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Eugene “Lefty” Wright Leaves A Lasting Legacy
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/29/2016 11:22:54 AM

One of the most well-known and influential track and cross-country figures in the nation will be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame on Saturday in Reno, Nev., capping the summer meeting of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Minnesota's Eugene "Lefty" Wright was a longtime coach at St. Louis Park High School as well as a leading national figure in how track and cross-country events are contested. Wright and 11 others will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, including former college and NFL coach Steve Spurrier of Tennessee and Marlin Briscoe of Nebraska, the first African-American starting quarterback in modern NFL history.

Here is what the NFHS wrote about Wright...

The late Eugene “Lefty” Wright had a profound impact on track and field and cross country – as a coach and official and at the state and national levels – for more than 50 years before his death last year at the age of 79. Wright was meet director of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) cross-country championship for 46 years and was the lead official at the MSHSL state track and field meet for 22 years. He was the MSHSL rules clinician for both sports for 46 years and developed a procedure to minimize disqualifications by creating a form that was adopted in official NFHS rules. Wright coached track and field and cross country at St. Louis Park High School in suburban Minneapolis from 1958 to 1969 and won four state track titles and one state cross country championship.

Here is a story I wrote about Lefty after his death in October...

The track and cross-country community lost a very special friend when MSHSL Hall of Fame member Eugene “Lefty” Wright died at 11:55 p.m. Monday. He was 79 years old and had been dealing with cancer for a lengthy period of time.

Lefty was a bridge from the 1950s to current times in athletics. As a young coach at St. Louis Park High School, he took his cross-country teams to Duluth for competitions via train from the Twin Cities and then a Duluth city bus to the golf course where racing was held. He later became Minnesota’s leading meet official for track and cross-country, creating innovative new methods to plan and hold competitions.

“He was a genius. He was an innovator,” said Scott Stallman, who was coached by Wright at St. Louis Park in the 1960s, became a teacher and coach and now works as a race official.

--In this photo from last spring, Lefty is pictured with several of his former athletes at St. Louis Park High School. All the individuals shown are still involved with track and field as coaches or officials. (Front, left to right) Steve Williams, Dan Dornfeld, Scott Stallman. (Center) R.E. “Lefty” Wright. (Back, left to right) Tom Bracher, Bill Terriquez, Jack Mayeron, Bruce Mortenson.--

Wright graduated from St. Louis Park in 1953. He competed in track and hockey for the Orioles, playing in the 1953 state hockey tournament. After graduating from Macalester College in 1957 he returned to St. Louis Park as a teacher and assistant track and cross-country coach under Roy Griak. He worked at St. Louis Park as a teacher, coach and administrator until 1993.

He was an assistant under Griak for five years, becoming head coach in 1963 when Griak was hired at the University of Minnesota. Griak died earlier this year at 91 and a few weeks ago Lefty was named a charter member of the Roy Griak Invitational Hall of Fame.

“He was a second father figure for me,” Wright said of Griak. “He taught me a lot about organization and about handling young athletes.”

Wright, who was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame in 2011, worked as a meet official at 47 MSHSL cross-country state championships and 46 MSHSL state track meets, including 23 as a starter. He also worked as an official at numerous Big Ten and NCAA events.

Lefty and his wife Nancy, parents of two children, celebrated 57 years of marriage in August.

Dan Dornfeld, who was coached by Wright in high school and also became a teacher, coach and official, remembers a turning point in Lefty’s early career.

“There was an incident during his coaching time when one of his athletes was shorted in a race. He was one of the top runners in the state at that point but was put in lane one, which was a terrible lane on a sand track. It was really a disadvantage, and that became Lefty’s charge. He took on the mantra that we have to do things that are right for athletes. That’s when he really got involved in officiating.

“Anything he’s done for the sport has always been to make the event better for the athlete. He said, ‘Let’s make sure that the student-athlete has the advantage here.’ ”

Stallman said, “He was meticulous about every detail. In his coaching days there was never anything ruled out or taken as chance. Everything was coached to the finest detail, in terms of everything from how to run a cross-country or track meet to bookkeeping to all those kinds of things.”

In the days before electronic timing, cross-country runners were herded into a single chute after finishing to maintain their order of finish. Wright invented the “swing rope,” using a movable rope to create a second chute when the first one was filled with runners.

“Nobody had heard of that until Lefty came up with the idea,” Stallman said. “It’s little things like that that make the quality of a meet better.”

In cross-country, Wright invented a three-meter stick, which was simply three one-meter lengths of boards hinged together. It was used to measure the exact width of starting boxes as well as the distance between the starting line back to the second line; runners move up to the starting line when instructed by the starter.

He also improved the use of lane dividers at cross-country starting lines, color-coding them to specify whether they were for teams or individuals.

“That was part of his attention to detail,” Dornfeld said. “As a result, you saw that better things just happened. He managed things so well that it looks like there’s never any effort given. It’s smooth, effortless. That’s Lefty.

“The other part was that the man was always the calm one. I don’t think I ever saw him in a group meeting get frustrated at all. He would always maintain that calm, that coolness that you need. He was not a guy who gets rattled.”

At the Edina Invitational track meet last spring, Lefty posed for the above photo with his former athletes.

“What a legacy,” Dornfeld said. “He really has trained many, many people for how that works and what needs to happen.

“Everybody’s been trained the Wright way.”



Looking Back: It’s Hammer Time As Football Regular Season Winds Down
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/28/2016 12:36:30 PM

With the 2015-16 MSHSL year at an end, let's take a look back at some of the stories from John's Journal. This story was posted on Oct. 5.

PROCTOR – The football regular season comes to an end this week, which makes it a good time to reflect on a few things, many of which were on display here Friday night when the teams from Hermantown and Proctor met in the annual Hammer Game.

It’s one of Minnesota’s best rivalries, featuring kids who have competed against each other in various sports since they were little boys. The traveling trophy is The Hammer, a giant wooden hammer that carries the score of every game between Proctor and Hermantown since 1995.

The Rails and Hawks first met on the football field in 1941 and The Hammer has been the winner’s prize for 20 years. Jesse Bodell, a Hermantown junior in 1995, and his father Ron built the thing in their garage. It is modeled after the railroad hammer that was swung in American mythology by steel driver John Henry.

Traveling trophies are found all over Minnesota. One of my favorites is the Battle Axe game between Luverne and Pipestone (what a hoot: the sophomore teams play for the Hatchet and the ninth-grade teams play for the Butter Knife). Another great trophy game pits Blue Earth and Fairmont, who have played for the Little Brown Jug for 61 years.

Friday’s game went the way of the Hawks, who used a 68-0 runaway to even the all-time series with Proctor at 32-32-1. The margin was the largest in the rivalry’s history, but the takeaway from this year’s game went far beyond the scoreboard.

Hermantown has 614 students and plays Class 4A football, Proctor has 474 and is in Class 3A. The schools, which combine to form one girls hockey team, are only nine miles apart and the towns are conjoined twins on Duluth’s western border.

Some people grow up in one town and raise their own kids in the other. Everybody basically knows everybody.

“It’s just a mix of families, and it’s so close that it makes it a really enjoyable time,” said Hermantown coach Daryl Illikainen, who has led 18 teams in this rivalry game.

Friday’s crowd was bathed in pink, especially the student sections. It was a Pink Out, with money raised to battle cancer. Pink lines had been painted alongside the goal lines and 50-yard line. The Proctor band was on hand for musical enjoyment. Members of the American Legion carried the flag onto the field for the national anthem, with the stars and stripes billowing in a cold breeze. This was America on a Friday night, a scene repeated across the country.

The early returns weren’t favorable for Hermantown, which has a 7-0 record and No. 5 state ranking in 4A. On the game’s first series, the Hawks’ Thomas Madison ran for a 47-yard touchdown, but a holding penalty brought it back.

The Hawks didn’t flinch and continued the drive, which ended with James Lindberg running four yards for a score. He added a 26-yard run in a 33-point second quarter and Madison also scored twice, as did Matt Valure. The big booms came when Nick Bostrom threw to Zack Brendon for a 49-yard touchdown and Christian Comstock returned an interception 67 yards for a TD.

Meanwhile, Hermantown’s defense held the Rails (4-3) to single digits in total yards. The Hawks ran for more than 400 yards, with Madison getting 144.

“We have great offensive linemen,” said Madison (pictured with The Hammer). “They come off the ball and they’re smart, they make adjustments on the fly and it’s a lot of fun to run behind them.”

Hermantown is a regular at the boys state hockey tournament and the Hawks made their first trip to the boys state basketball tourney last winter. That kind of success blends into other sports and other seasons.

“A lot of these kids went to state in basketball last year, they’re three-sport athletes,” Illikainen said. “They’re just putting it together. They’ve come in with a mission, they’ve been focused and I’m just so proud.”

Hermantown will finish the regular season Thursday at Moose Lake-Willow River and Proctor will go to Two Harbors the same night. Then section tournament pairings will be set and the second season will begin.

“We came in with the mindset that we were going to work hard this year,” Madison said. “Coach always says we’ll look at the scoreboard at the end of the game. So that was kind of our mindset coming in. The guys have worked hard and put in their time and we’re seeing the fruits of our labor.

“I think we can be as good as we want to be. We have to limit our mistakes, we have to stay in check and we’ve got to take it one week at a time. We can’t overlook anyone. I think we’re going to do good things.”

Hard work. Pride. Togetherness. Optimism.

Good stuff.



Looking Back: A Love Of Wrestling, An Official With Heart
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/25/2016 8:35:00 PM

With the 2015-16 MSHSL year now at an end, let's take a look back at some of the stories from John's Journal. This story was posted on Dec. 21.

If you’ve ever thought about becoming an MSHSL official in any sport, I have one piece of advice for you: Watch Joe Steffenhagen officiate a wrestling match. He is an inspiration, working with young athletes and helping them learn about wrestling. Joe smiles a lot, too.

That’s probably the first thing you’ll notice about Joe. His smile. It lights up the mat. At some point you’ll notice something else about Joe. He moves with a slight limp and he doesn’t have full use of his right arm and hand.

None of that matters. What matters is that Steffenhagen is giving back to a sport he loves.

Joe has never let cerebral palsy get in his way. He grew up as an active kid, joining his friends in whatever sport was in season.

“I played basketball until eighth grade and then I got short,” he said, laughing. “I was a post player, as tall as I am now, 5-foot-5. I started wrestling in ninth grade.”

He also played football and baseball at Orono High School. But wrestling was his main sport. He loved everything about it and lettered for four years before graduating in 2002.

He’s in his second year as a registered MSHSL wrestling official. He officiates on the middle school and sub-varsity level as he improves his skills. His reasoning for becoming an official is pretty simple: “Jeez, I just like getting on the mat and being around it.”

Ronnie Schneider, one of the state’s top wrestling officials, teaches physical education at Roseville Area High School; Joe works there as a special education teacher’s aide. Schneider, a 25-year official who has worked 10 state tournaments, is also the assignment secretary for the Skyline Wrestling Officials Association.

Schneider recognized Joe’s love for wrestling, as well as his deep knowledge of the sport, and encouraged him to become an official.

“His knowledge of wrestling was amazing to me,” Schneider said. “He understood the technique, the calls, everything. I’m like, ‘Joe, why aren’t you reffing?’ We’re always looking for guys to do middle school and other events. He said, ‘I don’t think I can.’

“He can move and he’s got just a little limp. His right hand was the problem. I’m like, ‘Joe, let’s figure it out.’ We need officials. The only guys we can pick from are guys who know wrestling. And he knows it.”

Since Joe has trouble signaling points with his right hand, he does so with his left hand for both wrestlers. Officials wear red and green wristbands, with wrestlers wearing matching colors on an ankle. When one wrestler scores, the officials’ hand with the corresponding wristband is used to signal points.

Joe’s right hand is the “green” hand. To signal points for green, he covers his red wristband with his green wristband and puts up the corresponding number of fingers on his red hand. It’s an easy system to understand.

“Before we start I’ll go up to whoever is doing the scoring and tell them how I’m going to do things,” Joe said. “It works out. And for any ref, a good scorekeeper can help you.”

During a recent match involving St. Paul middle school wrestlers at St. Paul Washington Technology Magnet School, Steffenhagen displayed a combination of patience, hustle and understanding. After making a call, he sometimes took a moment to explain it to the wrestlers. He helped kids with their headgear, took extra time in getting them in correct position before the whistle and raised the hand of every winner.

Joe is becoming more comfortable with every competition. He’s hoping to be able to work a varsity match before the end of the season. Schneider sometimes watches him officiate, and he is always ready with tips for improvement.

“Ronnie is what got me going,” Joe said. “He does the scheduling and we work at the same high school. I thought, ‘that’s an easy in.’ He’s been a mentor-type person for me.”

When he began officiating, Steffenhagen said he had concerns about being able to do it. Those issues are long gone now.

“I was more worried about how I would do it. Now I’m not worried about it all. I got that off my shoulders. Now I just want to learn how to be a better official.

“I was just thinking today, ‘Wow, I’m having more fun this year.’ And that’s what the hope is: To get better every year.”

Joe is hoping to work in an off-the-mat job at the state tournament in February, all in the hopes of learning more and more.

“We are hurting for officials, we can use more and it shouldn’t matter who you are,” Schneider said. “If you have the desire and the ability, we need you to officiate.”



Looking Back: Edina Soccer Team Pays Tribute To Sophia
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/24/2016 2:40:20 AM

With the 2015-16 MSHSL year coming to an end, let's take a look back at some of the stories from John's Journal. This story was posted on Oct. 15.

In a well-played postseason game Thursday at Kuhlman Field in Edina, the Edina High School girls soccer team defeated Prior Lake 3-0. With the victory in the Class 2A Section 2 quarterfinals, the Hornets advanced to Tuesday’s section semifinals at Eden Prairie; for Prior Lake the season has ended.

The most memorable moment, however, came before the game started. A handful of little girls, under-8 soccer players from Edina, held large pink balloons and stood next to the Hornets after the players were introduced. All the balloons were released at the same time, and a brisk wind from the north sent them sailing over the south end zone and beyond.

As the balloons rose higher and higher, they sailed above nearby Concord Elementary School. That’s where many of the Edina varsity players went to elementary school, as did Sophia Baechler.

Sophia, a second-grader, died Sunday of carbon-monoxide poisoning while on a boat on Lake Minnetonka. The medical examiner ruled the death an accident and it’s unclear what caused the poisoning.

The little girls who released the balloons Thursday were Sophia’s soccer teammates. They giggled with delight – what a joyous sound -- as they watched the balloons sail away. Sophia’s funeral was held Friday morning at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Edina.

Sophia, who would have turned 8 in December, is survived by her parents, Benjamin and Courtney Baechler, and 5-year-old brother Will.

Edina coach Katie Aafedt didn’t know Sophia, but two of her three children attend Concord.

“We found out the news on Monday when we got an email from the principal,” Aafedt said. “It was a tough pill to swallow. It hit very close to home because she is part of the Edina soccer community, she’s my kids’ age, her parents are my age, she was a soccer player who we had seen at games.”

Sophia and her family had attended several varsity girls soccer games. After her death, the Edina girls soccer Twitter account sent this message: “The entire EHS soccer program was devastated to learn of the passing of a U8 Edina player. We dedicate our playoff run to her. #playforsophia”

Sophia wore jersey number 8, and a jersey bearing her number was on the bench Thursday. It will remain with the Hornets through the rest of the season.

“She supported us at our games, she was part of the Edina soccer community,” said Hornets junior Eva Anderson. “It was really a huge loss for us and it was really hard to hear. She went to Concord, where a lot of us have gone, and she lived really close to me.”

Junior Meredith Stotts said, “I didn’t know her personally but the story was really heartbreaking. One of our neighbors is on her soccer team.”

About the pregame ceremony, Meredith said, “I think it focused us all a lot more and it made us want to go out and win so much more. To know that she was supporting us, to see her parents up there, it makes you much more grateful for a lot of things.”

Eva said, “We’re playing for something bigger than ourselves and we’re playing for a really deep, really important thing. It teaches us to be grateful for every moment we have and we can’t waste any second we have because we are so lucky to have these opportunities.”



The Miracle Of Henry Sibley: From 4-14 To State Champs
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/20/2016 7:49:33 PM

As the postgame awards ceremony began Monday at Target Field, ballplayers from Henry Sibley High School arrived at an important realization. The Mahtomedi team they had just defeated 8-4 for the Class 3A state championship was receiving its second-place medals while the Warriors stood single-file on the edge of the grass.

One of them said these words: “We’re 15 and 15.” And down the row it went. “We’re 15 and 15.” “Guys, we’re 15 and 15.”

They also, astonishingly, are state champions.

Has there ever been anything like it? What compares to this improbable storybook ending? After all, for the Warriors this was a season that could have been given up for dead, wrapped in a burlap sack and dumped in a ditch weeks ago. Who would have noticed?

One of the lessons here is that the regular season and the postseason can have absolutely nothing in common. Henry Sibley – the school is named for Minnesota’s first governor (as if you didn’t already know that) – opened the season with five consecutive losses. An eight-game losing streak came soon after. They lost to Mahtomedi twice, including a 10-run-rule affair. They entered the postseason with a 6-14 record and had to win their last two regular-season games to get there.

But then how do we explain the playoff run? The wins in the Section 3 tournament and the three victories at state?

“We were hot today,” said designated hitter Sam Essen, who scored two runs. “It was our day, it was our turn to win.”

Henry Sibley coach Greg Fehrman had no explanation at all.

“I can’t. I really can’t. I wish I could but I can’t. It’s one of those things that turned out the way it did.”

He and his coaching staff never gave up on the team, and the players never gave up on each other. That’s surely an important factor here.

“We never really ever ditched the thought that we would not be able to be competitive,” Fehrman said. “There were times that we would lose games and we as coaches would be at a loss for words to explain what it is that we were trying to do, what we needed to do. And we would share that with the kids and say, ‘Hey, we don’t have anything to say other than we have to hang in there and keep plugging away at it.’ ”

Fehrman said the “beautiful part” of the story is this: The boys never gave up, never grabbed a burlap sack.

“They seemed to go ahead and just persevere and hang with it and continue to want to come to the park.” he said. “They’re great kids to be around, just awesome kids to be around. And then all of a sudden we started catching on a little bit, and before you knew it everything started rolling. We just got out of their way and let them play.

“Everybody dreams about winning a state championship but hardly anybody ever dreams about winning a state championship with a 15-15 record.”

CLASS 2A: MINNEHAHA ACADEMY 5, BELLE PLAINE 1

As the baseball season came to a memorable end, nobody wore a bigger smile than Jesse Retzlaff. The senior pitcher and his Minnehaha Academy teammates will spend the rest of their days reflecting on disappointment, second chances and how great success can feel.

“Right now I’m so elated,” Retzlaff said after the Redhawks rallied to win the state championship. “It was such a fun run. It was such a great time.”

The disappointment came 360 days earlier. Minnehaha Academy lost to St. Cloud Cathedral 10-1 in that 2015 state championship game, and the losing pitcher was a junior named Jesse Retzlaff. He pitched 5 1/3 innings that day, giving up six runs while walking four, striking out three and throwing a wild pitch.

Cathedral was no slouch in 2015, winning its second consecutive state title and extending a winless streak to 50 games. The Redhawks finished 26-2 last season, with both losses coming to Cathedral. But 2016 was different. Minnehaha went to St. Cloud and beat the Crusaders in their 11th game of the season, finished the Section 4 tournament with a 24-3 record, and headed to state a team on a mission.

Minnehaha beat East Grand Forks 11-2 in the state quarterfinals (with Retzlaff going the distance) and held off Pierz 4-2 in the semifinals to reach Monday’s game. And this time at Target Field Retzlaff was masterful. He tossed a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts and two walks.

“Jesse has wanted this game since last year, and you could see that,” said Redhawks coach Scott Glenn. “He was calm, he was a true leader today. He was the guy we needed, and he was fantastic.”

Belle Plaine (25-2), which was the tournament’s top seed with Minnehaha No. 2, took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Brody Curtiss tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Wes Sarsland. But the Redhawks put up a five spot in the top of the fifth, with Andrew Wolpert and Alexander Jordan driving in runs. That was all Retzlaff needed.

“We knew we could come back from one run down,” he said. “We’ve scored a lot of runs in a lot of games.

“Last year we were kind of heartbroken so our motto coming into this year was ‘unfinished business.’ We just wanted to come back out and win this game. And we did, so we’re feeling really good right now. This is pure joy. You dream of playing here. It was just so much fun.”

CLASS 1A: SPRINGFIELD 4, PARKERS PRAIRIE 1 (11)

The Tigers scored two runs in the top of the 11th inning to secure the title one year after finishing as the state runnerup. Joe Pieschel opened the 11th with a single and stole second. A single by Carter Cook scored Pieschel before a double by Isaac Fink made it 4-2.

CLASS 4A: WAYZATA 9, CHAMPLIN PARK 1

The Trojans won their first state baseball championship behind an 11-hit attack, scoring in every inning from the third to the seventh. Griffin Schneider, Will Oberg and Danny Deis had three hits each while Wayzata pitcher Tommy Skoro went the distance, giving up five hits, striking out eight and walking none.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAMS

CLASS 1A/ Hunter Brommerich, Lewiston-Altura; Lucas Nelson, Legacy Christian; Cody Dunkley, TJ Johnson, Hinckley-Finlayson; Logan Rogers, Zach Loosbrock, Adrian; Andrew Johnson, Casey Peterson, Zach Gappa, Parkers Prairie; Sam Baier, Branden Flock, Carter Cook, Springfield.

CLASS 2A/ John Aase, Proctor; Alex Mushitz, East Grand Forks; Jack Siebert, Maple Lake; Matt Tautges, Noah Boser, Lane Girtz, Pierz; Brody Curtiss, Nathan Herman, Aiden Ladd, Belle Plaine; Alex Fedje-Johnson, Alex Evenson, Jesse Retzlaff, Minnehaha Academy.

CLASS 3A/ Cooper Yackley, New Ulm; Nic Zabel, Northfield; Jack Qualen, Derek Drees, Benilde-St. Margaret’s; Austin Jenks, Thomas Miller, Little Falls; Trevor Moses, Kyle Hinseth, Mitch Nordin, Mahtomedi; Charley Hesse, Sam Gantman, Joe Ihrke, Henry Sibley.

CLASS 4A/ Isaac Collins, Maple Grove; Ryan Brunner, Burnsville; Michael Dooney, Luke DeGrammont, Lakeville North; Max Meyer, Brady Mundahl, Woodbury; Riley Johnson, Aaron Kloeppner, Champlin Park; Griffin Schneider, Will Oberg, Parker Hlavacek, Tommy Skoro, Wayzata.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 858
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 12,498



After 41 Years, Pine Island’s Anderson Goes Out On Top
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/17/2016 3:18:50 PM

ST. CLOUD – There was emotion in Craig Anderson’s voice for a second or two shortly before he walked off the baseball diamond for the final time Friday. But the Pine Island coach, who is retiring after 41 years with the Panthers, was quickly greeted by his grandchildren. And after that it was all bear hugs and great big smiles.

Anderson, 63, had announced during the season that 2016 would be his last go-round. The Panthers took him out in style, reaching the Class 2A state tournament. Unseeded Pine Island lost to top seed Belle Plaine 1-0 in Thursday’s quarterfinals, and the season ended Friday with a 12-5 loss to Proctor in the consolation bracket.

As he spoke to his final team after his final game, Anderson told the boys how proud he was to be their coach.

“I couldn’t think of a better group of guys to finish my career with,” he said.

Pine Island’s previous trips to state came in 1991, 1992 and 1993. So there was some poetic justice that the Panthers (18-9) got back to the show in 2016.

“I’m reflecting on a lot of fun,” Anderson told me. “This community has been good to me for 41 years. I’m just appreciative, because I’ve had a lot of fun. It’s emotional. It’s a special time in my life. I’m just reflecting on all the happy times. And there have been a ton of them. Great community support, administrative support, and obviously these are some great kids.”

Craig and his wife Sue – sweethearts since a homecoming dance when they were sophomores at Mabel-Canton – are closing in on 42 years of marriage. Sue retired as a social worker in December. The Andersons have two daughters: Sarah lives in Denver with her husband and two kids, and Rachel lives in Pine Island with her husband and two kids. They were all at the games Thursday and Friday.

“I could hear the grandkids yelling for grandpa there at the end, that was pretty cool,” Anderson said. “They’re going to love me no matter what the score is, and that’s the best part of having a family.”

Anderson is revered by his peers. In 2015 the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association awarded the inaugural Craig Anderson Ethics in Coaching Award to St. Charles coach Scott McCready. The award is given to a coach “who, like Craig, has displayed ethics in coaching and teaching the game of baseball. The coach who is selected will be someone who displays class, integrity, character, and respect for the game, the players, the spectators, and the officials.”

Anderson’s career record is 526-381, placing him fifth in all-time victories among Minnesota high school baseball coaches. But winning has never been uppermost in his coaching philosophy.

Last season I went to a game in Pine Island a few days after Anderson recorded his 500th victory. After the Panthers lost a 2-1 decision to Cannon Falls, Anderson told me, “We want to win but we have a bigger message. And that’s, ‘Hey, come play hard, represent your community and your family with dignity.’ And if you do those things, then it’s a win no matter how the result comes out.”

Cannon Falls coach Bucky Lindow said that day, “The first game I ever coached as a high school coach, he was the other guy and beat us 10-0. But more important is the way he treats people. He’s the guy who’s going to congratulate you if you do something. He’s just classy. That’s truly what he is. And through the state coaches association, he’s been on the leadership team for a long, long time and he just makes a positive impact. He’s a great ambassador for high school baseball. I really appreciate all that I’ve learned from him.”

Anderson, who in 2014 was inducted into the National High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, spent 36 years as a sixth-grade science teacher. He has been the Pine Island athletic director for four years and will continue in that role. But he now will have more time to spend with his grandkids and travel with Sue.

The Pine Island fans wore state tournament T-shirts in the school colors of maroon and gold. The players’ and coaches’ names were printed on the back, under this statement: “It’s a great day for baseball! -- Coach Craig Anderson.”

Anderson wore jersey No. 23 when he played baseball at Winona State and continued to wear 23 from day one in Pine Island. He likes to point out that he wore 23 before it became Michael Jordan’s signature.

“I’m just proud to wear this maroon and gold for the last time,” he said. “I’ll probably wash it, turn it in, and somebody else will have it next year.”

That’s doubtful. It’s a pretty safe bet that No. 23 will be retired in Pine Island.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 858
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 12,450



A Short Putt, A Nervous Moment, And History Is Made
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/15/2016 9:29:40 PM

JORDAN – In six years of competing at the Class 2A state golf tournament, Kate Smith of Detroit Lakes put clubface to ball 826 times. The scariest swing of all was No. 826.

After 17½ holes Wednesday, Smith -- a senior who will play collegiate golf at Nebraska -- knew what she needed to do: two-putt the 18th green in order to clinch a first-place tie with Visitation junior Anni Heck and become the first MSHSL golfer, male or female, to win five state titles.

A three-putt would mean a second-place finish. Smith’s first putt, uphill from about 35 feet, stopped six feet short of the hole. Uh oh. Crank up the drama.

“It was the longest six-footer ever,” she said later.

With her teammates, family members and others watching, Smith stroked the putt … and immediately thought oh no is it even going to reach the cup? The little ball rolled, it made a few more agonizingly slow revolutions, it somehow reached the lip, it stopped and gazed at the crowd gathered around the green, wobbled for a split second and then finally, after all that, succumbed to gravity as cheers rang out, followed by tears and hugs.

That gave Smith and Heck identical 36-hole totals of 139, putting them atop the field at the Ridges at Sand Creek; Smith shot 69-70 and Heck went 71-68. Detroit Lakes also won the team title with a nine-shot margin (633-642) over Lake City.

Smith’s state title last year made her the second four-time champ in MSHSL history. Katie Detlefsen of Minnehaha Academy captured Class 1A championships in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Detlefsen, who played college golf at Florida Gulf Coast University, competed in her first LPGA tournament earlier this month, the ShopRite Classic.

Smith’s best state tournament score came last year when she had 18-hole totals of 68 and 69 for a 137. As an eighth-grader she went 70-70-140, her score was 72-36-108 in a rain-shortened tournament her freshman year and she went 73-70-143 as a sophomore. She first qualified for state as a seventh-grader and finished tied for fifth with a 159 total.

“I just feel really grateful for the last six years at this course,” Kate said. “It was so amazing. I feel extremely blessed that everything worked out today.”

She was emotional after play ended, saying the pressure of being a defending champion grew each year.

“And this year was by far the worst,” she said. “I mean, I did it to myself, but golly, having such a big target on your back? In a kind way, everyone’s expecting you to win. Seeing how well Anni played yesterday, I was like ‘I have to really push it on the last day.’ ”

She will long remember the 18th green on the final day of her last MSHSL tournament, including strokes No. 825 and 826.

“On the first putt I knew I had to hit it really hard and I thought I did, and it didn’t get there,” Kate said. “I knew I was tied with Anni and I knew I had to two-putt.

“I hit (the second putt) and I thought it was halfway there. I don’t know how that ball made it to the hole. I don’t know how that putt went in.”

--In the Class 2A boys tournament, Blake led the way by winning the individual and team races. Bears sophomore Derek Hitchner was a wire-to-wire winner, shooting a 7-under-par 65 in the first round and closing with a 69 for a tournament-record 10-under 134 total. Second place went to Alex Wilson of Holy Family Catholic at 145. Blake’s team total of 589 was followed by Holy Family at 604.

CLASS 3A
--Girls/ New Prague senior Taylor Ledwein repeated as the state champion with a six-shot margin (143-149) over Edina senior Hannah Hankinson and Lakeville North sophomore Megan Welch. Edina won the team title for the second year in a row with a 36-stroke gap (600-636) over second-place Forest Lake.

--Boys/ Minnetonka swept the individual and team titles. Ben Sigel rolled to a dominating victory, finishing with a six-shot edge (139-145) over runnerup Harrison Cooper of Simley. The Skippers’ team total of 594 was 13 strokes better than second-place Lakeville North.

CLASS 1A
--Girls/ Kiera Smith, a junior from Heritage Christian, won her second consecutive individual title with a one-shot margin (156-157) over sophomore Sophie Gray of Legacy Christian. Fillmore Central, which held a 20-stroke margin after the first round, rolled to the team title with a 692 total, 32 strokes in front of second-place Windom. Fillmore Central finished second last year and third two years ago.

Boys/ Blake Kalbaugh of Mahnomen/Waubun claimed the individual title with a 138 total, followed by Dylan Merchant of Mounds Park Academy and Brady Madsen of MACCRAY at 149. Mounds Park Academy repeated as team champion with an 11-shot edge (623-624) over Mahnomen/Waubun.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 842
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 12,204



Six Years Later, Reuniting With An Exceptional Athlete
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/14/2016 3:37:18 PM

BECKER – Six years ago this spring, I met an amazing high school athlete. In the years since, I have thought of her whenever I heard anyone use the word “inspirational.”

I first wrote about Trisha Kienitz in May 2010. I spoke to a gathering of athletic directors that month in Marshall, and I told them that as the new media specialist for the MSHSL I was always looking for stories to tell. “I’m convinced that there is at least one great story at every school in Minnesota,” I said.

The next day I received an email from Mike Dammann, the athletic director at MACCRAY High School in Clara City. The subject line said “Story?” It was indeed a story, a wonderful story.

Mike told me about Trisha and her goals, as a senior in 2010, to qualify for the Class 1A state golf tournament for the third time and hopefully finish high enough to take home a medal for the first time. I drove to Clara City to interview Trisha and write about her.

That 2010 story began like this …

Trisha Kienitz has heard the question several times during her golf career. She doesn’t know when it will be asked -- maybe at the first tee, maybe a few holes into a round -- but eventually a competitor’s curiosity at seeing Kienitz use a golf cart to get around the course will lead to the inevitable question.

It happened a couple weeks ago as Kienitz, a senior at MACCRAY High School, hit another tee shot straight down the heart of the fairway. A girl in her foursome asked, “Why do you have a cart?”

Trisha’s answer was short and sweet: “Artificial leg.” The reply was even shorter: “Oh.”

Oh. Right. Artificial Leg. Sweet.

Trisha, 18, tells the story – as she does just about everything else -- with a smile. She walks the school hallways in Clara City with a smile. She smiles as she pulls up the fabric of her jeans to reveal the flesh-toned prosthetic right leg that begins at her hip and is strapped around her waist.

She smiles as she recounts qualifying for the Class A state tournament the past two years, and continues to smile as she talks about her goal of returning this year.

Artificial leg? No big deal. …

The 2010 state tournament ended up being very special. Trisha finished eighth among individuals and indeed took home a medal. Trisha is now 24 years old and we had a wonderful reunion Tuesday at the 2016 state tournament.

She contacted me last week, asking if I would be in Becker for the tournament. Trisha was following Windom junior Hallie Will on the course; Hallie’s big sister Megan was one of Trisha’s college golf teammates at Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall. Because Trisha has a handicapped placard for her vehicle, she was allowed to use a golf cart at Pebble Creek Golf Club, and I rode along with her for a few holes. We had a blast, catching up, smiling and laughing.

Trisha graduated from MACCRAY in 2010 and earned a degree in agricultural business at Southwest Minnesota State in 2014. Her work career has taken her to an internship with the South Dakota Wheat Growers in Redfield, S.D.; a job as an agronomist with Cargill in Maynard, Minnesota; district sales manager for Simplex Seed in Ames, Iowa; and on Monday she will start a new job as a sales representative for Northwest Manufacturing in Red Lake Falls.

Eight individual medals are awarded at the state golf tournaments, so in 2010 Trisha received the last one. Her mom took a picture of Trisha and me that day, and a copy of that photo is framed in my office. (We posed for an updated photo Tuesday.)

“It was pretty awesome,” Trisha said. “ I remember on the last hole there was like a 35-mile-per-hour wind in my face and I hit a high drive so it went only 150 yards or so. The last hole was nerve-wracking.

“Getting that medal was surreal. That’s what I wanted to do for so long and I had watched everyone else do it the two years before.”

Trisha wore a SMSU sweatshirt and rain pants Tuesday. She talked about how much she had enjoyed playing college golf. (Trisha is pictured, left, with her friend Megan Will and the John's Journal Toyota Camry.)

“I absolutely loved it. We played all over the country.”

She was born without a right leg. Her flesh-toned prosthetic leg is long gone and she was proud to show me her newest prosthesis. She pulled up her pants leg, revealing a high-tech device that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.

I thought she was, uh, pulling my leg when she told me that she needs to charge the battery in her leg at night. That’s right, the prosthesis has electronic components that help Trisha walk smoothly, and they need to be refueled with electricity. Amazing.

Trisha and her boyfriend Jake ( a non-golfer) live in Thief River Falls, where Jake works as an engineer at Arctic Cat. Trisha coached middle school golfers this spring and gives lessons at Thief River Golf Club.

“I’m trying to teach Jake to golf but he doesn’t listen very well,” Trisha said with her ever-present smile.

That state tournament medal from 2010 remains where Trisha put it six years ago: Hanging in her bedroom at her parents’ farm.

“It doesn’t like feel like six years ago,” she said.

I agree.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 826
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 12,138



Wadena-Deer Creek Track: Running For Sam
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/13/2016 1:05:11 PM

Something very special took place at last weekend’s state track and field championships. Nobody noticed, but one of the medal-winning relay teams had five members.

Sam Kelderman wasn’t there in body but he was there in spirit with the boys 4x200 team from Wadena-Deer Creek High School. Two members of that relay team were honorary pallbearers – along with the rest of the Class of 2017 -- at Sam’s funeral in January.

Sophomore Jonathan Pantages, eighth-grader Bereket Loer, junior Josh Daigneault and junior Konnor Stueve finished sixth in the Class 1A 4x200 relay on Saturday. They wore their medals proudly, but had even more pride in the t-shirts they brought to honor Sam at state. Sam was a track star who would have been a member of the relay team this season. (Pictured, left to right, are Josh, Konnor, Jonathan and Bereket.)

“When it came to track that guy was by far the fastest kid in our team,” Konnor said. “When it came to a relay, no one could beat him. In an open event, yeah maybe you could beat him here or there. But in a relay there was no touching him.”

The t-shirts dedicated to Sam show a running shoe with a halo above it, and the words “Wadena-Deer Creek Track & Field ’16 … Sam’s Season … Forever a Wolverine.”

Sam was 17 when he died in an afternoon auto accident. He lost control of his south-bound vehicle and collided with a vehicle driving north. He was taken to Tri-County Hospital in Wadena, where he died. Sam’s obituary included this…

“He was a Junior at Wadena-Deer Creek High School. He enjoyed the outdoors, whether it was snowmobiling, ice fishing, 4-wheeling, running track, playing football, Ultimate Ping Pong or beach volleyball. Sam also favored gaming with ‘the guys,’ being at the Pizza Ranch, church youth group activities or anything that involved his family and friends. He will be remembered as funny, smart, kind and very social.”

The members of the 4x200 relay team told me how hard Sam worked on handoffs; getting the baton from one runner to the next as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“He was the best at handoffs,” Konnor said. “He never messed one up. He would walk us through every single one and make sure we got that thing off cleanly.”

Pantages, Loer, Daigneault and Stueve also qualified for state in the 4x100 relay, but didn’t advance past Friday’s preliminaries to Saturday’s finals. They broke the school record in the 4x200 four times this spring, the fourth time coming Saturday when they finished in 1 minute, 31.84 seconds. The winning team from Foley finished in 1:30.49.

It’s obvious that the Wadena-Deer Creek kids miss their friend.

“Sam was a really good guy. Everyone in the school loved him. You really never realized how much he touched people until he was gone,” Konnor said.

Jonathan said, “He was the most passionate kid I ever met. When it came to school, he was passionate about doing his homework. When it was friends, he would call his friends and we would hang out. Every weekend we would go to his cabin and fish for 12 hours a day. And when it came to track, we would be the last ones there, until at least 7 or 8 o’clock.”

Sam’s death left a hole on the relay teams, filled by first-year runners Daigneault and Loer.

“At the beginning of the season we didn’t even know if there was going to be a 4x2 team,” said Jonathan. “We didn’t know if these two were going to come out. And them coming out was the best thing that could have happened to us. It made me happy because without Sam I was really sad when track started. And when they came, I felt like he was still there and he helped us to get them out.”

Joshua said he came out for the track team this year for Sam.

“These guys talked to me and asked me to run track with them. All I know is that no one on earth could take Sam’s place on this team and do better than he did.”

Jonathan is the first runner on the 4x200 team, and he asked Sam for help before every race this season. As he placed his feet in the starting blocks and got settled, he touched his forehead and pointed to the heavens.

“I ask Sam to push me the whole way,” he said. “Before every race. I can feel it. He’s definitely there with me.”

Konnor said, “We’re the only relay team with five people. Every single time, he was there with us.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 810
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,998



Saluting Three-Sport Athletes Who Specialize In Success
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/11/2016 7:55:10 PM

Two of Minnesota’s greatest all-time multi-sport athletes live 280 miles apart, one of them way up in the northwest part of the state and one way down in the southeast. But while mileage separates Meleah Biermaier and Andrianna (Andy) Jacobs, athletic accomplishments do not.

The two seniors – Biermaier from Thief River Falls and Jacobs from Rochester Century – ended their MSHSL careers in grand fashion at Saturday’s state track and field championships, which is no surprise considering their gold-medal history. Biermaier won the Class 2A 300-meter hurdles for the third time and broke her own state record. Jacobs claimed her fourth state title in the 2A pole vault; she holds the state record in that event.

The duo is testament to what can be accomplished by athletes who choose not to specialize in just one sport. Both will be track athletes in college, Biermaier at the University of Minnesota and Jacobs at Nebraska.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I think it’ll sink in later tonight,” said Jacobs, whose career-best height is 13-7 ¼. She won with a vault of 13-3 Saturday at Hamline University’s Klas Field, three inches better than runner-up Julia Fixsen, a ninth-grader from Mounds View.

Biermaier won her first 300 hurdles title as an eighth-grader, finished second as a ninth- and 10th-grader, broke a 28-year-old record last year at state and set another record Saturday. Her time was 41.35 seconds.

“Honestly, my goal this year was to go 41 (seconds),” she said. “When I finished and I kind of heard it, I was like, ‘There’s no way. I must have heard it wrong.’ It felt fast, it felt really good, actually. Normally I die at the end or something but this time my adrenalin was going so fast.”

Meleah has also played volleyball and basketball for the Prowlers; in addition to going to state in track five times she has played in two state volleyball tournaments and two in basketball. She was a member of the third-place 4x100 relay team Saturday along with eighth-graders Carley Johnson and Miah Nelson and senior Kira Johnson.

“This whole thing has been awesome,” Meleah said. “My teams in my other sports have been phenomenal, the relay this year was great, the coaches who always pushed me to do my best. It’s been really fun.”

Saturday’s event was Jacobs’ 14th state tournament. She also has been a regular on the medal stand as a diver at the state swimming championships as well as in gymnastics.

She suffered a sprained right ankle three weeks ago, which hampered her down the stretch of the track season. At the Big Nine Conference meet she attempted only one vault, clearing 10-6 to win the competition after all the other vaulters had gone out at lower heights.

“I was feeling pretty good today,” she said with a big smile. “It felt a lot better.”

MORE STATE RECORDS

In addition to Biermaier’s 300 hurdles mark, two other all-time state records were broken over the weekend. East Ridge senior Karina Joiner set a 100-meter hurdles record of 13.94 in Friday’s preliminaries; she won the event Saturday in 14.01. The Edina girls 4x800 relay team set an all-time record of 8:59.69 Saturday.

TRIPLE CROWN WINNERS

Two distance runners completed the Triple Crown in that specialty, sweeping first-place finishes in the state cross-country championships last fall and winning the 1,600 and 3,200 meters on the track this weekend. That was accomplished by Wayzata senior Jaret Carpenter in 2A boys and Winona Cotter seventh-grader Grace Ping in 1A girls.

Ping’s success at such a young age marks her as someone who could, if she swept the Triple Crown each year for six years, finish her high school career with 18 individual state championships.

TEAM SCORES

Class 2A girls: 1. Alexandria 44.25; 2. Chanhassen 44; 3. Armstrong 42; 4. St. Michael-Albertville 40; 5. Mounds View 35.

Class 2A boys: 1. Wayzata 75; 2. Edina 44; 3. Woodbury 34; 4. Eden Prairie 32; 5. Elk River 31.

Class 1A girls: 1. Minneapolis Edison 46; 2. Blake 42; 3. Pequot Lakes 37; 4 Watertown-Mayer 34; 5. Tri-City United 33.

Class 1A boys: 1. Rushford-Peterson/Houston 57; 2. Pine Island 55; 3. Minnehaha 53; 4. Pipestone 37; 5. Foley 33.

--Senior twins Bethany and Megan Hasz of Alexandria ended their illustrious high school careers by finishing first and second in the 2A 1,600 Saturday. They were the top two finishers at the state cross-country meet the last three years and Bethany won the 1,600 and 3,200 last year at state.

--Chanhassen senior Jedah Caldwell repeated as the 2A champion in the 100 and 200 and Wayzata senior Ruby Stauber won her second 800-meter title in two years. Other repeat 2A girls champs were Honour Finley of Bloomington Kennedy in the 400, Eden Prairie senior Ashley Ramacher in the high jump, St. Michael-Albertville in the 4x100 relay and Waconia in the 4x200.

--On the 2A boys side, Armstrong senior and state record-holder Evan McClellon repeated as champion in the 100, as did Elk River senior Lucas Trapp in the 800 and Hopkins in the 4x800 relay.

--Minneapolis North’s T’Nia Riley was a double winner among Class 1A girls, sweeping the 100 and 200 titles. Jaime Salone of Blake won the girls shot put and discus while Millie Klefsass of Staples-Motley won the pole vault and 100 hurdles. Boys relay teams from Foley finished first in the 4x100 and 4x200, and Blue Earth girls relay squads won the 4x200 and 4x400.

--Winning back-to-back state titles in Class 1A were Jordan’s Jenna Kes in the girls triple jump, Noah Carlson of Rushford-Peterson/Houston in the boys long jump (he also won the 200 meters), St. Clair sophomore Mitchell Weber in the discus and shot put and the Minneapolis Edison girls in the 4x100.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 810
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,998



Seeing Is Believing: The Amazing Julia Stenberg
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/10/2016 8:22:51 PM

NORTH MANKATO – Imagine you are a softball pitcher. You stand 43 feet from home plate and you must be able to read the catcher’s signs, know the strike zone and fire the ball to exactly the right spot.

Now imagine doing that with one working eye.

That’s what Julia Stenberg does every day. The senior from Badger/Greenbush-Middle River finished the season with a 15-2 record on Friday when the Gators were defeated by Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian 12-0 in the Class 1A state championship game at Caswell Park.

Julia lost the sight in her right eye as the result of a sledding accident when she was in first grade. The injuries resulted in a detached retina and the gradual loss of vision.

“I don’t even remember when I lost sight totally, but my whole softball career has been with one eye so I really haven’t had to adapt to anything. I’ve practiced pitching pretty much from when I was this big,” she said, holding one hand about belt high.

She has been pitching since ninth grade for the Gators, who are nearly regulars at the state tournament. Their 2016 appearance is their seventh since 2000 and they were the 1A state runnersup last season.

Julia's fastball is not dominating and her changeup is not thrown often, but she relies on the ability to hit spots. She came into the state tournament with an earned-run average of only 1.46, striking out 55 and walking just 12 in 86 1/3 innings.

“I rely on my accuracy, and once in a while I’ll get a changeup in but I’m not really consistent with that,” said Julia, who also was a member of Greenbush-Middle River’s state championship robotics team this spring.

Fielding can be a challenge, as well as hitting. Julia said depth perception is an issue in those instances.

“Anywhere else in the field I’m slow to my right side,” she said. “In the outfield, I have zero depth perception so it’s like, uh …” And then she laughed.

Fun is part of the game plan for the Gators. And Julia’s vision is something everyone who knows her is used to.

“I think they know but everyone kind of forgets,” she said. “My teammates will just joke around; I’ll miss something and somebody will say, ‘Julia, geez. What are you, blind?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And they’ll go, ‘Oh, I forgot! I’m sorry!’ ”

--Friday’s softball state championship games were delayed by storms. The fields were cleared at 3:11 p.m. – all games were underway -- when lightning flashed, followed by heavy rain, high winds and hail. The North Mankato Police Department was well-prepared and fans took shelter in nearby Dakota Meadows Middle School. Teams returned to their fields at 7 p.m. and play resumed soon after.

STATE SOFTBALL RESULTS

Championship Games
Class 1A/ Edgerton/SW MN Christian 12, Badger/Greenbush-Middle River 0
Class 2A/ Zumbrota-Mazeppa 7, Pequot Lakes 0
Class 3A/ Mankato West 4, Winona 3
Class 4A/ Chanhassen 5, Buffalo 3

Third-Place Games
Class 1A/ Mankato Loyola 6, Cherry 2
Class 2A/ Rockford 3, LeSueur-Henderson 0
Class 3A/ Hermantown 18, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 6
Class 4A/ Woodbury 12, Hopkins 0

Fifth-Place Games
Class 1A/ New York Mills 13, Pine River-Backus 1
Class 2A/ Pipestone 8, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 3
Class 3A/ Alexandria 5, Becker 1
Class 4A/ Park 8, Forest Lake 0

STATE TRACK: DAY ONE

The state track and field championships began Friday with mostly preliminaries and will conclude Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul. Here are some of the highlights from Day One:

--East Ridge senior Karina Joiner set an all-time state record in the prelims of the girls Class 2A 100-meter hurdles. Her time of 13.94 seconds shattered the previous record of 14.13 set by Ann Harlos of Eden Prairie a year ago.

--Forest Lake senior Emma Benner won the girls 2A 3,200 meters, holding off Alexandria twins Megan and Bethany Hasz, who were second and third. Bethany won the race last year, and Bethany and Megan have finished first and second at the last three Class 2A state cross-country meets.

--The top three finishers in the Class 1A girls 3,200 meters were two seventh-graders and an eighth-grader. The winner was Winona Cotter seventh-grader Grace Ping, who also won the 1A cross-country title last fall. Second was seventh-grader Tierney Wolfgram of Math & Science Academy and third was Breck eighth-grader Morgan Richter.

--Weather also was an issue at Hamline. After the Class 2A portion of the meet concluded, the Class 1A events were delayed by storms.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 770
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,956



Two Sports, Two State Tournaments For Esko Athlete
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/9/2016 6:25:02 PM

NORTH MANKATO – Esko senior Alexis Smalley is running all over as her high school athletic career comes to a very busy end. While most kids are thrilled to be competing at either the state softball tournament or state track meet this week, Alexis has qualified for both. Which is a tough thing to do.

Track is her true spring sport; she has earned 12 varsity letters in track, soccer and hockey. She qualified for state on relay teams as a freshman and sophomore and will run in the Class 1A preliminaries of the 4x100 and 4x200 relays Friday in the hopes of qualifying for Saturday’s finals. So after spending Thursday at the state softball tournament, she will be at Hamline University in St. Paul on Friday for the state track meet.

On a whim, she joined the softball team well into the season, and on Thursday she was with her Eskomos softball teammates at Caswell Park. They lost to LeSueur-Henderson 6-0 in the opening round and and fell to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 8-2 in the consolation bracket.

At the track championships, Alexis (pictured) will run the two relays with Ashlie Johnson, Olivia Rengo and Suntina Spehar. On the softball field Thursday, she didn’t get into the first game. That’s almost standard procedure; her main role is pinch-running.

After track practice this spring she routinely walked next door to the Eskomos’ softball field and watched her friends work out. She admits that joining the softball team started out as little more than a prank.

“I’ve always joked with my friends about wanting to play,” she said. “One day I just signed up. I talked to the coach (Jeff Emanuel) . I’m pretty close with his family, I asked him if I could play and he said, ‘Go for it.’ ”

She’s not in the team photo that’s published in the state tournament program, but that doesn’t matter.

“I’ve gotten in more games than I expected,” she said. “I just wanted to enjoy it and have fun.”

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--Hopkins sophomore Natalie DenHartog didn’t waste a moment at the state tournament, driving the first pitch of the Royals’ Class 4A quarterfinal game over the fence for a home run. That sparked the Royals to a 4-3 victory over Spring Lake Park. They fell to Chanhassen 10-1 in the semifinals. Buffalo beat Woodbury 3-1 in the other 4A semifinal; Chanhassen and Buffalo will play for the state title Friday.

--Kimball lost to Mankato Loyola 7-3 in an eight-inning Class 1A quarterfinal, but the Cubs’ Mackenzie Leither did all she could. She drove in all three Kimball runs on a two-run homer and a solo homer. She tied the single-game tournament record for homers, set seven times before, and joined 17 others who have hit two home runs in the tournament. Jenny Nelson hit two home runs and drove in three runs in leading Edgerton/Southwest Minnesota Christian to an 11-0, five-inning 1A quarterfinal win over Pine River-Backus.

--Hermantown matched a long-standing tournament record in defeating Simley 18-12 in the Class 3A quarterfinals. The Hawks’ 18 runs equaled the record set in 1978 by Hopkins Eisenhower in an 18-4 win over West St. Paul Archbishop Brady (the first state tournament was held in 1977). The 26 total runs in the Hermantown-Simley game broke the previous record of 25 set in 1983 when St. Agnes defeated Rockford 13-12.

FRIDAY’S SCHEDULE

Championship Games
Class 1A/ Edgerton/SW MN Christian vs. Badger/Greenbush-Middle River, 2:30 p.m.
Class 2A/ Zumbrota-Mazeppa vs. Pequot Lakes, 2 p.m.
Class 3A/ Winona vs. Mankato West, 1:30 p.m.
Class 4A/ Chanhassen vs. Buffalo, 1 p.m.

Third-Place Games
Class 1A/ Cherry vs. Mankato Loyola, 11 a.m.
Class 2A/ LeSueur-Henderson vs. Rockford, 11 a.m.
Class 3A/ Hermantown vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s, 11 a.m.
Class 4A/ Hopkins vs. Woodbury, 11 a.m.

Fifth-Place Games
Class 1A/ Pine River-Backus vs. New York Mills, 9 a.m.
Class 2A/ Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton vs. Pipestone, 9 a.m.
Class 3A/ Becker vs. Alexandria, 9 a.m.
Class 4A/ Forest Lake vs. Park, 9 a.m.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 770
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,886



Columbia Heights Boys Tennis Reaches The Heights
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/7/2016 4:33:36 PM

When the boys tennis team from Columbia Heights High School qualified for this week’s Class 1A state tournament, it was major news. The school, located directly north of Minneapolis, hasn’t exactly been a hotbed for state qualifying teams in recent years.

Historically, the Hylanders are best known for volleyball success. Between 1977 and 1998 Columbia Heights went to state in volleyball 19 times, winning Class 2A state titles in 1986, 1987, 1989 and 1990.

Most recently, the boys basketball team was Class 3A state runner-up in 2011; its only previous trip to state had been in 1930. The Hylanders were Class 2A state football champs in 1979 and went to state in 1980 and 1991. The boys hockey team went to state in 1983 and baseball did the same in 1978. And that’s the bulk of the state-tournament pedigree for the Hylanders.

When the boys tennis team won the Section 5 championship last week, coach Ya Yang said it was “a very big deal. I’ve gotten a lot of texts from past administrators, and people on Facebook who went to Heights are cheering us on. It’s a big deal. It’s a big thing for the community. Going to state hasn’t been something that’s occurred often, especially with the tennis team.”

This is the first time a Hylanders boys tennis team has gone to a state tournament, an event that is 66 years old. The team is senior-laden, including trailblazer Blake Kuether, who broke a two-decade Hylanders drought by qualifying for the state individual tournament two years ago.

“It’s history for our school,” Kuether said Tuesday at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis. “On paper it’s obviously the biggest thing that we’ve done as students in our whole high school. And as individuals, working for this for the last six years, personally it’s one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve had in my life. For the whole team, it feels great.”

Kuether will be joined in the singles and doubles competition later this week by teammate Manij Ghishing in singles and the doubles duo of Elyazid Chiboub and Mahir Ibrahim.

The Hylanders lost to four-time Class 1A champion St. Paul Academy 6-1 in Tuesday’s quarterfinals, then fell to Luverne 5-2 in the consolation bracket, ending their season.

Yang, who has been on the coaching staff for seven years, knew this season could become something special. The goals included winning the Tri-Metro Conference championship as well as the section title. Yang was excited about the possibilities, but he didn’t want to seem too overly optimistic.

“I tried to hide it from them, to be very honest,” he said. “We did very well last year in our conference, so with all the guys returning I knew we were going to be very competitive in the conference. With the section reassignments, I knew we were going to be competitive, as well. I said we had a chance to do something really special. I tried to share that but also tried to hide that a little bit.”

Michael O’Leary, one of the senior leaders, said the most difficult and nerve-wracking part of the season was winning the berth at state.

“Winning the section was huge,” he said. “The section tournament for the team was actually really scary, facing St. Anthony and Fridley. The biggest sigh of relief was when we won the section final. That was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been.

“I’m almost not as nervous for this match (at state). There’s nothing to lose now. Getting here was the hardest part. We knew that this year we had the best chance we’ve ever had to get here. Everyone put in all the work all year to get here. It was huge.”

The school year is complete and graduation was held last Friday. But the Hylanders have created some sweet memories.

“We’ve been talked about in school,” said senior Nick Hosch. “A lot of people actually started to know who we were. That’s the truth.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 738
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,761



Aitkin High School Honors Fallen Hero
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/6/2016 2:37:33 PM

(I'm happy to post this news item, sent from Aitkin High School.)

This past year the community of Aitkin experienced a loss felt throughout the country as Deputy Steve Sandberg was killed in the line of duty in October of 2015. On May 20 the Aitkin High School baseball team continued the healing process by celebrating the retirement of jersey number 15, which was worn by Steve Sandberg and will never be worn again by another Gobbler player.

Steve was quite an athlete as he brought ability, commitment and passion to the game every time out on the court or field. That is a trio of pretty good attributes for life, as well, and he brought them to his routine every day.

The only major league baseball player who has had his number 15 retired is the late Thurman Munson of the New York Yankees, but the inscription on Munson’s plaque in Yankee Stadium is a perfect way to describe Steve. It reads, “Our captain and leader has not left us, not today, not tomorrow, not this year or next...our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him.”

Steve loved Aitkin, loved athletics and was a big contributor to the Aitkin baseball program. Steve played high school baseball in Aitkin from 1971-1973 and helped lay the foundation for Aitkin’s baseball program. He was coached by baseball legend Truman Buisman. Steve also played baseball for the Aitkin Stags town team in the late 70’s and early 80’s; current head coach Jeremy Janzen was the bat boy for that town team.

Number 15 will never be worn by an Aitkin varsity baseball player again. Steve’s character, commitment and passion will be remembered by this. His number 15 jersey is on display at all home baseball games and in the Aitkin high school showcase.



Surprise! Chanhassen’s Caldwell Sets Another State Record
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 6/1/2016 11:19:59 PM

ST. PETER – Jedah Caldwell became the inarguable fastest female sprinter in Minnesota high school history on Wednesday, but nobody knew it right away. After she won her 100-meter preliminary race in the Class 2A Section 2 track meet on a cool, overcast day at Gustavus Adolphus College, the Chanhassen senior said to me, “It's not the best day to run.”

I agreed. Everyone agreed. Most sprinters like very warm, even hot conditions in which they can work up a pre-race sweat, get loose and go.

Caldwell’s big splash came a few weeks ago in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. At the Dakota Relays, she set an all-time Minnesota high school record by winning the 200 meters in 23.59 seconds. She narrowly missed setting another record in the 100 on that warm day, but that one finally fell on Wednesday.

Jedah’s time in the 100 prelims (the finals will be held Friday at Gustavus) was 11.67 seconds. Sure, she blew past the field in her time trial, but until the results were posted on a wall (with other events) and people began peering, no one knew history had been made.

But there it was: 11.67. Upon learning of the record, Chanhassen coach Chris Schriever found Jedah and told her the news. She was thrilled … and surprised.

Did she expect to break the record Wednesday? “No, not at all,” she said after also winning the 200-meter prelims. “I actually felt really good. The track is bouncey and it’s really good running on this track. It was fun. But I didn’t expect to do that. It was like, ‘Yes! I finally got that record.’ ”

The previous state record in the 100 was 11.69, set by Alexandria’s Wensia Johnson in the 2013 Central Lakes Conference meet. Caldwell ran 11.71 in Sioux Falls; that day at the Dakota Relays was a big confidence boost, she said.

“It brought a lot of momentum to my life. It was like, ‘OK, I hit this time. Maybe I won’t do it in the next race or the next race, but I know I can do it again.’ ”

She has three days of racing remaining in her Chanhassen Storm career; Friday’s section finals and the state championships June 10-11 at Hamline University in St. Paul.

Caldwell is no stranger to the state meet or the medal stand. She first qualified as a ninth-grader at Centennial High School and placed eighth in the 200. As a sophomore she was fourth in the 100 and third in the 200 at state. After a family move to Chanhassen, she won state titles at both distances last spring.

Her faster times this spring can certainly be attributed to more experience and maturity, but she also credits a commitment to the weight room. During the winter she was lifting at 5:20 a.m. three or four days a week, and during the season she has done so twice a week.

“I did lifting last year, too, but not like this,” she said. “Training really, really hard and kind of making my body fatigued, has made me realize I’m tired. My body’s just drained but I’m still running well. Some races I’m like, ‘My legs hurt but I’ve got to stay positive.’ ”

Schriever said, “The big thing is she isn’t afraid to go into the weight room and do what she needs to do. That’s what we’re trying to emphasize this year with the younger kids.

“She’s naturally fast, obviously. Her top-end speed is ridiculous. But what has caused her to move out more and more is that she’s willing to do what she needs to, especially with weights. And that’s a big deal; she’s not worried about getting too big or too bulky. She knows it’s going to help an awful lot. And she’s willing to be coached, that’s huge.”

Jedah began the season aiming for state records in the 100 and 200. With both of those accomplished, no one knows what the future holds.

“She came in hoping to get both records. That was her overall goal,” Schriever said. “Everything she’s done this year was part of her goals. Now it’s seeing what she can do on the biggest stage. Can she not only win, but can she set additional records there?”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 730
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,711



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