John's Journal
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
Class 2A Boys Tennis Rankings4/16/2018
1 Blake
2 Rochester Century
3 Edina
4 Orono
5 Wayzata
6 Rochester Mayo
7 Minneapolis Washburn
8 Mounds View
9 Minnetonka
tie 10 Eastview
tie 10 East Ridge

1 Sebastian Vile, Rochester Mayo
2 Maxim Zagrebelny, Eagan
3 Jack Barker, Blake
4 Nick Aney, Rochester Century
5 Conner Olsen, Orono
6 Gavin Young, Eastview
7 Varun Iyer, Rochester Century
8 Ben Wheaton, Minnetonka
9 Petro Alex, Mounds View
10 Ian Altenburg, Chaska
Class 1A Boys Tennis Rankings4/16/2018
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
Fergus Falls Golfers Love The Great Indoors 4/16/2018
FERGUS FALLS – During these weeks when winter refuses to loosen its frozen grip and let spring proceed with its usual array of warmth, sunshine and outdoor activities, one sport at one school is an indoor outlier amid the grumbling that’s rightfully heard all over Minnesota.

In a spot where you might least expect to see golfers swinging clubs, balls flying over green – albeit simulated – fairways and putts dropping into cups, the Fergus Falls girls and boys have been patiently prepping their skills for the day when the outdoors finally beckons. In an upstairs space at the school’s “old” gym, the Otters have an indoor golf facility that is an absolute showplace.

There are two high-tech simulator stations, where golfers tee up the ball and watch it sail into a screen, with the machinery spitting out the shot’s distance, spin and other assorted NASA-style feedback. There is a large putting green with multiple cups, as well as fake-grass mats for chipping. There are comfortable couches and a large-screen TV, with messaging on the walls denoting Otters who have played at state tournaments as well as gracious, community-minded donors who made the place possible at a price approaching $100,000 (and zero cost to the school district).

“We obviously really would like to be outside, because that’s where you get the best practice,” said girls team member Sydney Thacker. “But we love it in here and we’re fortunate that we have it.”

Golf teams across Minnesota began practicing on March 19. Here we are almost a month later and about the only golfing activity outdoors anywhere in the state has meant hitting orange balls into snowbanks or across frozen lakes. But not in Fergus Falls, where the facility opened in 2014.

“The beautiful part is, neither the boys or girls have missed a practice this year,” said girls coach Ben Jurgens. “Everybody gets the opportunity to hit balls, putt and chip. The last two springs, our local course opened in mid-March. There are plenty of days when it’s rainy and cold, and on those days we don’t have to cancel practice.”

This spring, of course, every practice has been indoors, with the girls and boys teams working out in alternating shifts after school. There are 16 boys and 23 girls, and rotating everyone through the simulators, putting and chipping areas takes some patience and organization.

“We’ve been practicing in here for more than three weeks already,” said Otters boys coach Matt McGovern. “We have kids who literally have gone from not being able to hit the golf ball, and now they’re hitting it in the air, they’re getting it on 120-yard par-3s. It’s just an enormous advantage for us because otherwise we’d be sitting inside. And we have kids who are in midseason form.”

The entire space, from the entry doors to the walls and ceilings (even overhead pipes), is festooned in the school colors of maroon and gold. A sign above the main door says, “Good is the enemy of great.” The Otter Golf Wall of Champions, listing every state participant, begins with Roy Spilman in 1938 and continues through the years to 2017, when current players Nate Longtin and Aaron Shelstad went to state.

The Fergus Falls golfers have heard from friends at other schools who have, not surprisingly, expressed some measure of envy at the Otters’ indoor palace.

“They just say they want to get in here and they think about getting one of these,” Shelstad said. “The biggest thing is money, it takes a lot of money to get this. We’re blessed to have the donors, they put a lot of money into this. Thanks to them.”

High on one wall is this statement: “Otter Golf: Family, Faith, Academics, Integrity. Discipline & Determination.” Another message reads: “Humble in victory, gracious in defeat.”

Jurgens said Bob Albers, golf coach at St. John’s University, toured the facility when the university was planning its own indoor golf center and said, “This is what we want.” Jurgens sent video of the facility to University of Minnesota men’s golf coach John Carlson “and he couldn’t believe what we had.”

The space – which in past years has been used by gymnasts and wrestlers at different times -- is reserved solely for students in the school district, no matter the age. Outside of the golf season, students can use the facility when they are accompanied by an adult.

The ultimate payoff of having the facility is this spring, when frustration at the weather is common everywhere.

“It puts us ahead of the competition, especially being in northern Minnesota with the snow,” Longtin said. “Last year we were outside on March 14, so we only spent a week, a week and a half up here. We’re in here for probably two months this year and everybody else is hitting into nets and putting on gym floors. We can see distances, side spins and hit putts with a little break. It puts us way ahead of everybody else.”

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

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn