John's Journal
Football Friday: Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City Takes A Big BOLD Step8/31/2013
GROVE CITY – Falcon Field, home of the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City football team, was a pretty peaceful place when I pulled into the parking lot late Friday afternoon. The only sound was music being played over the first-rate stadium sound system, advising listeners to do the Macarena. The next tune was “Fishin’ in the Dark.” Two ACGC cheerleaders walked nearby, one of them barefoot, and they were singing along and smiling as they sang together.

There were many more hometown smiles to come as the evening went on. This was Week 1 of the football season, and the opponent was BOLD (as in Bird Island, Olivia, Lake Lillian District). The ACGC and BOLD school districts are neighbors, so people on both sides of Falcon Field have friends and relatives on the other side.

You can be sure that the BOLD Warriors fans had been reminding their Falcon friends about what took place in last season’s first game: BOLD 34, ACGC 0. The Warriors went on to have an exquisite season, getting to the Class 2A state semifinals before suffering their only loss in a two-point game to eventual state champion Caledonia.

Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City rebounded nicely from that opening rout, putting together a 9-3 season and falling to eventual 1A state champ Mahnomen in the state semifinals. So as the fans arrived at Falcon Field – ACGCers sitting on the home-side bleachers in front of a roomy three-story press box and BOLDers strolling around the track to the opposite side – memories of the Metrodome (and hopes for another trip in November) were fresh.

And, oh, what a setting for a football game. Cornstalks rise behind the visitors sideline, as does an old grain silo in the distance. Until the sun set, the BOLD fans had to shield their eyes from the brightness, but after dark it was perfect. It’s that kind of scenery, coupled with enthusiastic fans and hard-working athletes, that make small-town football in Minnesota so special.

Surely it’s early, but this may have been the game of the year in the West Central Conference. The league’s coaches had predicted that BOLD (with eight returning starters on offense) and ACGC (six starters back on offense and five on defense) would finish as the top two in the conference, so there was definitely something on the line.

And then the game began like this: BOLD lost a fumble on its second play from scrimmage; ACGC lost a fumble on its first play; BOLD lost a fumble on the first play of its second possession; ACGC fell short on fourth down; BOLD lost another fumble. A theme had, uh, been set. By the end of the game, the Warriors had fumbled the ball six times and lost five of those boo-boos.

The Warriors – whose roster is peppered with boys who played on the 1A state championship baseball team last spring – had six possessions in the first half, ending with four fumbles, an interception, a 78-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Trent Athmann and a 21-yard field goal by Nick Kubesh.

Early on, ACGC seemingly had trouble adjusting to the Warriors’ strategy of “Here, take the ball, please.” But by halftime the Falcons had done enough to grab control of the game. After one of those BOLD fumbles, Alex Pankratz sprinted around the right side for a five-yard score, and after the next BOLD giveaway, Maverick Whitcomb scored from five yards. A short TD pass from Derek Dengerud to Mitchel Macik gave the Falcons a 21-10 halftime lead.

(We interrupt this game report for a culinary review: There is a heck of meal served at halftime on the second floor of the press box in Grove City. The officials and workers – plus a lucky visiting scribe – filled paper plates with pork sandwiches, pickles, chips and fun size candy bars. And don’t even get me started on the soft-serve ice cream in the concession stand.)

The second half was dominated by ACGC, particularly by David Kinzler. He returned a blocked field goal 64 yards for a touchdown and caught an 86-yard pass from Dengerud for the Falcons’ final points. Dengerud also threw to Taylor Larson for a 37-yard touchdown. Final score: ACGC 41, BOLD 16.

The postgame numericals were pretty even. ACGC had 10 first downs to BOLD’s nine, and BOLD rushed for 190 yards to 108 for ACGC. But those five lost fumbles for the Warriors made things too easy for the hometown team.

In a postgame debriefing, ACGC coach Terry Karlsgodt remembered some key specifics about last year’s big loss to the Warriors.

“We threw five interceptions,” he said. “We came out in that game and we thought we were going to be some kind of pro-style passing offense. The next week, we went back and I think maybe we threw twice.”

That’s been the tradition at Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City: Throw the ball a handful of times but move it mostly on the ground behind strong, mobile linemen. The Falcons don’t do any football-specific training in the summer, much less take part in any passing leagues.

“We don’t pass, anyway,” Karlsgodt said with a chuckle, “so what would we do at a passing league?”

Karlsgodt has seen a lot in his 39 years coaching the Falcons. And his experience doesn’t even rank at the top of the staff because his three paid assistants are no rookies, either. Doug Torgerson has been on staff for 43 years, Jeff Tanner for 36 and Mike Maurer for 29. That’s a total of 147 years of experience among those four coaches. And among the nine men who are volunteer coaches, Michael Bolton has been doing it for 18 years. Heck, even team videographer Bernie Pelstring has been on the job for two decades.

Friday’s victory by the Falcons ended a four-year losing streak against BOLD.

“They seemed to kind of have our number,” Karlsgodt said. “Normally we have a hard time going up and down the field like we did tonight. It was a wild game. But we talk about these home run plays. We score and right away they come back; that’s what happened to us so many times when we play these guys. But we came up with some big home runs of our own tonight, which really was important for our confidence when you’re playing a team that you’ve had kind of the worst of it.”

Sometimes, however, the worst of it strolls around to the other side of the field.

--To see a photo gallery from the game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 22
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,308
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
Week 1 Football: Hutchinson, Becker, Overtime And Lots Of Fun8/30/2013
HUTCHINSON – On a glorious opening night of the football season, the most difficult moment Thursday evening – at least for the spectators -- might have been the national anthem. The Hutchinson band played a stellar version, but the sun was parked low in the sky, directly behind the American flag at S.R. Knutson Field. A few thousand people can be excused for squinting.

The hardest part of the night for the football players from Becker and Hutchinson was twofold: Dealing with the heat and dealing with each other. The non-conference game was not an exercise in precision, with turnovers and dropped footballs abounding, and by end of the night Hutchinson had earned a 16-13 victory in overtime. Oh yes, the heat ... and another word that starts with H.

Hutch assistant coach David Larson told the Tigers in their postgame gathering, “Maybe you didn’t believe us about hydration. You do now.”

I considered Thursday’s game the No. 1 event of Week 1. Hutchinson is coming off a Class 4A state championship, which included a 28-24 victory over Becker in the state semifinals at the Metrodome.

The Title Town excitement in Hutch is something to see. Students were tailgating in the parking lot, they stood as one in the stands throughout the game, all wearing black, the band was fantastic, railbirds watched from the fence that circles the field. There is a burgeoning effort to install artificial turf, more bleachers and a new press box at the historic old football grounds before next season, and this kind of excitement means striking while the iron is hot.

There was one odd sight when the teams came out to warm up. Becker was wearing its blue uniforms, which it normally wears for home games. Seemed strange, and there were several explanations ... from the Hutch faithful.

Possibility No. 1: Becker coach Dwight Lundeen wanted Hutch to wear their white jerseys so it would be harder to disguise the football’s whereabouts from the Bulldogs.

Possibility No. 2: Lundeen is superstitious and when his team loses he doesn’t want to wear the same color in the next game, even if it’s a season later.

Possibility No. 3: Becker has ordered new white jerseys but they hadn’t all been delivered in time for Thursday’s game.

When I interrogated Lundeen -- who is the only head coach Becker has known since the football program began in 1970 – about the Great Uniform Mystery, his statement was that not all the white jerseys had arrived, and the old white jerseys didn’t match the pants the Bulldogs were wearing. Case closed, I think.

Both teams are different this year, particularly at quarterback. Hutchinson’s new QB is junior Marcus Hahn, who threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jayden Juergensen on Thursday and did the placekicking. The Bulldogs used senior Zach Zimmer, junior Michael Veldman and sophomore Andrew Stanger at quarterback.

But there were some similarities to last year’s state semifinal game, especially in Hutch running back Tory Adams. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior carried 18 times for 147 yards vs. Becker last year, and on Thursday he ran 20 times for 140 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown to cap the game’s opening drive.

Becker trailed 7-0 before it had touched the ball, and it appeared that the Tigers had set a firm tone with the impressive 60-yard drive. But no. The Bulldogs defense firmed up, the Hutch defense did the same and the contest turned into a hot-weather game of attrition.

Several times, Hutch running back Robbie Grimsley (who wears No. 5 and therefore is called RG5), left the game with leg cramps. But RG5 never stopped coming back in, a testament to the toughness on both teams.

After Stanger intercepted a pass deep in Becker territory in the second quarter, he finished the ensuing drive by throwing – on fourth down from the 5 -- a touchdown pass to Eric Blomgren to make it a 7-7 game.

At halftime, Lundeen – who ranks third on the state’s career victory list – told his team, “That was a pretty good first half. We’re not questioning your effort, but we have to take care of the ball better … the ball’s a little slippery and so are your arms. Hang on to it tight.”

The Bulldogs’ defensive plan for the second half was to shut down Hutch’s running game and make Hahn throw. The first part of that formula never came to fruition; Hahn attempted only eight passes all night, completing four and being picked off three times.

Each team scored a fourth-quarter touchdown, with Hahn throwing to Juergensen and Stanger throwing to Blomgren again. And both teams missed the extra-point kicks after those scores, sending the thing to overtime with a 13-13 tie.

Hutch had the first possession, getting four plays from the 10-yard line. They went like this: RG5 ran for 5, fumbled handoff (loss of a yard), fumbled snap ( loss of two yards), field goal by Hahn.

Becker’s overtime script: Bobby Lee run loses a yard, incomplete pass thrown by running back Josh Nohner, pass to Blomgren moves the ball to the 8 … and on the final play of the game, a pass was intercepted by Hutch’s Adam Elliott.

Thus ended two hours and 30 minutes of sweat, emotion, great plays, sloppy plays, excitement and fun.

“You hung in there and you hung in there,” Hutchinson coach Andy Rostberg said to his players as they took a knee in an end zone. Now, tomorrow …”

Yes, tomorrow. There are a whole bunch of tomorrows to come. The season has just begun. In grand style.

--To see a photo gallery from the game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 20
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,088
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
Central Lakes Conference Takes The Lead On Sportsmanship, Leadership 8/28/2013
SARTELL – Every day should start with a bunch of high fives. That’s what took place Wednesday morning at the front doors of Sartell High School, where a group of Sartell athletes greeted fellow athletes from the nine schools of the Central Lakes Conference.

The schools – Alexandria, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Rocori, St. Cloud Apollo, St. Cloud Tech, Sartell, Sauk Rapids-Rice and Willmar – each sent around 45 team captains and other leaders from 26 different sports to gather for five hours of learning, motivation, togetherness and fun at the Central Lakes Conference Sportsmanship/Leadership workshop. In total, about 400 athletes walked through the school doors, greeted with those high fives.

This is an outstanding concept. Other conferences around our state do similar things, but the Central Lakes athletic administrators put on a workshop that was top-notch. If any of the gathered athletes came away with nothing, then they weren’t even trying to pay attention. There was valuable information everywhere you looked.

MSHSL associate director Jody Redman opened the day with a presentation in the school auditorium on “Creating a culture of belonging.” Students learned about helping each other, their team and their school through working together and caring about everyone they meet on their journey.

The students then broke into eight small groups, which circulated through different areas of the school – the gym, band room, choir room, auxiliary gym, auditorium, etc. – for presentations by the conference’s athletic directors and others. The topics included Leadership, Sportsmanship, Character Education, Role Modeling, CPR Training, Benefits of Multi-Sport Participation and Responsible Use of Social Media.

One brief example of the lessons learned is the Sandwich Principle. That’s a device in which a conversation with a teammate begins with praise (“Thanks for working so hard today”), is followed by a message about correcting behavior (“If you got to practice on time every day, it would be a tremendous help to the team”) and ends with more praise (“You’re a talented athlete and you make our team better”).

The athletes listened, and they were charged with taking everything they learned back to their schools and their teammates. There are more than 10,000 students in grades nine through 12 in the Central Lakes Conference schools, and the 400 or so selected to attend the workshop are the true leaders in those schools.

As Alexandria activities director David Hartmann told the students during the session on leadership, “You are the leaders in your schools. You have the power.”

With the combination of those students and administrators, the conference is in good hands.

Postscript: As another symbol of the quality of the Central Lakes Conference, Alexandria High School on Tuesday was awarded the Exemplary Program Award from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. Alexandria is only the 21st high school in the nation to receive this award and the very first from Minnesota.

The award is based on criteria in 10 categories: Philosophy, Educational Compatibility, Mentoring Staff and Student Leaders, Program Safety and Risk Management, Program Access and Equity, Budget and Supplemental Fundraising, Personnel and Program Assessment, Technology, Sports Medicine and Innovative and Creative Leadership Strategies.

Congratulations!

--To see a photo gallery from the workshop, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 18
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 938
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
A Warm Night For Volleyball As The Season Opens 8/27/2013
FARIBAULT – First things first: It was hot and humid inside the non-air-conditioned Van Orsow Auditorium on Tuesday evening when Lakeville North came to Bethlehem Academy to open the volleyball season. This was not a new experience for the B.A. Cardinals, who play volleyball in their gym throughout the spring and summer.

Lakeville North, on the other warm hand, has an air-conditioned gym in its school and plays almost all of its offseason volleyball in air-conditioned facilities. So guess who came out on top Tuesday?

Turned out that the climate had little to do with the outcome, as the Panthers defeated the Cardinals 25-9, 25-23, 25-21 in an opener between programs that are very familiar with state titles. B.A. is the two-time defending Class 1A state champion (the Cardinals also won titles in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009). Lakeville North won the 3A crown in 2010 and again last season.

So regardless of the indoor weather, this was first-rate volleyball … although neither team – probably not surprisingly – was not in midseason form. There were plenty of errors to go around, and the Panthers showed a nice closing push throughout.

The theme for B.A. went something like this: Start strong, hold a lead as sets reached the halfway pole, then throw a few airballs and other miscues as North took advantage.

“The frustration we have tonight is the inability to close out sets,” said Cardinals coach Franz Boelter. “And we’ve been fighting that all spring and summer. You can’t stop playing the way you were playing to get to that point, and we have a tendency to do that. Obviously, you see we have the ability to be very good. But we just buried ourselves in errors. They tried to help us out by returning the favor, but we just wouldn’t take it and walk through it.”

North coach Walt Weaver said his team played unsteady volleyball, which is no surprise as the season gets underway.

“There’s one in the victory column, and that’s a good start,” he said. “I think on both sides there is a lot of work to do. We have to get just more steady. There were way too many errors for a championship team. We’re a good team, but if we’re going to win the championship we’re going to have to cut down on mistakes.”

Bethlehem Academy lost all-state players Maddie Borwege and Jessie Mathews to graduation, and the Cardinals’ starting six Tuesday consisted of one senior, four juniors and a ninth-grader. North also has several holes to fill, but all-everything hitter Alyssa Goehner is back for her senior year. She led the way Tuesday with 22 kills – several from the back row – and had three ace serves. First-year varsity setter Anna Michaels had 24 assists for the Panthers.

“With our new kids it’s going to be a different road this year,” Weaver said. “But as long as they understand and we can keep somebody off balance when we really have to, that’s the thing. Had (Bathlehem Academy) played the way they played at the very end of the game the way they played in the middle, I don’t know if we could have done that."

--To see photos (and a video of Alyssa Goehner), go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 9
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 738
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
Friday Was A Pretty Fair Day For Jackson County Central8/24/2013
When I talked on the phone with Nolan Hohenstein on Wednesday, the Jackson County Central senior football player was adamant that he was not going to miss Friday night’s season opener at St. Louis Park.

“I’ll be there,” said the 6-foot-4, 275-pound two-way starting lineman. “I might be there a little late but I’ll be there.”

He had a competitive conflict, as did senior wide receiver Scott Christopher. They were showing livestock at the Minnesota State Fair and getting across town to the game might be dicey. Christopher, in fact, did not make it to the game because he was winning a blue ribbon with his blackface lamb at the same time.

Hohenstein (pictured) got to the field just in time, driving from the fair with his parents. He used a porta-potty as a locker room, putting his pads on and jogging onto the new turf field at St. Louis Park about 15 minutes before kickoff.

“I was trying to stay calm,” he said after Class 2A Jackson County Central defeated Class 5A St. Louis Park 21-7. “My nerves were getting to me a little bit and I was getting pumped up. We got over here quick, got dressed and got ready for the game.”

Oh, he also had a winning day in the swine barn. His crossbred barrow was named reserved middleweight champion, reserved crossbred champion and finished third overall.

Nolan was glad that he was able to sleep in a bit Friday morning … which for him meant not waking up until 7 a.m. “But it was a long day, showing all day. It was rough getting here but I got here.”

The fair wouldn’t have presented a conflict if not for Zero Week, in which 22 Minnesota football teams began the season a week earlier than the rest. But it’s a good thing the JCC Huskies played their opener so close to the fairgrounds.

Christopher (pictured) and Hohenstein have been on the fairgrounds since midweek and will head home Sunday. Scott was disappointed to miss the game, but he vowed he won’t miss any more.

“It was really hard,” he said. I’ve had a month to think about it. It’s just the way my sheep started looking better.”

The rewards at the fair include more than ribbons and titles. Some of the top animals are sold at auction, often for thousands of dollars.

Huskies coach Tom Schuller – whose team reached the 2A state semifinals at the Metrodome last season – was glad to see Hohenstein arrive but said the Huskies missed Christopher’s presence.

“Scott has had a great fall for us,” Schuller said. “He’s been one of our most effective receivers and he also gives us a little bit of spelling at d-back.”

The Huskies had plenty of firepower against St. Louis Park. They controlled the game with a dominating ground game; Keegan Moore carried 16 times for 119 yards and a touchdown and Luke Norland ran 25 times for 102 yards and two scores. In total yards, the Huskies outgained the Orioles 332 to 154. St. Louis Park, which has never reached the state playoffs, is large enough to play 5A football but the Orioles’ best season in the last decade was a 4-5 record in 2008.

“I was extremely pleased with the effort, to be sure,” Schuller said. “For a first game, I thought we played really well. (The Orioles) are in the midst of building a program and getting more kids out. If you’re going to play 5A football you’ve got to have all one-way players and they’re not there yet. They’re in progress right now.”

Behind Jackson’s ground game are linemen like Hohenstein and Matt Schmit, a 6-5, 235-pound senior. They are experienced, smart football players.

“Nolan’s played since he’s been a sophomore and he’s a great two-way player,” Schuller said. “We saw what life was like without him this week in practice and it was a little bit scary. Put him beside Matt Schmit and you’re talking about two 4.0 students who work really hard in the weight room. They’re really well-rounded student-athletes.”

After Friday’s game, the large contingent of Huskies fans walked onto the field to congratulate their boys. They gathered in one end zone, smiling, laughing and talking about football and farm life.

“We got through the fair,” Schuller said. “I think Honie’s pig did great. I don’t know how the lamb did for Christopher, but we got the animals all racked up and ready and we won the football game, so it was a great night for us.”

--To see a photo gallery from the game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 7
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 668
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn