John's Journal
Small-School Athletes Shine At Hamline Elite Meet 4/28/2018
Track and field is, in its purest form, an individual activity. Relay races are an important part of the sport, of course, but even in those events each athlete runs as one until handing off the baton.

Continuing down this train of track thought, the question is sometimes asked: Why is high school track and field split into classes? There are two classes in Minnesota, which seems about right. This spring for girls and boys there are 129 teams in Class 2A and 233 in Class 1A, and the best of the bunch will culminate the season with the state championships June 8-9 at Hamline University’s Klas Field in St. Paul.

The debate about classes is not new, no matter the individual sport being discussed: wrestling, swimming and diving, tennis, cross-country, golf, etc. One thing is certain, however, and that is the delight taken by fans of small schools when their kids come out on top in competition with kids from the big schools.

Friday night’s Hamline Elite Meet, the biggest gathering of track and field’s regular season, has been a showcase for 13 years at Klas Field. It’s a splendid concept, bringing together the best from across the state regardless of school size.

The superstars were out in force. The top individual performance this year was by Edina senior Emily Kompelien, who won the girls 800- and 1,600-meter titles over very strong fields.

Other large-school stars included North St. Paul’s Shaliciah Jones, who won the 100 meters and ran a leg on the Polars’ championship 4x100 relay with Brianna Bixby, Jebeh Cooke and J'Ianna Cager. Hopkins’ Joe Fahnbulleh won the 200 and anchored the Royals’ winning 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams (the 4x100 unit was Tyrone Bennett, George Jackson, King Allah and Fahnbulleh, and the 4x200 team was Allah, Jaylen Champion, Sam Leervig and Fahnbulleh). Minnetonka won the girls 4x200 and 4x800 relays.

But kids from small schools made their presence known. Of the 36 events at the Hamline Elite Meet, six were won by Class 1A athletes. They included Martin LaFond of Perham in the boys long jump, Samuel Moore of Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale in the boys shot put, Robbie Grace of Blake in the girls long jump and Fairmont’s Allison Lardy in the girls shot put.

Two other small-school kids took different routes to Elite Meet championships. One is well-known to track and field fans and one is a virtual unknown … or was until Friday night. Both are three-sport athletes.

Mitchell Weber (pictured) is a senior from St. Clair (enrollment 180 in grades nine through 12). He became a state champion as a ninth-grader when he won the Class 1A title in the discus and placed second in the shot put. After sweeping both titles as a sophomore, he was plagued by a wrist injury last year but still finished second in the discus and third in the shot put at state.

Mitchell won the discus Friday night and placed fourth in the shot put (won by Moore). His discus distance was 171 feet, 4 inches; that’s his season-best but the season has not been great. Because of the cold, wet, snowy spring, the Elite Meet was only Weber’s third competition of the year.

“It’s been God-awful,” said Weber, who also has played football and basketball during high school. “I haven’t really thrown shot great this year, either. It’s really frustrating because I have some bigger goals for myself, to try and go on to juniors and also qualify for worlds. It’s kind of frustrating that I haven’t been able to get outside, it makes it a lot harder. Hopefully I can just kick it down and really get to work.”

The work will continue next year at the University of Missouri. Weber signed with the Tigers after also considering Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota State and North Dakota (where his sister Katelyn is a senior thrower). Mitchell wore a knit cap that resembled a Tiger before, between and after his events Friday, along with red, white and blue shorts.

The newcomer is Mora senior Cal Wright (pictured), who is in only his second full season as a track and field athlete. He gave up baseball as a sophomore and was spending time in the weight room before Mustangs coach Chris Goebel convinced him to give track a try.

Wright, who has never competed at the state track meet, won the boys 400 meters Friday, placed third in the 200 and seventh in the 100 in an astonishing bright-lights debut.

“He’s a 4.0 student,” Goebel said. “He does everything coaches ask. He’s involved in everything; football, basketball, track. Great kid, great leader.”

Wright is such a track newbie that he had never even competed in a preliminary race until Friday, running only in small meets with all-finals formats. The only events at the Elite Meet that use prelims are the girls and boys 100-meter races; 18 runners qualify and the top nine advance through prelims to the final.

Two springs ago, Goebel sent Cal an email. "I said, ‘Hey, you’re not going out for a sport this spring. This is what I think you can do.’ Winning the Elite Meet was not in there, but I told him, ‘I think you could go to state, I think you could be all-conference, I think this could be a sport for you.’ ”

The coach was correct.

“Track is amazing,” Wright said. “It’s a team sport yet it’s individual, as well. You can worry about yourself but you’ve got to put the team first. It’s a great experience.

“These are the fastest runners in the state at every position. It’s great competition, it’ll make each and every one of us better. It’s great to compete against these guys.”

--To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Girls Winners

100/ Shaliciah Jones, North St. Paul
200/ Kendra Kelley, Cloquet
400/ Claire Howell, Moorhead
800/ Emily Kompelien, Edina
1,600/ Emily Kompelien, Edina
3,200/ Emily Covert, Minneapolis Washburn
100 hurdles/ Shae Buchman, Rosemount
300 hurdles/ Natalie Windels, Eagan
4x100/ North St. Paul (Brianna Bixby, Shaliciah Jones, Jebeh Cooke, J'Ianna Cager)
4x200/ Minnetonka (Ashley Shields, Olivia O'Brien, Faith Robinson, Emma Harrison)
4x400/ Anoka (Aidan Senior, Sydney Paulson, Noelle Josephson, Taylor Krone)
4x800/ Minnetonka (Annalise Johnson, Grace Hoelscher, Elizabeth Halbmaier, Kylie Melz)
High jump/ Madison Schmidt, Blaine
Pole vault/ Julia Fixsen, Mounds View
Long jump/ Robbie Grace, Blake
Triple jump/ Allyson Weiss, East Ridge
Shot put/ Allison Lardy, Fairmont
Discus/ Cayle Hovland, Willmar

Boys Winners
100/ Keylan Jackson, St. Paul Johnson
200/ Joe Fahnbulleh, Hopkins
400/ Cal Wright, Mora
800/ John Starkey, Chaska
1,600/ Addison Stansbury, Stillwater
3,200/ Maxwell Manley, Edina
110 hurdles/ Jonathan Mann, Rosemount
300 hurdles/ Tyler Sealock, Osseo
4x100/ Hopkins (Tyrone Bennett, George Jackson, King Allah, Joe Fahnbulleh)
4x200/ Hopkins (King Allah, Jaylen Champion, Sam Leervig, Joe Fahnbulleh)
4x400/ Mounds View (Jared Herbert, Micah Smith, Josh Sampson, Lukas Hessini)
4x800/ Stillwater (John Degonda, Dylan Olson, Braden Hilde, Isaac Krahn)
High jump/ Xavier Thurman, St. Michael-Albertville
Long jump/ Martin LaFond, Perham
Pole vault/ Calvin Ciganik, Mounds View
Triple jump/ Ian Fosdick, Mahtomedi
Shot put/ Samuel Moore, Bertha-Hewitt
Discus/ Mitchell Weber, St. Clair
Class 2A Boys Tennis Rankings4/26/2018
1 Blake
2 Rochester Century
3 Edina
4 Wayzata
5 Rochester Mayo
6 Minneapolis Washburn
7 Orono
8 Mounds View
9 Minnetonka
10 East Ridge

1 Sebastian Vile, Rochester Mayo
2 Maxim Zagrebelny, Eagan
3 Jack Barker, Blake
4 Nick Aney, Rochester Century
5 Gavin Young, Eastview
6 Conner Olsen, Orono
7 Varun Iyer, Rochester Century
8 Ben Wheaton, Minnetonka
9 Petro Alex, Mounds View
10 Ian Altenburg, Chaska
Class 1A Boys Tennis Rankings4/26/2018
1 Rochester Lourdes
2 St. Paul Academy
3 St. Peter
4 Breck
5 Mound Westonka
6 Litchfield
7 Virginia
8 St. James
9 Luverne
10 Holy Family Catholic

1 Parker Law, Mounds Park
2 Logan Couillard, Minneapolis Edison
3 Drew Elofson, St. Peter
4 Max Soll, SPA
5 Rafat Solaiman, St. Peter
6 Eric Chestolowski, Rochester Lourdes
7 Jake Seitz, Virginia
8 Kevin Turlington, Rochester Lourdes
9 Victor Nelson, Mound Westonka
10 Clayton Haberman, Breck
The Day Spring Finally Arrived In Minnesota4/23/2018
Jef Winterlin had a nightmare. The girls track coach at Burnsville High School – like everyone involved in spring sports, haunted by the extended Minnesota winter -- woke up Monday morning thinking, “Did it snow?”

He quickly realized that the ground was clear, the sun was shining and his team would be able to actually compete outdoors later in the day. He thought, “Hey it didn’t snow! We have a meet!”

It’s been that kind of winter. Teams in MSHSL outdoor spring sports (track, golf, baseball, softball, lacrosse and boys tennis) have been cooped up in gymnasiums and other tight quarters, waiting for spring to arrive. Monday was the big day, at least in the Twin Cities area, with snow that caused schools to close a week earlier having melted and given way to bright sunshine and temperatures casting furtive glances at 70 degrees.

The Burnsville girls and boys track teams joined with teams from Lakeville North and Shakopee for a meet at Vaughan Field in Shakopee that began at 4 p.m.

“Oh, it’s been just terrible, fighting with all the other sports for two inches of gym space,” Winterlin said. “We’ve been lucky, we’ve truly got the best kiddos ever, they have great attitudes. But it’s been rough.”

Earlier Monday, the baseball teams from Centennial and Spring Lake Park kicked off their season with a game at the University of Minnesota’s Siebert Field. There was a pile of snow beyond the left field fence, but the playing surface is artificial turf other than home plate and the pitcher’s mound. The game began at 10 a.m. and the Cougars and Panthers had a grand time.

A year ago, Centennial played its first game on April 7 and Spring Lake Park did the same on April 11.

“It was great. I had a great time out here,” said Spring Lake Park senior Mickey Zeller after Centennial defeated the Panthers 6-1. “We’d been in a gym the past three weeks. That was tough.”

Senior teammate John Carlson said working out indoors “was kind of a grind. It was a little hard to keep the guys motivated, but when coach told us we had a game scheduled here, we were fired up right away.”

No admission was charged at Siebert Field and there were no concessions, no stadium announcer, no music and the scoreboard was not used. None of that diminished from the fact that the game was played outdoors, where fans in shorts and t-shirts basked in the sun.

The track meet at Shakopee was the first or second of the season for the teams involved. Lots of athletes got to participate, with multiple relay teams from the same school competing at times. And the best news was that no one was dressed in multiple layers.

“The weather today? There are no clouds in the sky, it’s really clear, it’s a little bit windy,” said Lakeville North freshman Karyn Senne. “The sun’s out and shining and the UV index is 6, which means you can get tan. And it’s warm. It’s the perfect temperature for track.”

Ilsa Khawaja, a Lakeville North sophomore, was just like everyone who was able to compete outdoors Monday: Grateful.

“It’s really crowded and hot in the gym, so it feels good to be outside,” she said. “We did the same thing every day, and we were sprinting through our school hallways and the carpet is slippery.”

With a promising weather forecast, there were lots of smiles Monday. Coaches, athletes and officials joked about the winter that never wanted to end. There will be stories to tell for a long time.

“One day we were supposed to do Feed My Starving Children,” said Centennial junior Dalton McManamara, referring to an organization that uses volunteer groups to pack meals formulated for malnourished children around the world.

“But that day we had a huge snowstorm so that got called off.”

--To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Molly's Game: Eastview Coach Is A Multisport Female Role Model 4/19/2018
Molly Kasper is a young coach with an impressive resume. In her three years as the head girls basketball coach at Eastview High School, the Lightning have an overall record of 84-12 with back-to-back third-place finishes at the Class 4A state tournament before going 32-0 and winning the state title this year.

Kasper is in her second season as Eastview’s softball coach, making her a rarity among coaches at the state’s biggest schools: the head coach of two vastly different sports in back-to-back seasons. The 31-year-old and her husband Derek also have a two-year-old daughter and another daughter due in July.

Two coaching positions, full-time teaching, a young family and a pregnancy in the middle of it all? Molly’s life is a swirl of school and practice and daycare and family time, but one of her most important roles is quieter, more behind the scenes and crucial to the young athletes in her care.

Kasper is a role model not only as a multisport coach, but as a female who encourages her athletes to maximize their potential on and off the court and the field, to know their full worth and to support each other.

“It is pretty important to me,” said the native of Eau Claire, Wis., who played three sports in high school and basketball at Winona State. “I got to grow up being a multisport athlete, and it helped me with the mental health of being an athlete and being able to play different sports. It also helped me as a competitor and helped me as a teammate. It helped me so much.”

In basketball and softball, Kasper followed Eastview head coaches who stepped down to watch their kids play in college. Melissa Guebert (basketball) and Trevor Monroe (softball) both led their teams to recent state championships. If Kasper was intimidated by following in their footsteps, it never showed.

“When we did the first interviews about basketball, literally within five minutes you knew this is a person who gets it on every level,” said Eastview athletic director Matt Percival (who also has coached the Lightning to a state softball title). “The thing about her is that she has always, always, always been about the kids first and whatever she can do to help develop them as people. She wants to be such a strong role model as a female, as a mom, as a teacher, as a multisport person. That’s been important to her from the get-go.”

Kasper likes to direct her athletes to reading materials that focus on female empowerment, and she has created a Female Leadership Program at Eastview. The program, held one day each year, gives female athletes from all Lightning sports a chance to gather for interaction, instruction, hear speakers and more. Similar programs have been started at Apple Valley, Farmington and other schools.

“She’s definitely the best female role model that I’ve had. I look up to her,” said Megan Walstad, a senior who was named Minnesota’s Miss Basketball this year. “She’s so inspiring and she wants to encourage female athletes to keep doing things and keep getting out there.”

Kasper, who was inducted into the Eau Claire North High School Hall of Fame in 2017, lettered four times each in tennis, basketball and softball and was an all-state selection in basketball and softball. She played at state tournaments in tennis and softball but not in basketball despite playing on teams with a four-year regular-season record of 60-3.

She was a four-year basketball starter and two-year team captain at Winona State (she was Molly Anderson before getting married), where she was a graduate assistant women’s basketball coach for two years. She worked as an assistant girls basketball coach at Rosemount for three years before taking over as head coach at Eastview.

Coaching in back-to-back seasons means little or no down time between sports. This year, softball practice began the week of the girls state basketball tournament. Molly attended softball tryouts on Monday and stopped in briefly on Tuesday and Wednesday. Softball was called off Thursday so the players could go to the basketball tournament.

“I had all of Sunday to technically rest and softball started Monday,” she said with a laugh. “The transition’s been a lot easier probably than in the past, because we’re stuck inside.”

Yes, the weather. Like most other spring sports teams across Minnesota, Eastview softball practices have been held in the gym, with a few games played in domes and a team outing to a bowling alley to mix things up.

Whether the sport is basketball or softball, Kasper wants to make sure her athletes have a positive experience and support each other. Both teams watch other girls sports as a group, with basketball players cheering for the softball team, softball players cheering at track meets, etc. She said that’s important for all her athletes, whether they participate in one sport or more.

“There is so much specialization,” she said. “I’m a big believer that it increases injuries, especially for female athletes.

“I was able to get the other side of athletics, which was the fun part. My mom says I was always the one on the bench with traveling teams, wondering where we would be going to dinner later. I always felt it was part of being a family. I think it’s really hard for some of the teams, where they are, with single-sport athletes. I don’t want them honed in on just one aspect of their life.

“I get it, as you get older you want to specialize. But you need to also be in the weight room and take time off from your sport. I hear girls say they lost the passion, and that’s not why we play sports. We play to keep the passion and have good experiences.”

When Eastview was looking for a new softball coach, Kasper told Percival that she had a strong background in that sport. He was initially worried that she would be overworked by coaching two sports.

“We talked a lot about it because my biggest fear was burning her out,” he said. “She just said, ‘I want to show people that I can be a mom and be a coach. If I’m going to preach to these basketball kids all the time to be a multisport kid, then I can do it, too. We’re going to promote this idea of being a multisport athlete because I can do it as a coach.’ That means something.”

Andrea Abrams, a senior basketball player, said “She’s really good at encouraging everything that we do. And if we’re having a tough time she either talks to us or she knows somebody else who we should talk to. She always knows everything. She’s an amazing person to be around.”

Senior softball player Abby Lien, who will play at Iowa and plans to become a teacher and a coach, said, “She’s really good. She sends me articles and books, talking about being a good female role model. She’s a great coach and I love her so much.”

Percival added, “How does someone that young have that much wisdom? But she clearly does. She came in with a clear vision of what she wanted all this to be about.

“She’ll talk about how much she learns from these kids that has nothing to do with the sport. It has everything to do with how you develop a relationship. She is amazing. It’s been an absolute blessing to have her in our building.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn