John's Journal
The Hancock Owls Know How To Get The Message Across3/18/2011
Hancock coach Jodi Holleman is the first to admit that her voice doesn’t have much volume when it comes to being heard over the roar of the crowd. So the Owls have developed a visual system that helps relay strategy.

Holleman holds up different colored plastic pucks, and sometimes a few fingers, to let the Owls know which play to run. It is especially helpful for senior guard Illissa Koehl, who has some hearing loss, but all the players rely on the system.

“In playoffs it’s really hard to hear and I don’t have a loud voice,” Holleman said after the Owls lost a 60-57 double-overtime thriller to Maranatha Christian Academy on Friday in the Class 1A semifinals at Target Center. “It’s good for all the players to hold up the pucks and numbers. We have 50-some quick-hit plays and we use the colored pucks.”

The Owls’ last trip to state was in 2007, and back then the coaches help up color-coded signs to relay the plays.

“The pucks are easier to hold on to,” Holleman said. During Friday’s game she set the collection of pucks on the Target Center scorer’s table, and they were within easy reach. It was a little more difficult to manage the pucks during Thursday’s quarterfinals at Williams Arena, where most coaches stand on the elevated court.

“It didn’t work so well at Williams Arena yesterday,” Holleman said. “We had them tied together and it was kind of tough, and there was really no place to put them.”


Nicollet’s last trip to state was way back in 1980. Kevin Christenson, who has been the coach there for 15 years, knows very well that it’s been 31 years since the last appearance.

“We’ve had pretty good success over the years, but it takes a little luck, it takes whatever; you’ve got to win a few games at crunch time and this team’s been able to do that,” he said after the Raiders beat Mountain Iron-Buhl 53-22 in Friday’s Class 1A semifinals.

“We’ve had years when we were the No. 1 seed in the subsection and we got upset in the finals. That’s happened a couple times. And we had a couple groups that probably weren’t picked to get to the section finals, but got that far and lost at that level. We’ve been close a few times.”

The Raiders will take a record of 18-8 into Saturday’s title game against Maranatha Christian. Before the season began, the Nicollet coaching staff figured they would have a good unit, but getting to the state championship game was not on the radar.

“We looked at it and said, ‘We’re as good as anybody in the section.’ ” Christenson said. “We weren’t a dominant team but we thought we could match up with anybody. We said, ‘If we keep working at it, let’s see where we get to.’ And I thought maybe we could win the subsection, and then you’re looking at those one-game-at-a -time things if you get hot at the right time. But no way were expecting to get to the state finals. No way

--In the 2A semifinals Friday night, Minnehaha Academy and Braham advanced to today’s title game, and it will be a gold-medal rematch from one year ago. In the 2010 championship game, Minnehaha defeated Braham 64-46.

Minnehaha overcame an eight-point deficit to defeat Sauk Centre 50-43 and Braham held off Providence Academy 59-50.


Hello Mr. Millea: This is Tessa Cichy’s mom. We read a quick blurb on your blog Thursday night about the Hill-Murray vs. Alexandria game where you said Tessa Cichy was eyeing your stash of M&Ms. We wanted to share it with some people and can’t seem to find it today. Do you archive your blogs or can you help us find it? By the way, Tessa said you were completely right about her coveting your candy (smiley face).
Thank you! We enjoy your writings!
Lisa Cichy

My reply: Hi Lisa. You are too nice. I had that item on my blog earlier in the day yesterday, but replaced it with something else later because the post was getting waaaay too long. I wrestled with that decision, and hated to take it down. And now I know I shouldn't have … And tell Tessa (that's her with the ball in the photo) I'll try to have some fresh M&Ms sitting here tomorrow night. She is more than welcome to grab a few!

Here’s that blurb, which I am absolutely more than happy to resurrect …

--She Was Tempted: Basketballs occasionally roll underneath the courtside media tables at Target Center. While a referee was reaching under the table to retrieve a ball Thursday and Hill-Murray’s Tessa Cichy was standing ready to throw the inbounds pass, Tessa glanced at a small pile of Peanut M&Ms on the table. I had brought them out (from the MSHSL’s back-room secret stash…shhh) to share with Star Tribune reporter Amelia Rayno. I think Tessa would have liked to grab a couple.


--Strength of schedule is one reason for the success of the team from Maranatha Christian Academy. The Mustangs (22-9) faced three 4A opponents and four from 3A during the regular season. Among that group is Hopkins (4A) and DeLaSalle (3A), which will also play for state titles Saturday. Maranatha also also played Providence Academy, which met Braham in Friday night’s 2A semifinals.

Reunion, Day Three: Kelly Roysland … Megan Nipe …and Joe Schwei. Joe, who is the ticket sales manager for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, waved me down in a Target Center corridor Friday. I met Joe several years ago; he was and is the owner and president of the Mankato Moondogs baseball team in the Northwoods League. While writing about the Northwoods League in – I want to say it was 2004 – I spent some time at Moondogs games and Joe was a great host. So the reunion string continued for a third day. What will Saturday hold?

--Hancock’s Illissa Koehl is the youngest of nine kids, whose first names are alphabetical: Annette, Brenda, Connie, Dawn, Emily, Fonda, Gwen, Harlan (the only boy) and Illissa. After I posted this fact on the MSHSL Facebook page Friday, it was followed by this comment: “That poor boy. Wonder if he gets to use the bathroom?”

--Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 13 for the tournament, 57 for the winter tournaments.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 542
*Miles John has driven: 8,661

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
A Dozen Trips To State Later, DeLaSalle’s Patterson Knows The Territory3/17/2011
Few girls basketball coaches have more state tournament experience than Faith Johnson Patterson of DeLaSalle. This year is her 12th appearance at state, ranking third all-time behind Myron Glass of Rochester Lourdes (15) and Mike Dreier of New London-Spicer (14).

Patterson had a record of 302-78 in 14 years at Minneapolis North and took 10 teams to state; the Lady Polars won five state championships and finished second four times. She took over at DeLaSalle last season and – no surprise – brought the Islanders to state right out of the chute. They finished third in Class 3A a year ago, losing to Hill-Murray in the semifinals.

The third-seeded Islanders defeated defending state champion and second-seeded Benilde-St. Margaret’s 55-46 in Thursday’s Class 3A semifinals at Target Center. They will meet top-seeded Hill-Murray, the only undefeated team in Minnesota, in Saturday’s 6 p.m. championship game. The Pioneers beat Alexandria 68-41 Thursday.

Patterson is never afraid to let her emotions show, and after Thursday’s victory she was her usual ebullient self. After leaving the Target Center court, she stood in a corridor outside the Islanders locker room and high-fived every cheerleader and school band member she could reach as they passed by.

My line of postgame questioning was of an historical bent. I asked Faith what all her state tournament experience means when she brings another team to the big show. She said she tries to make sure her players know how difficult the road can be at state.

“It really is a fight,” she said. “With these teams here, it’s very competitive when you get to this point and it’s really a battle. The officials kind of let people play and you just kind of have to go for it, give it your all, because it could be your last game.

“With my experience, I’ve won, I’ve lost, but the bottom line for me is that I’m so happy every year because you get a new group of kids and they’re so ecstatic. It’s so more rewarding to see them get here than it is for myself. I am so thrilled for them.”

Every season means some new varsity players, and preparing a team for state is much different than getting ready for the regular season, Patterson said.

“You have to spend a whole lot of time educating, because they don’t know what it’s like. You’ve got to just prepare them to just play basketball and not to worry. Obviously you can’t replace experience with knowledge or someone telling somebody something, so the only thing I can do as a coach is do my best to prepare them for this.”

I asked Faith what she remembers from her very first trip to state with Minneapolis North in 1997.

“I wasn’t prepared,” she said simply. “I just had kids who played hard and I knew the teams would be competitive. Looking back at that first experience, number one, I was proud to get them there. And as a coach I was fortunate because I knew at that point what I needed to do to get better, and each year I try to get better myself so I can lead these guys.”


The 4A championship game should be a good one, based on the semifinals. Top-seeded Hopkins defeated White Bear Lake 52-34 in Thursday’s first 4A game at Target Center, and Eden Prairie knocked off defending state champ Lakeville North 49-32 in the nightcap.

Lakeville North led 22-19 at halftime but Eden Prairie outscored the Panthers 30-10 in the second half.

Hopkins and Eden Prairie, which split two games during the Lake Conference season, will decide the state title Saturday night at 8 o’clock.

The Class 1A and 2A teams take over Target Center on Friday for their semifinal games. Here’s the lineup …

Class 1A
Noon: Hancock vs. Maranatha Christian Academy
2 p.m. Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Nicollet

Class 2A
6 p.m.: Sauk Centre vs. Minnehaha Academy
8 p.m.: Braham vs. Providence Academy


--Reunion, Day Two: Wednesday’s Williams Arena chat with Kelly Roysland (noted in previous post) was followed by another meeting with a former prep star on Thursday at Target Center. This time it was Megan Nipe, an all-stater who helped lead Centennial to a 4A runner-up finish in 2009 and now is a sophomore basketball player at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Megan has had two knee surgeries and redshirted this past season. She’s majoring in journalism, is home for spring break and was spending some time visiting my old haunt, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Assistant sports editor Dennis Brackin and Megan spent some time sitting courtside at Target Center on Thursday.

--Smiling Amid the Action: During the first TV timeout of the 3A semifinal between Benilde-St. Margaret’s and DeLaSalle, Benilde ninth-grade guard Grace Coughlin was in position to defend an inbounds pass near midcour t. There were a few seconds of dead time as the officials waited for the go-ahead to resume the game. Grace relaxed ever so briefly, looked up into the crowd and saw some familiar faces cheering for her. She couldn’t help but smile. It was one of the great unseen moments of the tournament.

--Best Irish Names on the Court During St. Patrick’s Day: Tie between Erin O’Toole and Shannon O’Toole, both from O’Hopkins. Honorable Mention: Kristen O’Brien and Shayne Mullaney, both from O’Eden O’Prairie.

--Sharpest Uniforms Seen So Far: DeLaSalle’s black with gold trim are outstanding. Islanders sophomore Tyseanna Johnson gets extra points for her black and gold shoes.

--Best Vertical: When the net became tangled after a basket, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 6-foot junior Khadijah Shumpert rose to the occasion, leaping up and performing the untangling. The crowd cheered.

--Wow Factor: As the team from Alexandria was escorted to their locker room at Target Center, the players noticed that they were across the corridor from the Timberwolves locker room. One of the Cardinals asked me, “Is that their actual locker room?” Upon confirmation, another player said, “This is so sweet!” Another asked me, “Is KLove here?” Sorry, no sightings; the Timberwolves will play the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday night.

--Day’s First Photo: At 10:15 a.m., with the Target Center lights not yet at full steam and the Hill-Murray team not yet in uniform, the Pioneers posed for a team photo.

--Cool Tunes: The Hill-Murray band’s version of “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And Hopkins knocking out a splendid version of “I’ve Gotta Feeling.”

--Only Coach Wearing Open-Toed Shoes: Alexandria’s Wendy Kohler.

--Uh-Oh: I received this troubling email notification Thursday evening: Weight Loss (@WeightLoss70) is now following your tweets (@MSHSLjohn) on Twitter.

--After one of Friday’s games, a coach asked me what has become an everyday question: “What’s the count today?” I explained that throughout the girls hockey, wrestling and boys hockey state tournaments, the count was four every day with two exceptions; once it was three, but the next day it was five. So the daily average is a very solid four. Which takes us to…

--Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 9 for the tournament, 53 for the winter tournaments.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 512
*Miles John has driven: 8,636

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
A Busy Day As Girls State Basketball Begins3/16/2011
Good morning and welcome to the girls state basketball tournament. I have parked my carcass courtside at Williams Arena, where the 3A quarterfinals and two 2A quarterfinals will be held today. Target Center is the site today of the 4A quarterfinals and the other 2A games. The 1A teams will kick off their games Thursday here at Williams.

The first 3A game here today features the only undefeated team in the tournament: top-seeded Hill Murray. The Pioneers are taking on Red Wing. I’m planning to split my day between the two sites, with lots of updates and photos being posted on Twitter and Facebook.

And speaking of girls hoops, here are the finalists for Miss Minnesota Basketball 2011:

Rachel Banham, Lakeville North
Bethany Doolittle, Hill Murray
Kayla Hirt, Bemidji
Jessica Newman, Barnum
Sattoria Rule, Minneapolis South
Brianna Williams, Hopkins
Michelle Young, Woodbury

The Miss Minnesota Basketball banquet will be held in conjunction with the All-Star Series banquet at the Depot Hotel in Minneapolis on April 16th.

--Diet Coke Count: 3 for the day, 3 for the tournament, 47 for the winter tournaments.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 512
*Miles John has driven: 8,564

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
Coaching Boys Or Girls, Ulveling Gets Red Wing To State3/16/2011
One of the most interesting storylines in the girls state basketball tournament came to an early end Wednesday, when Red Wing lost to top-seeded Hill-Murray 72-52 in the Class 3A quarterfinals at Williams Arena. The outcome was not much of a surprise, considering that the Pioneers are the only undefeated team in any class and Red Wing came in with a record of 18-9.

The storyline is Red Wing coach Kraig Ulveling. Those of us who have written about high school athletics for a while remember him as the coach of the Red Wings boys basketball team. During a 28-year coaching career, he built the Wingers into a powerhouse, qualifying for state tournaments in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. In 2002 and 2004 Red Wing was the state runner-up. Before going to Red Wing, he won a state championship in South Dakota.

Ulveling, the father of daughters, switched over to the girls side in the 2004-05 season and brought the Wingers to state that season. They made a return trip Wednesday.

Red Wing gave Hill-Murray a test, leading by nine points early in the second half before the Pioneers charged back to win. Hill-Murray coach Erin Herman had nothing but great things to say about the Wingers, and Ulveling (pictured at right) felt the same way about the Pioneers.

“They stepped up when they needed to,” he said. “They’re well-coached and Erin does a great job. They’re a championship team. They were down nine and they answered.”

After the game the Wingers were slow in leaving the locker room, as if usually the case when the season ends. But the moment was especially difficult for Ulveling, who coached his daughter Jennifer, a senior, for the final time. “That’s tough,” he said.

Hill-Murray had a distinct size advantage on the Wingers, as well as experience returning from last year’s state runner-up finish. The Red Wing roster, as Ulveling put it, “is a bunch of golfers and tennis players, and we put them together in the winter.”


The Cinderella story of the Anoka Tornadoes – as documented here earlier in the week – came to an end Wednesday when defending state champ Lakeville North beat Anoka 64-40 in Class 4A. The Tornadoes, who were 2-24 in the regular season, saw their four-game postseason winning streak end.

“We knew it was a steep mountain to climb and we wanted them to enjoy it,” Anoka coach James Fassett said. “We tried to play loose and enjoy the experience.”

He said he told his players, "Hold your heads up, because this is something you will remember for the rest of your lives. You are the first girls basketball team from Anoka to get to the state tournament.”


--The seedings in 4A and 3A held true to form with one exception. Unseeded White Bear Lake beat number four seed Maple Grove 43-40 in a 4A game. The remaining seeds all won: Hopkins, Eden Prairie and Lakeville North in 4A, and Hill-Murray, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, DeLaSalle and Alexandria in 3A.

--Wednesday’s winners in the Class 2A tournament – which is not seeded – were Sauk Centre, Minnehaha Academy, Braham and Providence Academy. Class 2A teams take Thursday off and play their semifinals on Friday night at Target Center.

--Back For More: As a sophomore last year, Hill-Murray’s Tessa Cichy impressed everyone with her talents and demeanor as the Pioneers finished second in 3A. There has been no drop-off this season: Cichy took the ball off the opening tip against Red Wing, dribbled between her legs and scored the first points in the Pioneers’ win. Cichy (18) and 6-foot-4 center Bethany Doolittle (24) combined for 42 points.

--Best-Dressed: Hill-Murray wore their green uniforms and shoes, a day ahead of St. Patrick’s Day.

--Epic Pep Band Moment: The orchestras from Hill-Murray and Red Wing were seated with one empty section separating them at Williams Arena. But band directors Dan Maars of Red Wing and Traci Youngs of Hill-Murray, being friends, decided to bring the bands together. So the Hill-Murray kids moved over one section, snuggled up next to the Wingers, and the two bands combined to play an outstanding version of “Hey Baby” at halftime.

--Instant Communication: I learned via email as well as Twitter that the live stats feed from Williams Arena (with game updates posted on was having issues Wednesday. I alerted the proper authorities, who have much larger brains than I.

--Favorite Moment of Day One: In the final 40 seconds of the game, as the Hill-Murray and Red Wing coaches were emptying the benches, Wingers freshman Kelsey Reding ran downcourt at Williams Arena wearing one of the biggest smiles around.

--Annual Reunion: State tournaments always offer opportunities to see old friends. Wednesday’s favorite for me was Kelly Roysland. I first saw Kelly at Williams Arena when she was helping Fosston High School win state championhips in 2000, 2001 and 2003. Our chats continued when she was playing for the Gophers, and now she’s a Gophers assistant coach. Before being hired by Gophers coach Pam Borton, Kelly was an assistant at North Dakota State for two years. As I told her Wednesday, the Gophers (and all of us in Minnesota) are lucky to have her back.

Thursday's Class 1A quarterfinals, all at Williams Arena...
11 a.m.: Goodhue vs. Hancock
1 p.m.: Minneota vs. Maranatha Christian
3 p.m.: Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Northern Freeze
5 p.m.: Nicollet vs. Sebeka

--Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 4 for the tournament, 48 for the winter tournaments.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 512
*Miles John has driven: 8,564

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at
Anoka Tornadoes: From 17-157 To The State Tournament 3/15/2011
When the Anoka Tornadoes play in the girls state basketball tournament this week, it will be the school’s first such appearance in history. But that’s not The Story.

Before this season, Anoka had not won a postseason girls basketball game since 1999. But that’s not The Story, either.

I was talking with Anoka senior Emily Anderson and ninth-grader Kyrah Fredenburg before practice Monday. Emily knows what The Story is, but even she was a little surprised when I glanced at my notes and read this fact: Over the last seven regular seasons, Anoka’s record is 17 wins and 157 losses.

Emily laughed and said, “Kyrah doesn’t understand that because she hasn’t been around, but that sounds about right.”

This is truly a remarkable story. A team with absolutely no winning history – the best record in recent years was 5-20 in 2005-06 – and a first-year head coach finishes the regular season with a 2-24 record (with the two leading scorers in ninth grade), finishes last in the conference and is seeded ninth in a nine-team section but wins four section tournament games and is now one of the last eight teams standing in Class 4A.

“It’s been fun,” said Anoka athletic director John Baufield. “All we can do is giggle.”

The Tornadoes will face defending state champion Lakeville North in the state quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Target Center. The Panthers are 27-2, but the 6-24 Tornadoes are feeling no pressure. Just getting to the state tournament was surprising enough; if Anoka should knock off Lakeville North … well, who would be surprised, after all the Tornadoes have already accomplished?

James Fassett, 42, whose only experience as a high school head coach came with the football team at St. Bernard’s in St. Paul in the 1990s, was hoping to build the program when he was hired to coach the Anoka girls this season.

“The appeal for me was, number one, that it’s a big school, one of the largest schools in the state,” he said. “With that, there should be a talent pool to choose from, there should be enough kids to develop a decent traveling program. And the other appeal of it was the section we were in. It’s not like we were in a section with Hopkins and the western suburbs.

“Looking at it that way, thinking if I could eventually get the program where it needed to be, we could possibly make a run at the state tournament. I was definitely not thinking year one, that’s for sure.”

Fassett (left) was an assistant coach at Anoka-Ramsey Community College the past two seasons, and that’s where the Tornadoes practiced on Monday. Before hitting the gym, they watched video of Lakeville North and went over the details for their trip to state.

Tuesday night’s pre-tournament banquet for teams was on the schedule, and Fassett told the girls, “The banquet is dress-up, it’s formal.” Like everything else associated with the state tournament, these are new experiences. The team will spend Tuesday night in a hotel, and “If … if we lose, we’re checking out,” the coach said, emphasizing the “if.”

Freshmen Claire Lundberg and Fredenburg are the top scorers for the team that beat the postseason odds. Anoka beat ninth-seeded Duluth Central, top-seeded Duluth East, fourth-seeded Andover and third-seeded Cambridge-Isanti in the Section 7 tournament. During the regular season the Tornadoes had lost to East by 19 points, to Andover by 14 and 22 in Northwest Suburban Conference games and to Cambridge-Isanti by 26 points.

“It’s really surprising,” Anderson said.” I’ve been on the JV/varsity for three years now and the most I’ve ever won was like three games. It’s been just a crazy ride.”

Fassett said one reason for the sudden turnaround was that the players began to believe in themselves.

“There were some disappointing times this season, that’s for sure,” he said. “There were definitely a couple points when I thought this was tougher than it was going to be and we really have to scale back and start at square one and really build up.

“A lot of the stuff is working on skills, but those motivational messages of ‘believe in yourself,’ ‘believe in the team’ and hammer home the team concept was what we tried to do all season long.”

Wednesday’s challenge is a tough one. Lakeville North is a dominant program, led by Gophers signee Rachel Banham and Marquette signee Apiew Ojulu, along with Hall of Fame coach Andy Berkvam.

“I told the girls before the section championship game, ‘We’ve worked hard, we deserve to be here. We’re no longer an underdog, we need to come out and be the better team,’ ” Fassett said. “Now we’re back to square one again, with nothing to lose. Lakeville North is the defending state champion, a Gophers recruit, another Division I recruit. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’ve got nothing to lose.’ ”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 512
*Miles John has driven: 8,542

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