John's Journal
Add Another Name To A Short List Of Accomplished Coaches3/18/2013
Over the weekend, I posted an item here on John’s Journal about coaches who have led boys and girls teams to state championships in two different sports. The discussion was sparked when Minneota won the Class 1A girls basketball title Saturday; Vikings coach Chad Johnston also coached the Minneota football team to the 2009 Class 1A state championship.

We can add at least two other coaches to the list:

--Apple Valley’s Chuck Scanlon did so with girls hockey (1995, 1998) and eight boys soccer teams.

--Anoka teams coached by Dave Tank won boys basketball championships in 1981 and 1992 and a girls soccer title in 1989.

Are there others we can add to the list? If you know of someone, send an email to
An Epic Championship Game And An Assault On The Records 3/16/2013
Late Saturday afternoon, this message was sent to me via Twitter: “Being the wordsmith you are, give me THE one word to describe the NRHEG-Braham title game.”

The answer, for me, was easy. Epic. The Class 2A girls basketball state championship game was epic. Absolutely epic. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word to describe a high school sporting event, but it is an unquestionably perfect fit for what we witnessed at Target Center.

New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva defeated Braham 60-59 to win its first state title in a game that had as many swings as a spy novel. NRHEG jumped out to an early lead, Braham star Rebekah Dahlman was in first-half foul trouble, Braham rallied in the second half and the darn thing went down to the wire.

The hero for NRHEG was, of course, Carlie Wagner. The junior scoring machine set all manner of state tournament records (we’ll get to that in a second), but her biggest play was a steal as the final seconds ticked away. Wagner had made one free throw to make it 60-59 with six seconds left, but the Bombers had a chance … until Wagner stole the ball and sealed it.

Now, about those tournament records. Last year, when NRHEG placed third at state, Wagner set tournament records with 48 points in one game and 112 in the tournament. She topped both of those marks Saturday and also bettered or matched records set by some of the game’s pioneers.

Wagner now holds six tournament records: Most field goal attempts in a game (43), most field goals made in a game (21, matching the 21 by Albany’s Kelly Skalicky in 1981), most points in a game (50), most field goal attempts in a tournament (110), most field goals made in a tournament (48) and most points in a tournament (129).

Skalicky had also held the record for field goals made in a tournament, Kay Konerza of Lester Prairie (1982) had held the record for field goal attempts in a game, and the mark for most field goal attempts in a tournament had belonged to New York Mills legend Janet Karvonen (1980).

“This is crazy, it hasn’t sunk in that we just won,” Wagner said before the Panthers cut down the nets. “I just can’t think right now.”

Wagner has made a verbal commitment to play basketball at the University of Minnesota in a couple of years, and Gophers coach Pam Borton watched from the court level Saturday. Dahlman, the all-time career scoring leader in Minnesota, had two points and three fouls at halftime but was spectacular after that, scoring 30 points in the second half before fouling out with 37 seconds to play. Dahlman will continue her basketball career at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

“She’s incredible,” Wagner said of Dahlman. “She does things I’ve never seen before.”

My favorite moment Saturday came as the 2A all-tournament team was announced. Wagner (and her eighth-grade sister Maddie) were recognized, as was Dahlman. Carlie and Rebekah embraced and they both smiled as they congratulated each other.

We’ll see more from the Wagners (Carlie, Maddie and Maddie’s twin, Marnie) next winter. But before that, Carlie will turn her attention to the track season, where she is the defending Class 1A state champion in the high jump.


Both coaches knew what would be a major factor in deciding whether Minneota or Ada-Borup would be the Class 1A state champion: Minneota’s Taylor Reiss. The 5-foot-10 sophomore is the linchpin of the Vikings’ inside game.

Ada-Borup led by two points at halftime. That’s when Minneota coach Chad Johnston had a simple message for his players. He said, “If we want to win, we have to make sure the ball goes into Taylor Reiss.”

That indeed happened as Reiss finished with 30 points and 12 rebounds, both game highs.

“She really was the difference today,” said Ada-Borup coach Dave Smart. “We couldn’t keep her off the offensive glass and that’s the price we paid.”


DeLaSalle won the 3A title for the third year in a row, defeating Red Wing 65-60. The game was close into the second half -- the Islanders led by two at halftime – but Red Wing was held to 22 points in the final 18 minutes.

Tyseanna Johnson scored 25 points and Allina Starr had 20 for the Islanders, and Macy Kelly led the Wingers with 17.

In the 4A game, Hopkins also notched its third title in as many years with a 68-45 victory over Bloomington Kennedy. The Royals led by two at halftime but outscored the Eagles 40-19 in the second half.

Nia Coffey led Hopkins with 25 points and 16 rebounds. Jade Martin scored 19 points for Kennedy.


----Minneota’s Johnston also coached the Vikings football team to the Class 1A state title in 2009, begging the question: How many coaches have won state championships with both boys and girls teams in two different sports? Apple Valley’s Chuck Scanlon did so with girls hockey and boys soccer. If you know of any others, send me an email (or a Tweet).

--An interesting sight in the Target Center corridor where locker rooms are located, including the Timberwolves’ locker room: NBA players, walking to their practice court in the Target Center health club, ducking in order to stay out of the way of high school girls basketball players as they were being interviewed.


1A/ Kaelin Smieja, Upsala; Jessie Mathews, Bethlehem Academy; Shelby Kaster, Madison McKeever, Win-E-Mac; Monica Vega, Megan Kolness, Shaina Stevenson, Ada-Borup; Taylor Reiss, Emily Stienessen, Molly Hennen, Minneota.

2A/ Chase Coley, Natalie Holdahl, Minneapolis Washburn; Taylor Finley, Leah Szabla, Nathalie Ratcliff, Providence Academy; Maddie Wagner, Carlie Wagner, NRHEG; Jaclyn Hollenkamp, Dani Braund, Rebekah Dahlman, Braham.

3A/Grace Sawatzke, Alyssa Lentner, Monticello; Jessica January, Kyla Adams, Richfield; Tesha Buck, Macy Kelly, McKenna Schaffer, Red Wing; Allina Starr, Tyseanna Johnson, Patiance Griffin, DeLaSalle.

4A/ Phillis Webb, Janay Morton, Osseo; Madison Guebert, Tyra Johnson, Eastview; Jade Martin, Jasmyn Martin, Kenisha Bell, Bloomington Kennedy; Taylor Anderson, Erin O’Toole, Nia Coffey, Hopkins.


--North Suburban won its first adapted floor hockey CI championship with a 7-6 victory over Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville. The game was a nail-biter from start to finish and it was the Cougars who scored a whopping five times in the final period to take the title. Junior center and All-Tournament Team member Tyler Engel scored three times for the Cougars. Eighth-grader Anthony Bengston had 2 goals and 2 assists, while Cody Jacobsen had a goal and three assists in the game. Brenden Wamhoff also scored a goal for North Suburban. The winning goalie for the Cougars was All-Tourney Teamer Kody Blatt, who had 26 saves.

-- The Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka Robbins completed a PI three-peat with a 5-0 shutout over a very tough Dakota United squad. Two offensive players shined for the Robins in the championship game: juniors Tyler Sarff and Joe Dubisar. Sarff had a hat trick while Dubisar scored twice. The Robins wouldn’t have been able to win their title without the Herculean efforts of goalie Charlie Wittmer. The senior net-minder had 29 saves and earned a spot on the PI All-Tournament Team.

--To see photo galleries from the tournaments, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 16 for the tournament, 54 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 538
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,639
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Cracked In The Head, Bloody Knee … No Problem 3/15/2013
Shelby Corbin took an elbow to the head on Thursday and bloodied a knee on Friday, but the junior guard from Minneota wasn’t thinking of either her noggin or her kneecap after Friday’s Class 1A girls basketball state semifinals. The Vikings were headed to their first state championship game, and that’s a pretty good remedy for aches and pains.

With about five minutes to play in Thursday’s quarterfinal against Mountain Iron-Buhl at Williams Arena, Shelby was coming off a screen when she got smacked in the forehead. She crumbled to the court and sat out the rest of Minneota’s 60-53 victory.

There was a fear that she had suffered a concussion, so she was the subject of plenty of medical attention after Thursday’s game and prior to Friday’s semifinal against Bethlehem Academy at Target Center.

“If she was concussed, we wanted to know,” said Minneota coach Chad Johnston.

Two trainers and a physician assessed Corbin’s condition Thursday, and a doctor saw her again about an hour before Friday’s game. She was given the OK.

“I took it easy,” she said of the time between games. “I tried to stay away from loud noises and I stayed in the dark as much as possible. I woke up today determined to play. I was ready.”

Shelby stood next to a giant photo of Ricky Rubio in a Target Center corridor as she talked to reporters. She wasn’t sure how she got the bloody right knee during Saturday’s game. “I don’t know how that happened,” she said.

Doesn’t really matter, does it?


Johnston also is the football coach at Minneota, a team that has had plenty of success in the autumn. The Vikings were the 2009 Class 1A state champions.

“I never thought 18 years ago, when I started teaching, that I would coach girls basketball,” he said. “Football was my thing.

“I don’t know if I treat (the girls) any different,” he said. “I have high expectations for myself and I have high expectations for the girls. My family sacrifices a lot, not seeing me much for about seven or eight months of the year.”

Johnston has coached the Vikings girls basketball team for 12 years now and has a record of 234-76. Minneota will meet Ada-Borup in Saturday’s state championship game at noon at Target Center. In last year’s state quarterfinals, Ada-Borup defeated Minneota 67-63.


--Of the nine players on the court for Minneota on Friday, the only senior was Hanna Prellwitz, who played seven minutes off the bench. The Vikings starters were three sophomore and two juniors.

--Ada-Borup is equally young, with just one senior (starter Megan Kolness) on the roster.


Ada-Borup is a familiar name to girls basketball fans. The Cougars previously went to state in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012, winning state championships in 2008 and 20009.

Dave Smart became the Cougars coach in 2002 and remained on the job through the 2009 championship season. He stepped aside before the 2009-10 season but returned a year later. In his first year back, Ada-Borup reached the section finals, and now they have had back-to-back trips to state.

Ada-Borup had a major victory in Thursday’s quarterfinals, beating two-time defending state champ Maranatha Christian 70-53. The Cougars weren’t quite as sharp Friday, and Smart said the quarterfinals probably had something to do with that.

“I don’t know if I’d call it a lack of focus, but we were coming off that huge win over Maranatha,” he said. “We had all our eggs in that basket. Today we didn’t have as much energy. But when the chips were down some of our kids took charge.”


Before Friday night’s Class 2A semifinal between Braham and Providence Academy, Braham star Rebekah Dahlman was limping a bit. The state’s all-time career scoring leader, who will play collegiately at Vanderbilt, didn’t have the best game numbers-wise as the Bombers beat Providence Academy 49-39, but that didn’t matter to her.

“My knee and my hip were hurting, but I was not going to let that stop me,” she said. “Just to get the W, that’s all that matters.”

Dahlman made only five of 18 field goal attempts but hit 13 of 19 free throws and scored 20 points. Braham was the 2A state runner-up in 2010 and the champion two years ago; Providence Academy won it all last season. The Bombers will play New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva in Saturday’s 2 p.m. state championship game.

Braham is a running and gunning team, while Providence is as deliberate as a courtroom. Bombers coach Tim Malone said, “We felt the first team to 50 would win, but we didn’t play fast enough to do that.

“We average 82 points for a reason, because we like to play fast and get up and down the floor.”

--Carlie Wagner, as usual, was the star for NRHEG. The junior who made a verbal commitment to play for the Gophers tied her year-old state tournament record by scoring 48 points in the Panthers’ 69-60 semifinal win over Minneapolis Washburn.

In last year’s 2A quarterfinals, NRHEG beat Braham 75-45. NRHEG then lost to Sauk Centre and finished third in the tournament.


--Win-E-Mac takes a record of 27-3 into Saturday’s 1A third-place game against Bethlehem Academy at Concordia College in St. Paul. All three of the Patriots’ losses came against Ada-Borup, their rival in the Pine to Prairie Conference.

--If Hopkins defeats Bloomington Kennedy in Saturday’s 8 p.m. Class 4A championship game, the Royals will equal the three consecutive championships won by Minneapolis North in Class 3A from 2003-05. The coach of that North team was Faith Patterson; she now coaches at DeLaSalle, and the Islanders are also seeking to match that three-year championship run. They will meet Red Wing in Saturday’s 6 p.m. 3A title game.

--More to come this evening ...

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


*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 12 for the tournament, 50 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 538
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,589
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Championship Saturday Schedule3/15/2013
Girls basketball at Target Center

Noon/ Minneota vs. Ada-Borup in Class 1A
2 p.m./ Braham vs. New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva in Class 2A
6 p.m./ Red Wing vs. DeLaSalle in Class 3A
8 p.m./ Hopkins vs. Bloomington Kennedy in Class 4A
Out Of Nowhere, A Shooting Star Is Born 3/14/2013
The first star of the Class 1A girls state basketball tournament was an unlikely candidate for a roar from the fans and a series of postgame interviews. But that’s part of the magic of these things, and Upsala junior Kaelin Smieja was exactly that – magic -- on Thursday at Williams Arena.

Here’s the setup: coming into the Upsala Cardinals’ first-ever trip to the girls state tournament, Kaelin – who is not a starter -- had not exactly been a pillar of offense. Her scoring average was 2.53 points per game and (key statement alert) she had made seven three-point shots all year.

So what happened in Upsala’s 66-51 loss to Bethlehem Academy? That’s right, the kid lit up the Barn. She finished with a game-high 23 points and she made seven of 10 three-point shots. Not only did she tie her three-point total from the previous 30 games, she also tied the state tournament record for the most three-point baskets in one game. She now shares that mark with Esko’s Angela Grussendorf, who hit seven bombs in 1988 against Kenyon.

Kaelin had heard an announcement about something or other – and saw a standing ovation from the giant Upsala crowd -- after she fouled out with a minute to play, but she wasn’t sure of the specifics until I went through the details with her after the game.

“That sounds pretty cool,” said the newest member of the state tournament record book. “I knew I could make threes. When the first one went in I thought, ‘Hey, this is pretty awesome.’ And they kept going in.”

Coach Paul Pelzer said he wasn’t as surprised by what Smieja did as where she did it.

“She’s a really good shooter. But for a bench player to do that in this atmosphere, that’s the surprising thing.”

The defeat put a mild damper on the Cardinals’ celebration, but there were still plenty of smiles.

“A few tears are falling,” Pelzer said outside the locker room. “But they know they gave it their all. They did what they could. I’m so proud of those girls; they will remember this for a lifetime.”

The coach’s daughter, senior Aimee Pelzer, had 16 points, seven assists and three rebounds in ending one of the finest careers in the history of Minnesota high school basketball.

Aimee came oh so close to becoming the first girls player to reach the 1,000-plateau in three categories. She finished with more than 2,600 points and more than 1,000 assists; had the Cardinals won Thursday (ensuring two more games) she might have cracked the 1,000-rebound mark, as well. She finished with 978.

The only boys player to reach 1,000 in those three categories was 2008 Ellsworth graduate Cody Schilling.


Bethlehem Academy’s quarterfinal victory Thursday continued what has been a great year for the Faribault school. The Cardinals’ football team advanced to the Class 1A Prep Bowl last fall before losing to Mahnomen and the volleyball team won the 1A state championship.

Nine of the girls basketball players also played volleyball, and senior hoopster Jessie Mathews was an all-state and all-state tournament volleyball player last fall. She is the school’s career girls basketball leader with 1,679 points and also is the career leader in assists and steals. She will play basketball at St. Mary's University in Winona.


The Minneota Vikings have played in three previous state tournaments, losing in the quarterfinals each time. So when they defeated Mountain Iron-Buhl 60-53 in Thursday’s 1A quarterfinala they found themselves in uncharted waters.

“Usually we’re moping around and figuring out where we’re supposed to go,” coach Chad Johnston said, smiling. “It feels good to get that monkey off our back.”

The Vikings will play Minneota in Friday’s semifinals at Target Center at noon, followed by Ada-Borup vs. Win-E-Mac. Ada-Borup defeated two-time defending state champ Maranatha Christian 70-53 and Win-E-Mac beat Mankato Loyola 59-49.


Bethlehem Academy coach Tammy Filzen has large cards that she holds up to call plays. My favorite was one that read: “2 Whales.”

Maranatha Christian also used signage, including “Box,” “Blitz” and “Motion High.” But nothin’ beats a pair of whales.


--With Upsala’s loss, all three first-time entrants in the state tournament are finished. In Class 2A, Pine Island and BOLD were defeated Wednesday.

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


*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 8 for the tournament, 46 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 528
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,489
(*During the 2012-13 school year)