John's Journal
After A Year Of Waiting, St. Clair Is Back In The Game8/31/2012
Pregame warm-ups had been concluded and the national anthem and introduction of the starting lineups would be happening shortly. St. Clair head football coach Chris Harvey checked the scoreboard clock at Brooklyn Center High School to see how much time was left before his Cyclones would face the West Lutheran Warriors on Friday in the first game of the football season. The clock was ticking down, with seven minutes showing.

“Seven minutes is too long to wait,” Harvey said as he paced the sideline. “Let’s get this going.”

No team has waited longer for the 2012 season than St. Clair. A year ago, in the final week before the season opener, a tough decision was made at the school southeast of Mankato. The roster was short, size was a concern and the numbers simply didn’t add up. So the Cyclones forfeited their 2011 varsity season and played only junior varsity games.

Friday, therefore, was huge. The last time the Cyclones had played a varsity football game was Oct. 26, 2011; a 34-28 overtime loss to Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton in a Nine-Man Section 2 playoff opener.

After all that time, through a lost season, St. Clair -- now playing 11-man football -- returned with a thunderous effort Friday, defeating West Lutheran 67-6. The game was played at Brooklyn Center because West Lutheran – the home team – does not have a field.

“It’s nice to be back playing varsity football,” Harvey said after the game. “It was really hard on the kids last year. To their credit they never quit working hard. For them, it’s great to be back out here.”

Friday’s roster listed 37 players, including 11 juniors and 13 ninth-graders. Those numbers are much improved from a year ago. When the decision was made to skip a varsity season, the immediate response was not surprising.

“I think there was some initial shock, people thinking, ‘We used to always do it, why make a change?’ ” said St. Clair athletic director Brad O’Donnell. “But I think people started to understand. We still had homecoming, all the things we normally would, just with a different age level. Last year we had two seniors, one that was out for football for the first time. It was hard to continue to go with the same trend of losing kids year after year. We wanted what was in the best interest of the kids and the best interest of the program for the long term.”

At this point, everyone is happy to look to the future. After all, that’s about the only option the St. Clair football players have had for the past year. They spent tons of time in the weight room, many players went to a team camp in Iowa over the summer, they convinced boys who were on the bubble to join the squad. The result is a bigger, more enthusiastic roster.

“The kids have responded well,” O’Donnell said. “They’re changing the culture a little bit. It’s a steppingstone. It’s good to see them out. Sometimes kids will talk about coming out but won’t actually do it. They’ve had great practices, getting ready for this week.”

Once they were back on a varsity field, the Cyclones wasted no time. Senior Miklo Miller returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown and added two more running touchdowns before the first quarter had ended. St. Clair led 19-0 at that point, 40-0 at halftime and 53-0 after three periods. The fourth quarter, played under running time, went quickly.

“(Last season) wasn’t much fun because you were going against other people that weren’t as good as they were supposed to be,” Miller said.

Quarterback Blake Flowers, another senior, called last season a disappointment, but Friday’s experience was the perfect way to return.

“It was awesome starting off the season like this. It was a good win,” Flowers said. “We were expecting to win, but maybe not by that much.”

Harvey was gracious towards West Lutheran, which will play a mix of 11-man and Nine-Man games this season.

“Our hats are off to West Lutheran,” he said. “They’re a Nine-Man team playing us in 11-man. These games are tough, even on the winning side. Hats off to them for playing hard for four quarters.”

The Cyclones know things will get tougher, especially in the Gopher Valley A Conference. Next week they will play a conference home game against Minnesota Valley Lutheran, which beat Redwood Valley 22-20 Friday and is 1-1 this season.

But regardless of what the rest of the season may hold, the key emotion in Friday’s postgame glow was pure joy at simply being back in the game.

The waiting is over.

--To see more photos from the St. Clair-West Lutheran game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 21
*Miles John has driven: 862
(*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
History Is Made By St. Cloud Christian Volleyball Team8/30/2012
CAMBRIDGE -- Nervous? Nope. Excited? Absolutely. That’s how Toria Gillson, a senior at St. Cloud Christian School, described Tuesday night’s historic volleyball match.

Not only was it the varsity season opener for the Warriors, it was the first varsity volleyball competition in school history. And that made it very, very special.

“I don’t really get nervous, I get excited,” Toria said afterwards. “And I was really excited.”

The first varsity match also was the first varsity defeat, but the 3-1 loss to Cambridge Christian at the Armed Forces Reserve Community Center in Cambridge was historic nonetheless. St. Cloud Christian is a tiny school, with K-12 students -- including a high school enrollment of 60-some kids -- learning together in a former St. Cloud elementary building.

“We’ve got a bunch of excited kids who want to be athletes and we try to find places for them,” said athletic director Paul Hastings. In most cases, places for St. Cloud Christian athletes are found through cooperative agreements with St. Cloud’s other, larger high schools: Apollo, Tech and Cathedral.

St. Cloud Christian’s first true “home” team was track and field, with the first varsity squad competing in 2007. Cross-country followed in 2009. The school’s most successful current athlete is McKenzie Holt, who placed fourth in last year’s Class 1A state cross-country meet, then last spring was second in the 3,200 meters and third in the 1,600 at the 1A state track meet. Holt is a junior this year.

The school’s volleyball program, which began in 2005, has been built on a steady diet of junior varsity and C squad competition.

“In the last couple years we felt we’ve been competitive against the JV and C teams we’ve been playing, and other coaches have said, ‘Hey, you’re ready for varsity,’ ” Hastings said.

On Tuesday in Cambridge, St. Cloud Christian had 10 enthusiastic varsity players dressed in purple uniforms, black calf-length socks and black shoes. The first game against Cambridge Christian was tied 20-20 before the home team pulled away for a 25-21 win. Cambridge Christian won the second game 25-23, St. Cloud Christian captured the third game 25-17 and the third game went to Cambridge 25-17.

The Warriors’ first varsity match lasted a little more than 90 minutes and was followed by nothing but smiles.

“I think the nerves kind of got to them a little bit,” said coach Karla Hultgren. “They were really excited about having the opportunity to play a varsity game and being in the game most of the time. I was really happy about that.”

When I asked Karla to compare this year’s team with what she saw when the program began in 2005, she smiled and said, “It’s a night and day difference. We had girls who hardly knew the game of volleyball. And now we have kids who play Junior Olympic volleyball, kids who have come through the ranks, and it’s really become a family. That’s what’s really cool.”

A major piece of becoming a varsity program was joining a conference. The Warriors are a member of the Christian Athletic League, whose other members are spread around the state and beyond. They include Cambridge Christian, Christian Life in Farmington, Faith Christian in Rochester, Mountain Lake Christian, Immanuel Lutheran in Mankato, Good Shepherd Academy in River Falls, Wis., and several schools in the Twin Cities.

The Warriors will play their next five volleyball matches on the road before the next historic step: their first home match. Since their school has a very small gym (“We’d be running into the walls all day,” Gillson said), the Warriors will play their home matches at St. Cloud Cathedral. The first one will be against Hope Christian School of St. Paul on Sept. 24.

“Thank goodness that Cathedral is so gracious to open their school to us,” Hultgren said.

Laura Knoblauch, a St. Cloud Christian senior, would have been overjoyed had the team won Tuesday. But she was happy nonetheless.

“I think we did really well,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud. Honestly, I feel better that we played really, really well in this game. I feel better about that than if we had won and it had been easy. We really stepped up and we did a good job.”

Knoblauch, who has been part of the volleyball program throughout her high school career, talked about the change in the last four years.

“It’s really different. We’ve improved so much. It’s such a blessing. I don’t have any words to describe it. We’ve improved so much and come so far. It’s so cool.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 19
*Miles John has driven: 800
(*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
New Award Will Honor Athletes Of The Week 8/29/2012
In partnership with Old Dutch and WCCO-AM 830, the MSHSL is proud to announce the Old Dutch High School Athlete of the Week award. Under this program, Minnesota high school athletes will be honored every week for their contributions as athletes, students and community members.

The athletes will be recognized on WCCO-AM 830 every Tuesday evening during the “Sports To The Max” show with Mike Max and every Wednesday morning during “The WCCO Morning News With Dave Lee.”

Old Dutch is the sponsor of the award. In addition to being honored on WCCO-AM 830, recipients also will receive a plaque to commemorate their achievements and be honored online by the MSHSL and WCCO-AM 830.

The first award winner will be announced on WCCO-AM 830 on Sept. 4-5. 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).
Veteran Journalist Brian Jerzak Joins The John’s Journal Team 8/27/2012
With the start of a new year of high school activities, we’re happy to announce the addition of a new member of the John’s Journal staff.

Brian Jerzak is a veteran reporter who will add his high school sports expertise to John’s Journal. Brian has been covering high school athletics in Minnesota for more than 10 years.

He has written about wrestling for The Guillotine publication and website for a decade, including coverage of the state wrestling tournament. For several years Brian worked as the main football writer and also covered basketball for MinnesotaPreps.com, a branch of Rivals.com. He has written about basketball, hockey and wrestling for the Minneapolis Star Tribune Hub websites, has covered the National Football League for GridironExperts.com, contributed college and high school wrestling stories for Intermat.com and college hockey stories for Collegehockeynews.com.

Brian is a native of Milaca, Minn., and a graduate of Saint Cloud State University. He lives in Apple Valley with his wife and two sons.