The Champions Tour continued Monday as I visited the ninth and 10th schools on my quest to see as many defending state champions as possible. This was a southwestern Minnesota leg, taking the John’s Journal staff to Marshall and Minneota for 10 hours of road time.
I have known Marshall volleyball coach Dan Westby for a long time, and I met Minneota football coach Chad Johnston for the first time. I made another new acquaintance on the drive home … a very cordial officer from the Renville Police Department. He even gave me a souvenir to take home: a speeding ticket.
I was driving through Renville when I was distracted by the sight of the Renville County West football team practicing. I almost pulled over to check out the Jaguars, but decided to keep going. I was on the western edge of town when I saw the police cruiser parked at the side of the highway. I saw the car, I saw the “Speed Limit 30” sign and then saw that my speed was around 40. Oh heck, or words to that effect.
The officer said his radar had me going 49. He knocked it down to 45 on the ticket, which carries a price tag of $150. I’m glad to make a contribution to the wonderful and lovely community of Renville, which I look forward to visiting again while driving within the speed limit.
And now, we turn the channel away from “Law & Order: Renville” and return to our regularly scheduled programming…
MARSHALL HAS BEEN a frequent visitor to the state volleyball tournament, going to the big show 21 times since 1977. The Tigers won Class 3A state titles in 2004 and 2007 before moving to Class 2A, where they won the championship last season. That team was loaded with seniors, meaning 2010 is a rebuilding year for the Tigers.
“The players we’ve had the last few years, a number of them had started for three and four years. And those kids are gone,” Westby said. “What we lost with those kids was not only good leadership but we lost a lot of ball-handling. That’s going to have to be replaced. We’ve always felt that we would ball-handle with anybody in the state, and we lost a lot of that. We’ve got an interesting mix of kids. We’ll probably start a couple of freshmen. And we’re going to play some juniors and some seniors.”
Senior middle hitter Amy Full and senior libero Alyssa Netzke return from the starting lineup, and there is ongoing competition for the test of the spots. Practice began last week with some questions, but things changed for the better in a hurry.
“One of the things we felt good about last week was how fast our kids came together, which was a concern,” Westby said. “We thought we looked a little shaky on Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we looked pretty crisp, which was maybe even better than we expected at that point.”
The Tigers will be tested early with road trips to Alexandria on Aug. 31 and defending 1A champion Bethlehem Academy on Sept. 2. They will play in tournaments at Apple Valley and Lakeville North, adding more mileage. But taking those long trips can pay off, said Full.
“It’s fun because you get to bond with your teammates, and we all have fun bonding on the bus rides and in the hotels,” she said.
The Tigers know their school’s volleyball tradition is strong, and that’s all the more reason to work hard.
“We’ve just kind of talked about what we need to do as a team,” Netzke said. “We don’t have those players anymore and we can’t do anything about that. We need to work with what we’ve got and work hard as a team.”
MINNEOTA IS HOME to Boxelder Bug Days, which is coming up in September. I didn’t know about the local civic celebration, but I knew all about the town’s football tradition.
Minneota’s Class A state football title last season, capping a 14-0 campaign, was a return to glory for the Vikings. Minneota won Class C crowns in 1986, 1987 and 1988 and was the Class C runner-up in 1993.
As the Vikings practiced Monday afternoon, I chatted with Johnston about the new season. Minneota lost a dozen seniors, most of whom played large roles. But there is plenty of experience returning (although not as much depth as last year), including running back Brandon Anderson (who had 17 carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s 42-21 Prep Bowl victory over Adrian) and wing back Jacob Cheadle.
“Our expectations are pretty high, after our successful season last year,” Johnston said. “We definitely want to build on that. We have a large senior class again this year with a good junior class to go with it, so we’re feeling pretty good. We don’t have the depth we had last year, but we’re back to typical small-town football, and the kids are motivated.”
Johnston, a native of Flandreau, S.D., is in his ninth season as head coach. His coaching staff includes several assistants who are Minneota natives.
“Football goes back a long ways in Minneota,” Johnston said. “We still run the same offense that they ran years ago, and some of my assistants are Minneota graduates. They put a lot of pressure on themselves to keep that tradition and our kids know what it means to have ‘Minneota’ on their chest. The community loves it and stands behind us.”
The Vikings will open the season against a familiar foe, because they go to Adrian on Thursday, Sept. 2, for a Prep Bowl rematch. John’s Journal will be there to kick off the season in style.
Other notes from Monday’s jaunt…
--The visit to Marshall completes the volleyball portion of the Champions Tour, since I previously had been to Shakopee (the defending 3A champ) and Bethlehem Academy (1A).
--It was a media circus every time I turned around. Joining me in the Marshall gym was sports writer Joe Brown from the Marshall Independent, and on the Minneota practice field I met Byron Higgin, publisher of the wonderfully named Minneota Mascot.
--Whenever I’m in Marshall I try to spend time with a guy named Jon Millea. He’s my nephew (my brother didn’t bestow an ‘H’ on him) and a graduate assistant coach with the Southwest Minnesota State men’s basketball team. We didn’t get together this time … turns out Jon Millea had a class to attend. Commitment like that might ruin the family name.
--That’s enough journalism for one day; 12 hours is about my limit. The Champions Tour will resume on Wednesday with a trip to football practice at New London-Spicer. I will follow all the rules of the road. I promise.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools John has visited: 10
*Miles John has driven: 793
--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