John's Journal
Soccer State Championship Lineup Is Set11/1/2011
Minnesota’s high school sports focus will be on the Metrodome Thursday, when four state champions will be crowned on the soccer field. Semifinals in Class 1A and 2A for girls and boys were held at the Dome on Monday and Tuesday, setting up the biggest day of the season.

Thursday’s action will begin at 8 a.m. with the Class 2A boys third-place game, followed by four state championship contests. Here is a look at the matchups…

CLASS 1A BOYS, 10 a.m.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s (18-2-1) vs. Prairie Seeds Academy (19-0-2)
--Second-seeded Benilde has plenty of championship history, winning state titles in 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2006. The Red Knights have allowed only eight goals all season.
--Top-seeded Prairie Seeds is the only defending champion still playing this season. The Lycans have recorded 11 shutouts, outscoring their opponents 137 to 13.

CLASS 1A GIRLS, 12:30 p.m.
Blake (20-1-0) vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (18-0-3)
-- Blake junior Natalie Sill has the hot hand after scoring a goal and assist in the No. 2 seed Bears’2-0 semifinal win over Rochester Lourdes.
--Top-seeded Benilde is balanced, with five players who have scored double-digit goals.

CLASS 2A BOYS, 3 p.m.
Eden Prairie (15-3-3) vs. Eastview (20-0-1)
--Third-seeded Eden Prairie was led by sophomore Abdul Omar’s two goals in a 2-0 semifinal win over Maple Grove.
--Junior Mayhew Gweh is the offensive leader for top-seeded Eastview. He scored both goals in a 2-1 state quarterfinal win over Rochester Mayo and did the same in Tuesday’s 2-0 semifinal victory over Minneapolis Southwest.

CLASS 2A GIRLS, 5:30 p.m.
Burnsville (17-4-0) vs. Wayzata (17-2-2)
--Sophomore Alyssa Blahnik was the semifinal hero for unseeded Burnsville, getting three goals and two assists in a 5-2 win over Centennial.
--Fourth-seeded Wayzata knocked off top-seeded and previously unbeaten Lakeville North in the semifinals, surviving a scoreless regulation and two 10-minute overtimes before winning a shootout 5-3.

Tidbits From The Metrodome
--The largest crowd of the semifinals was from Maple Grove, with high school students paying five dollars to ride a fan bus. Info on the school website said “All students riding the fan bus must ride the bus to and from the event. The bus will depart the Dome at approximately 1:30 p.m. to return to MGSH.” Timing is not everything, because at 1:30 p.m. the game still had 25 minutes remaining in regulation. I bet the students were really disappointed, too.

--First mention of you know what/ 11:57 a.m.: “Hey John, how many Diet Cokes today?” (Answer below.)

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 109
*Miles John has driven: 4,659
*Diet Coke Count: 3 for the day, 17 for the fall tournaments

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Hanna’s Hope: The Source Of Inspiration At Rochester Lourdes10/31/2011
It wasn’t easy for the members of the Rochester Lourdes girls soccer team to be upbeat after losing in the state semifinals Monday at the Metrodome. In fact, Monday wasn’t the best day for the Lourdes boys soccer team, either, because they also lost in the semifinals.

But whenever anybody at Lourdes is looking for a little upbeat inspiration, all they have to do is have a chat with Hanna Hughes.

“I have never seen Hanna with a frown on her face,” Lourdes senior defender Rachel Saltness said of her teammate and classmate. “Every day she has a smile on her face and she makes the best of every situation.”

Hanna watched Monday’s Class 1A state tournament games from a wheelchair. She was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in April 2010 and her right leg and pelvic area were amputated a couple months later. But if anybody has seen her without a smile and some positive encouragement, they’re awful hard to find.

“Hanna is an absolute delight to be around,” Eagles girls soccer coach Sarah Groven said. “She is the sweetest person, she lights up the room every time she comes in. This has been probably tough for her, not to be able to play in the Metrodome, but she has been an integral part of our team since before she was diagnosed.”

A popular item around the school are purple wristbands that say “HANNA’S HOPE.” The Eagles wore them proudly Monday.

Hanna is a top student who was the junior class president last year, is student body president this year and recently was named Homecoming queen. School administrators made sure Hanna and her friend/teammate Kelly Melhorn had the same class schedule this year, so Kelly could help Hanna navigate around school in her wheelchair.

“She definitely is a lot of inspiration,” Kelly (left) said. “When she comes to our games I know that having her there helps inspire the whole team. We know she wants to be out there with us. Honestly, she has such a good attitude about the whole thing that I don’t think anyone else could do what she does on a day-to-day basis. That inspires the team right there.”

Hanna, in turn, credits her friends and teammates for keeping her on a positive track.

“They keep me upbeat,” she said. “They’re great friends. I tell them every game, ‘Play for me because I can’t play.’ They do a great job.”

MONDAY’S SEMIFINAL GAME REPORTS …

1A boys/ Benilde-St. Margaret’s 1, St. Paul Academy and Summit School 0: The game-winner came 6:10 into the second half when Jake Horton drilled an unassisted shot into the net for his 13th goal of the season. Goalkeeper Alex Leiter earned the win, making three saves.

1A boys/ Prairie Seeds Academy 2, Rochester Lourdes 1 (overtime): Adama Keita beat Lourdes junior goalkeeper Will Elder to the ball and tapped it into the net 3:52 into the extra period. Prairie Seeds and Benilde will meet in the title game Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Metrodome.

1A girls/ Blake 2, Rochester Lourdes 1: Natalie Sill scored a goal and had an assist as the Bears advanced to Thursday’s championship game. Maddy Crawford earned the win in the net, making three saves on 10 shots by the Eagles.

1A girls/ Benilde-St. Margaret’s 3, Totino-Grace 0: Dana Buckhorn, Peggy Renier and Kelly Pannek scored for the Red Knights. Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Blake will decide the state championship Thursday at 12:30.

2A girls/ Burnsville 5, Centennial 2: Sophomore Alyssa Blahnik scored three goals and had two assists as the Blaze moved into Thursday’s state championship game.

2A girls/ Wayzata 1, Lakeville North 0 (shootout): After a scoreless regulation and two 10-minute overtimes, Wayzata won the shootout 5-3 to advance to the championship game vs. Burnsville on Thursday.

Coming up Tuesday/ Boys 2A semifinals between Maple Grove and Eden Prairie at noon and Eastview and Minneapolis Southwest at 2 p.m., as well as third-place games in 1A girls (8 a.m.), 1A boys (10 a.m.), 2A girls (4 p.m.).

INCOMING TWEET OF THE DAY (HALLOWEEN CATEGORY)…

“Early returns coming in on tonight's costume count: 12 witches, 5 zombies and 3 John Millea's. I've started to hand out Diet Coke to those.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 103
*Miles John has driven: 4,610
*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 14 for the fall tournaments

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Lakeville North 24, Lakeville South 1410/30/2011
Here's a report from one of Saturday's Class 5A football playoff games, written by a talented young journalist.

It's A Football Town
From Silence To Celebration, An Afternoon Of Playoff Football 10/29/2011
FAIRMONT – Ninety-six high school football games were played in Minnesota on Saturday, and every one of them was important. That’s because this is playoff time and the losing team walks off the field and won’t back back until August of 2011.

With 96 games from which to choose, I went south to Fairmont on Saturday. Mahoney Field, home of the Fairmont Cardinals, is named after the late Tom Mahoney, a legendary coach and ambassador of the game. The current Cardinals coach is Mat Mahoney, Tom’s grandson.

Mahoney Field is nine and a half miles from the Iowa border, and it seemed like a fitting place to be while the Gophers and Iowa Hawkeyes met in Minneapolis. And yes, the Gophers had all kinds of fun in keeping Floyd of Rosedale in Minnesota, but the atmosphere in Fairmont – on the field and behind the scenes – was as good as it gets for high school athletics.

Things began in silence, as the unbeaten Montevideo Thunder Hawks sat on the floor and leaned against the wall in an auxiliary gym. It was 1:30 p.m., 90 minutes before kickoff. Four hours later, at 5:30 p.m., one team was the polar opposite of silent, chanting and singing in wild celebration. What happened in between was special…

1:55/ The Cardinals also sat in silence …as well as in the dark as they waited in a classroom to take the field for the Class 3A, Section 3 semifinal. Mahoney walked in, flipped on the lights and said, “Ready?” He talked about special teams, about being in the right spots, then said, “Where’s Buddy?” Kicker Buddy Anderson raised his hand. “Buddy, we’re gonna need you today,” the coach said. “We’re gonna score a lot of points.”

2:12/ The Cardinals walked from the school to the field in rows of six, holding hands. Mahoney was in the middle of the first row. Again, silence ... other than the sound of cleats on concrete.

2:49/ The Cards were inside their pregame/halftime/postgame room in the metal fieldhouse that sits behind one end zone. The silence had been erased, now the mood was rowdy. “We’re gonna have a great game, guys,” Mahoney said. “Here we go!”

3:08/ Kyle Guetter ends a 60-yard game-opening drive with a 2-yard touchdown run and Buddy does his job. Fairmont leads 7-0 and the band plays the school song, “Anchors Aweigh.”

3:17/ Montevideo ties it as Jake Douglas scores on a 1-yard burst.

3:21/ The Cards retake the lead when Ben Kain hits Alex Borchardt on a 17-yard TD pass. It’s 13-7.

3:25/ Mahoney sees the Montevideo offensive formation and shouts, “Watch toss! Watch toss! Watch toss!” As the play begins, he affirms, “Toss!” Public-address announcer Randy Quiring – also the mayor of Fairmont – intones, “Loss of a yard on the play.” That’s why you scout your opponents.

3:26/ The single most sensational play of the game is made by Fairmont defensive end Justin Barnes, who tips a pass by Thunder Hawks quarterback Brett Bergeson and intercepts it as he falls to the ground. This is also an omen; Bergeson will be picked off four more times and Montevideo also will lose a fumble. The handwriting on the wall begins…

3:59/ It’s halftime, Fairmont’s lead remains 13-7 and it’s still anybody’s game. In the fieldhouse Mahoney tells his most veteran players, “Seniors, this could be it.” But the halftime chat ends on a positive note: “When we’re back in here about an hour from now, we’ll be celebrating a victory.”

4:13/ One of three interceptions by Borchardt sets up the Cards at the Montevideo 14, and Ben Kain throws to Guetter for a 9-yard score and 19-7 lead.

4:39/ After the Thunder Hawks lose a fumble, Kain hits Bryce Holm for a TD on fourth-and-11 from the Montevideo 25. Back-breaker. 26-7.

5:05/ The call goes out on the Fairmont sideline, “Ace! Victory!” That’s the take-a-knee offense. The score is 33-7 and less than two minutes remain. Offensive coordinator Andy Traetow instructs Kain, “Tell the white hat we’re taking a knee.”

5:13/ As the final seconds evaporate, the official on the Fairmont sideline shakes Mahoney’s hand and says, “Coach, good luck next week.” The opponent in the section final will be powerful Glencoe-Silver Lake, which beat Redwood Valley 40-28 Saturday.

5:30/ Four hours have elapsed, the season has been extended by another week and the Cardinals are whooping it up in the fieldhouse. With the unbridled exuberance of teenagers, they count off their 33 points in unison. Then they sing a song and wave their arms, with the key lyrics being, “From East to West, the Cards are the best!”

Mahoney talks about the upcoming trip to top-seeded Glencoe-Silver Lake, the team that has ended the Cardinals’ season in each of the last two years. There is more work to be done if the second-seeded Cards are to reach the state tournament for the first since 1997.

“Weight room, 6:30 Monday morning,” he tells the boys. “We’re one game away!”

--See video of the postgame celebration, as well as a photo gallery, on the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 91
*Miles John has driven: 4,562
*Diet Coke Count: 3 for the day, 10 for the fall tournaments

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Celebrating A Six-Time Tennis Champion And Welcoming The Next Wave10/28/2011
At two tennis centers in Minneapolis on Friday, we saw one great individual chapter close and we witnessed the early stages of a new era. Amber Washington and Jessica Aney are the game’s bookends; Washington, a senior at Mounds Park Academy, is 5 feet, 10 inches tall and Aney, an eighth-grader from Rochester Century, stands all of 5-1.

THE VETERAN CHAMP

Washington (right) capped a splendid high school career Friday with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over sophomore Sonya Das of St. Paul Academy and Summit School in the Class 1A singles title match at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center. The state championship was Washington’s second in the singles division, following four titles in doubles. That’s right, Washington has won a state tennis championship six years running. She’s the only player in history to win four doubles crowns, but going for her second singles title brought a new level of pressure.

“Yeah, it’s way different,” she told me. “There’s definitely a target on my back, a big one. People here really have nothing to lose so they’re going to try their hardest to win. I feel like the pressure is a lot different this year than last year; if I didn’t win last year it wouldn’t have been a big deal. This year people were expecting a lot, so I think there was a lot more pressure.”

Washington won doubles titles with Beth Larson in 2006 and 2007, then did the same with Kate Roach in 2008 and 2009. I asked her to contrast her seventh-grade year and first trip to state with this year.

“It’s different because I think I’m more mature and I think I understand the capacity of all this,” she said. “When I was a seventh-grader Beth told me it was such a big deal and all that stuff and I was like, ‘Oh, is it really?’

“I think it gets easier because you get more experience each year. It gets easier for me because I know what to look for. It’s new players each year but it’s still the same game.”

After Friday’s tournament, Washington was off to St. Louis for a national tournament. She’s balancing school and tennis with making a college decision. She plans to major in law enforcement and possibly go into the intelligence field. “Counter-terrorism, that kind of stuff,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to that.”

THE YOUNG STAR

Aney’s first splash came at last year’s Class 2A tennis tournament, when the seventh-grader didn’t lose until falling to Century teammate Kelsey Frechette in the championship match. It appeared they would meet for the 2011 title on Friday, but Frechette (now a senior) lost to Edina senior Caroline Ward 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the semifinals at the University of Minnesota's Baseline Tennis Center.

Aney (left) then defeated Ward 6-2, 6-2 and capped an undefeated season with her first state championship.

Jessica began playing tennis when she was 5. Her father, Tom, played tennis at Minnesota-Duluth and her mother, Karen, was a tennis player at Luther College in Iowa. Jessica, who has grown two inches in the last year, smiles and bounces around like a lot of 13-year-olds.

She said she didn’t feel any pressure at all this year after being a state runner-up as a seventh-grader, or from the fact that was proclaimed last year’s national Sports Kid of the Year by Sports Illustrated For Kids.

“No, I don’t think I felt pressure. I never felt like there was a target on my back,” she said after playing what she called the best match of her life.

“I was hitting everything well and everything just felt good,” she said.

And it looked great.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 89
*Miles John has driven: 4,290
*Diet Coke Count: 1 for the day, 7 for the fall tournaments

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn