John's Journal
A Steady Rise To The Top For St. Paul Academy’s Das10/26/2012
Sonya Das has steadily, one medal at a time, played her way to the top of Class 1A girls tennis in Minnesota. The junior from St. Paul Academy and Summit School finished third in the singles tournament as a ninth-grader, took home a second-place medal a year ago and finally captured the ultimate prize on Friday at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis.

Her 6-0, 6-3 victory over Breck junior Patricia Zhao was the capstone on her climb to the top, and her smile said everything afterwards.

“It feels great,” Sonya said. “Freshman year for third, last year second, it feels really great to finally get it.”

Das did not lose a set in four matches at the state tournament. The championship matchup with Zhao followed the tournament seeds; Zhao came in as the No. 1 seed and Das was No. 2. Zhao defeated Das in the Section 4 title match, but Sonya had won their two meetings during the regular season. Das and Zhao are friends who train at Lifetime Fitness in Fridley.

“Patty beat me in sections so (the seeding) was understandable,” Das said. “We didn’t know who was going to win.”

The tone was set quickly Friday, with Das rolling to the first-set victory. Zhao made her work hard in the second set but couldn’t counter enough to win the set.

“They play in the offseason together, they train together, they have a really good friendship,” said SPA coach Lauren Oien. “They definitely know each other’s games.

“The best thing that could happen was that she and Patty played in the finals, because she knew Patty’s game and she knew exactly what she needed to do to win.”

Adding to the big day for St. Paul Academy and Summit School was a doubles state title for seniors Sarah Hays and Gina Nguyen. They defeated the Blake senior duo of Abby Rickeman and Maddy Hall 6-4, 6-0 to take the gold.

After the matches ended, Das, Hays, Nguyen and their coach hugged, smiled and posed as parents’ cameras clicked. Das said her prior state experience made her more comfortable Friday.

“Definitely last year was different, playing in front of such a big audience,” she said. “I’m a little bit more used to it this year, so I was prepared for it.”

Oien said Das’ state title was no surprise. “Her progression, as she matured, she knew exactly what she needed to work on. And she focused on those and she succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations.

“She’s just a warrior and a fighter. It kind of developed throughout the years. I had her as a little seventh-grader and we’ve tried to pull out that warrior and now there she is.”

--In Class 2A, Rochester Century sisters Katie and Jessie Aney won the doubles crown with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over sisters Morgan and Mackenzi Marinovich of Edina. The singles champion was junior Summer Brills of Mounds View, who defeated Edina seventh-grader Sophia Reddy 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-1.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 224
*Miles John has driven: 3,691
(*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 Day For Sisters At Girls State Tennis Tournament10/25/2012
The Class 2A doubles bracket at the girls state tennis tournament has a very definite theme: Sisters. One-quarter of the 16 doubles teams are sisters, with three of those pairs positioned at the bottom end of the bracket.

The biggest story among all the sisters are the Aneys from Rochester Century. That’s because ninth-grader Jessica Aney, the defending state single champion, chose to play doubles this year with her sister Katherine, a junior. They are known simply as Jessie and Katie, and they defeated two other sister teams Thursday to advance to Friday’s semifinals.

The Aneys opened with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Laura and Cassy Finn of Delano, then defeated Taylor and Chase Shortly of Forest Lake. Both Aney sisters played singles Tuesday and Wednesday in the team competition, so they had to make a hasty switch to doubles.

“The first match was a little rough but I thought we played pretty well,” Katie said after Thursday’s quarterfinals. In Friday’s semifinals they will meet Meghan Herring and Kelly Reger of Edina. The other semifinal will be between sisters Morgan and Mackenzi Marinovich of Edina and the Centennial team of Kelly Jachymowski and Courtney Klair.

The Aneys (Jessie is pictured at right) have captured the spotlight based on two main factors: Jessie’s decision to skip a chance at a repeat singles title and the joy that they show on the court. The sisters smile frequently and share an abundance of high fives.

“Fun. That’s what it’s all about,” said Katie. “Jessie’s always been a singles player and I’m a doubles player. She won state last year in singles, so she thought it would be cool to try to do doubles. And we’re sisters, and best friends, too.”

Century coach Josh Heiden said the decision to play singles or doubles was Jessie’s.

“I think Jessie was a little nervous about it, thinking what other people would think,” Heiden said. “I think she sometimes thinks about that too much; ‘People come to the state tournament and I feel like they want to watch me play singles, and I’m letting them down.’ I told her, ‘You cannot think about that. If you want to play doubles, play doubles. If they were going to come and watch you, they’re going to watch you play doubles or singles.’ ”

A year ago, Jessie was an eighth-grader who blazed through the 2A singles tournament without losing a set in four matches. She was a prohibitive favorite to win another singles title this year, until she made the decision to play doubles with her big sister. Katie, who had never played at state other than the team tournament, laughed about how easy it was to agree to play doubles with Jessie.

“I said something like, ‘If you reallllly want to, I guess I could squeeze it into my schedule,’ ” Katie said with a big smile.

The Aneys also skate on the same line for the Century girls hockey team. “We’re together all the time,” Katie said.

Jessie said, “We’d been thinking about it for a long time and we thought it would be really fun. I love playing singles, too, so it was a really hard decision. But I love playing with my sister and we have a lot of fun together and work well together.”

--Singles and double state champions will be crowned Friday in 2A at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center and in Class 1A at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in south Minneapolis.

--To see photos from the girls state tennis tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 224
*Miles John has driven: 3,653
(*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
For Columbia Heights Football, The Future Is Bright 10/24/2012
The Columbia Heights football team came oh so close on Tuesday. So close to taking one more big step up, so close to putting more distance between what was and what is. The Hylanders lost to Minnehaha Academy 29-16 in the first round of the Class 3A Section 4 playoffs, and it hurt.

But it won’t take long for the players to realize what they accomplished this season: They won. For a program that had won a grand total of two regular-season games in the previous four seasons, finishing 2012 with a 4-5 record was a strong statement by a team that is on its way back.

“We won four games and that’s a huge step for our program,” coach Matt Townsend said after the loss at Minnehaha Academy. “We were down a little bit the last few years, struggling and trying to figure things out.”

Victory No. 5 was within the Hylanders’ grasp before slipping away in the final five minutes. Columbia Heights surrendered the first touchdown but came back to lead 16-7 on a touchdown pass from David Dixon to Deondre Sanstad and a scoring run by Dixon. Those touchdowns countered scoring passes by Minnehaha quarterback Erik Madryga to Dane Birkeland and Jonathan Webb.

The 30-yard TD pass to Webb made it Hylanders 16, Redhawks 14 with 5:27 to go in the fourth quarter. Minnehaha recovered an onside kick and took the lead on a 4-yard touchdown run by Alec Chamberlain. After Columbia Heights couldn’t gain a first down, the Redhawks set the outcome in stone on another short TD run by Chamberlain with four seconds to play.

Finishing 4-5 was a much different outcome than in prior seasons. Since 2006 the Hylanders’ best finish was 3-6 in 2007. They were 2-8 in 2009 (with one postseason win), 1-8 in 2010 and didn’t win a game in 2008 or 2011.

For the 12 seniors on the current Hylanders roster, Tuesday’s game was the end of the football road. But for all those underclassmen? Thoughts are already turning to next season.

“I think we took a big step this year,” Townsend said. “We return a lot of underclassmen, which I just told them. We thank our seniors, and hopefully we’ll take this game and build on it and think about it.”

Dixon and workhorse running back Daireus Mock are sophomores, and both of those youngsters have bright futures. The Hylanders played an independent schedule this season after leaving the North Suburban Conference, and their first victory came in Week 1, 52-24 over St. Paul Humboldt. That was a wonderful start to the turnaround.

“It was huge,” Townsend said. “It was good for our community, it was good for our fans, it was good for our kids and our staff. This year you had a little bit of hop in the hallways again with football doing some things, so there’s a little bit more of a buzz.”

Then came victories over St. James, St. Paul Como Park and Minneapolis Edison, with losses to St. Paul Harding, Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, Maple River and St. Peter.

“I think we’ve got a lot of hope,” said Columbia Heights activities director Mark Corless. “A lot of these kids are young. They know already pretty much what our schedule will be next year, and they’re certainly teams we can be competitive with if we get better. It’s not like these are walk-over games, but they will dress about the same number of kids we dress. That’s what’s good. They have hope in every game, which is huge.”

The 2013 season will be here in a hurry, and Townsend told his young players to learn from Tuesday’s mistakes.

“We have some young kids who need to look at this game and how close they were, the mental mistakes they had. Hopefully now they learn and when they get into a situation again, they finish it.”

--To see photos from the Columbia Heights-Minnehaha Academy game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 208
*Miles John has driven: 3,589
(*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
Remembering Ron Sellnow: Hopkins AD, Teacher, Coach And Great Person10/24/2012
This message was sent via Twitter this afternoon by the athletic department at Hopkins High School...

"Very Sad News: Former Hopkins AD, teacher, coach and all-around great person, Ron Sellnow, passed away this afternoon."

Ron, who was diagnosed with Lymphona in 2011, was well-known in Minnesota high school activity circles and was active as a supporter of MSHSL events. He will be greatly missed.

Duluth Central Boys Basketball Reunion This Weekend10/23/2012
The Duluth Central Boys Basketball Reunion on Saturday promises to be an event to remember. Central, which merged with Duluth Denfeld in 2010, sent 15 boys basketball teams to state tournaments between 1918 and 2007. Central won state championships in 1950, 1961, 1971 and 1979, with runner-up finishes in 1918, 1969, 1977, and 1986.

Here are the reunion details:

6:30 p.m. Friday -- Casual get-together for former teammates at Grandma's Sports Garden in historic Canal Park.

Noon-1 p.m., Saturday -- Tours of an historical classroom and the bell tower at Old Central High School.

1 p.m. Saturday -- Alumni basketball game at Old Central High School. Warm-ups begin at noon. The high-tempo event includes a three-point shooting contest and a possible slam-dunk contest, with prizes awarded to the winners.

7 p.m. Saturday -- Post-game reception at Grandma's Sports Garden, featuring comments from legendary coach Jim Hastings and other former coaches. Appetizers served.

"This all started out as just a few local guys getting together to watch the '79 championship game," said event organizer Peter Cieluch. "One day at the YMCA I mentioned to Don (Ness) what we were planning on doing. His suggestion was to maybe hold an alumni game, as that could be a lot of fun. Well, we took that original idea added a few other simple events.

"Growing up on the Central Hillside many of my childhood friends were parts of the many great teams Central produced during that era. Seeing the program simply vanish was very hard for many of us to see. The last scheduled home game versus East had to be moved also.

"This event is meant to be both a reunion of sorts for all those that were part of the program. But more then that, it's a celebration of a program that spanned many decades and brought numerous championships to our town. And with the current classifications of both of the remaining schools, we may never see the success Duluth Central basketball was able to achieve again."