John's Journal
No Carlie, No Tyus: What Happens Next? 12/5/2014
In recent years, two names became synonymous with Minnesota high school basketball. And they were first names: Carlie and Tyus.

Carlie Wagner led the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva girls team to Class 2A state championship in 2013 and 2014 and she now plays at the University of Minnesota. Tyus Jones was the star of the Apple Valley boys team (the 2013 Class 4A champions) and he now is in the starting lineup at Duke. After last season they were named Miss and Mr. Basketball in Minnesota.

Both are making a big impact on their college teams as freshmen. But what about their high school teams? How are they moving forward without two of the most recognizable names in Minnesota basketball history?

The stories are not the same. The NRHEG girls, who also lost three other important seniors, are starting nearly from scratch this season, including a new head coach. Apple Valley, on the other hand, has a team of returning veterans and several Division I recruits.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who have really grown up and had a great summer and have been waiting their turn and now it’s their turn,” said Apple Valley coach Zach Goring. “We’re a really solid nine deep, when last we year were probably more like six, seven deep.”

The top players for the Eagles include 6-foot-10 junior Brock Bertram, 6-3 sophomore Gary Trent Jr. and 5-11 ninth-grader Tre Jones (brother of Tyus).

“We’ve got five kids being recruited by Division I schools and three seniors off the bench who are going to go to the MIAC,” Goring said. “They want to win and win big.”

Apple Valley is 3-0 going into a game against Waukon, Iowa, on Saturday in the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic at Hopkins.

The expectations are not that high at NRHEG. Wagner was the go-to player, and the Panthers were accustomed to going to her for big points and big leadership. Her sisters, Maddie and Marnie, are sophomore twins who have more varsity experience than any other players on the team.

In NRHEG’s season opener on Tuesday, Waseca defeated the Panthers 62-59 and ended their two-year, 61-game winning streak. NRHEG came back to beat Maple River 73-45 on Thursday.

“We’re trying to figure some of those things out, trying to see who our leaders will be,” said first-year coach Onika Peterson, who was an assistant under John Schultz. He stepped down after last season; among the graduated seniors is his daughter, Jade.

“That senior class was very driven and very hardworking,” Peterson said. “Carlie definitely set a tempo and set expectations. They obviously loved to have fun and have their goofy moments, but when it was a serious situation in practice they knuckled down and kicked it into gear. They weren’t afraid to say ‘These are our expectations and this is what we want to accomplish.’ ”

Carlie Wagner and Tyus Jones filled similar roles on their high school teams. Not only were they counted on to score and play defense, but both were role models to other players.

“I’ve never seen someone who played basketball so effortlessly,” Peterson said of Wagner. “It’s a unique situation to see a kid who can dribble faster than some people are running, stop on a dime and make a shot. She plays so free and makes things look so easy, and it’s not. She was a great athlete but also a great team leader.”

Goring said Tyus Jones’ impact carries over to the current Eagles players.

“Everything he did on and off the court was just such a neat way to show our other kids, ‘that’s how you do it,’ without him telling them to do that. He was as heavily recruited as anyone, and he never mentioned it once. It was never a big deal. The way he was with kids after games, and he never batted an eye at anyone on our staff for five years.

“That’s something we can always go back to: this is how the best player does it, this is how you guys should do it as well.”

The current players at Apple Valley and NRHEG know that there are big sneakers to be filled.

Trent, whose father played for the Timberwolves and three other teams during a 10-year NBA career, said, “You have to take on a new role, you’ve got to really lock down and take over games and play as a whole group.”

Tre Jones said it was strange not seeing his brother on the team this year.

“He was around for five years and you were used to seeing his face around,” Tre said. “But we’ve got a good group of guys and we’re ready to go.”

Not seeing Carlie Wagner in a Panthers uniform also seems odd, but her sisters are ready for the challenge of a new season.

“I guess (it is strange) not always looking for Carlie on the court and knowing she’s going to score for us. We always looked for her,” Marnie said. “We have to all be leaders on the court instead of one leader.”

Maddie Wagner said, “We knew we had to step up with Carlie leaving. Everbody was like, ‘Oh, they’re not going to be good without Carlie.’ We’ll still be good; this is more like a transition year and we have to get used to it.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 202
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,812
In Hockey And Tennis, Rochester’s Aney Leads The Way11/25/2014
ROCHESTER -- Jessie Aney has always been in a hurry. When she was in seventh grade, she played in the big-school tennis state championship match for Rochester Century. As an eighth-grader she won a state singles title, becoming the youngest player to do so. As a ninth-grader she teamed with her sister Katie (who is two years older) to capture a Class 2A doubles state championship.

And don’t forget about hockey. Aney has been one of the state’s top hockey players for years, and before her Rochester Century career ends after this season she will have etched her name in the state record book.

In 2010 – when Aney was in seventh grade -- she was named national Sports Kid of the Year by Sports Illustrated For Kids. She’s now 16 years old.

She plays tennis fast, she skates fact and she will finish high school just as rapidly. She is an online student whose classmates are in 11th grade, but she will graduate in the spring before embarking on a college tennis career at the University of North Carolina next fall. She gets things done and she doesn’t like to wait.

Aney stopped playing high school tennis after ninth grade, instead focusing on training for and playing in tournaments around the country. She is ranked No. 4 in the nation among girls 18 and under by the United States Tennis Association. During this winter, however, hockey will be her game for the final time.

“I couldn’t picture giving it up because I love it so much,” she said before a recent practice at Graham Arena. “It doesn’t hurt my tennis, either. Most of my tennis friends (from warmer states) are pretty shocked when I talk about hockey. They say, ‘Field hockey?’ ‘No, ice hockey. There is ice in the world.’ ”

If the early returns from the 2014-15 hockey season are any indication, Aney will finish with some big numbers. The Century Panthers are 4-1 so far and Aney has 30 points in those games. She already has a state-record 180 career assists; second on the list with 152 are Eagan’s Natalie Darwitz (1997-2000) and Holy Angels’ Lauren Smith (2002-08). Aney has 325 career points and she is certain to finish No. 2 on the all-time list behind Darwitz’s 468.

Aney has never met Darwitz, who is now the coach at Lakeville South.

“She was my childhood hockey idol. When I was stickhandling and stuff I was like, ‘I’m Natalie!’ My sister would be Krissy Wendell.”

Century assistant coach Luke Hughes has a unique perspective on any Aney-Darwitz comparisons. Growing up in Apple Valley, he faced Darwitz when she played on boys teams prior to high school hockey in Eagan.

“What makes Jess dominant is her work ethic,” Hughes said. “She outworks everybody day in and day out. But it’s not only her work ethic, it’s also her hockey IQ. There are very few kids, in boys or girls hockey, who understand the game the way she does. And that’s what makes her unbelievable.”

As a seventh-grader Aney stood 4-foot-11 and leaned heavily on tremendous quickness. (This photo is from the state tennis tournament when was in seventh grade.) She’s now 5-7, is still as quick but with a lot of added strength.

“I would love to see her wearing a U of M hockey jersey and trying to win a national championship with them,” Hughes said. “But at the same time, she’s going to get a fantastic education at North Carolina and pursue the game that she actually loves more than hockey.”

Aney said it seems a little odd that this will be her final hockey season.

“I will probably never play on a hockey team again,” she said. “I’ll miss it for sure but I’m ready to focus on tennis and see what I can do with that. … When I pictured myself dedicating myself to one sport, I saw myself playing tennis. I just enjoyed being out there all the time a little more than hockey.”

Aney’s work ethic has become a routine part of her life, whether on the ice or the tennis court. An early sign of her competitive fire came when was trying to make the cut for a 10-and-under hockey team at the age of 7 or 8.

“My dad said, ‘No way. What are you doing even trying out?’ But my sister was trying out,” she said. “Every day I would go downstairs to stickhandle snd shoot. I think that’s where I developed my good hands.”

And she made the team. When I asked Jess if playing professional tennis was her newest goal, she made one correction.

“That’s my dream,” she said. “I wouldn’t exactly call it a goal because you can’t control that. I’m just going to work as hard as I can every day.”

Don’t count her out.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 198
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,656
Inspiration Is Boundless During The Season For Rachel11/22/2014
Totino-Grace football coach Jeff Ferguson was a little tired and a little emotional when I called him Saturday morning from the press box at TCF Bank Stadium. Twelve hours earlier, Ferguson’s Eagles had been defeated by Eden Prairie 28-27 in Friday night’s Class 6A Prep Bowl.

It was a heartbreaking loss, but then again there are varying degrees of heartbreak.

Totino-Grace has won seven state championships in Ferguson’s 13 years as coach. This season, however, may be the most memorable of them all because it was the season for Rachel.

The accompanying photo shows how much the Eagles cared about Rachel Woell, who died in September, a victim of brain cancer. After they received their runner-up trophy, the Eagles draped a T-shirt in support of Rachel over the hardware. The T-shirts, and neon green (Rachel’s favorite color) were worn by nearly everyone at Totino-Grace.

Rachel was loved at her school, but especially by the football players. She was a team manager and continued in that role even after she lost her ability to speak and sat in a wheelchair during practices and games. She was Homecoming queen, too.

The school rallied around Rachel and her family until the end … and beyond. The Eagles’ only regular-season loss was at Maple Grove on Sept. 26; Rachel’s parents took her home at halftime because she had a high fever. She died shortly after. Ferguson learned of Rachel’s passing on the bus ride back to the school in Fridley and he told his players in the locker room.

“I’m so proud of our school,” Ferguson said Saturday . “It went beyond our football team. Our whole community, our kids, our players and our fans. People have rallied around a family and we need to learn that's what we need to do.

“The inspiration is sort of boundless,” said Ferguson, who is dean of students at Totino-Grace. “The game last night kind of mirrored Rachel’s life. She fought, in the end she lost, but it was more about how she fought.”

Rachel’s story was a lesson in what’s truly important: Loving each other, caring for each other, supporting each other. Togetherness. Ferguson said his players understand those lessons.

“I think they do. They get that message all the time,” he said. “The loss, that’s painful and it should be, but really what’s painful is that it’s the end.”

SATURDAY’S PREP BOWL GAMES

CLASS 1A: MINNEOTA 28, DAWSON-BOYD 14

The Vikings completed a perfect season with a victory over their Little Sioux Conference rival. Dawson-Boyd lost only two games this season, both to Minneota. Minneota also won state titles in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 2009.

Minneota ninth-grade quarterback Alex Pohlen threw a touchdown pass of 7 yards to Nicholas Esping, Garrett Hennen scored on a 6-yard run, while Cole Hennen scored on a 51-yard run and got some help from Esping on Minneota’s other touchdown; Hennen fumbled the ball into the end zone during the second quarter and Esping recovered for the score.

Dawson-Boyd’s points came on a 3-yard run by Dalton Palmer and a 10-yard pass from Jess Hansen to Hunter Olson.

CLASS 3A: ROCHESTER LOURDES 35, NEW LONDON-SPICER 14

Noah Hillman ran for a touchdown and passed for a score, Zach Hillman had two short touchdown runs and Carter Gerguson scored once on the ground and once through the air for the Eagles, who also won a state title in 2010.

Lourdes scored the first two touchdowns of the game before New London-Spicer rallied to make it a 21-14 game. But the Eagles did all the scoring after that to secure the victory.

The Wildcats’ points came on a 91-yard kickoff return by Shane Zylstra and a 2-yard run by Trey Austvold.

CLASS 5A: MANKATO WEST 42, SIMLEY 19

The Scarlets won their fourth state title since 1999, with Connor Watts scoring three touchdowns and Ryan Schlichte throwing for two scores and running for one. Watts had scoring runs of 2 and 9 yards and caught a 3-yard TD pass from Schlichte, who also threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jon Pytlak and ran for a 5-yard score.

Simley scored on runs of 10 and 35 yards by Michael Avwunuma and a 1-yard run by Michael Busch.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 198
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,656
A Play Call, A Little Luck And A State Championship 11/21/2014
The margin between the silent sadness of a runner-up squad and the joyous shouts of a state championship team can be razor thin. Case in point: Friday’s Class 2A Prep Bowl football game at the University of Minnesota.

The winner was Holdingford and the loser was BOLD. The score was 20-18 in two overtimes. That’s how history will record the game, but the inside story of the winning touchdown deserves to be long remembered. That’s because it’s proof of the luck that can be involved in these endeavors.

The teams were scoreless until BOLD’s Brad Wolff scored on a 4-yard run with 3:04 left in regulation. Holdingford’s Austin Gerads sent the game into overtime with a 10-yard run as time expired, making it 6-6. Each team scored six points in the first overtime; BOLD on another short run by Wolf and the Huskers on a 10-yard run by Nathan Brinker … remember that name.

The magic moment for the Huskers came in the second overtime. They had the ball first, from the 10-yard line. On fourth down from the eight, Gerads (the quarterback) lined up outside and Brinker (running back) took a shotgun snap. Nathan (pictured) rolled right, saw nobody open, frantically rerouted himself to the left side and saw Gerads heading for the end zone. Pass, catch, touchdown, 20-12 lead.

BOLD scored on a short run by Ben Steffel and a two-point rushing attempt was stopped. Huskers win.

But here’s where a little serendipity comes in: Brinker was a lineman until a month ago … Holdingford had run that play only once before, and that pass was intercepted … the play isn’t even designed to go to Gerads.

Needless to say, when the play was called the thought bubble over Brinker’s head carried these words: “Oh my gosh.”

“It wasn’t called for me,” Gerads said. “Brinker is just a playmaker; he can do whatever we ask him. They called him to roll right and throw it up there. I don’t know what he saw, he must not have seen anything. It wasn’t even supposed to come to me. I saw him look back so I took off for the sideline, trying to get open. He threw it up and I pulled it in.”

Brinker – who wears No. 52 and was moved from the line to the backfield before the Huskers played Osakis in the Section 6 semifinals – admitted that Friday’s winning play didn’t go as planned.

“No,” he said with a smile. “Definitely not. It’s something that coach threw in and I never thought we would run it. I rolled out, didn’t see anything there and Gerards made a great read and went left when he wasn’t supposed to. Great catch.

“It was definitely the right call.”

If any confirmation of that fact was needed, it came from inside the Holdingford postgame locker room; the voices of 50 boys, yelling in unison.

“One! Two! Three! Huskers state champs!”

NINE-MAN: GRAND MEADOW 48, EDGERTON/ELLSWORTH 0

The Superlarks captured their second consecutive state title with a dominating victory. Landon Jacobson (pictured) rushed 34 times for 143 yards and three touchdowns for Grand Meadow, which had 433 total yards to 181 for the Flying Dutchmen.

Grand Meadow’s Michael Stejskal completed nine of 12 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns, two to Cody Ojulu and one to Blake Olson. Wyatt Richardson kicked field goals of 23 and 34 yards. The Superlarks played in the Prep Bowl for the third year in a row. Edgerton/Ellsworth won the state title in 2009.

CLASS 4A: BECKER 24, DELASALLE 6

The Bulldogs dominated from the start, led 12-0 at halftime and 24-0 before DeLaSalle scored in the fourth quarter. Michael Veldman scored on a 4-yard run and threw a 19-yard scoring pass to Matt Conzemius. The Bulldogs also scored on a 13-yard run by C.J. Schwintek and a 3-yard run by Beau Pauly. The Islanders’ touchdown came on a 25-yard pass from Billy Hart to Marquise Bridges.

Becker had played in six previous Prep Bowls, winning the Class 3A championship in 2005. DeLaSalle won the 3A title in 1999 and had played in three other Prep Bowls.

CLASS 6A: EDEN PRAIRIE 28, TOTINO-GRACE 27

A back-and-forth game came down to a two-point conversion attempt with 1:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. After Totino-Grace’s Lance Benick scored on a 10-yard run to make it Eden Prairie 28, Totino 27, the Eagles went for two and the win. A pass was incomplete in the end zone, Eden Prairie fell on an onside kick and ran out the clock.

Totino led 14-0 in the second quarter and 21-7 at haftime. But Eden Prairie scored the next three touchdowns to lead 28-21 with 2:46 to play. Benick’s touchdown followed.

Will Rains rushed 26 times for 230 yards and touchdowns of 1, 57 and 75 yards for Eden Prairie. Ben Mezzenga had two scoring runs for Totino-Grace. Kez Flomo led Totino with 31 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown.

SATURDAY’S PREP BOWL GAMES
Class 1A: Dawson-Boyd vs. Minneota, 10 a.m.
Class 3A: Rochester Lourdes vs. New London-Spicer, 1 p.m.
Class 5A: Simley vs. Mankato West, 4 p.m.

--Photos by mnprepphoto.com; to see photo galleries from each Prep Bowl game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 192
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,606
Farmington’s Mark Froehling Announces Retirement 11/19/2014
Mark Froehling announced this week that he is retiring as the head football coach at Farmington High School. He told his team first, which is exactly what you would expect from a man who has always cared for his players above all else.

One of the highlights of my many years writing about high school sports came in the fall of 2006. I spent homecoming week with the Farmington Tigers, watching every football practice, sitting in on Froehling’s chemistry classes, enjoying homecoming festivities and writing about what took place.

That was a joyful week because I was able to write about one of the finest coaches I have ever known. As Farmington activities director Bill Tschida told me, “Mark is a treasure.”

Froehling, 52, has been a head football coach for 23 years; eight years at Caledonia and 15 years at Farmington. His career record is 122-101, but wins and losses is about the last thing for which he will be remembered. His players always knew that he cared about them as people and not just as football players.

