John’s Journal: The Mabel-Canton Family Is Back At State
21 Years After Their Last Appearance, Cougars Enjoy The Spotlight
Posted: Friday, November 11, 2022 - 6:40 PM
Lonnie Morken was in his first decade as a volleyball coach back in 2000 and 2001 when he brought his Mabel-Canton team to the state tournament at the then-new Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul. Now, 21 years later, the Cougars are back.
Morken is in his 29th season as the coach, bringing a stellar career record of 791-140 to state. One might think that with such a successful history, the Cougars would have been tournament regulars. But Class A Section 1 is filled with quality teams who always send a tough squad to state.
Xcel Energy Center opened in September 2000 and the volleyball state tourney made its debut in the NHL arena that November.
“I was really young at that time and then we went again in 2001 and it was kind of like, ‘You know, geez, this is cool, we're gonna do this every year,’ ” Morken said Friday after the Cougars were defeated by Mayer Lutheran 3-1 in the Class A semifinals. Mabel-Canton will meet Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa in Saturday’s third-place match, with Minneota and Mayer Lutheran playing for the championship
Standing in a quiet corridor after the match, Morken smiled when asked about the family aspect of this week’s experience. The team includes his daughters Sophie, a senior, and Sahara, a sophomore; Lonnie and his wife Stephanie have one older daughter, Sadie. Lonnie, who grew up in nearby Spring Grove and graduated from Luther College in Iowa, is the athletic director and a physical education teacher in Mabel-Canton.
“It's pretty amazing,” he said. “I really wanted to experience this with them. And my wife Stephanie; when you think about how the spouses kind of get lost, my wife is amazing. And to be able to go through this together? I mean, I think about going to state all the time, right? I don't obsess over it, but it’ll be whatever, 10:30 in the morning and I'll see something or do something and I'll be like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and it just brings me back to 2000 or 2001. And it's amazing to be able to do this with my family.”
State tournament experience is always a factor, and Mayer Lutheran held that advantage after playing at state regularly in recent years. That edge can be big under the bright lights and the way-up-in-the-sky ceiling.
“We probably have a couple of grain bins around Mabel that are this big but we don't have anything like this,” Morken said of Xcel Energy Center. “Our section prepares us well because we're traditionally so strong in volleyball. Many of our kids came up here and experienced the state tournament last year, and I really felt that we had the potential to get here this year. I'm so glad that so many of our kids got to experience it as a fan but it's not the same down on the court.”
First Trip To State Is A Real Rush (City)
Rush City, the Class 2A Section 7 champion, is at state volleyball for the first time in school history, and the future should be strong for the Tigers. The 14-player roster includes just four seniors: Mackenzie Ribich, Veronica Hemming, Kayden LaMont and Emmalee Angstman.
The Tigers lost to Annandale in Thursday’s quarterfinals and fell to Pipestone in Friday night’s consolation round.
“There have been a lot of subsection championship matches and there's been section championship matches. It's been a long building process,” said coach Eric Telander. “I'm happy where we’re at, so we can all hang our hat on that. But it's taken a lot of work from the community and the girls over the years to get to this point.
“We're just thrilled to be here and I'm happy about this experience. It's been so tremendous this week. The support from the community has been unexpectedly amazing. I knew we'd be supported, but it's been overwhelming. It’s something that will be cherished and remembered forever.”
Rush City sophomore McKenna Garr said it was also a little overwhelming to take the court at Xcel Energy Center for the first time.
“It's kind of like at first you have a moment of shock when you see the big arena where you're going to play,” she said. “You think, ‘OK, I'm going to get myself used to this.’ So you sit and you watch a couple teams first when you get here. Then you go in the locker room and get ready. You hang out with your team and then you get on the court and it's a whole other feeling. You get down there and you see all these people. They're staring down at you and you’ve just got to focus on the game and block out the noise.”
Tiger junior Cora Sayotovich agreed, saying, “We won our section and it was a really good feeling. And then over the course of a week, when we had some down time, just practicing, it was like the feeling kind of went away a little bit. Then we were on our way here, we checked into our hotel, we get our own locker room. And then I mean you walk out and you’re just kind of like, ‘Holy crap.’ This is crazy. It's a feeling I've never felt before.”
Hard Work Pays Off For Minneota
The Class A championship match will be a rematch from one year ago, when Mayer Lutheran defeated Minneota. Both are high-octane programs; Mayer Lutheran won state titles in 1982, 2016, 2017 and 2021, while Minneota did so in 2006, 2018 and 2019.
Minneota’s success is based on lots of sweat equity, said coach Hayley Fruin.
“There’s a lot of offseason work, definitely. And I'm sure a lot of coaches will say that, but these guys are playing club ball year round and they're playing with the best athletes in the area and they don't miss a summer practice. We had practice at 5 a.m. this summer, and a lot of them have jobs, and they were all coming day in and day out. They came every day and they might have been tired but it starts there, just really trying to focus in on getting better every single day and never being satisfied.”
Friday was a busy day for Minneota fans, with the volleyball team playing in the early afternoon and the Vikings’ football team meeting Breckenridge in the Class A state quarterfinals in Alexandria at 7 p.m.
Fruin said the volleyball team would watch the football game at their hotel via livestream by NSPN.TV, followed by volleyball film study to prepare for Saturday’s match. And no matter what happens in the final test of the season, it’s been a great ride.
“Tomorrow, obviously, no matter what, win or lose, we're going home and we're done,” she said. “So let's just make it a good one. Let's be competitive. Let's play well, right? We'll strategize tonight and tomorrow but it's all about having fun now. I mean, there's nothing more you can do. You can't play scared because it's over tomorrow. So let's have fun and play together like we've been doing all along.”
--To watch the state volleyball tournament and state football quarterfinals online, go to nspn.tv/MSHSL
--MSHSL media specialist 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]
Saturday’s State Volleyball Schedule
10:30 a.m. fifth place: Badger/Greenbush-Middle River vs. Ely
12:30 p.m. third place: Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa vs. Mabel-Canton
2:30 p.m. championship: Minneota vs. Mayer Lutheran
10:30 a.m. fifth place: Belle Plaine vs. Pipestone
1 p.m. third place: Concordia Academy vs. Annandale
3 p.m. championship: Pequot Lakes vs. Cannon Falls
8:30 a.m. fifth place: Mahtomedi vs. Detroit Lakes
4:30 p.m. third place: Grand Rapids vs. Kasson-Mantorville
6:30 p.m. championship: Marshall vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s
8:30 a.m. fifth place: Chaska vs. Centennial
5 p.m. third place: Rogers vs. East Ridge
7 p.m. championship: Wayzata vs. Lakeville North