John's Journal
Big Plays, Big Turnovers And A Great Night For Football9/8/2012
While the football teams from Edina and Totino-Grace were warming up Friday night at Totino-Grace in Fridley, T-G coach Jeff Ferguson walked up to me on the sideline, nodded toward the Edina Hornets and said, “Do you notice any tendencies, John?”

This was clearly my chance. After decades of writing about high school football, here was a coach – one who has won multiple state championships and produces top-notch teams year after year – asking me … no, begging me … for advice.

“Oh yes, I definitely see a tendency,” I replied with confidence. “Look at their socks. They don’t match.” The Hornets wore white socks and black socks, high socks and low socks. I discovered this fact by using my highly trained football eye. Glad to help, coach.

Enough joking around. This was an intriguing matchup and the first time Edina and Totino-Grace had met on the football field. The Eagles, ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, defeated 6A Edina 15-12 in a game that started out in a slow burn and finished on a high wire. “It was kind of two immovable objects there for a while,” Ferguson said afterwards.

Turnovers made the difference, as is often the case. Midway through the first quarter Edina lost a fumble, and on the next play Totino-Grace quarterback A.J. LaPanta threw 38 yards to Charlie Miller for a touchdown. As the immovable objects went back and forth, Edina’s Patrick Le Corre kicked two 30-yard field goals, making it T-G 7, Edina 6 in the third quarter.

Edina missed another scoring chance late in the third when a long pass on fourth-and-short flicked off the fingers of a receiver. Hornets coach Reed Boltmann rightfully pointed something out to his receiver: “God gave you two hands! Use ‘em!” To which the young man who had not caught the football yelled back as he stretched one hand outward, “It was way the (expletive) out here!”

Edina kept pounding the rock and finally took the lead with 7:29 left in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Mark Handberg, who was chased by the Totino-Grace defense all evening, broke free from a tackle and threw 19 yards to the end zone, where Marly Allison made a nice catch and got his feet in before falling out. It was Edina 12, Totino-Grace 7.

After Totino-Grace lost a fumble, Edina returned the turnover favor when the Eagles’ Michael Waters intercepted a Handberg pass at the Edina 33. A few plays later, Kai Barber rushed up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown, LaPanta threw to Mason Kaliszewski for the two-point conversion and Totino-Grace was back on top, 15-12, with 3:44 to go.

The sealant was applied was with 67 seconds remaining when Eagles sophomore Ben Mezzenga picked off a Handberg pass. Game, set, match.

Boltmann told his players that they had let the Eagles off the hook.

“I thought we did,” he said. “I thought we had the second half in hand there after we pick up the fumble. But we don’t get a play in in time and then we fumbled the ball, an interception and it kind of took the wind out of our sails.

“I thought we did enough to give ourselves a chance. There were some woulda, coulda, shouldas in that game. But they made the plays when they needed to and we didn’t. We’ve got to find a way to finish and that’s why we practice every day.”

The interceptions by Waters and Mezzenga seemed a little unlikely before the game began. Waters is a backup who was filling in for a missing teammate and Mezzenga had been sick all week with a virus and muscle aches.

“I’m really proud of our kids,” Ferguson said. “We had some guys that were out and not playing and some guys that stepped up big. Michael Waters made a big interception and Ben Mezzenga didn’t practice this week. He comes back today and got a big interception. It was a total team effort.”

Totino-Grace improved to 2-0 after beating Coon Rapids 48-6 last week. The Eagles are a new team in the Northwest Suburban Conference this season, moving from the North Suburban.

Edina, which is in the new Class 6A, is 2-1. The Hornets opened with a Zero Week contest, defeating Holy Angels 28-14 and a week ago the Hornets beat Andover 24-23 after trailing 14-0 in the first quarter. Edina was on the cusp of the 6A top 10 this week, falling a few votes short of the No. 10 spot.

No matter the rankings or the outcome, Totino-Grace is a wonderful place to watch a football game. The facilities are great, the Eagles students are loud and proud, the home stands were filled to overflowing and hundreds of folks stood around the fence that circles the field. The weather was perfect, too.

Both teams face tough tests next week, with Totino-Grace going to Anoka (2-0) and Edina hosting Lakeville South (1-1).

If the coaches need any advice about the opponents’ socks, I’m here to help.

--Photos from the game can be seen on the MSHSL Faceboo page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 58
*Miles John has driven: 1,307
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
A Special Moment As Two Teams Come Together9/7/2012
There was a very special moment Thursday after a volleyball match between Byron and Kasson-Mantorville.

On Tuesday, 17-year-old Byron senior Deianerah “Deej” J. Logan lost her life in an automobile accident. At the end of Thursday’s volleyball game, the players from Byron and Kasson-Mantorville came together and shared a moment in prayer for DeeJ and her family.

It was a very touching moment to see two big rivals come together and support each other at such a difficult time.

--This item and photo have been posted on the MSHSL Facebook page, eliciting a tremendous response. Go to MSHSL on Facebook.
Old Dutch Student-Athlete of the Week: Wayzata's Connor Olson9/5/2012
Connor Olson, a sophomore cross-country runner at Wayzata, was the individual champion at Saturday's prestigious Columbus Invitational in Marshfield, Wisconsin.

Running against top competition from Minnesota and Wisconsin, Olson's victory came by a razor-thin margin over Stillwater senior and then-top-ranked Minnesota runner Wayde Hall. Olson's time was 15 minutes, 34.9 seconds with Hall finishing in 15:35.0.

Connor paced Wayzata to the team championship, with Stillwater a close second. In this week's 2A rankings, Olson rose from No. 5 to No. 1.

As the inaugural recipient of the Old Dutch High School Student Athlete of the Week award, Olson was recognized on WCCO-AM 830 Tuesday evening during the “Sports To The Max” show with Mike Max and Wednesday morning during “The WCCO Morning News With Dave Lee.”

Nominations for the award close each Monday at noon; athletes can be nominated by sending an email to MSHSL media specialist John Millea at

Nominations should include the following … --Student’s name, school and grade. --Athletic accomplishments during the past week. Please offer detailed statistics. --Information about the student’s academics and/or community involvement. --If possible, include a phone number where the student can be reached (student’s cell phone is best) and a school photo of the student (the type of photo used in school yearbooks or graduation photos).
Dream Weaver: Hall Of Fame Coach Is Back In Action9/5/2012
When a team, any team, goes through three head coaches in three years, it’s usually a bad sign. That kind of turnover often means there is turmoil afoot.

At Lakeville North, where the volleyball program has its third head coach in as many years, that is not the case. Milan Mader coached the Panthers for 35 years and retired after winning the Class 3A state championship in 2010. His successor in 2011 was Steve Willingham, a longtime assistant to Mader who led the team to the state title match and a narrow loss to Eden Prairie. Willingham then moved across town to become the head coach at Lakeville South.

When Walt Weaver -- who spent 31 years at Apple Valley, took 13 teams to state, won two state championships and was among the original inductees into the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1996 -- came out of retirement to direct the Panthers this season, it seemed too good to be true.

“At first I didn’t believe it,” said Lakeville North junior outside hitter Alyssa Goehner. “When I found out he was our head coach, I almost cried.”

Goehner -- who was named the best sophomore player in the nation last season by -- already was familiar with Weaver. As a coach in the Northern Lights program he has worked with many of the top players in Minnesota, including Goehner. Before she was even in high school, Weaver helped her develop into one of the most intimidating hitters in the nation.

“He worked with me three years ago, every Wednesday out of his own time,” she said. “He would put me on a box and do reps after reps after reps. I can tell you he’s the reason why I get 25 kills a match (as she did Tuesday in a 3-1 victory at Owatonna). He’s the reason for everything.”

Lakeville North improved to 2-0 this season with its victory at Owatonna. Owatonna sophomore setter Kaylea Ahrens, who played for Weaver in the Northern Lights program, described him as “very technical in the way he does things. In practice he makes sure everything is perfect. He’s calm and he’s a great coach.”

The Lakeville North job seemed like a natural fit for Weaver, who has lived in Lakeville for 25 years and had two daughters play volleyball for the Panthers. Walt and Tracey Weaver’s youngest child, Cassie, is a junior volleyball player at Concordia University in St. Paul; the Golden Bears have won the last five NCAA Division II national championships. Their daughter Lindsey, who played at Luther College in Iowa and graduated last spring, is now teaching in Japan.

Without the juggling that was involved in watching two daughters play college volleyball in two states, Weaver had enough time to devote to coaching at Lakeville North.

“When they asked, I was honored to take the job,” he said. “I’m having fun doing it. The team is a phenomenal group of kids, so that part is fun. There are high expectations from everybody; the community and the administration and the players. They’re a group that has a lot of experience.”

Weaver is not a demonstrative coach. He stands quietly on the sideline during matches, offering advice and support to his players.

“He’s not the sort of coach who’s yelling, he’s more like that calm presence,” said Goehner (No. 4 in photo at left). “He doesn’t give out many high fives, so when you get a high five from Walt, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh.’ Or when you see his little chuckle from the side, you know you’ve done something right.”

With a smile, Weaver explains it like this: He has the best view in the gym.

“I figured the best deal about this for me is I have the best seat. I can sit here and watch. I don’t have to buy a ticket and I can stand right on the court and nobody yells at me and I can see the whole thing.”

Lakeville North will carry the No. 1 ranking in Class 3A into this weekend’s Molten Southwest Minnesota Challenge tournament in Marshall. With many of the state’s top teams in all classes in the field, the results should offer a glimpse into what the rest of the season may hold.

Goehner says the Panthers’ goals are clear.

“Probably our main goal is to get better as a team,” she said. “It’s not about the 10 individuals. It’s working together on and off the court. If we can play as a team throughout this whole year and work together, hopefully we can get another state championship.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 25
*Miles John has driven: 1,224
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn