John's Journal
One Rookie Player, One Veteran Coach, Two Wonderful Stories6/15/2011
Wednesday began with rain on the three golf courses that are being used for state tournaments this week. In the afternoon the sky cleared and it looked like nothing but sunshine for the rest of the day. And then storm clouds gathered for muster on the western horizon and attacked in force.

The Class 3A tournament, which began Tuesday at Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids, was played to completion for the boys and the girls field. Rogers and Wayzata shared the 3A boys team title and Forest Lake’s Max Kelly was the individual champion. On the girls side, the team from Wayzata took home gold and the individual title was shared by Cretin-Derham Hall's Celia Kuenster and Stillwater's Cassie Diggs.

Meanwhile, the Class 2A tourney in Jordan and the 1A event in Becker began their scheduled two-day run Wednesday. I spent the day in Becker in my usual manner: working on stories that go beyond the normal everyday “game” stories. And boy did I land on two great stories. Some of my many tipsters around the state had pointed me in the right direction; in fact, more than one tipster had told me about each of these stories.

THE ROOKIE

Let’s start with Windom senior Jessy Grove. For most of his senior year he was known as the kid with the concussions. He suffered the first one in the fourth game of the football season, returned for basketball and had concussion number two. Doctors said no more contact sports, so Jessy had to give up on playing baseball – his favorite sport – this spring.

He plays a lot of golf each summer, so that’s the team he went to. “I knew I didn’t want to end my high school career by sitting on the bench,” he told me. But he wasn’t even given clearance to play golf until well after the season had started.

Suffering from severe headaches, he missed 43 days of school after the second concussion. After seeing a series of doctors, he was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. Jessy became a spokesperson for concussion awareness and safety, testifying before the House Education Reform Committee at the State Capitol in St. Paul.

So to see him on the course at Pebble Creek in Becker, representing his school this week … well, it’s darn near miraculous.

“This is his first year … first half a year, I should say,” said Windom coach Dave Eyberg (pictured above with Jessy). “He didn’t get cleared for anything except golf, and that wasn’t until about a month and a half ago. So it’s quite a story.”

Indeed it is, especially the end of the story. That’s the 1A state tournament, which was not on Jessy’s radar at all.

Jessy shot a 42 on the first nine holes Wednesday and a 46 on the back side for an 88, putting him in the middle of the pack for Thursday’s final 18 holes.

“I went out for golf and state wasn’t really even an option,” he said. “For the team, that was about it, but not as an individual. This whole year has been crazy. To make it to the state tournament in a sport I’ve played for half a season is pretty crazy.”

THE VETERAN

Jerry Loegering isn’t the kind of guy to boast. But the Barnesville High School girls golf coach has plenty of reason to bust a couple of buttons this week.

Loegering, 78, began his career as a science teacher in 1951, moved to Barnesville from his native North Dakota in 1957 and created the girls golf program there in 1975. He almost retired from coaching after last season. Almost.

“I was thinking about it last year, but then they bugged me,” he said with a smile Wednesday, pointing toward his players on the practice range in Becker. So he hung around for one more year, which is ending with history. The 2011 Trojans are the first team from Barnesville to go to state in girls golf.

There were no seniors on last year’s team, which finished three shots out of first place (and a berth at state) in the Section 6 tournament. Current seniors Elizabeth Anderson, Chelsey Halverson and Nikki Hammer were part of the reason the coach stuck around.

“He told us he wanted to finish it out with us three seniors,” Hammer said. “I think he knew we could make it this year. He said we have a chance of making it, so we’ve got to keep that in the back of of our minds at all times and push ourselves.”

When scores at this year’s section tourney were being posted, it was quite nerve-wracking for the Trojans and their coach. “Mr. Loegering wouldn’t even go look at the scores,” Hammer said. “And he’s usually the one who keeps us calm.”

Jerry, who retired from teaching in 1993, has been around for so long that his former students include a few grandparents of current students. One of them is Ione Hammer, grandmother of Nikki Hammer and her sister Sami, a junior on the golf team.

“He’s special,” Sami said of the coach. “He’s meant a lot to all of us over the years.”

Jerry has coached individual players at state tournaments before, but this week’s experience is pretty darn special.

“Oh, it’s great. It’s great,” he said. “We were hoping, because we had everybody back. We had the three seniors this year. The team will have three pretty good golfers back next year, plus there are a few more at home.”

--Diet Coke Count: Zero (they sell some other brand of soft drink at the course in Becker.)

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 795
*Miles John has driven: 10,760

--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
Kicking Off Another Busy Week Of State Tournaments6/14/2011
We’re all rested and ready for more fun and games, with the state golf and baseball tournaments keeping everybody hopping this week. I’m writing this from Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids, site of the Class 3A boys and girls golf tourney.

The 3A competition began today and will end Tuesday. The Class 2A tourney at Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan and 1A at Pebble Creek in Becker will begin Tuesday and be completed Wednesday. The format is the same for all three tournaments: boys and girls individuals and teams play 18 holes each day. Weather can be a factor, but let’s hope that is not the case this week.

Baseball action begins Thursday with state quarterfinals and continues Friday with semifinals, leading up to the state championship games in all three classes next Tuesday, June 21, at Target Field.

I’ll have more later today…
St. Cloud Apollo’s “Solid Six” Make Golf History 6/14/2011
While Dani Torgerson, a junior from St. Cloud Apollo, was playing in the first round of the Class 3A state golf tournament Tuesday, she had a brief conversation with one of her playing partners about the size of their schools’ team rosters.

Stillwater junior Alex Zeuli told Torgerson that the Ponies had 61 girls out for golf this spring. After the round, Dani enjoyed recounting that conversation with the other members of the Apollo squad … all five of them.

The Eagles call themselves “the Solid Six.” And they have been making some solid history this season: the first Central Lakes Conference championship for an Apollo girls or boys golf team, the first section title for an Apollo girls or boys golf team, as well as the first team appearance at state golf in school history.

The Solid Six are seniors Jenna Traut and Katie Kruchten, juniors Dani Torgerson and Hannah Erickson, sophomore Madison Mack and eighth-grader Nikki Torgerson. They are not just the only girls golfers at their school, they also grew up together. All but Traut are neighbors on Polaris Court, a cul-de-sac in north St. Cloud, and Traut said she lives about five minutes away.

“She’s like our adopted sister,” Erickson said of Traut after the Eagles completed the first 18 holes of the two-day tournament at Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids.

The Eagles probably surprised some people with their first-round performance. They had a fifth-place team score of 358 after 18 holes, with Kruchten shooting an 86, Mack a 90 and Dani Torgerson and Traut both at 91. The top four scores for each team are counted; Nikki Torgerson and Erickson shot 95s Tuesday.

The Eagles are 27 strokes behind first-place Wayzata in the eight-team field, so the odds of a miraculous second-day effort and state championship are long. But the journey to state is just as important as the outcome, and the Apollo girls’ journey began so long ago that the players have a hard time remembering when they didn’t play golf together.

They share memories away from golf, too, of course. Rollerblading, biking, telling ghost stories around a neighborhood fire pit and on and on. “Katie had some old pictures the other day,” Dani Torgerson said. “We were like 7 years old and we were all wearing golf clothes.”

The biggest name in Apollo girls golf history is Samantha Sommers, who won 3A individual state titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Erickson and Traut were in seventh grade when Sommers was a senior.

“We looked up to her and we were kind of in awe of her because she was so good,” Erickson said. Traut said she was “kind of intimidated by (Sommers), and we had high expectations to live up to.”

One of the biggest hurdles this season for Apollo was getting past Alexandria, which had won the previous nine Central Lakes titles and has made 17 trips to state.

“At the beginning of the season we were a few strokes behind in every meet we played with Alexandria,” Traut said. “Then we were neck and neck, and we started playing better golf near the end of the season.”

Kruchten played on the golf team at St. Cloud Cathedral when she was in seventh and eighth grade, and she went to state with Cathedral as an eighth-grader. Using that small slice of state experience, this week she told her Apollo teammates to “stay relaxed, because it’s hard to play when you’re tense and stressed with every shot.”

Traut was a relative latecomer to golf, beginning to play when she was a freshman. “We were all good friends with Jen, and we begged her to go out for the team so there’d be a solid six,” Kruchten said. “She’s been us since my freshman year. It’s been fun.”

The word “fun” popped up frequently as the Eagles chatted Tuesday. The most fun of the whole thing was playing at state as a team; six girls who continue growing up together.

“It’s so much fun to be here with the team and not be out there alone,” Kruchten said. In fact, as the players crossed paths with each other on the course Tuesday, Dani Torgerson spotted Kruchten.

“I ran up to Katie and gave her a huge hug,” she said.

With Kruchten and Traut graduating, the Eagles will need to find some new players next season. That should not be a problem.

“Hopefully this will get some people motivated about golf,” Dani Torgerson said.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 779
*Miles John has driven: 10,680

--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
Some Of The State Track Stories That Will Stay With Me…6/11/2011
Every year, it seems as if I leave the state track meet with a similar thought: There is an unending supply of great stories that come out of this event. As I sit at home on this Saturday night, trying to do justice to what took place this year, I have decided to focus on three stories.

One concerns a familiar name to track fans, one is about a newcomer who burst on the scene Saturday and then shared a very special moment with her father, and one is about a team that said goodbye to its coach as he shipped off for an overseas military deployment just days before the state meet. Here are a few memories that were made Saturday at Hamline University’s Klas Field …

THE SUPERSTAR FROM BAGLEY/FOSSTON

In 2008, a ninth-grader from Bagley/Fosston raised some eyebrows by winning the Class 1A girls triple jump. She also placed second in the 200 meters and fifth in the high jump that year. Her name was Analisa Huschle, and on Saturday she completed one of the most remarkable careers in Minnesota high school track history.

Analisa won the long jump on Friday, and on Saturday she captured gold medals in the triple jump, 100 and 200. That gave her an astounding career total of 10 state championships, including four in the triple jump. She helped Bagley/Fosston win the 1A team championship in 2009, and they shared this year’s title with St. Peter.

After she had that 10th gold medal placed around her neck, I asked Analisa about her day, her weekend and her high school track experiences.

“I feel amazing,” she said, which was also a fine way to describe what she has accomplished. She said four state titles this weekend “was my goal, but anything could have happened.”

Analisa is soft-spoken – especially with the media – and rarely shows any emotion. But her emotions surfaced at least twice Saturday. The first moment came when her time of 24.68 seconds in the 200 (her final event) was announced. Upon hearing her time, she stopped in her tracks, put her hands on top of her head and had a look of amazement on her face (right).

“I was really surprised when I got that time, because I felt really tired,” she said. “But I guess it didn’t matter."

As she talked about the final day of her high school career, Analisa became a little teary-eyed. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” she said. “It was perfect. My career has been amazing.”

Nobody will argue with that.

THE NEWCOMER … AND HER DAD

As the Class 2A girls 1,600-meter race unfolded Saturday, most fans expected to see Jamie Piepenberg of Alexandria and Maria Hauger of Shakopee battle to the finish. They are well-known names in cross-country as well as track, and they finished first (Piepenberg) and second (Hauger) in Friday’s 3,200.

I was standing near the finish line Saturday. As the runners came down the home stretch, a man standing behind me shouted over and over, “Christina! Christina! Christina!” And sure enough, the winner of the race was Christina Monson, a sophomore from Albert Lea. The man was her father, Maurie Monson.

Christina had finished third in Friday’s 3,200, a good distance behind Piepenberg and Hauger (a year ago she also placed third in the 3,200, with Hauger and Piepenberg finishing 1-2). But she outkicked them and everyone else in Saturday’s 1,600. And when she jogged over to the fence and hugged her dad as they both cried … well, that was easily the most memorable single moment of the weekend for me.

“I’m overwhelmed right now,” Maurie said to me. “I can’t believe it.”

He told me that the Albert Lea coaches had convinced Christina to change her strategy for the 1,600. Her normal plan has been to go out hard from the start, take the lead and hope to hold off the field. But her coaches said she couldn’t do that with Piepenberg and Hauger. They were just too strong, and she needed to run a tactical race.

“It was so hard for me to do,” a smiling Christina told me. “Usually I just go out and get the lead, because I feel confident there. I just go and that’s just how I run. They told me today, ‘You can’t let it all go right away because you have to have that energy at the end.’ I really had to hold back, which is a strategy I’ve never, ever had to do before.”

While Maurie was stationed at the finish line, Christina’s mom (Debbie) was on the backstretch as part of the family strategy. “He’s always at the finish line, making sure I’m picking up the pace,” Christina said. “And my mom is on the backstretch, telling me to relax.”

I asked her if she always hugs her father after races. She said, “If it’s a big one, I definitely do.”

And this was the biggest one of all.

RUNNING FOR THEIR ABSENT COACH

The Pillager Huskies boys ran at state without their head coach. Jim Bentson, who teaches high school social studies, also is a member of the military. He reported to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin a little more than a week ago, and later that same day the Huskies ran in the Class 1A Section 6 meet.

Wesley DeLong qualified for state in the 400 meters, and Sean Nokken, Devin Strack, Matt Neurerur and DeLong qualified in the 4x400 relay. Their coach is making his third overseas deployment with his National Guard unit; he will head for Kuwait, followed by time in Iraq and Afghanistan, assisting troops who are headed back to the U.S. Bentson is part of the 1st Battalion, 125th Field Artillery, a Minnesota Army National Guard Battalion headquartered in New Ulm.

DeLong finished fourth in the 400 Saturday and the relay team placed fifth. According to Nokken, “He called me yesterday and he said, ‘I know I can’t be there, but I just want you guys to run like I’m there.’Because every time we come around that last corner, he’s yelling at us. Our inspiration for the whole rest of the year is him, to make sure he stays safe.”

Since their coach left, the Huskies’constant companion has been a maroon flag that says “Pillager 1-125 FA,” signifying Bentson’s unit.

“Before he left, he just told us to be what we can be,” DeLong said. “The banner is in honor of our coach.”

DIET COKE UPDATE

--Special Commendation: As I wrote during the state softball tournament, I am absolutely not attempting to bribe anyone to supply me with Diet Coke. But nonetheless … when I arrived in the press box at Hamline on Saturday, Hamline sports information director and all-around wonderful person Stephanie Harris had six plastic bottles of Diet Coke sitting in a cooler of ice for me. I put down four bottles during the 12-hour day, and the remaining two were snatched up in a red-hot hurry when I offered them up inside the media work room.

--To see a photo of the Pillager relay team with their flag, along with lots of other photos from the state track meet, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

--Diet Coke Count: Four

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 763
*Miles John has driven: 10,652
Lightning, Rain, Games Are Halted And Online Debate Begins6/10/2011
NORTH MANKATO -- I wrote Thursday that if you don’t know anything about Twitter or Facebook, I won’t try to explain them to you. But here’s something you should know about Twitter and Facebook: they are wonderful “town square” venues for discussions.

That was the case after bad weather cut short the first day of the state softball tournament here at Caswell Park. Lightning, followed by rain, caused play to stop during the evening, and no fans and teams were more upset than the folks from Pipestone. The Arrows were trailing Park Center 3-1 through five innings in the Class 2A semifinals when the game was halted. On another field, Cherry/Cotton was leading Blooming Prairie 3-0 in the third inning of a 1A semifinal when the fields were cleared.

The 2A game was called a final because it had completed five innings. The 1A was finished Friday morning because not enough innings had been completed to make it official before the rain. The rulebook was followed to the letter, and that’s when Facebook and Twitter came to life. Here are some of the postgame postings from Thursday evening…

“Thank you! For ending seniors chances to finish a game that deffinently needed to be finish! And I think a lot of people agree! so thanks”

“There are a lot of rules printed. How they are administered is what really matters. In this situation, it would have been better for both teams to play it out. This is state, win without questions left on the table.”

“All their hardwork goes down the drain. c'mon think about it.”

“How can a 2 run game in the state tournament be called early? I don't get it.”

“Prefer MSHSL be proactive w/ looking at rules/policies. These games are worth mire than a May game.”

A few people posted comments that agreed with the decision to play by the rules…

“Regardless of frustration about how it ended...the reality is that you always know when you play a game that can be impacted by weather that it might be ended before you ‘get a chance to win.’ Emotion of a game doesn't dictact ‘Getting to finish.’ It's easier to say ‘We could have won if we finished’ than to admit ‘We didn’t take advantage of earlier opportunities and win in the innings that were played.’

“So, you guys really feel that the MSHSL should have came in and said, ‘aww, we feel bad, lets ignore the rules and let you finish your game’? It is the same rules they have been playing by all year long. Its just more front and center when the umpires have to make the call at the State tourney.”

(Feel free to go to the MSHSL Facebook page, scroll down a bit and take a gander at all the comments.)

It was quite a rollicking online evening, which continued into the early morning. It was well past midnight and I was sitting at my computer in my hotel room, monitoring the comments on Twitter and Facebook, answering some questions and basically giving everyone a chance to vent. On Facebook, I posted the section of the rulebook concerning regulation games and suspended games. Here’s what the rule says…

“It is a regulation game if: (a) five full innings have been played; or the home team at bat has scored an equal or greater number of runs in four or four-and-a-fraction turns at bat than the visiting team has scored in five turns at bat; or (b) play has gone beyond five full innings and is called when the teams have not had an equal number of completed turns at bat … Games called are over if they are regulation, even if less than 7 innings have been completed.”

“A suspended game is any game that is ended before it becomes a regulation game or a regulation game that has a tie score when ended. A suspended game shall be continued from the point of suspension at a later time. The line-up and batting order of each team shall be exactly the same as the line-up and batting order at the moment of suspension subject to the rules governing the game. NOTE: The Suspended Game Rule is in effect for all regular season and post-season games (sub-section, section and state).”

Softball tournament officials, including some who have been involved with state softball for most of the tournament’s 35-year history, could not recall any previous games that were not played to a full seven innings. In some years, bad weather has caused consolation-round games to not be played at all, but Thursday’s events were very, very rare.

CHAMPIONS: Hastings, Park Center, New Life Academy

Friday’s weather was fine, if a bit chilly. All the games were played, and our new state champions are Hastings in Class 3A, Park Center in 2A and New Life Academy in 1A. Two of the champions are not really “new” however. New Life Academy became the first team to win four consecutive state softball titles, and Park Center is a back-to-back state champ. Congratulations to all the teams that played at state.

--For the second day in a row, I held an online John’s Journal giveaway contest. Thursday’s challenge was: “The first person at Caswell Park to tell me ‘John's Journal is epic and awesome’ wins a prize.” It took a little while, but Bloomington Jefferson athletic director Brian Fell was the winner. Friday’s contest: “The first person from Pipestone to tell me in person (while smiling) ‘The MSHSL does a great job!’ will win a very nice prize.” Our winner was Pipestone senior Jacob Schneider.

--I know that opening an umbrella indoors is considered to be bad luck. Too bad, but I had my umbrella opened in the bathtub of my hotel room overnight. During Thursday’s night rain, I leaned it against the door of the tournament headquarters trailer. Except I set it upside down, so the rain fell INSIDE the umbrella …and it was soaked both inside and out. Yes, I am a genuis.

--I think I have somehow unwittingly bribed tournament personnel to keep my bloodstream flowing with Diet Coke. As I wrote earlier, media steward/supervisor of scorekeepers Scott Nelsen had a cold Diet Coke waiting for me when I arrived at Caswell Park on Thursday. Come Friday, Scott had another one on ice for me, as did statistician coordinator Don Stoner. I can’t wait to see what’s in store when I go to Hamline University for the state track meet on Saturday.

--Diet Coke Count: Four

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 723
*Miles John has driven: 10,624

--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