John's Journal
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
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
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.


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.


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).


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, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 144
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 3,921
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn