John's Journal
New Coach, Same Intensity At DeLaSalle 12/4/2017
During the first half of the DeLaSalle boys basketball team’s season opener on Saturday, the coach of the top-ranked team in Class 3A crouched low on the sideline and hollered at his players: “Get on the floor! Get on the floor!”

For the past 23 years, the booming voice on the bench belonged to Dave Thorson, who led the Islanders to nine state championships, including the last six in a row. Thorson departed after last season to become an assistant coach at Drake University, and the new man in charge is Travis Bledsoe, 30, who played for Thorson at DeLaSalle.

“Trav’s an Islander and I love him and he’s my guy. He’s awesome,” Thorson said in a phone interview the day after DeLaSalle lost to Iowa City West 65-62 in the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic at Hopkins High School. Thorson and the Drake Bulldogs had just returned home to Des Moines, Iowa, after a double-overtime loss at Wyoming on Saturday, but Thorson remains plugged into his former team.

“There’s no better guy to lead that program than Travis,” Thorson said. “I’m excited for him.”

Bledsoe, a 2005 DeLaSalle graduate, was a first-team all-state player and Mr. Basketball finalist before playing at the University of North Dakota, where he was a team captain. He was the head coach at Centennial for the last three years; his teams had a record of 39-43.

Like everyone else, Bledsoe was stunned when his former coach left DeLaSalle.

“I didn’t believe it. I never thought he was going to leave,” Bledsoe said. “I got a phone call from Dave and he told me the situation. He kind of tapped me on the shoulder and told me I would be great and he would love for me to take over the program.”

DeLaSalle activities director Adam Pribyl said Bledsoe stood out in a group of outstanding candidates.

“Everyone we talked to spoke highly of Travis. He’s a strong teacher, an advocate for the individual skill development of his athletes as well as the personal and spiritual development of young men. He has himself been a stellar high school and collegiate athlete and in that context, fully understands the commitment necessary to achieve excellence.”

Taking over for a longtime successful coach can bring pressure, but Bledsoe said if there is any pressure it’s self-imposed.

“When I started coaching I set high goals. It isn’t so much pressure for me because my whole goal is to try to lead a team to a state championship. I don’t look at it the same way as everybody else. I’m kind of starting new; I’ve got a team and I’ve got an opportunity to do something special. That’s kind of what I focus on more than pressure.”

When Bledsoe talks about what he stresses with his players, it sounds exactly like the kind of teams Thorson put on the court: “It starts with being physical on defense, switching a lot, talking on D and then being patient on offense, moving the ball, screening bodies.

“I think the good thing about it is I played for coach Thorson for four years, my older brother played for him for four years, so I’ve been around the school and the tradition for about 15 strong years. That made it an easier transition to step in and understand what we need to do.”

After losing to Iowa City West, a perennial power in Iowa, the schedule doesn’t get easier for the Islanders. They will play at Hopkins, which is ranked No. 4 in Class 4A, on Saturday at 6 p.m. It will be the second game in Bledsoe’s career as DeLaSalle’s coach, and Thorson’s influence remains strong for him.

“He’s the greatest, he really is,” Bledsoe said. “He really cared about his kids. He was a mentor, a father to a lot of us, we could count on him on and off the court. He still mentors to this day. He raised me into the man I am today.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Thanks To The Miracle In Monticello, A Life Is Saved 11/28/2017
MONTICELLO – A miracle, performed by angels, took place at Monticello High School. Those words – “miracle” and “angels” – were spoken by the mother of a young man whose life was saved on a basketball court.

It was the second day of boys basketball practice for the 2017-18 season, with workouts/tryouts held before and after school. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, practice began at 6 a.m. Fifteen-year-old sophomore Ryan Monahan was involved in the first drill of the day when he fell to the court.

“I just kind of blacked out,” he said. “I felt lightheaded during a shooting drill and then I just kind of collapsed, I guess.”

The reaction was swift. Head coach Jason Schmidt, knowing that several coaches from other sports were working out in the nearby fitness center, hollered for them to come to the gym. He removed the nearest AED (automated external defibrillator) from a fieldhouse wall and handed it to head football coach Jason Telecky. Assistant boys basketball coach Bruce Balder-Lanoue was kneeling over Ryan when Telecky arrived with the AED.

“We were very fortunate that we had multiple staff members in the weight room working out,” said athletic director Gary Revenig. “One of the football assistants, our head girls basketball coach, our assistant principal; they all kind of took on a role.”

Schmidt had seen Ryan slowly collapse to the floor, falling on his midsection and face; he thought maybe Ryan hadn’t eaten or was dehydrated. “We rolled him over and knew immediately that it was serious,” Schmidt said. Ryan was somewhat conscious but “clearly out of it.”

Boys B squad basketball coach Nate Rengel called 911. Varsity assistant coach Cory Puppe started clearing the other players away, moving them behind a curtain that separates courts in the large fieldhouse. (Pictured, left to right, are Bruce Balder-Lanoue, Nate Rengel, Jason Telecky, Ryan Monahan, Jason Schmidt and Cory Puppe.)

One of Ryan’s friends had the number for Ryan’s mother, Cindy Monahan, in his phone, and Schmidt called her. Cindy’s initial reaction upon learning that her son had collapsed centered on his busy schedule. Monday had been hectic, with basketball before school, basketball after school and a band concert in the evening.

“He was in the right place,” she said. “If he had been with his friends, at a movie or something …” Her voice trailed off at the thought of what might have been.

Two staff members went outside to wait for the ambulance and guide the first responders into the fieldhouse. Balder-Lanoue and Telecky attached the AED’s pads to Ryan’s chest. Once the device is connected to a victim, it analyzes the heart rhythm and instructs the responders in what to do. When it told them to push a button that delivers a shock to the heart, Balder-Lanoue and Telecky looked at each other and realized, “We’re doing this.”

Within seconds, Ryan was back. He was confused, trying to figure out what happened, but he was fully conscious. The ambulance took him to St. Cloud Hospital, home of CentraCare Heart & Vascular Center.

“I knew what happened but I didn’t know they had shocked me when I first woke up,” said Ryan, who had no previous medical issues. “It was pretty scary.”

Cindy drove to the hospital, not waiting for her husband, John, to get dressed; but John moved quickly and wasn’t far behind her on the highway.

“It was absolutely mind-boggling,” Cindy said. “I don’t remember a lot. I remember getting in my car and getting to the hospital.”

She was relieved when she saw her oldest child.

“He was Ryan,” she said. “I looked at him and he looked at me, and he said, ‘Hey.’ He kept telling me, ‘I feel like I can get up and go.’ It’s a miracle. They’re angels.” (Pictured are Cindy, Ryan and John.)

Ryan was released from the hospital the next day, and doctors do not know what caused his heart to malfunction. He will undergo genetic testing and see specialists as they try to pinpoint the issue. In the meantime, he is not allowed to play basketball or do anything physical; although Schmidt told him he is more than welcome to be with the team at any time in any other role he wants to fill.

The Minnesota State High School League requires that all coaches fulfill Coaches Education Requirements (CER), including AED training. All the Monticello coaches in the building that day had done so. A few days earlier, Revenig had reminded Balder-Lanoue that he needed to complete the AED training or he would not be allowed to coach. Balder-Lanoue did so on Sunday.

“He told me Tuesday that because of the CER, everything was fresh in his mind,” Revenig said. “All that saved this young man’s life.”

Schools are encouraged to discuss and practice Emergency Action Plans, and in some cases individual teams will do the same. The Monticello staff members had done so, and everyone jumped in to action.

“When you put this plan together, you know you can’t do everything yourself,” Schmidt said. “Fortunately, we had all those people there. No one in the gym had used an AED in the past. We had done our training, and probably like everyone else you assume you’re never going to have to use it. And then you do.”

He added, “You do the training and maybe you kind of do it with a halfhearted mentality, thinking, ‘When will I have to do this?’ You get educated, and then it happens. Right now you could ask my captains, ‘How many AEDs are in the building?’ Before this they knew where two of them were but now they know where all of them are. What’s the plan if a referee goes down? We’ve talked about these things.”

The first responders and doctors at St. Cloud Hospital said the same thing: Ryan is alive because of the people who were prepared for such an emergency.

AEDs and emergency training are not required for high school coaches in all states. The Monahans are very thankful for the work the MSHSL has done in these areas and how their school administrators and coaches have embraced it.

“John’s brother-in-law in Colorado is a baseball coach and he’s never been trained on it,” Cindy said. “We want to get the word out. Ryan is a success story of why schools have these.”

Schmidt, who has also talked to friends who coach in other states, said, “What I’m coming to learn from talking to people is that this (AED training and use) isn’t even on their radar. That blows my mind. How can we start getting this on everyone’s radar? How in this world of technology are people not aware of this?”

Ryan collapsed on the last day of school before Thanksgiving break. His parents brought him to school after classes ended the following Monday so he could see his friends and his parents could thank everyone for saving their son’s life.

Cindy and John hugged all the staff members who helped out. John noticed the spot where the AED had hung for years and said, “I’ve walked past that thing a thousand times and I always thought it was for old people.”

The next day, John issued a series of Twitter messages thanking those who rescued Ryan. One of them read: “If your child plays sports, make sure your coaches know where the nearest AED is and they know how to use it. My son is alive today because our school was prepared and we had fine men on watch at that time.”

Thanksgiving was very special for the Monahans this year.

“We’re grateful to the school, we’re grateful to the staff, we’re grateful that everybody did what they were supposed to do,” Cindy said. “We have our son because of what they did. It’s amazing. It was a good Thanksgiving.”

One more thing: The nickname of the Monticello High School teams? They’re the Magic.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
From Beginning To End, Football Is A Special Season 11/25/2017
As the final day of the 2017 football season progressed Saturday with Prep Bowl games at U.S. Bank Stadium, I went back to the beginning. I found my notes from Aug. 24 and 25, when the first games of the season were played. Aug. 24 was a Thursday and there was one game in the state that evening: Virginia at International Falls. Five games were played the next night, and I was in Ada to see the Ada-Borup/Norman County West Cougars host Polk County West.

Looking through my notes and quotes from those games, there were a lot of similarities with what I saw and heard over Prep Bowl weekend. Coaches and players talked about how important it was to be part of a team, about working together to set goals and try to attain them.

After Virginia defeated the International Falls Broncos 29-6, Blue Devils tight end Ethan Youso, who will play college basketball at Minnesota Duluth, told me how he briefly considered skipping his senior football season to focus on basketball.

“It was tossed around a little bit, but I didn’t think about it much because I wanted to be with the team,” Ethan said. “It might have been a good decision for my basketball career, but I have to be with the team.”

Think about those words from the first day of the season and then read what Wabasso senior quarterback Nick Altermatt said on the last day of the season. Nick was talking about his classmates after the Rabbits lost to Minneota 28-13 in the Class 1A championship game.

“We’ve been playing together since fourth grade. We’ve always had a dream,” he said. “When we were seniors this was going to be the time. Win or lose, this is probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. In a week or two I’ll look back and think about playing with my friends, running out on the field and having fun. Win or lose, this was fun. This was two good teams going at it and today they were a little better than us.”

Those two similar statements were made in two very dissimilar environments. Sports Stadium in International Falls is an old-school classic from the Works Progress Administration era of the 1940s. There are four tall wooden poles on each side of the field, with banks of four big light fixtures atop each one. A couple of them had a light out on that warm evening in August, giving them the look of smiles with missing teeth.

Three months later the games were played in the big stadium in downtown Minneapolis, an absolute world-class sporting showplace that will soon host the Super Bowl. But the game is the same and so are the athletes.

“Football is every town’s pride and joy,” Ada-Borup athletic director Kelly Anderson told me back in August.

After Nevis lost to Spring Grove on Friday in the Nine-Man Prep Bowl game – the first title game for both teams -- Nevis coach Shawn Klimek said, “It was a great season. There were only two teams playing today and we were one of them. That’s something we’re proud of.”

Teammates. Community support and pride. Homemade signs in the stands. Young boys hugging each other after the season is done, grateful for the opportunity and sad that it’s over.

Minneota coach Chad Johnston was talking about winning a state title but he could have been talking about every team in every sport in every community when he said, “We tell the kids never to take this experience for granted.”

Isaac Hennen Carries Minneota

Before the Class 1A title game, Wabasso coach Joe Kemp knew what the Rabbits defense would see: “We expected a big dose of Hennen and we got it.”

Minneota senior Isaac Hennen is a Mr. Football finalist who carried the ball 34 times for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 8.6 yards per carry as the Vikings won their third state title in four years.

“We have the best football player in the state in Isaac Hennen and he just dominated today,” said Minneota quarterback Alex Pohlen.

Pierz Is Class 3A Champ

The Pierz Pioneers won their second state title in three years with a 34-21 victory over St. Croix Lutheran in Class 3A. Reese Kapsner scored three touchdowns for the Pioneers on runs of 38, 10 and 1 yards, and Jalen Jansen rushed for a game-high 178 yards and touchdowns of 52 and 49 yards.

The Crusaders, the 3A runner-up for the second year in a row, fumbled eight times and lost four of them. The eight fumbles tied the Prep Bowl record set by Silver Lake in 1987. The record for lost fumbles is five by Jackson in 1985.

Owatonna Wins Second Title

Owatonna rolled past defending state champ Elk River 63-26 as the Huskies captured their second championship. Owatonna won the 5A crown in 2013 after three previous Prep Bowl defeats.

The Huskies’ Jason Williams tied two Prep Bowl records. His five rushing touchdowns matched the five scored by Jordan Suhohen of Cromwell in 2010 and his six total TDs (he returned a kickoff for a score) tied the record for most total touchdowns, set by Jason Midthun of Triton in 1994.

Elk River’s Adam Nelson set a Prep Bowl record with 157 yards in kickoff returns. The previous record was 146 by Aaron Oden of Stillwater in 1984.

Tournament Tidbits

--Two juniors from Pierz competed for their third state championship in as many seasons. Last winter Kapsner and Luke Girtz were on the Pioneers wrestling team that lost to Zumbrota-Mazeppa in the Class 1A team title match, in the spring they were on the baseball team that fell to Minnehaha Academy in the Class 2A championship game, and Saturday they won the Class 3A Prep Bowl.

--Minneota’s Johnston is not only the Vikings football coach but he’s also the girls basketball coach. That team has been practicing since Nov. 13; Johnston said his assistant coaches have been directing basketball practices but he has managed to pop in on occasion. The season opener is Tuesday vs. BOLD.

--Hats off to the football team from Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, which played in the Nine-Man state semifinals before losing to Nevis. R-T-R was a big football name in the late 1980s and early 1990s when future NFL quarterback Todd Bouman was leading the team. The Knights went through a 30-game losing streak, which was broken last season. And this year they moved to Nine-Man and played at U.S. Bank Stadium.

--Total attendance for MSHSL football games at U.S. Bank Stadium was 79,437. Attendance for the semifinals was 41,983 and Prep Bowl attendance was 37,454.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Prep Bowl XXXVI
Friday

Nine-Man/ Spring Grove 32, Nevis 0
Class 2A/ Caledonia 57, Pipestone 6
Class 4A/ Holy Angels 14, Cloquet 0
Class 6A/ Eden Prairie 38, Minnetonka 17

Saturday
Class 1A/ Minneota 28, Wabasso 13
Class 3A/ Pierz 34, St. Croix Lutheran 21
Class 5A/ Owatonna 63, Elk River 26
Houston County, We Have A Football Hotbed 11/24/2017
Looking for the football capital of Minnesota? The folks in Houston County, which is tucked into the southeast corner of the state, may have something to say after what transpired Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Four Prep Bowl state championships were decided, and two went to schools in Houston County. Spring Grove opened the day with a 32-0 victory over Nevis in the Nine-Man game, followed by Caledonia rolling past Pipestone 57-6 in Class 2A for their third title in a row.

Spring Grove and Caledonia are not only just up the road from each other – 10 miles apart – the two schools pool athletes for cooperative teams in wrestling, softball, track and field, soccer and gymnastics. The links don’t end there, either.

Spring Grove coach Zach Hauser is a Caledonia graduate who teaches physical education in Caledonia. His offensive coordinator, Kody Moore, is another Caledonia grad who lives in Caledonia. (The coaching ties were the topic of a well-written story by Pat Ruff in the Rochester Post-Bulletin this week.)

Caledonia has been the team to beat in Class 2A for years, but all this is new for Spring Grove.

“It’s an amazing feeling right now,” Hauser said. “It’s kind of hard to put it into words. But I’m so happy for these guys and the coaches. All the time they’ve put in over the years; I can’t say enough good things about the group we got to work with this year.”

Grand Meadow, another Section 1 team, had won the last four Nine-Man state championships, but this year the Lions rose to the top. Hauser recalled summer weight-lifting sessions, after which the players gathered together and ended the session by stating their main objective.

“This was their goal,” Hauser said. “After lifting weights at 6 o’clock in the morning, it was, ‘Rings on Three!’ ”

Spring Grove made their first Prep Bowl appearance in only their third trip to the state football playoffs.

Caledonia has been dominant for years, winning state championships in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016. Their all-time record in Prep Bowl games is 9-2. In 12 trips to the state playoffs, the Warriors have failed to reach the Prep Bowl only twice (2009 and 2014).

Those two weren’t the only strong teams in Houston County. The Houston Hurricanes went 8-2, losing to Cleveland in the Nine-Man Section 1 playoffs one week before Spring Grove beat the Clippers in the section title game.

Bad Break For The Arrows

Pipestone suffered a Prep Bowl setback a week early, when quarterback Cody Thompson was diagnosed with mononucleosis. In the state semifinals last week, the junior completed 10 of 14 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a score. He didn’t feel well the next day and was diagnosed Sunday.

Thompson passed for 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns coming into the state tournament.

“It was pretty bad,” said Arrows coach Clay Anderson. “After breaking down film of Caledonia to begin with it, was like ‘Oh my god.’ Then it was like getting slugged in the gut. I told my coaches it was like we were back in week one.”

Sophomore Jonathan Tinklenberg, the backup quarterback, completed two of eight passes against Caledonia.

“God bless him, he usually gets in there to kneel it or hand off a couple times,” Anderson said. “What a time to have to take over, when you’re going into the state championship game as a sophomore.”

Tournament Tidbits

-- Spring Grove's 32-0 victory over Nevis was only the fourth Nine-Man Prep Bowl shutout. The others were …

1977 Deer Creek 20, Hillcrest Lutheran 0
1993 Chokio-Alberta 35, LeRoy-Ostrander 0
2014 Grand Meadow 48, Edgerton-Ellsworth 0

--Caledonia quarterback Owen King had a hand in six touchdowns, which tied a Prep Bowl record. The senior passed for five scores and ran for one. The only other Prep Bowl player to take part in six touchdowns was Triton quarterback Kirk Midthun; he threw for six scores in 1994.

--After Holy Angels defeated Cloquet 14-0 in the Class 4A title game, Lumberjacks coach Tom Lenarz was asked about his team’s five turnovers (Holy Angels also had five). He turned the question into a strong statement about football.

“These are not just football lessons, but life lessons,” he said. “We didn’t win today but can we take something positive from it? We came together, we didn’t quit. I think there are lots of thing to focus on other than a bad hop here or there.”

He also was asked about an outpouring of support his team received from fans all over northern Minnesota.

“I think one of the things I will look back on and really enjoy about this last week was all the people from northern Minnesota reaching out to me and reaching out to the kids,” he said. “It was exciting to look up in the stands and see all those familiar faces. And schools that we play against up north were in our corner today, and that was a great feeling for us.”

--After Eden Prairie defeated Minnetonka 38-17 in the Class 6A game to end the first day of the Prep Bowl, Minnetonka coach Dave Nelson – always the epitome of class – said to the media: “I want to thank you guys for promoting high school football and all the work you do. We know you all work hard and you’re here late at night and you work your butts off. We appreciate it.”

--Eden Prairie’s Antonio Montero kicked a 42-yard field goal late in the first half. The kick was one yard short of the Prep Bowl record of 43 yards by Brian Smiddle of Blaine in 1996.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Prep Bowl XXXVI
Friday

Nine-Man/ Spring Grove 32, Nevis 0
Class 2A/ Caledonia 57, Pipestone 6
Class 4A/ Holy Angels 14, Cloquet 0
Class 6A/ Eden Prairie 38, Minnetonka 17

Saturday
10 a.m.: Class 1A/ Minneota (13-0) vs. Wabasso (13-0)
1 p.m.: Class 3A/ St. Croix Lutheran (12-0) vs. Pierz (12-0)
4 p.m.: Class 5A/ Owatonna (11-1) vs. Elk River (11-1)
Class 2A Boys Hockey Rankings11/22/2017
From Let's Play Hockey

CLASS 2A
1. Edina 0-0-0
2. Duluth East 0-0-0
3. Moorhead 0-0-0
4. Minnetonka 0-0-0
5. St. Thomas Academy 0-0-0
6. Holy Family 0-0-0
7. Centennial 0-0-0
8. Eden Prairie 0-0-0
9. Hill-Murray 0-0-0
10. Wayzata 0-0-0
11. White Bear Lake 0-0-0
12. Elk River 0-0-0
13. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 0-0-0
14. Cretin-Derham Hall 0-0-0
15. Maple Grove 0-0-0
16. St. Michael-Albertville 0-0-0
17. Blaine 0-0-0
18. Duluth Marshall 0-0-0
19. Lakeville North 0-0-0
20. Andover 0-0-0