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John’s Journal: The Two-Sport Coach Who Never Takes A Vacation

With More Than 1,000 Wins, Marshall’s Westby Keeps Working

Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2023 - 4:45 PM


A large crowd cheers for Stewartville and Grand Rapids at Maturi Pavilion.




Benilde-St. Margaret's coach Tim Ellefson.

Coaches are busy people. Especially head coaches. And those who are head coaches in multiple sports are extremely busy. Dan Westby of Marshall High School takes it to another level.

The guy never takes a vacation. After Wednesday’s Class 3A girls basketball state quarterfinals at Maturi Pavilion, Westby was asked about taking time off. You might as well have asked him to explain the Riemann Hypothesis (uh, Google it).

Well, to be honest, Westby did take three days off between leading Marshall to a state volleyball championship last fall and joining basketball practice; his assistant coaches were in charge for those three days.

But a vacation? A real, pack-the-bags, getaway-from-it-all vacation? Never. Not on your life.

“No, I don't take any,” Dan said. “I feel bad for my wife (Deb). She goes to an all-inclusive resort with her sisters every year down in Mexico and I've never been there.”

Westby, a 1978 Danube graduate, may simply be a testament to the grindstone. He is one of the most successful coaches in Minnesota history, in two sports. As a volleyball coach he has won more than 700 games, and he came to state with 301 basketball victories.

Any time he is asked about winning and success and his legacy, he always directs the discussion back to the student-athletes.

“It's such a good group of kids,” he said after the unseeded Tigers lost to top-seeded Becker 52-43 Wednesday. “We've got seven seniors and they've been through it a number of times. And I told them before our section championship, ‘You guys, I'm saying this strictly from a selfish standpoint: I want to be with you guys another week. So let's go out there and win. That's the way I feel.’ I just wanted to be around those kids for another week.”

The trip to state ensured that extra week. Marshall is playing at state in girls basketball for the 13th time; winning titles in 2001 and 2002 and finishing second in 2006, 2014, 2015 and 2021. The Tigers’ volleyball legacy is even stronger, with 31 state appearances, championships in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2021 and 2022, and seven runner-up finishes.

Becker also has been a regular at state basketball, winning titles in 2007, 2020 and 2021, with second-place finishes in 2019 and 2022. The Bulldogs defeated Marshall in the 2019 state quarterfinals as well as in the 2021 championship game.

“I know Dan Westby and we have a history with Marshall,” said Becker coach Dan Baird. “Dan is going to have his team ready. He's just an amazing coach. He's going to get his team to play hard until the last whistle.”

First Time At State, First Win For Stewartville

The Stewartville girls basketball team made history by advancing to state for the first time, and the Tigers took full advantage by defeating Grand Rapids 71-57 in the Class 3A quarterfinals. And yes, there were some jitters.

“I was a little nervous just because we've never been to state but I think as a team we worked really well together,” said Savannah Hedin. Teammate Keeley Steele added, “I was definitely a little nervous but I was excited, too, so that helps and that kind of evened it out. And then once we got going, it was just fun to get to play with all these girls.”

Stewartville coach Ryan Liffrig said going to state presents lots of new challenges from an administrative standpoint.

“It was crazy,” he said. “A lot of planning goes into it and that was new to us. I think there were times as a coach that I was like, jeepers, I'm wanting to watch film and all of a sudden it's 10 o'clock and you're dealing with other stuff. But I did have a lot of help from our coaching staff, they really stepped up and took on the other roles, like the planning of the hotel, the food. There's just so much stuff.”

A Life Change And A Coaching Change

Tim Ellefson took one team to state -- in 2016 -- during his nine years as the head girls basketball coach at Hutchinson. He returned this year, his first season as head coach at Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

Ellefson, a math instructor who worked in Hutchinson for 16 years, inherited a team that qualified for state last year. The Red Knights were state champions in 2006 and 2010. In Ellefson’s first game at state, they rallied to defeat DeLaSalle 64-53 in Wednesday’s 3A quarterfinals.

DeLaSalle led 22-6 midway through the first half but Benilde-St. Margaret’s came back to take its first lead of the game, 43-42, with 7:43 remaining in the second half. A three-pointer and a layup by sophomore Kendall McGee (who finished with 19 points), followed by a layup from Michigan-bound senior Olivia Olson (25), gave the Red Knights a 52-45 lead with five minutes left. They were in control after that.

Ellefson said he was ready for a change and was open to meeting with officials from Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

“(Athletic director) Jerry (Pettinger) couldn’t have made me feel more welcome,” he said. “I talked it over with my family. I have 10, 12 years after this and thought maybe I have time to do something somewhere else. And I didn’t want to live in regret, not ever trying something totally different. I said, ‘Let's go for it.’ And it's been hard, but it's been rewarding.”

The drive from Hutchinson to Benilde-St. Margaret’s – which is in St. Louis Park – is more than an hour. The Ellefsons moved to Carver, which is closer.

“We’re still kind of out there a little,” Tim said with a smile. “It’s a 25-minute drive and every day I drive to school I’m thinking of how lucky I am. I love Hutchinson, I love the families, I love the community. That had nothing to do with it. It was just a life change that that I decided to do. And I’m really enjoying it.”

--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] 

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