John's Journal
MTMEE: Softball and Track On a Beautiful Day6/3/2010
I witnessed another exciting softball matchup this afternoon during Part One of My Thursday Multi-Event Extravaganza (MTMEE). I was on hand as Burnsville held off Eagan 1-0 to win the Class 3A, Section 3 title and move on to state for the first time since the Blaze won state championships in 2004 and 2005.

The run was scored in the top of the seventh inning. Taylor Mackey singled and was bunted to second by Abby Harazin. Pinch hitter Megan Threlkeld, a ninth-grader mind you, hit a roller to the right side of the infield, beat the throw to first base and the run scored.

Burnsville junior pitcher Kelsey Anderson and Eagan senior Sara Moulton were locked up pretty good throughout the game. Anderson struck out 11 and gave up three hits while Moulton fanned nine and gave up seven hits. Defense was strong for both teams.

(A photo of the victorious Blaze has been posted on the MSHSL Facebook page and video is on the way.)

It was a spectacular afternoon for a softball game. I sat in the shade with Brian Stensaas, my former colleague at the Star Tribune. We enjoyed the pleasure that is sunflower seeds and waited patiently for the concession stand’s supply of Diet Coke to be restocked. The Diet Cokes arrived (whew!) during the late innings.

I saw a woman arrive at the game and hand a tube of sunscreen to her, uh, folically challenged husband. Hubbie quickly rubbed the stuff all over his head. Better safe than sorry, right? Smoke from the grill wafted by, dogs wandered through the area leashed to their owners (or is it the other way around?) and I heard only one Jim Joyce reference when the umpires made a close call.

Now it’s on to Part Two of MTMEE. I am writing this from the top level of the press box at Macalester College, where the Class 2A, Section 3 track and field finals are under way. The windows are open, the breeze is rippling through and everything looks good.

Check back here for another update this evening ….

--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


Jessica January: What Can’t She Do?6/3/2010
As I talked with Jessica January on Thursday, I asked two straightforward questions.

Q: What is your favorite sport?

A: Basketball.

Q: What is your dream job?

A: Playing in the WNBA.

OK, then, the ninth-grader from Richfield must be a basketball star, right? Well, yes, she was the second-leading scorer for the Spartans last winter. She plays volleyball, too.

But the place where she really stands out is the track. The 15-year-old – whose birthday is in, yes, January -- will make her third trip to the Class 2A state meet next week, and she already has broken a state record … twice.

Must be nice: being a freshman, setting state records and being a heavy favorite to win at least one state championship … in your second-favorite sport.

“This is my third year with her,” said Richfield assistant track coach Beth Johnson, who coaches the hurdlers. “I can’t believe I get three more years with her.”

There’s a lot that’s hard to believe about Jessica January. She went to state for the first time as a seventh-grader and placed ninth in the 100-meter hurdles. As an eighth-grader last year she finished second in the 100 hurdles, seventh in the 300-meter hurdles and also advanced to state in the long jump (she didn't place in the top nine).

The fireworks got hotter this spring. She broke a 16-year-old state record in the 100 hurdles, winning in 14.33 seconds at the May 27 Classic Suburban Conference meet. She lowered the record to 14.30 Tuesday in the prelims of the 2A, Section 3 meet at Macalester College. The previous mark was 14.35, set by Woodbury’s Heidi Lundervold in 1994.

She didn’t set any state records in Thursday's Section 3 finals, but she did win both hurdle races and place second in the long jump.

Oh, she’s also a straight A student, a great role model and humble to the core.

“She’s amazing,” Richfield head coach Pat Burns said. “She wants to strive to do the best and be the best, and she’s extremely humble. She’s every coach’s dream.”

Burns first noticed January when she was in sixth-grade track and running as fast as the top kids on the varsity. Jessica also played softball, so the track coaches had to do some minor convincing to get her to put on running shoes.

She is gifted, certainly. “But she’s also the hardest worker you’ll see,” Burns said.

Johnson said that some early gymnastics training is part of the athletic mix for January. “Her form is very good naturally, and this year’s she running smoother and cleaner,” she said.

“And you talk about coachability; you tell her something and she gets it right the first time 90 percent of the time."

Jessica first tried running the hurdles in seventh grade.

“I just expected to get a workout,” she said. “I wasn’t really going for anything, to be good. But it was like, ‘OK, I kind of like this.’ ”

Then came that first trip to state, followed by another trip to state last spring, followed by her record-setting performances this spring.

Her favorite track event is the 100 hurdles (“I love the 100 hurdles. It’s short and sweet.”) Her goals for next week’s state track meet at Hamline University include winning the 100 hurdles and lowering the record even further.

So far in her young career, she has carried out every task and completed every assignment beyond anyone’s expectations.

Maybe the better question to ask is: What can’t she do?

She can’t fly. Can she?

UPDATING WEDNESDAY’S Journal reference to the Class 1A, Section 3 track championships in Montevideo, thanks to correspondent Joel Alvstad of the Cottonwood County Citizen in Windom.

Via text message, here is Joel’s report: “Four girls moving on via standard in 100 hurdles. Defending state champion Bree Woelber of Pipestone finished third behind Katlyn Sawtell of Luverne and Jennie Romsdahl of Mt. Lake-Butterfield-Odin. Kaitlin Fell of MLBO also advanced by standard. She was fourth at state last year. Section 3 also has four girls moving on in the 300 hurdles via standard. Woelber of Pipestone took first.”

Thursday provided another fabulous setting for spring tournaments all over our state. Let's have more fun Friday and Saturday!

--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



Boys’ State Tennis Team Brackets Are Set6/2/2010
The exciting crush of spring state tournaments is almost upon us, as evidenced by the team brackets that are now set for the boys’ tennis tournament. The two-class event will begin next Tuesday (June 8) and end June 11.

Class A competition takes place at Read-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis and AA is held at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center. Team competition takes up the first two days, followed by two days of singles and doubles.

Class A team qualifiers (and quarterfinal matchups) are Rochester Lourdes vs. Breck, Luverne vs. Virginia, Mound-Westonka vs. Thief River Falls and Blake vs. Foley.

Class AA matchups are Rochester Mayo vs. Mounds View, Eagan vs. Forest Lake, Eden Prairie vs. Elk River and Mahtomedi vs. Wayzata.

Also contested next week will be state tournaments in softball, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse and boys’ and girls’ track and field.

--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
Big Day in Softball: Richfield Pulls Shocker, Strikeout Record Falls6/2/2010
The first big “Wow!” moment of the spring tournaments took place Wednesday evening in Richfield, on a softball diamond tucked in between the mammoth Best Buy headquarters complex and a giant Richfield water tower.

The towering story of Class 3A softball is the Richfield Spartans, who were seeded seventh in the Section 6 tournament and came out of the loser’s bracket Thursday to defeat No. 3 seed Armstrong twice and earn a trip to next week’s state tournament in North Mankato. The scores were 2-1 in an eight-inning first game and 3-0 in the finale.

Richfield began the postseason with a record of 10-11, but they will take a 17-12 mark into the state quarterfinals. The Spartans will meet Mounds View or Maple Grove at state; those teams will decide the Section 5 title on Thursday.

(For photos and video from the Richfield-Armstrong games, see the MSHSL Facebook page.)

Meanwhile, down south in Austin, the state record for career softball strikeouts changed hands. Hope Lutheran senior Felicia Meyer broke the record by striking out 15 in a 3-0 victory over Rushford-Peterson in the loser’s bracket final. Hope Lutheran's season then ended with a 4-0 loss to Class 1A, Section 1 champion and state qualifier Blooming Prairie. The career strikeout record had been 1,178, set by Lindsey Predovich of Virginia from1998 to 2003. Meyer's new record is 1,196.

The Richfield-Armstrong matchup drew a large crowd to the field at Richfield Middle School, as well as television coverage from cable Channel 12 from the northwest suburbs. With TV cameras on top of both dugouts, the games had a big-time air, and the play lived up to that level.

Among the stars for Richfield were junior pitcher Carly Klass and sophomore catcher Bry Guyton. Klass pitched all 15 innings to get the two victories and Guyton was big at the plate. She knocked in both runs in the first game, hitting a two-out RBI single in the first inning and doubling to drive in the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning. She blasted a solo home run over the left-field fence in the second game. Earlier in Game 2, Richfield’s Kalie Johnson had smacked a two-run double.

The day’s action began with a strange scene: a shovel was brought out so the pitching rubber could be moved. The home plate umpire stepped off the distance between the rubber and home plate – doing so from each end of the rubber – and determined that the rubber was not squarely facing home plate. It didn’t take long for some dirt to be moved and the rubber corrected.

The bleachers behind the plate were full for both games, which took nearly four hours to complete. Lots of people sat in lawn chairs, a few watched from inside the batting cage that runs down the left-field line and the real sun lovers sat beyond the outfield fence, basking in the sunshine.

The day not only started with a strange scene (the pitching rubber being moved), it ended with another odd sight. After receiving their gold medals and section championship plaque, the Richfield players posed for photos. For a few snapshot they all held their index fingers in the air – signifying “We’re No. 1!” – but then the Spartans held up seven fingers ... signifying their seeding. Nice touch.

MEANWHILE, technology was flying around the state during Wednesday’s action. Winona Daily News reporter Jake Wanek – on the softball scene in Austin – altered me via Twitter that Meyer had broken the strikeout record. Also in Austin, one of my spies -- who goes by the code name D3 Photo Guy -- Tweeted me that Hastings had defeated Rochester Mayo to go to state as the 3A, Section 1 champion.

And colleague Joel Alvstad, sports editor of the Cottonwood County Citizen in Windom – writing via old-fashioned email, which seems so 2008 – sent a preview of Thursday’s Class 1A, Section 3 track championships in Montevideo. He wrote in part …

“The girls100-meter hurdles field includes upwards of six girls who could all find their way to the state meet via qualifying standard. How good is the girls' hurdle competition in Section 3A? The defending state champion in the event, Bree Woelber of Pipestone, is seeded FOURTH at the section meet, and the defending fourth-place state medalist, Kaitlin Feil of Mt. Lake-Butterfield-Odin, finished second in the sub-section to her own teammate, Jennie Romsdahl. I may be biased, but I think year in and year out, Section 3A proves it is one of the best overall track sections in the state. It should be a fun meet in Montevideo, provided Mother Nature cooperates....”

Mother Nature sure was on our side Wednesday. Let’s keep it rolling …

--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
Weather Update: Softball in Austin Postponed6/1/2010
Hope Lutheran softball pitcher Felicia Meyer is six strikeouts away from the state career record, but a new mark will not be set today (Tuesday) because weather concerns in the area have caused the games in Austin to be postponed until Wednesday.

Hope Lutheran will meet Rushford-Peterson at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the loser's bracket of the Class A Section 1 tournament at Todd Park in Austin. The winner will meet Blooming Prairie in the championship round at 7 Wednesday.

The career strikeout record is 1,178, set by Lindsey Predovich of Virginia from1998 to 2003.