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John’s Journal: A Conversation With Bryce Tesdahl

Bob McDonald’s Grandson Led Minnetonka To Boys State Basketball Title

Posted: Monday, April 1, 2024 - 9:57 AM


The 2024 Class 4A state champion Minnetonka Skippers. Head coach Bryce Tesdahl is fourth from the left in the back row.


On my weekly podcast, Preps Today with John Millea, my co-host Jim Souhan and I enjoy interviewing high school sports and activities figures. On the most recent episode -- available wherever you download podcasts – our guest was Bryce Tesdahl, head boys basketball coach at Minnetonka High School.

The Skippers won the Class 4A state championship with a victory over Lake Conference rival Wayzata at Williams Arena last week. The Trojans had defeated Minnetonka in both of their conference games this season and had in fact defeated the Skippers the previous 19 times they had played.

I have known Bryce since he was a high school senior, and I also know many of his extended family members. He is a grandson of the late Bob McDonald, the Chisholm icon who won more boys basketball games than any coach in Minnesota and is a member of the National High School Hall of Fame.

Bryce talked about many things, including the factors that went into the Skippers’ state championship, the players and assistant coaches, his journey from high school basketball player through his college playing career and a coaching career that took him from the University of Minnesota Duluth to New Prague to East Ridge to Minnetonka.

Here is my conversation with Bryce, in an edited question-and-answer format…

QUESTION: What’s life been like since winning the state championship?

ANSWER: Well, it's been a little crazy. People have come out of the woodwork to send congratulations, people from my hometown and just everywhere. There’s been a lot of energy around the school and the community and deservedly so for our team and our program.

QUESTION: Your extended family is focused on basketball, and I know there were lot of relatives at Williams Arena. How did the family celebrate?

ANSWER: It’s always kind of a family reunion of sorts when we can gather at the state tournament, whether people are playing in it or not. And it's just a fun reunion that we look forward to every single year and it just makes it that much better when somebody's coaching and it's fantastic.

QUESTION: One of the amazing things about this is that not only did your team lose twice to Wayzata this year, their streak against Minnetonka was 19 games. What did you do to prepare your team for that game?

ANSWER: Well, you can't change the previous 19, but you can change the 20th, and we kind of had the mindset that we just had to go 1-0 that day. The 19 were the 19 and we can’t change those results. But we had an opportunity not make it 20 in a row and people maybe would forget a little bit about the 19 in a row previously. We knew we didn't have to be perfect, but we'd have to be great. We made a couple of adjustments on the defensive end, and offensively I thought we took care of the ball and worked for good shots. But it's just a credit to our guys to really put the past in the past and focus on the now. We've really talked about the power of us and it really empowered us to not only make the state title game, but to change that result and win that game. It was just a true testament to our kids’ work throughout the year and really changing the results when it really mattered.

QUESTION: you had a nice mix of experienced kids and younger kids on the team. Talk about some of your players and the roles they played this year.

ANSWER: We had seven guys who really played a lot of minutes for us, all juniors and seniors. We were kind of led by four-year varsity starters Andy Stefonowicz, who’s going to North Dakota State, and Jordan Cain. Those two have played for me for four years. And their first couple of years we were kind of at the bottom of the Lake Conference and the middle of the road and we were a definite work in progress. But you could kind of see light at the end of the tunnel and we just kept talking about staying with that progress through the process and they continued to buy in and we added guys like Greyson Uelmen, Duke Richardson, Isa El-Amin, we had Keyden Wells, who transferred back. He was a Minnetonka kid originally and then with Covid his parents wanted him to stay in school instead of online school. So he went to Benilde and then came back for his senior year, and he's really good buddies with Andy and Greyson. Malachi Boadi-Aboagye, who's a junior, really filled a lot of good minutes in his role. Alexander Vohs and Hemanth Vangala were seniors as well, and they just wanted to win. A lot of guys and a lot of teams care about their statistics or how much you're scoring or maybe their individual stats, and this team really just bought into winning and wanting to play on that last day and have an opportunity to play for a state title. For them to buy in and reap the reward of that buy-in is pretty special. And we had a special group of seniors and now all these juniors and sophomores and freshmen. That got to be a part of it as well, and now have seen that process come alive through hard work and just putting the team first instead of themselves.

QUESTION: I think people who get lost in success stories like this are assistant coaches, and you've got some great assistants. Tell us about those people.

ANSWER: it really starts with our three varsity guys. We have Kyle Kaupa, who has been with me at two stops now, East Ridge and Minnetonka. He's been with me all seven years and he has put in a lot of work. He's a younger guy and just shows up to work every single day. And wants to get better and we'll do anything for the team, whether it's scouts or running the 10th and JV. And then Mike Riemer and Deon Richardson have been with me as well. Deon is Dukes’ dad and Mike has a younger boy who's in seventh grade that's coming up through the program. They're just really invested guys that have put a ton of time into preparing our student-athletes not only during the season, but during the offseason, as well, in June and July when we get those days with the kids. They're showing up and they want to put in the work and we know that the goal is to compete for a state championship every single year and that takes a lot of work not only from the student-athletes, but our coaches sacrifice a lot throughout the season, in the offseason. And then our ninth-grade coaches, Charlie Dorn and Sam Forster, they run their own program, but they're so invested in the varsity program, as well. I just can't say enough about those guys. They’re dads and their husbands, they're sacrificing their time. And to have that, all that hard work and time pay off, is a special feeling.

QUESTION: When you were a senior in high school at Crosby-Ironton, your team was undefeated before losing to New London-Spicer in the 2008 Class 2A state championship game. You have said that game has motivated you as a coach and made you want to get back to high school coaching. And you talked to your team about that experience, right?

ANSWER: It was more about sharing my perspective, more than me trying to live through them. When you when you lose a game like that, you always want it back and it always sticks with you. When you have a perspective from anybody that's been in their shoes, that kind of maybe motivates them and also provides them perspective that maybe others can provide because they've never been in that situation, especially on the losing side of things. We know winning usually takes care of a lot of things, but when you lose that you kind of see the other side and makes you want it back. So again, I just wanted to make sure the kids kind of understood my perspective of it 16 years prior to when they were in that same situation.

QUESTION: Let’s talk about seeding. Your team was seeded third at state and Wayzata was No. 1 in 4A. As I think most people know, coaches do electronic seeding, one through five are recognized and then a blind draw is used to complete the bracket with the three other teams. This is the way it's been done here for quite a while. It's not perfect and I don't know that there's a perfect system. I think we're headed towards seeding one through eight; volleyball already has been approved to do that next fall. How do you feel about seeding and maybe the best way to do it?

ANSWER: I think seeding the top five teams is usually cut and dried, and with those four, five, six seeds maybe there's some room for error. But a lot of teams that make the state tournament now play each other, whether it’s conference or non-conference games throughout the year. So you look at those head-to-heads and the random draw. I think if you go random draw one through eight, people are still going to be upset about who they played maybe in the first round. So it's an inexact science. And sometimes I think you can throw out seeds. A lot of times you look at Eagan in the (defeating) Park Center (at state) and nobody gives them a shot to beat Park Center and they end up winning. So would you like to seed one through eight? That would probably maybe relieve a couple of question marks but at the end of the day, you’ve still got to play the game and the best team is going to win.

QUESTION: Let's talk about your family and the sport of basketball. Everybody knows this started with your grandpa and your mom's side of the family. She's a McDonald; that's the connection; she's been a coach. Your dad, Neil, I know your dad pretty well. He's a longtime coach in Crosby. With that family legacy, all of you guys are teachers, you’re educators, you’re coaches. Did you ever think of doing anything else? Three generations of teachers and coaches. Was that just ingrained in you?

ANSWER: I had the ability to do other things if I wanted to, but I never really thought about or wanted to do anything else. I was going to play basketball as long as I could in college. And obviously I wasn't good enough to turn pro so I wanted to stay involved in the game. I saw that's what my parents did, that's what my uncles and aunts and grandparents did. And the basketball thing is one thing but the education is another and you're just around kids every day. It just keeps you young, and the stories and those relationships that you get to build on a day-to-day basis, not only with your student-athletes, but with your students. It just keeps you young and keeps you moving and keeps you motivated to show up the next day. There are some long days in there, with some wins and losses in the game of basketball. Or maybe some things don't go your way, education-wise, but it's a rewarding career. And I wish more and more people would see that within their college process, just the rewards of the teaching and coaching profession when you show up every single day. Kids are excited to see you and they're excited to learn and excited to improve. A lot of professions don't provide that setting or atmosphere on a daily basis. And when you get to place like Williams Arena and a state final game, I told our kids I don't know where else you're going to get this environment in other realms of life. So it just can teach you so much and give you so much and I didn't really think of any other profession I wanted to go to just because I saw how much it gave to my family.

QUESTION:  Crosby-Ironton has a rich athletic tradition. Your head basketball coach was Dave Galovich, who’s a Hall of Fame coach, and your dad was on the coaching staff. Tell us about the impact they had on you.

ANSWER: When you get to play not only for a program but for a coach like that, someone who has invested so much time into you not only when you get to high school, but it all starts when you're in kindergarten and you're showing up for Saturday basketball. When the head coach of the high school program shows up and is actually giving you time as an elementary kid, and all the way through, it just makes you want to work that much harder. And I think sometimes you see people just coach the high school program, and I was fortunate to be in a program like my grandpa and my uncles have ran. My mom was the same way, she ran it the same way with their youth program. And I think that's where it all starts. It doesn't matter how big of a school you are. I mean, we tried to do the same thing at Minnetonka, and it's huge comparaed to Crosby or Chisholm or Ely or wherever it may be. You just work with those kids at a young age and now they get to work with you like your high school student-athletes, and they just buy in that much more, the family buys in more, the kids are more energized and invested into what you’ve got going on, and they just want to show up. I think that's where my grandpa and Galovich and my dad have succeeded at being high school mentors and coaches. They start so young and they work with you all the way through. And they're invested in you. They know you're the next ones, they know you're going to eventually be there and working with them. So I think that's the big thing that people can miss or skip. You get so tied into the now of your basketball program, which you need to obviously do to be successful now. But I think you're always planning five to 10 to 15 years ahead because if you don't, those kids are less interested and they might go to other sports or they might not even try your sport. So it was just cool to see that first-hand as a player and now try to do that, try to repeat that same process now as a coach at the high school level. It’s been a cool process, it's a rewarding process and it works. No person who invests in their youth program is going to regret that.

QUESTION: You took East Ridge to state when you were there, and your Minnetonka team last year went to state. With these previous experiences, what did you learn about playing at the state tournament?

ANSWER: Well, it's hard to get there and it's hard to win there. This is the first time that obviously I've won a state championship but this is also the first time that I've had a winning record in the state tournament, as well. And there's a reason why teams are there. And this was the first time that we've played our best basketball and it was probably the healthiest we've been since showing up there the previous two times. I've been doing this for nine years, and we've had a ton of success, a ton of great student-athletes and families and assistant coaches that have helped me along the way. But when you think about it, when you get to that last week in the season, I think you’ve just got to also find the balance of enjoying it and also trying to win it. Maybe my previous two times that I've been there with with East Ridge and Minnetonka, I tried to win it too much and not enjoy the process of that state tournament week and just put too much pressure on it. This time I just had a great balance of connecting with our student-athletes and really enjoying every step of the process, the bus rides, the shoot arounds, the team meals, and just kind of soaked it all in. There was pressure to win obviously, and I thought we were good enough to win it, but I just really tried to soak up every minute while also preparing our guys at the highest level to win those basketball games.

QUESTION: Let’s go back to your Grandpa McDonald, who I knew well. On a couple of occasions I went to Friday night games in Chisholm, spent the night up there and went to your grandpa's Saturday morning kids clinics. Boy, if that wasn't a riot. I have just so many great memories from that. And I know your grandpa hauled all you grandkids to the gym when you were all there. He told me stories about that. What kind of memories do you have of being in that gym with your grandpa?

ANSWER: Not every grandparent is a celebrity and it felt like you were with a celebrity when you were with him, especially in Chisholm. You just tried to soak up every minute. Whether he was talking basketball or the world wars, he just had so much knowledge from all the experiences that he had. In his later years when I when I went up and visited him, we would talk basketball but we'd also just talk life. Just to hear about all of his experiences through his own life, which starting out wasn't easy. He went through some adversity and challenges in his own life but you know, his life experiences really just gave me a ton of perspective, knowing life's never going to be easy, it's ever going to be given to you, and it's the same thing on the basketball court. I just really miss those conversations. You wish he could have been there on Saturday night, just because he'd be so proud of all the work and time that has been put into the program and in winning. But I think he'd be more proud of just how a lot of us have grown up in the education profession, in the coaching profession, and now a lot of us grandchildren have our own families. So I think he'd be obviously proud of who we are as coaches and educators but just kind of following his lead, as leaders in the community, as well.

QUESTION: In 10 or 20 years, what do you think you'll remember from this experience this season?

ANSWER: I think about the group that we had. It was the most enjoyable group that I've had from start to finish of a season. There are a lot of things that can go wrong and in a basketball season, just because it's so long, and everybody can get caught up in the highlights and their own statistics and what they have going on. Individually, in this group of kids and families and community, they just really rallied around each other. I've only been doing this for nine years on the high school side and three for the college, and you don't always get those groups that just give everything and sacrifice themselves towards that result of winning. And not only was winning fun, but just being around this group was really fun, whether it was a team meal or a practice or a shoot around. They made it fun to be around on a daily basis. And I think the relationships that they have among each other, whether if it was a younger kid that was just a part of the team and got to witness it on the bench or one of the starters that played a lot of minutes for us, everybody was connected, and everybody respected the process and each other. And we're going to have these relationships and these memories for a long, long time. This is a group where in five to 10 years or 20 to 30 years that you're just going to want to be around to have dinner when they're in town. You know, go to their weddings and just see all the landmarks of their lives,  just because it was a great group of kids that provided memories not only for themselves, but the community and our basketball program.

--To listen to the conversation with Bryce Tesdahl, click here:

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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