John's Journal
John’s Journal Makes It Big … Behind Bars?11/12/2010
You know you have made the big time when your Twitter messages are being read by people who work – and are housed? – in American jails. That’s one thing I learned during semifinal day at the state volleyball tournament.

I was doing what I normally do during Friday’s action at the Xcel Energy Center: watching some great volleyball, chatting with my buddies in the press/coaching/officiating corps, sipping Diet Coke, never seeing daylight (or darkness for that matter), jotting down notes for the next edition of John’s Journal and sending out updates to the non-Xcel Center world via Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s some “inside Twitter” talk: When someone else with a Twitter account forwards one of my Tweets, my computer screen lets me know. Well, today my computer screen told me that my Tweets were being re-tweeted by the Twitter account @USJails.

I also learned via these Twitter dispatches that I can “check out http://martincountyjail.info/ for #mugshots.” Uh, no thanks. But I do now know that my Tweeted updates from the Class 1A semifinal match between Martin County West and Minneota were being forwarded to everyone who subscribes to the Tweets from the Martin County Jail. I am honored … I think.

ON THE VOLLEYBALL front, Martin County West’s 3-2 victory over Minneota was the best match of the tournament so far. It was not only the first one to go past four games, but it also provided the spectators with the greatest comeback of the week.

Martin County West lost the first two games before rallying with three victories, including a 16-14 decision in the fifth set. It was pure bedlam inside the Xcel Center during the fifth game, and the winning point set off a wild celebration by the Martin County West Mavericks. (You can see it on video; go to the MSHSL Facebook page. There are lots of photos there, too.)

Martin County West will meet Wabasha-Kellogg in Saturday’s state championship match.

We also had a 3-2 decision in Class 2A later Friday, with Hutchinson hanging on to beat Stewartville. The Tigers will meet Wadena-Deer Creek in Saturday's title match. In the 3A championship match, it will be Lakeville North vs. Wayzata.

Here are some other assorted thoughts and sights from Volleyball’s Day Two …

--My head was tested by a flying volleyball on Thursday, and on Friday it was my computer’s turn. Minneota was warming up, I was sitting at courtside (I should know better), and a ball came out of the sky and landed right on my keyboard. It didn’t seem to cause any damage, because everything I have typed since then has %&^^&*(((_)))_(*%$$^^$UYFGHBY% (just kidding).

--Royce Murra from KBEW radio in Blue Earth was preparing to broadcast the Martin County West match, and he had the questionable fortune of sitting next to me. He needed guidance with the pronunciation of some of the Minneota player’s names. I was absolutely no help, but sitting on the other side of Royce was Byron Higgin of the Minneota Mascot. Byron rode to the rescue.

--I heard a vuvezela briefly during the morning part of the tournament, but then it disappeared. I assume it fell victim to the MSHSL’s no-noisemaker rule.

--Speaking of music, some of Friday’s highlights included the Wayzata band playing “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” from the Supremes (1966!), the Waconia band hitting Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” out of the park and the Martin County West band keeping things fresh with Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” It has been a dynamite day on the musical front.

--Diet Coke Count: four for the day, nine for the tournament.
State Volleyball Tournament: Day One Is A Wrap11/11/2010
Here’s a brief summary of the opening day of the state volleyball tournament: 3-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-0 (etc.), “Cleveland Rocks,” five Diet Cokes, two pretzels. And now, the details …

--Of the 12 matches held on Day One, 10 were 3-0 sweeps. No games went to five games and the only four-gamers were Mayer Lutheran’s victory over Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and Sauk Centre’s win over defending state champ Marshall. That really helped keep things on schedule, which is never guaranteed.

--“Cleveland Rocks” was the tune of the day. We heard some exceptional pep bands, including the electrified and electrifying Ada-Borup rock & roll pep band (which was short a few musicians because they stayed home in order to not miss football practice). The Marshall band could probably get work entertaining deer hunters, considering that almost all of them wore blaze orange (it’s a school color, too). Kudos to the bands from Andover and Esko for hitting all the right notes on “Cleveland Rocks.”

--After several people asked me about the day’s Diet Coke count, I made an executive decision to reinstate the ever-popular DC Count. The DC: 5 for the day, 5 for the tournament.

--I also snuck in two pretzels – one cinnamon, one cheese. After all, you don’t stay in this kind of condition by eating nothing but fruits and vegetables.

--Here’s the Friday lineup for the Class 2A semifinals: Hutchinson vs. Stewartville at 5 pm. And Wadena-Deer Creek vs. Sauk Centre at 7 p.m.

--I drove up north to visit the Wadena-Deer Creek volleyball team earlier in the week, and the result was a in-depth story here on the Journal. Looks like the story unleashed a pretty strong media force when the Wolverines arrived in the Twin Cities. I chatted with coach Sue Volkmann before WDC’s quarterfinal match and she said they had been kept busy much of the day with interviews, as well as cameras following them wherever they went. Glad I could help spread the word.

That’s it for Day One. If you want to keep up with the volleyball tourney in real time (and see lots more photos), click on the MSHSL Facebook page as well as MSHSLjohn on Twitter.


5:15 P.M. UPDATE

We have made our way through the Class 1A volleyball semifinals, and this division also gave us the best match of the day so far.

With all four 3A matches and three in 1A decided by 3-0 scores, it appeared that a theme was developing. Then came Mayer Lutheran and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa. They split the first two games, ensuring at least a four-gamer. Mayer Lutheran came out on top in a very exciting contest, 27-25, 17-25, 25-22, 26-24.

So Friday’s 1A semifinals look like this: Minneota vs. Martin County West at 1 p.m. and Wabasha-Kellogg vs. Mayer Lutheran at 3 p.m.

The Class 2A quarterfinals have just begun on one court, with Hutchinson facing Visitation. Stewartville and Esko (great nickname, Eskomos) will start soon, and the final two matches of the day will pit Wadena-Deer Creek vs. Delano and Marshall vs. Sauk Centre.

More tidbits …

--Ada-Borup’s student buses left for St. Paul at 6:30 a.m. Thursday and headed back north right after the match. The Cougars will have a busy day on Friday, with the volleyball team playing in the consolation bracket in St. Paul at 1 p.m. and the football team meeting Goodridge-Grygla in the Nine-Man football state quarterfinals at the Fargodome at 2 p.m.

--Best costumed fans: several boys from Mayer Lutheran, who dressed as gorillas, a banana and cheerleaders (skirts and all).

--Another killer rendition of “Cleveland Rocks,” this time by the Esko band. And the Eskomos have the cleanest, whitest tuba you will ever see outside a clean, white tuba factory.

--Back by popular demand, the Diet Coke count: 4 for the day, 4 for the tournament.


1:35 UPDATE

The 3A semifinals are all set, with Friday’s matches looking like this: Lakeville North vs. Centennial at 9 a.m., Wayzata vs. Waconia at 11 a.m.

The Class 1A quarterfinals have begun here at the X. Minneota is leading Win-E-Mac 1-0 and Martin County West is ahead of Ada-Borup 1-0. The Ada-Borup rock & roll pep band is here with us, which is always a treat.

Also on hand is one of my youngest journalistic colleagues, Ada-Borup student Nick Wagner. Nick is one of the superstars of the MSHSL’s new Student Sports Information Directors program. He and his fellow student SIDs at Ada-Borup are posting great stories and photos on their website. To see their work, go to the top of this page, click on the “Schools” link and then click on “Ada-Borup.” It’s terrific stuff.

Two more vignettes from Day One:

--A player was looking for a place to throw away her gum before taking the court. She opened up the lid of what looked like a trash receptacle. Oops, it was a container filled with ice.

--Waconia students held up a series of handmade signs that read “BELIEVE.” After the Wildcats’ victory, they put down four letters and the newly rearranged sign read “LEE” … in honor of coach Jim Lee.

More to come …


11:50 A.M. POST ...

Hello from downtown St. Paul. I’m sitting courtside at Xcel Energy Center for the opening day of one of the most exciting events in our high school universe, the state volleyball tournament.

This is always high-flying fun, with big, enthusiastic crowds, pep bands that keep the joint jumping and some absolutely fantastic athletes playing on two courts in one of the finest arenas in the world.

The Class 3A schools kick off the day, and the winners so far have been Lakeville North and Centennial. The Panthers defeated East Ridge in the first round and Centennial got past Rochester Mayo. As I type this, Waconia is battling Moorhead and Wayzata is facing Andover.

Two things that happened shortly after I got here this morning let me know where I was. 1) A volleyball bounced off my head. 2) I heard a band playing “Cleveland Rocks.”

As the Waconia Wildcats were waiting to enter the court and warm up, they were standing in a corridor just off the floor. I walked through them down the narrow hallway when coach Jim Lee stopped me. He introduced me to his team and said some nice things about the work I do on behalf of the MSHSL and high school activities. I told the girls that they were lucky to have a great coach like Mr. Lee and I wished them luck.

A few minutes later, the Wildcats were warming up when one of them hit a ball, uh, out of bounds. It sailed to the side of the court – where I was sitting – and softly conked me on the head. No harm done. My head is a lot harder than that.

One of the first tunes cranked out by the Andover band was “Cleveland Rocks” … always a personal favorite. On the other end of the Xcel Center, the Waconia orchestra gave us “Living On A Prayer."
Mound-Westonka’s Harrison Named High School Heisman Finalist11/10/2010
Julia Harrison, a three-sport athlete and honor student at Mound-Westonka, has been named one of 12 national finalists for the 2010 Wendy’s High School Heisman Award. Julia is among six females and six males selected as finalists from more than 55,000 students from across the country who applied for this prestigious award.

Harrison receives a gold medal, $100 Wendy’s gift card and a $2,000 donation to her high school. She also will receive an all-expense paid trip for her and her parents to New York City to participate in the collegiate Heisman weekend festivities with the other 11 national finalists. She will receive her awards during a special ceremony from Archie Griffin, the only athlete to ever win two collegiate Heisman Trophies.

During the Heisman weekend in New York, one male and one female will be selected from among the 12 national finalists as the 2010 Wendy's High School Heisman National Winners. The national winners will be announced on Wendy’s High School Heisman television special on ESPNU, Dec. 12 at 5 p.m.

In preparation for the television special, an ESPN camera crew will be filming a day in the life of Julia Harrison at Mound-Westonka High School on Nov. 12 to gather footage for the televised broadcast.

Julia, the daughter of Sue and Ralph Harrison (pictured), has applied early decision to Dartmouth. She hopes to run and Nordic ski there. She is at the top of her class with GPA and ACT/SAT scores and is a member of the National Honor Society, an AP scholar and she has taken seven AP classes during her high school career. She is a National Merit Commended Scholar. She has been member of the varsity cross -country, Nordic ski and track teams throughout her high school career. She has made six state appearances in cross-country, one in Nordic ski and three in track. Julia holds the school record for the mile and as part of the 4x800 relay team.

In ninth grade, Julia was recognized by District 287 for her advanced progress in the Mandarin Chinese program while she was also successfully completing Spanish Courses.

The Wendy's High School Heisman was created in 1994 to recognize high school seniors who excel in academics, athletics and in their communities.
Jessica Aney Named SportsKid Of The Year11/9/2010
Jessica Aney, a seventh-grade tennis and hockey player from Rochester Century, has been named national SportsKid of the Year by Sports Illustrated For Kids.

In this photo, Jessica receives a jacket Tuesday morning from Bob Dure of Sports Illustrated for Kids during an assembly (and surprise announcement) at Friedell Middle School. (Photo by Jerry Olson, Rochester Post-Bulletin.)

I wrote about Jessica during the recent Class 2A state tennis tournament. She was the state runner-up, losing to junior teammate Kelsey Frechette in the championship match.

Congratulations to Jessica!
A Tornado, A Team And A Tight-Knit Community 11/9/2010
WADENA – The tornado that tore through this Minnesota community in June ripped Wadena-Deer Creek High School to shreds, sent the roof of the nearby ice arena sailing through town, destroyed homes and trees and knocked down hundreds of cemetery headstones.

But it was a miracle. Actually, it was more than just a miracle.

“It was a huge miracle that nobody was killed,” said high school senior Courtney Volkmann. Those words came from someone whose family home and farm were wiped out by the storm. And they are evidence that people in Wadena are very thankful and grateful for what they have, even in the wake of the F4 tornado that struck on June 17.

There were plenty of smiles and laughter in the school hallways when I visited Wadena on Monday. Of course, the school hallways aren’t the same hallways that were wrecked in June. The high school is now off limits to all but demolition workers, who will take down what’s left of the building before reconstruction takes place and a new school opens – if all goes as planned -- in 2012.

High school classes are being held at the nearby Minnesota State Community and Technical College, as well as across the street at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School. It’s an awkward and crowded situation, where an elementary classroom has been turned into a weight room and wrestling mats, boxes of textbooks and other supplies line the hallways.

Lots of people from Wadena-Deer Creek will travel to St. Paul this week for the state volleyball tournament. And if there ever was a team that was easy to root for, it’s the Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverines. They are undefeated, they are ranked second in Class 2A and seeded second in the state tourney, and they have been a rallying point for their entire community. If you look at the state tournament program, the Wolverines’ team photo was taken as they posed outside the main entrance of their wrecked school. (This is that photo.)

“The volleyball team has galvanized us,” said athletic director Norm Gallant. “It’s been great for our town. We needed something to cheer for, that’s for sure.”

Of course, not having a high school gym was an issue. The team played its home matches in the gym at the elementary school, with fans sitting on folding chairs for part of the season until bleachers could be installed. But as has been the story time and again since June 17, everybody pitched in and made it work; school custodians set up the chairs and the fans took them down.

“It was kind of a rallying point … something good is happening and it’s something to cheer for,” said volleyball coach Sue Volkmann, who also is Courtney’s mother. “Our town got really close and we just learned to work together.”

The Volkmanns have dealt with some of the worst effects of the storm. Their home and their farm – eight or nine buildings, three silos, garages, a shop – were destroyed, as were some livestock.

“It pretty much took everything,” said Sue (pictured below with the team during Monday's practice).

The Volkmann family and the volleyball team were at a summer tournament in Bemidji when the tornado hit. Sue’s husband, Tim, received a call that the storm had struck their farm as well as parts of town. The team stopped playing in the middle of a match and prepared to leave. But tornado warnings were then issued for Bemidji, so everyone in the gym took shelter in locker rooms … where there was no cell phone service.

“They had just found out that their whole farm was gone, and we had to sit in the locker room and wait,” said senior Kelsi Crawford.

The home of another member of the volleyball team, sophomore Melissa Moenkedick, also was destroyed.

The volleyball team has always been a close-knit group. But dealing with what happened to their school and their town brought them even closer together,

“The day of the tornado we were together at a volleyball tournament, so we actually went into the whole situation together,” Sue Volkmann said. “We came home together to see everything that had happened, and we’ve worked through this whole thing together.

“I think it put a lot of things into perspective real fast. The day it happened, volleyball pretty much ended for the summer and a lot of fun times ended for the summer. Going to the lake every day wasn’t going to happen and a frame of mind changed. But you’ve got to give these kids credit. Not only this community but surrounding communities, we had kids from different towns working every day. They didn’t bat an eye. Sometimes we kind of wonder if this generation doesn’t work as hard, but they really stepped up.”

The rest of the summer was filled with the sounds of chain saws and heavy equipment. The usual summer routine was gone, but the volleyball players had a familiar refuge once the season began.

“I think volleyball was a good way to get away from all the tornado stuff,” Crawford said. “The summer was so hectic with everything happening, and volleyball was actually a routine that we could get back into. We could settle down and be together again.”

The Wolverines have dominated their competition this season, with a record of 30-0 that includes 28 matches in which they have not lost a game. The only teams to win a game against the Wolverines were Minnetonka and North St. Paul (both are 3A schools), which lost 2-1 in tournaments.

“Everyone is good at their own thing, and there are a lot of different hitters so we can spread the ball around,” said senior middle hitter Rachel Craig.

Wadena-Deer Creek went 30-5 last year, placing fifth at the state tournament. The current seniors will make their third consecutive trip to state this week, and that experience is invaluable as they seek their school’s first state volleyball title.

“The first year we were down there we just wanted to touch the floor, so we were dropping papers to touch the floor,” said Sue Volkmann.” And then it was getting out there and playing the ball out of the big black hole up in the ceiling. But we’ve been there, done that, and now we’re ready to go down there and play.”

Wadena-Deer Creek’s quarterfinal opponent is Delano (22-8) at 7 p.m. Thursday.

“The first two years we were kind of timid the first couple games,” Crawford said. “But this year I think we’re going to be so confident. We want the state title so bad.”

Whether the Wolverines win the championship or not, this has been a season no one will ever forget.

“We have lots of good people here and great kids,” said Gallant. “How you deal with adversity says something about you.”

To see a photo gallery from Wadena-Deer Creek, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 199
*Miles John has driven: 5,337

--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