John's Journal
Coming Soon: The Four Corners Of Minnesota4/20/2015
Minnesota is a vast state, as we all know, covering almost 87,000 square miles. It’s the 12th-largest state in the nation and is bordered by North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, along with Lake Superior and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba.

During many years of writing about high school sports and activities, I have traveled all over Minnesota. An idea that has rattled around in my head for a long time is coming to fruition this spring. I call this project The Four Corners of Minnesota, and it’s exactly what you might think.

I am in the process of visiting the high schools that are located in the corners of the state … or closer to the corners than any other schools. I have already been to extreme northwest Minnesota to spend some time at Kittson Central and Lancaster, two small schools that form the Kittson County Central sports cooperative. Lancaster, which is north of Kittson Central High School in Hallock, is 12 miles from the Canadian border.

In the coming days I will make similar visits to Cook County High School in Grand Marais on the shore of Lake Superior, Hills-Beaver Creek in the southwest corner of Minnesota, and Caledonia and Spring Grove, two southeast Minnesota schools that have some independent teams of their own and cooperative teams in other sports.

The end result will be four John’s Journal stories about the corner schools, with photo galleries from each posted on the MSHSL Facebook page.

The schools involved in this project are similar in many ways; agriculture is a major industry in most of their communities, for example. And the schools are little, with Lancaster (the smallest in the project) having just 53 students in grades nine through 12. The largest of the schools is Caledonia with a high school enrollment of 241. Considering that 13 high schools in the Twin Cities have enrollments of between 2,000 and 3,000 students, these corner schools are tiny. This project will provide people who have been involved only with large schools some idea of life in small schools.

The people in the corners of the state are extremely proud of their schools and their teams, and they take great satisfaction in the students who represent them in athletic and scholarly competition. Community life often revolves around the schools, the teams and the students.

As Kittson Central athletic director Terry Ogorek told me, “Things are always changing. We’ve got consolidations, we’ve got sports co-ops, job descriptions change, mascots change. But the one constant thing is the student body.”

You can follow along with me via Twitter (@MSHSLjohn) as I visit the remaining schools.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 499
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 9,159
End Of An Era As Fairmont Speech Coaches Bow Out 4/17/2015
As is usually the case at the Class A state speech tournament, Fairmont brought home some nice hardware Friday. In the competition at Lakeville North High School, the Cardinals finished with one state champion, two second-place medals, two third-place finishes and one eighth-place medal.

The results may be similar in years to come, but a big change is in the air. Friday’s tournament was the final one for husband-and-wife speech coaches Cliff and Roxy Janke. Cliff coached speech, taught vocal music and directed school musicals for 31 years before retiring from teaching last June, and for 15 years Roxy has been a Fairmont English teacher and director of school plays as well as speech coach. She is retiring when this school year ends.

The Cardinals have been section speech champions for the last 14 years in a row and before Friday they were tied for 10th place in total gold medals earned at state with 14.

Junior Anagha Komaragiri became a two-time state champion Friday when she won a gold medal in Informative Speaking. Finishing second for Fairmont were Julia Okerman in Extemporaneous Reading and Peter Nielsen in Great Speeches; placing third were Katiana Fischer and Lexi Fischer in Duo Interpretation and Mikayla Soelter in Storytelling; and Lauren Carlson won an eighth-place media in Original Oratory.

In 2011 Fairmont’s Sarah Bankson became the first competitor to win four state championships when she did so in Informative Speaking. Fairmont also has had four two-time state champions: Miles Duffey (2006, 2007), Craig Gemmill (2010, 2011), Matt Nordquist (2011, 2012) and Komaragiri.

“It’s just overwhelming,” said Roxy Janke (pictured with Cliff). “With our last team this year, we’ve had some of these families for years and years and years, and we’ve had these kids since they were seventh-graders. You watch them and watch them and watch them. Whether they’re at the state tournament or not, they have acquired some skills and they have acquired confidence and they have come into their own. And there’s not a better gift as a teacher than to see them blossom.”

The Jankes are in the process of moving to Maple Grove. Their daughter Kate Kallevig is currently on maternity leave as a music teacher at Park Center High School and her long-term substitute teacher is her father.

“We’ll miss the small-town feel, the people, the students, and as far as speech goes we have just top-notch parents this year,” Cliff said. “They’re just really fine, very supportive of the kids and very supportive of us.”

The Jankes are South Dakota natives. They both taught in Chamberlain, S.D., before coming to Minnesota in 1983 when Cliff was hired in Fairmont. Roxy taught at nearby Trimont/Martin County West from 1984 until 1997, when she joined the faculty in Fairmont.

In the early years there were only eight or nine kids on the speech teams. But the Jankes encouraged students to try it, and growth began.

“We were loading up a big bus with nine kids,” Cliff said with a smile. “We turned the corner about the time Roxie joined us. She’s pretty charismatic and she got more kids out.”

These days the Fairmont team includes 50 or 60 students and everyone is accustomed to seeing them do well at state.

“We’ve been lucky to have state champions, we’ve been lucky to have kids come to state,” Cliff said. “That makes a difference in the community and in the school.”

Komaragiri, who also participates in tennis, band and orchestra, has been coached by the Jankes since she was in seventh grade.

“They’ve been really amazing,” she said. “They’ve coached so many state champions and a bunch of state medalists. I’m going to miss them a lot next year. It will be hard. But I think they’ve definitely left their legacy at our school and they’ve definitely left a really great team to continue our tradition. I’m really glad I’ve had them as coaches.”

Cliff is an MSHSL speech rules clinician, which is a testament to his standing in the speech world. He and Roxy enjoy seeing their students win medals at state, but they realize that there’s more to the activity than such honors.

“I get frustrated when I hear coaches say you have to focus on state,” Cliff said. “That’s not what we’re about in high school. It’s fun when you win. We’ve really enjoyed this ride. But we’ve had some stumbles, we had some this year. It’s good for the team, it’s good for us.

“We try to instill pride in the students. You try to teach them to be respectful of other competitors and other schools. Then you also see kids, after they graduate, come back and say, ‘Being in speech was probably the smartest thing I ever did.’ ”

Roxy said, “It’s lifting up all these kids’ talent, that's what it means to us. When we started this journey, all we ever wanted to do was work with kids and lift them up. Regardless of the medals or not, we wanted to see the best of them and what their potential was. That’s why we do this.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 498
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 8,670
Chanhassen Softball Team Truly Pulls Together 4/14/2015
The Chanhassen High School softball team is one of the youngest around, but the Storm players certainly can pull their weight … plus a whole lot more.

En route to Benilde-St. Margaret’s in St. Louis Park on Tuesday, the Storm’s bus – and an equipment trailer it was pulling -- ran into some tight squeezes. After dropping the junior varsity team off at their field, with traffic and parked cars everywhere due to construction tangles on Highway 100, the Chanhassen bus was in a real pickle.

The combination of bus and trailer was too lengthy and cumbersome to negotiate a few turns on neighborhood streets, so the Storm players did what made sense: They unhitched the trailer and pulled it themselves for several blocks before reuniting it with the bus.

And this was all before the Storm improved to 5-0 with a 14-4, five-inning, ball-belting win over previously unbeaten Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

“The kids will remember that for a long time,” said a chuckling coach Joe Coenen. He was speaking of the bus-and-trailer episode, but he could have just as well meant the offensive show the Storm put on.

Sophomores Marybeth Olson and Taylor Manno (pictured) led the way; Olson went 3-for-3 with two home runs and seven runs-batted-in, and Manno went 2-for-3, hit a grand slam, finished with five RBIs and was also the winning pitcher. Chanhassen finished with 15 hits in the shortened game.

“We’re fortunate,” Coenen said. “We came here tonight and we hit the ball well again. We’ve been hitting the ball well all season and we just keep knocking on wood and keep riding that.”

Indeed, the Storm has been hitting the ball all over the place, with 89 hits and 71 runs, an average of 17.8 hits and 14.2 runs per game. Their previous victories came by scores of 12-2, 12-1, 16-6 and 17-4.

And here are some equally meaningful numbers: Chanhassen’s starting lineup Tuesday consisted of one senior, one junior, six sophomores and one ninth-grader.

“They’re really young but they work really hard,” Coenen said. “And so I’m just glad to see all that hard work paying off for them. It’s fun to see them have that success at the plate.”

Chanhassen trailed 2-0 early against Benilde (5-1), with the Red Knights’ Maddy Houlihan – a future University of Minnesota player – hitting an RBI double in the first inning and scoring on a single by Lizzie Huether.

