John's Journal
Fifty Years Later, South St. Paul Honors The Heroes of ‘659/25/2015
High school athletes are always busy with school, sports and their families and friends. It’s never a bad thing, however, to give them something else to consider: Tradition.

Tradition runs deep and thick at South St. Paul High School, which will send its 102nd graduating class out into the world next spring. Homecoming week was capped Friday night when the Packers improved to 5-1 this season by defeating Tartan 46-30. But for the high school football players, there was much more to Homecoming than one football game.

The Packers spent time with some very special guests who stood in their cleats 50 years ago. The school held an induction ceremony for its athletic Hall of Fame before Friday’s game, and the stars of the show were 32 members of the 1965 football team, which went 9-0 and was ranked second in the state; there were no postseason playoffs back then.

The individual inductees were Frank Arend ’91, Richard Lick ’54, the late Glenn Novack ’70 and Gregg Veldman ’78. Memories were shared and thank yous were delivered by each inductee (in the case of Novack, his family accepted the honor). It was a moving ceremony in the school commons, capped by 32 men wearing white T-shirts that bore their jersey numbers from back in the day. At halftime of the football game, the inductees were introduced to a standing ovation.

Smiles, handshakes, hugs, more smiles and countless photos.

The star of that 1965 team was Jim Carter, who went on play linebacker for the University of Minnesota Gophers as well as the Green Bay Packers. He replaced retired Packers legend Ray Nitschke at linebacker, played in Green Bay from 1970 to 1978 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1974.

When I asked Carter about his high school memories, he smiled and said, “The best kind.”

Packers football coach/athletic director Chad Sexauer worked with Carter in planning the weekend. The 1965 and 2015 football teams had dinner together at the school Thursday evening and the old guys were in the locker room with the young guys before Friday’s game.

“We talk a lot about one of the great strengths of South St. Paul, which is its tradition,” Sexauer said. “We hang onto that pretty closely. So to be able to break bread with those guys last night, and for them to share stories about their experiences in South St. Paul, and the stockyards and a blue-collar town is really special.

“We’re still kind of blue-collar kids. We’re a small city five miles from the capitol, we still have strong traditions, from eastern European immigrants to now it’s Hispanic kids and African-American kids. It’s people who are working and we don’t lose that identity.”

During the Hall of Fame ceremony, 1965 assistant coach Dennis Tetu talked about the team and the season that they all remember.

“Although Jim Carter has got tremendous stats, it took all these guys here to open those holes, to play defense,” he said. “You have to give this whole team credit for it.

“If you watched all those games in that 1965 year, you would see a great tackle by somebody here, a fumble recovery here, an interception here. Everybody pitched in. It was just one great group of players. “

The ’65 team ran the single-wing offense, with Carter and Paul Kenady carrying the ball. Passes weren’t necessary or counted on by the boys from South St. Paul.

“I was about 210 and our offensive line was about 160, 170 but we had a bunch of tough kids,” Carter said. “We just ran power football. We didn’t throw much. We had two double teams on both sides of the holes. We ran for a lot of yards, scored a lot of points and we had a lot of fun.”

Carter, who lives nearby, invited his teammates to his home Friday afternoon. Stories were swapped, tales were embellished, bonds were renewed.

“I told the guys that it was kind of payback for me to throw a party for them and have them here,” Carter said. “I’ve had so many great opportunities in my life. I was a captain at the University of Minnesota, I was a captain in Green Bay. Things like that could not have happened had I not played on this team in South St. Paul. It really changed my life. I got lucky, man.”

--To see a photo gallery from South St. Paul, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 70
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 2,648
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Hasz Sisters: One Final Run At Cross-Country History 9/23/2015
ALEXANDRIA – Wednesday was the first day of autumn, which seemed like a fitting day to sit down with the girls of fall, otherwise known as the Hasz sisters, Megan and Bethany. The breaking news from our interview, conducted late in the school day in the commons area of Alexandria High School, was that the identical twin seniors will become collegiate cross-country and track athletes at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2016.

Until talking with them, I was unaware that they had made a college choice. They had done so in low-key fashion, informing the Gophers coaches that they would indeed accept Minnesota’s offer and telling coaches from other schools – most notably North Carolina and Michigan State – that they were headed to Dinkytown.

There was no news conference, no Tweets (neither of the girls has a Twitter account), not even a story in the local paper, the Alexandria Echo Press. The Hasz sisters are low on drama and low on flashiness. They just run, and run, and run, and run … until they win. (And they also don’t mind poking each other with a joke stick. More on that in a moment.)

