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Looking For A Team And Finding New Friends
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/15/2018 2:35:32 PM

Our high schools are separated by distance, but sometimes the barriers can seem higher and stronger. There are rivalries between schools, certainly, especially schools that are in the same conference and in close proximity. One example: South St. Paul and Henry Sibley.

The schools are less than five miles apart. From South St. Paul, home of the Packers, you drive down Marie Avenue onto 7th Avenue South and then Interstate 494 for a short jaunt to Highway 110, then Delaware Avenue before arriving at Henry Sibley in Mendota Heights, home of the Warriors. The school bears the name of Minnesota’s first governor.

Both schools are in the Metro East Conference and when their teams compete against each other it is a real rivalry. All of this gives Tessa Laska an interesting perspective on schools and barriers and rivalries, as well as friendships.

Tessa is a junior at South St. Paul who competes on the Packers cross-country team in the fall and track and field in the spring. She played basketball for a while but repeated issues with injuries made her think about a different winter sport. Knowing that lots of cross-country runners also compete in Nordic skiing, she began wondering about giving that sport a try.

But there was a giant obstacle: South St. Paul does not offer Nordic skiing. Here’s where Tessa took a big leap over those barriers standing between schools. She knew that Henry Sibley had Nordic skiing, so was it possible to be part of their team? It was a little bit complicated, but the answer was yes.(Pictured, left to right, are Emma Forouhari, Anna Klein, Tessa Laska, Allie Prokosch, Bella Nelson.)

She talked to South St. Paul activities director Chad Sexauer, who signed on. They contacted administrators at Henry Sibley and Warriors Nordic coach Eric Friberg, who recalled this week, “She kind of reached out and said ‘Hey, we’re interested in doing this.’ I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ ”

Tessa is now in her second year as a Nordic skier, training with the Warriors. She paid the standard activity fee at her school, which provided racing uniforms in the school colors of maroon and white. But she trains with the skiers at Henry Sibley, who wear red and gold. She competes as a Packer, but she is grateful to the Warriors for allowing her to train with them and making her part of their team.

“I’m very lucky because it’s nerve-racking coming from a different school,” Tessa said. “They’re just really inviting, really nice people. They helped me grow as a skier, and almost as a person. I look up to how nice they are. I think about if we were to have someone from a different school come to South St. Paul, I would want to treat someone as well as they treated me.”

Friburg, a Henry Sibley alum who teaches biology, said, “A lot of kids overlap from cross-country to skiing, so a lot of them knew who she was already because they competed against her. It was kind of fun to turn that on its head, and now she’s our teammate. The kids really kind of ran with that.”

The Warriors have truly embraced Tessa. At the end of last season, she was named the team’s rookie of the year.

“On the first day of practice we kind of just flocked to Tessa because she was this new person and we were all excited to meet her, and that’s kind of continued,” said junior Allie Prokosch. “She always brings in some cool stories from her own school and her experiences. It kind of brings in a new perspective.”

Junior Laura Skemp said, “I think everybody was like, ‘Oh, this is so weird. It’s a different person from a different school.’ But she’s really part of the team and last year she got Rookie of the Year and everybody else was so surprised but we were all like, ‘Well, obviously, because she was the best person that came in.’ It’s not that odd. She just feels like one of us and it’s really nice.”

Logistically, there have been few problems. The South St. Paul school day ends at 2:30 p.m., while the last bell at Henry Sibley rings at 3:04. That gives Tessa time to make the 10-minute drive to Sibley and greet her friends as they come out to ski on the roomy school grounds.

Last year Tessa came within a few seconds of being named all-conference honorable mention. She has finished among the leaders at some races this winter. She would like to receive all-conference status this season and finish among the top half of the field at the Section 3 championships.

“I think she was a little hesitant to start but now it’s clear she loves these girls and they’re all friends,” Friberg said. “It’s worked out just great. Competitively, she’s a great athlete. It was fun for her, too, I think to struggle at something. That can be hard for a good runner to switch to skiing and not be good right away.”

Tessa said she had no idea what to expect last season, because she was with an unknown group of athletes and she had never been on skis.

“Coach Friberg says in the first year you’re learning how to stay up on skis, the second year you’re getting the feel of how to race, and the third year is when you’re competing well. I was able to learn pretty fast along with a couple of other teammates who were new,” she said.

Tessa competed in some junior varsity meets early last season and did very well. By late in the season she was skiing at the conference and sections meets. She missed the early part of training this winter because of an ankle injury suffered during cross-country. But now she’s at full strength and looking forward to the rest of the winter.

“It’s fun going over to Sibley every day, getting to hang out with that team,” she said. “It’s really been an exciting experience. It’s cool to say I ski for South St. Paul and I made this team. It’s a really fun sport and a cool experience.

“Sibley is great. They’re really nice.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



The Great Debate And The Two-Time State Champion
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/13/2018 8:17:36 PM

A big game was held Friday and Saturday at the University of Minnesota. It had nothing to do with basketball or hockey and there weren’t thousands of wild-eyed fans going nuts. But it was an important event with competitors giving it everything they had after working hard to reach the highest level of their activity.

This was the state debate tournament, the oldest event on the MSHSL calendar. It all began when the LeSueur High School trio of Michael Doherty, Alice Currer and Henry Currer claimed the first Policy Debate state championship in 1902, and it’s still going strong all these years later.

Policy is the longest-held category, with Lincoln-Douglas and Public Forum being added as the years went by. A fourth category was added to speech in Minnesota this year: Congressional Debate.

The state qualifiers kicked things off Friday morning and the championships culminated with final rounds and awards ceremonies Saturday evening. By the time all the results had been tallied and the awards distributed, a senior from Apple Valley named Kenan Anderson was standing tall.

Kenan (pictured) won his second consecutive state title in Lincoln-Douglas, becoming the third person to do that in the last six years. Andrew Urevig of Armstrong won back-to-back crowns in 2013 and 2014, and Edina’s Arvind Veluvali did the same in 2015 and 2016.

With seven judges scoring the final Lincoln-Douglas round in General Purpose Classroom 10 inside Blegen Hall, Kenan won the state title with a 6-1 result. He argued the negative side of this question: “Resolved: Plea bargaining ought to be abolished in the United States criminal justice system.” Arguing on the affirmative side was Maggie Wuollet of Armstrong.

The other state champions were …

Public Forum: David Ma and Richard Zhu, Edina.

Congressional: Nautica Flowers, Eagan.

Policy: Alex Dresdner and Grace Klage, Minneapolis Washburn.

Maggie and Kenen were sitting at tables in front of the lecture room, with seven rows of seats occupied by judges and spectators. Kenan and Maggie had laptops, note cards, sheets of paper, water bottles and small electronic timers on their tables. Between the two tables was a podium that bore the University of Minnesota’s block M logo.

The round began at 4:22 p.m. with Maggie starting her timer and her argument. She talked fast to pack as much information in as possible before the timer beeped. This was the formula: talk fast, use your notes and knowledge, convince the judges. Back and forth it went: affirmative construction followed by cross-examination; negative construction followed by cross; rebuttals from both sides; and prep time built in for the students to look at their research.

Debate is much like sports: strong preparation leads to strong performance.

Kenan said he might do research for 10 to 20 hours per week, especially early in the season.

“And then you also have to include that you’re just at tournaments for so long, and travel and whatnot,” he said. “It definitely adds up.”

At 5:06 p.m., the final round of Lincoln-Douglas ended with Maggie’s closing argument to the judges: “You have a chance to do something today. You have a chance to abolish plea bargains.”

As she finished, everyone stood and applauded. It was a wonderful scene.

In last year's final round Kenan argued the negative on this Lincoln-Douglas topic: “Resolved: Public colleges and universities in the United States ought not restrict any constitutionally protected speech.”

It all began when he was sitting in a ninth-grade English class. Older students on the speech and debate teams pitched the activities to the younger kids.

Kenan said, “I was planning on joining speech and wasn’t interested in debate, and the debate captain said, ‘You should just try it for one year.’ And I did. I was absolutely hooked.

“I think debate has taught me a lot of things. First of all, research. I have learned how to research different topics. Some people say debate is bad because you have to debate both sides of a topic and so it weakens your moral views. But I think actually what helps more is empathy. So I find myself, even in reading political articles or positions that I used to not agree with, being more understanding of why someone may hold the views they do and looking at them from both sides.”

He’s in the process of selecting a college, where he plans to study economics. The University of Minnesota – through which he already takes PSEO (Postsecondary Enrollment Options) classes – is in the mix. His dream school is Princeton.

He has another dream, one that involves high school debate. Actually, he referred to it as a “mini-dream that someday, someone in a debate will read a card that I wrote. I think that would be cool.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



Class 4A Boys Basketball Is Anybody’s Game
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/10/2018 3:29:46 PM

Can you name the team to beat in Class 4A boys basketball? That’s not an easy question, simply because there are so many teams that could make a run at the state championship this year.

In the words of Apple Valley coach Zach Goring, whose teams won state titles in 2013, 2015 and 2017, “It’s as wide open as I’ve ever seen it.”

Apple Valley lost a conference home game for the first time in nearly six years Tuesday night, falling to Lakeville North 73-67 in the South Suburban Conference. It was a prime matchup, with North holding the No. 3 spot in the Minnesota Basketball News rankings and the Eagles at No. 5.

The top spot in the weekly rankings has provided a strong barometer of the uncertainty of 4A, with four teams being No. 1 in the first four polls. In the late-November preseason rankings, Apple Valley was No. 1 before losing to Minnehaha Academy (No. 1 in 2A all season) and Edina. That win by Edina helped the Hornets grab the No. 1 position for a week, and then it was Eden Prairie’s turn in the top spot for the next seven days.

On Dec. 20, Cretin-Derham Hall became No. 1 and the Raiders have held that position.

“In my opinion Cretin’s the best, I would say, that we’ve played,” said Goring (the Raiders beat Apple Valley 80-69 on Dec. 30). “When they get everyone going full bore they’re really good.”

Cretin-Derham Hall is 10-1 after beating Forest Lake 84-48 on Tuesday; the Raiders’ loss was to Edina. Hopkins is No. 2 in the rankings with a 13-1 record; the Royals lost to Cretin-Derham Hall in their season opener. Lakeville North, Eden Prairie and Apple Valley round out this week’s top five ranked teams.

No one questions the parity at the top of 4A, including Lakeville North’s John Oxton, a Hall of Fame coach whose teams have won more than 500 games and the 2014 state championship.

“Absolutely, absolutely. There are really a lot of good teams,” he said. “I think we’ve proved that we’re one of them. There’s a lot of basketball left to be played and it’ll be good basketball, and competitive.”

North’s win at Apple Valley ended an 11-game, five-year losing streak to the Eagles and also halted the Eagles’ six-year home winning streak in league play. Apple Valley has won five consecutive South Suburban championships, going 91-1 in conference games.

The Eagles held a 13-point lead with nine and half minutes to play before North outscored them 34-15 the rest of the way. The Panthers were led by 6-foot-7 Tyler Wahl with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while the 6-6 Tyler Lewko scored 17. For Apple Valley, Duke-bound Tre Jones had 22 points, Ely Hendrickson came off the bench to hit seven of 10 three-point shots for 21 points, and Zach Korba scored 12.

“When we got down, they did a great job of persevering and sticking with it,” Oxton said. “We had so many kids step up and make big plays, so that was pretty cool.”

Apple Valley had some matchup problems with North’s size. The Eagles have played the entire season without 6-4 senior Luke Martens, who is expected to return soon from an injury.

“Like I told our kids, I didn’t have a problem with our effort or our energy tonight,” Goring said. “(North) just got really hot late. And without Martens we really struggle without a matchup with Wahl. If we have Luke, he can guard Tyler and we’re in better shape there.”

Jones was fouled and fell hard with 7:40 left in the first half. Bleeding from his mouth and complaining of a headache, he left the gym with an athletic trainer and missed the rest of the half. He played the entire second half.

Apple Valley will have a different look next season without Jones or his older brother Tyus, who also played at Duke and is now with the Timberwolves.

“It’ll be super different and I have to admit it’s not going to break my heart,” Oxton said of the end of the Jones era at Apple Valley. “But it’s been an honor to play against them. And obviously there’s still lots of basketball left to be played, for sure.”

That is for sure.

“I think a lot of teams have really stepped up, we’ve got a lot of quality coaches and a lot of quality players,” Goring said. “Everyone’s knocking everyone off.”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



Class 1A Girls Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/10/2018 3:17:49 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News.

CLASS 1A
1. Lyle-Pacelli (12-1)
2. Goodhue (11-2)
3. Mountain Iron-Buhl (13-1)
4. Bigfork (11-1)
5. Hayfield (11-2)
6. Ada-Borup-Norman County West (9-0)
7. Lac qui Parle Valley (14-1)
8. Stephen-Argyle (12-1)
9. Menahga (10-0)
10. Wheaton-Herman-Norcross



Class 2A Girls Basketball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/10/2018 3:17:28 PM

From Minnesota Basketball News.

CLASS 2A
1. Sauk Centre (11-0)
2. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (10-0)
3. Maranatha Christian (7-3)
4. Rush City (11-0)
5. Minnehaha Academy (6-4)
6. Holy Family Catholic (11-2)
7. Watertown-Mayer (10-3)
8. Norwood-Young America (11-2)
9. Stewartville (12-2)
10.Roseau (8-4)



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