John's Journal
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
Softball, Track And Field, Tennis On A Wild Friday6/8/2018
NORTH MANKATO – On one of the busiest days of the high school sports year, Friday provided some great lessons in dedication, thoroughness, hard work and commitment. There was an all-time state record set on the first day of the state track and field championships, there was a miracle finish in the Class 4A state softball tournament, and there were retirements by several long-serving coaches in baseball, track and basketball. But let’s start this report with an athlete who finished her high school career with the rare distinction of playing in the same state tournament six years in a row.

Her name is Rhiana Roberts and she is a senior at New York Mills. The Eagles recorded their second consecutive Class 1A softball championship Friday with a 9-6 victory over Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian, the same team they defeated in last year’s title game. Rhiana had three hits and scored three runs in Friday’s game. As the Eagles pitcher, she struck out six and walked one.

She not only saw her high school career end, it also ended a lengthy chapter for the Roberts family and the Eagles softball team. Her older sisters, Emily and Autumn, also played on the team, so the 2019 season will be the first in 11 years without a Roberts on the roster.

“It started with Emily in seventh grade, rolled over to Autumn in eighth grade and then Rhiana ever since seventh grade,” said New York Mills coach Bryan Dunrud. “The parents have instilled great values in them and they’re just great kids, great young adults now.

“As they came into the program you could tell they play a lot of ball at the house. The knowledge, the teaching of the game, they’re very skilled. But even beyond that, they’re just good people with good morals who you’re proud to have as part of your team.”

New York Mills nearly saw its quest for a repeat title end in Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Eagles trailed Hayfield before scoring four runs in the seventh inning for a 6-5, walk-off win. They defeated Randolph 5-3 later Thursday in the semifinals.

“We’ve come back before,” Rhiana said. “There’s no giving up on us. We’re really family, we play together, we keep going no matter what. In the seventh inning I was standing on second base and I knew we could do it and we did it.”

Rhiana was named to the Wells Fargo All-Tournament Team for the third year in a row. After the postgame awards ceremony, there were lots of photos and hugs.

“This was the last game I’ll ever get to play with my team,” she said, “so I really had to try my best and just play for all the fans and my teammates.”

Dream Ending For Stillwater

The Stillwater Ponies softball team provided an example of what is possible when you don’t quit and keep working hard. Their record during the regular season was 7-13, losing 11 of their last 13 regular-season games. They came to the state tournament with a 13-13 mark and defeated the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds en route to the state championship. They defeated Park 5-1 in Friday’s title game.

--In the Class 3A championship game, Faribault defeated North Branch 2-0. Falcons pitcher McKayla Armbruster, who tossed a no-hitter in the quarterfinals, gave up only five hits while striking out 37 and walking one in three games.

--Maple Lake captured the Class 2A softball crown with an 11-1, five inning win over St. Peter.

--Annandale’s Skip Dolan, who has coached softball for 31 years, had some news for the Cardinals after their fourth-place finish in Class 2A: He told the girls that he was retiring as their coach. Dolan will continue to coach the Annandale boys basketball team.

Track And Field News

--Emily Covert of Minneapolis Washburn won the opening event at the state track and field championships Friday, the Class 2A girls 3,200-meter run. She set an all-time state record with a time of 10:06.19. The previous state record was 10:06.98, set by Chaska's Bria Wetsch in 2006.

The state track and field championships will continue Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul.

--This weekend's state track and field meet marks the end of a 51-year coaching career for Hutchinson head boys coach Leonard Lasley.

--St. Francis High School graduate Maggie Ewen, now a senior at Arizona State, won the NCAA Division I national championship in the women’s shot put for the third time Thursday in Eugene, Oregon. She also will be competing in the discus on Saturday. Maggie was is a four-time MSHSL state champion in the discus, won three state titles in the shot put and holds all-time state records in both events.

--Richfield High School graduate Obsa Ali, who won MSHSL state championships in cross-country and the 3,200 meters, won the men’s steeplechase at the NCAA championships Friday.

Boys State Tennis Champions

The tennis season ended with champions being crowned in single and doubles …

Class 2A singles: Rochester Mayo's Sebastian Vile won the title with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Eagan's Maxim Zagrebelny.

Class 2A doubles: Nisal Liyanage and Sourabh Terakanambi of Eastview defeated Frank Stich and Benjamin Wheaton of Minnetonka 6-3, 7-5 to win the championship.

Class 1A singles: David D. Bush of Duluth Denfeld defeated Parker Law of Mounds Park Academy 6-4, 6-1 in the championship match.

Class 1A doubles: Pavao Veldic and Kevin Turlington of Rochester Lourdes are champs with 6-4, 6-1 win over Jake Seitz and Ethan Youso of Virginia.

More Coaching News

--Brainerd’s Lowell Scearcy is retiring after 49 years as a baseball coach. His teams won state titles in 1995 and 2000 and went to state 11 times between 1981 and 2014. His career record of 763-323 ranks second all-time behind St. Cloud Cathedral’s Bob Karn (782-305, 48 years).

Scearcy's resignation "letter" was written on a baseball. He wrote, “I feel it’s the right time to call it a career” and “Go Brainerd” ... then added his signature to the horsehide.

-- Hall of Fame Rochester Mayo girls basketball coach Rich Decker and his assistants have resigned. He told Pat Ruff of the Rochester Post Bulletin: “No question the involvement of some parents is a factor ... once it’s miserable, it’s not worth doing it anymore.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
No Home-Field Advantage, No Problem For North Branch Softball6/7/2018
NORTH MANKATO – The softball team from North Branch really didn’t have any home-field advantage this season. In fact, the Vikings really didn’t have a home field. Which makes their first-ever trip to the state tournament even sweeter.

The Vikings played two early-season games on their home field before a construction project blocked access to it for the rest of the spring. They used a field at Sunrise River Elementary School for the rest of the season.

“We played probably like five home games,” said first-year head coach Kathy Crudo said after the Vikings defeated Holy Angels 12-0 in Thursday’s Class 3A quarterfinals in front of a big crowd of North Branch supporters. “Our athletic staff and entire community, as you can see today, definitely is behind us and is willing to do whatever it takes to help us.”

A temporary fence was installed at the elementary field and a generator was used to provide power to a temporary scoreboard and public-address system. And no matter where the Vikings played, they performed at a high level. They lost only once during the regular season (to Rogers 4-3 in early May), then fought through the loser’s bracket to win the Section 7 championship and take a 23-2 record to state.

North Branch defeated Hill-Murray 3-1 later Thursday in the semifinals and will meet Faribault in the state championship game Friday afternoon.

North Branch had a combined record of 29-21 in the last two seasons, when Crudo was an assistant coach. She is a Forest Lake High School graduate (the Rangers made it to state in Class 4A this year) who played softball at Winona State and was an assistant at Minnesota Duluth before going to North Branch.

“They came in with a goal this season and they haven’t stopped,” she said of her players. “If it’s there, they’re going to keep going. Obviously the first couple years were just building years when I got here. But they bought into the culture and into working hard and they all have their own personal goals, but the team goal definitely is what has driven them this far.”

Asked to describe the season, North Branch senior Heather Kost said, “Unreal, first of all, obviously. It’s kind of crazy. We went from nothing to something. We got a new head coach, she’s the bomb and she’s the reason we’re here. And we’ve got six strong senior leaders, and that really helps us. Everyone is super close and that’s what’s making this season so awesome.”

Senior Shelby Robinson said the lack of a true home field was “not much of a challenge. We got used to it right away.”

Crudo said, “I don’t feel like it’s my first year head coaching here. It’s awesome. When you know that the girls are totally on the same page with things, and things are clicking, it’s rewarding for them and I think they definitely deserve anything and everything that has come to them. They would trade any single accolade they’ve had for these moments. It’s awesome.”

Minnesota’s First Family of Softball

Members of the Wagner family from Hayfield are quite busy these days…

--Jana Wagner is coaching Hayfield in the Class 1A state tournament.

--Her husband Corey is umpiring in the state tournament.

--Their daughter Dani just completed her college career with the University of Minnesota softball team.

No-Hitters Highlight Day One

There were two no-hitters in the Class 3A softball quarterfinals: Faribault's McKayla Armbruster struck out 17 and no-hit Bemidji in an 8-0 win, and Winona's Annika Anderson struck out 13, got the game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh inning and no-hit Rocori in a 2-1 win. In the Class 1A quarterfinals, Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian’s Sierra Van Dyke threw a no-hitter in a 14-0 win over Sebeka.


State Softball Tournament

CLASS 1A

Quarterfinals

New York Mills 6, Hayfield 5
Randolph 4, Carlton 3
Edgerton/SW MN Christian 14, Sebeka 0 (5 innings)
New Ulm Cathedral 10, Badger/Greenbush-Middle River 2

Semifinals
New York Mills 5, Randolph 3
Edgerton/SW MN Christian 5, New Ulm Cathedral 1

CLASS 2A

Quarterfinals

Maple Lake 3, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 2 (9 innings)
Pipestone 4, Esko 1
Annandale 2, St. Agnes 1
St. Peter 10, Cotter/Hope Lutheran 0 (5 innings)

Semifinals
Maple Lake 12, Pipestone 3
St. Peter 5, Annandale 2 (10 innings)

CLASS 3A

Quarterfinals

Faribault 8, Bemidji 0
Winona 2, Rocori 1
North Branch 12, Holy Angels 0 (5 innings)
Hill-Murray 10, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 3

Semifinals
Faribault 7, Winona 1
North Branch 3, Hill-Murray 1

CLASS 4A

Quarterfinals

Park 9, Lakeville North 0
Centennial 4, Shakopee 2
Stillwater 8, Forest Lake 4
Buffalo 10, Edina 4

Semifinals
Park 10, Centennial 0 (6 innings)
Stillwater 14, Buffalo 4 (5 innings

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn