. We were just really hungry. In the second half we kind of went down, but we wanted to stay positive. Mounds View is pretty good. It’s important to taste what 4A tastes like. It was a good experience.”

Mounds View (12-2) had lost to Woodbury the previous evening, and the short period of time between that game and Saturday’s contest might have had something to do with the Mustangs’ slow start.

MSAD is 7-6, including victories over deaf academies from Wisconsin, Kansas and Iowa.

“All my boys, this week, were really talking all about Mounds View, Mounds View, Mounds View,” Jones said after the game. “They knew it was a big school with a lot of players. We have a small school with less kids so we wanted to try and match their level. The first half was a surprise; we played our best offense of the season. The boys took care of the ball really well. Until the second half. They changed their defense and frustrated us. The game changed very quick. But the concept of the game with a bigger school was a great experience.”

The Mounds View players will certainly remember the game for a long time. And the same can be said for the Trojans.

“We’ll remember, ‘Wow. We played against a 4A school,’ ” Cummings said. “We’ve checked it off our bucket list.”

--To see photos from the game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 374
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 7,111
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn