John's Journal
Multi-Sport Athletes, Top-Notch Competitors, Best Friends 11/11/2014
NORTHFIELD – Sitting in a conference room with a visitor on Tuesday afternoon, Bailey DuPay and Alexis Kiefer pondered this question: Are you good friends or best friends?

It didn’t take very long at all to hear the answer. “We’re pretty much best friends,” Kiefer said as the two Northfield seniors smiled. Friends, classmates, teammates … the two will close one chapter on their multi-faceted athletic careers at this week’s girls swimming and diving state meet at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

Both have qualified in Class 1A one-meter diving. DuPay will be making her fifth trip to state and she already owns three diving state championships. Kiefer will compete at the state meet for the first time, but she – and well as DuPay – have plenty of experience at other state championships. (Pictured are DuPay, left, and Kiefer, right.)

--Kiefer has competed in all-around at the Class 1A state gymnastics meet three times and finished second in the Class 2A pole vault last spring, her first appearance at the state track meet.

--DuPay is a two-time state gymnastics champion in all-around; she has been to state in gymnastics four times.

The preliminary round of diving will be held Wednesday, with the finals Saturday.

DuPay will continue her athletic career in college as a diver; she is close to making a final choice among three schools: Minnesota State Mankato, St. Cloud State and Wisconsin-Green Bay. Kiefer will attend the University of Minnesota and compete on the track team as a pole vaulter.

Kiefer has decided against competing in gymnastics this winter so she can focus on improving in her college sport. “I want to make the Olympic trials in the pole vault,” she said. “I’m going to need more time practicing the pole vault. I’m changing my goals.”

DuPay will say goodbye to gymnastics after the 2014-15 season before focusing on diving in college. For both athletes, the many injuries they suffered in gymnastics are among the reasons they will pursue other sports in college.

“Gymnastics is really hard on your body,” DuPay said. “I don’t know if my body would be able to take another four years of it.”

Kiefer said, “Since I have other goals, I don’t want to risk anything before college. You don’t make it through a gymnastics season without injuries.”

Bailey tried to remember each injury: A fractured right foot, two right knee surgeries, two herniated discs in her back, a stress fracture in her right fibula, a concussion, several sprained ankles and hip flexors.

Kiefer had compiled a list of her injuries, which she had conveniently put on her smart phone. “I made the list when I was deciding whether to stay with gymnastics,” she said as her looked at her phone.

“There have been a lot of minor injuries that you get and you forget about them,” she said as she began going down the list of serious injuries: “Fractured bone in right foot. Broken knuckle. I sprained both ankles many times on vault. Herniated discs in my back, as well; one when I was 12, so it’s highly probably that there’s more. Shin splints, torn labrum in a shoulder, pulled muscles and stuff, hip flexors.”

Despite the injuries, both athletes said they have no regrets about competing in gymnastics since they were little.

“Regrets? No, because there haven’t been any career-ending injuries, really,” Kiefer said. “You do get a lot of injuries. But I don’t think we regret anything because we love gymnastics so much.”

DuPay said, “I love the atmosphere, I love the competition, it definitely makes it worth it.”

If all goes well this week, DuPay will bring home another state diving championship (with the possibility of setting a state record) and Kiefer would be thrilled to finish high in her first time as a diver at state.

DuPay said there will be pressure on her, but most of it will come from within.

“My parents tell me a lot that there’s no pressure from them to win, that they’ll love me no matter what happens,” she said. “I think it’s more pressure from yourself.”

Kiefer said people at school are constantly asking Bailey, “Are you going to win again? Are you going to win again?”

DuPay’s career-best diving score is 511.6, which she set at the Big Nine Conference meet on Oct. 30 in Northfield. The all-time state-meet record is 507 and the Class 1A state-meet record is 500.85.

Come Saturday, the high school swimming and diving season will be over. That will close one chapter for the two friends.

“It’s a long season,” Alexis said. “We started in August.”

Bailey said, “It will be sad that it’ll be over but I’m ready for gymnastics.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 171
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 4,096
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
A Bundle Of Sticks And A Team That Stays Together 11/8/2014
The volleyball team from Tracy-Milroy-Balaton didn’t win a state championship Saturday, but the Panthers stayed together and worked together to the very end. And that’s important.

The Panthers, making their school’s first trip to the state volleyball tourney in a decade, lost to Bethlehem Academy 25-15, 25-21, 25-20 in the Class 1A championship match at Xcel Energy Center. There was certainly no shame in being defeated by the Cardinals, who also beat Eagan (state runner-up in Class 3A), Marshall and Stewartville (who played for the 2A state title) and Belle Plaine (third place in 2A) this season.

All told, Bethlehem Academy had eight regular-season matches against teams that went to state, and the Cardinals won seven of them. Saturday’s title was the Cardinals’ seventh since 2003.

Tracy-Milroy-Balaton’s postseason run of six victories before Saturday began with a box of sticks. The kind of sticks you’d find on a small tree; maybe a quarter of an inch thick and a foot or so long. Coach Katie Gervais brought a cardboard box filled with sticks to a team meeting and asked each player to take a stick.

“We each got one stick and she told us to break them in half,” said junior Sara Stoneberg. “We put one piece on the ground, and with the other stick we passed it on and kept passing them.”

Before long the Panthers had a big bundle of sticks. Each member of the coaching staff tied a small piece of rope around the bundle, and now they had something special.

“Coach said to the last person who was holding onto the sticks: 'Break those sticks with your hands.' She tried to break all 12 sticks with her hands and she couldn’t do it,” sophomore Gabbie Gervais said. “We said that’s how our team is going to be. If one person breaks, the other people are going to take care of her; a stick isn’t going to fall out of the bundle. Even if one breaks, they’re still going to stay together. They’re unbreakable.”

Players also carried laminated cards that carried a drawing of the bundle of sticks and the words “Unity is Strength.”

As Sara explained, “We said that unity is strength and nothing can break a team if we’re all together.”


--Bethlehem Academy senior Payton Schultz has now played on four state championship teams and sophomore Payton Nutter has won three state titles.

--This was a hectic season for Belle Plaine. Coach Cassie Koch was absent for two weeks in October for the birth of her first child and sophomore outside hitter Mariena Hayden was sidelined with a back injury and missed all of August and September.

Saturday’s Results

Class 3A
Chaska beat Eagan 25-17, 25-19, 25-21.

Third place
Eden Prairie beat Roseville 25-15, 25-22, 25-18

Fifth Place
Champlin Park beat Rochester Mayo 25-17, 25-17, 25-21

Class 2A
Stewartville beat Marshall 25-23, 27-29, 23-25, 25-19, 15-5

Third Place
Belle Plaine beat Maple Lake 20-25, 25-15, 19-25, 25-19, 15-13

Fifth Place
Rocori beat Concordia Academy-Roseville 16-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-18

Class 1A
Bethlehem Academy beat Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 25-15, 25-21, 25-20

Third Place
Martin County West beat Mayer Lutheran 25-19, 21-25, 25-22, 25-13

Fifth Place
Ada-Borup beat Browerville 17-25, 26-24, 25-11, 25-17


CLASS 1A/ Miki Lee, Ada-Borup; Hailey Leiding, Molly Klima; Martin County West; Maria Kuntz, Mayer Lutheran; Anna Peterson, Sammie Gervais, Sydney Lanoue, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton; Payton Schultz, Payton Nutter, Lauren Mathews, Bethlehem Academy.

CLASS 2A/ Eleanor Holthaus, Rocori; Linsey Rachel, Maple Lake; Dakotah Poitra, Mariena Hayden, Belle Plaine; Marissa Behrens, Jenna Willenborg, Jackie Bleifus, Stewartville; Abby Louwagie, Callie Graff, Marah Mulso, Marshall.

CLASS 3A/ Sydney Hilley, Champlin Park; Monica Burich, Roseville; Abby Ihrke, Elizabeth Mohr, Eden Prairie; Erin Schindler, Sarah Kelly, Makayla Wenzel, Chaska; Brie Orr, Callie Schapekahm, Alyssa Doucette, Eagan.

--To see photo galleries from the state volleyball tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 168
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 4,041
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Jessie Strong: Volleyball Community Comes Together To Help 11/7/2014
One of the best stories of the volleyball season sits in a wheelchair and sometimes gets around on crutches. But always, there is a big smile.

Jessie Nelson is a junior volleyball player from Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. She was involved in a major car accident last July, driving on a gravel road while returning home from her grandparents’ house. The car rolled several times and her left leg took the worst of it; a compound fracture, the tibia broke the skin and the fibula also was busted.