He is known as a coach who interrupts practice to read to his team. The players rest on the field as their coach stands in their midst and reads aloud from books that are usually inspirational and always motivational.

After reading to the Tigers during a practice in 2006, he said quietly to me, “You’ve got to build a team somehow. If you just play football, then it’s only about football. This is all about team. I choose books about team, with the philosophy of being part of something bigger than yourself.”

He and his wife Lori made the retirement decision after the 2014 season ended. He will continue to teach chemistry.

“We’ve been talking about it the last couple years,” he said. “I wanted to make good decisions about where things stood. We’ve had multiple changes with the team, conference, classes, and I didn’t want to abandon the program during those transitions. They can be challenging and you want some stability.”

Indeed, Farmington has seen changes in recent years. The football team has moved from Class 4A to 5A to 6A, and when the Missota Conference dissolved this year Farmington joined the South Suburban Conference, which was a big step. The Tigers didn’t win a game this fall.

“We anticipated facing very good football teams every week,” Froehling said of the South Suburban. “And they didn’t disappoint. Every team was well-prepared, every team had great athletes and a good number of athletes, they knew how to play the game well.

“It was a little tough for us this particular season; we happened to be in a year where we just brought back about four starters from last year and we ended up doing this transition with a very young team. But to their credit, if you had come to practice you wouldn’t know what our record was. The kids came to play every week and practice was always positive. I told the seniors they were a great group to go out with. It has to be fun and they allowed that to happen.”

Froehling is only the second coach Farmington has had in 35 years. Earl Wetzel had the job for 20 years and Froehling was an assistant under him for two years; when Wetzel retired, Froehling was named head coach.

Trey Davis, a 2007 Farmington graduate who went on to compete in football and track at the University of Minnesota, said, “His impact goes beyond football to the example he sets as a man and just how much he cares about his athletes. It speaks to the way he did his retirement, waiting until after the banquet.”

Davis, now assistant activities director at Shakopee High School, added, “You never questioned that he cared about you. He would give you the shirt off his back if it meant you would be a more successful person.”

Tschida said Froehling set an example for all coaches at all schools.

“Some people are able to set their ego aside and really understand the true purpose of education-based athletics,” he said. “Mark is one of those people who has always looked at the greater good when it came to coaching. It was never about serving his ego and collecting accolades. It was always ‘How can I make a positive impact on the young men I’m coaching.’ That’s why he is so well-respected. He kind of sets the gold standard on how you can coach in this very machoistic sport yet do it in a manner that’s respectful of the individuals.”

Last season I was at Farmington for a game against Northfield. After warm-ups, the Tigers gather in the school weight room for last-minute words from Froehling. Here is what he told his team that day…

“We’ve got to be ready to play. I want to see effort and I want to see execution, right away. Let’s be moving out there, let’s get this thing going at our pace, not at their pace. Let’s dictate the pace, let’s run ‘em out of gas and take care of business, fellas. We’ve got to withstand any initial surge they might have.

“We know how to face adversity. This is football, gentlemen. There is always going to be adversity, nothing’s going to be perfect. There are going to be things we’ll have to overcome. Let’s not pretend that nothing bad’s never going to happen. We’ve just got to be prepared for it; how are we going to react to it? It’s a sign of the character of this team. And we know what kind of character we have, right? We know we can handle anything if we handle it together, can’t we?

“We’ve got to be able to play this one play at a time, right? Whatever happened on the last play, do we really care about that? No. Does it really matter what the next play is, the play after the one that’s being played right now? No. Will you please give me great focus on that play? Work your technique, do your job; you know your buddy’s counting on you to be focused right then, don’t you? He needs you. We all need each other, and let’s be sure we’re all taking care of our friends out there on the football field.

“Let’s show respect for our opponents tonight by the way we play the game. Every time we walk out on that field, we’re going to respect the game and make sure that we’re playing good, tough Tiger football. Gentlemen, let’s bring it in here and take a knee. What a beautiful night for the game of football, right fellas! This has gotta be fun, and let’s be thankful for being able to be here.”

Notice, Froehling didn’t say one word about winning the game. He talked about togetherness and focus and teamwork and being thankful.

After practice one day during that homecoming week in 2006, I talked with then-senior J.J. Akin, who went on to play football and graduate from Gustavus Adolphus College, where he now works as coordinator of marketing and technology and an admissions counselor.

Akin said to me, “Our coaches talk a lot about family, and they back it up. It brings unity. We’re not always going to be football players. We’re going to be husbands and fathers. Those are important things in life.”

And those lessons are taught by important people.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 184
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,556
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn