John's Journal
Getting To State Is A Triumph In Itself 2/26/2015
The state wrestling tournament is a hotbed of enthusiasm, with large crowds inhabiting Xcel Energy Center and cheering their boys through three days of intense competition. Thursday was devoted to team matches, with three rounds of duals to determine state champs; individual matches will be the flavor Friday and Saturday.

The first teams to exit the building and begin thinking about next year are those that lose in the quarterfinals and then fall again in the first round of consolation matches. Those matches can sometimes be lopsided, but the experience of wrestling in the big house in downtown St. Paul pays dividends long afterwards.

“We’ve been here four of the last six years,” said White Bear Lake coach Craig Nasvik. “It’s a great accomplishment to be here, but for a lot of our kids it was a first-time experience for them. So it’s a situation that opens up a lot of eyes when you get here, and the experience of being here says a lot.”

The Bears lost to top-seeded Apple Valley 64-6 in Thursday’s Class 3A quarterfinals, then lost to Farmington 38-20 in the consolation bracket.

“As a team your ultimate goal is to be here and be in the conversation as one of eight teams,” Nasvik said. “And when you get here, there aren’t any slouches. You’ve got eight teams that deserve the opportunity to be here. We had a lot of veterans in this group, but only one who was involved the other three times we went to state.”

Centennial was in a similar position, losing to Willmar 38-24 and Moorhead 38-26. Cougars coach John Bergeland said the experience is what matters.

“Part of being part of a team is knowing that you have a contribution to make. And that is something we try to sell all year long,” he said. “Every person matters. Every time you step on the mat you are capable of winning. You are capable of doing something that helps the team, whether that’s lose in a close match, lose small, don’t get that big fall. Everybody matters.

“If you only wrestle with your individuals who qualify, you wouldn’t be much of a team. You see that with teams who don’t get here; they might have five state place-winners but they’re not here as a team.”

And even for the teams that went two and out Thursday, next season is on a lot of minds.

“Some of them are hungry,” Bergeland said. “Once you’re at state with some of your classmates coming to watch you and you don’t get what you want; it forces them to consider whether or not they’re going to have enough fuel in the offseason to go and do something.”

Thursday’s Team Wrestling Results

CLASS 1A
Championship: Minneota 31, Zumbrota-Mazeppa 30
Third place: Jackson County Central 40, Frazee 31
Fifth place: Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial 40, West Central 17

CLASS 2A
Championship: Simley 34, Albert Lea 21
Third place: Scott West 42, Totino-Grace 31
Fifth place: Perham 30, Foley 26

CLASS 3A
Championship: Apple Valley 36, St Michael-Albertville 30
Third place: Prior Lake 46, Willmar 20
Fifth place: Moorhead 33, Farmington 29

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 396
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,705
A Dance Routine, Gymnastics Teams And A Wedding Proposal2/24/2015
Jeremy Torkildson was a man with a plan. All he needed was an engagement ring, some Valentine’s Day secrecy and the assistance of 10 high school gymnastics teams to pull it off.

Jeremy, an assistant gymnastics coach at Columbia Heights High School, knew he was going to propose to head coach Jolene Miske. They have been together for more than eight years, they have three children and he had been developing his proposal plan for a couple of months.

“I played it in my head a thousand times beforehand,” he said. The plan went like this…

1) Have his gymnasts practice a dance routine to the song “Marry You” by Bruno Mars.

“On Wednesdays she coaches park and rec in Columbia Heights, and I was supposed to be weight training with the girls,” Jeremy said. “Well, we were practicing the dance, of course.”

2) Shoot a video of his team doing the dance, then send the video to the other teams who would be competing in the Class A, Section 4 meet at Roseville High School on Valentine’s Day so they could practice it.

3) Cross your fingers.

It went off pretty darn well. As you can see on the YouTube video, the Columbia Heights gymnasts left the bleachers during the break before awards and began dancing on the floor. That’s not odd; gymnasts like to have fun during such breaks.

Jolene was sitting at a table near the balance beam, with a scoreboard partially blocking her view of the dancers. One by one, other teams came on the floor and joined the party. Jolene began thinking something was up.

“All of a sudden I realized, ‘There are girls dancing. Did I miss a memo?’ Then I realized what was going on and I thought, ‘Oh no, he didn’t.’

“It was perfect. When my girls know the choreography, I was like, ‘OK, they put this together. Something’s in the works.’ ”

Near the end of the song, the girls parted and Jeremy came walking through the middle of the pack. He approached Jolene, got down on one knee and – as wedding bells ring in the song – he popped the question. Kisses, hugs and cheering from the gymnasts. Perfect.

“It’s teenage girls,” Jeremy said. “Throw some music on and they can wing it. The first time we ever practiced they did the dance and I was like, ‘That was perfect.’

“We basically had a song played beforehand to give everybody a warning, and the rest of it was kind of, ‘Here we go.’ I was hiding under a table behind them and I had a little hole poked. I couldn’t miss it, I wanted to see it, too. I didn’t want to wait to see the video.”

Jolene said, “It was crazy. I was in shock because we’ve been together for eight and a half years. It was like it was never going to happen. And then here we are at sections with the two things that I completely love in my life, gymnastics and him.”

The tentative wedding date is July 16, 2016.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 372
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,665
A Hockey/Family Gathering In St. Cloud 2/23/2015
St. Cloud Cathedral and St. Cloud Apollo will meet on Thursday in St. Cloud for the Section 6A boys hockey title and a trip to the state tournament. The game will be played at the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud, which is the home arena for both teams and the ice that most of the players on both teams grew up playing on as teammates in St. Cloud Youth Hockey.

The interesting angles don’t end there…

--Because the teams use opposite benches for their home games during the year, both teams will be on their normal bench for the game.

--Apollo won the section title in 2013, Cathedral won it last year.

--Cathedral's Jeron Hirschfeld and Apollo's Noah Bissett -- both are ninth-graders playing significant varsity roles -- were bantam teammates last year. Many of the other players on both varsity rosters were teammates within the last two or three years in youth hockey.

--Apollo goalie Nick Althaus' dad, Jeff, played goalie at Cathedral and at the University of Wisconsin

--Cathedral goalie Zach Fritz's dad, Troy, played goalie at Apollo and at St. John's University

--Cathedral forward Jack Petroske's dad, Mike, was also a goalie at Apollo -- immediately after Troy Fritz.

--Cathedral assistant coach Tom Bruce played at Apollo

--Apollo coach Pete Matanich and Cathedral coach Eric Johnson are very good friends.
Seeing Is Believing: The Amazing Courtney Durant2/21/2015
Nearly 100 athletes competed Friday during the team portion of the state gymnastics championships at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion. Very few of them, and nearly no one watching from the stands, realized how remarkable one of the competitors was.

Her name is Courtney Durant and she is a senior at Cambridge-Isanti. Courtney, a two-time team captain for the Bluejackets, competed in floor exercise and vault. During the regular season she also competed on the balance beam and uneven parallel bars.

The remarkable part of the story is that Courtney’s vision is less than perfect. In fact, she sees about 20 percent of what others see. She has ocular albinism, meaning her retinas are whiter than normal and cause white spots in her vision. She also has astigmatism and nystagmus.

Just think about that: run at full speed, leap off a springboard, hit the vault mat with your hands, spin, twist, stick the landing … with 80 percent of your vision gone.

“What everyone respects the most about her is that she could complain, she could use that as an excuse, and she never does that,” said Cambridge-Isanti coach Wendy Rooney.

Courtney knows nothing different, either in attitude or vision. Her vision has been impaired since birth and to her it’s no big deal. She started in gymnastics when she was 4 years old.

“My mom put me in it because it was kind of the easiest thing,” she said. “I can’t really catch a ball; well, I can but it’s not the easiest thing to do.”

When Courtney was younger, coaches would put white chalk lines on the edges of the beam for her. These days, a coach stands near the vault springboard and in the corner of the floor exercise area to give Courtney some visual assistance.

Rooney said, “When she does a back one and a half twist on floor, it’s kind of funny because we call that a blind landing. And for Courtney, that’s even more true than for anyone else. I always stand in the corner because she’s not able to focus on something to spot her landing like most gymnasts.

“We always joke that when I wear a hot pink sweatshirt she makes her tumbling passes the best because she’s able to see the color the easiest.”

Courtney wears corrective lenses but she is not able to drive a vehicle. But her drive is incredible, as is the inspiration and team leadership she provides.

“Oh my gosh,” Rooney said. “The girls absolutely adore her. She’s one that they go to.”

Courtney has amazed a lot of people with what she has accomplished, including a certain medical professional.

“Her eye doctor has actually come to some meets,” Rooney said, “because he cannot believe what she does.”

--Photo by MNPrepPhoto.com

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 372
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,665
Cymbals Of Excellence, Energy And Fun2/19/2015
The best game of the girls state hockey tournament, as well as the game that provided the biggest crowd and best atmosphere so far, took place Thursday afternoon when second-seeded Edina defeated Buffalo 3-1 in the Class 2A quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center.

It was a whale of a game. After two scoreless periods, the unseeded Buffalo Bison (21-8) took the lead on a goal by Abby Halluska in the first minute of the third period. Bison goaltender Kendra Carlson was the star of the game at that point, repeatedly turning back the Hornets (21-7-1) and finishing the game with 37 saves.

Edina tied the score 1-1 when Emily Oden scored at 3:32, and another goal by Odin made it 2-1 before en empty-netter by Taylor Williamson secured the victory.

Halluska, Carlson, Oden … they were heroes on the ice. The best performance off the ice came from Anna Albitz, who plays the cymbals in the Edina band. Anna is a senior and one of six cymbals players in the band. She plays the contrabass clarinet in concert band, but she loves the cymbals because clanging those two big discs against each other and twirling them around while boogying is just too much fun.

“You can dance and sing while you play them, and be super energetic,” she said in what became a very historic moment for me in my many years of writing about sports: The first time my postgame interrogation process was focused on a band member instead of athletes and coaches.

“I definitely have a lot of fun,” Anna said. And there is no doubt about that. Other people in the Xcel Center press box noticed Anna as she stood in an aisle, swaying, dancing, singing and having more fun than anyone.

“Anna is an amazing kid,” said Edina band director Andy Richter. “She is full of energy and life and she just exudes the epitome of a band student.”

You go, Anna.

HILL-MURRAY 6, EASTVIEW 1
Laura Anderson scored two goals for the defending state champion Pioneers, who will meet Edina in Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinal. Hill-Murray (23-5) had 38 shots on goal to 14 for the Lightning (14-13-2).

MINNETONKA 5, ANDOVER 0
The top-seeded Skippers (22-6) got two goals from Kipper Keller and outshot the Huskies 25-4 in advancing to the semifinals. Andover (14-13-2) goalie Cassidy Stumpo made 20 saves.

LAKEVILLE SOUTH 3, BLAINE 1
Morgan Morse had a hat trick before the second period ended and the fourth-seeded Cougars (24-4-1) held off the fifth-seeded Bengals (20-8-1) to advance to Friday night’s semifinals against Minnetonka.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS
--This is a busy week for the pep band from Thief River Falls. They played a formal concert at home Tuesday, came to St. Paul and performed at the Prowlers’ quarterfinal victory in Wednesday evening’s 1A hockey tournament, arrived home at 2:20 a.m. Thursday, played at a boys hockey section game at home Thursday evening, and will load up at 4:45 Friday for another trip to St. Paul and the girls state semifinals at 1 p.m. That's roughly 1,200 miles and five performances at three venues, playing two different sets of literature (pep band and concert music) over five days.

--Frances Marshall, senior goalie for the Prowlers, is also a math wiz. She was named first-team all-conference for the Thief River Falls Math League team, meaning she was one of the top eight season scorers in their division.

--Teams that play the first game of a session usually get a chance to walk out on the ice before dressing for the game. The Minnetonka players were on the ice about 90 minutes before game time Thursday, taking pictures of each other and having a great time. One of them looked up at the giant mega-scoreboard and screamed: "Hey guys! I can watch TV while I play!"

FRIDAY’S GAMES
Class 1A Semifinals
Blake vs. Red Wing, 11 a.m.
Thief River Falls vs. South St. Paul, 30 minutes after end of first game

Class 2A Semifinals
Hill-Murray vs. Edina, 6 p.m.
Minnetonka vs. Lakeville South, 30 minutes after end of first game

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 356
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,585