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Football Friday: Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City Takes A Big BOLD Step
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/31/2013 1:39:23 PM

GROVE CITY – Falcon Field, home of the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City football team, was a pretty peaceful place when I pulled into the parking lot late Friday afternoon. The only sound was music being played over the first-rate stadium sound system, advising listeners to do the Macarena. The next tune was “Fishin’ in the Dark.” Two ACGC cheerleaders walked nearby, one of them barefoot, and they were singing along and smiling as they sang together.

There were many more hometown smiles to come as the evening went on. This was Week 1 of the football season, and the opponent was BOLD (as in Bird Island, Olivia, Lake Lillian District). The ACGC and BOLD school districts are neighbors, so people on both sides of Falcon Field have friends and relatives on the other side.

You can be sure that the BOLD Warriors fans had been reminding their Falcon friends about what took place in last season’s first game: BOLD 34, ACGC 0. The Warriors went on to have an exquisite season, getting to the Class 2A state semifinals before suffering their only loss in a two-point game to eventual state champion Caledonia.

Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City rebounded nicely from that opening rout, putting together a 9-3 season and falling to eventual 1A state champ Mahnomen in the state semifinals. So as the fans arrived at Falcon Field – ACGCers sitting on the home-side bleachers in front of a roomy three-story press box and BOLDers strolling around the track to the opposite side – memories of the Metrodome (and hopes for another trip in November) were fresh.

And, oh, what a setting for a football game. Cornstalks rise behind the visitors sideline, as does an old grain silo in the distance. Until the sun set, the BOLD fans had to shield their eyes from the brightness, but after dark it was perfect. It’s that kind of scenery, coupled with enthusiastic fans and hard-working athletes, that make small-town football in Minnesota so special.

Surely it’s early, but this may have been the game of the year in the West Central Conference. The league’s coaches had predicted that BOLD (with eight returning starters on offense) and ACGC (six starters back on offense and five on defense) would finish as the top two in the conference, so there was definitely something on the line.

And then the game began like this: BOLD lost a fumble on its second play from scrimmage; ACGC lost a fumble on its first play; BOLD lost a fumble on the first play of its second possession; ACGC fell short on fourth down; BOLD lost another fumble. A theme had, uh, been set. By the end of the game, the Warriors had fumbled the ball six times and lost five of those boo-boos.

The Warriors – whose roster is peppered with boys who played on the 1A state championship baseball team last spring – had six possessions in the first half, ending with four fumbles, an interception, a 78-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Trent Athmann and a 21-yard field goal by Nick Kubesh.

Early on, ACGC seemingly had trouble adjusting to the Warriors’ strategy of “Here, take the ball, please.” But by halftime the Falcons had done enough to grab control of the game. After one of those BOLD fumbles, Alex Pankratz sprinted around the right side for a five-yard score, and after the next BOLD giveaway, Maverick Whitcomb scored from five yards. A short TD pass from Derek Dengerud to Mitchel Macik gave the Falcons a 21-10 halftime lead.

(We interrupt this game report for a culinary review: There is a heck of meal served at halftime on the second floor of the press box in Grove City. The officials and workers – plus a lucky visiting scribe – filled paper plates with pork sandwiches, pickles, chips and fun size candy bars. And don’t even get me started on the soft-serve ice cream in the concession stand.)

The second half was dominated by ACGC, particularly by David Kinzler. He returned a blocked field goal 64 yards for a touchdown and caught an 86-yard pass from Dengerud for the Falcons’ final points. Dengerud also threw to Taylor Larson for a 37-yard touchdown. Final score: ACGC 41, BOLD 16.

The postgame numericals were pretty even. ACGC had 10 first downs to BOLD’s nine, and BOLD rushed for 190 yards to 108 for ACGC. But those five lost fumbles for the Warriors made things too easy for the hometown team.

In a postgame debriefing, ACGC coach Terry Karlsgodt remembered some key specifics about last year’s big loss to the Warriors.

“We threw five interceptions,” he said. “We came out in that game and we thought we were going to be some kind of pro-style passing offense. The next week, we went back and I think maybe we threw twice.”

That’s been the tradition at Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City: Throw the ball a handful of times but move it mostly on the ground behind strong, mobile linemen. The Falcons don’t do any football-specific training in the summer, much less take part in any passing leagues.

“We don’t pass, anyway,” Karlsgodt said with a chuckle, “so what would we do at a passing league?”

Karlsgodt has seen a lot in his 39 years coaching the Falcons. And his experience doesn’t even rank at the top of the staff because his three paid assistants are no rookies, either. Doug Torgerson has been on staff for 43 years, Jeff Tanner for 36 and Mike Maurer for 29. That’s a total of 147 years of experience among those four coaches. And among the nine men who are volunteer coaches, Michael Bolton has been doing it for 18 years. Heck, even team videographer Bernie Pelstring has been on the job for two decades.

Friday’s victory by the Falcons ended a four-year losing streak against BOLD.

“They seemed to kind of have our number,” Karlsgodt said. “Normally we have a hard time going up and down the field like we did tonight. It was a wild game. But we talk about these home run plays. We score and right away they come back; that’s what happened to us so many times when we play these guys. But we came up with some big home runs of our own tonight, which really was important for our confidence when you’re playing a team that you’ve had kind of the worst of it.”

Sometimes, however, the worst of it strolls around to the other side of the field.

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 22
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,308
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn



Week 1 Football: Hutchinson, Becker, Overtime And Lots Of Fun
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/30/2013 11:03:46 AM

HUTCHINSON – On a glorious opening night of the football season, the most difficult moment Thursday evening – at least for the spectators -- might have been the national anthem. The Hutchinson band played a stellar version, but the sun was parked low in the sky, directly behind the American flag at S.R. Knutson Field. A few thousand people can be excused for squinting.

The hardest part of the night for the football players from Becker and Hutchinson was twofold: Dealing with the heat and dealing with each other. The non-conference game was not an exercise in precision, with turnovers and dropped footballs abounding, and by end of the night Hutchinson had earned a 16-13 victory in overtime. Oh yes, the heat ... and another word that starts with H.

Hutch assistant coach David Larson told the Tigers in their postgame gathering, “Maybe you didn’t believe us about hydration. You do now.”

I considered Thursday’s game the No. 1 event of Week 1. Hutchinson is coming off a Class 4A state championship, which included a 28-24 victory over Becker in the state semifinals at the Metrodome.

The Title Town excitement in Hutch is something to see. Students were tailgating in the parking lot, they stood as one in the stands throughout the game, all wearing black, the band was fantastic, railbirds watched from the fence that circles the field. There is a burgeoning effort to install artificial turf, more bleachers and a new press box at the historic old football grounds before next season, and this kind of excitement means striking while the iron is hot.

There was one odd sight when the teams came out to warm up. Becker was wearing its blue uniforms, which it normally wears for home games. Seemed strange, and there were several explanations ... from the Hutch faithful.

Possibility No. 1: Becker coach Dwight Lundeen wanted Hutch to wear their white jerseys so it would be harder to disguise the football’s whereabouts from the Bulldogs.

Possibility No. 2: Lundeen is superstitious and when his team loses he doesn’t want to wear the same color in the next game, even if it’s a season later.

Possibility No. 3: Becker has ordered new white jerseys but they hadn’t all been delivered in time for Thursday’s game.

When I interrogated Lundeen -- who is the only head coach Becker has known since the football program began in 1970 – about the Great Uniform Mystery, his statement was that not all the white jerseys had arrived, and the old white jerseys didn’t match the pants the Bulldogs were wearing. Case closed, I think.

Both teams are different this year, particularly at quarterback. Hutchinson’s new QB is junior Marcus Hahn, who threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jayden Juergensen on Thursday and did the placekicking. The Bulldogs used senior Zach Zimmer, junior Michael Veldman and sophomore Andrew Stanger at quarterback.

But there were some similarities to last year’s state semifinal game, especially in Hutch running back Tory Adams. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior carried 18 times for 147 yards vs. Becker last year, and on Thursday he ran 20 times for 140 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown to cap the game’s opening drive.

Becker trailed 7-0 before it had touched the ball, and it appeared that the Tigers had set a firm tone with the impressive 60-yard drive. But no. The Bulldogs defense firmed up, the Hutch defense did the same and the contest turned into a hot-weather game of attrition.

Several times, Hutch running back Robbie Grimsley (who wears No. 5 and therefore is called RG5), left the game with leg cramps. But RG5 never stopped coming back in, a testament to the toughness on both teams.

After Stanger intercepted a pass deep in Becker territory in the second quarter, he finished the ensuing drive by throwing – on fourth down from the 5 -- a touchdown pass to Eric Blomgren to make it a 7-7 game.

At halftime, Lundeen – who ranks third on the state’s career victory list – told his team, “That was a pretty good first half. We’re not questioning your effort, but we have to take care of the ball better … the ball’s a little slippery and so are your arms. Hang on to it tight.”

The Bulldogs’ defensive plan for the second half was to shut down Hutch’s running game and make Hahn throw. The first part of that formula never came to fruition; Hahn attempted only eight passes all night, completing four and being picked off three times.

Each team scored a fourth-quarter touchdown, with Hahn throwing to Juergensen and Stanger throwing to Blomgren again. And both teams missed the extra-point kicks after those scores, sending the thing to overtime with a 13-13 tie.

Hutch had the first possession, getting four plays from the 10-yard line. They went like this: RG5 ran for 5, fumbled handoff (loss of a yard), fumbled snap ( loss of two yards), field goal by Hahn.

Becker’s overtime script: Bobby Lee run loses a yard, incomplete pass thrown by running back Josh Nohner, pass to Blomgren moves the ball to the 8 … and on the final play of the game, a pass was intercepted by Hutch’s Adam Elliott.

Thus ended two hours and 30 minutes of sweat, emotion, great plays, sloppy plays, excitement and fun.

“You hung in there and you hung in there,” Hutchinson coach Andy Rostberg said to his players as they took a knee in an end zone. Now, tomorrow …”

Yes, tomorrow. There are a whole bunch of tomorrows to come. The season has just begun. In grand style.

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 20
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 1,088
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn



Central Lakes Conference Takes The Lead On Sportsmanship, Leadership
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/28/2013 4:23:18 PM

SARTELL – Every day should start with a bunch of high fives. That’s what took place Wednesday morning at the front doors of Sartell High School, where a group of Sartell athletes greeted fellow athletes from the nine schools of the Central Lakes Conference.

The schools – Alexandria, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Rocori, St. Cloud Apollo, St. Cloud Tech, Sartell, Sauk Rapids-Rice and Willmar – each sent around 45 team captains and other leaders from 26 different sports to gather for five hours of learning, motivation, togetherness and fun at the Central Lakes Conference Sportsmanship/Leadership workshop. In total, about 400 athletes walked through the school doors, greeted with those high fives.

This is an outstanding concept. Other conferences around our state do similar things, but the Central Lakes athletic administrators put on a workshop that was top-notch. If any of the gathered athletes came away with nothing, then they weren’t even trying to pay attention. There was valuable information everywhere you looked.

MSHSL associate director Jody Redman opened the day with a presentation in the school auditorium on “Creating a culture of belonging.” Students learned about helping each other, their team and their school through working together and caring about everyone they meet on their journey.

The students then broke into eight small groups, which circulated through different areas of the school – the gym, band room, choir room, auxiliary gym, auditorium, etc. – for presentations by the conference’s athletic directors and others. The topics included Leadership, Sportsmanship, Character Education, Role Modeling, CPR Training, Benefits of Multi-Sport Participation and Responsible Use of Social Media.

One brief example of the lessons learned is the Sandwich Principle. That’s a device in which a conversation with a teammate begins with praise (“Thanks for working so hard today”), is followed by a message about correcting behavior (“If you got to practice on time every day, it would be a tremendous help to the team”) and ends with more praise (“You’re a talented athlete and you make our team better”).

The athletes listened, and they were charged with taking everything they learned back to their schools and their teammates. There are more than 10,000 students in grades nine through 12 in the Central Lakes Conference schools, and the 400 or so selected to attend the workshop are the true leaders in those schools.

As Alexandria activities director David Hartmann told the students during the session on leadership, “You are the leaders in your schools. You have the power.”

With the combination of those students and administrators, the conference is in good hands.

Postscript: As another symbol of the quality of the Central Lakes Conference, Alexandria High School on Tuesday was awarded the Exemplary Program Award from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. Alexandria is only the 21st high school in the nation to receive this award and the very first from Minnesota.

The award is based on criteria in 10 categories: Philosophy, Educational Compatibility, Mentoring Staff and Student Leaders, Program Safety and Risk Management, Program Access and Equity, Budget and Supplemental Fundraising, Personnel and Program Assessment, Technology, Sports Medicine and Innovative and Creative Leadership Strategies.

Congratulations!

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 18
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 938
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn



A Warm Night For Volleyball As The Season Opens
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/27/2013 11:05:42 PM

FARIBAULT – First things first: It was hot and humid inside the non-air-conditioned Van Orsow Auditorium on Tuesday evening when Lakeville North came to Bethlehem Academy to open the volleyball season. This was not a new experience for the B.A. Cardinals, who play volleyball in their gym throughout the spring and summer.

Lakeville North, on the other warm hand, has an air-conditioned gym in its school and plays almost all of its offseason volleyball in air-conditioned facilities. So guess who came out on top Tuesday?

Turned out that the climate had little to do with the outcome, as the Panthers defeated the Cardinals 25-9, 25-23, 25-21 in an opener between programs that are very familiar with state titles. B.A. is the two-time defending Class 1A state champion (the Cardinals also won titles in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009). Lakeville North won the 3A crown in 2010 and again last season.

So regardless of the indoor weather, this was first-rate volleyball … although neither team – probably not surprisingly – was not in midseason form. There were plenty of errors to go around, and the Panthers showed a nice closing push throughout.

The theme for B.A. went something like this: Start strong, hold a lead as sets reached the halfway pole, then throw a few airballs and other miscues as North took advantage.

“The frustration we have tonight is the inability to close out sets,” said Cardinals coach Franz Boelter. “And we’ve been fighting that all spring and summer. You can’t stop playing the way you were playing to get to that point, and we have a tendency to do that. Obviously, you see we have the ability to be very good. But we just buried ourselves in errors. They tried to help us out by returning the favor, but we just wouldn’t take it and walk through it.”

North coach Walt Weaver said his team played unsteady volleyball, which is no surprise as the season gets underway.

“There’s one in the victory column, and that’s a good start,” he said. “I think on both sides there is a lot of work to do. We have to get just more steady. There were way too many errors for a championship team. We’re a good team, but if we’re going to win the championship we’re going to have to cut down on mistakes.”

Bethlehem Academy lost all-state players Maddie Borwege and Jessie Mathews to graduation, and the Cardinals’ starting six Tuesday consisted of one senior, four juniors and a ninth-grader. North also has several holes to fill, but all-everything hitter Alyssa Goehner is back for her senior year. She led the way Tuesday with 22 kills – several from the back row – and had three ace serves. First-year varsity setter Anna Michaels had 24 assists for the Panthers.

“With our new kids it’s going to be a different road this year,” Weaver said. “But as long as they understand and we can keep somebody off balance when we really have to, that’s the thing. Had (Bathlehem Academy) played the way they played at the very end of the game the way they played in the middle, I don’t know if we could have done that."

--To see photos (and a video of Alyssa Goehner), go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 9
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 738
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn



Friday Was A Pretty Fair Day For Jackson County Central
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/24/2013 11:38:13 AM

When I talked on the phone with Nolan Hohenstein on Wednesday, the Jackson County Central senior football player was adamant that he was not going to miss Friday night’s season opener at St. Louis Park.

“I’ll be there,” said the 6-foot-4, 275-pound two-way starting lineman. “I might be there a little late but I’ll be there.”

He had a competitive conflict, as did senior wide receiver Scott Christopher. They were showing livestock at the Minnesota State Fair and getting across town to the game might be dicey. Christopher, in fact, did not make it to the game because he was winning a blue ribbon with his blackface lamb at the same time.

Hohenstein (pictured) got to the field just in time, driving from the fair with his parents. He used a porta-potty as a locker room, putting his pads on and jogging onto the new turf field at St. Louis Park about 15 minutes before kickoff.

“I was trying to stay calm,” he said after Class 2A Jackson County Central defeated Class 5A St. Louis Park 21-7. “My nerves were getting to me a little bit and I was getting pumped up. We got over here quick, got dressed and got ready for the game.”

Oh, he also had a winning day in the swine barn. His crossbred barrow was named reserved middleweight champion, reserved crossbred champion and finished third overall.

Nolan was glad that he was able to sleep in a bit Friday morning … which for him meant not waking up until 7 a.m. “But it was a long day, showing all day. It was rough getting here but I got here.”

The fair wouldn’t have presented a conflict if not for Zero Week, in which 22 Minnesota football teams began the season a week earlier than the rest. But it’s a good thing the JCC Huskies played their opener so close to the fairgrounds.

Christopher (pictured) and Hohenstein have been on the fairgrounds since midweek and will head home Sunday. Scott was disappointed to miss the game, but he vowed he won’t miss any more.

“It was really hard,” he said. I’ve had a month to think about it. It’s just the way my sheep started looking better.”

The rewards at the fair include more than ribbons and titles. Some of the top animals are sold at auction, often for thousands of dollars.

Huskies coach Tom Schuller – whose team reached the 2A state semifinals at the Metrodome last season – was glad to see Hohenstein arrive but said the Huskies missed Christopher’s presence.

“Scott has had a great fall for us,” Schuller said. “He’s been one of our most effective receivers and he also gives us a little bit of spelling at d-back.”

The Huskies had plenty of firepower against St. Louis Park. They controlled the game with a dominating ground game; Keegan Moore carried 16 times for 119 yards and a touchdown and Luke Norland ran 25 times for 102 yards and two scores. In total yards, the Huskies outgained the Orioles 332 to 154. St. Louis Park, which has never reached the state playoffs, is large enough to play 5A football but the Orioles’ best season in the last decade was a 4-5 record in 2008.

“I was extremely pleased with the effort, to be sure,” Schuller said. “For a first game, I thought we played really well. (The Orioles) are in the midst of building a program and getting more kids out. If you’re going to play 5A football you’ve got to have all one-way players and they’re not there yet. They’re in progress right now.”

Behind Jackson’s ground game are linemen like Hohenstein and Matt Schmit, a 6-5, 235-pound senior. They are experienced, smart football players.

“Nolan’s played since he’s been a sophomore and he’s a great two-way player,” Schuller said. “We saw what life was like without him this week in practice and it was a little bit scary. Put him beside Matt Schmit and you’re talking about two 4.0 students who work really hard in the weight room. They’re really well-rounded student-athletes.”

After Friday’s game, the large contingent of Huskies fans walked onto the field to congratulate their boys. They gathered in one end zone, smiling, laughing and talking about football and farm life.

“We got through the fair,” Schuller said. “I think Honie’s pig did great. I don’t know how the lamb did for Christopher, but we got the animals all racked up and ready and we won the football game, so it was a great night for us.”

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 7
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 668
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn




Zero Week Football Results
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/23/2013 1:09:12 PM

The 2013 football season began Friday evening with 11 Zero Week games. Here are the scores ...

Caledonia 19, Chatfield 18
Edina 40, Holy Angels 0
Hayfield 21, Goodhue 20
Chaska 41, Hopkins 39
Minnetonka 43, Hudson, Wis., 23
Jackson County Central 21, St. Louis Park 7
Wabasha-Kellogg 47, Kingsland 12
Luverne 28, New Ulm 6
Pipestone 32, St. James 26
Rushford-Peterson 28, Southland 20
St. Agnes 34, Spectrum 16



Father, Son And Football: The Rostbergs Of Hutchinson
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/22/2013 12:11:51 PM

HUTCHINSON – Old-timers in town can recall when the football coach at Hutchinson High School was not named Rostberg, but they have to go back through their memory banks. All the way back to before 1969, when young Grady Rostberg became coach of the Tigers.

Forty-four years later, Grady and his son Andy – who took over when his dad retired in 1999 – have combined to win exactly 400 games. How’s that for family history and a nice round number? Or this: The Rostbergs are the only father and son coaching combo in Minnesota to win football state championships.

Grady took the Tigers to the state tournament 11 times between 1973 and 1998, winning state championships in 1983, 1984 and 1998. He had coached at nearby Brownton before coming to Hutchinson and his 34-year career record is 277-89-1. He was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1999.

Andy, who played quarterback on the 1983 and 1984 state championship teams, was an assistant coach when the Tigers won the title in 1998. As a head coach he has taken five teams to state and last year’s Tigers won the Class 4A championship. His career record over 14 years is 123-34-0.

“I kept telling him before last year, ‘You haven’t won the big one yet,’ ” Grady said with a smile. “It was really exciting. He’s been kind of knocking at the door with some teams and never been able to quite finish it off. It was really fun.”

Grady grew up in Gilby, N.D., and was a three-sport athlete at Mayville State in North Dakota. After college he taught and coached basketball for one year in Hatton, N.D, then went to graduate school at the University of North Dakota.

He may have never left North Dakota – much less ended up in Hutchinson – without a touch of serendipity. The principal in Hatton had taken a job at Brownton … and in 1963 Grady was also in Brownton. A few years later, it was a short hop of 12 miles when he moved to Hutchinson.

Grady and his wife Sharon raised their son and two daughters in Hutchinson, and last year’s Prep Bowl was a real treat for everybody. With three generations gathered in a hotel near the Metrodome, Sharon took care of Thanksgiving dinner and Andy took care of winning his first state title as a head coach.

“Having it happen, but being able to have your dad with you, it was pretty cool, it really was,” Andy said. "The longer you go, you understand just how hard it is to do it. Even when your team is really, really good you still might not win it; you’ve got to get lucky, a lot of things have to fall into place.

“It’s pretty cool to be able to say my dad won one and so did I and to have been able to go through that with him. Some of the greatest times aren’t at practice or games, it’s on a Saturday morning or when you’re hunting pheasant or fishing or whatever and we visit about the last game or the upcoming game and things like that.”

Grady’s first team in Hutchinson was winless in eight games, and the Tigers had a losing record a year later. But for the next 39 years – spanning two generations of Rostbergs -- every Hutchinson football team had a winning record until the 2010 squad finished 4-5. A year later the Tigers were 9-1 and last year they won it all.

“We learned that you’re only as good as your last season,” Andy said. “I guess another thing we learned is there’s a fine line between 9-1 and 4-5. You just have to work hard and get your kids working hard. I learned that they do not like to lose in Hutchinson. There probably aren’t a whole lot of towns that take football more seriously then people in Hutch do. It’s pretty serious here.”

Grady stays involved as a volunteer assistant coach, or as he puts it, “I get a free ticket in the press box every Friday night.” He wore a 1998 Hutchinson state championship sweatshirt for last year’s Prep Bowl, in which the Tigers defeated Holy Family Catholic 67-7 to complete a 13-0 season.

Asked about what he learned from his father, Andy said, “Probably the biggest thing I learned was to be able to deal with adversity, to not let a negative affect the next play. And try to have a calm demeanor. I am calmer than he was but he had the ability to -- when the situation was really dire or really tense or it was the last play of a game or a thing like that -- he had great focus. He could shut everything else out.”

Grady agrees that Andy is a quieter, calmer coach than his father was.

“I was a little more fiery and he’s pretty laid back. I think it’s inside him, he has passion inside but he doesn’t let it out too much. Things have changed over the years, but kids are still kids.”

Both Rostbergs also coached basketball; Andy’s most famous former player is Hutchinson graduate and Minnesota Lynx star Lindsay Whalen. “It was pretty easy to coach her,” he said.

Grady, who also coached baseball for a few years, remembers the one season in which he coached basketball at Hatton. “We had a good team and we lost in the district finals by one point,” he said. “The other team made something like 25 of 26 free throws and I thought you had to be nuts to coach this sport.”

After playing football and baseball at North Dakota State, Andy Rostberg began his coaching career at Redwood Falls in 1992. A year later he was on his father’s coaching staff in Hutchinson.

Andy served as head coach of the South team for this summer’s high school all-star football game at St. Cloud State. He first participated in the all-star game as a player in 1985, making him the second individual to play and serve as a head coach in the game. The other was Dick Lawrence of Eveleth, who played in 1945 and coached in 1974.The all-star assistant coaches come from all over the state, and this year’s group included Andy’s dad along with Hutchinson assistant coach David Larson.

Expectations for this year’s Hutchinson team are high, with lots of experience returning from the state title team. If the Tigers repeat as Class 4A champions, the back-to-back titles would equal the 1983 and 1984 teams.

“We don’t beat around the bush a whole lot,” Andy said. “I told the kids, ‘Guess what everyone expects this year? They expect you to win it. Everybody’s shooting for you.’

“We told the kids you have to be better than last year, and our kids take it very seriously. They’ve worked extremely hard in the offseason. They’re not resting on 2012.”

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 5
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 572
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn



Two Teams Working Together: Competitors But Not Enemies
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/16/2013 5:27:44 PM

FARIBAULT – Ken Hubert, coach of the Faribault High School girls swimming and diving team, made a pretty important statement as we were chatting Thursday: “We’ve got to teach our kids that the other team is our competitor -- we definitely want to beat them -- but they’re not our enemy.”

We were standing poolside, waiting for the swimmers from Winona to arrive. The Winhawks were running a little late, thanks to road construction, but the mood was light and everyone was expecting a fun practice session. And Hubert’s words summed up the experience perfectly.

The two teams were not going to compete against each other; this was not a scrimmage or anything of the sort. It was simply a practice … with two teams and two sets of coaches. After the Winhawks arrived, the fun and the work began.

Everyone swam some warmup laps before Hubert and Winona coach Steve Burt – they compete in triathlons together – talked about what the two-hour session would entail. But first, some introductions were in order. Hubert (who also is Faribault's athletic director) introduced himself and his coaching staff to the group, Burt did the same.

Then the girls -- eight or nine of them standing together in each lane – went through an exercise in making new friends. In each lane, everyone stated their name and their favorite color, and then one member of each team stood on the deck and, speaking to the entire group, introduced the members of the opposite team by name and favorite color. Laughter and applause ensured.

Sixty-eight athletes -- 31 from Winona, 37 from Faribault – were fortunate enough to be there. This was new for the Faribault Falcons (although they do travel to Duluth for a competition each season), but the Winhawks boys and girls swim teams take regular training trips. Following Thursday’s practice, in fact, the Winona team was headed to the Twin Cities for an overnight stay and a workout with the team from Richfield on Friday.

“The objective is to sort of break up the monotony,” Burt said. “We don’t go every year but we’ve been going a lot.”

After the workout ended, the athletes had pizza together and chatted like old friends. With their electronic devices back in their dry hands, they connected with each other on Facebook and Twitter in order to stay in touch. Because that’s what friends do.

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 4
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 422
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn



It’s A New Season, A Fresh Start For The Blue Earth Area Buccaneers
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/15/2013 12:06:15 PM

BLUE EARTH – Wednesday was the final day of conditioning drills for football teams across Minnesota, with full pads and full contact coming into play Thursday. The Blue Earth Buccaneers, however, are already conditioned to one thing: winning a state championship.

The Bucs captured their school’s first football title last season, capping a 13-0 season with a 30-7 victory over Rochester Lourdes in the Class 3A Prep Bowl game at the Metrodome. They return five starters on each side of the ball this season, meaning expectations are high for 2013.

“I think at the beginning of every year there’s a lot of enthusiasm,” said Randy Kuechenmeister (pictured), who is beginning his 23rd year as head coach. “We always try and preach it’s a different year, we’re trying to focus on what we’re going to try and accomplish this year, not what happened last year. Obviously, like anybody we’re very proud of that accomplishment. Now we try to focus on this year.”

While the Buccaneers focus on the now, however, there are lessons to be learned from the then. Their run to the state title was a mild surprise, even to the coaches and players.

“I don’t think anybody went in thinking we were going to win the state championship,” Kuechenmeister said . “We had a good team the year before and we thought we could be very good. How good, we didn’t know. We were fortunate in that kids bought in, we had great leadership, we had different kids make plays and we kept getting better. That doesn’t always happen.”

Those lessons – work hard, stay together, one day at a time – could help propel Blue Earth to another memorable season.

“Just take one game at a time; that was kind of our strategy last year,” said senior David Franta, who rushed for 144 yards and two touchdown in the Prep Bowl. “Don’t look ahead, don’t be thinking about trying to make it to the state tournament or doing well at the state tournament. Just take the first game, win the week and move on to the next week.”

Two years ago, the focus in Blue Earth was on a pair of talented senior linemen. Jonah Pirsig is now a 6-foot-9, 308-pound redshirt freshman at the University of Minnesota and Sam Lee is a 6-5, 300-pound sophomore at Augustana College in Sioux Falls,S.D. Last season, they had departed for college and the spotlight went elsewhere.

“It might have frustrated some of us, because all they were focusing on was one person,” said senior quarterback Kysten Zierke. “Last year we were able to just be one group and that eventually came into focus once we got into playoffs and state. People noticed that we were better than the team a year prior (which finished 10-2, losing to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown in the state quarterfinals).”

As senior Gus Phillips – the Bucs’ leading tackler in the Prep Bowl -- said of the 2012 season, “It wasn’t just focused on one player, it was focused on the whole team.”

There are 85 Blue Earth football players this season in grades nine through 12. Of the 19 seniors, 16 play multiple sports. There are fewer farm kids than there used to be, but agriculture is never far off on the southern Minnesota prairie. Three practice fields are located behind the high school, and across a road stand tall rows of corn. As the Buccaneers walked to the fields for Wednesday evening’s workout, a pickup pulling a rack of hay bales rolled down the road.

Blue Earth High School became Blue Earth Area High School in 1990, with students coming from Blue Earth, Frost, Winnebago, Delavan and Elmore. Traditions and bloodlines are important; one example is Franta, the last in a line of four brothers to play football.

Another example: Six of the eight Blue Earth assistant football coaches played for Kuechenmeister. “They’ve aged a little bit but I haven’t,” he said with a chuckle.

Kuechenmeister is a native of Luverne who played high school football under Elmer Menage, who is a member of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Menage is also Kuechenmeister’s father-in-law.

A few years ago, people in Blue Earth realized that some talented young athletes were on their way to the varsity football team. These things often happen in cycles.

“In a smaller school it’s kind of the ebb and flow of things,” Kuechenmeister said. “We thought we had some good players coming, no question about it, and kids who love to play the game. One of the best things is in the last couple of years they’ve gotten along and they’ve played very well together. And that makes a huge difference.”

Eight players carried the football in last year’s Prep Bowl, and seven of them are back this season. Facts like that may portend that another special season could be taking shape.

But that doesn’t mean the Buccaneers are looking too far down the road. They will open the season at home against Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial on Aug. 29, but with the pads and real hitting still fresh, they aren’t getting ahead of themselves.

“We’ve got to come out every day and be focused on what we need to do,” said senior Greg Claeys.

Said Phillips, “We need to realize that last year was last year. It’s a new season, a clean slate.”

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 2
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 352
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn



Next On The Schedule: A Visit To The Blue Earth Buccaneers
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/13/2013 3:23:04 PM

As we move through Week 1 of fall sports practices, I will be heading south on Wednesday for a visit to Blue Earth Area High School.

A quick Google search unearths these facts about Blue Earth:

• A sesquicentennial community founded in 1856.
• The birthplace of the ice cream sandwich.
• The center of America's longest highway, Interstate 90.
• The home of Minnesota's first stained-glass window.
• The seat of Faribault County and home to the historic 19th century County Courthouse.
• Home of the world's largest statue of the Jolly Green Giant, overlooking some of America's richest farmland.

How about that? My main focus, however, will be the Buccaneers football team. They won their school’s first state football championship last season, going undefeated and topping Class 3A. I’ll spend some time with the coaches and players, and also visit any other fall teams that are working out while I’m there.

I will fire off some photos on Twitter from Blue Earth, so be sure to follow me (@MSHSLjohn).

Remember, I’m always looking for great stories to tell. Feel free to fire off an email to jmillea@mshsl.org and tell me what’s happening at your school.



It’s A Brand New Day For Teams -- Old And New -- In Cannon Falls
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/12/2013 7:52:14 PM

CANNON FALLS --- Monday, as we all know, was day one for fall sports in Minnesota, with practices taking place at every school across the state. But at Cannon Falls High School, specifically for the girls and boys soccer teams, day one was Day One! As in the first day in school history that soccer practices were held.

The Bombers’ football, cross-country, girls tennis, volleyball and cheerleading squads were out in force, working through drills that are well-known to most athletes. The story was a little different for the soccer teams, with new players, new coaches and a new place to play.

Kids in first through eighth grade have been playing soccer in Cannon Falls for a long time through a local soccer association. The school board approved the addition of varsity, junior high and middle school soccer in May.

“It’s so exciting,” said girls soccer coach and English teacher Anne Davisson. “It’s been an interesting journey. It’s been years of people saying, ‘You’ll never have soccer’ and me wondering why not.

“I’m an English teacher and I find words pretty easily, but I can’t find words to describe soccer. I’m so pumped for these kids that they get a chance to experience it.”

This is a unique situation. The school district funds only transportation and officials, with the soccer association, families and community organizations pitching in to cover the costs of uniforms and equipment. The coaches are volunteers. With practice space at a premium on the high school grounds, the soccer teams practice and play across town on a field at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

“The community is very excited about it. Out of the feedback I’ve received, 90 percent has been positive,” said athletic director Jake Winchell. “The community really came together. We’ve had donations from groups in town to pay for equipment and uniforms and the church allows us to use their field free of charge.”

Cannon Falls is a member of the Hiawatha Valley League (the Bombers play football in the new three-division Southern Football Alliance) but because the soccer program got off the ground late, the teams will not compete in the HVL this season. The girls and boys teams will play five or six games; the boys will open the season with a home game against Byron on Aug. 22 and the girls’ first game will be at Winona Cotter on Aug. 24.

“Our goal is just to be competitive with the other teams,” said boys coach Adam Rueger, who works in the Goodhue County Public Works department and teaches driver’s education. “We don’t want to get blown away. We’ll start with the kids, wherever they are, and hopefully by the end of the season they’ve moved up a step or two or three so they can feel good.”

Cannon Falls (population 4,083) is located on Highway 52 between the Twin Cities and Rochester. The high school enrollment is 366 students. Athletically speaking, the most well-known of those 366 is probably Emi Trost (pictured), who won the Class 1A 800-meter championship at the state track meet in June. She was the state runner-up at 1,600 meters at that meet, as well as placing second in the 1A state cross-country meet the last two years.

In that 1,600 and the two cross-country championships, Trost was second behind Blake’s Clare Flanagan. Both are now seniors, but Blake has moved up to Class 2A in cross-country and track.

“That doesn’t mean there’s not somebody who’s rising up,” Emi said after Monday morning’s training run. “There are a lot of good runners.”

When I asked Emi about her goals this season, she replied with two. The first involved the team, which is of course what always matters the most.

“One of my goals as a captain is to be a good leader for our team and get more kids involved,” she said. “Another one of my goals is I want to win conference, section and state this year. I kind of want to do the whole shebang.” (Yes, she used the word “shebang.” Outstanding.)

The girls tennis team was practicing on courts at the school and the volleyballers were in the community center gym, where I asked coach Melissa Huseth about the start of a new season.

“Day one for me is just tremendous excitement,” she said. “The girls have been in the weight room and doing a bunch of volleyball stuff all summer. The night before our first day, I can’t sleep because I’m so excited.”

Day one was “intense,” said senior volleyball player Becca Vandenheuvel. “All these girls are determined, we all come in wanting to work hard. It’s great to see everyone again. We have six seniors, we’re ready to work hard.”

Later in the day, the football team practiced behind the school and the cheerleaders began learning their routines in front of the school. The football team will open the season Aug. 30 at home against Kasson-Mantorville, with the victor taking home the century-old Little Brown Jug.

At every stop, with every team, there was a grand mixture of intensity, fun, smiles and laughter.

As the girls soccer players went through the first practice in the history of the first team, Davisson was filled with energy; demonstrating, pushing, explaining, cheering.

“You’re going to just play,” she told the Bombers. “Pass to each other and talk to each other. Just play and have fun.”

Just play and have fun. That’s good advice, whether the team is 100 years old or just getting started.

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

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 1
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 112
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn



Preseason Rankings Arrive! Let The Season Begin!
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/11/2013 1:57:37 PM

The first rankings of the 2013-14 school year are out, and congratulations to the state volleyball coaches association for being the first to email their rankings to me. This is a sure sign of the start of the fall season.

There are no surprises atop the three-class preseason volleyball rankings. Lakeville North (Class 3A), Marshall (2A) and Bethlehem Academy (1A) won state championships last season and they all stand at No. 1 in their classes as the 2013 season gets rolling.

To see the complete volleyball rankings in all three classes, check out the MSHSL Facebook page. Rankings in the other fall sports will also pop up on our Facebook pages as I receive them.

Let’s have a great year!



My Monday Plans Have Been Made: Heading To Cannon Falls
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/7/2013 9:34:52 PM

The Big Day is almost here, and by the Big Day I mean Monday, Aug. 12; the first date on the calendar that fall sports will swing into action across Minnesota. (Twenty-two football teams that will play Zero Week games began practice this past Monday.)

Monday will be loaded with action: girls and boys soccer, volleyball, boys and girls cross-country, girls tennis, girls swimming and diving and football all will kick off the 2013-14 year. A few days ago I put out the call here on John’s Journal for great story ideas on the Big Day. Without giving away too much right now … I will be at Cannon Falls High School on Monday, focusing on a couple of very special stories and hopefully spending time with every one of the Bombers’ fall sports teams and cheerleaders.

I received a great many emails with recommendations for me, and thanks to everyone who told me about their school and their stories. Here’s an assignment for everyone that will continue throughout the school year: Let me know what’s happening at your school and in your community. I’m always on the lookout for John’s Journal stories, and your input is always valuable.

I can’t wait to get going.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 0
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 0
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John onTwitter: @MSHSLjohn



I Want To Visit Your School … Tell Me Why I Should
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 8/1/2013 8:22:02 AM

I’m ready to make plans for the day that will be the big kickoff to the 2013-14 year in MSHSL activities. Monday, Aug. 12, will mark the first official day of practice for fall sports teams ( 22 football teams that have scheduled Zero Week games will start on Aug. 5). The other fall sports are soccer, volleyball, cross-country, girls tennis and girls swimming and diving.

I’m hoping to spend Aug. 12 at one school – large or small, metro or outstate – that has great stories across a range of fall sports. It might be a school that had great success in fall sports last year … it might be a school that is expecting great success this fall … it might be a school that is fielding a varsity team(s) for the first time … it might be a school with fall coaches and/or athletes who have done great things on and/or off the field. If you think your school would be a good spot for me to visit, let me know.

A year ago, I spent the first day of fall practice in a new school district; Tri-City United brought together students from the formerly separate districts of Montgomery-Lonsdale and Le Center. I spent time with the football, volleyball, cross-country and girls tennis teams at Tri-City United, posting photos on the MSHSL Facebook page and writing a story for John’s Journal.

So here’s your chance: tell me why your school is special this fall. Send me an email; the address is jmillea@mshsl.org. Or if Twitter (as well as brevity) is your thing, fire a Tweet to @MSHSLjohn.



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