John's Journal
Big Lake Gymnasts Win Class A Team State Title 2/21/2020
The word, the plan, the theme for the Big Lake gymnastics team Friday was "normal." The Hornets came into the Class A team championships at Roy Wilkins Auditorium carrying the state's No. 1 ranking and high hopes for the school's first team gymnastics title since 2000.

"We kind of just had been talking about being normal," said co-coach Nikki Dilbert. "We've been hitting these things all season long, we've been at the top all season long. We won our true team state meet already, we have that under our belt and we just really wanted to focus on doing our best.”

That's exactly what the Hornets did. They finished with a first-place score of 146.825, which was enough to hold off runner-up Perham (144.925) and third-place Watertown-Mayer/Mound Westonka (144.375).

Big Lake came in as the Section 7 champ. Other than New Prague in 2013, the Class A state champion had come from current Section 8 schools every year since 2003. Perham put together a streak of eight consecutive championships from 2004 until 2011, and through last year Detroit Lakes had won five titles in a row. The Lakers finished third in the Section 8 meet this year behind Perham and Melrose.

Big Lake's big day was built on a foundation that was a long time in the making.

“It actually started four years ago with this group of kids,” said co-coach Lanny Goldsmith. “We had a couple of seniors on that team four years ago that were really good leaders and kind of set the tone for these kids, and we finished second two years in a row in our section and didn't get to experience this.

“I think those lessons, those failures if you call it that, led this team to be where they are now; we had been through those experiences at big meets and not come out on top. I think this was just the culmination of four years of hard work. I don't think it was a surprise to us, we knew how hard these kids have been working.”

Big Lake activities director Logan Midthun called the championship “a testament to what this program is and what our coaches and kids do. It's a team that has a GPA of over 3.8, so it's just a great group of kids who have been working hard and led by a great group of seniors. We're really proud of them.”

The state championship event had been held at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion for more than a decade. Because the Pavilion was not available this week, it returned to Roy Wilkins Auditorium for the first time in 12 years. Roy Wilkins provides enhanced floor space, with fans watching from a balcony that encircles the arena on three sides.

Big Lake brought six buses carrying more than 250 students to cheer for the Hornets.

“With the fans being up so high, I think it was really cool and I think the kids really felt the energy, especially from our fans that were awesome today,” Goldsmith said. “I mean, it's awesome, oh my gosh. Being in this venue was really fun.”

Class A team results

1 Big Lake 146.825
2 Perham 144.925
3 Watertown-Mayer/MW 144.375
4 Mankato West 144.150
5 Worthington 141.300
6 Pine Island/ZM 141.075
7 Willmar 139.900
8 St. Paul Highland Park 131.325

Lakeville North Repeats As AA Champ

Lakeville North won the Class AA team championship for the second year in a row and the third time in four years. The Panthers had a score of 149.975. Finishing second was Sartell-St. Stephen with 147.975 and third was Northfield with 146.350.

Class AA team results

1 Lakeville North 149.975
2 Sartell-St. Stephen 147.975
3 Northfield 146.350
4 East Ridge 145.050
5 Mahtomedi 144.825
6 Cambridge-Isanti 144.675
7 Wayzata 143.950
8 Elk River-Zimmerman 143.575

--Individual event competition will be held Saturday.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Hockey And Music: Farmington’s Husband And Wife Team2/20/2020
This article appeared here on John's Journal during the girls state hockey tournament a year ago. With Farmington returning to the tournament in 2020, let’s revisit the Holmes family.

Thursday was an exciting day for the Holmes family. Jon Holmes stood on the bench at Xcel Energy Center as head coach of the Farmington High School girls hockey team. Erin Holmes stood in front of the giant Farmington pep band, directing them during the Tigers’ Class 2A state quarterfinal game against Andover.

Jon and Erin’s three sons -- ninth-grader William, third-grader Henry and kindergartener Duke – cheered for the Tigers ... the hockey players as well as the musicians.

This was a special day, but most days are hectic when one parent is coaching a sports team, the other is coaching musicians and their children are busy with school and activities.

"I don’t want to say it’s chaotic because my wife is such a good planner,” Jon said. “But there’s always something to do. I’m a head coach in two sports (also boys golf), and she’s busier than I am. Life in the house is certainly interesting.”

Jon is a 1999 Farmington graduate who was the school’s male athlete of the year as a senior, lettering in hockey, golf, tennis and cross-country. They met when Erin, a musician since her days as a student at Bethlehem Academy in Faribault, was on a Farmington faculty committee interviewing candidates for a social studies teaching job. Jon was interviewed and hired.

“We started dating a year or so later, got married a couple years later, and we just keep getting busier,” Erin said.

The unseeded Farmington Tigers, making their sixth state tournament appearance, lost to second-seeded Andover 7-1 Thursday. Farmington will play unseeded White Bear Lake in Friday’s 10 a.m. consolation game at TRIA Rink.

“We didn’t really have our best stuff. Everything kind of went haywire,” said Jon, whose team is the youngest in the tournament with three seniors, three juniors, six sophomores, four ninth-graders and four eighth-graders.

While he was in charge of 20 hockey players, Erin and co-band director Bradley Mariska were leading 190 talented musicians.

The band played a wide variety of songs, including Escape (the Pina Colada song), Eye of the Tiger, My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up), and of course the school song.

Afterwards, Jon admitted that in the midst of the game he didn’t have a chance to focus on the band.

“I notice it more when we’re scoring because they play our school song,” he said. “And at home games, definitely, because we walk right through them to our benches.”

Farmington has nine different bands during the school day, with marching band offered as an after-school extracurricular option. Erin is in charge of two jazz bands, two concert ensembles, is director of the marching band and teaches individual lessons.

Last year she was named the first female jazz chair of the Minnesota Music Educators Association and one of School Band and Orchestra Magazine's 50 Directors Who Make a Difference.

If there is a typical day during the hockey season in the Holmes household, it goes something like this: Erin leaves home first because her teaching day begins earlier than Jon’s. After school Jon goes to hockey practice and Erin picks up their boys.

“We high-five each other and run our kids around to where they need to go,” Erin said. “And meet up at the end of the day and catch up.”

The night before the state tournament began, the two of them had some quiet time together while the boys were being watched by grandparents. Since their jobs are very similar – coaching, directing, mentoring, positively influencing young people – they talked about some of those themes.

“We must have had a two-hour conversation about culture and how things can really get turned in certain directions from certain events,” Jon said. “And obviously because it’s a state tournament we were talking about how this was going to be positive for the little kids.

“I’ve been to their band camps, watching her and Brad Mariska run their camps. I just take notes. She loves to sit and watch our practices. It’s really cool.”

Erin said, “We compare each other’s philosophies a lot. Music certainly relates to sports and we talk a lot about what we’re doing. These are very much team efforts, very much family-oriented situations, where you lean on each other and push each other to get better. Band is just like any sport.

“It’s such a great relationship when you’ve got each other’s passions in your hands. We feel very much supported by each other.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Girls State Hockey Update2/20/2020
Girls state hockey tournament
At Xcel Energy Center

Class A
Wednesday's quarterfinals
Warroad 7, Willmar 4
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 2, Hutchinson 0
Breck 8, Luverne 1
Rochester Lourdes 2, South St. Paul 1

Thursday’s consolation games at TRIA Rink
Hutchinson 9, Willmar 4
South St. Paul 8, Luverne 4

Friday’s semifinals
11 a.m.: Warroad vs. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton
1 p.m.: Breck vs. Rochester Lourdes

Class 2A
Thursday’s quarterfinals
Andover 6, Farmington 0
Minnetonka 7, Roseau 2
Edina 4, Burnsville 0
Maple Grove 3, Hill-Murray 2

Friday’s consolation games at TRIA Rink
10 a.m.: Farmington vs. Roseau
Noon: Burnsville vs. Hill-Murray

Friday’s semifinals
6 p.m.: Andover vs. Minnetonka
8 p.m.: Edina vs. Maple Grove
Girls State Hockey Tournament2/19/2020
At Xcel Energy Center

CLASS A
Wednesday's quarterfinals
Warroad 7, Willmar 4
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 2, Hutchinson 0
Breck 8, Luverne 1
Rochester Lourdes 2, South St. Paul 1 (OT)

Thursday's consolation semifinals at TRIA Rink
10 a.m.: Willmar vs. Hutchinson
Noon: Luverne vs. South St. Paul

Friday's semifinals
11 a.m.: Warroad vs. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton
1 p.m.: Breck vs. Rochester Lourdes

CLASS AA
Thursday's quarterfinals
11 a.m.: Farmington vs. Andover
1 p.m.: Roseau vs. Minnetonka
6 p.m.: Burnsville vs. Edina
8 p.m.: Hill-Murray vs. Maple Grove

Sherburn Celebrates 50th Anniversary Of Last One-Class Tournament2/17/2020
The article below is reprinted from the Fairmont Sentinel. The author is Minnesota sports historian Joel Rippel.

By Joel Rippel
SHERBURN — After their previous three seasons had each ended with a disappointing loss in the District Five basketball tournament, the Sherburn Raiders had one goal for the 1969-70 season.

"Suffering through the disappointment of two finals losses and one semifinals loss – all to Fairmont – in the previous three years was definitely an incentive," said Jeff McCarron. "So, absolutely, we were motivated by our last chance to win the district.”

The Raiders had gone 54-8 in the previous three seasons – including an unbeaten 18-0 regular season in the 1966-67 season. Included in the three consecutive District Five tournament losses to Fairmont was a 67-65 loss – on a shot at the buzzer – in the championship game in 1968.

The 1969-70 Raiders, in their second season under 28-year-old coach Dennis Christopherson, not only reached their goal of winning the district title, they exceeded it.

“I was on the B-squad the previous year,” said John Tirevold. “We had a blend of veteran players and younger players. We had to learn about each other. Jeff (McCarron) and Tom (Mulso) were good coaches on the floor. Coach Christopherson did a great job of coordinating us into a good team.”

With McCarron, Mulso and Tirevold, who were seniors, and sophomores Pete Eiden and Paul Krohn in the starting lineup, the Raiders cruised to their second unbeaten regular season in four seasons.

The Raiders opened the season on Dec. 2 with a 74-38 victory over Jackson. They followed with victories over Butterfield, Mapleton, Truman, Trimont and Mankato Loyola to take a 6-0 record into the holiday break. In their first game after the break, the Raiders defeated Madelia 98-65 as McCarron scored a school-record 45 points. On Jan. 23, the Raiders defeated Butterfield 63-54 – their closest game of the regular season – to improve to 10-0.

Basketball fans in the area were starting to take notice of the Raiders.

“There was a lot of buzz going on,” Tirevold said. “It was nerve-racking. We had a group of fans who liked to watch us at practice every day. We heard that one of the guys who came to watch us every day had made hotel reservations in Minneapolis for the state tournament. We knew the pressure was on.”

The marquee game of the regular season was contested on Saturday, Feb. 7, when the Raiders played host to defending District Five champion Wells.

“Our coach had talked all year about the Wells game,” said McCarron. “We were well aware that Wells had two all-tournament players (Steve Feist and Steve Schultz) from their state tournament team of 1969. They had lost to eventual state champion Rochester John Marshall and then won the consolation championship.”

The matchup piqued the interest of basketball fans throughout the region and produced a capacity crowd. The crowd saw the Raiders defeat Wells, 76-57.

“When we beat Wells by 19,” said McCarron, “we started to believe we may have a special team.”

Tirevold said, “The Wells game was amazing. We heard stories about fans sneaking in. One story was two refs – who weren't working – showed up with their equipment and said 'we're reffing’ to get in.”

Ten days later the Raiders were tested again in a game at Lakefield. Lakefield led 33-29 at halftime before the Raiders outscored the Panthers, 50-33, in the second half for a 79-66 victory.

On Feb. 20, the Raiders closed out their unblemished regular season with a 94-47 win over Lake Crystal. The Raiders led 32-1 after one quarter and 61-15 at halftime en route to their 56th consecutive Middle 8 Conference victory.

The Raiders were the top seed for the District Five tournament and faced Fairmont in the quarterfinals. The Raiders dispatched their nemesis, 73-57. In the semifinals, the Raiders defeated Delavan, 82-60, to earn a spot in the title game against Wells. The Raiders defeated the Wildcats, 71-48, for their first district title since 1960.

In the first round of the Region 2 tournament, the Raiders cruised past District 8 champion Luverne, 76-63, as McCarron and Mulso combined for 51 points and 45 rebounds. That put the Raiders in the region championship game against Jackson.

Before a capacity crowd of 6,000 at Mankato State’s Highland Arena, Jackson slowed down the Raiders, who had been held to less than 70 points just twice during the regular season, and opened a 25-20 lead at halftime.

McCarron scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half to rally the Raiders for a 48-38 victory and the first regional title in school history.

“When we opened the season against Jackson,” said McCarron, “they didn’t have their best player – Roger Senesac. Their coach used him as a big guard to slow the (region) game down – almost stalling. We were scared at halftime. Five points was a lot in a game like that. We played zone in the first half. We switched to man-to-man and I know I’ve never played harder in my life and my teammates would probably agree they did too. We held them to 13 in the second half.”

The Raiders’ 23rd consecutive victory left them as the only unbeaten team in the state. Red Wing, the other unbeaten team heading into district play and considered as the favorite to win state, lost to Kenyon (coached by future Fairmont coach Ron Hested), 59-57, in the Region One championship game.

With Red Wing eliminated, South St. Paul, which had a 23-1 record going into the state tournament, was mentioned as the favorite to win the state tournament.

The Raiders defeated Melrose, 65-54, in their first state tournament game. In the semifinals, they defeated Marshall, coached by Fairmont native Lowell Ziemann, 71-60. In the other semifinal, South St. Paul advanced with a 68-54 victory over Robbinsdale. South St. Paul defeated Park Rapids, 97-61, in the first round.

In the championship game before more than 18,000 fans at Williams Arena, Mulso scored 24 points in the first half to help the Raiders open a 13-point halftime lead. The Packers responded by outscoring the Raiders, 22-12, to pull within three going into the fourth quarter. The Raiders outscored the Packers, 24-11, in the fourth to pull away for a 78-62 victory. Mulso finished with 39 points.

“When we led by 13 at half, that was an incredible feeling,” said McCarron. “Tom Mulso had what has to be one of the greatest championship game shooting performances in Minnesota history. He was always someone that could pull a magic move when needed the most. Pete Eiden shrugged off a sprained ankle and played the game of his life, scoring 16 points. Our two guards were ‘everywhere’ on that zone and gave South St. Paul fits on the perimeter. It was truly a great team effort.”

Tirevold agreed, “The whole season was magical. It was a dream. Me being a farm kid from Dunnell, I was in awe. The stars lined up. We blended well as a team. All of southern Minnesota seemed to be rooting for us. We were undefeated and champion of a single-class tourney. That was something to hang our hats on.”

Adding to the memorable state tournament was the Raiders’ trip back to Sherburn on the day following the tournament. As the team traveled through Madelia, St. James and Trimont, it was greeted by fans lining the route. The team was greeted by an estimated 3,000 fans in Sherburn.

“I am so thankful to have been part of a team that was able to give the gift of that season to our parents, our coaches, our fans and our town,” McCarron said.