John's Journal
Runners To Be Considered for Spirit of Sport Award11/4/2014
Two cross-country runners who assisted a fallen competitor during the Class 1A girls state meet Saturday will be considered for the Spirit of Sport Award, which is awarded annually by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

The Spirit of Sport Award seeks to recognize individuals who exemplify the ideals of the positive spirit of sport and represent the core mission of education-based athletics. High school governing bodies in each state can offer nominations for the award.

Esko High School senior Kailee Kiminski and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown/Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton junior Tierney Winter stopped running when they saw Jackson County Central freshman Jessica Christoffer on the ground less than 100 yards from the finish line. Kailee and Tierney helped Jessica get on her feet and had their arms around her as they completed the race together. Ninety-six runners among the field of 174 had crossed the finish line before the trio did so.

Due to national rules that prohibit competitors from assisting other runners, the athletes were disqualified, but that does not diminish from their tremendous act of sportsmanship. A meet official, who was with Jessica in case medical assistance was needed, informed the other runners that offering aid would violate the rules, yet they didn’t hesitate to assist Jessica in finishing the race.

All cross-country coaches are aware that athletes cannot assist others physically during races, whether teammates or opponents. This rule is based on fairness and the belief that each competitor must complete the course on their own, with no physical assistance. The rule states:

It is an unfair act when a competitor receives any assistance. Assistance includes:
a. Interference with another competitor.
b. Pacing by a teammate not in the race or persons not participating in the
event.
c. Competitors joining or grasping hands with each other during a race.
d. Competitor using an aid during the race.

In addition, there could be serious health concerns for an injured runner if people who are not medically certified attempt to move the athlete.

Despite the consequences, Kailey and Tierney didn’t hesitate in coming to the aid of a fellow competitor. Because of their tremendous act of sportsmanship and selflessness, they will be considered for the Spirit of Sport Award. Congratulations to Kailey and Tierney, their coaches, teammates, families and schools.
Alexandria’s Hasz Sisters: Identical Twins, Identical State Championships 11/1/2014
NORTHFIELD – It would only be fitting if Bethany and Megan Hasz, who are juniors this year at Alexandria High School, cross the finish line at the 2015 Class 2A state cross-country meet in a dead heat and share the state championship.

Because at this point they each own one state title and one second-place finish. A year ago Bethany was first and Megan second, and Saturday at St. Olaf College it was Megan – who is 29 minutes older than her identical twin sister -- getting the win, followed closely by Bethany. (Pictured are Bethany, left, and Megan.)

“We will always race each other to win,” Megan said. “We are competitive with each other. We always want to win, but even if we don’t we’re happy for the other one.”

Megan’s winning time was an all-class state-meet-record 13 minutes, 40.9 seconds; Bethany finished in 13:44.4 and third-place runner Tess Misgen, a sophomore from Shakopee, was timed in 14:13.5. Misgen nosed out junior Emma Benner of Forest Lake, whose time was 14:13.6.

The previous state-meet record was 13:42.0, set by Maria Hauger of Shakopee in 2012.

The twins also are stars on the track. Bethany was third and Megan fourth at state in the 2A 3,200 meters last spring; in the 1,600 Megan was second behind Misgen and Bethany placed third.

On Saturday, Megan began pulling away near the two-mile mark in the 4,000-meter race. Bethany tried to stay with her sister but couldn’t maintain the pace.

“She started to pull away and I tried to go with her,” Bethany said. “I didn’t have quite the same kick as she does. I’m proud of her. She definitely deserves it.”

Megan stated it pretty plainly: “I guess I started kicking a little harder a little sooner.”

Asked if next year’s state meet will be the tiebreaker, the sisters laughed.

“I guess so,” Bethany said. “We’ll see what happens.”

--Wayzata won its third consecutive 2A girls team title with 65 points. Edina was next with 94 and Willmar placed third with 96.

CLASS 2A BOYS

After two top-five finishes in the last two years, Wayzata senior Connor Olson rose to the top level of the podium with a dominating victory. The second-ranked Olson held off third-ranked Joey Duerr of Chaska and top-ranked Joe Klecker of Hopkins, winning in 15:16.86.

Duerr was second in 15:22.96 and Klecker was third in 15:25.9

“That kid’s one tough racer and he stuck in there for a long time,” Olson said of Duerr. “I’m just happy I could pull it off at the end.”

--Olson – who placed fifth in 2012 and second last year -- led Wayzata to the team title. The Trojans finished with 47 points, and Hopkins and Stillwater shared second place with 87. It was the second consecutive state title for Wayzata.

CLASS 1A BOYS

Two years ago, Waseca’s Shane Streich finished third at state. Last year he was the runner-up. His route to a state championship was finally completed Saturday, but it came with an important boost from a race in late September.

Streich (pictured), a senior, was the top finisher in the Roy Griak Inviational when he placed sixth overall among a national field that included many of the top 2A runners in Minnesota.

“Just for the opportunity to come up here and race with the big dogs, being from a small town, I just wanted to hang with them,” he said after the Griak. “I think today was my day.”

Saturday was also his day. His time of 15:46.4was nearly 15 seconds better than runner-up Isaac Overmyer of Park Rapids. Placing third was Perham’s Billy Bessman.

“I’ve been shooting for this since I was a seventh-grader,” Streich said. “It’s nice, especially since last year I was second, the year before I was third. Ever since the end of track season this was my goal, and my main focus was going for the state championship. It’s definitely exciting to be able to fulfill that goal.”

--Mora won the 1A boys team title with a score of 104, followed by Martin County West (108) and Glencoe-Silver Lake (117).

CLASS 1A GIRLS

The Donnay sisters of Eden Valley-Watkins/Kimball stole the show, with Emily – a senior and the top-ranked runner in 1A – claiming the state title and her sophomore sister Anna finishing third. The runner-up was Luverne sophomore Madison Schandelmeier.

“I figured she was right behind me at the finish,” said Emily, whose time of 14:27.5 was well ahead of Schandelmeier (14:49.0). “Tthat’s what I kept telling myself.”

Emily finished 10th at state last year; Anna had never before raced at state.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Anna. “I came and watched last year but that’s it.”

--Trinity School at River Ridge won the team title with a score of 55, followed by Annandale (87) and Fairmont (117).

--To see photo galleries from each race (provided by mnprepphoto.com), go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 144
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 3,921
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
A Storybook Ending To The Soccer Season 10/30/2014
ST. CLOUD -- Storybook. There is no better way to describe what the Orono girls soccer team accomplished Thursday. Yes, the Spartans won the Class 1A state championship, defeating Minneapolis Washburn in a game that was scoreless through two overtimes and was decided in a shootout at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium.

They did so without their best player, who also is one of the state’s best players. Senior Sophie Babo -- this year’s Class 1A Ms. Soccer winner who has made a commitment to play collegiately at Kentucky -- suffered a leg injury during the second half, which caused a lengthy delay while she was treated on the field and taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

So here’s the challenge the Spartans were dealing with: Their leading scorer was gone and they were facing the undefeated, top-seeded and unbeaten Millers, a team that had not given up a goal since the third game of the season and had been scored on only twice all year.

“We did a really, really good job of rallying after Sophie got hurt,” said Orono goalkeeper Jessica Woessner, who also scored one of the goals in the 3-2 shootout verdict. “We knew that it would be harder without her, but we also knew we had to do it for her. Because she has helped us in so many games, she’s such a strong player. We had to do it for her and we did. And it feels so good.”

After 80 minutes of regulation ended in a scoreless tie, the teams played two 10-minute overtime periods. Then came the shootout, with each team taking five penalty kicks. The Millers and Spartans each scored on their first two attempts, with Morgan Cottew and Emma Stotts finding the goal for Washburn and Carly Goehring and Woessner doing the same for Orono.

Neither team scored in the third and fourth rounds, and the winner came from Orono junior Claire Bash. When Woessner stopped the final attempt of the shootout, it was bedlam for the Spartans.

“I think the biggest thing was everyone was worried about Sophie,” Orono coach Erin Murray said. “You could tell right away that it wasn’t good. But we’ve kind of talked all year that a lot of people think our team is Sophie. And Sophie is our best player and she is a dominant player, but we have so much that surrounds her and we’ve kind of been telling people that all year.”

1A BOYS/ ST. CLOUD APOLLO 1, DeLaSALLE 0

There was no denying Apollo’s Leighton Lommel on two fronts: on his goal-scoring ability and on his postgame smile. The junior scored on a free kick in the 67th minute to lift the Eagles past DeLaSalle 1-0, capturing the first state soccer title for any St. Cloud school.

Lommel also had scored the game-winner Wednesday in a 1-0 semifinal victory over Mankato West, capping a pretty good stretch in his hometown.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “This is stuff you dream about.”

Apollo finished the season with a record of 21-0-2, making the Eagles the only undefeated soccer team in the state. They closed the year with five consecutive shutouts and gave up only 10 goals all season.

“Once an opportunity like this knocks at your door, you have to take advantage of it,” Lommel said. “This was incredible. This was awesome.”

2A BOYS/ ANOKA 2, WAYZATA 1 (SHOOTOUT)

The Tornadoes outscored Wayzata 5-4 in the shootout to take home their second state soccer title. The previous championship came in 2007.

Arthur Parens scores for Wayzata in the 28th minute of regulation and Anoka’s Joshua Dobler tied the score in the 44th minute. The score remained 1-1 through regulation and two 10-minute overtimes before the Tornadoes won the shootout. Every shot attempt in the shootout found the goal with the exception of one by Wayzata’s Jared Stout, a rocket that caromed off the crossbar.

2A GIRLS/ EAGAN 1, EDEN PRAIRIE 0

A goal by Jade King in the 26th minute made the difference for the Wildcats, who won their first girls soccer state championship.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 112
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 3,867
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Max Drives The Bus, Cheers For The Team And Much More10/29/2014
ST. CLOUD – “Thanks Max!” “Thanks Max!” “Thanks Max!”

As the soccer players from Orono High School stepped off the bus before their Class 1A girls state semifinal game here Wednesday, the Spartans thanked their bus driver for delivering them safely once again. Max Kookie, however, is more than a bus driver to the Spartans; he is a friend, a fan, even a super hero. The Spartans love Max.

Kookie knows the players by name. He is almost always watching from the stands when they play, including home games when no bus is needed. He is invited to postseason team banquets, graduation parties for seniors, and is basically a member of the family. He drives other Orono teams, too, but the girls soccer players claim him as their own.

“A lot of these girls are two- and three-sport athletes who get to see Max all year round,” said soccer coach Erin Murray. “He’s always friendly, he’s always on time, we trust him. These girls can be loud and obnoxious on the bus, and some other bus drivers aren’t quite so accepting of that. He lets them sing and be crazy or celebrate after games. He comes to our banquets and kind of gets included in everything. He’s pretty much part of the team.”

Here’s the most amazing part of the story: Kookie moved to Michigan recently, but drove the 600 miles back to Minnesota this week in order to chaperone the team to the state tournament.
“I enjoy the kids,” said Kookie, who wore a sweatshirt with the words “Bus Driver Max” on the front, along with the logos of several Spartans teams. “They all know me and I know all of them by name.”

Kookie started driving a bus route for the Orono school system in 2001, and two years later he transported his first sports team. Athletes are always happy when they see Max behind the wheel.

“He’s like a super hero almost, showing up to our games, knowing every single one of us by name and being there all the time,” said junior soccer player Jessica Woessner. “Even when our parents aren’t there, he’s there. It’s not something a normal bus driver would do, and we thank him every single day for that.”

Kookie is known by more than the athletes. Parents, students and others said hi when they saw Max sitting in the stands Wednesday at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium. One mom saw him and said with a smile, “Hi Max! Did you get those girls here safe?” Sure did, he answered.

“Max isn’t your typical bus driver,” Orono senior Abby Chargo said. “He cares about everybody. He comes to every single game. You look up in the stands at our home games and Max is there. He drove all the way back from Michigan just to drive us. He’s someone who’s really special to us. We wouldn’t trade him for any bus driver in the world.”

WEDNESDAY’S CLASS 1A GIRLS SEMIFINALS

--Orono 4, Park Center 0/ Sophie Babo scored two goals as the Spartans advanced.

--Minneapolis Washburn 3, Hill-Murray 0/ The Millers scored all three goals in the second half.

WEDNESDAY'S CLASS 1A BOYS SEMIFINALS

--St. Cloud Apollo 1, Mankato West 0/ Leighton Lommel got the game-winner in the 48th minute as the Eagles advanced to Thursday’s title game.

--DeLaSalle 2, Chaska 1 (OT)/ The winner came on a header by Michael Wageman after a nice cross by Christian Kardio.

THURSDAY’S STATE TITLE GAMES
At Husky Stadium, St. Cloud State University

1A boys/ DeLaSalle vs. St. Cloud Apollo, 9:30 a.m.
1A girls/ Orono vs. Minneapolis Washburn, noon
2A boys/ Wayzata vs. Anoka, 2:30 p.m.
2A girls/ Eagan vs. Eden Prairie, 5 p.m.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 108
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 3,779
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Sights And Sounds From A Week Of Tournament Play10/27/2014
Tournament time. We know what that means: elimination games, dreams realized, dreams ended. This week is emblematic of that, with state semifinals and championship games in soccer being played at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium Tuesday through Thursday, the state cross-country meet Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield, and section championships being decided in volleyball and football.

I spent last week traversing Minnesota to watch soccer and football playoff games; all told I saw seven games over five days.I have no idea how many high school athletic events I have witnessed in my lifetime, but I’m always amazed and grateful to see new places, meet new people and experience all the positives that come from these activities.

Here’s a day-by-day, place-by-place accounting of what I saw last week…

TUESDAY/ Nine-Man Football at Nicollet

The Nicollet Raiders were about to take the field against the Jaguars of Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman in a Section 2 playoff opener. Head coach Tom Murphy was giving his pregame speech in the locker room.

“Friday nights are special, but playoff football is even better,” Murphy told the boys, 26 football players in grades nine through 12 from a high school with a total enrollment of 72 students.

“We’ve got eight seniors who plan to take us on a long family vacation over these next few weeks,” the coach said. “We’re going on a family trip, boys, and it’s about being ready. Each week it’s a new destination, new challenges.”

The Raiders came away with a 42-8 victory during a lovely night on the Minnesota prairie. Murphy’s pregame words summed up what the postseason means.

“It’s about getting to that next step,” he said. “Commit to this like you’ve committed to nothing else. You won’t regret it, you won’t be sorry. That’s what it takes.”

WEDNESDAY/State Soccer Quarterfinals at Osseo

This was a doubleheader, with the two winning teams moving on to the Class 1A boys semifinals this week in St. Cloud. The teams advancing were St. Cloud Apollo and Mankato West.

Two thoughts: 1) Apollo should have a heck of a big crowd on hand at Husky Stadium when the hometown Eagles meet Mankato West on Wednesday morning; 2) The Mankato West Scarlets know how to perform a celebration dance. Matthew Ouren scored three goals on this night, and after each one the Scarlets ran en masse to a spot in front of their fans and their excellent pep band (pictured) and displayed some highly entertaining choreography.

THURSDAY/ State Soccer Quarterfinals at Chisago Lakes

Everyone’s first impression of the stadium at Chisago Lakes is always the same: Wow! What a facility! The surface is artificial turf and there is no track inside the stadium, putting the spectators right on top of the action.

The biggest hero of the evening was DeLaSalle’s Eli Baker, who scored on a penalty kick in overtime to boost the Islanders into the state semifinals against Chaska.

During the celebration I heard a DeLaSalle student scream, “We’re going to state!” I didn’t have the heart to offer a correction along the lines of, “Well, uh, actually your team just played its first game at state.”

Reporters are are accustomed to fending for themselves when covering high school events, and yes I’m talking about food. We don’t mind bringing a sandwich or hitting up the concession stand. At Chisago Lakes, though, we were treated like royalty. Shannon Hejny, the Chisago Lakes dance team coach, was our host and she kept bringing up goodies from the concession stand. Thanks!

FRIDAY/Section Football at Eagan

This was a rematch between Lakeville South and Eagan in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs. Eagan had defeated South 21-7 in Week 5 at Eagan; this game had the same result but much more drama, with Eagan scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion with 33 seconds remaining to secure a 30-29 win.

The weather – as it was all week – was outstanding. I am always impressed by the Eagan band (they even have a baton twirler!) and the famous Eagan student section, known simply as The Pit. They cheer, they stomp, they sway, they have a great time and display great sportsmanship. Every student section could learn a lot by watching The Pit.

SATURDAY/ Section Football in Becker

The Bulldogs played host to Delano in a Class 4A Section 5 semifinal game. Becker was a 40-7 winner, and part of the Bulldogs’ success is the numbers game. They had 91 players on their roster Saturday (the 9-12 enrollment is 769.). And that’s a part of a lengthy football tradition in Becker.

Dwight Lundeen was hired as the head coach when Becker started playing football in 1970, and 45 years later he remains the only coach the Bulldogs have ever had. Close behind Lundeen on the seniority list is Delano coach Merrill Pavlovich, who has been a head coach for 39 years. Between the two, they have coached for 84 years and walked the sidelines for a total of 866 games.

The tradition in Becker includes pork chops; they have been served at football games since 1974. As pork chop crew member Donn Larson told me, “They’re twice the size and half the price as at the State Fair.” They are so good that on occasion people will pay their admission to the a game, buy enough pork chops to feed the family and turn around and take them home for dinner.

The Becker coaches chew Double Bubble gum on the sidelines (a plastic bucket holds an ample supply). The gum of choice used to be Bazooka Joe (Lundeen has handed me a few pieces of Bazooka Joe right before kickoff on several occasions), but Bazooka is tougher to find these days so Double Bubble is the choice.

Another tradition at Bulldog home games is celebrating touchdowns by playing the 1977 song “Black Betty” by Ram Jam on the public-address system. With 40 points Saturday, “Black Betty” got significant air time.

One of the greatest Becker traditions of all takes place after games. The team gathers in an end zone for a few words from the coaches. When that ends, a gate swings open and families and friends flood the field for congratulations, commiserations, handshakes, hugs and photos.

“It’s an event, it’s special,” Lundeen said after Saturday’s game. “It’s a game and in the big picture of what’s happening everyday it’s not that important, but it is something that the town has rallied around and we’re proud of it. We’ll keep making it happen.”

One more thing about Becker: As the Bulldogs leave the field at halftime, a large throng of young kids lines up to get hand slaps from the players.

“We talk about it a lot; those who have gone before us and those that are coming behind us,” Lundeen said. “When we leave the field at halftime there are a couple hundred kids there, and our kids are supposed to slap every one of those hands. I don’t care if we’re ahead by 40 or behind by 40, we’re going to slap their hands. We want them to come to the games and be a part of this.”

That’s the whole thing right there, in every sport at every school in Minnesota and around the country. Communities rally behind their teams, cheering the victories and dealing with the losses as one.

Is there a better place to be than a high school event? If you haven’t done so in a while, get the kids and/or the grandkids and take in a game. The words of Tom Murphy will ring true for you, too: “You won’t regret it, you won’t be sorry.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 102
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 3,691
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn