John's Journal
Lakeville North, Marshall, Minneota Top Preseason Volleyball Polls8/24/2010
Here are the first polls of the volleyball season. The rankings are conducted by the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association.

AAA
1. Lakeville North (4) 74
2. Wayzata (4) 67
3. Eastview 61
4. Eden Prairie 52
5. Stillwater 42
6. Apple Valley 35
7. Bloomington Jefferson 30
8. Hopkins 26
9. Lakeville South 17
10. Chaska 12
Others receiving votes: Blaine (8), Shakopee (6), Centennial (4), Waconia (3), Farmington (2), Alexandria (1)

AA
1. Marshall (2) 32
2. Hutchinson (1) 24
3. Jackson County Central (1) 23
4. Wadena-Deer Creek 17
5. Stewartville 16
6. Jordan 14
Hibbing 14
8 Belle Plaine 11
Delano 11
10 Byron 10

Others receiving votes: Sauk Center (9), Lesuer-Henderson (9), Concordia Academy (8), Kasson-Mantorville (7), Pierz (6), Visitation (4), Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (2), Watertown-Mayer (1)


A

1. Minneota (4) 49
2. Bethlehem Academy (1) 43
3. Canby 41
4. Mayer Lutheran 32
5. Wabasha-Kellogg 25
6. Windom 23
7. Martin County West 16
8. Mabel-Canton 12
9. Northern Freeze 9
Win-E-Mac 9

Others receiving votes: Nevis (8), BBE (4), Heritage Christian (10, MACCRAY (1)
Old Friends, New Friends And A Little Surprise8/23/2010
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


Football Season is Underway … South of the Border8/22/2010
I hadn’t intended to be sitting here on Sunday afternoon writing about my weekend. After all, the weekend was family time as my wife and I moved our daughter into the dorm for her sophomore year at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Don’t get me wrong; Drake is an outstanding school (it even bestowed a journalism degree on me many years ago). The move-in was smooth as silk, so what’s to write about?

The answer: football. After arriving in Des Moines I learned that the prep football season was beginning Friday night. The big game in town was between West Des Moines Valley (the largest school in Iowa with slightly more than 2,000 students) and Dowling Catholic, also in West Des Moines. Dowling has an enrollment about half that of Valley, but their football rivalry might be the best in Iowa.

Putting the rivalry in Minnesota terms, imagine if Cretin-Derham Hall were located in Eden Prairie, a couple miles from Eden Prairie High School. When Valley and Dowling meet, it’s very much like a Cretin-Eden Prairie game.

Friday’s contest was a “zero week” game. Because of scheduling difficulties, some Iowa teams are allowed to begin practicing a week early and play their season opener a week earlier than normal (a similar proposal is being discussed on very preliminary terms in Minnesota) . They play nine regular-season games in Iowa and not all teams reach the postseason.

The setting was spectacular. Valley Stadium, owned by the West Des Moines school district, was built in 2002 and has 8,500 seats, with 6,000 on the home side of the field. The Des Moines Register estimated Friday’s crowd at 10,000. How big is the stadium? There is an elevator to the press box, that’s how big. If Valley Stadium were in Minnesota, it would probably rank as the second-finest outdoor stadium in the state behind TCF Bank Stadium at the U of M.

Dowling, which is ranked No. 1 in Iowa’s largest class, rolled to a 34-7 victory. Behind one end zone, three flags flapped in the breeze: the U.S. flag, the Iowa flag and a flag carrying the logo of the Iowa High School Athletic Association (nice touch).

Game time was 7:30 instead of the Minnesota standard time of 7 p.m. That’s tough on reporters facing deadlines but nice for families who don’t need to rush quite as much.

Another interesting twist: the P.A. announcer informed the crowd of “tonight’s game sponsors.” A car dealer, a doctor, other businesses and several individuals had apparently made donations in order to be labeled as sponsors for the night.

I sat with my brother-in-law Phil; he’s a Dowling grad whose kids attended both Dowling and Valley (he cheered for Dowling). The weather was ideal, the place was packed and football was back.

In two weeks, Minnesota will join the fun.

--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


Experience Counts (Or Does It?); Dreams Matter (Or Do They?)8/19/2010
The continuing saga of the Champions Tour had a metro-centric bent on Thursday, even though the two stops on the itinerary were separated by miles and miles of highway – and one extremely bothersome freeway detour (thanks for nothing, 94/694) -- as well as two distinctly different athletic endeavors.

One visit was with an individual athlete who competes in a sport that is as simple as they come: running harder and faster than the competition over a long distance. The second stop involved the ultimate team sport: 11 people on each side of the ball and committee meetings before each play.

Although the time and the miles didn’t stack up to Tuesday’s three-stop outstate mega-journey, the latest jaunt was another pleasant day spent chatting with kids and coaches and realizing once again how important school activities are to the people and communities involved.

Now, on to the day’s highlights …

SHAKOPEE’S MARIA HAUGER is only a sophomore, but she carries a title that thousands of others would love to bear: defending state champion. After finishing ninth at the Class 2A state cross-country meet as an eighth-grader, Hauger ran to gold last year. She was challenged down the stretch by Elk River senior Emma Bates, who finished less than a second behind Hauger.

That’s kind of the theme this season: Hauger is the runner to beat and lots of other girls will try to challenge her.

I learned something fairly amazing as I chatted with the 5-foot-4, 105-pound Maria this morning: She won the state title in only her second year of cross-country. She played fall soccer in seventh grade, but her running talents were evident when she tried track the following spring.

“I saw her running track and she set the school mile record in her first race,” said Shakopee girls’ cross-country coach Mark Neu. As any smart coach might do, Neu began inquiring as to whether the young athlete may want to consider joining the cross-country squad.

“I talked to her parents and they said it was up to her. She has great parents, they didn’t push her either way. She plays hockey, she does track. Luckily, she decided to come out.

“Her parents keep everything low-key, they’re super people,” Neu added. “She’s a humble kid and that helps a lot. If I need somebody to clean the bus, she asks. ‘Should I clean the bus, coach?’ She wins a meet and she cleans the bus. She’s an amazing kid.”

The Sabers finished eighth in the 2A team competition at state last year, and the only runner on that squad who graduated was Kate Bendel. The other six returnees are Hauger, sophomores Winona Rachel and Alli Lynch, junior Anna Neu and seniors Catherine Whitcomb and Ashley Walker.

When I asked Maria what she enjoys about cross-country, she smiled as she talked about her teammates.

“The team is so awesome and everyone’s always pushing each other,” she said. “You can always push yourself to the hardest.”

Cross-country has its special moments away from competition, and the Sabers will end this week in just such a fashion. On Thursday night’s schedule was a picnic for the runners and their families at a local park, followed by Freaky Friday (in which the kids dress as oddly as possible for practice) and Saturday’s Garage Sale Run (groups of athletes are assigned different parts of town in which to do their training run, and they must bring back the most interesting garage sale item they can find for three dollars or less).

What’s more fun than that?

TOTINO-GRACE WON back-to-back Class A state football championships in 1977 and 1978, and the Eagles’ biggest run to glory came after the new century began, with 4A titles in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009.

Last season was one to remember, with the Eagles running roughshod over nearly every opponent. Their closest postseason win was a 42-28 decision over Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the Section 6 championship game, followed by state tournament wins over Rogers (56-14), Mankato West (35-0) and Sartell-St. Stephen (45-7).

Last year’s team was led by some talented seniors, including Mr. Football finalist John Crockett, who rushed 17 times for 145 yards and four touchdowns against Sartell-St. Stephen in the Prep Bowl. His four scores tied a Prep Bowl record for most rushing touchdowns by an individual. Also gone is 1,000-yard passer J.D. Pride.

Coach Jeff Ferguson said the 2009 team might have been as good a team as he’s had, especially when you consider the stretch run.

“The way we finished it, if you look at the scores in the playoffs,” he said. “It requires luck, you know that. We were fortunate in that when the playoffs started, we were healthy. We were healthy all the way through the state playoffs, and those were the only games all year we were healthy.

“Last year we had more ‘name’ guys, I guess. Football’s a cool sport because you can not have any ‘name’ guys and be a better team than some.”

There are some holes to fill in 2010, with five returning starters on offense and the same number on defense. But the Eagles have plenty of experience in one important area: the coaching staff. Ten members of the staff are former Totino-Grace football players, including the father/son duo of Bernie and Brian Litecky.

Totino-Grace should be tested right off the bat, going to Class 5A Minnetonka for the season opener. One special angle to that matchup is the friendship between Ferguson and Minnetonka coach Dave Nelson. They coached together for 16 years at Blaine, and their relationship extends far beyond the football field. The Sept. 2 game will be the first time the two coaches have squared off with each other.

“I talked to Nellie last night,” Ferguson said. “It’s really surreal. We’re very close friends and our families have grown up together, we’ve gone on family vacations together, he’s my daughter Jenna’s godfather.

“I told him about a dream I had. It’s before the game and Nellie’s coming across the field with his dad, Stan. Nellie has a traffic cone on his head and as he got close I saw he was crying. I said, ‘Nellie, what’s wrong?’ And he couldn’t talk for a while. Finally he said, ‘We’ll still be friends, right?’

“And then my wife, who reads dream books, says, ‘Well, you know what that means? Whenever you dream, the person in your dream is actually you. So you’re the clown with the cone on your head and you’re the guy who’s crying.’ Well, thanks for that interpretation. I feel a heck of a lot better about it now."

PROGRAMMING NOTE: John’s Journal will be taking Friday off to so Mr. and Mrs. John’s Journal can return one of their offspring to her university. Safe travels to all.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools John has visited: 8
*Miles John has driven: 435

--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


A Quick Wednesday Update From World Headquarters8/18/2010
The road is safe from John’s Journal today. The JJ staff is spending the day at MSHSL World Headquarters, employing compasses, sextants, wet fingers to the wind and a laminated Minnesota highway map; it’s all part of the pinpoint execution that goes into the continuing saga of the world-famous Champions Tour.

The staff will be back behind the wheel on Thursday with a couple of visits to schools in the Twin Cities. Rumors are swirling about a John’s Journal road trip to Marshall and Minneota early next week, but we can neither confirm nor deny that rumor, nor another rumor that the JJ staff may visit as many as five defending state championship teams next week.

In the meantime, check out the MSHSL Facebook page for photo galleries from half a dozen already-completed stops on the Champions Tour, plus other good stuff.

Now, the planning and plotting continues …

--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