John's Journal
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.

BY THE NUMBERS
*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 www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
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.”

ANOKA MEETS THE DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS

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.”

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--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 mshsl.org) 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.

BY THE NUMBERS
*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 www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
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.’ ”

BY THE NUMBERS
*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 www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Girls State Basketball Pairings Are Set3/12/2011
We interrupt the boys state hockey tournament for this important announcement:

There are a handful of section finals being played Saturday in Class 1A and 2A, but the pairings for next week's girls state basketball tournament are nearly complete.

In 3A and 4A four teams are seeded by a vote of the tournament coaches and their quarterfinal opponents are decided by random draw. There is no seeding in 1A or 2A.

The tournament begins Wednesday at Williams Arena and Target Center. All semifinals and championship games are played at Target Center.

Here are the pairings...

Class 4A
#1 Hopkins (27-2) vs. Buffalo (25-3)
#4 Maple Grove (24-5) vs. White Bear Lake (26-3)
#2 Eden Prairie (23-4) vs. Rochester Mayo (21-6)
#3 Lakeville North (27-2) vs. Anoka (6-24)

Class 3A
#1 Hill-Murray (28-0) vs. Red Wing (18-9)
#4 Alexandria (24-3) vs. Grand Rapids (20-8)
#2 Benilde St. Margaret's (24-5) vs. Marshall (20-6)
#3 DeLasalle (24-4) vs. Rogers (15-14)

Class 2A
Caledonia (26-3) vs. Sauk Centre (29-1)
Jackson County Central (26-2) vs. Minnehaha Academy (21-6)
Braham (28-2) vs. Pequot Lakes (27-1) or East Grand Forks (24-5)
St. Peter (24-3) vs. Providence Academy (25-4)

Class 1A
Goodhue (26-4) vs. Ada-Borup (25-2) or Hancock (25-2)
Minneota (25-1) vs. Maranatha Christian (20-9)
Mountain Iron-Buhl (26-3) vs. Red Lake County Central (24-4) or Northern Freeze (27-1)
Nicollet (16-8) vs. Sebeka (23-6)
Great Debate: Indiana Basketball, Texas Football or Minnesota Hockey?3/12/2011
We Minnesotans believe that the boys state hockey tournament is the number one high school event in the nation. Of course, we Minnesotans are a little biased. But during this week’s tournament we have been able to get an interesting perspective from a wider point of view.

Ryan Clark has been a sports reporter at the Fargo Forum for about six months. Ryan and I had some phone conversations earlier this winter and we met in person at the state wrestling tournament. Ryan covered the boys hockey tourney, as well, and he does a great job. He may have been the hardest-working person in the press box this week; writing game stories and blog posts, keeping Twitter updates flowing and having as much fun as possible.

Ryan went to college in Maine, and his reporting career has seen him cover high school basketball in Indiana and high school football in Texas. He wrote a blog entry (go to slightlychilled.areavoices.com) comparing those two to Minnesota hockey.

He discounts Indiana hoops because that state went to a multi-class system several years ago, removing much of the “Hoosiers” flavor from the state tournament. Texas vs. Minnesota is another question, however. Ryan wrote …

“It is hard because the state hockey tournament this week has been amazing and I’ve seen stuff here I never saw in Texas. Here, there are people scalping for tickets for a tournament. Never saw that in Texas. Just got back from the Let’s Play Hockey expo where it’s like a rave/concert that features hockey equipment. Don’t have that in Texas.

“Then there’s Minnesota hockey. People here are freaking nuts when it comes to hockey. It might not have the pageantry of Texas high school football, but it damn sure has the fans. There is a reason that this most watched high school championships in America. If this is even a stat of note, know this. I went up 55 Twitter followers in two days because of this tournament. Not all of them are from Minnesota either. Hockey fans, including the guys at places like The Hockey News, want to know what’s going on.

“Some of those football coaches in Texas were even like, “Wow” when I told them I was moving up here to cover hockey.

“Having covered championships in both states, I can say this. A Texas HS football championship is impressive. Two years in a row, I covered this small town that had its fans show up to every game. They lost the state title games both years yet it was still a good time. Keep this mind, not all title games in Texas, at least when I was there, were televised.

“Here, however, they are and in Texas, I never heard about families scheduling vacations around the state title game(s) like they do here in Minnesota.

“Finally, there’s the talent. Football is a rough game. Hockey is rougher. The talent in Texas I got a chance to see was impressive. The talent I’ve seen with hockey has been more impressive. You don’t see the kind of scouts at a Texas championship like you would at a Minnesota state hockey tournament.

“That being said, I give the nod to Minnesota High School hockey.

“Indiana, yes, has the tradition. Texas, yes, has the grandiose presentation and tradition. But know this, Minnesota is the only place where it has the tradition, presentation and a feel that makes it intimate that everyone truly feels they have a stake in how things go.”

Thanks Ryan. And keep up the great work.


TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--As I write this, Hermantown leads St. Thomas Academy 3-1 in the first intermission of the Class 1A hockey title game. Tonight’s 2A championship will go to either Duluth East or Eden Prairie.

--Consolation bracket: Thief River Falls beat Hibbing/Chisholm 3-0 in the 1A third-place game and Breck beat Rochester Lourdes 7-4 to finish fifth.

--I cannot confirm that the Lady Gaga tune “Bad Romance” was written with high school musicians and hockey arenas in mind, but the big band from Hermantown hit that baby out of the park.

--Diet Coke Count: 1 for the day, 12 for the tournament, 40 for the winter tournaments.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 511
*Miles John has driven: 8,502

--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