They have made a significant mark at the MSHSL cross-country state championships. As eighth-graders in 2011 the sisters finished fourth (Megan) and fifth (Bethany). When they were ninth-graders in 2012, Bethany finished third at state and Megan was sixth. The last two years have been extra special.

In 2013 Bethany won the Class 2A state championship in dominating fashion; Megan was the runner-up, finishing 20 seconds behind her twin. At last year’s state meet the roles were reversed: Megan finished first with a four-second lead over Bethany.

Their farewell to high school cross-country will come at this year’s state meet, Nov. 7 at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Their prep careers will end next spring at the state track meet, where they also have made a lasting impression.

Bethany won the Class 2A 1,600- and 3,200-meter races last spring at state (Megan was injured and did not compete). In 2014 the twins placed second (Megan) and third (Bethany) in the 1,600 and third (Bethany) and fourth (Megan) in the 3,200.

Megan was slowed by a stress fracture in her left tibia last spring and the injury has resurfaced this fall. She raced in the season’s first meet, but pain in the leg came back.

“Right now my goal is to get back into running,” she said, a little frustrated with cross-training and elliptical workouts. “I think I might try running this weekend.”

The twins turned 18 on Sept. 9. Megan is the oldest, having been born 28 minutes before Bethany. Bethany stands 5 feet, 6 inches tall and Megan is 5-4 ½.

They both play the cello in a school orchestra. With a bit of a chuckle they admitted that they don’t practice much and aren’t in any danger of becoming the top cello players in Alexandria.

“Orchestra is pretty fun,” Megan said. Bethany added, “We are very close to the bottom (of the cello players in their orchestra). But we’re close to the bottom of the TOP orchestra.”

When they aren’t running or studying they like to bake or read. “Any kind of dessert, anything chocolate,” Megan said about baking. As for reading, their likes include Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and the Divergent series.

They said the choice to attend the University of Minnesota – 136 miles down Interstate 94 from Alexandria – was what Bethany called “a pretty easy decision.”

Megan said, “We stressed about it quite a bit at first. Then we kind of decided to make it easy for ourselves.”

Roommates since birth, they haven’t decided if they will room together in college. “She’s not that interesting,” Bethany said, looking at her sister with a smile. Megan replied, “Thank you, I appreciate that. I’m not that interesting. That’s true.”

There was also this humorous exchange about the distance from the high school to their home, a route they sometimes run … Bethany: “It’s a couple miles.” Megan: “It’s like four miles.” Bethany: “It’s probably about four, but it’s still not that far.”

And this discussion of trying to be more comfortable during interviews … Bethany: “I like to think I’ve gotten less awkward.” Megan: “You haven’t.”

They began receiving college recruiting letters when they were in ninth grade. They sometimes tried to make their parents nervous by suggesting they would attend different colleges.

“We definitely joked about it,” Megan said. “We joked about it with our parents, just to make it difficult for them. But they knew we wouldn’t go to two different places.”

Megan’s injury has caused some squirming, because it’s hard for any athlete to sit on the sideline while others are training.

“It’s so frustrating,” she said. “I want to be running and training. One of my biggest competitors (Bethany) is training really hard and I can’t.”

“It’s a friendly competition,” Megan added, to which Bethany said, “We’re very competitive. Megan is probably more competitive than I am.” Megan said, “We’re always happy for the other one if they do better.”

That’s indeed what cross-country fans expect to see at the 2015 state meet. Two girls from Alexandria, identical twin sisters, breaking away from the pack and racing to the finish line as the throng cheers them on.

The order in which they’ll finish? It doesn’t really matter.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 68
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 2,608
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Physical Limitations Can’t Limit This Tennis Player 9/18/2015
Allegra TeBrake, a junior at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa High School, has played tennis since she was in seventh grade. She’s a member of the Jaguars varsity team and she looks just like every other player on the court … until you notice how she serves.

“There was one girl I played last week who was amazed,” Allegra said Thursday after competing in a doubles match with sophomore teammate Mallory Bents at New York Mills. “She said, ‘I’m amazed that you can do that so fast.’ ”

It does happen quickly, and it’s a testament to Allegra’s abilities as an athlete and as an inspiration to others. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was five years old, and her left hand doesn’t operate at full capacity. She swings her tennis racket righthanded; when serving she tucks the racket under her left arm, tosses the ball up with her right hand and then quickly grabs the racket and strikes the ball.

It’s reminiscent of former major league baseball pitcher Jim Abbott, who was born without a right hand yet spent 10 years in the big leagues.

“Without the help of her left hand, she hits backhands, hustles to every ball and never gives up,” said Jaguars coach Katie Kienitz. “It is something truly remarkable.”

Allegra -- who lives with her sister Chandler, 13, and parents Mark and Denise on a farm outside of Glenwood – is a veteran of medical treatments. Her brain tumor was discovered after she had trouble using her left hand and began having bad headaches. She was diagnosed with juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, a rare childhood cancer.

She underwent surgery 10 years ago, in which 90 percent of the tumor was removed. In 2008 she underwent an 18-month regimen of chemotherapy. The treatments meant she lost her hair and experienced weight loss, but she also was able to spend time at a Wisconsin camp for kids with cancer, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation made it possible for Allegra and her family to visit a dude ranch in Montana.

The treatment stopped the remnants of the tumor from growing and chemotherapy was halted for a while. Last December she began taking oral chemo treatments in order to deal with fluid pockets near the brain tumor that were growing and began affecting her left hand. (Allegra, right, is pictured with doubles partner Mallory Bents and coach Katie Kienitz.)

“They took me off (chemo) at the end of August for a few weeks so I could enjoy the state fair and begin school without any side effects or anything,” Allegra said.

“They’re going to be putting me back on a higher dose because they don’t think it’s working. If not, they’re going to take me off at the end of December of this year. There’s a laser surgery they’re putting in at the Minneapolis Children’s Hospital, and I’m one of five kids, I think, waiting for this machine to be put in. Then they’ll go in and laser my fluid pockets, which will kill my brain tumor and it will go away.”

Allegra is an inspiration, and she has spoken about her experiences to groups ranging from her fellow 4H participants to gatherings of outdoor- and hunting-themed organizations.

“I’ve done a few speeches about myself,” she said. “I spoke in front of 300 National Wild Turkey Federation members last winter and shared my story.”

Through 4H, Allegra has shown llamas and goats, and she is a state ambassador for a 4H project called Minnesota State Shooting Sports and Wildlife. She is applying to become a national ambassador and will be doing training in that capacity either in California or in Minnesota early next summer.

On the tennis court, it didn’t take long for Allegra to figure out how to hit a serve.

“I kind of played around with how I served for a few weeks until I kind of got it down,” she said. “I just like to compete against the other people. And the bus rides and stuff are really cool with the girls. There’s a lot of team bonding that goes on between us because we’re all about the same age. We’ve become closer as a team.”

Kienitz, a second-grade teacher and first-year coach, called Allegra “an amazing person inside and out. … she has never had a complaint about anything. She has a different perspective on all that she does and she doesn't let her disability faze her. She has been a great source of positivity, courage, and leadership on my team. She is truly a remarkable person.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 46
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 2,252
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Rookie Cross-Country Runner Really Stands Out 9/16/2015
Bodey Behrends stands out in a crowd. The good-natured, popular senior at Jackson County Central was named the Huskies’ homecoming king last week and everyone enjoys his company.

But he really, really does stand out in a crowd. That’s because Behrends stands 6 feet, 9 inches tall. He’s a top-shelf basketball player who will continue his hoops career on the NCAA Division II level at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S. D., after graduating.

He added a second sport this fall, one in which he – yes – stands out. Seeing a 6-foot-9 cross-country runner is a rare sight, but Behrends is indeed a rookie member of the Jackson County Central team. (He's pictured here with teammates Kia Holm and Annika Lilleberg.)

The first cross-country meet he ever witnessed was also the first cross-country meet in which he was a competitor. He runs on the Huskies’ junior varsity squad, which is just fine with him.

“I figured I should probably get in shape,” Bode said after running 5,000 meters at the Titan Invitational in Montgomery. He wants to be in tip-top condition for his senior basketball season as well as for his college career. He towers over most other runners.

While also trying to fit basketball workouts and weightlifting sessions into his schedule, Behrends said he really enjoys being on the cross-country team.

“It’s definitely a lot of work, but I like how everybody is together, for sure,” he said. “Everybody’s so supportive when you’re running and it’s a great atmosphere.”

The styles of running in basketball and cross-country couldn’t be much different, and that’s been an adjustment for Bode.

“Basketball is a completely different kind of being in shape,” he said. “It’s a lot of up and down and cutting, it’s a burst sport. This is a stamina and conditioning sport. It’s getting better. I used to struggle doing the mile, now I can run three miles.”

Jackson County Central cross-country coach Rafe York also is an assistant basketball coach, so he knows Bode well. After another senior basketball player, Jordan Hutzler, decided to join the cross-country team, it didn’t take long for Behrends to take the plunge.

“Jordan started recruiting guys,” York said. “Carter Heinrichs (a varsity runner and basketball player) ran last year, too. I know they’re about basketball first, but they know it’s going to get them in shape.”

Bode, who weighs 190 pounds, is trying to gain more weight for basketball. He said he added 10 pounds over the summer. That’s also when he knew he could be in better condition.

During the AAU basketball season, he said “I realized I started to huff and puff after the first two minutes of the game. I figured I better get in shape.”

Cross-country is a sport in which no one gets cut from the team and every meet and every bus ride can quickly turn into a social affair. Behrends fits right in.

“We have such a great group of kids,” York said. “They take care of business and they have great camaraderie. Bode contributes to that. He’s a fun kid, he’s got his ducks in a row and he helps out a lot.

“We’re working on strategy. Bode’s figuring it out. We have so many new guys and they’re all kind of figuring it out together. They kind of run in a clump and finish together.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 43
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 1,872
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Volleyball: A New Team At The Top And A New Team In 3A 9/14/2015
MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota Challenge is indeed a challenge. The volleyball tournament, played at Marshall High School and Southwest Minnesota State University, brings together 32 teams from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota with two days of matches deciding how every team stands, from No. 1 to No. 32.

The identity of the No. 1 team in the 2015 tournament may surprise some people. Lakeville South, a team that has never qualified for a state volleyball tournament, came out on top Saturday in results that were a testament to the wide-open nature of big-school volleyball in Minnesota.

Four teams ranked among the top 10 in Class 3A played in the tournament, as did five other teams that received votes but didn’t crack the top 10 in last week’s rankings. It was no surprise, then, that the final four teams were all from 3A: Top-ranked Champlin Park, No. 3 Prior Lake, No. 4 Lakeville South (pictured) and Wayzata (which received votes).

Prior Lake avenged an early-season loss to Champlin Park by defeating the Rebels in the semifinals, and Lakeville South – which beat defending 3A state champ Chaska in the quarterfinals -- defeated Wayzata in the semis.

In the finals, Prior Lake won the first set 15-25 before South took the next two, 25-23 and 16-14. (In this week’s rankings released Monday, South is No. 1.)

The Cougars’ tournament title may not have seemed likely before the event began, considering that No. 1 setter Sydney Case was sitting on the bench with a broken wrist and the rest of the lineup was jumbled. Emily Hoff has been playing setter, and doing a great job.

“Emily really has never been a setter,” South coach Steve Willingham said. “I can’t say enough about the game she played today. And her teammates have been great, lifting her up. This is a really good win for us.”

A lot of volleyball remains to be played, but the weekend results made it clear that a large group of teams can compete for section and state titles.

“I think we can play with anybody,” Willingham said. “And there were probably not a lot of expectations that we would, but we’re really confident that we can play with any team. And we were fortunate to put ourselves in a place to win all the matches this weekend.

“There are a lot of good teams out there.”

ANOTHER THING TO CONSIDER this volleyball season is Marshall’s move from Class 2A to 3A. The Tigers have qualified for the past 14 state tournaments, a state record they share with Columbia Heights (1985-98).

In the first six years of Marshall’s streak they were in 3A. But they spent eight years in 2A, including state titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013, before moving back to 3A this season.

“Over those years in triple A our kids always kind of had the mentality that it was David against Goliath and they always enjoyed that,” Marshall coach Dan Westby (pictured) said. “Now we’re trying to get that back.”

Marshall always plays one of the toughest schedules in the state. The Tigers defeated Burnsville and Totino-Grace in Friday’s tournament matches before losing to Champlin Park in Saturday’s quarterfinals. They then beat Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (ranked second in 2A) and lost to Chaska to finish sixth in the tournament.

Marshall is ranked 10th in the 3A poll, and “The kids, in their words, didn’t feel like they got a lot of love early in the year in the polls and that sort of thing,” Westby said. “So they’re pretty determined to try and make something happen, which is kind of fun to watch.

“We’ve said that we need to have triple A practices now. We can’t practice like a double A team any more, we have to practice like a triple A team. That means expectations are higher and to our kids’ credit they’ve really done a good job. Hopefully that will continue.”

When the postseason rolls around Marshall will be in Section 2, which is power-packed. The 12-team section includes Chaska, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Prior Lake, Shakopee and Waconia.

“I think it’s undoubtedly the toughest section in the state,” Westby said. “I think just about any one of seven or eight teams could put a streak together and win that thing. It should make for some good volleyball at tournament time.”

If Marshall should survive in the section and advance to a 15th consecutive state tournament, it would be a major accomplishment for a school and volleyball program that has a smaller number of single-sport athletes than many 3A teams.

“They know it’s going to be tough,” Westby said. “I think volleyball has changed a lot in the last 10 years. I think with club volleyball the kids have become more specialized. Our kids don’t do that. The majority of our kids still play multiple sports. That part is going to be tough.”

--To see a photo gallery from the tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 33
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 1,796
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn