John's Journal
South Ridge’s Nick Carlson: Two Sports, Two State Tournaments 6/15/2018
With graduation in the rear-view mirror, college ahead in the fall and now, as of Friday, his high school athletic career at an end, let’s hope South Ridge’s Nick Carlson takes some time off. Because he has surely earned it.

He is not only a four-sport athlete but a two-sport athlete in the spring. All he accomplished this spring was qualify for last weekend’s Class 1A state track meet in the long jump and triple jump (he placed fifth in the triple jump) while also being the only senior on the Panthers baseball team.

They advanced to the Class 1A state semifinals before losing to Sleepy Eye 4-1 Friday at Chaska Athletic Park. They finished the baseball season with a 13-4 loss to Parkers Prairie in Friday’s third-place game.

South Ridge, which has a high school enrollment of 137 students, is 22 miles north of Cloquet. The baseball team had never gone to state before this season, and Carlson (pictured) – who also played football and basketball -- was a key component of its success. As a pitcher he brought a record of 5-1 to state, with an 0.85 earned-run average and 47 strikeouts in 41 innings. His batting average was .314.

“He’s great,” said baseball coach Tyler Olin. “He’s such a great leader, not only on the field but in the classroom, off the field. He’s a better person than he is a player for us, and he’s a pretty darn good athlete.”

One of Nick’s most memorable days this spring was a double outing on May 31. In the morning he competed in the Section 7 track meet in Duluth, where he set a section record of 44 feet, 11 ½ inches in the triple jump. In the afternoon he pitched a one-hitter as the Panthers defeated Deer River 13-2 in the section tournament.

“I almost hit a home run, too,” Nick said Friday. “I hit a triple, so it was a good day.”

Being a member of two teams at the same time required some flexibility for practices, meets and games.

“It was just communication, I guess, with our track and field coach,” said Olin. “He’s just a great kid who’s able to manage all those different things, plus academics. It’s really him being such a great guy that makes it work.”

South Ridge athletic director Tony DeLeon said there have been a handful of other kids who were on two teams at the same time, “but maybe not at the same high level as Nick. Some of the credit needs to go to the coaches for allowing him to coordinate those practices. It takes a whole program to make that happen.

“Nick is a perfect role model, not only for the young men but for adults, too. He works hard in the classroom, he’s always respectful, appreciates everything, never complains, never brags, just goes about his business. All he does is set records and compete in state tournaments and does a great job.”

Carlson was the winning pitcher Thursday when the Panthers defeated Rushford-Peterson 5-1 in the state quarterfinals; he gave up four hits, one run, walked two and struck out six in seven innings. In Friday’s semifinals he played second base and center field.

“I’ve been playing with these guys ever since Little League,” he said. “Everybody knows each other really well. It’s a tight-knit group.”

Carlson will attend the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth and be a member of the basketball team.

“It’s nice and close and basketball is my favorite sport,” he said. “I think I’m probably going to do track, too.”

Of course he is.

State Baseball Tournament

Friday’s semifinals

Class 1A

Heritage Christian 7, Parkers Prairie 4
Sleepy Eye 4, South Ridge 1

Class 2A
Duluth Marshall 6, Caledonia 3
Maple Lake 4, Jordan 3

Class 3A
Mahtomedi 3, Alexandria 0
Rocori 5, New Ulm 0

Class 4A
Minnetonka 7, St. Michael-Albertville 6
Stillwater 4, Blaine 3

State Championship Games
Saturday at Target Field

Class 1A

Heritage Christian vs. Sleepy Eye, 10 a.m.

Class 2A
Duluth Marshall vs. Maple Lake, 1 p.m.

Class 3A
Mahtomedi vs. Rocori, 4 p.m.

Class 4A
Minnetonka vs. Stillwater, 7 p.m.

State Lacrosse Tournament
Saturday’s Championship Games
At Chanhassen High School

Apple Valley vs. Eden Prairie, 3:30 p.m.

Prior Lake vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s, 6 p.m.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Duluth Marshall’s Big Ben Rings Up Another Big Win 6/14/2018
ST. CLOUD – Duluth Marshall 11th-grader Ben Pedersen, who might be the most dominant high school baseball player in Minnesota, had this pitching line Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A state tournament: seven innings, three hits allowed, two runs allowed, three walks and nine strikeouts in a 6-2 victory over St. Cloud Cathedral.

And he didn’t have his best stuff.

“That was definitely not his sharpest performance but the bar for Ben and the expectations for Ben are so far out of whack now; ‘Wow, a three-hitter with a walk and how many strikeouts? Yeah, that’s disappointing,’ ” said Hilltoppers coach Joe Wicklund. “You kind of get to a spot where he’s played so well all year you expect the absolute best. For him, he was still awesome today and gave us a chance to run downhill with the pitching staff.”

Here are some amazing numbers: Pedersen (pictured) gave up two earned runs Thursday, equaling the number of earned runs he gave up during the entire regular season and Section 7 tournament.

Pedersen is as impressive physically as he is statistically. He stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds. He has already made a verbal commitment to play college baseball at the University of Missouri in the Southeastern Conference.

He came into the state tournament with a 2018 pitching record of 6-1, an earned-run average of 0.26 and 91 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings. He’s also the Hilltoppers’ cleanup hitter with a .304 batting average. Duluth Marshall is the top-seeded team in the Class 2A field, taking a record of 22-4 into Friday’s semifinals here against Caledonia. They made their state tourney debut last year, finishing fourth.

Pedersen also played hockey until a few years ago, and now he is the fresh face of baseball in northeast Minnesota.

“I think we’re hoping people up north believe we can play baseball, too, a little bit more,” he said. “We’re just having fun with it.”

Ben’s fastball can reach into the low 90s, and he also throws a curveball, slider and changeup. He didn’t go all-out with his fastball against Cathedral, and that was part of the plan.

“Today I bet he was in the high 80s,” Wicklund said. “We talked about that before the game, the importance of having his best stuff in the seventh and the first, so kind of pacing yourself and being smart about it. The part that people sometimes miss about Ben is that I’ve never encountered a high school pitcher with his savvy. He calls his own games, he works on the mound, he makes adjustments, he talks it out with us between innings. So I would imagine if you asked him right now he’s got a little left in the tank because we asked him to hold on to it.”

The Hilltoppers are confident in their pitching staff within a back-to-back-to-back state tournament format. Friday’s semifinal winners will play for state championships Saturday at Target Field, while semifinals losers will play in third-place games later Friday at each site.

Marshall’s Derrick Winn has a 5-1 pitching record and 0.61 ERA, Brett Benson is 4-1, 1.23, and Carter Sullivan is 4-1, 1.38.

“We have a pretty good stable of pitchers we can count on,” said Wicklund. “But not having to use anybody besides the big horse is a huge, huge advantage heading into Friday and Saturday.”

--This is the biggest weekend of the year in Duluth, with Grandma’s Marathon festivities capped by the running of the race Saturday. Wicklund is the marathon’s board chairman, so he can be excused if his thoughts extend beyond baseball.

“It’s a perfect weekend to be down in St. Cloud,” he said, laughing. “There are three people who vote if you ever have to cancel the marathon, knock on wood. One of those people is hoping to not be anywhere near Duluth on Saturday.

“This is our best weekend of the year. The whole state, if not a huge part of the country, pays attention to us. And if we can pull a tiny bit of that attention down here, that would be pretty special.”

--The second game of the Class 2A quarterfinals featured two dominant pitching performances and a near no-hitter by Caledonia’s Casey Storlie in a 1-0 victory by the Warriors over two-time defending state champion Minnehaha Academy. Dylan Kiratli ended Storlie’s no-hit attempt on a single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Storlie strick out seven and walked four, while Minnehaha's Brock Brumley allowed only three hits with nine strikeouts and no walks. Caledonia's run came when Storlie singled in the fourth, moved to second on an infield out and scored on a single by Andrew Goergen.

--Maple Lake moved into the 2A semifinals with a 9-0 victory over Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. Ben Clapp drove in four runs for the Irish and pitchers Grant Mergen, Mitch Holstad and Cole Trager combined on a four-hitter.

--Jordan won the final 2A quarterfinal, defeating Paynesville 6-2. Eighteen of the 20 players on the Paynesville roster were members of the Bulldogs football team that reached the Class 2A state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium last fall.

State Baseball Tournament Quarterfinals

Class 1A
Heritage Christian 4, Sacred Heart 3
Parkers Prairie 8, Wabasso 6
Sleppy Eye 6, Hinckley-Finlayson 0
South Ridge 5, Rushford-Peterson 1

Class 2A
Duluth Marshall 6, St. Cloud Cathedral 2
Caledonia 1, Minnehaha Academy 0
Maple Lake 9, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 0
Jordan 6, Paynesville 2

Class 3A
Mahtomedi 3, Grand Rapids 2
Alexandria 2, Willmar 1
Rocori 3, Red Wing 2 (8)
New Ulm 5, South St. Paul 4 (9)

Class 4A
Minnetonka 3, Eastview 2
St. Michael-Albertville 3, Lakeville North 2
Stillwater 3, Mounds View 2
Blaine 6, Wayzata 1

State Lacrosse Tournament

State semifinals were played Thursday at Chanhassen High School and Minnetonka High School, with championship games scheduled for Saturday at Chanhassen.

Girls semifinals
Apple Valley 11, Blake 6
Eden Prairie 18, Lakeville North 3
The girls championship game will be played at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Boys semifinals
Prior Lake 13, Minnetonka 11
Benilde-St. Margaret’s 9, Mahtomedi 6
The boys championship game will be played at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Gray Sisters, A Class 1A Golf Legacy 6/13/2018
In 2008 an eighth-grader from Legacy Christian Academy named Rachel Gray made her debut in the Class 1A girls state golf tournament at Pebble Creek in Becker. On Wednesday, a senior named Sophie Gray ended her high school golf career with a second-place finish in the Class 1A girls state tourney.

Those were the bookends on a remarkable run of Gray sisters at state. Rachel qualified for state as an eighth-grader, sophomore, junior and senior, and Sophie went to state six years in a row. That’s 10 appearances at state with no overlap; Rachel graduated in 2012 and a year later Sophie competed for the first time as a seventh-grader. (Pictured are Rachel, left, and Sophie.)

Rachel was the 2012 state champion and she finished third in 2011. Sophie came in 23rd, 13th, fourth and now has been the state runner-up for three years in a row. She shot 79-77 for a 139 total Tuesday and Wednesday, one stroke behind champion Rachel Halvorson of Lac qui Parle Valley, who went 76-79-138.

“There’s definitely a lot of pride,” said Sophie, 17. “A lot of people here know our family and know us. I’ve heard a lot of people say they’re sad to see our family go. I come back and see the same people each year and we all really enjoy that.”

Rachel, 24, played collegiate golf at Concordia University in St. Paul, twice competing in the NCAA Division II championships. She now coaches women’s golf at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, another NCAA Division II school. One of her prize recruits this year is her kid sister.

“I definitely wanted it to be her decision,” said Rachel, who has been in Becker to watch all six of Sophie’s state tournaments. “She came for a visit, she did everything on her own. She loves our facilities. I’m biased but we have some state-of-the-art facilities. She loved the school, she loved the players on the team and it’s a great fit for her.”

The girls’ parents, Jack and Kitty, have been watching their daughters play high school golf for more than a decade. Jack is an assistant girls golf coach at Legacy Christian, while Kitty is not a golfer.

“It’s been a huge part of our life,” Kitty said. “It’s been fun to be a super fan and watch these girls golf.”

During a late-season competition, a younger team member was expressing sadness that Sophie was graduating and was unsure if Jack would be back next season.

“Jack is so passionate,” Kitty said. “One of the young ladies was in tears, saying, ‘I don’t want Sophie to leave, I don’t want you to leave.’ He said, ‘I’m going to be back.’ He’s got some time and effort invested into these ladies and he really wants to see them succeed. He’s so passionate about teaching young girls how to golf.”

Two years ago Sophie finished one shot behind the winner, last year she was five shots back and Wednesday’s result was another one-shot margin between second place and a gold medal. Had she finished first Wednesday, it would have come six years to the day since Rachel won her state championship.

“If you would have asked me last year, I would have said winning would be the ultimate thing for me,” Sophie said. “But I think this year has really changed my perspective on a lot of things, especially after making the decision to play in college and signing my letter of intent and everything.

“I realized the bigger perspective of it. I started to realize people are about more than just who won the Minnesota high school tournament for Class A. While it would be great to win, I don’t want that to be my end-all, be-all because I want to accomplish more.”

After the tournament ended, the Gray family began quietly celebrating, reflecting and looking toward the future. At Lincoln Memorial, Rachel has her players compete on the course to decide who who will play in the next competition.

Kitty said, “Sophie told me, ‘The work begins tomorrow. Because I want to play for Rach.’

“And it’s only a thirteen-and-a-half-hour drive.”

Team, Individual Champions

Class 1A girls/
Lac qui Parle Valley; Rachel Halvorson, Lac qui Parle Valley.

Class 1A boys/ Sleepy Eye United and Mounds Park Academy; Ben Laffen, Sleepy Eye United.

Class 2A girls/ Detroit Lakes; Sophie Yoemans, Red Wing.

Class 2A boys/ Holy Family Catholic; Nate Deziel, East Grand Forks.

Class 3A girls/ Edina; Kathryn Van Arragon, Blaine.

Class 3A boys/ Maple Grove; Tristan Nelko, Wayzata.

Aces Abound At State

There were three holes-in-one during the girls and boys state golf tournaments.

--In 3A boys, Eastview’s Will Frazier scored an ace at Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids.

--In 3A girls at Bunker Hills, Madi Hicks of Chanhassen got an ace.

--In 2A boys, Mitch Krebsbach of Mound Westonka got a hole-in-one at Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Three Sports, Three State Tournaments Is Common In Jordan 6/12/2018
Tuesday was a busy day for Thomas Gutzmer. But then again, every day is pretty busy for the junior from Jordan High School who this week is playing in his third state tournament of the 2017-18 school year.

Thomas was a lineman on the Jordan football team that reached the Class 3A state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium and a guard-forward on the Hubmen basketball team that played in the Class 2A state tournament. He completed the trifecta by qualifying for this week’s Class 2A state golf tournament at Ridges at Sand Creek, his home course in Jordan.

He is not alone among Jordan athletes participating in three state tournaments this school year. Six other boys have done the same, with all of them being members of the football team: Gutzmer (pictured), Jonathan Huss, Jonathan Draheim, Ryan Friedges, Noah Schmitt, Bryce Sievers and Mason Vogel. Draheim, Friedges and Schmitt are playing in this week’s Class 2A state baseball tournament, Huss went to state in 2A wrestling, and Sievers and Vogel went to state in 1A track and field, where they were part of the second-place 4x800 relay team in helping the Hubmen finish fourth in the team standings.

All told, seven teams from Jordan – plus three cooperative teams involving athletes from Jordan and neighboring schools – have reached state tournaments during 2017-18.

Gutzmer began the day Tuesday by joining with fellow athletes for a 6:30 a.m. weightlifting session. He was on the Ridges putting green several hours ahead of his 1:30 p.m. tee time, then made the short drive home for a little rest before returning. He was in the final foursome in the first round of the two-day, 36-hole golf tournament.

“We lift Monday through Thursday in the mornings, and in the summer it’s the same thing,” he said. “It stays pretty busy.”

Thomas also qualified for the state golf tournament last year, finishing in a tie for 32nd place among 88 finishers. He is the only male from Jordan to play at state golf this year, but the girls team qualified as the champion of Section 2. Kevin Gutzmer (Thomas’ father) coaches both Jordan teams. Girls team members at state are Autumn Sivilay, Rachel Henderson, Aysia Kim, Emily Henderson, Molly Kelvington and Abby Oehlerking.

Thomas has spent time on golf courses for as long as he can remember. He also works at Ridges, cleaning and washing carts.

“I’m out here a lot,” he said.

He is a lefthanded golfer but uses his right hand to shoot baskets and snap footballs. His favorite sport? “It’s pretty tough for me to decide, playing all three sports,” he said. “But golf is right up there.”

Jordan’s trip to the state football playoffs was the first since 2012 and the basketball team had not been to state since 2010.

“For football, our program doesn’t have the best history but we have a new coach and we’re coming around,” Thomas said. “The section championship is probably one of the best memories. We played in a snow-bowl-type game in overtime (defeating Glencoe-Silver Lake 42-41). That was probably the most fun I’ve had in a sporting event.

“Basketball was really fun. We got kind of a cruddy draw and played Minnehaha (Academy, losing 65-45 in the state quarterfinals). They’re good players. It was really fun.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Heather Van Norman, Meet Pequot Lakes’ Reid Pierzinski 6/9/2018
Odell Beckham Jr., superstar wide receiver for the New York Giants, was surely unaware that something important concerning his family's athletic history took place Saturday at Hamline University’s Klas Field. When word reaches his mother, it might sink in.

The name of Beckham’s mom, Heather Van Norman, has been in the MSHSL state track meet record book since 1987. That was the year Van Norman, representing Windom High School, won the Class 1A team championship in scoring 30 points all by herself. One of those events was the 200-meter dash, which Heather won with a time of 24.58 seconds.

That Class 1A meet record stood for 31 years until it finally fell on Saturday when Minneapolis North senior T’Nia Riley won the 200 in 24.44 seconds.

And there was an important update to the “one-person team wins a state title” storyline. This time the one person was Pequot Lakes’ Reid Pierzinski (pictured). All the senior did this weekend was win the 110 hurdles, the 300 hurdles and the 200-meter dash while also finishing seventh in the triple jump.

Reid’s first-place finishes were worth 12 points apiece and he gleaned three points in the triple jump. That’s a total of 39 points, which gave Pequot Lakes – in the guise of one superstar – the Class 1A boys track and field state title. Mora and Southwest Christian tied for second place with 32 points.

It was that kind of day Saturday. Three all-time state records fell, there were repeat state champs galore, and the big crowd roared over and over as athletes battled and scrapped and gutted their way to the finish. Despite a weather-induced delay in Saturday’s Class 2A competition (which was followed by the 1A meet), it will stand as one of the most memorable track and field championships in recent years.

While Pierzinski was the top individual athlete, Minnetonka was the star of the girls relay events, sweeping the Class 2A 4x200, 4x400 and 4x800 en route to winning the team championship. North St. Paul won the 2A girls 4x100 for the second year in a row.

--Mounds View junior pole vaulter Julia Fixsen won her second consecutive Class 2A state title with a winning height of 13 feet, 9 1/4 inches. That broke her own previous state record of 13-9. Last year she won the event at 11-6. Her goal all season has been to clear 14 feet, and she nearly made it. She made two unsuccessful attempts at 14-1 1/4 before the weather delay ended her meet.

“I would say in all honesty I’m a little disappointed because I wanted that 14-one and a quarter within this season,” she said. “I’ve been trying and I’ve been wanting it for so long. But I know that I have next year, which is kind of encouraging. I’m excited because next year I could jump even higher than 14-1 because I have the whole offseason. Disappointed? Yes, but also really excited about the future.”

--Eagan senior Natalie Windels was a double hurdles champion, sweeping the 2A girls 100- and 300-meter events. The 300 is her specialty; she won that race at state last season. The 100 field included defending champion Shae Buchman of Rosemount, who finished third behind Windels and White Bear Lake’s Erika Townley.

“I didn’t think I’d win it,” Windels said of the 100 hurdles. “I thought Shae for sure would have like a great start and then I did. I was already smiling at the end.”

--Another double winner was Edina senior Emily Kompelien in the 2A girls 800 and 1,600. The original schedule had little more than an hour between the 1,600 and 800, but the weather delay gave the 800 runners more time to prepare.

“The rain delay really played into my favor. I was pretty tired after the mile,” Emily said. “I knew coming into it that it would be a challenge but I’ve done that in a couple other meets this year. The mile was a super-tactical race. And for the 800 I knew it would just be a whole clump of us, which it totally was. But I always know that I can count on my kick to get me out of an iffy situation.”

New all-time state records

Girls pole vault: Julia Fixsen, Mounds View (2A), 13-9 ¼

Girls 3,200: Emily Covert, Minneapolis Washburn (2A), 10:06.19

Boys 4x200: Hopkins (2A), 1:26.37

Repeat state champions

1A boys 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles, 200: Reid Pierzinski, Pequot Lakes

1A boys 100: Marlon Wiley, Jordan

1A girls high jump: Nyalaam Jok, Annandale (2A Osseo in 2017)

1A girls 100, 200: T’Nia Riley, Minneapolis North

1A girls 400: Kya Phillips, Cristo Rey Jesuit

1A girls 800: Ava Hill, Mesabi East

2A boys 300 hurdles: Joel Smith, Mounds View

2A girls pole vault: Julia Fixsen, Mounds View

2A girls 300 hurdles: Natalie Windels, Eagan

2A girls triple jump: Allyson Weiss, East Ridge

2A girls 4x100 relay North St. Paul

Triple champion

1A boys 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles, 200: Reid Pierzinski, Pequot Lakes

Double champions

1A girls 100, 200: T’Nia Riley, Minneapolis North

1A boys 1,600 and 3,200: Matt Steiger, La Crescent

2A boys 1,600, 3,200: Khalid Hussein, Wayzata

2A girls 800, 1,600: Emily Kompelien, Edina

2A girls 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles: Natalie Windels, Eagan

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn