John's Journal
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
Diet Coke, An Umpire On Twitter And A Nice Mauer Move6/9/2011
NORTH MANKATO -- I walked into the media room at the state softball tournament Thursday morning and knew immediately that it was going to be a wonderful day. Veteran media steward Scott Nelsen had a nice cold Diet Coke waiting for me, and that got the festivities at Caswell Park off to a rollicking start.

This is the 35th annual state softball tournament, and this event is always a mix of great games, enthusiastic crowds, weather concerns and a schedule that can best be described as fluid. Thursday’s schedule was tweeked due to some graduation ceremonies, and the same is true for Friday’s girls state lacrosse tournament.

North St. Paul and Forest Lake both held graduation Thursday night, so when those teams advanced to Thursday’s Class 3A semifinals against each other, the game was moved from 5 p.m. to 2 p.m. Forest Lake came out on top 3-1, and if anybody saw a softball-themed caravan of cars zipping north on Highway 169, it’s a pretty safe bet it was the Rangers and the Polars. Forest Lake will meet Hastings in Friday’s 3A title game, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. (fingers crossed; eyes on the sky).

(Weather Bulletin: Play was delayed at 7:50 p.m. Thursday when lightning zipped across the sky. Rain followed, play was stopped for the day and the rulebook was followed to the letter as far as which games were declared to be over and which games were to be resumed Friday morning.)

As for girls lacrosse, Eden Prairie and Blake won state semifinals on Wednesday to move into Friday’s title game. The championship game was originally scheduled for 8 p.m., but Eden Prairie’s graduation will also be held Friday night. So the title game will begin at 2 p.m. at Chanhassen High School, followed by the third-place game between Stillwater and Bloomington Jefferson (once again, weather permitting).

So with those scheduling concerns out of the way, let’s move on to a few assorted notes and quotes from a day of softball…

--Mallory Peebles is a young reporter for KEYC-TV in Mankato. When I introduced myself to her, she was happy to meet someone with knowledge of the tournament. Mallory is a California native who is new to Minnesota, and this wild and wacky softball scene can be a little difficult to figure out for newcomers. She asked, “Can I interview you?” Knowing that today’s modern television equipment is nearly immune to failure when pointed at a face made for radio, I agreed. Mallory asked me about the tournament format, the teams involved, the competition and lots of other great questions.

--Pitching was a major theme on day one, especially in the Class 2A quarterfinals. Park Center’s Nicole Tada threw a five-inning perfect game with 13 strikeouts in the Pirates’ 15-0 win over Albany; Hermantown’s Katue Thun tossed a one-hitter and fanned 10 in a 10-0 victory over St. Paul Johnson; and Mankato East’s Nicole Ries threw a six-inning one-hitter and struck out 12 as the Cougars beat Zumbrota-Mazeppa 9-1. In the other 2A quarterfinal, Pipestone beat Fergus Falls 3-2 despite a combined one-hitter by Fergus Falls’ Aimee Magnusson and Sadie Knudson.

--The MSHSL’s decision to add a new class in football for the largest 32 schools in 2012 continues to be a talker. State softball statistician coordinator Don Stoner posed this question to me Thursday: “What number is higher: the miles you have driven, the Diet Cokes you have consumed or the times you have been asked about seven-class football?” Answer: 10,624, four for the day, and countless.

--The Twitter universe is quite unique. (If you don’t know anything about Twitter I won’t try to explain it.) On Wednesday evening I received this message via Twitter: “Will I see you in Mankato tomorrow?” The answer was affirmative. By Thursday afternoon, I had watched the Twitter sender work a game as the home plate umpire, gave her a fist bump as she left the field after the game, and later shot a photo of her with her children. And of course, I sent her a copy of the photo via Twitter. (To see the photo and learn the umpire’s identity, go to the softball photo gallery on the MSHSL Facebook page. And if Facebook is a mystery to you, I cannot help you.)

--Softball has to be the most comfortable tournament around. People stroll into Caswell Park bringing lawn chairs and blankets, and there is plenty of room to spread out. The bleachers are usually full at all the fields, with plenty of fans sitting beyond the outfield fences on lawn chairs … or laying on blankets … or just kicking back on the good old green grass

--MSHSL executive director Dave Stead, who was on hand for much of Thursday’s action, saw me from a distance, smiled and began walking toward me. I thought, “Here we go; is he gonna make fun of my brand new black tennis shoes with red laces or will he make fun of my legs (I was wearing shorts).” It was the legs – which are seriously free of any semblance of a tan. Dave, a golfer, pointed downward and said, “They look like out-of-bounds markers.” For the non-golfers, such markers are painted white. Funny guy.

--The aforementioned Scott Nelsen and Don Stoner are part of the army of people who make all the state tournaments go. Scott is the assistant athletic communications director at Minnesota State here in Mankato and Don is the sports information director at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. These guys are pro’s pros ... and I’m not just saying that in the hopes that the gratis Diet Cokes will keep appearing.

--The name “Mauer” is synonomous with St. Paul and baseball. But the Mauer name also is carrying some weight at this softball tournament in Mankato. After St. Paul Johnson won the Class 2A Section 4 title, coach Ron Snaza began exploring options for transporting the Governors to state. He knows a relative of Billy Mauer (brother of Joe), who is one of the owners of Mauer Chevrolet in Inver Grove Heights. Billy gave the Johnson team the use of two Chevy Tahoes (above) for the tournament. Snaza said he asked Billy, “What do we owe you?” The answer: No charge.

--All three state championship games will be streamed live on the internet at http://prep45.kstc45.com. The games will be produced by grandstadium.tv and the announcers will be Tom Witschen, Chris Tubbs and Matt Nelson.

--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
Late Night Lacrosse (With Plenty Of Fluids)6/8/2011
When the final game horn sounded at around 11 p.m. Tuesday evening, the weather conditions were pretty darn decent … considering what had transpired earlier in the day. The temperatures leaped past 100 degrees in much of Minnesota, and Tuesday’s boys state lacrosse semifinal games were moved back one hour in order to make the conditions easier to handle.

The two semifinals – which had their starting times moved to 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. – were worth the wait, too. Top-seeded and defending state champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s had its hands full before defeating fourth-seeded Burnsville 11-10, and second-seeded Eden Prairie got an unassisted goal by sophomore Jake Woodring with 10.8 seconds left in regulation to hold off No. 3 seed White Bear Lake 5-4.

Shortly before the first game began, the temperature on the artificial turf at Chanhassen High School was 120 degrees. Thus the sideline sights of extra buckets of water, coolers filled with ice and towels soaked in that ice.

The Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights began hydrating on Saturday, when their coaches took a look at the forecast. After all, athletes can’t start pounding the fluids on game day and expect to be prepared for the kind of conditions that Tuesday presented.

“It was a big concern,” said Benilde coach Colin Mulcahy. “With a heat index over 100, anything can happen. We didn’t want any of our boys to go down.”

Everyone appeared healthy after both games, thanks to smart preparation and teams of trainers and managers who kept the players hydrated, iced and sprayed with water.

The girls lacrosse state semifinals will take place at Chanhassen on Wednesday, with top-seeded Blake facing No. 4 seed Bloomington Jefferson at 6 p.m. and No. 2 seed Eden Prairie and No. 3 seed Stillwater meeting at 8 p.m.

The boys state tennis tournament also will continue Wednesday with team competition, before singles and doubles are held Thursday and Friday.

And the weather looks to be improving, which is about the best news of all.

--To see a photo gallery from the boys lacrosse semifinals, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 695
*Miles John has driven: 10,440

--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
State Tennis, State Track: The Busiest Spring Athlete In Minnesota6/8/2011
Some amazing stories are being told this week at the boys state tennis tournament. Probably the most well-known player is Ingrid Neel, a seventh-grade female who is part of the Class 2A boys championship team from Rochester Mayo. Montevideo senior Eric Johnson qualified for the 1A tournament with doubles partner Jesse Brace. Oh by the way, Eric has a prosthetic left leg as a result of a childhood accident.

And then there is Brendan “Beezer” Skime, who is the busiest athlete in Minnesota this week. The senior from Thief River Falls competed with his Prowlers tennis teammates as they finished fourth in the Class 1A tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday in Minneapolis. He’ll stay in town for the rest of the week, but he’s not finished competing at state.

Come Friday, Skime (right) will compete in the 3,200-meter run in the 1A state track meet at Hamline University in St. Paul. On Saturday he will run the 1,600 meters, and that will complete a high school career like few others. By the time Skime hits the finish line on Saturday, he will have competed in 12 different state tournaments in four sports.

He’s been to state six times in tennis (joining the varsity as a seventh-grader), three times in cross-country, twice in track and once in hockey. He’s especially busy in the spring, going to tennis practice after school and getting in some miles for track in the evening. He’s the only two-sport spring athlete in Thief River Falls for as long as anybody can remember.

“Sometimes it’s hard,” he said Wednesday at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center, site of the 1A tournament. “You don’t get to spend time with friends when you have to practice with the tennis team and then do a running workout. But it’s still fun.”

About that nickname. When Brendan was young, his favorite hockey player was NHL goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck, whose nickname was Beezer. “My dad shot a softball at me, it hit me and he said, ‘Bonk on the Beezer.’ It just stuck with me ever since.” I asked Brendan if anyone ever calls him Brendan. Answer: Negative. In fact, the lane assignments for the state track meet have him officially listed as “Beezer Skime.”

Beezer is not only a committed and experienced athlete, he also is talented. He placed 15th and ninth at state in cross-country the last two years and was 15th in the 3,200 at the state track meet last year.

“He manages everything real well,” said Thief River Falls tennis coach Tim Engelstad. “He’s an exceptional young man.”

Beezer didn’t join the track team until his junior year. It’s no surprise that Prowlers boys and girls track coach Lynn Dyer urged him to give it a try.

“I made it to state when I was a sophomore in cross-country and then I wanted to (join track) as a sophomore but it didn’t work out because it was too late,” Skime said. “My junior year the track coach, Lynn Dyer, said, ‘The 3,200 would be a good race for you.’ ”

Beezer will attend North Dakota State University in the fall and be part of the cross-country and track teams. He calls tennis his No. 1 priority because it’s the sport he has played the longest.

One of his toughest decisions came last month when the Section 8 tennis tournament coincided with a sub-section track meet. Beezer -- who qualified for state tennis as an individual last year (when the two sports didn’t have a section conflict) -- had to make a hard decision this year and he chose track.

“This year it didn’t work out,” he said. “It was tough.”

His senior year has been pretty special, considering that he will have competed in four state tournaments. But it all seems to be part of the plan.

“I’m always practicing and working out, trying to improve,” he said.

--I’ll be in North Mankato on Thursday and Friday for the state softball tournament and at Hamline on Saturday for the second day of state track. As always seems to be the case, weather may play a factor in the softball tourney at Caswell Park. There’s a 70 percent chance of rain in the Mankato area on Friday with a high temp of 59 degrees (out with the sunblock, in with the umbrella). But looking at the half-full glass, the conditions Thursday for softball and Saturday for track look outstanding. Cross your fingers, everybody.

--To see a photo gallery from the boys state tennis tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 699
*Miles John has driven: 10,488

--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