That’s the bad news. The great news is how her volleyball friends from southwest Minnesota – plus countless others who have never even met Jessie – rallied to support her.

“There’s been so much support,” Jessie told me at the state tournament, where the Panthers defeated Mayer Lutheran 3-1 in Friday’s Class 1A semifinals. “I seriously could not have done this without them.”

The road remains long. Jessie’s knee is stabilized with a device that surrounds the joint and has a dozen pins that help stabilize and align the bones. She has a port in her upper left arm; she receives antibiotics to fight dangerous infections that began when her knee wound was open to the elements in a farm field.

Jessie takes part in pregame introductions, standing on the court with her crutches. She watches the action from her wheelchair, but sometimes stands to cheer for the Panthers. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton is making its first trip to state since 2004, and “Jessie Strong” is a major theme. The Panthers all wear headbands with that slogan.

The headband idea came from one of Jessie’s friends and offseason volleyball teammates. Courtney Place, a senior at Heron Lake-Okabena, began a campaign to create and sell “Jessie Strong” headbands as a fundraiser for Jessie and her family. After T-M-B defeated Heron Lake-Okabena in the Section 3 semifinals, Courtney presented the Nelsons with a photo album/scrapbook that contained pictures of all the teams that contributed, as well as $1,000 in donations.

After the state tournament, Jessie will focus on healing. The device on her knee will remain in place until next summer; by that time, if all goes well, a rod will have been inserted into her leg, the healing process will continue and Jessie will be able to start rehabbing the knee.

Doctors have told her that her athletic career is probably over. But Jessie isn’t convinced. She wants to return to the volleyball team next season.

“Personally I would want to play, 100 percent. And I’m going to work as hard as I can to play, even though the doctors told me that it’s very unlikely I’ll be able to play sports again.

“But I don’t care what they say,” she said, laughing and smiling. “They told me that so I wouldn’t get my hopes up. But I don’t want to disappoint myself now; I would rather disappoint myself after I’ve done everything I possibly can.”


Two coach/daughter combinations will be on the court in state championship matches Saturday. In Class 3A, one of Eagan coach Kathy Gillen’s players is her ninth-grade daughter McKenna. In 1A, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton coach Katie Gervais’ daughter Sammie is a senior and Gabbie is a sophomore.

Friday’s Results

Class 3A Semifinals
Chaska beat Roseville 25-18, 25-16, 25-23
Eagan beat Eden Prairie 8-25, 25-20, 25-22, 24-26, 15-12

Class 3A Consolation
Champlin Park beat Bemidji 25-9, 27-25, 25-10
Rochester Mayo beat Cambridge-Isanti 25-23, 25-23, 25-20

Class 2A Semifinals
Stewartville beat Maple Lake 25-13, 25-12, 25-15.
Marshall beat Belle Plaine 25-22, 21-25, 25-19,21-25, 15-11

Class 2A Consolation
Concordia Academy-Roseville beat Mora 25-21, 25-14, 26-28, 25-18
Rocori beat Thief River Falls 20-25, 25-12, 25-21, 17-25, 15-8

Class 1A Semifinals
Bethlehem Academy vs. Martin County West 25-22, 25-15, 25-17
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton vs. Mayer Lutheran 25-20, 22-25, 25-20, 25-14

Class 1A Consolation
Ada-Borup beat Kittson County Central 25-16, 20-25, 25-13, 25-21
Browerville beat Carlton 25-17, 25-18, 25-16

*Schools/teams John has visited: 168
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 4,001
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
A Volleyball Coach, A Fisherman And a Trip To State11/6/2014
The paths people take can be quite interesting. Case in point: Cambridge-Isanti volleyall coach Vicki Courts and her husband/assistant coach Mark Courts.

Vicki, who grew up in Bay City, Michigan, was a standout volleyball player at Michigan State, serving as team captain in 2000, her senior year. After she graduated she met a professional fisherman named Mark Courts; he was fishing in a tournament on Saginaw Bay.

Mark is a native of Monticello, Minnesota. Vicki moved to Minnesota, went to graduate school at Bethel University and earned two teaching licenses and a masters degree. They got married and they live in Harris, which is in the Cambridge-Isanti school district.

Vicki (pictured), a special eduation teacher, became an assistant coach for the Bluejackets volleyball team 10 years ago. A year later she was named head coach. The fact that Cambridge-Isanti had never been to state until this year was not lost on anybody, including the coaching staff.

“We spent endless hours in the gym, which all coaches do, but really getting in to work with the youth (was crucial),” Vicki said after the unseeded Bluejackets lost to third-seeded Eagan 3-0 in Thursday’s Class 3A quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center.

“These seven seniors were 9-10-11 years old and I just started dragging them around with me; as managers, on buses, to meals, camps. We tried to just hang in there, and it wasn’t all that easy.”

Building a successful program never is easy. But when Cambridge-Isanti defeated North Branch in the Section 7 final last week at Chisago Lakes, it was, well, it was …

“It was pandemonium,” Vicki said. “Just breaking that cycle of never going to state. We were knocking on the door last year and lost to Grand Rapids by four points in the section final match, and the girls were just relentless about getting there. That’s what we talked about every day. It was the best feeling in the world. Those kids were thrilled. It was the best bus ride ever.”

Mark Courts, who has been a professional angler for 15 years, said joining Vicki on the volleyball court was an easy decision.

“This is about the only opportunity we get to spend time together,” he said. “I’m on the road 200 days a year, so if I’m not in the gym with her we don’t get time together.”


A year ago I wrote about Taryn Tumbleson (pictured), a volleyball player from Martin County West who sat out the 2013 state tournament because of injuries sustained in a car accident early in the season. The story was headlined “The Miracle Of Martin County West.”

She was driving on a gravel road when she lost control and the vehicle rolled several times. Her injuries included 11 broken ribs, a compression fracture in her back and a serious concussion. She wore a back brace at state last year and watched from the bench as the Mavericks finished sixth.

Last year at state Taryn told me she would back in 2014, in uniform and on the court. “Next year, definitely,” she said back then.

When we talked after the Mustangs defeated Browerville 3-0 in Thursday’s Class 1A quarterfinals, she smiled and said, “I was going to Tweet you and remind you that I said I was going to be back.”

No Tweet was necessary, because seeing her on the court and playing well was more than enough.

“It’s a lot more fun to be on the court,” she said with a big smile. “It was good motivation from last year. It’s great to be back. I think that it was kind of an eye-opener to not take life for granted. I appreciate the coaches and players and every moment I have on the court. It’s great to be here in my senior year.”


The most famous elbow in Faribault belongs to Bethlehem Academy senior Payton Schultz. She is as veteran as they come, starting for the Cardinals since seventh grade and being part of three state championship teams. A year ago she suffered a knee injury in the second match; this year she blew out her left elbow in the 14th match of the season and didn’t return until the Section 1 title match (in which she entered to serve the final two points).

She was in action Thursday as the Cardinals defeated Kittson County Central 3-0. Schultz had two digs in the match; “I’m not supposed to fall or anything, which is kind of difficult for me,” she said. “Doctor told me to be careful.”

There’s a scar on the elbow, and she wears a brace on it when playing. The injury occurred when she went down for a ball and landed wrong. Bones were broken in three places.

“If you watch the video it doesn’t seem like it should have caused damage, but it was just one of those freak things,” coach Franz Boelter said. “They were able to put it back together nicely. She was given permission to play yet to be cautious. … Today we just wanted to get her in there a little bit in every set and kind of see how things went. I told her, ‘If I put you out there it’s because I care about you, and if I don’t put you out there it’s because I care about you.’ ”

Chaska beats Bemidji 25-10, 25-11, 25-19
Roseville beats Champlin Park 26-24, 27-25, 22-25, 18-25, 15-13
Eden Prairie beats Rochester Mayo 25-12, 25-18, 22-25, 25-13
Eagan beats Cambridge-Isanti 25-12, 25-21, 25-22

Stewartville beat Mora 25-19, 25-17, 25-22
Maple Lake beat Concordia Academy 16-25, 17-25, 25-17, 25-16, 15-13
Marshall beat Thief River Falls 25-23, 25-12, 25-20
Belle Plaine beat Rocori 24-16, 25-18, 23-25, 25-22

Bethlehem Academy beat Kittson County Central 25-12, 25-15, 25-13
Martin County West beat Ada-Borup 14-25, 25-18, 25-14, 26-24
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton beat Browerville 25-11, 25-15, 25-13
Mayer Lutheran beat Carlton 25-22, 25-21, 21-25, 25-17

*Schools/teams John has visited: 168
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 3,961
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
State Volleyball And Football Take Center Stage11/5/2014
We’re heading into a big three days of state tournament action, with volleyball and football taking center stage.

Volleyball, in all three classes, will play at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Quarterfinals will be played Thursday, with semifinals and consolation matches Friday, and championship, third-place and fifth-place matches Saturday.

Football quarterfinals will be played Thursday, Friday and Saturday around the state, with three games Thursday, nine games Friday and 16 games Saturday.

I’ll be spending all three days at the volleyball tournament. I will be following the football scores from Xcel Energy Center, and I will post scores from both tournaments immediately on Twitter. You can follow me @MSHSLjohn

Here are the tournament lineups…

Thursday’s Quarterfinals

Chaska (27-3) vs. Bemidji (19-11), 9 a.m.
Roseville (25-4) vs. Champlin Park (24-7), 9 a.m.
Eden Prairie (27-3) vs. Rochester Mayo (26-3), 11 a.m.
Eagan (24-5) vs. Cambridge-Isanti (27-4), 11 a.m.

Stewartville (27-6) vs. Mora (26-5), 5 p.m.
Concordia Academy (26-7) vs. Maple Lake (27-5), 5 p.m.
Marshall (23-9) vs. Thief River Falls (23-9), 7 p.m.
Belle Plaine (22-10) vs. Rocori (25-5), 7 p.m.

Bethlehem Academy (26-4) vs. Kittson County Central (25-7), 1 p.m.
Martin County West (28-5) vs. Ada-Borup (26-5), 1 p.m.
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (26-9) vs. Browerville (24-5), 3 p.m.
Mayer Lutheran (18-15) vs. Carlton (27-5), 3 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 6
9-Man/ Kelliher/Northome vs. Norman County East/U-H, Bemidji State, 7:30 pm
6A/ Mounds View vs. Totino-Grace, Maple Grove, 7 pm
6A/ Rosemount vs. Lakeville North, Edina, 7:30 pm

Friday, Nov. 7
9-Man/ Kittson County Central vs. Cromwell, Bemidji State, 7 pm
1A/ Minneapolis North vs. Blooming Prairie, Richfield, 7 pm
2A/ Hawley vs. BOLD, Alexandria, 7 pm
2A/ Maple Lake vs. Caledonia, Rochester Community College, 7 pm
4A/ Cloquet vs. DeLaSalle, Chisago Lakes, 7 pm
4A/ Holy Angels vs. Hutchinson, Minneapolis Washburn, 7 pm
5A/ Bemidji vs. St. Michael-Albertville, St. Cloud State, 7 pm
6A/ Eden Prairie vs. East Ridge, Woodbury, 7 pm
6A/ Maple Grove vs. Prior Lake, Minnetonka, 7 pm

Saturday, Nov. 8
9-Man/ Edgerton/Ellsworth vs. Nicollet, SW MN State, noon
9-Man/ Underwood vs. Grand Meadow, Irondale, 1 p.m.
1A/ Braham vs. Upsala/Swanville, Brainerd, noon
1A/ Mahnomen vs. Dawson-Boyd, Alexandria, 1 p.m.
1A/ Minneota vs. New Ulm Cathedral, SW MN State, 3 p.m.
2A/ Pipestone vs. Norwood-Young America, Gustavus Adolphus, 1 pm
2A/ Moose Lake/Willow River vs. Holdingford, Brainerd, 3 pm
3A/ Esko vs. New London-Spicer, St. Cloud State, noon
3A/ Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton vs. Pierz, Brainerd, 6 pm
3A/ St. Croix Lutheran vs. Rochester Lourdes, Farmington, 6 pm
3A/ Blue Earth vs. Glencoe-Silver Lake, Burnsville, 6 pm
4A/ Rocori vs. Becker, St. Cloud State, 3 pm
4A/ South St. Paul vs. Stewartville, Rochester Community College, 6 pm
5A/ Bloomington Jefferson vs. Mankato West, Lakeville North, 2 pm
5A/ Sartell vs. Simley, St. Cloud State, 6 pm
5A/ Spring Lake Park vs. Faribault, Lakeville North, 6 pm