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A New Look And A New Season For Two Volleyball Powers
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/30/2011 11:33:11 PM

FARIBAULT -- Change was in the air for both teams long before Lakeville North and Bethlehem Academy opened the volleyball season here on Tuesday night. And then the whistle blew, the first ball of the season was struck and change was transformed into action.

Each team is ranked No. 2 in its class, and the 3A North Panthers defeated the 1A Bethlehem Academy Cardinals 25-16, 25-19, 25-22 in a great old gymnasium that included a nearly full house, a pep band, cheerleaders and an enthusiastic student section celebrating the first day of school at Bethlehem Academy.

About those changes …

Lakeville North was coming off a historic season. After 14 trips to the state tournament and five runner-up finishes between 1981 and 2007 (the first four as Lakeville, the fifth as Lakeville North), the Panthers finally won it all in 2010. But the landscape shifted dramatically during the offseason as coach Milan Mader retired after several decades and and hitter Taylr McNeil, who has already made a verbal commitment to play at the University of Minnesota, moved to Eagan and now is a sophomore for the Wildcats. McNeil’s sister Kellie, the 2010 player of the year in the state, is now a Gophers freshman.

North’s new coach is Steve Willingham, who was an assistant to Mader from 1986 to 2005.

The changes have not been quite so dramatic at Bethlehem Academy. The Cardinals lost all-state players Jena Budde and Victoria Nass to graduation but longtime Franz Boelter remains at the helm. The big adjustment for the Cardinals is that for the first time in eight years they are not coming off a trip to state.

Between 2002 and 2009, the Cardinals won 1A championships in all the odd-numbered years and finished second in all the even-numbered years. That string of state appearances ended last year with a loss to eventual state champion Wabasha-Kellogg in the Section 1 tournament finals.

The Cardinals are ready to begin the journey toward another possible state appearance, and as Boelter said after Tuesday’s match, the road is just beginning.

“We hung in there,” he said. “They made enough mistakes to help us out, and we made enough mistakes to prevent us from winning a set. It was a little bit of a sloppy first match, but at least we stayed competitive and hopefully we worked out some of the jitters and the kinks. We’ll certainly have a chance to get better, and we’ll certainly be pretty good by the end of the season.”

The sentiments were similar on the other bench. “I thought we played about how we expected,” Willingham said. “We’ve got a long way to go in some facets of the game. There are some things that we do really well right now, but that’s not going to stop us from trying to get better at them, either.”

North is skilled and powerful. Sophomore Alyssa Goehner and senior Kelly Nizzari, a pair of 5-foot-11 outside hitters, combined for 28 kills and 6-foot senior Nicole Latzig finished with five kills and a sterling .416 hitting percentage. Senior setter Jessica Wolf ran the offense nicely, recording 32 assists.

For the Cardinals -- who always rely on great defense -- junior hitters Maddie Borwege and Jessie Mathews combined for 16 kills and 5-11 ninth-grader Lauren Mathews had four while seventh-grader Payton Nutter and senior Daisy Jo Robinson combined for 21 assists.

“We are young and some of our youth has some experience,” Boelter said. “We’ve got a number of kids playing their first varsity match, and there was an excitability factor against a good team. (Lakeville North is) going to be a very good volleyball team, I think we’re going to be a very good volleyball team, and they’re just ahead of us right now.”

Lakeville North and Bethlehem Academy have been meeting during the regular season for several years now. The reasoning is simple: face the best competition you can and you’ll be well-prepared for the postseason. And opening the season in such an intimate, loud, crowded setting adds even more.

“This gym is awesome, isn’t it? You won’t play in a space like this very often,” Willingham said. “And there are only a couple of them left in high school volleyball, so that’s always fun. … We want to play the best teams, and Franz’s teams always play defense. And if you don’t play defense with them, they’re going to hand you your lunch. It was a fun match and we love playing these guys.”

TIDBITS …

--The Bethlehem Academy band – including a couple of cheerleaders who picked up their instruments between cheers -- put on a sterling performance before the match started. How nice is this: a play list that included songs by Lady Gaga, The White Stripes, the Spencer Davis Group and Roy Orbison.

--The out-of-town media was very well-treated by Bethlehem Academy athletic director Ed Friesen. Before the match got going, Ed handed me a complementary diet soft drink that shall not be named and a world-famous Bethlehem Academy chocolate chunk cookie.

--Celebrities in the crowd: It was a pleasure to chat with former Apple Valley coach Walt Weaver, who has forgotten more about volleyball than I will ever know. I also ran into veteran broadcasters Mike Morrissey, who has been behind the microphone since 1967. Mike had the night off, and his colleague Gordy Kosfelt handled play-by-play duties for KDHL in Faribault.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 9
*Miles John has driven: 1,199

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn



Bloomington Jefferson, Wabasha-Kellogg New No. 1 Volleyball Teams
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/29/2011 2:56:19 PM

The state volleyball rankings are only in their second week, but there has already been change at the top.

Preseason 3A No. 1 Lakeville North is No. 2 this week behind Bloomington Jefferson, and in 1A Wabasha-Kellogg has risen from No. 2 to No. 1 ahead of previously top-ranked Nevis (now No. 4).

Jackson County Central maintained the No. 1 spot in 2A. Here are the rankings …

CLASS 3A
1. Bloomington Jefferson (10) 220
2. Lakeville North (5) 196
3. Wayzata 188
4. Blaine 167
5. Lakeville South 159
6. Shakopee 138
7. Centennial 113
8. Eden Prairie 106
9. Hopkins 95
10. Andover 60
Others: Eagan (53), Hutchinson (26), East Ridge (21), Waconia (21), Apple Valley (19), Totino-Grace (10), Prior Lake (9)

CLASS 2A
1. Jackson County Central (4) 150
2. Lesuer-Henderson (3) 145
3. Stewartville (2) 132
4. Belle Plaine (1) 116
5. Marshall 102
6. Maple Lake 92
Kasson-Mantorville 92
8. Visitation 75
9. Wadena-Deer Creek 55
10. Byron 12
Others: Caledonia (7)

CLASS 1A
1. Wabasha-Kellogg (7) 158
2. Bethlehem Academy (1) 151
3. Mayer Lutheran (1) 139
4. Nevis (2) 137
5. Minneota 112
6. Win-E-Mac 102
7. BBE 99
8. Southwest Christian 94
9. Canby 56
10. Ada-Borup 47
Others: MACCRAY (39)



Zero Week Football: The Games, The Food, The Livestock And More
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/27/2011 2:47:49 PM

Before getting into the details of this little essay, let’s quickly recap what has taken place in the last few days:

The MSHSL announced a robotics partnership … the football season began with seven Zero Week games … the competive season opened for volleyball, cross-country, soccer and girls swimming and diving … I spent 13 hours behind the wheel over three days going to New London-Spicer, Fulda and St. Peter and had more fun than should be allowed by law.

Robotics is an activity that has been growing around the state as well as the country, and the MSHSL’s partnership with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) will help expand opportunities for students in Minnesota.

And if robots can be taught to play football, I know a few coaches who would be very happy if the robotic gridders could avoid turnovers and penalties, because that was a major theme of the two Zero Week games I witnessed. There were six turnovers in Murray County Central’s 24-18 double-overtime win at Fulda on Thursday, and nine turnovers in St. Peter’s 7-0 victory over visiting Minnewaska on Friday. I’m not sure how many penalty flags were thrown, but a bunch of officials may need treatment for sore shoulders after tossing all that yellow laundry.

“We had a lot of turnovers that we can’t afford, and they did, too, and there were a lot of penalties with it. But we came away with the win,” said Murray County Central coach Chris Davis.

The Fulda-Murray County Central and Minnewaska-St. Peter games were stark contrasts. Fulda and MCC in Slayton are only 13 miles apart. They have a cooperative team in wrestling and have been meeting on athletic fields for as long as anyone can remember. Thursday’s game appears to be the last time they’ll meet in football, however, because Fulda will move from Class 1A to Nine-Man beginning with this year’s playoffs.

“Fulda’s always a tough opponent,” Davis said. “I got here 14 years ago and I think they were playing each other 100 years before that. It’s always a good game.”

It’s a different story with Minnewaska (in Glenwood) and St. Peter. They are 150 miles apart and to anyone’s recollection they had not met in football since around 1990. St. Peter coach Brian Odland said Zero Week was a big thing for the Saints, who in order to play eight games in 2010 faced Blue Earth twice during the regular season and could have had a third meeting in the playoffs.

WHEN ZERO WEEK WAS studied and approved, I bet few people realized that conflicts with the state fair would be a factor. Murray County Central running back Austin Kluis had to choose between playing football at Fulda or showing cattle at the state fair (he chose football) and four Minnewaska starters missed practice Wednesday and Thursday because they were showing livestock at the fair.

But Zero Week scheduling has paid dividends for Murray County Central in three major ways: it removed a previous conflict between the county fair (when many players are showing livestock) and the first week of practice, the Rebels will play Adrian this Thursday and still enjoy a long Labor Day weekend, then take their mandated bye week and have extra time to prepare for their Sept. 16 Homecoming game against Canby.

“Zero Week has been fantastic,” Davis said. “There’s not one negative thing.”

INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM: Fulda co-coaches Mike Pagel and Greg Erdmann allowed me inside the locker room (which is also the wrestling practice room) before the Raiders took the field. The 20 boys in uniform listened to their coaches talk about new rules this year and about their last chance to play MCC.

“We’re ready guys,” Pagel told the boys. “On offense we’re going to run, run, run. Play hard, hit hard and do it right.” After everybody took a knee for a few silent seconds, Pagel said simply, “Let’s go. Good luck.”

LET’S TALK ABOUT food, which always is part of football games (at least for me). Fulda boosters served a terrific pregame meal, with your choice of a burger or brat with chips, drink (Diet Coke in my case, of course) and a homemade cookie or bar for six bucks. Best deal in town. In St. Peter I had the good ol’ concession standby: two hot dogs and a soft drink that shall not be named.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK (Part I, overheard in St. Peter) ... Teen Girl A: "Is the game over?" Teen Girl B: "No, it's halftime." Teen Girl A: "I don't understand football."

QUOTE OF THE WEEK (Part II, overheard at halftime in Fulda while Michael Jackson’s 1972 version of “Rockin’ Robin” was played on the sound system): “This is old music. But I’m only 12 and a half.”

SEASON'S BEST HAIRCUT ... St. Peter's Jordan Phillips has a dandy. To see it displayed in a postgame video interview, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD …

--The year has barely begun and I’ve already driven more than 1,000 miles. At least it ain’t snowing. In this stretch I hit the A&W in New London, McDonald’s in Windom and assorted convenience stores for refreshments (as well as, uh, refreshment breaks).

--This week’s animal count: Two live pheasants, two dead raccoons.

--Favorite sights: The vast array of American flags that line Highway 60 in Elysian, as well as beautiful Lake Elysian.

--You know you’re at a small-town football game when: The officials pull up behind one end zone in two vehicles and set up lawn chairs for their halftime break.

--You knew football season had arrived when: The first song played on the Fulda PA system was Kenny Chesney’s “The Boys of Fall.”

--Media pros I chatted with at the games: Joe Brown of the Marshall Independent, Aaron Hagen of the Worthington Daily Globe, Dirk Abraham of KDOM radio in Windom, Chad Courrier and Pat Christman of the Mankato Free Press, Dave McClurg of KMGK radio in Glenwood and Erick Lind of KEYC-TV in Mankato. In St. Peter I also had a nice chat with my friend Tim Kennedy of Gustavus Adolphus College; Tim was the longtime sports information director and was recently named assistant vice president and director of multimedia innovation (that title means we talked about things like Twitter and Facebook).

--Football’s everywhere: As I drove out of St. Peter and headed home Friday night, I hit the AM radio scan buttom. The dial stopped on some fuzzy play-by-play of a football game. I couldn’t make out many details until I got out in the country and the signal cleared up. The Byrd High School Yellow Jackets had just defeated the Southwood Cowboys 21-0 … in Shreveport … Louisiana.

--To see photo galleries from the games in Fulda and St. Peter, check out the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 7
*Miles John has driven: 1,129

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn



New London-Spicer’s Spectacular Field: “It’s The Passion, It’s The Pride”
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/25/2011 1:10:12 PM

We see wonderful acts of community pride and community spirit on a regular basis in our world of high school activities. People at New London-Spicer High School know all about those qualities, thanks to a band of volunteers who have transformed the Wildcats football facility into what might be the finest in Minnesota.

Beginning in 2005 with about a dozen fathers of football players, the NLS Wildcats Grounds Crew has grown to more than 50 members. They do everything from mowing the grass and painting the yard lines (on the practice fields, as well) to improving the sound system, upgrading plumbing systems, laying concrete and everything else that makes Pederson Field so special.

And believe me, it is special. I visit athletic facilities all over the state, and Pederson Field is an absolute showplace. The grass is equal to Target Field, the end zones are painted with the school colors of black and gold in a checkerboard pattern, large NFL-quality numbers mark the 10, 20, 30, etc. … and all the work is done by volunteers.

Not only do the dads not receive any compensation, they all pay dues of $40 to belong to the group. They wear matching black t-shirts when they gather to improve the field, as they did Wednesday evening. They all had already put in a full day’s work on their own jobs, but they spent several hours preparing Pederson Field for the season ahead.

“Last week we had 36 guys here working,” New London-Spicer football coach Dan Essler said on Wednesday. “And this is the third night in a row they’ve been out here.”

One of the big jobs Wednesday was improving the entry into the stadium. When fans come out on Sept. 2 for the opener against Paynesville, they will walk across a giant concrete football – colored brown and decorated with a Wildcats logo – as part of the latest in many improvements. As the concrete was setting Wednesday, Grounds Crew leader Tom Tengwall wrote “GROUNDS CREW ‘11” in the surface.

“It’s the passion, it’s the pride,” said Tengwall (pictured at left directing the crew), one of the original members of the Grounds Crew. From that small group of original volunteers, the membership has grown steadily. “We try to get four or five new guys each year, people with kids in seventh or eighth grade,” Tengwall said. “We have a few dads who don’t even have sons.”

When I asked New London-Spicer athletic director John Vraa how much money is saved through all the volunteer work, he just smiled and shook his head. “Oh, we’re talking thousands of dollars a year,” he said. In addition, much of the equipment used and installed is owned by the volunteers or purchased through funds from the Wildcat Booster Club or 50-50 raffles on game nights.

“And this is such a diverse group of guys,” Vraa said. “There are a lot of guys in the trades; masons, electricians, there’s just so much knowledge out here. And I think they get a pretty good kick out of Friday nights, watching the kids compete.”

The volunteers – whose ranks include a professional agronomist -- don’t score touchdowns or make tackles, but their work certainly has helped play a role in the success of the Wildcats football program. The team was a Class 3A state semifinalist in 2008 and won the state championship in 2009. They finished with a 9-2 record last season, with both losses to state runner-up Albany. Hopes are high for another great season in 2011.

The scene Wednesday evening at Pederson Field looked like this: A concrete truck dumped part of its load at the new stadium entryway before being driven to the practice field to create mud-free footing at the players’ water station … a boom was raised up to the one of the speakers attached to a light pole for wiring work … new speakers were attached to shorter wooden posts and the posts were secured to the back of the bleachers …. a crew member sprayed vegetation killer underneath the bleachers to make the area look sharp … 80 gallons of paint were mixed and sprayed onto the stadium and practice fields as separate crews made sure the ropes that set the lines were straight, and painted the hash marks as well as the numbers every 10 yards. It was a volunteer beehive.

In the middle of it all, New London-Spicer sophomore Mac Johnson was manning a video camera. The Grounds Crew’s work has been noticed by people from other communities, who often ask, “How can we do that, too?” Tengwall acted as film director during part of Wednesday’s work session, in the efforts to create a video that will explain how everything gets done.

All that work makes game nights something special. Fans who don’t want to sit are allowed to follow the action closely by walking on the track that surrounds the field, a 10-gauge cannon is fired when the Wildcats score and sound expert Keith Bangasser makes selections from his 40,000-song electronic music catalogue to play on the sound system.

It’s a very special place, tuned to perfection by some very special people.

--To see a photo gallery from New London-Spicer, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD …

--Wednesday was a beautiful day for a drive, one of those days we will dream about during the cold winter months. One good thing about winter, though: there’s no road construction. I took I-94 north past St. Cloud before turning west on Highway 23. There was a darn good backup on I-94 with one lane closed, and Highway 23 had a detour that included some really fun driving on gravel. Coming home, I droves south through the little village of Kandiyohi, then turned east on Highway 12 through Atwater, Grove City, Litchfield, Dassel, Cokato, Waverly, Delano and back into the Twin Cities. All told, a 255-mile round-tripper.

--Ah summer: I saw a great big truck loaded down with sweet corn in Monticello. I can taste it now.

--Dinner? Papa Burger combo at the A&W in New London before heading home.

--Thursday night I'll be in Fulda for the season-opening Zero Week football game between Murray County Central and Fulda. On Friday I'll head to St. Peter to see the Saints take on Minnewaska in another Zero Week game. Photos will be posted on Facebook and I'll post a Zero Week wrapup story here on Saturday.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 3
*Miles John has driven: 684

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn



St. Clair Drops Varsity Football For 2011
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/24/2011 11:44:42 AM

Football is a numbers game, and the numbers this fall at St. Clair High School were deemed too low to field a varsity football team. As Mankato Free Press sports editor Jim Rueda reports below, school officials have decided that the Cyclones wiill play only junior varsity games this season and hope for enough numbers in 2012 to return to varsity play. St. Clair plays Class 1A football in Section 2.

This season there is only one senior with any football experience on the roster, seven juniors and only six players who weigh more than 170 pounds. Safety is paramount.

The decision means St. Clair's varsity opponents will lose one game from their schedules. Those teams are West Lutheran, Bethlehem Academy, Medford, Randolph, Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, Le Center, Blooming Prairie and Mankato Loyola. Administrators from those schools were informed of St. Clair's decision last week. Details are being worked out, but it's expected that some of the JV games will be played on Friday nights.

Here's the story ...

By Jim Rueda
Sports Editor
The Mankato Free Press

ST. CLAIR — The St. Clair school district had to make a hard decision late last week but it is confident it will pay dividends in the future.

After looking at the number of players out for this year’s St. Clair team, and even closer at how those numbers break down by class, officials have decided to drop varsity football for at least one season. The hope is that, after a year of junior varsity play, the numbers will grow enough to enable the Cyclones to reinstate the varsity program for 2012-13.

“It was a difficult decision but we felt it was in the best interests of our kids to make this move,” St. Clair athletic director Brad O’Donnell said Tuesday. “Looking at the number of seniors and juniors we had to play at the varsity level, we began to realize we’d have to use a lot of freshman and sophomores throughout the season.”

At that point, O’Donnell, head coach Chris Harvey and some St. Clair administrators talked with the seniors and, “from a safety point of view, concluded that eliminating the varsity schedule was the right decision to make.”

The Cyclones were looking at a team with just two seniors — one of whom was a foreign-exchange student who has never played football — and seven juniors. As a squad, they had just six athletes who weighed more than 170 pounds and only two of those weighed more than 200.

Seventy percent of the team would have been freshmen and sophomores who had not played varsity football before.

“We felt that with the prospect of injuries throughout the season, we would have had to move too many players into positions that would be a disadvantage to them both mentally and physically,” O’Donnell said. “Sometimes, in order to move forward, you have to take a step back.

“We told the parents we’re playing beyond the scoreboard, beyond the wins and losses.

“We want to make this (a junior varsity) season of some significance that will enable us to play football in a much more safe environment in the future.”



A Big Week Ahead As Fall Sports (And The State Fair) Kick Into Gear
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/22/2011 2:50:42 PM

Thanks to Zero Week football scheduling, this week is even more hectic than normal. Volleyball, soccer, cross-country and girls swimming and diving teams can hold competitions beginning Thursday, which is also the day when the football season will begin.

I try to plan my schedule two or three weeks ahead, so I spent time today looking at the first two weeks of September. I have a pretty good idea of where my travels will take me in early September, but nothing is definite. What is locked in like concrete are my plans for this week.

The gridiron season will begin with one game on Thursday. The team from Murray County Central in Slayton will journey13 miles south on Highway 59 to Fulda, and I will also make the trip for the game between the Rebels and Raiders … although my drive will be about 158 miles each way.

On Friday I will be in St. Peter for another Zero Week game, this one between the Minnewaska Area Lakers and St. Peter Saints. And before those two games are played, I will take a Wednesday trip to visit one of the finest high school football facilities in the state and spend time with the volunteer grounds crew that makes it all happen.

My Friday schedule also includes a visit to the University of St. Thomas, where I will lend a hand at a sports journalism camp for high school students directed by ThreeSixty Journalism. And that’s not all that’s happening this week …

THE STATE FAIR WILL begin Thursday, and the MSHSL will have a presence. A major announcement concerning a new MSHSL program will be made at a news conference Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Main Stage in Carousel Park in front of the grandstand. And Saturday, the MSHSL and Prep 45 – the TV partner of the MSHSL – will sponsor a day of fun activities and information at the fair.

A section of Dan Patch Avenue will be filled with interactive activities, including six bowling lanes, baseball speed pitch, basketball toss, live music and more. There also will be cool stuff to win:Twins tickets, oil changes for a year, M11 hockey helmets for your entire team, etc., as well as seminars directed toward healthy lifestyles and sports.

Let’s all have a great week!

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 2
*Miles John has driven: 429

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn



No. 1 In Volleyball Rankings: Lakeville North, Jackson County Central, Nevis
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/20/2011 3:11:05 PM

The first state volleyball rankings, compiled by the coaches association, have been released. Defending state champion Lakeville North leads the Class 3A rankings, Jackson County Central is No. 1 in Class 2A and Nevis leads the Class 1A field.

Wadena-Deer Creek, last year’s 2A state champion, is ranked No. 10. Defending 1A champion Wabasha-Kellogg is ranked No. 2.

The first date for volleyball matches to begin is Thursday. Here are the rankings (first-place votes in parathenses, total points)…

CLASS 3A
1. Lakeville North (2) 86
2. Bloomington Jefferson (3) 85
3. Wayzata (1) 74
4. Shakopee 57
5. Lakeville South 54
6. Blaine 47
Centennial 47
Eden Prairie 47
9. Hopkins 20
10. Andover 19
Others: Hutchinson (16), Totino-Grace (16), Apple Valley (15), Hill-Murray (14), East Ridge (11), Chanhassen (10), Eastview (6), Waconia (6)

CLASS 2A
1. Jackson County Central (1) 42
2. Lesuer-Henderson 39
3. Stewartville (1) 37
4. Belle Plaine 36
5. Kasson-Mantorville (1) 35
6. Maple Lake 30
7. Visitation 26
8. Jordan 25
Marshall 25
10. Wadena-Deer Creek 20

CLASS 1A
1. Nevis (3) 59
2. Wabasha-Kellogg (1) 57
3. Bethlehem Academy 49
4. Mayer Lutheran 46
5. Win-E-Mac 45
6. Minneota 41
7. BBE 35
8. Canby 33
9. Southwest Christian 31
10. Ada-Borup 12
Others: Goodhue (6), MACCRAY (6)



First Rankings Of The Season: Cross-Country
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/18/2011 2:12:16 PM

Here’s another sign that the school year is upon us. The state cross-country rankings in Class 1A and 2A, as compiled by the coaches association, have been released.

The top-ranked teams are St. Cloud Cathedral (1A boys), Adrian (1A girls), Stillwater (2A boys) and Monticello (2A girls). Individually, the top preseason rankings are held by Brandon Clark of Blake (1A boys), Elena Danielson of St. Cloud Cathedral (1A girls), Cole O'Brien of Burnsville (2A boys) and Maria Hauger of Shakopee (2A girls).

The first competition date for cross-country teams is next Thursday, August 25.

Here are the rankings…

Class 1A
Boys Teams
1. St. Cloud Cathedral
2. Minnehaha Academy
3. Esko
4. Perham
5. Waseca
6. Mora
7. Albany
8. LaCrescent
9. Plainview-Elgin-Millville
10. Byron
11. Mesabi East
12. Blake

Boys Individuals
1. Brandon Clark, Blake
2. Jonnathan Surber, St. James
3. Shane Streich, Waseca
4. Byron Schuldt, Nevis
5. Matt Welch, Proctor
6. Nick Stoks, Canby-Minneota/LinHi
7. Jackson Lindquist, Esko
8. Jacob Siekmeier, Math & Science Academy
9. Cade Ekstrom, Madelia/Truman
10. Charlie Lawrence, Foley
11. Jesse Delgado, Waseca
12. Pat Reinschmidt, Painview-Elgin-Millville

Girls Teams
1. Adrian
2. St. Cloud Cathedral
3. Esko
4. Blake
5. LaCrescent
6. Albany
7. Waseca
8. Annandale
9. Perham
10. Canby-Minneota/LinHi
11. Fairmont
12. Park Rapids

Girls Individuals
1. Elena Danielson, St. Cloud Cathedral
2. Marissa Shady, Esko
3. Lauren Friese, Fairmont
4. Jordan Chancellor, Blake
5. Kayla Woltz, Chatfield
6. Victoria Alexander, Lake of the Woods
7. Leah Jessen, Canby-Minneota/LinHi
8. Clare Flanagan, Blake
9. Emi Trost, Cannon Falls
10. Sadie Novak-Klug, Waseca
11. Savannah Ramirez, Litchfield
12. Hannah Goemann, United South Central/AC

Class 2A
Boys Teams
1 Stillwater
2 Wayzata
3 Rosemount
4 Moorhead
T5 Edina
T5 Andover
7 Mounds View
8 Eden Prairie
T9 Eastview
T9 Burnsville
11 Owatonna
12 White Bear Lake
Others receiving votes:
Forest Lake, Lakeville North, Alexandria, Monticello, Roseville, Minnetonka

Boys Individuals
1 Cole O'Brien, Burnsville
T2 Josh Thorson, Wayzata
T2 Glen Ellingson, Moorhead
T4 Joel Reichow, White Bear Lake
T4 Zach Roozen, Mounds View
6 Riley Macon, Rochester Mayo
7 Nathan Rock, Rosemount
8 Parker Wharram, Mound Westonka
T9 Connor Olson, Wayzata
T9 Tom Linner, Stillwater
11 Jan Ketterson, Jefferson
12 Will Burke, Edina
Others receiving votes:
Eric Colvin, Stillwater; Abdulah Salah, Burnsville; Mubarik Musa, Worthington; Jensen Orlow, Holy Family; Ryan Erdman, Mankato East; Keeghan Hurley, Fergus Falls; Will Sieling, Alexandria

Girls Teams
1. Monticello
2. Lakeville South
3. Eden Prairie
4. East Ridge
5. Elk River
6. Prior Lake
7. Wayzata
8. Alexandria
9. Andover
10. Albert Lea
11. Brainerd
12. Rosemount

Girls Individuals
1. Maria Hauger, Shakopee
2. Jamie Piepenburg, Alexandria
3. Erica Seidenkrantz, Monticello
4. Nicole Heitzman, Andover
5. Amber Seidenkratz, Monticello
6. Haylie Zenner, Fergus Falls
7. Bailey Ness, East Ridge
8. Chrissy Monson, Albert Lea
9. Taylor Scholl, Prior Lake
10. Kaelyn Williams, Robbinsdale Cooper
11. Elizabeth Frick, Eagan
12. Jenna Truedson, Bemidji



Wildlife And Football: They Have It All At Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/17/2011 1:42:22 PM

I love to drive around Minnesota. That is no secret. Getting out, enjoying the countryside and spending time with high school students and their coaches is a great joy. And there’s a big bonus to this sort of travel: You never know what you’re going to see.

I journeyed to the Iron Range and visited Coleraine on Tuesday, where the Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin football team is in its second week of practice as it prepares for next week’s Zero Week opener. I arrived before the day’s workout began and immediately saw an interesting sight that had nothing to do with football.

Eight metal light towers surround historic Dixon-Barle Field, and a giant nest sits atop one of them. I thought I saw the head of a large bird in the nest, and the players told me that a family of osprey live up there. Osprey have been calling the top of that light tower home for a long time, and “That nest just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said coach Bob Schwartz.

As the players lined up and began doing calisthenics, an adult osprey (Mama? Papa? Not sure) flew around the field and screeched at the goings-on. The GNK Titans are used to this, because they didn’t bat an eye. But in all the years I’ve been hanging around football fields, this was absolutely new to me.

Schwartz and senior captain Jordan Peratalo told me that dead fish and mice can occasionally be found on the field, dropped by the raptors. Yes, it’s amazing what you see as you travel around our state.

Greenway and Nashwauk-Keewatin began a cooperative partnership in football three years ago. That means the current seniors have known nothing but Titan football.

“The first year we had a great group of kids,” Schwartz said. “We had about 23 seniors combined, and you couldn’t ask for better kids to pull it together. This year there’s nobody left that was a (Greenway) Raider or a (Nashwauk-Keewatin) Spartan.”

The two schools also coop in several other sports, so the football arrangement was a natural fit as football numbers dropped at both schools.

“We had seen each other enough in other sports, so we kind of got the hang of it right away,” Peratalo said. “It didn’t take that long to mesh.”

Coming off a 5-5 season in 2010, the Titans will open the season with a home game against Deer River on Aug. 26. Zero Week requirements mean teams have to take a week off during the season, and the Titans will do so after the Deer River game and play their second game on Sept. 9 at Hibbing. They will split their four home games between Coleraine and Nashwauk.

Schwartz – who was the Greenway coach before the coop began and is in his 15th year as a head coach -- said he felt a little rushed in preparing for the start of practice, and he’s undecided on the value of Zero Week scheduling.

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not,” Schwartz (right) said. “I wish they’d move the season up so we’d get those cold-weather playoff games out of the way.”

Tyler Haigh, another senior captain (along with Peratalo, Derek Bundy and Scott Webb) said starting the season on a Zero Week timetable “gets us focused earlier, it gets people around each other before school starts, and it does give us a break in between games. I like it.”

Peratalo practiced with a cast on his right hand (pictured above), thanks to an injury suffered playing baseball. He’s hoping to be in the lineup for the opener, but if not he’ll have the bye week working in his favor.

Tuesday’s drive was a good one. I saw football players in Aitkin carrying their game jerseys (picture day?) and drove through the little village of Blackberry (there’s a corporate tie-in waiting to happen) as well as Cromwell, which is well-known for its athletic successes.

As I stopped at a convenience store in Moose Lake on the way home Tuesday evening, I heard a voice from a nearby car say, “Excuse me sir, could I ask you a dumb question?” I replied, “Sure, I’m pretty dumb so I might have an answer for you.” The question was: “How do you spell excellent?” The fellow was creating an advertisement to sell a boat motor. As I spelled the word, he wrote “Runs excellent.”

You never know what you’re going to see.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 2
*Miles John has driven: 429

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn



Class 6A Football Playoff Format Approved For 2012 Season
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/16/2011 11:26:05 AM

DEERWOOD -- The MSHSL Board of Directors held its August meeting at Ruttger’s Conference Center here Tuesday, and football grabbed the headline.

During a meeting that contained plenty of boilerplate board material, the members voted unanimously to approve a playoff format for Class 6A football. The new division will begin play in 2012.

The 32 Class 6A teams will be split into four sections, with eight teams in each section. (Sections are listed below.) For the first round of playoffs, each section will seed its teams 1 through 8. After the first round of games have been played, the four winning teams from each section will be matched with the top four from a different section by random draw; higher seeds will play lower seeds,with higher seeds being the home team. Those section-to-section pairings will rotate every two years.

After two rounds of games, eight teams will advance to the state quarterfinals and be seeded under the current format, with coaches voting to seed the top four teams and a blind draw deciding their opponents from the remaining four.

The 6A state quarterfinals will be played under the same timetable as quarterfinals in other classes. The 6A state semifinals will be played at the Metrodome on the Thursday evening prior to the traditional Friday-Saturday semifinals. The 6A championship game will be played on Friday night of Prep Bowl weekend.

The section lineups look like this …

SECTION 3
Burnsville High School
Eagan High School
Eastview High School
Lakeville North High School
Lakeville South High School
Park High School
Prior Lake High School
Rosemount High School

SECTION 4
Cretin-Derham Hall High School
Forest Lake High School
Mounds View High School
North High School
Roseville Area High School
Stillwater Area High School
White Bear Lake Area High School
Woodbury High School

SECTION 5
Anoka
Blaine High School
Brainerd High School
Centennial High School
Champlin Park High School
Coon Rapids High School
Maple Grove High School
Osseo

SECTION 6
Eden Prairie High School
Edina High School
Hopkins High School
Minneapolis South
Minnetonka High School
Robbinsdale Armstrong High School
Shakopee High School
Wayzata High School

IN OTHER BOARD NEWS…

--Former members of the board, whose terms ended in June, were recognized for their service. Those members are Carol Bomben, Ray Kirch, Brent Robbins, John Schumacher, Bill Webb and Les Zellmann.

--Contracts for speech consultant Mike Tillman and music consultant Carl Lipke were approved, as were contracts with MSHSL attorney Patrick Kelly and legislative consultant Roger Aronson.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 1
*Miles John has driven: 123

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn



For Brainerd’s Stolski, Football Season No. 50 Is Underway
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/15/2011 8:27:23 PM

BRAINERD -- Ron Stolski had several messages for the 101 members of the Brainerd High School football team as the first day of practice came to a close late Monday afternoon.

He talked about working hard: “I have never doubted that a Brainerd player will work hard. We really have to work on our conditioning.”

He talked about sticking together: “If we’re going to get it done, we’re going to get it done together.”

Stolski, who is in his 50th season as a head football coach and has won more games than any football coach in Minnesota history, also talked about doing good works for others. He reminded the Warriors that an event called “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” will be held Saturday in town, sponsored by The Women’s Center of Mid-Minnesota and Sexual Assault Services.

“As we’re creating this family for one another,” he said, “we need to be active in our community. We’ll walk in support of this very, very important community function.”

Ron Stolski is known as a football coach, certainly. But as with all fine educators, his teaching goes beyond the subject at hand. Monday was the first day of practice for the 2011 season, but Stolski already knows what the final gathering of the Warriors will be like. Whether they lose in the first round of the postseason or win the Class 5A state championship, the life lessons he teaches will be brought up one final time at season’s end.

“My last message to them is to be good people, be good in your community, care about your family and classmates and do other things,” he said. “I wish them well.”

Numbers as well as deeds define Stolski. His career record is 330-148-5 … his teams have reached the state semifinals in three of the last four seasons … and he celebrated his 72nd birthday last week.

After practice, I asked the Brainerd team captains this questions: How long has Coach Stolski been a head coach? The answers from Jacob Kassulker, Mitch McLain and Logan McAllister went like this: 51, 44 and 52. The correct answer is, of course, 50.

Then I asked the three seniors what words they use to describe Stolski. Their answers were “Awesome,” “Kind-hearted” and “Hardworking.” That’s a pretty strong testament.

Stolski has been in Brainerd since 1975, with previous stops in Kensington, Slayton, Princeton and Park Center. He talked about what has changed and what hasn’t in 50 years.

“I think the kids still pretty much come with their heart in their hands,” he said. “What has changed is that they’re growing up with lots of different pressures. I think the biggest thing, and this was true all those years ago, they want to have fun at the game. Too many experiences that they have don’t always turn out to be fun. What’s also different is the athletes are better.”

No matter what happens this season, the 2012 season will bring a big change to Brainerd. That’s when the new Class 6A will begin play, involving the largest 32 schools in the state. Brainerd is the only non-Twin Cities school that will play 6A football.

“It will be much different,” Stolski said. “Early on there was kind of a surprised reaction, because I was on the task force (that studied football changes) and (32) was not the recommended number. And that’s fine. We’re going to train and coach the best we can, and play the game each Friday night. We’re members of the High School League and we’re team guys, and if that’s what it is, that’s what it is.”

The Warriors will open the season at home against Rocori on Sept. 2, and right now that game is the focus. Stolski doesn’t spend much time worrying about the past, because he’s always focused on helping his players improve and preparing for the next opponent. As for season number 50?

“It feels great,” he said with a smile. “I wish I could say I feel smarter, and certainly I’m not in the physical condition I was in 50 years ago, but it feels great. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than on a football field in August.”

--To see a photo gallery from Monday's practice in Brainerd, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 1
*Miles John has driven: 123

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn



We’re Off And Running!
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/15/2011 8:44:39 AM

It’s Day One of the 2011-12 year in school activities, with practices for fall sports kicking off today (with the exception of the Zero Week football teams, which begin their second week of workouts today).

I’m stationed near Deerwood, where the MSHSL Board of Directors is conducting orientation and workshop sessions today as well as its regular August board meeting on Tuesday. I’ll be hitting the road later today to report on the first day of football practice at Brainerd High School, where coach Ron Stolski is beginning his 50th year as a head coach.

Go to the MSHSL Facebook page and tell us about Day One for your team…

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 0
*Miles John has driven: 0

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn



A Busy Week Is On Tap As Fall Seasons Begin
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/11/2011 11:06:26 AM

We are about to move into one of the most exciting times of the year, when coaches return to blowing whistles and athletes return to action. Monday is the first official day of practice for fall sports teams across Minnesota.

A few football teams started a week early because they will play Zero Week games, but the rest of the state’s football teams will join soccer, cross-country, volleyball and girls tennis and girls swimming and diving teams in beginning workouts Monday.

The first competitions of the fall season will take place on Thursday, Aug. 18, when girls tennis teams can play their first matches. The other sports can start competitions on August 25. Zero Week football games will be played August 25-27 and the remainder of the football teams will play their opening games the first weekend in September.

Off the field of play, the MSHSL Board of Directors will hold its August meeting on Tuesday morning at Ruttger’s Conference Center near Deerwood. More information about the format and playoff structure for Class 6A football (which will begin in 2012) may be announced at the meeting, along with possible dance team rule changes and other items.

After the board meeting, I am planning to drive to the Iron Range and attend a football practice. More details to come …

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 0
*Miles John has driven: 0

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn



Let’s Gather In Fulda To Open The Football Season
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/8/2011 8:13:57 PM

We all know where the high school football season will come to a close. That will be Prep Bowl time at the Metrodome on Thanksgiving weekend. But do you know where the 2011 Minnesota prep football season will begin?

If you said Fulda, pat yourself on the back. With Zero Week games making their debut this season, seven contests will be played during the first week of the season. Those games will be held over three days, and the first contest on the schedule will be in Fulda in southwestern Minnesota on Aug. 25. The Fulda Raiders will play host to Murray County Central on that Thursday evening. It should be an interesting game, including this sidestory: during the winter kids from the two schools compete together on one wrestling team.

After the Thursday evening lid-lifter, five more games will be played on Friday, Aug. 26 and one game will be held on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 27.

Here’s the full schedule of Zero Week games:

Thursday, August 25
Murray County Central at Fulda

Friday, August 26
Two Harbors at Duluth Marshall
Minnewaska at St. Peter
Superior (Wis.) at Duluth East
Lewiston-Altura at Cochrane-Fountain City (Wis.)
Deer River at Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin

Saturday, August 27
Mankato Loyola at MACCRAY, 1 p.m.

Zero Week is an option for teams that have problems filling their eight-game regular-season schedule. Under Zero Week guidelines, teams can start practice one week before the normal start date and play their first game one week earlier than the rest of the teams in the state. Teams that play Zero Week games also must have a bye week later in the season; Fulda’s second game will be held two weeks after its opener, and Murray County Central will have its bye following its second game of the season.

Here's an easy way to explain Zero Week: Team A has an open date in Week 3 but can't find an opponent, and Team B faces the same situation during Week 4. In order to play each other, they can go to Zero Week.

I’ve received several requests for information on the Zero Week schedule. People have asked if any metro teams will play Zero Week games, and the answer is no. The full schedule of games around the state will begin on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 1 and 2.

My plans are still being finalized, but I know I will be in Fulda for the season opener.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 0
*Miles John has driven: 0

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn



Welcome Back! Let’s Get Rolling On A Great Year
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/7/2011 10:02:33 PM

It’s August and that means the time has come to get started on another fun and memorable year in school activities. I’m returning this week after a summer vacation, and the final hours of that vacation provided a few important reminders that school activities extend far beyond practices and games.

My vacation included a couple of family reunions, some lake time and a few days in Chicago to wrap things up. The final leg of the drive home from Chicago on Sunday took us north on Highway 52 from Rochester to the Twin Cities. Along that stretch of road, three of the very familiar “Adopt A Highway” signs caught my eye.

Those three segments of highway are maintained by the wrestling team and cheerleaders from Kenyon-Wanamingo and the National Honor Society from Cannon Falls. We all know that participating in school acivities helps teach many important lessons, and volunteering their time to keep Highway 52 litter-free is a terrific testament to the students and adults participating at Kenyon-Wanamingo and Cannon Falls. Nice goin’.

PRACTICES FOR THE FALL season normally begin in mid-August, but for a few football teams things are starting extra early this year thanks to Zero Week games.

At least a dozen Minnesota teams are starting the football season a week before the rest of the teams. That means the first day of practice is Monday (as in August 8) and Zero Week games will be played the weekend of August 25-26-27. No football team is starting earlier, though, than the boys from Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin, who scheduled a “Midnight Madness” practice at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

August 15 will be the first day of workouts for the non-Zero Week football teams, as well as girls tennis, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross-country, volleyball and girls swimming. In other words, the fun has begun and it won’t end until next June.

THERE WILL BE SOME exciting additions to John’s Journal as things heat up, so keep clicking here as well as on the MSHSL Facebook page and my Twitter feed all year long.

Our “By The Numbers” section includes two big fat zeroes right now, but those digits will rise quickly. During the 2010-11 school year I visited 821 schools/teams while driving more than 11,000 miles. And it’s time to get started again.

This is really going to be fun.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 0
*Miles John has driven: 0

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn



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