John's Journal
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 jmillea@mshsl.org

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 prepvolleyball.com -- 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.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*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 www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
Familiar Names Atop Football Rankings9/5/2012
The No. 1 teams in the Associated Press high school football rankings are Eden Prairie in Class 6A, Totino-Grace in 5A, DeLaSalle in 4A, St. Croix Lutheran in 3A, Caledonia in 2A, Dawson-Boyd in 1A and Edgerton-Ellsworth in Nine-Man.

Eden Prairie, St. Croix Lutheran, Caledonia, Dawson-Boyd and Edgerton-Ellsworth all claimed state championships last season.

To see all the rankings in all classes, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

Two Years After Tornado, Wadena-Deer Creek Celebrates New Beginning9/4/2012
WADENA – When the Wadena-Deer Creek volleyball team played its first home match of the season last week, it really didn’t feel like a home match. This was understandable, since the Wolverines had only practiced in their new gym twice and had never competed there.

The key word in Wadena is “new.” As in brand new. Shiny new. Spectacularly new.

We all remember June 17, 2010, when an F4 tornado roared through Wadena. It was a miracle that no one was killed, but the devastation was centered on the high school and surrounding area. The school was flattened. Between that day and now, a transformation has occurred, with a new middle/high school now completed and ready for this week … the first week of a new school year and the first week that everybody can finally put the tornado behind them.

“If you go around town, there are not really a lot of signs left that something like that happened,” said volleyball coach Sue Volkmann. “It’s pretty much cleaned up and back to Wadena again. This is kind of the final phase, because everybody’s school is the centerpiece of their community.”

This centerpiece is a model for a modern school: lots of sunlight streaming through large windows, geothermal heating and cooling, 41 high-tech classrooms, terrazzo flooring and lots of other fabulous touches.

A couple hours before the Wolverines opened the volleyball season against Moorhead on Thursday, a workman was installing the number “600” above the school’s main entrance, signifying the address on Colfax Avenue Southwest. Another was attaching a sign outside an office suite that said “Administration.”

For the last two years, school officials, staff and students made do with what they had. High school classes were held at Minnesota State Community and Technical College and Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School. It was an awkward and crowded situation, where an elementary classroom has been turned into a weight room and wrestling mats, boxes of textbooks and other supplies lined the hallways.

The volleyball team played its home matches in the gym at the elementary school, with fans sitting on folding chairs for part of the season before bleachers were installed.

“We adjusted and everybody was very flexible, we did the best we could and got everything going,” activities director Norm Gallant told me as we stood in the new school. “Fifteen months ago this was a flat, gravel lot and now we’re in the building and it’s been an unbelievable process.

“Our coaches and our kids just did a super job,” said Gallant, who began his job as activites director two days before the tornado struck. “We had what we had and we made the best of it. We had a couple of really good years.”

The new school, paid for mainly by insurance with additional money coming from FEMA, includes a community safe room; it is in essence an auxiliary gymnasium with extremely thick walls designed to withstand winds up to 275 miles per hour.

As fans entered the school for Thursday’s volleyball match, they saw a few minor final touches that had not yet been completed. Handmade signs marked restrooms, concession stand workers were figuring out new equipment, a workman was fine-tuning a drinking fountain, some new chairs for the cafeteria/commons area were still partially wrapped in plastic.

The volleyball team was finally playing in its new gym and using its new locker room. That was no small victory, because in the elementary school the volleyball team had used a choir room as its locker room.

When I asked the team captains about their new locker room, Sydney Schissel said happily, “There’s a bathroom.” Caitlin Volkmann said, “We have lockers and mirrors.” To which Schissel added, “And no piano.”

I can’t speak for the girls locker room, but the gym is spectacular. The floor consists of more than 14,000 two-inch maple strips pieced together, and the floor is surrounded by 1,284 blue bleacher seats, 20 basketball hoops and a running track circling the space above the seats. Banners marking achievements of Wolverines teams and athletes through the years hang from the walls, adding history to the new space.

“The gymnasium turned out better than I ever could have imagined,” Gallant said. “It is absolutely georgeous. Everything is very modern and clean, basically the way we wanted it.”

For the volleyball team – which is ranked sixth in Class 2A and defeated Class 3A Moorhead 3-1 – just having a new home is special.

“It’s awesome. It’s ours, finally,” said Emily Miron. “It doesn’t seem real, almost. Just being here, it’s almost not like a home game yet. But pretty soon we’ll get used to it.”

Schissel called it “unreal. It’s unbelievable, thinking back to everything we went through. It’s crazy to be here now. It’s exciting.”

The Wolverines have played in the last four state volleyball tournaments, winning the 2A championship two years ago. The goal of this year’s team – which lost only two seniors from the 2011 squad – is to make it five consecutive trips to state.

Miron summed up the feelings of everyone at Wadena-Deer Creek when she said, “I think it’s going to be a really great year.”

And that sentiment goes far beyond volleyball.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 23
*Miles John has driven: 1,126
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

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