John's Journal
Maggie Ewen: From Minnesota To A National Championship 6/25/2018
On a spring day in 2013, I sat down in a classroom to interview an athlete who was nearing the end of an illustrious high school career. Maggie Ewen was a senior at St. Francis who a few weeks later would capture her fourth big-school state championship in the shot put and her third title in the discus.

The resulting story began with these words …

At least one more inch. That’s all Maggie Ewen thinks about when she steps into the discus or shot put circle. The St. Francis High School senior is not focused on state records or national records or her college career or the Olympics. Just one more inch. That’s it.

“For me, throwing is not about winning the meet, it’s about doing better than I’ve ever done,” she said. “I just want to do better than I did before, even if it’s an inch.”

On Sunday afternoon at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa, Maggie and I held another interview session. A lot has changed since that day five years ago, but a lot hasn’t. After making her debut as a professional athlete by winning the shot put at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships, she echoed the words she spoke as a high school senior.

“The goal always is to just throw farther,” she said. “If that gets me a title, if that gets me a record, that’s just kind of bonus on top of everything. I’m really just here to try and throw farther.”

From St. Francis, Ewen went to Arizona State University. Adding the hammer throw to her discus and shot put repertoire, she won seven Pac-12 Conference titles and four NCAA championships while setting two NCAA records. She turned pro after this spring’s NCAA championships (and graduating with a degree in exercise and wellness) and signed a sponsorship deal with Nike. She opened the USATF meet by finishing second in the women’s discus on Thursday. Then came two days of waiting and preparing for Sunday’s

Her pro shot put debut was quite a scene. Her cheering section included parents Bruce and Kristi Ewen, aunts and uncles, high school throwing coach Mark Hanson, and even one of her elementary teachers. Kristi yelled, “Go Maggie!” as her daughter stepped into the circle.

There was plenty of drama involved. Maggie’s opening throw of 58 feet, 10 1/4 inches put her in fourth place after the first of six rounds. She threw 62-7 ¾ in the second round and fouled in the third. At that point the leading throw was 63-1 ¼ by Jessica Ramsey and Ewen’s 62-7 ¾ put her in second place.

Her fourth throw was 60-11 and then came the big one. Maggie’s penultimate attempt flew 63 feet, 3 ½ inches, the best throw of the day at that point. Her celebration was muted, little more than a couple of clenched fists at waist level.

“It was far but I didn’t know how far,” she said later. “I was happy but I still needed to wait and see what it would do for me.”

Ewen threw 61-5 ¾ on her last attempt, and then came the waiting game as the other throwers took their final shots. Ramsey had the last throw of the competition and one more chance to overtake Ewen. Ramsey whirled in the circle, the ball sailed high out of her hand … and she stepped over the toe board for a foul.

The St. Francis contingent exploded in cheers and hugs as Maggie’s national championship was clinched.

This was quite an accomplishment for a young woman who has always been known for her work ethic and calm demeanor. She comes from an athletic family. Bruce was a thrower at Illinois State who participated at the 1988 Olympic trials in the hammer. Kristi played volleyball at Columbia Heights and Ohio State. Maggie’s older sister Alicia played volleyball at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. Alicia also was a track and field athlete and Maggie played volleyball in high school.

“When Maggie was a sixth-grader she watched her sister throw and she was writing down all the distances,” Hanson told me for that 2013 story.

“One of the fondest memories I have is when she was an eighth-grader at state; she was practicing and she went through at least 40 dry runs without a discus in her hand all by herself. To see that drive in her, that young, was amazing.”

That drive to succeed has taken Maggie to great heights. Her Minnesota state records in the shot put (54-8 ½) and discus (175-9) still stand, and her next competition will be the Athletics World Cup in London in mid-July.

As a professional athlete who for the first time in her life isn’t competing as a member of a team, Maggie said she felt very few nerves at the USATF championships.

“Honestly, I felt super relaxed,” she said. “Just being able to represent myself pretty much, not have to worry about a whole team that I need to represent and support, just to go out there and have fun. It was really low stress, a lot of good energy, and that’s how I like to compete.”

Maggie’s Twitter profile page includes these three notations…

“Arizona State … Track and field … Minnesota Pride”

Well done.

Other Minnesotans At USATF Championships

Three Minnesotans competed in the men’s 10,000 meters, with Hopkins grad Reed Fischer finishing fourth on the same track where he competed as an athlete at Drake. Winona alum Garrett Heath was fifth and White Bear Lake grad Joel Reichow placed 12th in the field of 23.

Fridley High School and Gophers graduate Harun Abda advanced through the first round in the men’s 800 meters but did not finish high enough in the semifinal round to qualify for the finals.

In the men’s 1,500 meters, Minneapolis South and University of Minnesota alum Hassan Mead did not advance past the prelims. Another former Gopher, Stillwater graduate Ben Blankenship, was entered in the 1,500 but withdrew before the prelims. Both Mead and Blankenship ran the 1,500 at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Mead also ran the 5,000 meters at the USTFA meet, as did Hopkins and University of Colorado runner Joe Klecker. Mead finished third and Klecker was ninth in a field of 21 runners.

In the men’s steeplechase, Mounds Park Academy and University of Michigan graduate Mason Ferlic ran in the prelims but did not advance to the finals.

Molli Detloff, an Elk River High School alum who this spring finished her career at the University of North Dakota, finished 10th in the hammer. Rosemount High School grad and current North Dakota State athlete Payton Otterdahl placed 15th in the shot put.

Two Minnesota natives competed in the heptathlon. Willmar and University of North Dakota alum Rose Jackson placed 13th and Shaina Burns of Lakeville South and Texas A&M finished 14th.

In the men’s long jump, Staples-Motley alum Brian Huber, the NCAA Division III national champion for Minnesota State Moorhead this spring, placed 15th.

Several University of Minnesota track athletes who did not attend high school in Minnesota also competed in Des Moines. Among them was Emma Spagnola, who did not advance past the semifinals in the women’s 400-meter hurdles. Another Gopher, Madeline Strandemo, a Fargo, N.D, native, competed in the women’s steeplechase but did not advance to the final round. Former Gopher Sean Donnelly, a native of Ohio, finished third in the men’s hammer.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Vaulting From Mounds View To Finland6/20/2018
One of the most dominant high school athletes in Minnesota, who has been previously profiled on John’s Journal, made a splash on the national scene over the weekend and is now headed to an international competition.

Julia Fixsen, who will be a senior at Mounds View High School in the fall, has had quite a spring in the pole vault. She broke the girls state record in an early-season indoor meet with a distance of 13 feet, 9 inches and then topped that mark with a height of 13-9 ¼ earlier this month in winning the Class 2A state title for the second year in a row.

Julia competed Sunday at the USA Track & Field Junior Outdoor Championships in Bloomington, Indiana, and she once again extended her state record by clearing 13-11 1/4 while placing second. The athletes who finished first and third were collegians from Virginia Tech and Michigan State who are two years older than Julia.

Her high finish earned her a spot on the U.S. team that will compete at the world junior championships July 10-15 in Tampere, Finland (the event is officially known as the International Association of Athletics Federation World U20 Championships).

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Great Teams (With A Turf Assist) Get The Job Done 6/18/2018
Championship games in the state baseball tournament were whipsawed by the weather, turning what was scheduled to be a one-day festival at Target Field into a double-rain-delayed slate of four games held in separate sessions two days apart. Such is life with spring sports in Minnesota, as least this year.

The baseball teams that met Monday afternoon in the final game of the season -- from Minnetonka and Stillwater in Class 4A – were like every other spring sports team in 2018 … snowed out and frozen out early in the season. But the Skippers and Ponies were able to take advantage of something that many schools don’t have: artificial turf.

Stillwater capped the season with a 4-0 victory Monday in a game that was rescheduled after rain on Saturday pushed back the start of play for nearly four and a half hours. The Class 1A, 2A and 3A games were completed Saturday.

The weather wasn’t perfect Monday, either, with rain delaying the start of the game for 22 minutes. At the end of it all, however, both teams could look back to the very early days of the season and the advantage of turf on their campuses.

Minnetonka has one of the busiest baseball diamonds in the state. Their 12-year-old facility, which has turf covering every inch, was used for three dozen high school games this spring that did not involve the Skippers. Minnetonka’s first three scheduled games of the season were wiped out by weather and they played their first home game on April 11, followed by two more postponed home games.

Stillwater’s first game, scheduled for April 5, was postponed as were the next seven dates. The Ponies finally played their opener on April 25.

Once snow was cleared from the Minnetonka field, the Skippers were able to be outside to work out. And while Stillwater doesn’t have a turf baseball field, the school has four turf football/soccer/lacrosse fields, and the baseball team took advantage of it.

Bottom line: while most teams were hitting, throwing and catching in gymnasiums and other indoor spaces, the teams that finished the season playing for the state championship were outdoors.

“We did have two scrimmages on the turf,” said Stillwater coach Mike Parker. “I think having a turf field to practice on is great. We couldn’t play games early but we were able to use it for practice, everybody was able to go outside and relieve some of that cabin fever.”

And for both teams, there was a flurry of games with little time to practice once the weather (and all the fields) cleared.

March 19 was the first day baseball teams could practice this season (following a week of conditioning that began on March 12). Minnetonka coach Paul Twenge said his team’s first outdoor practice was held on March 26 or 27.

“Then we got the snow in April, so you just push the snow off to the side,” he said. “Once it’s exposed (the turf) dries out. We had 18-20 inches of snow sitting on that thing and we were able to move it along. The field’s been great.”

There was another key component of Stillwater’s successful season.

“We were able to have a week in Florida, which was nice,” Parker said after the championship game. “If we hadn’t gotten down there, I think it would have been real tough for us.”

Gilbert Goes Distance, Strikes Out 15

Stillwater junior lefthander Drew Gilbert was the star on the mound in the championship game, giving up just three hits while striking out 15 and walking two. He fanned the first six Minnetonka hitters and 10 of the first 12 Skippers outs came on strikeouts as Stillwater won its first state baseball title since 1991.

Jack Hanson had a single and double for Minnetonka and Mason Nadolny singled. Stillwater had only four hits: two by by Mason Schwerzer and one each by Gilbert and Luke Simcik. The game was scoreless until the fourth inning when singles by Gilbert and Schwerzer, coupled with a fielder’s choice and Minnetonka error, saw two runs cross. In the sixth, a hit batter and single by Schwerzer was followed by two errors to make it 4-0.

Stillwater, which finished the season with 20 straight wins, had opened the season with two losses.

“You start 0-2 and it exposes you,” Parker said. “If you don’t play well, if you don’t get better each day you’re going to be in trouble. And playing game after game and not having practices was a good thing. It was easy to just kind of rally each day, and the guys love playing baseball.

“We were able to kind of learn from our mistakes as we went. I think our kids were really receptive to the coaching. It’s been quite the ride.”

--The baseball championship was Stillwater’s fifth state title of 2017-18, with all coming during the winter and spring season. The Ponies were state champs in gymnastics, girls Nordic skiing, girls Alpine skiing, softball and baseball.

Class 4A All-Tournament team: Charles Engdahl, Wayzata; Collin Denk, Lakeville North; Connor Melton, Seth Miller, Blaine; Alex Wilde, Paxton Thompson, St. Michael-Albertville; Mason Nadolney, Nick Thimsen, Andy Andresen, Minnetonka; Andrew Gilbert, Cody Venske, Will Frisch, Stillwater.

State Baseball Tournament

Championship Games

Class 1A

Heritage Christian 8, Sleepy Eye 0

Class 2A
Maple Lake 8, Duluth Marshall 4

Class 3A
Mahtomedi 5, Rocori 1

Class 4A
Stillwater 4, Minnetonka 0

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
History Has Been Made At Norman County West 6/16/2018
Verdis Barber has a unique distinction, one that he really doesn’t care to have and that no one from his school or community wants to see. But the truth is that Verdis made history this spring as the last athlete to ever compete for the Panthers of Norman County West High School.

The high school, located in Halstad in northwest Minnesota, closed its doors for good when the school year ended. A kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school will remain in Halstad, with most of the students in grades six through 12 attending Ada-Borup in the fall.

Norman County West had a high school enrollment of 67 students in 2017-18. There has been a high school in Halstad for generations, and it has been called Norman County West since 1982.

“It’s been an amazing, weird, kind of head-scratcher of a year,” said athletic director McKeag Borne.

With one exception, all the Panthers athletes competed on cooperative teams with Ada-Borup during 2017-18. The exception was boys basketball, where the Panthers finished 6-18.
Barber (pictured) was a member of the cooperative football team, the NCW basketball team and this spring he was part of the cooperative track and field team.

His historic designation came in the preliminaries of the Class 1A state track meet, where he ran a leg on the 4x100-meter relay team. He and Ada-Borup students Brady Borgen, Vitor Vac Bitu Alves and Zach Pelzman did not advance to the finals.

“We’re pretty happy,” said Verdis, a sophomore. “One of our handoffs wasn’t the greatest.”

No decision to close a school is taken lightly. The NCW school board made that decision in January and not everyone was happy.

“I think they saw the writing on the wall for quite some time,” Borne said. “It was still pretty difficult and there were still people trying to find some way to fight it.”

One of the highlights of the school year was the performance of the Ada-Borup/Norman County West football team. The first-year cooperative squad finished with a record of 12-1, losing to Wabasso 21-13 in the Class 1A semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Soon after that game, the football players who played basketball put on different uniforms, depending on where they went to school. In early December, Ada-Borup defeated Norman County West 55-40 in Halstad.

“It was kind of weird,” Verdis said. “It was like, ‘Wow, we just played football with these guys.’ I guess it made it more of a competitive game, knowing the other team so well.”

The last home sporting event for an NCW-only team was a boys basketball game against Rothsay in February. The Panthers lost 64-62 on an emotion-filled day. The final game of the final season ended with a loss to Badger/Greenbush-Middle River in the Class 1A Section 8

“That was a fun game and an important game,” Barber said of the Rothsay game. “But I’d say it wasn’t as emotional as our last home game.”

Injuries limited the available players on the boys basketball team and led to the cancellation of some junior-varsity games.

“The parents and kids really wanted to have that last season and do their best,” Borne said. “They fought really hard and they kind of defined their own success. At the basketball banquet, it was pretty special hearing the kids talk about how proud they were of being part of the last season.”

With two years of high school remaining, Verdis expressed feelings that a lot of people at Norman County West have shared.

“How I felt about it was disappointing, but we’ve been trying to make the most of the last year,” he said.

When football practice, and then school, starts in the fall, Verdis will be an Ada-Borup Cougar.

“It’s an 11-mile drive from my house to Ada,” he said. “It’s not like a total haul.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Halvorsen’s Heroics Help Heritage Christian Win State Title 6/16/2018
Earlier this month, Seth Halvorsen was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 30th round of the major league baseball draft. The just-graduated senior from Heritage Christian Academy in Maple Grove has signed a letter of intent with the University of Missouri, however, and is expected to play college baseball.

After the show he put on Saturday in the Class 1A state championship game at Target Field, the Twins may wish they had taken Halvorsen in an earlier round.

All Halvorsen accomplished with a bat in his hand was this: Two home runs, four runs scored, four runs-batted-in and three hits. On the mound he pitched a complete-game five-hitter, walking two and striking out 16.

He is the fifth player in the 72-year history of the state baseball tournament to homer twice in one game, and the first to do so at Target Field. (The others were Scott Kunz, Pine Island, 1992; Josiah Hagermann, Howard Lake-Waverly, 2003; John Kalmi, Nashwauk-Keewatin, 2004; and Hunter Dunbar, Glencoe-Silver Lake, 2007.)

His first home run, which sailed into the seats in left field, came on the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning. He homered again in the fifth, a three-run shot over the 377 sign in left-center. He finished the year with an 8-1 pitching record and 117 strikeouts in 52 innings.

Halvorsen’s heroics led the Eagles to an 8-0 victory over Sleepy Eye in a game that was delayed for 4 hours, 20 minutes by rain. The Class 2A and Class 3A games were completed later Saturday, with the Class 4A game moved to Monday at 1 p.m. at Target Field.

“Seth takes a lot of big boy hacks on first strikes, and I’ve been getting after him all year about seeing the ball travel and hitting to right-center,” Heritage Christian coach Jon Ledeboer said. “And to be honest, I’ve been waiting for a first pitch to go out.”

Seth said, “It’s a hard feeling to top, for sure, just being here at Target Field.”

Taylor Broderson, Steph Sawtelle, T.J. Guggenberger and Sam Frederickson each had two hits for Heritage Christian. For Sleepy Eye, Carter Brinkman had two hits.

Maple Lake Wins 2A Title

The baseball team from Maple Lake followed in the footsteps of the Irish softball team by winning a state championship with an 8-4 victory over Duluth Marshall. The Maple Lake softball team won the 2A crown a week earlier in North Mankato. And in the fall Maple Lake won a state volleyball championship.

After giving up three runs to the Hilltoppers in the first two innings, Maple Lake pitcher Grant Mergen held them to one more run while the Irish scored four in the third and three in the fourth. Ben Goelz had three hits for the Irish and Cole Trager and Mergen each had two as the Irish overcame three errors.

Maddux Baggs, Peter Hansen and Tyler Johnson had two hits apiece for Duluth Marshall. Mergen gave up eights hits, walked two and struck out five, throwing 105 pitches.

Mahtomedi Wins Class 3A Championship

Winning its first baseball state title, the Mahtomedi Zephyrs finished the season with 10 consecutive wins by defeating Rocori 5-1 in Saturday night’s championship game.

Mahtomedi pitcher Austin Jerylo went the distance, giving up six hits and striking out four with no walks. After giving up a double to Brady Kiehr in the first inning, Jerylo retired the next 13 hitters in a row. Both teams played errorless baseball. Jerlyo also had two hits, as did Kiehr.

Wells Fargo All-Tournament Teams

Class 1A: Jacob Plaetz, Nick Altermatt, Wabasso; Mason Lane, Joey Janke, South Ridge; Travis Yohnke, Hunter Haggenmiller, Parkers Prairie; Avery Stevens, Jacob Berg, Carter Brinkman, Sleepy Eye; Jonny Flynn, Seth Halvorsen, Taylor Brodersen, Heritage Christian.

Class 2A: Casey Storlie, Andrew Goergen, Caledonia; Nathan Leitner, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton; Joseph Linton, Minnehaha Academy; Ryan Friedges, Michael Lambrecht, Jordan; Peter Hansen, Carter Sullivan, Ben Pedersen, Duluth Marshall; Grant Mergen, Cole Trager, Ben Goelz, Maple Lake.

Class 3A: Seth Yeatman, Teddy Lillico, Red Wing; Brock Anderson, Alexandria; Tyler Roufs, Hunter Ranweiler, Andrew Peters, New Ulm; Mason Primus, Brandon Gill, Jack Steil, Rocori; Leo Bustos, Austin Jerylo, Jamie Berg, Mahtomedi.

State Baseball Tournament

Championship Games
Saturday at Target Field

Class 1A

Heritage Christian 8, Sleepy Eye 0

Class 2A
Maple Lake 8, Duluth Marshall 4

Class 3A
Mahtomedi 5, Rocori 1

Monday’s Game

Class 4A

Minnetonka vs. Stillwater, 1 p.m.

State Lacrosse Tournament

Saturday’s Championship Games
At Chanhassen High School


Apple Valley 11, Eden Prairie 10

Prior Lake 10, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 8

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn