John's Journal
Volleyball During The School Day At Kasson-Mantorville10/7/2017
I attended a special event Friday afternoon at Kasson-Mantorville High School. For the first time, the KoMet volleyball team hosted a match during the school day, with all 9-12 students in attendance at K-M's fantastic Home Federal Arena, which opened a year ago.

The match began at 1 p.m. and the place was packed. A large crowd from nearby Byron was on hand to cheer for the Bears as they took on the KoMets, and the excellent K-M band kept the joint jumping.

Dodge County Independent sports editor Chris Schad wrote an excellent story about how the Homecoming event came to be, and with his permission here it is ...

By Chris Schad
Sports Editor
Dodge County Independent

Homecoming week is an exciting time for any area high school. As many alumni and the community get involved to help celebrate their local traditions, there are several events that take place. From the coronation of the homecoming king and queen to the parade later in the afternoon, everything has a certain itinerary that has been tried and true over the years with the culmination of the Friday night football game.

However, innovation is key in any aspect to keep things new and exciting and Kasson-Mantorville High School has been making the effort to improve the process of celebrating their Homecoming.

Principal Trent Langemo has been at the forefront of this since his arrival prior to the 2015-16 school year making tweaks such as moving the coronation from Monday evening to during the pep fest on Friday afternoon, but he may have something truly outside of the box planned for this year: matinee volleyball.

The K-M volleyball team will begin what they hope is a new tradition on Friday afternoon when they host Byron at 1 p.m. as part of the school’s homecoming ceremony. The game will be treated as part of the normal school day and will feature the entire student body packed into Home Federal Arena.

“We’re always looking to build school spirit and find ways for kids to participate and engage in supporting their peers,” Langemo said of the concept. “After that first year, we had made some changes and as we were locking up the gym [after coronation] last year, I went up to [K-M activities director] Broc Threinen and told him that this was the next thing.”

A matinee volleyball match was an idea that Langemo carried over from his previous stop as a principal at Pine River-Backus High School. With the area being stricken by poverty, attendance at games was low as students couldn’t afford to drive back to school for the games, or pay to get into them. As a result, Langemo wanted to create an opportunity to get more students involved.

“It was about providing more opportunities to increase school spirit,” Langemo explained. “We wanted to provide a great experience for the players, too. It really came out of an idea to do something innovative and neat to get kids to come out to a game.”

As a result, Pine River-Backus became the first school to play two matinee games during the course of the year with the entire student body in attendance. One for the volleyball team during homecoming week and a basketball game during Snow Daze in the winter. The idea caught on as many other area schools hooked on to form a reciprocal schedule where each team played a home contest for their respective celebrations.

When Langemo brought the idea of bringing that concept to KM, Thrienen and K-M volleyball coach Adam VanOort were both on board.

“They had to explain it to me a little bit, but once I got it, I loved the idea,” VanOort said.

“Homecoming has always seemed to be just about football and the homecoming volleyball match kind of gets lost during the week. I thought it would be a nice way to share the spotlight and get some good excitement built up for volleyball as well as football.”

“It’s a cool opportunity for all of the kids that may have never been to a game or to get to a game,” Thrienen said. “Maybe you get five to 20 kids that think it’s pretty cool to see a classmate they sit next to in chemistry play volleyball and they haven’t been to a game before. They then go a couple more times and become more engaged in what’s going on in the school.”

To play a homecoming volleyball game is one aspect of the formula, but there also needs to be a second school willing to sacrifice a half day of class. However, Langemo and Threinen both got to work immediately to find an opponent.

“When we brought this up at our conference principal’s meeting, the looks on the table were kind of going ‘You’re doing what? That’s kind of crazy,” Langemo recalled. “You’re missing a half-day of school and I don’t take that for granted, but we wanted to be the innovators for this and see if it spreads.”

After a bit of salesmanship, Byron agreed to be the partner K-M needed to make it happen with the hope that Byron and many of the other area schools join in to form a series of homecoming volleyball games. While the logistics are something that should be worked out with the inaugural match on Friday, it’s definitely something that the school hopes becomes a permanent fixture of homecoming.

“I would love to have this as a tradition,” VanOort said. “I hope that everything goes well and the administration in both schools decide that this is something worth doing on a continuing basis. I think there are very few opportunities for the kids to get to play in an environment like the one we’ll have Friday and any opportunity that schools get to add a little more energy and school spirit into their homecoming is a good thing.”
Mabel-Canton Volleyball: Battle-Tested In Section 110/5/2017
MABEL – Sometimes the universe spins in an awesome way. One of those instances was on Tuesday evening in the comfortably small and classically styled Mabel-Canton High School gymnasium. Mabel – located in southeast Minnesota’s bluff country and billed as “Rural America’s Steam Engine Capital” – has a population of 780 souls and you’d be hard-pressed to find even one of them who does not root vociferously for the Mabel-Canton Cougars.

On this evening, the Cougars volleyball team was hosting the Lions of nearby Spring Grove. And here are some universally awesome truths: Both head coaches are graduates of Spring Grove … one of them used to work as an assistant for the other at Mabel-Canton … and they’re both named Morken.

Lonnie Morken has been coaching volleyball at Mabel-Canton since 1994. Lions coach Kelsey Morken once was Lonnie’s assistant with the Cougars. If they are related it’s a distant kind of deal, one of those fifth-cousins twice-removed things. But they are certainly good friends and great coaching colleagues.

“(The rivalry between the teams has) been going on forever and Mabel’s always been the one we look to as a measuring stick, to compare ourselves to,” Kelsey said a few minutes after Mabel-Canton recorded a memorable 23-25, 25-20, 25-13, 20-25, 15-13 victory.

Had Spring Grove pulled out the win, the universe may have begun spinning in another direction. That’s because Mabel-Canton has absolutely owned this Southeast Conference rivalry. In fact, Spring Grove has not defeated the Cougars in volleyball for 21 years. That’s right, the last time that happened was 1996. Tuesday’s victory was Mabel-Canton’s 58th in a row over the Lions. Before this five-setter, the Lions had won only three sets against the Cougars in the previous 57 matches.

Morken’s career record is 622-118; he was inducted into the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011 and he is one of only 11 coaches to record 600 career wins. His team has a 21-3 record this season and is ranked ninth in Class 1A. Since the start of the 2015 season the Cougars have a total record of 70-10.

Those kinds of head-turning facts may lead you to believe that the Cougars have been steady participants in the state tournament. But they hail from Section 1, which is a stronghold of quality teams in lots of sports, and the Mabel-Canton volleyball team has played at state just twice, in 2000 and 2001. They have been defeated in nine other section championship matches since Morken took over as coach.

All but one of those section final losses have been to Bethlehem Academy, which won state titles in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014 and was the state runner-up four times between 2002 and 2015.

“Some years they beat us in four or five sets (for the section title) and then swept everybody at state,” Morken said.

Four Section 1 teams are among the current Class 1A top 10: Bethlehem Academy is No. 3, Hayfield is No. 5, Caledonia is No. 8 and Mabel-Canton is No. 9.

“We want to get our kids playing at the highest possible level,” Morken said. “There are some great coaches down here, and a lot of it is tradition. Our little kids want to grow up and be good at volleyball.”

Mabel-Canton’s enrollment in grades nine through 12 is only 72 students (Spring Grove has 101). Ninth-graders can play important roles, as evidenced by Cougars setter Kenidi McCabe, the first freshman to play that position since Morken became the coach. The Cougars’ varsity roster consists of two seniors (Savannah Slafter and Dakota Delaney), three juniors, three sophomores and five ninth-graders.

“We typically end up having a lot of younger kids playing and we try to get them skilled up at a young age,” Morken said. “We try to put kids in positions where they can succeed.”

Tuesday’s loss gave Spring Grove a record of 19-5. Kelsey Morken was proud of her team, which bounced back to defeat Houston on Thursday.

“Section 1 is unreal,” she said. “Even if we do have a great game and we get past someone like Mabel (in the section playoffs), we’ll still have teams like Caledonia, Wabasha, Hayfield, Bethlehem Academy, just a ton of teams that are awesome.”

This much is certain: Whoever represents Section 1 at the state tournament will be tested and tough.

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

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Class 2A Girls Swimming and Diving Rankings10/4/2017
CLASS 2A
1. Edina
2. Minnetonka
3. Eden Prairie
4. Wayzata
5. Rosemount
6. Stillwater
7. Lakeville North
8. Prior Lake
9. Eagan
10. St. Michael-Albertville
Class 1A Girls Swimming and Diving Rankings10/4/2017
CLASS 1A
1. Hutchinson
2. Visitation
3. Blake
4. Delano
5. Sartell
6. Faribault
7. Breck
8. Monticello
9. Northfield
10. Detroit Lakes
Class 2A Girls Tennis Rankings10/4/2017
CLASS 2A
TEAMS
1 Edina
2 Mahtomedi
3 Hopkins
4 Rochester Mayo
5 Prior Lake
6 St. Cloud Tech
7 Wayzata
8 Minnetonka
9 Duluth East
tie 10 Roseville
tie 10 Elk River

INDIVIDUALS
1 Sophie Reddy (12) Edina
2 Nicole Copeland (10) Edina
3 Meagan Brown (12) Elk River
4 Maddie Suk (11) Hopkins
5 Aili Hietala (9) Duluth East
6 Samantha Nichols (12) Eagan
7 Abbie Kelm (12) Bemidji
8 Ellen Puzak (11) Minneapolis Southwest
9 Grace Riermann (12) Mahtomedi
10 Sam Stephenson (12) Wayzata