The Storm onslaught began in the top of the second with singles by Jessica Bren, Hayley Haakenstad and Madison Schwartz, followed by Manno’s grand slam. Olson homored three hitters later, and two more runs scored on an error to give the Storm an 8-2 lead.

Olson homered again in the third inning to make the score 11-3, and the Storm scored three runs in the fourth on a one-run single by Manno and two-run single by Olson.

“It was definitely a big one because we knew they were going to come out strong and they were a similar team to us last year, so it feels good to get this big win,” Olson said. “It was definitely big for us.”

Manno took matters into her own hands early on, opening Chanhassen’s scoring with her grand slam, and the offensive barrage that followed gave her plenty of confidence in the pitcher’s circle.

“It really helps when you know you have backup and that your team will always have your back in getting runs for you,” she said.

In other words, the team that pulls together wins together.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 468
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 8,605
Waseca’s Finest, Striving For A State Track Championship 4/11/2015
BLUE EARTH – On a sunny, cool spring afternoon and early evening Friday, the Waseca High School boys track and field team put on a splendid performance at the Buc Invitational. The Bluejays rolled to the team title behind the strength of one tried-and-true senior superstar, another senior with state championship potential and team depth that may be deep enough to win a state team title at season’s end.

Waseca swept the 4x100, 4x200, 4x400 and 4x800 relays in the six-team invitational, Brady Bomsta won the 100, Cole Streich won the 3,200 and Ryley Raub was the pole vault champion.

Bluejays senior Tyler Kolander – he of state championship potential -- was a double winner in the discus and shot put. Kolander was the Class 1A state runner-up in the discus last year, finishing a mere four inches behind then-senior Jayme LaPlante of Chatfield. On paper that makes Kolander, who will continue his throwing career at the University of North Dakota, the favorite to come home with a state title in June.

Kolander threw the discus so far Friday – his winning distance was 154 feet, 5 inches -- that his final attempt, although wide of the landing area and thus ruled a foul, clipped one of several pine trees that stand sentry beyond the range of most mortals. He owns the school record of 177-3 and hopes to hit 190 feet before season’s end.

The big name on the Waseca roster is senior Shane Streich (pictured). Few athletes in Minnesota history can match his achievements, and he’s hoping to end his high school career in grand fashion.

He’s a two-time state champion in the 1,600 meters and owns one state title in the 800 as well as two second-place finishes in the 800 and one in the 1,600. If he competes at this spring’s state championships, it will be his fifth time at state. Last fall he won the 1A cross-country state championship; he finished second as a junior, third as a sophomore, fifth as a freshman and 14th as an eighth-grader.

Encapsulating: Streich has competed in nine state competitions and owns four state titles, four second-place medals and as much big-time experience as any runner in state history. He will run collegiately at the University of Minnesota.

“I just go out in every race and think of it as another chance to drop my times and improve,” said Streich (whose brother Cole is a sophomore). “I’d like to end my senior year on a great note, but it takes effort at each and every meet and that’s what I look forward to at each meet.”

Last year at state, Waseca finished second in the Class 1A boys team standings, five points behind Minnehaha Academy. Along with Streich’s titles in the 800 and 1,600 and Kolander’s runner-up finish in the discus, the Bluejays finished third in the 4x400 and seventh in the 4x200.

Returning runners from last year’s 4x400 team are Shane Streich, Isaac Highum and J.P. Eykyn; Thomas O’Neil graduated. In the 4x200, O’Neil and Tristan Hoy have graduated, with Nick Buchele and Dylan Romain returning.

“Our boys are strong and we have a good group of seniors,” said head coach Dave Abel. “It does start with Shane and Tyler. Shane has so much history at the state meet, it’s just fantastic. And Tyler has some unfinished business. He’d like to qualify in both (discus and shot put), that’s really his goal this year.

“We have four other boys who have been to the state meet for a few years in a row. We have some guys who went there as freshmen. I think we’ve got a shot, if we bring the right crew there and everybody stays healthy.”

Streich and Kolander are three-sport athletes; both are members of the Bluejays basketball team and Kolander also plays football.

“In Tyler and Shane, you’ve got kids with high-end talent and high-end gifts, and their desire to improve is unparalleled,” said Brad Wendland, who coaches the throwers and also is Waseca’s head football coach. “Tyler (pictured) really wants it. His desire level is incredibly high and he wants to be great. He’s year-round. I’ll open up the weight room at six in the morning and he’s waiting for me, all summer. He’s the rare combination of a lot of talent and very high-end skill in terms of his work ethic. He’s a 3.999 student, he’s the entire package.”

Streich has been setting an example for other athletes for years. Gary Meurer, who coaches the Waseca cross-country teams in the fall and the track team’s distance runners in the spring, said, “He’s so driven, it’s amazing.”

“He’s been an incredible kid for us. He understood splits in sixth grade already; what he had to run to produce a six-minute whatever. He’s just been an incredible kid and a really, really good student. What he’s done for our program is immeasurable. He’s brought a lot of kids with him and a lot of our younger kids see Shane doing something, and they think, ‘I can do this. If I work hard I can achieve greatness.’

“When he was a sophomore I had him write goals. His goal as a sophomore was every day to push through the pain. So when our younger kids hear that Shane has pain and he pushes through it, they know what it takes to be good.”

Streich said it can sometimes be difficult to remain focused on this spring and not think ahead to his college career.

“You can’t really overlook the future goals and future plans, but every day I come to practice and I just work on pushing through the pain and improving each and every day,” he said. “Because in the long run that’s what’s going to help me achieve those goals that I have for the future.

“Once it gets to the end of the season, I can turn the switch and I’m looking forward to the U of M. Right now I’m just hoping to stay in the moment and help my team accomplish the goals that we have for the year.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 466
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 8,557
Apple Valley Coach Calls Tyus Jones “A Legend Forever” 4/7/2015
Zach Goring was at home with his family Monday night, watching his prize pupil on television. Goring, the boys basketball coach at Apple Valley High School, counted Tyus Jones among his varsity starters for five years, but what he witnessed in the NCAA national championship game amazed him.

Jones scored 23 points for Duke in the Blue Devils’ 68-63 victory over Wisconsin in Indianapolis. The 18-year-old freshman was his team’s catalyst, especially in the second half when he scored 10 points in the final seven minutes. Jones was named the Most Outstanding Player in Monday’s game.

“I’ve seen that scenario play out many, many times, just not on a stage like that,” Goring said. “He has that closer mentality. (Jahlil) Okafur didn’t play well, (Justise) Winslow was in foul trouble, and Tyus was the one who came through. They were running things through him and for him.

“He’s going be a legend forever. Whatever legend he was before last night, it will be elevated even more.”

Goring saw Duke twice in person this season, once at Wisconsin and once in a home game against Clemson. The Apple Valley coaching staff also traveled to Duke (in Durham, N.C.) on a football weekend last fall.

“Here’s the type of kid Tyus is,” Goring said. “He had practice in the morning, then he showered and sat with us at the football game. He wasn’t off with other people. That’s the type of kid he is.”

Jones was one of the top recruits in the nation, and he and Okafor made a joint decision to play at Duke. Okafor is expected to declare for the NBA draft, while Jones has made no indication whether he will stay at Duke for another year or begin a professional career.

“I don’t know. It’s a tough one to figure out,” Goring said. “I think Coach Krzyzewski and Tyus will sit down. Coach K is really plugged into the NBA and he will have a good idea where he’s at. You don’t want him to declare and then be taken in the second round, where the money isn’t as good. But either way, he’s going to be fine.”

People at Apple Valley High School were ecstatic about Jones’ performance in Indianapolis.

“I haven’t gotten anything done,” activities director Pete Buesgens said Tuesday afternoon. “People are coming in and wanting to talk; “Wow! Did you see that!”

This has been a sensational winter for the Eagles. They won the Class 3A state wrestling championship and the 4A boys basketball state title. Apple Valley also won the basketball championship two years ago, when Jones was a junior. His younger brother Tre, a freshman, is on the varsity and his older brother Jadee is an assistant coach.

Banners honoring the wrestling and basketball titles arrived at school Tuesday, adding to the excitement.

“You can’t buy the publicity we got last night,” Buesgens said. “To hear Jim Nance saying, ‘Apple Valley. Minnesota.’

“I’ve got a 7-year-old. She was sitting on my lap while we watched the game. We’d see Tyus and she’d say, 'Daddy, we know him!' ”

Jones is on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, to which Goring said, “I will certainly buy that and frame that.”

The coach said he and Jones exchanged text messages on Tuesday.

“He said it’s like he just woke up from a dream.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 460
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 8,321
*@MSHSLjohn on Twitter