John's Journal
Caledonia Football: A Hair-Raising Tournament Tradition11/10/2012
The Caledonia Warriors, who advanced to the Class 2A state semifinals with a big win Friday, are riding a 23-game winning streak, have won the last two state championships and four of the last five. What's their secret? Look at their hair. Read Brian Jerzak's story by clicking here
State Volleyball Championships: A Day For Veteran Coaches 11/10/2012
The state volleyball tournament, like all such events, can be a blur of games and whistles and boisterious fans and bands and overtimes and winning and losing. The volleyball tournament, which concluded its three-day run at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night, fit the mold perfectly. There were tremendous athletes on display, superior teamwork and strategy as six chess pieces moved around the court for each team, with the landscape changing after every point and the fans along for a wild ride.

Scenes that stood out for me included …

--Superstars Sarah Wilhite of Eden Prairie and Alyssa Goehner of Lakeville North – who have been club volleyball teammates for four years – embracing (photo) after North defeated Eden Prairie 3-1 in the Class 3A title match.

--Caledonia football players, easy to spot with their blond mohawk haircuts, cheering for the Warriors volleyball team, which fell to Marshall 3-1 in the 2A championship match. The football team won in the state quarterfinals on Friday night and will play in the Metrodome in a few days, and you know the volleyball players will be doing the cheering.

--The teams from Bethlehem Academy and Southwest Christian gathering together after their match in a large circle and giving thanks. At that moment, the fact that Bethlehem Academy had won the 1A title with a 3-1 victory was of little importance to either team.

A common denominator for each title-winning team was the coach. All three have been coaching for a long time and all three are members of the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. None of them take any credit for their team’s success, but we all know better than that.

“We had some kids who stepped up and made some big plays,” said Bethlehem Academy coach Franz Boelter, who has been leading the Cardinals for 21 years and has won six state titles since 2002 and finished second at state four times.

The words of the other winning coaches were similar, giving credit to their players for all their hard work and commitment. During the Class 2A postgame ceremony, Marshall coach Dan Westby received his medal and applauded (photo) the Tigers fans as he walked across the court. Westby, who has been the coach at Marshall since 2004 (and also coached for 10 years at Renville County West, winning the 1A state title in 2002), has led Marshall to state championships in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011 and now this year.

The “newcomer” among the winning coaches Saturday was no newcomer, but he is in his first year at Lakeville North. Walt Weaver coached at Apple Valley for 31 years, taking teams to 13 state tournaments and winning titles two titles before retiring six years ago. He took over at North this season when Steve Willingham became the coach at Lakeville South.

North won the state title two years ago under coach Milan Mader, who retired after that season. Willingham led the Panthers to a state runner-up finish last year and Weaver was at the helm for this year’s championship.

From day one this season, the first words out of Weaver’s mouth have been about how talented the North players. The second words out of his mouth were usually along the lines of “I hope I don’t mess them up too bad.”

Boelter is the most outwardly emotional of the three coaches. As the Cardinals received their gold medals, he hugged each of them with tears in his eyes. It’s not about the end result, but the journey that the team shares.

“I’m really happy for our seniors,” Boelter said outside the locker room a few minutes later. “You see them come out here, a lot of wet cheeks. Sometimes you can’t tell if we’re the winning locker room or the losing locker room.

“The underclassmen can’t understand why the upperclassmen are crying so much and the upperclassmen can’t understand why they’re not. It’s kind of a funny situation. It’s a great group of kids and I knew that before our season ever started.”

Weaver was a late hire at Lakeville North and missed the first four days of practice because he had booked a trip to Alaska before accepting the job. He is not certain if he will return next season.

“Right now, this minute, I might be back, I might not,” he said. “I don’t know. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

ONE OF THE NEW coaches at the state tournament also knows the experience as a player. Cassie Wolpern is in her third year at Belle Plaine, which finished fourth in 2A.

As a player at Belle Plaine she became a national volleyball figure, playing at state in her sophomore and junior years before graduating in 2003. She was a four-time all-state selection and during her senior season she became the all-time national leader in career kills with 2,638; today she ranks sixth on that list. She still holds the Minnesota prep record for career kills, as well as the single-season records for kills and blocks.

Wolpern played one season at the University of San Diego before transferring to Minnesota State Mankato, where she graduated with a degree in finance. The Tigers’ appearance at state this year was their first since 2005

TOURNAMENT NOTES

--My favorite pre-match moment: The Bethlehem Academy players in a tunnel that leads to the floor, standing in a circle with their arms around each other, swaying and singing quietly, sweetly.

--My favorite in-match moment: The Southwest Christian students chanting during timeouts: “Coach ‘em up, Greg! Coach ‘em up!” (The coach is Greg Sayuk).

--Tweet of the day: “Congrats to the (redacted) Vball team, consultation state champs!” The word is “consolation.” But I know what you meant; congrats indeed!

--We have turned the Xcel Energy Center over to Bruce Springsteen, who will perform there Sunday and Monday.

ALL-TOURNAMET TEAMS
--Class 1A: Carly Masloski, Underwood; Riley Hanson, Megan Norby, Nevis; Shelby Kaster, Win-E-Mac; Megan Larson, Taylor Reiss, Minneota; Mackenzie Horkey, Katie Lubben, Southwest Christian; Jessie Mathews, Maddie Borwege, Bethlehem Academy.

--Class 2A: Afton Sobasky, St. Croix Lutheran; Brooke Anderson, Thief River Falls; Mariena Hayden, Belle Plaine; Macy Weller, Sauk Centre; Maria Fruechte, Emma Lange, Taylor Winjum, Caledonia; Kenzie Beekman, Hannah Bennett, Sydney Griffin, Marshall.

--Class 3A: Jessica Yost, Bemidji; Meghan Koop, Roseville; Carlee Hoppe, Shakopee; Lydia Dimke, Taylor Morgan, Blaine; Sarah Wilhite, Jamie Cairncross, Eden Prairie; Alyssa Goehner, Erica Handley, Sami Flattum, Lakeville North.

--Photo galleries from the state volleyball tournament can be found on the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 313
*Miles John has driven: 4,035
(*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
Friendship Will Take A Backseat During Volleyball Title Match11/9/2012
The Class 3A volleyball state championship matchup not only will pit the last two state champs – Eden Prairie last year and Lakeville North in 2010 – but it also will feature two of the state’s marquee players.

Eden Prairie senior hitter Sarah Wilhite and Lakeville North junior hitter Alyssa Goehner have been piling up honors for a long time: all-conference … all-state … all-America, etc. Wilhite was selected by the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association as this season’s Ms. Volleyball and Goehner was named player of the year by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.

When their teams meet at 5 p.m. Saturday at Xcel Energy Center, Wilhite and Goehner might feel a bit strange, however. That’s because they are accustomed to being teammates. The pair have played together for four years on a Northern Lights club team that won a national championship last summer.

“We’re actually really good friends,” Wilhite (right) said after Eden Prairie defeated Blaine 3-0 in Friday’s semifinals. “It’s going to be exciting.”

Last year’s 3A championship match was a bone crusher, lasting 2 hours, 6 minutes before Eden Prairie won it 22-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-18, 22-20. A kill by Wilhite was the winning point; she finished with 33 kills and Goehner had 34.

After the state tourney ends Saturday, Wilhite and Goehner will reunite as club volleyball teammates. But deciding the high school state championship comes first.

“She’s an amazing opponent, but an even more amazing teammate,” Wilhite said of Goehner. “It’s going to be a little weird seeing her on the other side of the net, but it’s exciting. I know once the match starts we’re just worrying about our side of the net and the other side is just any other opponent.”

Wilhite will play collegiate volleyball at Wisconsin and Goehner plans to play at Marquette … where they won’t be far apart.

SPECIALIZATION OR NOT

Players like Wilhite and Goehner play volleyball throughout the year, and that kind of commitment certainly can be a boon to athletes. But not all teams at the state tournament have athletes who specialize. For example, Bethlehem Academy – which will play in the Class 1A state championship match for the 10th time in 11 years – has a host of two- and three-sport athletes.

“We have kids who would love to play volleyball all year round and they play as much as they can, but almost all of our kids play in our own club and our club doesn’t start competing until after basketball season is done,” Cardinals coach Franz Boelter said. “We have kids who don’t even practice volleyball for the most part until the basketball season is over. We just say that the time we put in, let’s make sure it’s quality time, and we need three-sports athletes in a small school.”

Talented Bethlehem Academy eighth-grader Payton Nutter (pictured) – who had a game-high 32 assists in the Cardinals' 3-0 semifinal victory over Win-E-Mac -- played only volleyball last year but will play on the Cardinals’ basketball team this winter.

“This year I’m not going to (specialize in volleyball),” she said. “It’s just a lot to do and I want to focus on both sports, because I really like basketball, too.”

Bethlehem Academy senior Jessie Mathews, who also plays basketball, said, “I’ve grown up playing both sports. I don’t think it’s a disadvantage, I think it’s kind of nice because you get different teams and different people you’re with and kind of have two families. I love both sports.”

Another Cardinals senior, Taryn Ashley, plays volleyball, basketball and softball. For a small school like Bethlehem Academy, with an enrollment of 195 high school students, everybody needs to stay busy.

“Typically because we’re so small, it’s nice to be able to play multiple sports,” Ashley said. “We need the people.”

Eden Prairie’s Wilhite, on the other hand, has been only a volleyball player since she was in fourth grade.

“I’ve loved it ever since I started playing and I haven’t really been into any other sports,” she said. “It kind of takes up my life all year round.”

Regardless of whether players are volleyball specialists or multiple-sport athletes, the level of overall volleyball talent in Minnesota continues to rise.

“The thing with these kids is they have so much strength and athleticism,” said Lakeville North coach Walt Weaver. He’s seen it all, too. Weaver coached at Apple Valley for 31 years, winning two state titles and taking 13 teams to state before retiring six years ago. He came back this season to lead Lakeville North.

--Bethlehem Academy will meet Southwest Christian in today’s Class 1A state championship match at 3 p.m.

--In Class 2A, the 3 p.m. championship match will be between defending champion Marshall and Caledonia.

--While the Marshall Tigers were warming up for their semifinal against Belle Plaine, Tigers coach Dan Westby shook my hand at the courtside table and said, “What’s a guy gotta to do to get on John’s Journal?” Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

--Photo galleries from the state volleyball tournament can be found on the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 313
*Miles John has driven: 3,991
(*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
Class 6A Football: Wayzata, Eden Prairie Advance To Semifinals11/9/2012
After a wild first few seconds in which both teams scored, Wayzata went on to beat Eastview in the Class 6A football state quarterfinals Friday at the Metrodome. In the second game, Eden Prairie held off Minnetonka 21-18. Read Luke Sleeper's report by clicking here
A Day In The Life Of A Guy With A Notebook …11/8/2012
A timeline of my day Thursday, split between the state volleyball tournament quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center and state football quarterfinals at the Metrodome ….

7:25 a.m.: Walking the dog. Hurry up buddy, I got stuff to do today.

7:40: Breakfast arrives, delivered through a small window and into my car.

8:05: Traffic at a near-standstill on Interstate 35E heading into downtown St. Paul. Didn’t panic. Bottleneck loosened up.

8:49: Inside Xcel Energy Center, pulled the state tournament program out of my bag. Began leafing through it, not realizing at first that it was the state football tournament program.

9:03: A mouse scooted under my courtside table at volleyball. My computer mouse. It’s wireless. I dropped it.

9:02: Answering emails as the first volleyball matches begin.

9:04: The first Facebook comment on a photo I’ve just posted says this: “Let’s go North!” It was posted by the Lakeville South High School Deans. Nice.

9:17: A match is interrupted briefly while a slow, aging journalist tries to fish out the volleyball that has rolled under his table. Sorry, everybody. That’s as fast as I go.

9:32: Earplugs. Do I have earplugs in my bag? These bands are REALLY LOUD.

9:48: Post my first incorrect Twitter score update of the day.

10:07: The first of 33 matches over three days ends as Lakeville North defeats Anoka in the Class 3A quarterfinals.

10:41: “Heads up! Heads up!” A Blaine player warns me during warmups that an inflated projectile is coming my way. The ball bangs off the table in front of me, narrowly missing my laptop.

11:35: Shakopee coach Matt Busch, talking about how the noise level from the fans affected his players during the Sabers’ 3-2 victory over Roseville in 3A: “They could barely hear each other, even when they were yelling.”

12:17: Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” can be heard inside the Bethlehem Academy locker room as the Cardinals prepare for the1A quarterfinals.

12:25: I hear a female voice holler at me, “Hey sweet cheeks! How are you?!” Sadly, it is not Mrs. John’s Journal.

1:55: The “what to drink” debate cranks up in my head. So far I’ve had two bottles of water. I knuckle under and have a Diet Coke on the rocks. And a donut ... no ice.

2:10: The Bethlehem Academy cheerleaders pose for a photo in front of the door to the Minnesota Wild’s locker room, a door that hasn’t seen much use lately.

2:15: Bethlehem Academy coach Franz Boelter says “I don’t think we played great, but we played OK” in a 3-0 victory over Martin County West.

2:20: As the North Woods volleyball players wait to go onto the court, they are performing a series of very loud, very choreographed cheers/chants/dances. As I make my way down the corridor, one of the Grizzlies tells her teammates, ‘Wait.” I walk past their smiling, silent faces … and then the fun resumes.

3:45: Pack up my gear, leave the Xcel Center and head for the Metrodome, nine miles away.

3:55: Pass a school bus from Nevis on Interstate 94.

4:05: Arrive at the Metrodome to the sounds of the Edina band limbering up in the parking lot.

4:12: I’m greeted in the press box with these words: “You’re looking good for an older gentleman.” Thanks.I think.

4:31: On the field at the Metrodome, I am congratulated on the fact that the MSHSL Facebook page has the second-most fans in the nation among high school governing bodies.

4:58: As I was purchasing a Diet Mountain Dew from a vending machine in the loading dock, a fellow snapped a photo of me. Sorry, Diet Coke (which isn’t available in the Metrodome).

5:02: Kickoff between Edina and Rosemount in the Class 6A state quarterfinals.

5:15: I hear the magic words, “You want sauerkraut with that?” Why yes I do want sauerkraut on this bratwurst from the concession stand.” Thank you very kindly.

5:43: I'm trying to keep my sports straight while watching football in front of me and tuning into the Prep45 webcast of the volleyball tournament on my computer.

6:00: The Edina dance team performs an excellent halftime show. I say to the guy sitting next to me in the press box, “Man, that was a fine brat!”

6:40: I post an incorrect score on Twitter from the first football game, writing that Edina and Rosemount are tied 10-10 late in the third quarter. The actual score is Rosemount 14, Edina 10. My next Tweet says this: “Third quarter has ended and the score is Rosemount XIV, Edina X.”

6:56: In the Edina student section, a large cardboard Barack Obama is held high in the air.

7:19: Unseeded Rosemount beats top-seeded Edina 14-10 in the 6A football quarterfinals.

7:28: Rosemount coach Jeff Erdmann tells his exuberant players: “Nobody knows who we are! Nobody (in the media) talked to us! The only people who believed in us are right here and up in the frickin’ stands!”

7:57: The football game between Prior Lake and Lakeville North begins … three minutes ahead of schedule.

8:20: Twelve hours into my workday, and I’m back to the concession stand for a “Quarterback Dog.” Let’s see what happens…

9:13: Lakeville North and Prior Lake are tied 3-3 early in the second half. So far, so good on that Quarterback Dog.

9:20: Learn on Twitter that the Class 2A football playoff game between BOLD and Holdingford at St. Cloud State is going into a second overtime.

9:31: Final score from St. Cloud: BOLD beats Holdingford 23-20 in double OT.

9:58: Feeling sleeeeepy. Another Diet Pepsi? Naw, then I’d never sleep tonight. Gotta be back at volleyball in the morning.

10:07: Final score is Lakeville North 22, Prior Lake 3.

10:22: Pack up and exit the Metrodome. Gotta get home and walk the dog.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 313
*Miles John has driven: 3,947
(*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