John's Journal
On The Iron Range, Where Runners Run And A Volleyball Hero Returns Home9/6/2013
COLERAINE – It’s no secret that I have a lot of fun in my job. I also drive a lot of miles. The fun and the miles I accumulated Thursday was something special.

I was enticed via Twitter to drive to Greenway High School – a 450-mile round trip for me – to attend two events: the second annual Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin Titan Invitational cross-country meet at Eagle Ridge Golf Course, followed by a big rivalry volleyball match between Hibbing and Greenway.

It was an outdoor/indoor bash, featuring lots of outstanding competition, enthusiastic fans and community pride.

Speaking of Twitter, that electronic messaging system has clearly taken over the world. The invitation to come to Coleraine arrived via this Tweet: “@MSHSLjohn Would love to have you visit the Range for big CC meet and great VB rivalry on 9/5 in Coleraine!”

Several Tweets later, my trip was booked. Then came this Tweet from a member of the Greenway volleyball team, senior Kate Kuck: “Excited for @MSHSLjohn to come and watch our game against Hibbing! Everyone else should come too! #volleyballgame #Thursday #bethere!”

Greenway (high school enrollment 239) and Nashwauk-Keewatin (129) have cooperative teams in cross-country, football, golf and boys hockey. The Greenway-only teams are the Raiders; Nash-Kee teams are the Spartans; the coop teams are the Titans. One of the key participants in Thursday’s action, however, was not affiliated with any of the “home” teams … at least not officially.

Hannah Johnson, 23 (pictured), is the first-year volleyball coach at Hibbing, as well as one of the most famous athletes in Greenway history. Hannah was an all-state volleyball player for the Raiders, played collegiately at Minnesota Duluth and began her coaching career last season at Mesabi East. She took over at Hibbing this season when Gail Nucech retired after the most illustrious coaching career in Minnesota high school volleyball history. Nucech – who was in the Greenway gym as a fan Thursday night – began the Bluejackets volleyball program in 1969, led the team for 44 years and finished with a state-record 884 victories.

“Of course I would like to follow in her footsteps, success-wise,” Johnson said. “She’s built a great program. I came into this program and I started from scratch from a lot of aspects, but these girls knew what they were doing and they’re very coachable kids. They make my job easy.”

Johnson had not been in the Raiders gym since graduating from high school. Her return didn’t go exactly as she had hoped; Greenway swept the Bluejackets 25-22, 25-21, 25-23 in front of a large crowd that included a vocal band of Raiders students.

“I haven’t watched a Greenway volleyball game since I played in one,” Hannah said after the match. “And nothing has changed, nothing. The fans are still amazing. The fans are really what keeps the energy going; the atmosphere in here is great. It’s fun to play here.”

The cross-country meet and the volleyball match began in the same way: with the Greenway band playing the national anthem. Kudos to the musicians and their director, Sander Grotjohn, for hauling their instruments to the golf course, where they warmed everyone up with “Born To Be Wild,” “Louie Louie” and other tunes.

Also, I would like to officially extend personal kudos to the officers of the Coleraine Police Department. When I arrived at the golf course, the officers were allowing teams and coaches to park in the crowded clubhouse lot while fans were asked to park along the roadway and walk to the course. One of the officers looked at my, uh, graphically enhanced car and said, “Are you guy who’s on Twitter?” Yup. Busted … and getting a good parking spot. That evening at the volleyball match, I was standing outside the gym in a line of fans waiting to buy tickets when another officer came out and waved me through. “I thought that was you,” he said. Love those guys.

The cross-country meet was everything anybody could have hoped for. Seventy-five degrees, bright sunshine, a beautiful golf course. Esko won the girls team title and Esko and Proctor tied for first on the boys side. The individual winners were Esko’s Kailee Kiminski and Mesabi East’s Samuel Johnson.

Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin cross-country coach Will Floersheim is a young coach who knows how to make a meet special. The first event was a short run for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, followed by junior high and junior varsity races before the varsity competitions. Winning teams received delicious trophies: sheet cakes commemorating their accomplishment. I’m not kidding. Sheet cakes.

I arrived at the volleyball match as the teams were finishing warm-ups. Karen Tomberlin Gym is named after a former Greenway coach; Karen’s daughter, Rhaya Tomberlin-Anderson, is now the Raiders volleyball coach. Lineage is big in this story, and yes, Rhaya was Hannah Johnson’s high school coach.

“When she was a freshman at UMD and we took our varsity team to their team camp, she coached them throughout the team camp,” Tomberlin-Anderson said. “I was there to watch and at the end of that camp I said, ‘Hannah, you’ve got a gift. You’ve got to coach.’ I don’t know if she had thought about it before that, but I knew then that she would be an excellent coach.”

The Greenway players certainly remembered Hannah from her high school days. And Hannah was familiar with them, as well.

“I worked with them almost every single summer at UMD camps,” she said. “I know every single one of these kids.”

And just about everybody in the gym knew Hannah Johnson. It had to be a little strange, however, seeing their hometown hero wearing Hibbing blue instead of Greenway Green.

“It’s cool to see their fan base, and I know a lot of people were out here tonight for Greenway, but I know a lot of people came to support me,” Hannah said. “I come from this community and I’ll be part of this community forever.”

It's a great place to call home.

--To see a photo gallery from Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 45
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,818
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
Richie Olson, Coach Of 1960 Edgerton Basketball Team, Has Died9/6/2013
The architect of Edgerton’s historic 1960 one-class state boys basketball title, coach Richie Olson of Virginia, Minn., died Thursday from injuries he suffered in a fall last week north of Virginia, his brother, Floyd, told the Duluth News Tribune. Olson was placed on a respirator and never recovered. He was 76.

Olson was only 23 years old when he was hired to coach the Flying Dutchmen before the 1959-60 season.

Read more about Olson's death by clicking here.
Hurry Up: Dimke Sets The Pace For Blaine Volleyball Team 9/4/2013
Lydia Dimke is in a hurry. The Blaine High School senior volleyball star is in a hurry to get to the net, where she smacks and blocks the ball with authority. She is in a hurry to get under a pass and set the ball for her teammates to pound. She is in a hurry to get into position to dig the ball, after which she often is at the net for a kill.

The 6-foot-2 Dimke did all that and more Tuesday night at Minnetonka, where the Bengals defeated the Skippers 28-26, 25-22, 25-22 in a non-conference matchup of top 10 teams. Blaine (2-0), which finished third at the state tournament last season, is No. 3 in this week’s Class 3A rankings. The top two are defending state champ Lakeville North and Chaska. Minnetonka is No. 6.

Dimke (pictured) finished Tuesday’s match with 14 kills, 17 assists and eight digs. Her final season of high school volleyball will end shortly before her high school days, because she will graduate early. If all goes well, the Bengals will play their final matches of the season in the Nov. 7-9 state tournament at Xcel Energy Center, and Dimke’s final day of high school will be Nov. 26.

Having committed to play volleyball at Purdue University, she will begin classes there in January. Yes, she’s in a hurry.

“I had to take a few online classes just to make sure I get all the credits done,” she said with a smile. “Other than that, it’s easy. Just don’t fail.”

Tuesday was also Lydia’s final first day of school at Blaine, which she admitted was kind of weird.

“I’ve never really been the oldest and I’ve always looked up to people,” she said. “But it’s kind of rewarding knowing that the younger kids look up to you now. It’s kind of cool.”

Lydia has always looked up to her sister Sydney, who is a 5-11 sophomore volleyball player at the University of South Dakota. Lydia now is one of 10 seniors on the Blaine team, but the roster is a mix of experience and newcomers; eight of the 14 varsity players did not see action in last year’s state tournament.

“Many of our kids in key spots are new and aren’t very experienced, and they’re really showing great poise,” Bengals coach Celeste Gorman said. “Honestly, I’m pleasantly surprised by the level of ball that they’re playing, I really am. The mental toughness is definitely key for this team.”

The Bengals have plenty of size, with 6-1 senior Jessica Jorgensen, 6-foot senior Brooke Christenson and 5-11 junior Taylor Morgan at the net. Jorgensen and Morgan each had six kills against Minnetonka, defensive specialist Ellen Anderson had 15 digs and setter Rebecca Hawkins had nine digs.

For the Skippers (6-2), 6-1 senior Hannah Weidner (13 kills), 5-9 senior Mikaela Purnell (11) and 5-10 junior Caroline Shelquist (10) led the attack. Ninth-grader setter Isabelle Aragon-Menzel had 33 assists and senior Laura Herman finished with 21 digs.

Tuesday’s match could have gone differently if not for the Bengals’ ability to close out a very close first game. Minnetonka held a 24-21 lead after a kill by Purnell and had three game points, but Blaine rallied in a game that had 15 ties and six lead changes.

“Game one could have gone either way and I thought Blaine played great at the end,” said Skippers coach Karl Katzenberger. “Plain and simple, I think both teams are state tournament teams and I think Blaine deserved to win tonight because they played better.”

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


*Schools/teams John has visited: 24
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,368
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn
Congratulations To 2013 Hall Of Fame Inductees9/4/2013
Several high school Halls of Fame have announced their upcoming inductees, and here’s a rundown…

--The Minnesota State High School Coaches Association will induct six individuals into its Hall of Fame on Saturday, Oct. 12 at the Crown Plaza Riverfront Hotel in St. Paul.

The inductees are:
--Matt Shetka, New Prague, Girls Golf and Gynmastics
--David Barnum, Crookston, Track and Field
--Sandra Boss, Owatonna, Gymnastics and Track and Field
--Bill Bauman, North Branch, Boys Basketball
--Robert Stewart, Mounds View, Cross Country/Track and Field
--Milan Mader, Lakeville North, Volleyball and Gymnastics

--The Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association has named four men who will be inducted into the MBCA Hall of Fame. The induction ceremonies will be held Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Minneapolis.

The inductees are:
--Laurin Carroll, Luverne
--Vern Johnson, Grygla-Gatzke
--Ken Novak Jr., Hopkins
--Bob Vaughan, Braham

--The Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame will induct eight individuals Oct. 11 at the Schwan Center in Blaine.

The inductees are:
--Dave Palmquist, South St. Paul
-- Chuck Scanlon, Apple Valley
-- Tim Morris, Eden Prairie
--Bob May, pioneer
--Jane Ring, pioneer
--Tom Maeckelbergh, pioneer
--Charlie Stryker, SPA/Visitation
--Brano Stankovsky, Blake

Congratulations to all!
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.


*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