John's Journal
A Change At The Top and A Great Day For An Ace6/16/2011
Hey! No rain! What a concept! Thursday was one of those days we all dream about when the winter winds are whipping across our state. I spent the day at the Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan, completing my three-day tour of the state golf tournaments.

Ridges was the site of the Class 2A tournament, and there were two major headlines from the event: Red Wing ended a three-year run as girls state runner-up with a convincing victory and a young man from Staples-Motley got a hole-in-one. (Oh, there was also a stupidity-induced technology issue.) Let’s begin with the Red Wing girls …

A NEW DAY DAWNS

Minnewaska has been the queen of girls golf in Minnesota, winning a state-record five consecutive championships through last season. A year ago, Minnewaska edged Red Wing by one stroke for the team title. When nine-hole scores started coming in Thursday (the second day of the two-day tournament), it became clear that the Wingers were finally going to take home gold medals.

They finished 17 shots ahead of second-place Detroit Lakes, and Minnewaska was another 12 strokes behind the Lakers in third place. After receiving their medals and team trophy and posing for photos, the Wingers did what has become a Ridges tradition: they jumped into a small pond that borders the clubhouse.

Red Wing’s success throughout the season against the best 2A and 3A teams in the state is reason for discussing whether the Wingers are the best girls team in the state regardless of class. They beat Wayzata in two of three meetings and defeated Stillwater both times they met; Wayzata and Stillwater tied for the 3A state title on Wednesday at Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids. Red Wing also outscored Minnewaska in two out of three regular-season tournaments and outshot Detroit Lakes in two tournaments.

The Wingers will move to Class 3A next season, setting up what should be an interesting and competitive season.

“I’m not saying we would have beaten Wayzata up there, but they wouldn’t have beat us today,” said Red Wing coach Mark Herzog. “We played really good today.”

The Wingers had a 330 team total on the first day and trailed Detroit Lakes by one shot. But their 311 team score Thursday blew away the competition. Junior Marisa Toivonen finished fourth among the individuals with a 158 total, and junior Katie Kesti, Drake-bound senior Danielle Brooks and senior Nikki Pasch also were in the top 10.

“I knew last year when we left here that we could be one of the top teams in both classes,” Herzog said. “I thought we were good enough to beat anybody this year, and we beat all the teams this year. You want to play good when it counts, and we played good today, really good.”

THE ACE FROM STAPLES-MOTLEY

Michael Strain's second career hole-in-one will be etched a little bit deeper into his memory than the first. The junior from Staples-Motley had already recorded an ace on his home course,The Vintage at Staples, but getting one in the state tournament is going to be awfully hard to top.

"I'll remember this forever," Strain (left) said of his ace on the 154-yard 17th hole Thursday in Jordan. "The second-to-last hole in the state tournament on the last day? It's go big or go home, and I went big."

Strain had chipped in on the 16th hole, and his back-nine score of 33 gave him a 72 for the day and a 147 total. That gave him a share of seventh place with Shattuck-St. Mary's sophomore Anthony Brodeur, son of NHL goaltender Martin Brodeur.

Michael is a left-handed golfer, which worked to his advantage on No. 17. "I hit a 9-iron and I was about 150 yards out," he said. "It was setting up really good for me because it was a back-right pin and the tee was on the left and I play a big hook as a lefty. It just kind of went in the hole. It bounced once."

TECHNOLOGY ISSUES

Let me start this segment of today's essay with an admission: I have bad hands. On Wednesday, I dropped my camera on my laptop and the computer did not like it one bit. The screen went all kablooey on me, rendering the laptop useless. My wife, as it happens, had brought home a new iPad 2 earlier this week, so her hubby convinced her to let him take it for a test run in Jordan. She was smart enough to buy a keyboard for her iPad, and our 20-year-old daughter showed her butter-fingered fathered how to find and use a program on which John's Journal could be constructed.

It worked like a dream, too. It was massively easy to spin around on the internet to Twitter and Facebook and the MSHSL website, etc., and stay updated on all the state quarterfinal baseball games that were played Thursday. And if you are reading this, my wife might not get her iPad back for a while...

--Diet Coke Count: Zero for the third day in a row. Again, Thursday's golf venue offered an alternate soft drink. I will be in St. Cloud for the Class 2A state baseball semifinals Friday, and here's hoping my Diet Coke habit will resume at Dick Putz Field.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 811
*Miles John has driven: 10,810

--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
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