John's Journal
Medford Makes History In State Volleyball Debut 11/8/2018
When Medford High School’s volleyball team won the Class 1A Section 1 championship last week, the Tigers knew they would play at state for the first time in school history. When the seedings and brackets were announced Sunday, they realized something else: Their opening-round opponent would be Mayer Lutheran, a team that was playing at state for the 14th time, had earned the No. 2 seed, and for good measure was the two-time defending state champion.

The thinking outside the Tigers team was probably something along the lines of, “Uh, good luck with all that.”

Inside the team it was more like, “OK, let’s play and let’s have fun and let’s see what happens.”

The result could be heard in the ear-splitting hysteria from the Medford fans when the Tigers rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the Crusaders 3-2 Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. The scores were 25-18, 14-25, 21-25, 25-15, 19-17. The victory gave Medford a record of 28-5.

Afterwards, coach Missy Underdahl and junior hitter Emma Kniefel (pictured) were brought to the postgame interview room, adding one more chapter to all the firsts.

“I’m sorry, this is kind of new,” a smiling Underdahl said, sitting on a raised platform in front of reporters, microphones and bright lights. “I’ve never been here before. It’s kind of a lot to try to process when you come off of a game like that.”

Indeed, it was quite the match. But if there were any jitters on the Medford side of the court, it didn’t show.

“As far as our nervousness goes, honestly I thought we did a really good job,” Emma said. “I feel like our freshmen were the most nervous, but we’ve all played on some pretty big stages and we all just took that pressure and we were like, ‘We have to trust in each other, go out and have fun.’ This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We just knew that if we went out there and tried our hardest, we would be satisfied no matter the outcome.

“We do so many things together. This is the best chemistry I think I’ve ever been on a team with. We just know each other. We know each other’s secrets, we know each other’s boyfriends, we just know everything. We trust each other.”

That kind of trust, the coach said, can be crucial at stressful times, especially when her team trailed 2-1.

“We talked about totally believing that we deserved to be here and that we’re not going to go down without a fight,” she said. “I thought the girls did a great job."

“We’re rookies here,” Underdahl added. “No one in our school has ever been to the state tournament. So sometimes the pressure can get to the girls emotionally, mentally, not knowing how we would be able to acclimate to that kind of setting. We struggled in that second game, and we kind of had a talk going into the third game, that we needed to believe in each other and believe in ourselves. That second game we had a lot of downs, we didn’t have a lot of ups. We talked about that, saying we have to stay up, we have to let things go and we have to play our game.”

The Tigers are one of three volleyball teams playing at state for the first time. The others are Edina in Class 3A and Park Rapids in Class 2A. Edina lost to Lakeville South 3-1 in the quarterfinals, and Park Rapids met Marshall later in the day.

Tournament Tidbits

--Marshall qualified for state a record 28th time. And Richard Tuttle, the band director at Class 1A Ada-Borup, has taken Cougars pep bands to 28 state tournaments (in several sports) over the years.

--My favorite family-related fact from the volleyball state tournament: Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa senior Allison Gruber has four sisters, and now all five have played at state.

*Katie Class of 2007
*Sarah Class 2008
*Maggie Class of 2011
*Becca Class of 2014
*Allison Class of 2019

State Volleyball Tournament

Thursday’s quarterfinals
Minneota defeated New York Mills 3-0
Ada-Borup defeated Carlton 3-1
Medford defeated Mayer Lutheran 3-2
Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa defeated New Life Academy 3-0

Friday’s semifinals
1 p.m.: Minneota vs. Ada-Borup
3 p.m.: Medford vs. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa

Thursday's quarterfinals
Kasson-Mantorville defeated St. Cloud Cathedral 3-0
North Branch defeated Watertown-Mayer 3-2
Concordia Academy-Roseville defeated Belle Plaine 3-1
Marshall defeated Park Rapids 3-1

Friday’s semifinals
5 p.m.: Kasson-Mantorville vs. North Branch
7 p.m.: Concordia Academy-Roseville vs. Marshall

Thursday’s quarterfinals
Eagan defeated Forest Lake 3-1
Stillwater defeated Shakopee 3-2
Champlin Park defeated Moorhead 3-0
Lakeville South defeated Edina 3-1

Friday’s semifinals
9 a.m.: Eagan vs. Stillwater
11 a.m.: Champlin Park vs. Lakeville South

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
MSHSL, Second Harvest Heartland Join Efforts to Sack Hunger in Minnesota11/5/2018
The Minnesota State High School League and Second Harvest Heartland, one of the nation’s largest, most efficient and most innovative hunger relief organizations, have joined forces to fight hunger in Minnesota.

The MSHSL/Second Harvest “Sack Hunger” campaign will kick off in conjunction with Minnesota State High School League football semifinal and state championship games in November. During this pre-Thanksgiving period, schools whose teams advance to state semifinals (November 15-17) and the Prep Bowl (November 23-24) are encouraged to accept donations of non-perishable food at their schools and in their communities, which will be distributed to those in need by Second Harvest Heartland and partner organizations around the state.

The campaign is being spearheaded by MSHSL media specialist John Millea via his Twitter account (@MSHSLjohn) and the League’s other social media platforms. Participating schools are encouraged to Tweet photos of their efforts to John so they can be shared around the state.

“The MSHSL and its member schools are proud to partner with Second Harvest Heartland to help provide hunger relief across Minnesota,” said MSHSL executive director Erich Martens. “Knowing that hunger affects children and families in every community, our member schools are happy to harness the excitement of playoff football as a way to help feed those in need. We encourage fans to donate food items at their local schools and in their communities, and to consider making monetary donations to Second Harvest Heartland.”

Like games on the field, the Sack Hunger campaign will be a competition to see which schools contribute the most food to those in need. With donations measured by weight, the top schools will be publicly recognized by the MSHSL and Second Harvest Heartland, with schools that donate the most food being recognized as Champion Hunger Fighters.

Schools are also encouraged to have friendly competitions within their communities, with grade levels, school buildings or civic groups vying to see who can donate the most food.

“Fans can kick off the season of giving by filling the plates of hungry Minnesotans, including the one in six children who face hunger each day,” said Marsha Shotley, Chief Philanthropy Officer for Second Harvest Heartland. “The holidays—like a great day on the football field—are better shared with your neighbors. Second Harvest Heartland and the communities and agencies we serve are grateful for the support of those joining forces to sack hunger.”

Second Harvest Heartland is a member of Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that helps feed people across the country. Second Harvest Heartland sources, collects and provides food for individuals who worry about having enough to eat, touching the lives of more than half a million people every year. Second Harvest Heartland serves children, parents, seniors and working adults.

Second Harvest Heartland helps the one in 11 people in Minnesota and western Wisconsin who face hunger every day. In 2017, Second Harvest Heartland helped provide a record 81 million meals to more than a half million people. They will continue to leverage their unique position in the emergency food chain to advocate, educate and provide food until everyone in the service area has what they need to thrive. For more information, visit or call 651.484.5117.

The Minnesota State High School League is a voluntary, nonprofit association of public and private schools with a history of service to Minnesota's youth since 1916. Today, more than 500 schools are members of the League, providing opportunities for athletics and fine arts competition for more than 200,000 high school students statewide each year. More information about the MSHSL is available at
Washburn’s Covert Operation: Be True To Your School11/4/2018
NORTHFIELD -- Emily Covert was smiling, which is nothing new. The Minneapolis Washburn senior is known for her smile, whether she’s preparing to run, running or post-race. This time, Saturday at St. Olaf College, the smile came on the heels of a second consecutive Class 2A cross-country state championship and was grounded in a grateful attitude.

“Honestly, I feel so blessed to be able to be here and compete among all these amazing and talented women,” she said. “It’s so humbling to know that there are so many people cheering me on and cheering everyone on. It makes the experience so much more amazing.”

Emily’s winning margin was 25 seconds. The Farmington duo of senior Lauren Peterson and sophomore Anna Fenske (the 2016 champion) were second and third.

Two girls state cross-country titles have been won by runners from Minneapolis public high schools, and both belong to Covert (pictured). On the boys side, which has held state championships since 1943 (girls have been running at state since 1975), runners from Minneapolis public schools have won 16 state titles. The first was Clarence Johnson of Minneapolis Southwest in 1946 and the most recent was Hassan Mead of Minneapolis South in 2006.

Representing her neighborhood school means a lot to Covert, who ran training mile after training mile with her teammates around the Minneapolis chain of lakes.

“I love Minneapolis,” she said. “When I was in seventh grade my parents asked if I wanted to transfer to a really strong running school. And I said, ‘No, I want to go to Washburn and I want to help the team at Washburn.’ I know if you talk about it and you get young girls out there, they’re just going to keep on having fun and keep on wanting to do more.”

The state championship meet capped a busy period for Emily, who had announced six days earlier her intention to study and run at the University of Colorado. She’s also an accomplished track athlete, winning a big-school state title at 3,200 meters and finishing second at 1,600 last spring.

“The mindset was just to have fun and have a smile on my face throughout this race, knowing that it’s my last cross-country race on Minnesota soil,” she said. “I just wanted to kind of cap off my high school career with a bang, I guess. It was just fun to be out here and have fun.”

Covert is the kind of athlete who inspires other athletes, whether it’s congratulating fellow finishers, working with younger runners or encouraging girls to give cross-country a try.

“I just want young girls to know that the sport is so much fun,” she said. “If you’re not having fun, then there’s no point in doing it. And honestly, the cross-country running community is so great. I have never been in a sport with this much hype and so many positive vibes around it. It’s just awesome.”

Roseville senior Acer Iverson, who will attend Harvard, won the Class 2A boys championship in a tight finish. His time of 15 minutes, 14.8 seconds was less than a second ahead of runner-up Andrew Brandt of Wayzata, and Edina’s Max Manley was third.

Sophomores won titles in Class 1A. Winona Cotter’s Grace Ping, who won the event as a seventh-grader, added another gold medal, with her eighth-grade sister Lauren placing second (22 seconds back) and Murray County Central-Fulda sophomore Morgan Gehl third. Two-time defending champion Tierney Wolfgram, a sophomore from Math & Science Academy in Woodbury who had placed sixth among females in the Oct. 7 Twin Cities Marathon, did not finish Saturday’s race.

On the 1A boys side, Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin’s Geno Uhrbom was the champion with an 18-second margin over second-place Cooper Lenox, a junior from Mora. Third was Staples-Motley sophomore Emmet Anderson.

Perham became the first school in Class 1A history to win the girls and boys team titles in back-to-back years. The Yellowjackets boys had 64 points to easily outdistance second-place West Central Area (140), and the Perham girls had a 94-99 edge over runner-up Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted.

St. Michael-Albertville won its first girls Class 2A team title with 70 points, five ahead of Wayzata. In the 2A boys team race, Edina’s score of 88 was enough to hold off Mounds View at 99.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
A Miracle Shot And A Miraculous Response 11/2/2018
Some remarkable things happened Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium, site of the MSHSL soccer state championship games. In the Class 1A boys contest between Bemidji and Blake, the first remarkable thing took place in the opening second of the second overtime.

Blake sophomore James Keegan stood near midfield, on the eyeball of the Vikings logo. As a whistle blast from the official started the clock, Keegan took four quick steps toward the ball, which was motionless on the 50-yard line. In most cases, a game or the second half or an overtime period begins with a player gently nudging the ball from the midfield stripe to a teammate as an offensive attack begins forming.

Not this time. Keegan struck the ball perfectly. It sailed high, slowly losing its battle with the forces of gravity and arcing over the head of Bemidji senior goalkeeper Joe Fletcher. Final score: Top-seeded Bears 1, non-seeded Lumberjacks 0.

On the official statistical sheet, the play was described like this: “shot from kick off flew over the goalkeepers head and into the goal.” Time of the goal: Ninety minutes, four seconds.

The second remarkable thing happened in a much quieter spot, the Vikings postgame media room. With no more than four or five reporters present, Bemidji coach Rick Toward and players Ben Hess and Aspen Galdamez talked about the loss and the team and the season and the memories. It was golden.

“Obviously we’re very proud of what we accomplished this year,” the coach said. “Disappointed in the way the final game turned out, but we couldn’t be more proud to watch this team grow from where we were at the beginning of the season to a legitimate threat to basically anybody in the state.

“What can I say? Proud, proud, proud as a coach.”

If Minnesota geography isn’t your thing, you should know that the Lumberjacks do not hail from a metro school unless you consider Beltrami County a metropolitan area. Bemidji High School is a four-hour drive from U.S. Bank Stadium, and finding soccer opponents often means traveling two and a half hours one way. Blake, located in Hopkins, is 11 miles from the stadium.

“Living where we live, playing the schedule we play, we don’t get the opportunities that Blake would get,” Toward said. “It’s so hard for us to play quality, high-level opponents. So when we get the opportunity to go over to Duluth and play East, we’re playing one or two or three games like that a year. We have to balance burning our kids out with travel, late nights, with prepping them for this type of environment. That’s been a challenge for us geographically and I don’t know how to fix that.

“We’ve been fortunate that we have activity directors around the state who recognize that (he mentioned St. Cloud Cathedral, Moorhead and Duluth East). It’s very hard to get people to travel. We do as well as we can. But I think if we play the level of competition that you see Blake get to play all year long, we might have a different result today.”

This was Bemidji’s third consecutive trip to state and the first time the Lumberjacks advanced past the opening round. They defeated third-seeded Mahtomedi 1-0 in last week’s quarterfinals at St. Cloud State and got past second-seeded Holy Angels 3-1 Tuesday at U.S. Bank Stadium. So all they accomplished was beating the second and third seeds and taking the top seed to overtime before getting beat on a miracle shot.

“Five years ago we were saying we just want to get through the section,” Toward said. “Two years ago we were saying we want to get to the Bank.”

As soon as the ball sailed into the goal and the Bears began a delirious celebration, the Bemidji players went directly to their goalkeeper. Fletcher didn’t even play soccer until this season, and he had seen action in only a handful of games. He came onto the field Friday when starter Jedidiah Bitter was injured at the 69-minute mark.

“Immediately upon that goal going in, my kids went to the keeper. That was their number one concern,” the coach said. “They didn’t drop their heads, they didn’t feel sorry for themselves, they went to their teammate.”

Galdamez said, “It was obviously a really good shot, probably a once-in-a-lifetime shot for him. Joe had nothing to be ashamed of. It’s been a good season and I’m proud of what we accomplished.”

Hess added, “When someone scores from 60 yards out you’re kind of in shock. You don’t expect that to happen. But he hit it well. It was a really good season, I loved every second of it and Joe’s probably the best teammate I’ve ever had. He gives us pep talks before every game, he keeps us pumped on the bench, his first year out. I can’t say enough about him.”

And then there’s this fact, which Toward pointed out as the postgame media session wound down:

“We’ve never cut a kid. Every kid who comes out for soccer in Bemidji plays. So for me, that’s kind of a testament to what high school sports is supposed to be all about. I had a couple kids on the bench this year that didn’t get a ton of minutes but they got to enjoy the ride. We as a community are super proud of that. We are inclusive. We want everybody to have an opportunity.”

State Soccer Semifinals and Championship Games
At U.S. Bank Stadium

Tuesday, Oct. 30

Class 2A girls: Minnetonka 1, Eagan 0 (4-3 shootout)
Class 2A girls: Wayzata 2, Stillwater 1 (7-6 shootout)
Class 1A girls: Mahtomed 2, Holy Angels 1
Class 1A girls: Orono 2, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 1
Class 1A boys: Blake 3, Austin 1
Class 1A boys: Bemidji 3, Holy Angels

Wednesday, Oct. 31
Class 1A girls third-place game: Holy Angels 0, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 0
Class 1A boys third-place game: Austin 1, Holy Angels 0
Class 2A boys: Duluth East 2, Minnetonka 0
Class 2A boys: Stillwater 2, St. Paul Central 1
Class 2A girls third-place game: Eagan 4, Stillwater 2

Friday, Nov. 2
Class 2A boys third-place game: Minnetonka 1, St. Paul Central 1
Class 1A girls championship game: Mahtomedi 1, Orono 0 (overtime)
Class 1A boys championship game: Blake 1, Bemidji 0 (overtime)
Class 2A girls championship game: Minnetonka 1, Wayzata 0
Class 2A boys championship game: Stillwater 2, Duluth East 1 (overtime)

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
State Soccer Semifinals and Championship Games
At U.S. Bank Stadium

Tuesday, Oct. 30

Class 2A girls: Minnetonka 1, Eagan 0 (4-3 shootout)
Class 2A girls: Wayzata 2, Stillwater 1 (7-6 shootout)
Class 1A girls: Mahtomed 2, Holy Angels 1
Class 1A girls: Orono 2, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 1
Class 1A boys: Blake 3, Austin 1
Class 1A boys: Bemidji 3, Holy Angels

Wednesday, Oct. 31
Class 1A girls third-place game: Holy Angels 0, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 0
Class 1A boys third-place game: Austin 1, Holy Angels 0
Class 2A boys: Duluth East 2, Minnetonka 0
Class 2A boys: Stillwater 2, St. Paul Central 1
Class 2A girls third-place game: Eagan 4, Stillwater 2

Friday, Nov. 2
8 a.m. Class 2A boys third-place game: Minnetonka vs. St. Paul Central
10 a.m. Class 1A girls championship game: Mahtomedi vs. Orono
12:30 p.m. Class 1A boys championship game: Blake vs. Bemidji
3 p.m. Class 2A girls championship game: Minnetonka vs. Wayzata
5:30 p.m. Class 2A boys championship game: Duluth East vs. Stillwater

Championship games will be streamed online for free here: