John's Journal
Doubling Down: It’s A Sister Act At State Tennis10/29/2015
The doubles bracket at the Class 2A girls state tennis tournament looks like a list of law firms: Tarrolly & Tarrolly. Kopfer & Kopfer. Schurhamer & Schurhamer. McLeod & McLeod. Riermann & Riermann. Dorr & Dorr.

Sixteen doubles teams qualify for state, and it’s not rare to see sisters playing together. Paige and Taylor McLeod of Benilde-St. Margaret’s (the only set of twins in the bracket) also played at state last year, as did Brianna and Kelsey Dorr of Princeton. This year’s bracket, however, is packed with similar surnames, sometimes extending the family theme even further into the tournament.

St. Cloud Tech sisters Taylor (a junior) and Katelyn (sophomore) Tarrolly played No. 1 and No. 2 singles most of the season but teamed up in doubles for the postseason (they are pictured here with Katelyn on the left). Both have played singles at state in previous season, but their move to doubles opened up a singles spot for their seventh-grade sister Ashley.

The move worked out nicely: Ashley qualified for state in singles and her sisters are playing doubles. Taylor and Katelyn played in the Section 8 singles championship matches the previous two years (the top two advance to state).

“It was a last-minute decision,” Taylor said Tuesday. “We just kind of wanted to see how the season would work out. And we decided that it would give each of us the best opportunity to go to state if Katelyn and I played doubles and Ashley played singles.”

Katelyn and Taylor estimated that they played 10 matches as a doubles team before the state tournament. The transition from singles to doubles was easy, Katelyn said.

“We’re really close on and off the court so I think that really helps our bond.”

The other sisters playing 2A doubles are Jordan and Taylor Kopfer of Eastview, Delaney and Mackenzie Schurhamer of Woodbury, and Maggie and Grace Rierman of Mahtomedi.

The Dorr sisters of Princeton add another element to the family storyline: their mom, Kelly, is the Tigers coach.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Brianna said Thursday. “I enjoy having her as one of our coaches.”

Brianna (a senior) and Kelsey (freshman) played singles during the season and didn’t pair up in doubles until the Section 7 tournament. Both played several doubles matches with other teammates during the season.

“The team needed one of us at No. 1 singles the whole time,” Brianna said (pictured on the right in this photo with her sister and mother).

Mahtomedi’s Riermann sisters played doubles throughout the season, with other teammates as well as each other. This is the first time they have been to state.

“I think we definitely communicate pretty well,” Grace said. “You know in certain situations where your partner will hit it. We’re comfortable, we know where to be. We can see into each other’s heads a little.”

Fittingly, Friday’s 8 a.m. doubles semifinals (and 11:30 a.m. championship match) will be family affairs: Tarrolly vs. Schurmann and McLeod vs. Riermann.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 154
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 5,055
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Inside Story Of Brandon’s No. 11 On The Cleveland Field 10/26/2015
Good news spreads quickly, and good news about high school sports spreads even more quickly. Case in point: A short posting Saturday evening on the MSHSL Facebook page.

The post consisted of four brief paragraphs and one photograph. Together, they told the story of what took place at a football playoff game Saturday evening between Renville County West and Cleveland for the nine-man Section 2 championship. The game was played in Cleveland, and the 50-yard-line numerals in front of the visitors’ bench had been replaced by a number 11 of the same size.

As readers of John’s Journal know, Renville County West’s Brandon Limones – who died in March – wore jersey number 11. The Jaguars carried Brandon’s jersey onto the field with them for every game and it had a special place on their bench.

As of mid-afternoon Monday, that Facebook post has been viewed by 341,450 Facebook users. It had been “Liked” by 5,610 and shared by 1,592. Those are astounding numbers for the MSHSL Facebook page, which has nearly 20,000 “Likes.”

Cleveland won the game 33-19 and will meet two-time defending state champion Grand Meadow in the state quarterfinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. at New Prague High School.

Until Monday, all I knew was that someone had painted the 11 on the field in Cleveland. But I learned more. I contacted Cleveland activities director Rich Kern, whom I suspected may have been in on the paint job. And he was.

Rich told me, “In these small-town schools we all have many roles and wear many hats. Mine include AD, community ed and grounds crew assistant.”

Rich said he had read my story about Renville County West’s season-long tribute to Brandon, and he had been thinking about the Jaguars and how difficult it must be to play without their friend Brandon.

“So you think to yourself, ‘How can we as a school show our support to the visiting team, that we care about their team and school?’ Yes, we have a championship game to be played and competition between each other, but there is more to the game than just the score.”

As Rich was painting the field lines, hash marks, the orange Clippers helmet at midfield and then the numbers on the yard lines, it came to him. He realized, “We can show our Cleveland Clippers support on the field before the game even starts by painting Brandon’s number 11 in the center of the field.”

“I just wanted the players to feel that they are not alone and that during that game he would be right there on the field with them, on the field and in their hearts,” Rich said.

RCW coach Ryan Hebrink didn’t know anything about what Rich had done until the coaches walked onto the field long before game time.

“The AD was showing up what side of field we were on and one of our assistant coaches said, ‘Did you notice the 50-yard line?’I went into the school and told Rich how much that meant to us.”

The coaches didn’t mention the tribute to Brandon to the players before they took the field for warm-ups.

“I just let them see it,” Ryan said. “I think in general, like everybody, they were so impressed that anybody would think about doing that. And when you think about the type of person that Brandon was, it means even more. He really left an impact on a lot of people, even people who didn’t even know him.”

The many comments posted on the MSHSL Facebook page included these:

-- “I am in tears with this story. What an honor for that boy's family to be a part of such a great community and to know that there are some great people out there.”

--“Very classy and thoughtful thing to do. This is the type of thing that people will remember forever. Well done.”

--“Thank you Cleveland -- this meant so much to the Renville community & players. This season has been emotional & inspirational to us all. Your act of respect has shown the sporting community the real meaning behind "why" we play, "why" we believe, & "why" we compete. Wishing you the best of luck in state!”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 130
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 4,827
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Across The Border, Four Games And Four Trips To State 10/23/2015
FARGO, N.D. – It’s not often that I report on Minnesota high school activities from another state. But this is a special deal: Thursday was football section championship day at the Fargodome, with four teams winning and qualifying for the state tournament. The same thing will happen Friday, with four more games. Here’s how Thursday went for me…

12:35: Cross the state line into North Dakota. Given the skunk eye by border guards. Thankfully no frisking this time.

12:57: Enter the Fargodome through the loading dock, clear security. No skunk eyes.

1:03: Catch my first glimpse of the action, from field level. Waubun Bombers in blue, Ada-Borup Cougars in white. Cougars lead 7-3, and that is the halftime score of the nine-man Section 6 championship game.

1:45: Waubun's Darius Woods-Steichen blocks an Ada-Borup punt.

1:50: The punt block pays off as an 8-yard TD run by Peyton Syverson puts Waubun ahead 10-7 in the third quarter. On the next drive, an Ada-Borup punt snap sails into the end zone, Cougars fall on it for a safety and Waubun leads 12-7.

2:35: Waubun defeats Ada-Borup 18-7 to advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2007.

2:40: Waubun assistant coach John Clark Sr. laughs when I ask him if he’ll stay at the Fargodome for the 5:30 game between Mahnomen and Polk County West. His son, John Clark Jr., is the Mahnomen coach and another son, Paul, is the Waubun coach. John Sr. is an assistant to his son John on the Mahnomen boys basketball team. Mahnomen and Waubun are only 10 miles apart, “and during the basketball season the people in Waubun see me wearing Mahnomen colors and wonder what the heck is going on,” John Sr. said with a big smile.

3:01: Kickoff between Kittson County Central and Stephen-Argyle in the nine-man Section 8 title game.

3:06: Christopher McGlynn gets a short TD run for Stephen-Argyle, Storm leads Kittson County Central 7-0.

3:08: I receive this Tweet from Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who played small-school football in South Dakota: “Loving the 9-man coverage.” Thanks Chad.

3:49: I notice some of the surnames on the Stephen-Argyle roster: five Yutrzenkas (including an assistant coach and cheer advisor), two Szczepanskis, two Gryskiewiczs, two Neuschwanders and a Kasmierzcak. Hate to be the P.A. announcer right now.

3:37: With Stephen-Argyle leading 13-7 at halftime, the Fargo Forum’s Chris Murphy delivers a bag of candied almonds from the concession area. Never had ‘em before, but will buy some to bring home.

4:17: Stephen-Argyle capitalizes on a Kittson fumble as Justin Yutrzenka scores on a short run. Storm leads 21-7 early in the second half.

5:22: After Stephen-Argyle wins 21-14, Storm coach Ethan Marquis talks about the team returning to state for the first time since 2009. Back then, the Storm won a state-record 76 games in a row, a streak ended by Kittson County Central in 2008. “This is everything,” he said. “These kids grew up in the stands, watching those 76 wins in a row. This is a dream come true to get to the state playoffs. It’s everything.”

5:42: Kody Lefebvre scores 3-yard touchdown to cap opening drive for Mahnomen, which leads Polk County West 6-0 in the Class 1A Section 8 title game.

5:55: Mahnomen’s Brian Schoenborn runs into the end zone from 11 yards but a penalty brings it back. Two plays later, Jake Worms scores on a 3-yard run. Mahnomen leads 14-0.

6:14: Mahnomen takes 22-0 lead on 12-yard touchdown run by Lefebvre. Polk County West fans remain positive and loud.

6:23: Having purchased two bags of candied almonds, I eat most of one bag quickly. The other one will leave the building with me tonight.

6:43: Mahnomen leads 36-0 at halftime.

6:55: Personal pan pizza, purchased at the concession stand, disappears quickly.

7:33: I learn that Polk County West – a second-year cooperative team with students from Climax, Fisher and East Grand Forks Sacred Heart – will transform into two basketball teams in the winter: Climax/Fisher and Sacred Heart.

7:40: Clock runs out on Mahnomen’s 44-7 win over Polk County West. Indians are going to the state tournament for the sixth year in a row. They were Class 1A state champs in 2012 and 2013.

7:45: Mahnomen’s Lefebvre, a senior who scored three touchdowns, is the happiest person in the Fargodome. He sat out the entire 2014 season with a knee injury. “That wasn’t very fun,” he said. “Today? This feels pretty good.”

8:10: Kickoff between Pequot Lakes and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton in the Class 3A Section 8 title game.

8:15: Someone Tweets me a photo of the Waubun and Mahnomen coaches (brothers Paul and John Clark Jr.) with their mom in the stands. It’s the photo of the day.

8:28: A 24-yard TD run by Eric Watt gives Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton a 13-7 lead over Pequot Lakes in the first quarter.

9:20: With D-G-F leading 29-7 at halftime, a debate breaks out in the press box: How are statistics (pass yards, rush yards) figured on a hook-and-lateral play? Frenzied Googling ensues.

10:02: The day’s action ends with Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton defeating Pequot Lakes 36-13.

10:03: I snap a photo of the DGF Rebels mascot, a kid in a costume (with giant plastic head) along the lines of an old-time southern chap. I ask the kid if the mascot has a name, “Like Ronnie the Rebel or Ralph the Rebel or Richie the Rebel?” No, he replies, it’s just the Rebel. Fair enough.

10:11: Having returned to my car in the Fargodome parking lot, I realize something: My favorite pen is missing. Hopefully someone who picks it up on the football field appreciates it. That was the only less-than-perfect thing that happened all day.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 128
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 4,818
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Renville County West’s Goal: Take Brandon To State 10/21/2015
RANDOLPH – The phrase “team on a mission” is commonplace at all levels of sports. One team that is truly on a mission, however, is the football team from Renville County West High School. There’s no understating how important the Jaguars’ goals are, because they center around a teammate who is no longer with them.

Brandon Limones was a three-sport athlete at Renville County West, which is located in the western Minnesota town of Renville. He was a 17-year-old sophomore when he died unexpectedly in March. His death was attributed to complications stemming from an unknown condition in which his heart was enlarged.

Brandon, a kicker on the football team and a likely starter at linebacker this season, wore jersey number 11. And his jersey, blue for home games and white for road games, goes everywhere with the team on game nights. The Jaguars walk onto the field carrying his jersey, and during games it rests on a stand at the bench. It’s almost as if Brandon is still there.

“Brandon was an inspirational guy,” said senior Alex Villarreal. “No matter what you did, you’d come to the sideline and he’d keep your head up. He’d tell you, ‘Hey, good job!’ And it’s the inspiration from his jersey that reminds us to keep our heads up and stay positive, like he was.”

The Jaguars played inspired football Tuesday night, defeating a tough Randolph team 28-14 in the nine-man Section 2 semifinals. Renville County West (8-2) will play at Cleveland (9-1) on Saturday, with the winner advancing to the state tournament.

State has been the goal for a long time. After last season the Jaguars coaches asked returning players to write down goals for 2015. Brandon, like many others, wrote “going to state.” That has been turned into a social media hash tag by the Jaguars and their fans: #TakeBrandonToState.

“Brandon was the center of our team,” said senior Colin Thompson. “He was always positive, never negative.”

Brandon and family members moved from Mexico to Minnesota when he was in seventh grade. He spoke no English and knew nothing about football, but he made friends quickly and fit right in.

“He didn’t know any English so we had to teach him that,” senior Hayden Johnson said. “And he didn’t know anything about football, either, so we had to teach him football. It was fun seeing him have fun. He didn’t know if we were winning or losing sometimes, but he’d say, ‘Good job! Good job!’ ”

If the Jaguars reach their goal of the state playoffs, it would provide a marker to a magnificent turnaround story. Playing Class 1A football, Renville County West went 0-7 in 2010, forfeiting the last four games due to a lack of healthy players.

The Jaguars moved to nine-man in 2011, finishing 1-8, 0-9 and 1-8 through 2013. There was a big uptick last season to a 6-4 finish and this year’s 8-2 mark. The team plays fast football, with a typical nine-man spread offense and quick-footed defense.

Johnson was among the leaders Tuesday, completing 14 of 27 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns, running 21 times for 101 yards, scoring on a 77-yard punt return and making 19 tackles, including one for a safety. The Jaguars had 438 yards of offense and the defense intercepted three passes.

Randolph’s David Speight completed 23 of 41 passes for 303 yards, with Michael Landsberger catching eight passes for 149 yards. The Rockets finished the season with a 7-3 record.

Now, the Jaguars turn their sights to Saturday’s game at Cleveland and their long-held goal.

“We knew we were a good team,” Villarreal said. “It’s been a goal of ours to take Brandon to state with us.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 120
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 4,288
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
October Means Making Memories That Will Last A Lifetime 10/19/2015
This time of the year – October … section playoffs … state tournament dreams – is one of the best stretches of the high school sports calendar. Last week I watched six games total, four football and two soccer, and this week I may be in attendance at up to nine more contests between Tuesday and Saturday.

Here’s my favorite quote from last week: “This is super fun. I’ve never been part of a game like this. This was really fun.”

Those words were spoken by St. Francis senior quarterback Hunter Trautman after the Fighting Saints held off Chisago Lakes on Saturday afternoon in the Class 5A Section 7 tournament semifinals. The Saints will host Andover for the section title this Friday night.

To see a young athlete smiling wide as he said those words, and then to look across the field and see the Chisago Lakes Wildcats on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, downcast after coming up short in a wild ballgame … that’s tough stuff. But it’s all part of the high school experience on the athletic field and in the classroom, learning important life lessons about hard work, teamwork and never giving up.

After the game, St. Francis coach Chris Lindquist had a positive message for the Chisago Lakes coaches. “I told their staff that they have one of the better-coached teams that we’ve ever faced,” he said. “They do what they do and they do it very, very well.”

It was a heck of a football game. St. Francis led 24-7 midway through the third quarter, but the Wildcats came back hard. Three consecutive touchdown drives, two ending on scoring runs by tall, talented senior quarterback Ethan Hickcox, gave Chisago Lakes a 28-24 lead with 1:08 remaining in the fourth quarter.

St. Francis began its final possession on its own 35-yard line. Trautman scrambled for 12 yards, threw to Robbie Whitney and Stephen Anderson for 15 each, hit Mason Meadows for 19 and with 28 seconds to go the Saints were on the Wildcats’ 1-yard line. A sneak by Trautman and extra-point kick by eighth-grader Hunter Dustman made it 31-28 Saints.

After a squib kick, Hickcox threw to Anders Brown for 25 yards and then again for eight more. Brown stepped out of bounds to stop the clock on both plays, and the Wildcats lined up for a 52-yard field-goal attempt with 3.3 seconds left. The kick fell short and a glorious sunny afternoon of football came to an end.

Here are a few other vignettes from an outstanding week…

--Brainerd’s Ron Stolski, in his 54th year as a football coach, telling one of the ballboys before a section playoff game against Sartell: “You need to be on your toes tonight.” Right before kickoff, in the locker room (pictured), he said to his players, “We won’t remember 20 years from now how much we played or whether we played, but we will remember we were part of the Warriors.”

--The girls soccer players from Prior Lake bringing gift bags and stuffed animals to their section playoff game at Edina. The gifts were for soccer teammates of a 7-year-old girl who had died earlier in the week.

--A football coach, wearing a headset in the press box, calling out the next play: “Big left double shift 25 zap!”

--The Holy Family football team taking a knee on four consecutive plays deep in Rockford territory while holding a big lead in the fourth quarter.

--St. Francis superintendent Troy Ferguson running the down marker as part of the chain gang at Saturday’s football game.

--Small-town football tradition: Becker fan Shelley Lumley, known as the cookie lady, passing out cookies and similar treats in the stands (and the press box), just as she has done since 2001.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 118
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 4,243
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn