John's Journal
Pole Vault High: Mounds View Duo Leads The Way5/1/2018
During the boys and girls pole vault competitions at last week’s Hamline Elite Meet, there was no surprise in the fact that the top finishers hail from the same high school. As the bar was raised higher and higher and competitors fell by the wayside, junior Julia Fixsen and senior Calvin Ciganik – both wearing the uniform of the Mounds View Mustangs – rose to the top.

That is not a new thing. Fixsen and Ciganik are the best of the best in Minnesota high school pole vaulting, hailing from one of the sport’s traditional track and field powers. The Mustangs have separate coaching staffs for the girls and boys teams, and the pole vaulters have separate pits for workouts and meets at Mustang Stadium.

“The environment of pole vault, the community, that’s the most attractive thing,” Fixsen said. “You don’t want to do sports just to be good, I want to have fun with it.”

Fixsen and Ciganik each own one state championship and one runner-up finish. Fixsen also is the newly-minted holder of the girls state record while Ciganik is hoping to break the boys record before the season ends. To say they aim high is an understatement.

Fixsen set the state record on March 31 during an indoor meet at the University of Minnesota. She cleared 13 feet, 9 inches, topping the previous record of 13-7¼ set by Rochester Century’s Andrianna Jacobs in 2015.

The boys state record of 16-1¼ was set by Blake’s Grant Krieger in 2013. Ciganik cleared 16 feet at a non-high school competition in February; his best during the MSHSL season is 15-8 last week at the Elite Meet. Fixsen cleared 13-2 to win the girls event. Both had margins of 16 inches over the Elite Meet runners-ups.

They both came to pole vaulting after focusing on other sports. Fixsen was a high-level youth gymnast, while Ciganik focused on wrestling as a kid and played football through his junior season. Both began pole vaulting in eighth grade.

Ciganik cleared 8 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault as an eighth-grader, and he was hooked right away. “I just fell in love with it,” he said.

Ciganek and Fixsen combine for five trips to the state meet. Fixsen won the Class 2A championship as a sophomore last season, clearing 11 feet, 6 inches. As a freshman she cleared 13 feet at state and placed second behind senior and four-time champion Jacobs. Fixsen first went to state as an eighth-grader, finishing ninth. Ciganik was the 2A boys champ as a sophomore two years ago and was the state runner-up last year.

Fixsen is looking to top 14 feet this spring and Ciganik would like to clear 16-plus and set a state record. But for both of them, how hard they work is more important than how high they fly.

“There are a lot of things in the pole vault that you can work on,” said Fixsen, “including run, jump, takeoff, swing and turn, and a lot more even within that.”

Ciganik said, “Last year I set goals for 16-plus and that’s kind of gotten me nowhere. I don’t really want to chase numbers this year, I just want to be the best version of myself and the numbers will follow. I want to continue the tradition of Mounds View pole vault, those are my goals.”

Training in gymnastics and wrestling has been valuable for both athletes. Matt Fleigle, who coaches Fixsen and Mounds View’s other female pole vaulters, said, “Sports like gymnastics give that kinesthetic awareness of where you are in space, and having that built up before high school made the transition to pole vaulting so much easier for her.”

Fixsen is 5 feet, 10 inches tall and Ciganik stands 6-2. Both combine speed, strength and quickness to sail high and twist their bodies over the bar.
“I was a gymnast originally so I liked going upside down,” Julia said. “I liked flipping and defying gravity. The first day, it was familiar to me because of the gymnastics skills and my background.”

Fixsen cleared 13-6 in her first meet this spring, an indoor competition at Bethel University. When she went 13-9 to set the state record, there was plenty of excitement but no one was too surprised.

“I’m expecting to jump at least 14 feet this year,” she said. “It’s just another big step in the right direction, a baby step to where I want to be this year.

“Visualization is key for me, seeing myself go over the bar. And talking positively to myself and to others around me. I want to be talking and thinking positively. That’s simple and it’s very beneficial.”

As a junior, Fixsen is thinking about college but has made no decisions. Ciganik will be a pole vaulter at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs next season. He cleared 16 feet there in February and felt right at home.

“Their pole vaulting is just unbelievable out there,” he said. “And I looked into the benefits, from finances to after you graduate you have a job, no debt. I can’t wait.”

Five weeks remain in the Minnesota high school season, which will end with the state championships June 8-9 at Hamline. Between now and then, the gravity-defying Mounds View duo will keep aiming high.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
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