John's Journal
It’s A Game In February, And It’s A Night To Remember2/10/2012
One player had a big black bandage wound around his head, covering seven staples that resulted from a collision with a teammate’s teeth earlier in the week. The player on the other end of the collision had been to the dentist for repairs and was now playing with a mouthguard. One team – Eastview -- was unbeaten and the other –Lakeville North -- came in with one loss … to Eastview a month earlier. The gym was packed, the music was cranking and a cold Diet Coke was waiting for me at the scorer’s table (even though the concession stand sells Diet Pepsi).

In other words, Friday was a perfect night for basketball.

“You want to be in close games, you want to be in an atmosphere like this as much as you can,” Eastview coach Mark Gerber said.

This was a South Suburban Conference boys game with plenty of implications as the season sprints toward the playoffs. Would Eastview remain unbeaten and hang on to the No. 1 ranking in Class 4A? Would third-ranked North avenge a six-point loss to the Lightning on Jan. 10 in Lakeville? And no matter the outcome, would the two teams meet for a third time in the state tournament?

“They’re a big rival and our kids know they’re the best,” said North coach John Oxton. “When you’re number one, everybody wants to try to beat them.”

The final score was Lakeville North 57, Eastview 56. But how we got from that cold pregame Diet Coke to the final buzzer is quite a story. The soft drink came courtesy of Eastview athletic director Matt Percival, who knows how to butter up a visiting scribe. And the outcome of the game wasn’t decided until Eastview’s Joey King missed a three-point shot at the horn.

King was the guy with the bandaged head. He and fellow senior Jordan Bolger knocked noggins on Tuesday at Burnsville, with both needing treatment. King finished with a game-high 18 points, but the fact that he scored two points in the game’s final 14 minutes was important.

Eastview led by six early but North controlled most of the first half, leading by 11 points when Brett Rasmussen hit a three-point basket with 2:33 left in the half. The Panthers led 33-24 at the break, but King made noise pretty quickly in the second half.

The 6-foot-9 forward who has signed a Division I letter of intent with Drake drained an NBA three-pointer to cut North’s lead to four points with 15:50 to play, then grabbed an alley-oop pass from Darin Haugh and threw down a dunk with 14:12 left; North led by two. Haugh scored in the lane to tie it at 35 soon after, but King went to the bench with four fouls at the 11:38 mark.

Curtains for Eastview, right? Wrong. With their top scorer on the pine, the Lightning opened a six-point lead when sophomore Mark Dwyer hit a three. King returned at the 4:25 mark, made two free throws 16 seconds later and Eastview was in front 51-46 as the momentum continued swinging.

North, however, won the battle after that, outscoring Eastview 11-5. The Lightning led 56-51 with 1:38 left, but the Panthers made some devilishly outstanding plays: Ryan Saarela drove through the tall timber, spun and put up a shot that defied the laws of physics and banked in off the glass … Tyler Flack, on a similar play, drove the lane and put up a shortie that rolled around the rim, thought about it, then decided that, yes, it would drop through after all.

That put North ahead 57-56 with 2.3 seconds on the clock. The officials wanted to re-set the timer to 2.7 seconds, but the personnel at the table had some trouble doing so. The problem was solved – and the delay was ended – when Gerber leaned over the table, punched a few buttons, pulled a few switches and said the magic word. Two point seven seconds it was.

Eastview had that much time to throw a length-of-the-court pass, get off a shot, win the game, holler and celebrate. Ben Oberfeld stood with the ball in his hands, and this was an important point. Oberfeld also is 6-9, so everybody in the gym knew that Eastview Option Number One was a long pass from Oberfeld to King, who was perched 70 feet away, ready to leap, grab, turn and shoot.

He leaped, he grabbed, he turned and he shot. And he missed. Bang zoom, Lakeville North wins it.

“They had Oberfeld passing it in,” Oxton said. “So we put our two big guys on Joey and said, ‘That’s where it’s going.’ And he still caught it. That’s not real great but it worked.

“Every time we play them it’s the exact same game every time; physical, getting after it. And they’re good, they’re really good. But we’re pretty good, too. That was fun.”

Gerber did not use the word “fun” during our postgame visit. Understandably, he was not pleased.

“We have experienced guys,” he said. “That’s the troubling part; you have a six-point lead with two minutes to go and we didn’t make the right plays at the end. I never would have guessed our guys would make the plays that they made at the end. That’s not them. They know exactly how to win and they didn’t make the right plays. We took the wrong shots, we dribbled into traps; stuff that these guys aren’t accustomed to doing, so I was shocked.

“But one game isn’t going to define our season at all. Our goals are set much more higher. There’s a lot to learn, there’s a lot more positive to take out of it than negative. It’s a game in February.”

Yes, it was a game in February. “Only” a game in February, some might say.

But it sure was fun.

--To see a photo gallery from the game, as well as video of the final play, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 259
*Miles John has driven: 5,837

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
State Tourneys, Basketball Reunions And A Mystery Photo2/6/2012
With another Super Bowl in our rearview mirror, winter state tournaments can’t be far away. In fact this week marks the start of the fun, with the State One Act Play Festival at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

Class 1A plays will be performed Thursday and 2A schools will do the same on Friday. Eight section-winning plays will be performed each day between 9:15 a.m. and 4 p.m. (This photo from the 2011 festival is Bagley High School's presentation of "4 A.M." by Jonathan Dorf.)

Next week we’ll have the state ski meet (Alpine on Feb. 15, Nordic on Feb. 16) at Giants Ridge in Biwabik and the dance team state tourney on Feb. 17-18 at Target Center. Then comes a weekly run of tournaments…

Feb. 22-25/ Girls hockey at Xcel Energy Center, gymnastics at University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion.

March 1-3/ Wrestling at Xcel Energy Center, boys swimming at University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

March 7-10/ Boys hockey at Xcel Energy Center.

March 14-17/ Girls basketball at Williams Arena and Target Center, adapted floor hockey at Bloomington Jefferson.

March 21-24/ Boys basketball at Williams Arena and Target Center.

And Speaking of State Basketball Tournaments…

--Past state tournament championship basketball teams are encouraged to plan reunions around this year’s tournaments. Target Center suites are available for rent; the rental fee includes 22 admission tickets. For more information and to reserve a suite, call 612-673-8344. Also a special block of rooms has been set up at the Marriott City Center hotel for teams having reunions as well as other state tournament fans. Call the Marriott at 612- 349-4000 and ask for the Basketball Centennial Room Block. These rooms will be available until Feb. 24 for the girls tournament and March 2 for the boys tournament.

--HELP! The League is busy collecting memorabilia related to our celebration of 100 years of state basketball tournaments. A contributor has dropped off several "old" photographs, but we're not sure what school they may represent. The uniform (photo) has a large "C" on the jersey, flanked on both sides by what looks like wings. Any ideas? Send information to MSHSL director if information Howard Voigt at

*Schools/teams John has visited: 257
*Miles John has driven: 5,827

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
Correspondent Report: Ulen-Hitterdal vs. Ada-Borup Boys Basketball2/4/2012
Here's a story from Friday night, detailing a big game in northwestern Minnesota...

No. 6 Spartans claim season's second win over No. 10 Cougars
One Gym, One Game, A Great Band And Enthusiastic Fans 2/1/2012
NORWOOD YOUNG AMERICA – Shortly after tipoff at Tuesday night’s boys basketball game between Mayer Lutheran and Norwood Young America, NYA coach Nat Boyer took his gaze off the game for a few seconds and looked across the court. He motioned for the NYA students to stay on their feet. After that, he didn’t have to remind the kids that their vocal chords were a vital component of the Raiders’ game plan.

The atmosphere at Norwood Young America – the district is known as Central Public Schools, also encompassing the communities of Bongards, Cologne and Hamburg – was electric for this Minnesota River Conference game. The winner would grab hold of second place in the league standings behind Watertown-Mayer and also elicit some bragging rights in the rivalry between schools that are less than 10 miles apart.

The pep band was terrific during pregame warm-ups, playing the Rocky theme song as the Raiders came running on the court. The repertoire of the band, under the direction of Adam Halpaus, also included the theme songs from Hawaii Five-O and Blazing Saddles, which warmed the musical heart of folks old enough to remember when those tunes were new. Fans bought walking tacos at the concession stand and came walking into the gym eating their walking tacos. The NYA players traded low fives with the band’s tuba player as they warmed up and some of the junior varsity basketball players – still in uniform – grabbed their instruments and took their spots with the band. The dance team put on a great halftime show.

The Norwood Young America student section was on point from start to finish, chanting and cheering, always standing. They froze in place while Raiders shot free throws, they stomped and they swayed as the home team got off to a rapid start and recorded a 69-54 victory.

“That’s what we needed to do,” said Boyer, who is in his first year at NYA after previous coaching stints at Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton. “We knew we had to get off to a quick start and get our crowd, our sixth man, involved. I think that’s so important in high school basketball.

“(The students) ask me, ‘Do you want us to get into it?’ That’s what I wanted to bring here when I came, was to get the crowd into it. It’s about letting these boys come out and having that support behind them. It’s their show. This is their show and that’s what I want it to be.”

The sixth man had plenty to cheer for right away. The Raiders (10-6 overall, 5-3 conference) came out pressing and running and firing off three-point shots. A typical sequence went like this: Raiders center Luke Marschall blocks a shot, the ball is fired downcourt, Reid Stacken hits a three, the NYA lead builds and the faithful go nuts.

Five players scored in double figures for NYA, led by Ryan Marschall with 17 and Tom Messner with 15. Anthony Gruenhagen had 25 for Mayer Lutheran (14-4, 5-4).

NYA’s press pestered Mayer Lutheran throughout the game, which agan was part of the plan.

“That’s the way we play,” Boyer said. “We try to put as much pressure as possible on teams and make them make mistakes. We use a defensive style that’s known nationwide as ‘thug ‘em, mug ‘em.’ We want to be tough with them and make sure they’re as uncomfortable as can be. That’s what we look for. And if we can get it going on the defensive end, that’s going to lead our offense. It’s like they say: offense wins games, defense wins championships.”

In the first meeting between the two teams, Mayer Lutheran won 60-49 in Mayer on Dec. 22. Norwood Young America didn’t have its full roster that night, and playing rapid-fire basketball while down a man is tough. But the Raiders’ complete cast was on hand for the rematch, including the sixth man.

“I can’t say enough about our sixth man,” Boyer said.

That’s OK, coach. They speak for themselves.

--To see a photo gallery from the game, as well as video of the NYA student section and pep band, go the MSHSL Facebook page.

--Knowing my affection for a certain soft drink, Boyer had a cold case of Diet Coke waiting for me at the scorer’s table. Those 24 cans made their way to MSHSL World Headquarters on Wednesday, and you can see some photos from that event on the MSHSL Facebook page, too.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 257
*Miles John has driven: 5,827

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
New Richland Super Sophomore Carlie Wagner Is A Player To Watch1/30/2012
NORTHFIELD -- In preparing his team to face New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and super sophomore Carlie Wagner on Saturday, Goodhue girls basketball coach Josh Weime used other talented opponents as comparisons.

“We tried to compare her to girls we play: ‘She’s kind of like this, but quicker. She’s kind of like that, but faster, shoots better, jumps higher.’ ”

In other words, Wagner is capable of doing a lot on the basketball court. In fact, Weime said, “She does things that we never see. How do you prepare if you don’t see it?”

Not surprisingly, Wagner was the star of Saturday’s non-conference game at Carleton College, scoring a school-record 39 points. New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, the second-ranked team in Class 2A, recorded a 77-68 victory over the Wildcats, who are No. 2 in 1A. NRHEG improved to 20-0 and Goodhue is 17-3.

New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva is one of only five undefeated girls basketball teams in the state, and the only one in 2A. (The others are Hopkins in 4A and Parkers Prairie, North Woods and Win-E-Mac in 1A.) Wagner has been a key to the Panthers’ success, and Saturday’s school record was only her latest headline.

University of Minnesota coach Pam Borton came to the first practice of the season at NRHEG. … Wagner scored her 1,000 career point in the ninth game of her sophomore year. … She holds the school record in the high jump. … In the first half Saturday, Wagner outscored the entire Goodhue team 22-21.

Opposing coaches have been trying to figure out ways to slow Wagner for years. NRHEG coach John Schultz, who was a youth coach when Wagner was in elementary school, remembers a fourth-grade coach shouting “Take her left side away! She’s lefthanded!” Wagner, however, is not lefthanded. “You can’t tell the difference,” Schultz said.

Wagner, a 5-foot-10 guard, dribbles and scores with either hand. She throws lob passes to talented teammates Anna Schlaak and Jade Schultz, who like Wagner are highly skilled in other sports, too. Schlaak, a 6-foot senior, will play volleyball at NCAA Division II powerhouse Concordia University in St. Paul. Schultz, sophomore daughter of the coach, is a dominating pitcher during the softball season.

Wagner is more prone to pass than shoot, and John Schultz said he has to remind Carlie that it’s OK to put the ball in the hoop.

“She will turn it over sometimes or be too unselfish, and I keep telling her, ‘Keep shooting.’ In her mind I think she knows how many points she gets and she wants to get rid of the ball. That’s the kind of person she is; she’s trying to keep her teammates satisfied.

“She’s a very humble kid. She’s worried more about her teammates and succeeding as a team.”

Saturday’s game was a chance for both teams to prepare for the postseason. The West Gym at Carleton College is a 94-foot court, the same size as Williams Arena and Target Center, where the state tournament will be held in March. NRHEG used the long court to full advantage, running a rapid-fire transition offense with defensive rebounds setting up lengthy passes to Wagner for easy layups.

“To tell you the truth I don’t even remember if any of the kids knew what offense we were running, because it was all transition,” John Schultz said. “Even if they had one kid back we were going to force the issue and push to the hole.”

Most of Wagner’s 22 first-half points came in a half-court offense, while the bulk of her 17 second-half points came on fast-break layups. With sophomore Mikayla Miller (30 points, 10 rebounds and five steals) leading the way, Goodhue whittled down NRHEG’s lead late in the second half. As the Wildcats were forced to foul in the final couple minutes, Wieme hollered, “Anybody but three!” Number 3 is Wagner, of course.

She said she’s been surprised by the attention she is receiving as a sophomore.

“You’ve just got to kind of go with it,” she said. “It’s exciting and cool and it’s kind of like you weren’t expecting it at this age. You just go with the flow.”

Another pleasant surprise has been the Panthers’ success this season. “We knew it was going to be special, but I don’t think we quite had the idea in our head that we were going to go undefeated,” Wagner said. “But it’s happened and we’re working really hard and molding together really well. Our chemistry is really strong on and off the court, and we just work really hard.”

With two high school seasons remaining after this one, Wagner’s future is bright. And there are more Wagners on the way; in fact seventh-grade twins Maddie and Marnie Wagner (pictured with Carlie) are already seeing some varsity playing time.

Carlie is the family star on the basketball court, but Marnie owns a 1-0 lead on Carlie in one statistic: total number of deer taken during the hunting season.

“She blew me out of the water,” Carlie said.

Marnie and Maddie saw some second-half playing time Saturday, and fans will keep seeing all the Wagner girls.

“We’re young,” John Schultz said. “Hopefully we’ll be around for a while.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 255
*Miles John has driven: 5,745

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