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History Has Been Made At Norman County West
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/16/2018 10:34:24 AM

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

South Ridge’s Nick Carlson: Two Sports, Two State Tournaments
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/15/2018 7:04:06 PM

With graduation in the rear-view mirror, college ahead in the fall and now, as of Friday, his high school athletic career at an end, let’s hope South Ridge’s Nick Carlson takes some time off. Because he has surely earned it.

He is not only a four-sport athlete but a two-sport athlete in the spring. All he accomplished this spring was qualify for last weekend’s Class 1A state track meet in the long jump and triple jump (he placed fifth in the triple jump) while also being the only senior on the Panthers baseball team.

They advanced to the Class 1A state semifinals before losing to Sleepy Eye 4-1 Friday at Chaska Athletic Park. They finished the baseball season with a 13-4 loss to Parkers Prairie in Friday’s third-place game.

South Ridge, which has a high school enrollment of 137 students, is 22 miles north of Cloquet. The baseball team had never gone to state before this season, and Carlson (pictured) – who also played football and basketball -- was a key component of its success. As a pitcher he brought a record of 5-1 to state, with an 0.85 earned-run average and 47 strikeouts in 41 innings. His batting average was .314.

“He’s great,” said baseball coach Tyler Olin. “He’s such a great leader, not only on the field but in the classroom, off the field. He’s a better person than he is a player for us, and he’s a pretty darn good athlete.”

One of Nick’s most memorable days this spring was a double outing on May 31. In the morning he competed in the Section 7 track meet in Duluth, where he set a section record of 44 feet, 11 ½ inches in the triple jump. In the afternoon he pitched a one-hitter as the Panthers defeated Deer River 13-2 in the section tournament.

“I almost hit a home run, too,” Nick said Friday. “I hit a triple, so it was a good day.”

Being a member of two teams at the same time required some flexibility for practices, meets and games.

“It was just communication, I guess, with our track and field coach,” said Olin. “He’s just a great kid who’s able to manage all those different things, plus academics. It’s really him being such a great guy that makes it work.”

South Ridge athletic director Tony DeLeon said there have been a handful of other kids who were on two teams at the same time, “but maybe not at the same high level as Nick. Some of the credit needs to go to the coaches for allowing him to coordinate those practices. It takes a whole program to make that happen.

“Nick is a perfect role model, not only for the young men but for adults, too. He works hard in the classroom, he’s always respectful, appreciates everything, never complains, never brags, just goes about his business. All he does is set records and compete in state tournaments and does a great job.”

Carlson was the winning pitcher Thursday when the Panthers defeated Rushford-Peterson 5-1 in the state quarterfinals; he gave up four hits, one run, walked two and struck out six in seven innings. In Friday’s semifinals he played second base and center field.

“I’ve been playing with these guys ever since Little League,” he said. “Everybody knows each other really well. It’s a tight-knit group.”

Carlson will attend the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth and be a member of the basketball team.

“It’s nice and close and basketball is my favorite sport,” he said. “I think I’m probably going to do track, too.”

Of course he is.

State Baseball Tournament

Friday’s semifinals

Class 1A

Heritage Christian 7, Parkers Prairie 4
Sleepy Eye 4, South Ridge 1

Class 2A
Duluth Marshall 6, Caledonia 3
Maple Lake 4, Jordan 3

Class 3A
Mahtomedi 3, Alexandria 0
Rocori 5, New Ulm 0

Class 4A
Minnetonka 7, St. Michael-Albertville 6
Stillwater 4, Blaine 3

State Championship Games
Saturday at Target Field

Class 1A

Heritage Christian vs. Sleepy Eye, 10 a.m.

Class 2A
Duluth Marshall vs. Maple Lake, 1 p.m.

Class 3A
Mahtomedi vs. Rocori, 4 p.m.

Class 4A
Minnetonka vs. Stillwater, 7 p.m.

State Lacrosse Tournament
Saturday’s Championship Games
At Chanhassen High School

Apple Valley vs. Eden Prairie, 3:30 p.m.

Prior Lake vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s, 6 p.m.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Duluth Marshall’s Big Ben Rings Up Another Big Win
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/14/2018 4:59:48 PM

ST. CLOUD – Duluth Marshall 11th-grader Ben Pedersen, who might be the most dominant high school baseball player in Minnesota, had this pitching line Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A state tournament: seven innings, three hits allowed, two runs allowed, three walks and nine strikeouts in a 6-2 victory over St. Cloud Cathedral.

And he didn’t have his best stuff.

“That was definitely not his sharpest performance but the bar for Ben and the expectations for Ben are so far out of whack now; ‘Wow, a three-hitter with a walk and how many strikeouts? Yeah, that’s disappointing,’ ” said Hilltoppers coach Joe Wicklund. “You kind of get to a spot where he’s played so well all year you expect the absolute best. For him, he was still awesome today and gave us a chance to run downhill with the pitching staff.”

Here are some amazing numbers: Pedersen (pictured) gave up two earned runs Thursday, equaling the number of earned runs he gave up during the entire regular season and Section 7 tournament.

Pedersen is as impressive physically as he is statistically. He stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds. He has already made a verbal commitment to play college baseball at the University of Missouri in the Southeastern Conference.

He came into the state tournament with a 2018 pitching record of 6-1, an earned-run average of 0.26 and 91 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings. He’s also the Hilltoppers’ cleanup hitter with a .304 batting average. Duluth Marshall is the top-seeded team in the Class 2A field, taking a record of 22-4 into Friday’s semifinals here against Caledonia. They made their state tourney debut last year, finishing fourth.

Pedersen also played hockey until a few years ago, and now he is the fresh face of baseball in northeast Minnesota.

“I think we’re hoping people up north believe we can play baseball, too, a little bit more,” he said. “We’re just having fun with it.”

Ben’s fastball can reach into the low 90s, and he also throws a curveball, slider and changeup. He didn’t go all-out with his fastball against Cathedral, and that was part of the plan.

“Today I bet he was in the high 80s,” Wicklund said. “We talked about that before the game, the importance of having his best stuff in the seventh and the first, so kind of pacing yourself and being smart about it. The part that people sometimes miss about Ben is that I’ve never encountered a high school pitcher with his savvy. He calls his own games, he works on the mound, he makes adjustments, he talks it out with us between innings. So I would imagine if you asked him right now he’s got a little left in the tank because we asked him to hold on to it.”

The Hilltoppers are confident in their pitching staff within a back-to-back-to-back state tournament format. Friday’s semifinal winners will play for state championships Saturday at Target Field, while semifinals losers will play in third-place games later Friday at each site.

Marshall’s Derrick Winn has a 5-1 pitching record and 0.61 ERA, Brett Benson is 4-1, 1.23, and Carter Sullivan is 4-1, 1.38.

“We have a pretty good stable of pitchers we can count on,” said Wicklund. “But not having to use anybody besides the big horse is a huge, huge advantage heading into Friday and Saturday.”

--This is the biggest weekend of the year in Duluth, with Grandma’s Marathon festivities capped by the running of the race Saturday. Wicklund is the marathon’s board chairman, so he can be excused if his thoughts extend beyond baseball.

“It’s a perfect weekend to be down in St. Cloud,” he said, laughing. “There are three people who vote if you ever have to cancel the marathon, knock on wood. One of those people is hoping to not be anywhere near Duluth on Saturday.

“This is our best weekend of the year. The whole state, if not a huge part of the country, pays attention to us. And if we can pull a tiny bit of that attention down here, that would be pretty special.”

--The second game of the Class 2A quarterfinals featured two dominant pitching performances and a near no-hitter by Caledonia’s Casey Storlie in a 1-0 victory by the Warriors over two-time defending state champion Minnehaha Academy. Dylan Kiratli ended Storlie’s no-hit attempt on a single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Storlie strick out seven and walked four, while Minnehaha's Brock Brumley allowed only three hits with nine strikeouts and no walks. Caledonia's run came when Storlie singled in the fourth, moved to second on an infield out and scored on a single by Andrew Goergen.

--Maple Lake moved into the 2A semifinals with a 9-0 victory over Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. Ben Clapp drove in four runs for the Irish and pitchers Grant Mergen, Mitch Holstad and Cole Trager combined on a four-hitter.

--Jordan won the final 2A quarterfinal, defeating Paynesville 6-2. Eighteen of the 20 players on the Paynesville roster were members of the Bulldogs football team that reached the Class 2A state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium last fall.

State Baseball Tournament Quarterfinals

Class 1A
Heritage Christian 4, Sacred Heart 3
Parkers Prairie 8, Wabasso 6
Sleppy Eye 6, Hinckley-Finlayson 0
South Ridge 5, Rushford-Peterson 1

Class 2A
Duluth Marshall 6, St. Cloud Cathedral 2
Caledonia 1, Minnehaha Academy 0
Maple Lake 9, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 0
Jordan 6, Paynesville 2

Class 3A
Mahtomedi 3, Grand Rapids 2
Alexandria 2, Willmar 1
Rocori 3, Red Wing 2 (8)
New Ulm 5, South St. Paul 4 (9)

Class 4A
Minnetonka 3, Eastview 2
St. Michael-Albertville 3, Lakeville North 2
Stillwater 3, Mounds View 2
Blaine 6, Wayzata 1

State Lacrosse Tournament

State semifinals were played Thursday at Chanhassen High School and Minnetonka High School, with championship games scheduled for Saturday at Chanhassen.

Girls semifinals
Apple Valley 11, Blake 6
Eden Prairie 18, Lakeville North 3
The girls championship game will be played at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Boys semifinals
Prior Lake 13, Minnetonka 11
Benilde-St. Margaret’s 9, Mahtomedi 6
The boys championship game will be played at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

The Gray Sisters, A Class 1A Golf Legacy
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/13/2018 7:53:11 PM

In 2008 an eighth-grader from Legacy Christian Academy named Rachel Gray made her debut in the Class 1A girls state golf tournament at Pebble Creek in Becker. On Wednesday, a senior named Sophie Gray ended her high school golf career with a second-place finish in the Class 1A girls state tourney.

Those were the bookends on a remarkable run of Gray sisters at state. Rachel qualified for state as an eighth-grader, sophomore, junior and senior, and Sophie went to state six years in a row. That’s 10 appearances at state with no overlap; Rachel graduated in 2012 and a year later Sophie competed for the first time as a seventh-grader. (Pictured are Rachel, left, and Sophie.)

Rachel was the 2012 state champion and she finished third in 2011. Sophie came in 23rd, 13th, fourth and now has been the state runner-up for three years in a row. She shot 79-77 for a 139 total Tuesday and Wednesday, one stroke behind champion Rachel Halvorson of Lac qui Parle Valley, who went 76-79-138.

“There’s definitely a lot of pride,” said Sophie, 17. “A lot of people here know our family and know us. I’ve heard a lot of people say they’re sad to see our family go. I come back and see the same people each year and we all really enjoy that.”

Rachel, 24, played collegiate golf at Concordia University in St. Paul, twice competing in the NCAA Division II championships. She now coaches women’s golf at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, another NCAA Division II school. One of her prize recruits this year is her kid sister.

“I definitely wanted it to be her decision,” said Rachel, who has been in Becker to watch all six of Sophie’s state tournaments. “She came for a visit, she did everything on her own. She loves our facilities. I’m biased but we have some state-of-the-art facilities. She loved the school, she loved the players on the team and it’s a great fit for her.”

The girls’ parents, Jack and Kitty, have been watching their daughters play high school golf for more than a decade. Jack is an assistant girls golf coach at Legacy Christian, while Kitty is not a golfer.

“It’s been a huge part of our life,” Kitty said. “It’s been fun to be a super fan and watch these girls golf.”

During a late-season competition, a younger team member was expressing sadness that Sophie was graduating and was unsure if Jack would be back next season.

“Jack is so passionate,” Kitty said. “One of the young ladies was in tears, saying, ‘I don’t want Sophie to leave, I don’t want you to leave.’ He said, ‘I’m going to be back.’ He’s got some time and effort invested into these ladies and he really wants to see them succeed. He’s so passionate about teaching young girls how to golf.”

Two years ago Sophie finished one shot behind the winner, last year she was five shots back and Wednesday’s result was another one-shot margin between second place and a gold medal. Had she finished first Wednesday, it would have come six years to the day since Rachel won her state championship.

“If you would have asked me last year, I would have said winning would be the ultimate thing for me,” Sophie said. “But I think this year has really changed my perspective on a lot of things, especially after making the decision to play in college and signing my letter of intent and everything.

“I realized the bigger perspective of it. I started to realize people are about more than just who won the Minnesota high school tournament for Class A. While it would be great to win, I don’t want that to be my end-all, be-all because I want to accomplish more.”

After the tournament ended, the Gray family began quietly celebrating, reflecting and looking toward the future. At Lincoln Memorial, Rachel has her players compete on the course to decide who who will play in the next competition.

Kitty said, “Sophie told me, ‘The work begins tomorrow. Because I want to play for Rach.’

“And it’s only a thirteen-and-a-half-hour drive.”

Team, Individual Champions

Class 1A girls/
Lac qui Parle Valley; Rachel Halvorson, Lac qui Parle Valley.

Class 1A boys/ Sleepy Eye United and Mounds Park Academy; Ben Laffen, Sleepy Eye United.

Class 2A girls/ Detroit Lakes; Sophie Yoemans, Red Wing.

Class 2A boys/ Holy Family Catholic; Nate Deziel, East Grand Forks.

Class 3A girls/ Edina; Kathryn Van Arragon, Blaine.

Class 3A boys/ Maple Grove; Tristan Nelko, Wayzata.

Aces Abound At State

There were three holes-in-one during the girls and boys state golf tournaments.

--In 3A boys, Eastview’s Will Frazier scored an ace at Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids.

--In 3A girls at Bunker Hills, Madi Hicks of Chanhassen got an ace.

--In 2A boys, Mitch Krebsbach of Mound Westonka got a hole-in-one at Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

Three Sports, Three State Tournaments Is Common In Jordan
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/12/2018 1:12:53 PM

Tuesday was a busy day for Thomas Gutzmer. But then again, every day is pretty busy for the junior from Jordan High School who this week is playing in his third state tournament of the 2017-18 school year.

Thomas was a lineman on the Jordan football team that reached the Class 3A state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium and a guard-forward on the Hubmen basketball team that played in the Class 2A state tournament. He completed the trifecta by qualifying for this week’s Class 2A state golf tournament at Ridges at Sand Creek, his home course in Jordan.

He is not alone among Jordan athletes participating in three state tournaments this school year. Six other boys have done the same, with all of them being members of the football team: Gutzmer (pictured), Jonathan Huss, Jonathan Draheim, Ryan Friedges, Noah Schmitt, Bryce Sievers and Mason Vogel. Draheim, Friedges and Schmitt are playing in this week’s Class 2A state baseball tournament, Huss went to state in 2A wrestling, and Sievers and Vogel went to state in 1A track and field, where they were part of the second-place 4x800 relay team in helping the Hubmen finish fourth in the team standings.

All told, seven teams from Jordan – plus three cooperative teams involving athletes from Jordan and neighboring schools – have reached state tournaments during 2017-18.

Gutzmer began the day Tuesday by joining with fellow athletes for a 6:30 a.m. weightlifting session. He was on the Ridges putting green several hours ahead of his 1:30 p.m. tee time, then made the short drive home for a little rest before returning. He was in the final foursome in the first round of the two-day, 36-hole golf tournament.

“We lift Monday through Thursday in the mornings, and in the summer it’s the same thing,” he said. “It stays pretty busy.”

Thomas also qualified for the state golf tournament last year, finishing in a tie for 32nd place among 88 finishers. He is the only male from Jordan to play at state golf this year, but the girls team qualified as the champion of Section 2. Kevin Gutzmer (Thomas’ father) coaches both Jordan teams. Girls team members at state are Autumn Sivilay, Rachel Henderson, Aysia Kim, Emily Henderson, Molly Kelvington and Abby Oehlerking.

Thomas has spent time on golf courses for as long as he can remember. He also works at Ridges, cleaning and washing carts.

“I’m out here a lot,” he said.

He is a lefthanded golfer but uses his right hand to shoot baskets and snap footballs. His favorite sport? “It’s pretty tough for me to decide, playing all three sports,” he said. “But golf is right up there.”

Jordan’s trip to the state football playoffs was the first since 2012 and the basketball team had not been to state since 2010.

“For football, our program doesn’t have the best history but we have a new coach and we’re coming around,” Thomas said. “The section championship is probably one of the best memories. We played in a snow-bowl-type game in overtime (defeating Glencoe-Silver Lake 42-41). That was probably the most fun I’ve had in a sporting event.

“Basketball was really fun. We got kind of a cruddy draw and played Minnehaha (Academy, losing 65-45 in the state quarterfinals). They’re good players. It was really fun.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

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