John's Journal
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
After 43 Years, Brainerd Tennis Team Returns To State 6/5/2018
The Baseline Tennis Center at the University of Minnesota must have seemed like the Taj Mahal of tennis to the Brainerd boys team as the Class 2A state tournament began Tuesday. The facility is world-class, with 10 indoor courts, 12 outdoor courts, 30-foot ceilings, ample seating for spectators and other amenities. That’s a far cry from what the Warriors experienced in getting there.

With the worst spring weather that longtime Brainerd coach Bruce Thompson (pictured) could remember, coupled with no indoor courts for the team to use, it seemed only fair that the Warriors earned the right to play in the team state tournament for the first time in 43 years. Thompson was a first-year teacher in Brainerd and an assistant coach on that team in 1975, and now he’s a retiree who spends winters in Arizona.

Thompson’s memory from that 1975 state tourney is sketchy. He remembers it was held on outdoor courts at a Twin Cities high school, but he doesn’t recall the name of that school.

Playing at state is a grand payoff for the Warriors. The cold and snowy spring weather forced them to compress nearly their entire regular-season schedule into three and a half weeks.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tougher spring,” Thompson said.

The closest thing to indoor courts available to the team was banquet rooms – yes, banquet rooms – at Cragun’s Resort outside of Brainerd.

“It’s a convention center but it’s carpeted so it’s not the same thing,” Thompson said. “And the walls are a pale yellow and the lights are dim. Try and see the ball with those conditions. But we spent a lot of time out there.”

The unseeded Warriors lost to third-seeded Rochester Century 6-1 in Tuesday’s quarterfinals. It was Brainerd’s first loss after 24 victories this season. The Warriors’ victory came at No. 3 doubles, where Matt Hintz and Camden Cooper defeated Century’s Sanjiv Ramana and Arhan Mehta, 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-7. Brainerd fell to Eastview 6-1 later Tuesday in the consolation bracket, ending the Warriors' season with a record of 24-2.

Tanner Lundberg is Brainerd’s only representative in the state singles and doubles tournament, which will be held Thursday and Friday. He will meet Elk River sophomore Stewart Morrell in the first round of singles play.

Brainerd’s path to the team state tournament wound through the highly competitive Section 8 playoffs. The Warriors defeated Bemidji 5-2 and Willmar 5-2 before holding off St. Cloud Tech 4-3 in the section finals.

“We really felt all along, looking at our rivals in our section, that if we played well and we improved and we did some things we had to do, we could be in it,” Thompson said. “It was so tight with Tech and Willmar both, maybe we were fortunate but we earned it. We earned our trip back.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Importance Of Educators, Past And Future 5/30/2018
Kelsi Olson, a young band teacher at Brainerd High School, was standing on the stage in the performing arts center at Rosemount High School, where a large alumni concert band was assembled. Kelsi was talking about the reason for the gathering: a man named Steve Olsen was being honored as he retired after a lengthy career as a music educator.

Two days earlier a quieter but no less important gathering was held at Burnsville High School, where graduating seniors who plan to become teachers were honored at a signing ceremony in the school’s career center.

The events provided valuable bookends on the importance of educators by saying “thank you” to someone closing out a wonderful career and “welcome” to 14 young people embarking on a similar path.

In the old days of newspapers there was a joke about people who were responsible for compiling each day’s lists of deaths and births. The process was lovingly known as “shipping and receiving.” Time, of course, marches on, and it was inspiring to be in attendance at the Rosemount and Burnsville events. And on a personal note, there was a family interest in each gathering because my daughter Allison, a teacher at Burnsville, helped plan the future educator signing ceremony there, and she and her two older brothers were band kids under the tutelage of Steve Olsen.

The Burnsville event was brief, lasting no more than 20 minutes. Our daughter and her colleague Dave McDevitt spoke before the students signed letters of intent.

“It’s been a joy to get young people interested in this amazing field of changing lives,” McDevitt said. Ms. Millea added, “Do not lose the spark you have right now. You’re here right now because you are excited about teaching. That’s what we love. You are committing to a brighter future for everyone. You are dedicated to improving lives. … You are literal superheroes for making the choice to teach. If you want to make the world a better place, start with education.”

Steve Olsen, like so many educators in our state and beyond, always made the world a much better place. His 37-year teaching career began at Rosemount in 1981, took him to Bloomington Kennedy and then Eden Prairie before he returned to Rosemount in 1998. He taught elementary music, which he loved, during the last four years of his career.

My wife and I attended every concert in which our kids participated, as well as countless marching band performances at football games, parades and competitions. Those were special days; we think of them often and we miss them.

Steve – whom just about everyone calls “Mr. Olsen” – always went the extra mile. As Mother’s Day rolled around each year, during rehearsals he would ask his students to use their cell phones to call their moms, who would then listen to their children’s band play a song dedicated to them. How sweet is that?

The band assembled for the celebration at Rosemount consisted of former band students under Steve from both Eden Prairie and Rosemount. There was some gray hair and a few bald heads, along with fuller heads of hair on more recent graduates. Steve’s family had sent out the word (and the music) and the group got in a rehearsal before the event began. The musicians included Steve’s wife Natalie (a band teacher in Farmington), their daughter Kaylee and her husband Brad.

Between songs, different individuals stood at the microphone to speak about Steve and how important he has been to them.

The words of Kelsi Olson, a 2011 Rosemount graduate, were especially poignant. She began by saying, “I’m not sure I could adequately describe in words the impact Mr. Olsen has had on my life or the lives of his students in general, because it extends far beyond the many things he taught us.”

She talked about being a high school senior and telling Steve she was thinking of becoming a music educator.

“Instead of simply giving me advice about all the directions that I could possibly take, Mr. Olsen invited me to work as a student aide during his first-hour ninth-grade band,” she said. “I was able to see some of the behind-the-scenes work that Mr. Olsen did as a band director, which would have been helpful enough for a high school senior looking at this as a career. But like he did in so many aspects of his teaching, Mr. Olsen went above and beyond and invited me to lead the band for a rehearsal cycle on a piece and then conduct them at their concert. This was hands-down the best possible real-world experience I could have gotten at that point in my life. It ignited something in me that made me realize that this was a direction I was meant to take.

“I don’t think there’s an adequate enough way to say thank you besides doing everything I possibly can to pass on what I learned from you to my own students. I think I can speak for a lot of us on stage that we didn’t quite realize how lucky we were to have Mr. Olsen (pictured in the pink tie) as our band director while we were in school. It wasn’t until after we left that we could truly appreciate one of the biggest reasons why Mr. Olsen was a great teacher; the fact that he made extraordinary experiences the norm for us. He would always tell us that what we did, our work ethic, our dedication, our level of performance, was not normal because it was done at such a high level. But the thing was, we didn’t believe him. To us, these things were totally normal. Mr. Olsen instilled in us a desire to pursue greatness, to commit to what we were doing with everything we had, and to never settle for mediocrity.

“Looking back at it now from a different perspective, he was right. Our work ethic and level of dedication was definitely not normal. But because we had Mr. Olsen as a teacher, what was truly extraordinary became our normal. I believe this is one of the marks of a great teacher, and I believe I can speak for all of your former students when I say that we are so appreciative of this. As a band teacher myself, I understand that what we hope for our students is that they leave our classes not only as better musicians, but as better human beings.”

The alumni band performed the Eden Prairie and Rosemount school songs as people in the auditorium stood and clapped along. Before the final song of the night, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa, Steve spoke briefly. He talked about knowing in fifth grade that he wanted to be a band teacher, about being paid $14,000 a year as a rookie teacher, about his goal of helping students love music.

He gave thanks for all the students, colleagues, administrators and families he has known over all these years.

“I feel very grateful, very blessed,” he said. “I’m so thrilled to have had this wonderful career.”

One more personal note: Our middle child, who lives in Phoenix, was frustrated that he wasn’t able to attend the ceremony and join the band at Rosemount. But he had a good excuse. He’s a music educator, just like Mr. Olsen, and he was teaching that day.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn