John's Journal
Two Small Towns Where Big Hoop Dreams Come True3/14/2015
Little kids shooting hoops on asphalt courts. Teenagers gathering inside the school gym to work on their skills when they could have their faces buried in electronic devices. Small towns filled with people who appreciate hard work and tradition and take great pride in their hometown teams.

Rushford-Peterson and Melrose, that’s what we’re talking about here. Those two teams took home boys basketball state championships Saturday, and if you listen close you can probably hear all the hoops and hollers still emanating from inside the borders of those communities.

The two stories are not identical. Both teams have won previous state titles, but the time frames are much different. Rushford won the Class 1A championship in 1989 and 2006, finished fourth at state in 2010 and third in both 2012 and 2013 before a runner-up finish last season.

Rushford-Peterson defeated Maranatha Christian Academy 51-44 Saturday at Target Center, handing the Mustangs their second Class 1A championship-game defeat in three years.

Melrose, on the other hand, has waited a long, long time. The Dutchmen last came to state (and won a championship) in 1974, when the great Mark Olberding was the star. Forty-one years later they held off Caledonia 63-51 to capture the Class 2A title.

Hard work and tradition are main ingredients for both teams.

“When I was a little kid we won a state championship,” said Rushford-Peterson senior Cole Kingsley, who played on an ankle that was injured in Thursday’s quarterfinals. He was talking about 2006, way back “when I was a younger kid, seeing them play up here, it was a dream of all of us.

“Growing up, that’s kind of all we’d do in Rushford. There’s not a whole lot to do, so we were usually always in the gym playing basketball. … We play a lot of basketball down there in Rushford and it’s good to see all the hard work pay off.”

Tom Vix has been the Rushford-Peterson coach for 30 years and this was the 15th time he brought a team to state. He knows as well as anyone that success breeds success, or as he put it Saturday, “Winning brings more winning.”

“Our gym is full all the time,” Vix said. “Any time there’s a night when the kids don’t have anything to do, they’re playing basketball; Saturday nights, Sunday afternoons, little kids. I know with the nice weather all the blacktop will be full with little kids playing. They all want to be Cole Kingsley, they all want to be Alex Vix, they all want to be Noah Carlson or whoever. I saw a lot of our little kids with a number and name written on their foreheads today.”

For Melrose, the 41-year drought between state tournaments has been all the tougher because the Dutchmen have come close to many times. Assistant coach Daryl Oja, who was the head coach for 28 years, has seen a lot of near misses.

“This was the 10th time since 1974 we played in a section final game,” he said. “Something would happen and we wouldn’t win.”

He was talking while the Dutchmen were cutting down the net after the championship game. The Melrose fans roared each time a player climbed a ladder and took a snip with a scissors.

“Look at this,” Oja said. “The community and basketball, the pride is so awesome, it’s unbelievable.”

CLASS 3A: DELASALLE 82, ST. PAUL JOHNSON 64

The Islanders became only the fourth team in the 103-year history of the tournament to win four consecutive state titles. They did so in convincing fashion against the Governors.

The other teams to complete the four-peat were Southwest Minnesota Christian (Class 1A, 1999-2002) and Minneapolis Patrick Henry (3A, 2000-03).

CLASS 4A: APPLE VALLEY 64, CHAMPLIN PARK 61

Apple Valley was strong down the stretch and held on for the win in a back-and-forth game between the top two seeds in the tournament. Top-seeded Champlin Park suffered it first loss after 31 victories and the Eagles finished the season with a 30-2 record. Apple Valley lost to Champlin Park in late December and to Eastview in February.

It was Apple Valley’s second state title in three years.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAMS

Class 1A/ Petric VanErp, Eric VanErp, Battle Lake; Austin Bulthuis, Taylor Slagter, Central Minnesota Christian; Damario Armstrong, Jeremiah Hanson, Jake Meyen, Maranatha Christian; Charlie Krambeer, Kyler Paulson, Alex Vix, Rushford-Peterson.

Class 2A/ Ade Lamu, Trenton Krueger, St. Croix Lutheran; Jonah Breiter, Jeff Lewis, Maple River; Owen King, Colton Lampert, Kyle Sorenson, Caledonia; Tyler Braegelmann, Dillon Haider, Drake Meyer, Melrose.

Class 3A/ Gorg Alhag, CJ Ayers, Mankato East; Joey Kortuem, Oliver Smith, Waconia; Eric Elliott, Jalen Mobley, Malik Jones, St. Paul Johnson; Sacar Anim, Joshua Collins, Jarvis Johnson, DeLaSalle.

Class 4A/ Steffon Mitchell, Booker Coplin, Shakopee; Carter Brooks, Drew Stewart, Lakeville North; Gary Trent Jr., Tre Jones, Brock Bertram, Apple Valley; Marty Hill, JT Gibson, McKinley Wright, Champlin Park.

SPECIAL HONORS

Two people were honored at halftime of Saturday night’s games. During the Class 3A game, Dave Harris of Alexandria was honored as the inaugural recipient of the MSHSL Outstanding Media Service Award. Dave recently retired after a distinguished 48-year career as a sports broadcaster at KXRA radio in Alexandria.

At halftime of the Class 4A game, recently retired MSHSL director of information Howard Voigt was honored. Howard served the MSHSL and the students of Minnesota during a distinguished 25-year career.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 430
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 8,109
41 Years Later, Melrose Returns To The Championship Game 3/13/2015
A lot of newsworthy events took place in 1974. Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, Stephen King published his first novel, Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman at the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire, and Richard Nixon resigned as president.

In Melrose, Minnesota, however, the thunderclap that lives to this day came when the Melrose Dutchmen won a boys basketball state championship. The team finished a perfect 27-0 season by beating Mound 38-32 in the Class A title game and Class AA champ Bemidji 58-52 in a game pitting the two class winners.

Forty-one years later, the Dutchmen are back. With a 55-40 victory over top-ranked and top-seeded St. Croix Lutheran on Friday at Target Center, Melrose will play in Saturday afternoon's championship game against second-seeded Caledonia, a 74-58 winner over Maple River in Friday's second 2A semifinal.

Not only is this Melrose’s first state title game since 1974, it is their first appearance at state since 1974. Bus after bus and car after car came to the Twin Cities for this week’s games, and the purple-clad Melrose faithful have been the most excited fans at Target Center.

“Everybody is town is so jacked about this, so jacked,” said coach Ryan Dusha. “You walk around town, the grocery stores, you go up Main Street, everyone’s got smiles on their faces. And our contingent here in purple is so amazing, it’s so much fun.

“To us it’s just a game once we get on the floor, but to everybody it’s just so much fun. It’s awesome. If anybody wants to steal anything in Melrose, tonight or tomorrow would be the time to do it.”

The star of that 1974 team was Mark Olberding, who went on to play at the University of Minnesota before a 12-year career in the ABA and NBA. He spent six years with the San Antonio Spurs and now lives in San Antonio.

Olberding, now 58 years old, returned to Minnesota to watch Melrose’s state quarterfinal win over Redwood Valley on Wednesday and spoke to the team before the game.

Melrose junior Colton Meyer, who made six of seven shots and scored 12 points against St. Croix Lutheran, said meeting and hearing from the biggest name in Melrose sports history was special.

“He’s the best player to come out of Melrose and one of the best ones to come out of Minnesota and make it to the NBA,” Meyer said. “It meant everything to us. To hear from an NBA player and a former state championship player, it meant everything.

“He just said to have fun out there and play your hearts out. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Dusha said, “He had an excellent message and I think that actually settled our nerves down. It didn’t get us too excited; it was actually like ‘here’s a Melrose guy who played in the state tournament, he’s saying play to your strengths, defensive rebounds, listen to your coaches, do all the stuff you need to do.’ And it was like, OK, if it worked for them it should work for us.”

Oh, something is certainly working. The Dutchmen were seeded fourth at state, which is a middling label in an eight-team field. And here they are after beating the five seed and the one seed, right where they wanted to be … if that’s how they looked at things.

“For us it’s a journey, not a destination,” said Dusha. “We never look at, ‘You’ve got to get to the state championship game for a team to be successful.’ It’s always about the process. We talk about playing championship basketball, what do you have to do to win championships? Championship basketball is not a destination, it’s a mindset. We really try to instill that in our guys throughout the years, and we’re going to continue that mindset tomorrow.”

Olberding had business commitments in San Antonio and returned there Thursday morning.

“He had to bring clients to the Cavs-Spurs game Thursday night,” Dusha said with a smile. “So we lost out to LeBron.”

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--Rushford-Peterson’s Tom Vix has his 15th team at state, which ties for the most among boys basketball coaches along with Ken Novak Jr. of Hopkins. Next are Ove Berven, Austin, and Bun Fortier, Bemidji (14), Bob Brink, Rocori, and Dave Thorson, DeLaSalle (13), Zig Kauls, Mounds View (12), Bob McDonald, Chisholm, and Lynn Peterson, Staples (11), and Vern Simmons, St. Paul Johnson (9).

FRIDAY’S GAMES

CLASS 1A SEMIFINALS
Rushford-Peterson 62, Central Minnesota Christian 39
Maranatha Christian Academy 74, Battle Lake 69

CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
Melrose 55, St. Croix Lutheran 40
Caledonia 74, Maple River 58

SATURDAY’S CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES

CLASS 1A
11 a.m./ Rushford-Peterson vs. Maranatha Christian Academy

CLASS 2A
1 p.m./ Melrose vs. Caledonia

CLASS 3A
5 p.m./ DeLaSalle vs. St. Paul Johnson

CLASS 4A
8 p.m./ Champlin Park vs. Apple Valley

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 430
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 8,069
Rushford-Peterson: Confidence Was High, And So Was The Accuracy 3/12/2015
Rushford-Peterson boys basketball coach Tom Vix had a good feeling going into Thursday’s Class 1A state quarterfinals at Williams Arena. The top-seeded Trojans would be facing unseeded Fond du Lac Ojibwe in the day’s first game at Williams Arena, but Vix’s positive vibe was all about his own team.

“We had a great practice yesterday,” he said after the Trojans defeated Fond du Lac 105-58 behind some miraculous shooting. “We just lit it up (in practice) so our confidence was high.”

The only question is which was higher: Rushford-Peterson’s pregame confidence or their in-game shooting percentage? The Trojans shot 64 percent from the field and made16 of 27 three-point shots, with Charlie Krambeer leading the way. He scored a career-high 33 points, making 12 of 17 shots (seven of nine three-pointers).

At one point late in the first half the Trojans were shooting 72 percent. Their shooting percentage coming into the game was 49 percent.

“We got some shots to go and the basket just got bigger and bigger and bigger,” said Vix, who is a 30-year head coach and has a team at state for the 15th time. This is Rushford-Peterson’s fourth consecutive trip to state; Rushford High won a state title in 1989, Rushford-Peterson did so in 2006 and finished second in 2005 and last year.

Krambeer felt he had something to prove this year. In three games at state last season he made only three of 15 field-goal tries and totaled 11 points. In Thursday’s game he had 11 points in the opening four minutes.

“I was just glad I could help my teammates out in a positive way,” Charlie said after the game.

Charlie’s previous career high was 23 points and he averaged 13.5 points this season. But he is a senior, and knowing it’s your last go-round can be a pretty strong motivator.

“This could have been our last game,” Krambeer said. “Now we’re guaranteed two more games. Right now it’s about getting wins.”

The only downside for the Trojans is the status of senior guard Cole Kingsley. He went down with an ankle injury Thursday and was headed for postgame X-rays. Earlier in the year he missed two games after what Vix called “a liver punch.”

Rushford-Peterson knows the state tourney routine as well as any team. They will rest, eat, sleep and prepare for Friday’s semifinal game against Central Minnesota Christian. There’s no way to accurately predict how the shots will fall at Target Center, but Thursday’s game will go down in lots of memory banks.

As Vix said, “I don't know if we can play better offensively.”

DESPITE LOSING, IT WAS A DREAM

Nevis coach Scott Kramer was wearing a smile after the Tigers lost to Central Minnesota Christian 56-47 in a hard-fought Class 1A quarterfinal game. Yes, the defeat was not what they had hoped for. But the accomplishments of the team – a school-record 26 victories and the school’s first trip to this tournament – made it sweet nonetheless.

“It’s very difficult in this situation to get down,” Kramer said. “You have to tip your hat to them. CMC came out and did not give us anything easily. We fought and so did they.

“It was a great season for us. I told the kids that this is something they can be proud of. And for our younger kids, they got a taste of this and they’ll work hard to get back.

“It was a dream, everything we thought it would be.”

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--Roy Ward, a legendary coach and multi-sport official for many years, is attending his 70th consecutive boys state basketball tournament this week. Roy was a longtime coach and administrator for St. Paul, North St. Paul and Tartan schools and was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame in 2001.

THURSDAY’S GAMES

CLASS 3A SEMIFINALS
DeLaSalle 74, Mankato East 40
St. Paul Johnson 69, Waconia 62

CLASS 4A SEMIFINALS
Champlin Park 65, Shakopee 57
Apple Valley 67, Lakeville North 58

CLASS 1A QUARTERFINALS
Rushford-Peterson 105, Fond du Lac Ojibwe 58
Central Minnesota Christian 56, Nevis 47
Maranatha Christian Academy 59, Red Lake 55
Battle Lake 83, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City 66

FRIDAY’S GAMES

CLASS 1A SEMIFINALS
Noon/ Rushford-Peterson vs. Central Minnesota Christian
2 p.m./ Maranatha Christian Academy vs. Battle Lake

CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
6 p.m./ St. Croix Lutheran vs. Melrose
8 p.m./ Caledonia vs. Maple River

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 430
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 8,029
Albany, Hermantown Make Statements At State 3/11/2015
The doors to Williams Arena hadn’t been unlocked for very long Wednesday morning when the first visitors arrived. It was the Albany High School boys basketball team. And it’s easy to understand why the Huskies got to The Barn so early. They had a big game, and a big day, ahead of them.

The test they faced was robust. Their Class 3A state quarterfinal opponent was the DeLaSalle Islanders, who happen to be the three-time defending state champions. Game time was 10 a.m. At 9 o’clock some of the Huskies were lounging on the bench, some had headed upstairs to check out Williams Arena’s cloud-level views.

The game? Well, the outcome was what most impartial observers probably expected; DeLaSalle defeated Albany 70-60. It was a whale of a contest, and what happened on the court will join the rest of the tournament's experiences in the Huskies’ memory banks: the police cars and fire trucks that escorted the team out of town on Tuesday, that first walk into an empty Barn, standing for the national anthem, competing with every last ounce they had.

The situation was similar in the third Class 3A game of the day. Hermantown, unseeded and playing at state for the very first time, faced second-seeded St. Paul Johnson, which is at state for the sixth time in seven years.

Hermantown came within a rimmed-out three-point shot at the buzzer of taking the game to overtime. Johnson escaped with a 59-50 victory, one that was hard-earned against the Hawks.

Hermantown coach Joe Schmitz lingered with his team in the locker room, then apologized to the assembled media outside the door for making them wait a bit.

“We have some great seniors and we just wanted to send them off the right way,” he said.

“This was an amazing run, a history-making run. They battled. They have nothing to hang their heads about. We came in believing we were going to shock the Twin Cities.”

Albany was not a first-timer at state like Hermantown, but the Huskies had not been to this tournament since 1997 (Wednesday’s game was the school’s fourth trip to state overall). Albany lost, yes. But the Huskies competed so hard that anyone who was in the building will be talking about them for a long time.

Years from now, a scrappy team of underdogs will work hard and battle their rear ends off and someone in the stands will lean into their neighbor’s ear and say, “This team reminds of those boys from Albany in 2015.”

Huskies coach Cory Schlagel, having just exited a locker room filled with equal parts pride and emotion, said, “Our kids competed and that's been our m.o. all year. Our guys are nitty gritty. We’re not as talented as DeLaSalle but we compete. That’s what we did all year long.”

DeLaSalle led 29-19 at halftime and it was an even matchup after that. The second half was a 41-41 deadlock, with Albany trying mightily to take the thing over. They cut the margin to five points with 1:24 left when Nick Raeker hit a three-pointer, and it was five with 58 seconds to go on a jumper by Kenny Weber.

DeLaSalle’s final five points came on three free throws and a layup as Albany was forced to foul.

“That's a really good team we just beat. Really good,” said Islanders coach Dave Thorson. “I knew they had a defensive mentality.”

DeLaSalle is not only going for its fourth consecutive state title, but the Islanders’ lineup is packed with Divison I players. Jarvis Johnson will play at the University of Minnesota, Sacar Anim at Marquette and Josh Collins at North Dakota.

Sometimes a coach will size up a talented opponent and panic, shredding the normal game plan and going to something new. Schlagel isn’t one of those coaches.

“We played other good basketball teams but nobody with the size and length they have,” he said. “A lot of people asked if we were going to change our game plan. To be honest, we played the way we always have.

“I can’t be any happier or proud of our guys.”

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--After Mankato East held off New Prague 65-60 in Class 3A, coach Joe Madson said, “I’ve told the guys that when you win on Wednesday it really feels like you’re in the state tournament. You’re going to play two more games, you’re going to play on TV. These are things kids dream about.”

--My favorite mascot of the day: That’s easy. The Governor of St. Paul Johnson.

WEDNESDAY STATE QUARTERFINALS

CLASS 2A
St. Croix Lutheran 37, Esko 35
Melrose 81, Redwood Valley 66
Caledonia 72, Annandale 66
Maple River 78, Breckenridge 72

CLASS 3A
DeLaSalle 70, Albany 60
Mankato East 65, New Prague 60
St. Paul Johnson 59, Hermantown 56
Waconia 73, Orono 68

CLASS 4A
Champlin Park 89, St. Francis 48
Shakopee 64, Roseville 53
Apple Valley 70, St. Michael-Albertville 57
Lakeville North 65, Hopkins 61

THURSDAY’S GAMES
CLASS 1A QUARTERFINALS
At Williams Arena
11 a.m./ Fond du Lac Ojibwe vs. Rushford-Peterson
1 p.m./ Nevis vs. Central Minnesota Christian
3 p.m./ Red Lake vs. Maranatha Christian Academy
5 p.m./ Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City vs. Battle Lake

CLASS 3A SEMIFINALS
At Target Center
Noon/ DeLaSalle vs. Mankato East
2 p.m./ St. Paul Johnson vs. Waconia

CLASS 4A SEMIFINALS
At Target Center
6 p.m./ Champlin Park vs. Shakopee
8 p.m./ Apple Valley vs. Lakeville North

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 422
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,993
Runner-up Routine Continues For Hermantown 3/7/2015
When you consider all the second-place medals that the Hermantown hockey team has hauled home from the state hockey tournament, there are the beginnings of a pretty substantial silver mine up north.

Saturday was, well, how to put this? It was loss No. 6 for Hermantown in Class 1A state championship games over the last six years. The phrase “six of one, half dozen of the other” doesn’t come close to doing this situation justice. Anyone who has a beating heart feels for the Hawks … six tries, six second-place finishes and a whole bunch of what-ifs.

After falling 5-4 in overtime to East Grand Forks at Xcel Energy Center, Hermantown coach Bruce Plante referred to “guys in the locker room bawling their eyes out.” That’s a hard scene to get out of your head … and it’s been this way for six years in a row for the Hawks. Imagine.

It was the second consecutive title-game victory for East Grand Forks over Hermantown. A year ago the score was 7-3.

“We made one more play than they did,” said Green Wave coach Tyler Palmiscno.

Plante said, “I’m getting used to it. It’s not fun. I just don’t get it. It’s weird to me. The hockey gods didn’t work in our favor again. We had all kinds of chances to win this game.”

Yes they did, and the Hawks came oh so close to finally getting over the golden hump. East Grand Forks led 2-0 after the first period, Hermantown tied it 2-2 in the second. Dixon Bowen scored late in the second period for the Green Wave and teammate Austin Monda’s second goal of the game early in the third put East Grand up 4-2.

And then, wham! Wyatt Aamodt and Eric Gotz scored for the Hawks 17 seconds apart late in the third period, making it 4-4 as regulation ended.

“When we tied it up I thought maybe the tide’s turning here,” Plante said. “Maybe we’ll get that lucky bounce.”

The luck went the other direction when Tanner Tweten got the game-winner (his second goal of the game) for the Green Wave 3:34 into overtime.

Hermantown hearts? Crushed.

“It’s a hockey game,” said Hermantown senior Nate Pionk. “You can’t just quit. You have to come back.

“In overtime it’s anyone’s game. Just because we get those two late goals it doesn’t mean you’re going to win it. We just didn’t find the back of the net.”

There’s the separation between finally winning gold medals and returning home with another bag of silver. And as happy as the East Grand Forks players were, they understood how it felt in the other locker room.

“Some of our players know some of their players, and you just feel for them,” said Bowen, who was named the Class 1A Herb Brooks Award winner after the game. “They’ve worked extremely hard. They’ve had a great season. You feel for them.”

Plante said, “I’m really proud of how we came back. We never gave up, we never gave in. We battled hard to the end. Some of the guys were gassed but they played hard, right to the bitter end.”

LAKEVILLE NORTH 4, DULUTH EAST 1

The top-seeded Panthers completed a 31-0 season with a dominating victory over the unseeded Greyhounds (16-11-4). The Poehling brothers – seniors Jack and Nick and sophomore Ryan – all scored, as did Angelo Altavilla, who was named the winner of the 2A Herb Brooks Award.

North outshot East 23-13 in a defensive-oriented game. Ryan Peterson scored for the Greyhounds in the third period to make the score 3-1 before Nick Poehling scored into an empty net.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAMS

Class 1A/ Jack Becker, Mahtomedi; Tanner Breidenbach, St. Cloud Apollo; Eric Gotz, Luke Olson, Nate Pionk, Ryan Kero, Wyatt Aamodt, Hermantown; Dixon Bowen, Grant Loven, Josh Weber, Tanner Tweten, Trevor Selk, East Grand Forks.

Class 2A/ Garrett Wait, Edina; Peter Tufto, Seamus Donohue, St. Thomas Academy, Alex Spencer, Ash Altmann, Gunnar Howg, Ryan Peterson, Duluth East; Jack McNeely, Jack Poehling, Jack Sadek, Nick Poehling, Ryan Edquist, Lakeville North.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--This year's total of 135,618 fans is a record for the tournament. The previous high was 129,643 in 2008.

--The Chicago Blackhawks lead the NHL with an average home attendance of 21,720. Friday night's crowd of 21,609 for the Class 2A semifinals would rank No. 2 in the NHL.

--Saturday’s championship games marked the fifth time in the 1A/2A era with three finalists from northern Minnesota. There were four in 2007: Roseau, Grand Rapids, Hermantown and Duluth Marshall. The other years with northern teams were: 1994 (Warroad, Moorhead, Hibbing), 1995 (Duluth East, International Falls, Moorhead) and 1998 (Duluth East, Eveleth-Gilbert and Hermantown).

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Class 1A
Fifth place: New Prague 3, Breck 2 (2 OT)
Third place/ Mahtomedi 4, St. Cloud Apollo 3
Championship/ East Grand Forks 5, Hermantown 4 (OT)

Class 2A
Fifth place: St. Thomas Academy 2, Blaine 1
Third place/ Edina 4, Eden Prairie 2
Championship/ Lakeville North 4, Duluth East 1


BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 412
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,945