John's Journal
A Big Win, A Pink Helmet And A Vow To Stay In 1A 3/4/2015
There is one big question swirling around the Class 1A boys state hockey tournament: Can the Hermantown Hawks, losers in the last five state championship games, finally take home a first-place trophy?

The top-seeded Hawks opened the 2015 tournament in grand style Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center, scoring three goals in the first period and cruising to an 8-0 victory over unseeded Spring Lake Park, which is at state for the first time. Nate Pionk and Ryan Kero each scored three goals for Hermantown.

But there has been another question about Hermantown: Are the Hawks considering opting up to Class 2A in future seasons? To that question we have an answer.

“No, we’re not going up to double A,” coach Bruce Plante said after the game. “We only had 37 kids come out for the team this year. Last year we had 32 come out. We happen to be one of the best teams in single A and we’re proud of that.”

Now, moving on to a pink bicycle helmet that joined Plante, Pionk and Kero at the postgame press conference. Pionk carried it into the room and placed it on the table in front of him. Obvious question: What’s the deal with the bike helmet?

Nate explained that someone on the team picked it up in St. Cloud (he thinks) and it has become a lid that signifies the MVP of each game. His teammates decided Pionk had earned it Wednesday, but he said, “It got passed to me, and I said, ‘Ryan and I should share this one.’ ”


New Ulm came into the state hockey tournament with an 0-8 record in four previous appearances, but the unseeded Eagles gave second-seeded Mahtomedi all they wanted. Mahtomedi came out on top 6-3 but it was a struggle.

The score was 1-1 after the first period and Mahtomedi’s lead was 4-3 early in the third before the Zephyrs’ Jack Gunderson scored his second goal and Jack Becker completed a hat trick to secure the victory.

Colin Huffman scored for New Ulm only 40 seconds into the third period, making it 4-3. Ethan Kraus, who had scored the Eagles’ first goal, said, “Oh yeah, it was game on. That was when we knew we had a pretty good chance of winning that game. We hung in there until the end.”

Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl said his team played poorly with the puck and has some work to do if they want to win in Friday’s semifinals.

“I thought (New Ulm) battled real hard and to be perfectly honest I thought we really struggled,” he said. “We fought it all night long.

“The guys in the room know we’re a good hockey team, a much better team than we showed today. I think it’s a matter of making a commitment to stay the course and play our game. I think it’s a matter of conviction; we’re not going to leave the tournament with regrets and we’ll leave everything on the ice Friday when we come back.”


The defending state champion Green Wave outshot the Spartans 32-17 and Dixon Bowen led the way with two goals.

The game was scoreless through the first period and Bowen got on the board in the second period. Third-period goals were scored by Cooper Jerome, Nick Derrick and Bowen into an empty net.

“We hit two posts at critical times. A call here, a call there, you have to take momentum or get it back,” said New Prague coach Chris Lonke. “I can’t ask any more of our guys. They were focused and played to win the hockey game. It just wasn’t meant to be today.”


Brandon Bissett scored the game’s only goal in overtime, lifting the Eagles into Friday’s semifinals against Hermantown. Breck had 25 shots on goal to 14 for Apollo.


East Grand Forks' Bowen made an important decision before the season began. He played 10 games with the Fargo Force of the U.S. Hockey League before the high school season began, and he will return to the Force after this weekend.

But nothing was going to keep him from his senior season with the Green Wave.

“I was loyal to my coaches and my teammates and I said I was going to stay,” Bowen said after Wednesday’s game. “I haven’t regretted that decision at all.”

He has a bright future in hockey. He is a Mr. Hockey finalist and he will play collegiately at the University of North Dakota. Some players choose to leave high school early, but many don’t.

“I think some people started to worry about it a little bit,” Bowen said. “I had to make the decision for me. I thought it was a good decision and I wanted to come back and accomplish something here.”


--Quote of the day/ New Ulm’s Jon Kopacek, who got a goal in the second period: “It was pretty cool scoring here. … when you play here you have a little extra step.”

--Wink of the day/ Mahtomedi’s Jack Becker, sitting on the bench after his third goal and seeing himself on the big screen at Xcel Energy Center, winking at the camera.

Thursday’s Quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center
Bemidji (23-3-2) vs. #2 seed Edina (24-1-2), 11 a.m.
Duluth East (14-10-4) vs. #3 seed St. Thomas
Academy (24-4), 30 minutes after end of first game
Hill-Murray (21-7) vs. #1 seed Lakeville North (28-0), 6 p.m.
#5 seed Eden Prairie (18-9) vs. #4 seed Blaine (22-5-1), 30 minutes after end of 6 p.m. game

*Schools/teams John has visited: 404
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,825
Wrestling State Championship Matches Are Set2/28/2015
Tonight’s championship matches are set at the MSHSL state wrestling tournament. Third- and fifth-place matches will begin at 4:30 p.m, followed by title matches in all three classes at 7 p.m. Here are the championship matchups…

106/ Jake Nohre, West Central, vs. Ethan Cota, Kenyon-Wanamingo
113/ Noah Bauer, Pine Island, vs. Tanner Pasvogel, Sibley East
120/ Tanner Reetz, Frazee, vs. Michael Suda, Pipestone
126/ Cameron Sykora, Border West, vs. Austin Anderly, LeSueur-Henderson
132/ Blane Tschida, Kimball, vs. Louie Sanders, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial
138/ Ryan Keach, Dover-Eyota, vs. Quinten Berres, Kimball
145/ Jared Willaby, Windom/Mountain Lake, vs. Hank Friederichs, Chatfield
152/ Dietrich Balsbaugh, Trinity, vs. Shane Siewert, Lake City
160/ Paden Moore, Jackson County Central, vs. Brad Kroll, Royalton-Upsala
170/ Gage Thom, St. Clair/Mankato Loyola, vs. Luke Nordland, Jackson County Central
182/ Keegan Moore, Jackson County Central, vs. Jake Wentzlaff, Sibley East
195/ Garrett Pemelton, DGF, vs. Nathan Brinker, Holdingford
220/ Dillon Card, Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale, vs. Manuel Garcia, BOLD
285/ Garrett Malstrom, Frazee, vs. Logan Nibbe, Prairie Valley

106/ Kyle Cavanaugh, Caledonia, vs. Josh Tarum, St. Thomas Academy
113/ Keaton Schorr, Kasson-Mantorville, vs. Jake Gliva, Simley
120/ Garrett Aldrich, Albert Lea, vs. Tyler Wagener, Waconia
126/ Tanner Vassar, Annandale/Maple Lake, vs. Paul Fitterer, Cannon Falls
132/ David Flynn, Scott West, vs. Jackson Sweeney, Watertown-Mayer/Mayer Lutheran
138/ Treyton Austvold, New London-Spicer, vs. Seoulec Gunvalson, Benilde-St. Margaret’s
145/ Griffin Parriott, New Prague, vs. Cody Ferris, Becker
152/ Devin Fitzpatrick, Mahtomedi, vs. Brady Berge, Kasson-Mantorville
160/ Andrew Fogarty, Scott West, vs. Nick Green, Waconia
170/ Carter Nielsen, Foley, vs. Jared Florell, Totino-Grace
182/ Jackson Striggow, Orono, vs. Isaac Florell, Totino-Grace
195/ Lance Benick, Totino-Grace, vs. Carson Hagen, Worthington
220/ Jack Ryan, Simley, vs. Kevin Kneisl, Delano
285/ James Huwe, Detroit Lakes, vs. Brent Riddle, Monticello

106/ Peyton Robb, Owatonna, vs. Victor Gliva, Farmington
113/ Tyler Eischens, Anoka, vs. Rylee Molitor, Sartell-St. Stephen
120/ Jamin LeDuc, Farmington, vs. Brent Jones, Shakopee
126/ Mitchell McKee, St. Michael-Albertville, vs. George Farmah, Eastview
132/ Austin Brenner, St. Cloud Tech, vs. Adam Hedin, Rosemount
138/ Ben Brancale, Eden Prairie, vs. Jake Allar, St. Michael-Albertville
145/ James Pleski, Forest Lake, vs. Miles Patton, Rochester Mayo
152/ Brady Nelson, Rochester Mayo, vs. Lucas Jeske, St. Michael-Albertville
160/ Matt Njos, Anoka, vs. Lucas Westrich, Lakeville North
170/ Evan Ronsen, St. Michael-Albertville, vs. Mark Hall, Apple Valley
182/ Jordan Joseph, St. Michael-Albertville, vs. Luke Dodd, Eastview
195/ Tristyn Hanson, Lakeville North, vs. Bobby Steveson, Apple Valley
220/ Jake Briggs, St. Michael-Albertville, vs. Gable Steveson, Apple Valley
285/ Jon Ziedler, Lakeville South, vs. Alex Hart, Prior Lake

The Hall Of Champions Adds Title Number Five 2/28/2015
Mark Hall is probably the biggest name in Minnesota high school wrestling, and the spotlight on the Apple Valley junior will only grow in the next 12 months.

Hall won the Class 3A title at 170 pounds Saturday night, capturing his fifth state championship at Xcel Energy Center and joining an elite club. Border West senior Cameron Sykora also joined the five-crown club with a title at 126 in Class 1A; he and Hall are only the fifth and sixth wrestlers to win five.

Next season Hall (pictured in gold) will have an opportunity to break new ground and become the state’s first six-time champion. That’s probably a pretty safe bet, too, considering that he hasn’t lost a high school match since his ninth-grade year.

Hall’s gold-medal victory Saturday came with a second-period pin against St. Michael-Albertville junior Evan Ronsen. Long before title No. 5 was in sight, however, he was being asked about being a six-time champion.

“All the time. It’s endless,” he said of the topic. “First and foremost, to be in this position is a blessing for me and my family. The way I respond to those people is I have to win my fifth one before I can win my sixth one. I have to stay focused, I can only win the state title that’s in front of me; I can’t go for my sixth state title this year. I’ll wait until next year for that.”

Hall said it can be difficult to maintain a one-match-at-a-time attitude, especially away from the wrestling room and wrestling season.

“It’s really hard. It’s really important for me to keep wrestling hard and keep a good mindset, not get off track and stay motivated. It can be hard; summer comes along, spring break, stuff like that. It’s hard to stay focused. But if I can keep wrestling one match at a time, that’s the most important thing.”

--Sykora defeated Austin Anderly of LeSueur-Henderson 4-3 in the championship match, ending Anderly’s quest for a third state title.


Totino-Grace senior Lance Benick ended his high school career with his fourth state title, taking home a gold medal at 195 pounds in Class 2A. He beat undefeated wrestlers in his final two matches, outscoring Wyatt Richardson of Grand Meadow 13-1 in the semifinals and Carson Hagen of Worthington 17-7 in the title round. Benick finished the season with a 42-0 record and celebrating by performing a cartwheel and back flip on the mat.

Benick said his tournament experience has changed over the years.

“My freshman and sophomore years I was a little bit nervous, but now I’m taking it all in, spending as much time here as I can and making the most of it, just trying to remember it,” said Benick, who will wrestle at Arizona State University.

Jim Richardson, Wyatt’s father and the Grand Meadow coach, said there is no easy way to prepare for or compete against Benick.

“He’s so explosive in all areas. You have to try to turn it into a Greco match, and we got out of our stance twice and it was two takedowns, it was as simple as that. And that’s why he’s the best in the country and that’s why he’s a great wrestler and a great kid.”


--Two Class 1A seniors won their third state titles: Louie Sanders (132) of Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial and Quinten Berres (138) of Kimball. Brady Berge of Kasson-Mantorville (152) did the same in Class 2A.

--St. Michael-Albertville and Apple Valley each won three state titles in Class 3A, as did Jackson County Central did the same in Class 1A.

--Sight of the day: Lucas Westrich of Lakeville North noticed a contact lens slipping out of place during his semifinal match at 3A 152. During a stoppage, he handed the lens to one of his coaches, who placed it inside an overturned water bottle cap, poured a little water over it and set it on the floor.

--Total attendance over the three days of the tournament was 49,218.


106 State Champions
1A/ Ethan Cota, Kenyon-Wanamingo
2A/ Josh Tarum, St. Thomas Academy
3A/ Peyton Robb, Owatonna

113 State Champions
1A/ Noah Bauer, Pine Island
2A/ Keaton Schorr, Kasson-Mantorville
3A/ Rylee Molitor, Sartell-St. Stephen

120 State Champions
1A/ Tanner Reetz, Frazee
2A/ Garrett Aldrich, Albert Lea
3A/ Brent Jones, Shakopee

126 State Champions
1A/ Cameron Sykora, Border West
2A/ Paul Fitterer, Cannon Falls
3A/ Mitchell McKee, St. Michael-Albertville

132 State Champions
1A/ Louie Sanders, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial
2A/ David Flynn, Scott West
3A/ Adam Hedin, Rosemount

138 State Champions
1A/ Quinten Berres, Kimball
2A/ Treyton Austvold, New London-Spicer
3A/ Ben Brancale, Eden Prairie

145 State Champions
1A/ Hank Friederichs, Chatfield
2A/ Griffin Parriott, New Prague
3A/ James Pleski, Forest Lake

152 State Champions
1A/ Shane Siewert, Lake City
2A/ Brady Berge, Kasson-Mantorville
3A/ Lucas Jeske, St. Michael-Albertville

160 State Champions
1A/ Paden Moore, Jackson County Central
2A/ Andrew Fogarty, Scott West
3A/ Matt Njos, Anoka

170 State Champions
1A/ Luke Norland, Jackson County Central
2A/ Carter Nielsen, Foley
3A/ Mark Hall, Apple Valley

182 State Champions
1A/ Keegan Moore, Jackson County Central
2A/ Jackson Striggow, Orono
3A/ Jordan Joseph, St. Michael-Albertville

195 State Champions
1A/ Nathan Brinker, Holdingford
2A/ Lance Benick, Totino-Grace
3A/ Bobby Steveson, Apple Valley

220 State Champions
1A/ Manuel Garcia, BOLD
2A/ Jack Ryan, Simley
3A/ Gable Steveson, Apple Valley

285 State Champions
1A/ Garrett Malstrom, Frazee
2A/ Brent Riddle, Monticello
3A/ Alex Hart, Prior Lake

*Schools/teams John has visited: 396
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,785
Going For Five Titles With A Reminder From Twitter 2/27/2015
Cameron Sykora is a confident wrestler, and with plenty of reason. The senior from Border West is hoping to become Minnesota’s fifth five-time state wrestling champion, and positive thinking is part of the plan.

Sykora first qualified for state as an eighth-grader and has taken home a gold medal in every appearance. Even though he’s now a veteran, he said his attitude is exactly the same as it was five years ago.

“It’s really the same mindset,” he said. “I always believe I can beat anyone.”

He opened the 2015 state tournament Friday with a technical fall over St. Charles junior Alan Spaeth and defeated Osakis junior Brendan Coyer 10-0 in the quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center. His opponent in Saturday’s semifinals will be Kyle Hennen of Minneota; the big name on the other side of the bracket is two-time state champion Austin Anderly, a senior from LeSueur-Henderson.

“I feel good, my conditioning’s good,” Sykora said. “It’s time to peak right now. It’s time to peak.”

The previous five-time champions were Matt Nagel of Frazee (1997-2001), Eric Sanders of Wabasha-Kellogg (1999-2003), Zach Sanders of Wabasha-Kellogg (2003-2007) and Destin McCauley of Apple Valley (2006-2008, 2010-11).

Current Apple Valley junior Mark Hall could become the state’s first six-time state champ; he already is a four-time champ and will shoot for No. 5 Saturday.

Sykora’s biggest victory this season came in the January Rumble on the Red tournament in Fargo, N.D., when he defeated four-time Montana state champion Gresh Jones, who will continue his career at the University of Minnesota.

But that’s not to say that Sykora’s confidence wasn’t already on a high level. Ever since his ninth-grader year, his Twitter username has been @cam5xtimer.

“It’s something to remind me of my goal every day,” said Sykora, who will wrestle at South Dakota State. “It provides a little motivation.”


St. Michael-Albertville junior Mitchell McKee’s mouth was bleeding after Friday’s semifinals in Class 3A at 126 pounds. McKee had just posted a convincing 13-1 victory over Lakeville North sophomore Wade Sullivan in a matchup of defending state champs.

But he was bleeding and he was a little upset. Not so much about the blood, however. McKee was hoping to break the school record for single-season pins, and he had Sullivan on his back for the final seconds of the match. He has 36 pins this season; the school record is 38, which he can tie with pins in Saturday’s two matches.

But what about the blood?

“Last summer I had two root canals and I just smashed them on that last takedown,” McKee said. “So that kind of hurt and they started bleeding. Other than that, I feel good after two matches. I guess it’s nice to get a full match there because I haven’t had a full match since The Clash (on Jan. 3).”

McKee is ranked No. 1 in his weight class and Sullivan is No. 2 But that doesn’t mean McKee is now looking past his opponents.

“Anybody can beat anybody at the state tournament,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re No. 1, No. 5, No. 10, it doesn’t matter. I still have to keep wrestling tough, no matter what.”

--Forest Lake senior James Pleski, top-ranked at 145 in 3A, might have had the toughest route to the semifinals. He beat second-ranked Taylor Venz of Farmington in the first round and third-ranked Brock Morgan in the quarterfinals. The win over Morgan came in four overtimes.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 396
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,745
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

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

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

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

*Schools/teams John has visited: 396
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,705