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New Richland Super Sophomore Carlie Wagner Is A Player To Watch
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/30/2012 3:14:46 PM

NORTHFIELD -- In preparing his team to face New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and super sophomore Carlie Wagner on Saturday, Goodhue girls basketball coach Josh Weime used other talented opponents as comparisons.

“We tried to compare her to girls we play: ‘She’s kind of like this, but quicker. She’s kind of like that, but faster, shoots better, jumps higher.’ ”

In other words, Wagner is capable of doing a lot on the basketball court. In fact, Weime said, “She does things that we never see. How do you prepare if you don’t see it?”

Not surprisingly, Wagner was the star of Saturday’s non-conference game at Carleton College, scoring a school-record 39 points. New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, the second-ranked team in Class 2A, recorded a 77-68 victory over the Wildcats, who are No. 2 in 1A. NRHEG improved to 20-0 and Goodhue is 17-3.

New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva is one of only five undefeated girls basketball teams in the state, and the only one in 2A. (The others are Hopkins in 4A and Parkers Prairie, North Woods and Win-E-Mac in 1A.) Wagner has been a key to the Panthers’ success, and Saturday’s school record was only her latest headline.

University of Minnesota coach Pam Borton came to the first practice of the season at NRHEG. … Wagner scored her 1,000 career point in the ninth game of her sophomore year. … She holds the school record in the high jump. … In the first half Saturday, Wagner outscored the entire Goodhue team 22-21.

Opposing coaches have been trying to figure out ways to slow Wagner for years. NRHEG coach John Schultz, who was a youth coach when Wagner was in elementary school, remembers a fourth-grade coach shouting “Take her left side away! She’s lefthanded!” Wagner, however, is not lefthanded. “You can’t tell the difference,” Schultz said.

Wagner, a 5-foot-10 guard, dribbles and scores with either hand. She throws lob passes to talented teammates Anna Schlaak and Jade Schultz, who like Wagner are highly skilled in other sports, too. Schlaak, a 6-foot senior, will play volleyball at NCAA Division II powerhouse Concordia University in St. Paul. Schultz, sophomore daughter of the coach, is a dominating pitcher during the softball season.

Wagner is more prone to pass than shoot, and John Schultz said he has to remind Carlie that it’s OK to put the ball in the hoop.

“She will turn it over sometimes or be too unselfish, and I keep telling her, ‘Keep shooting.’ In her mind I think she knows how many points she gets and she wants to get rid of the ball. That’s the kind of person she is; she’s trying to keep her teammates satisfied.

“She’s a very humble kid. She’s worried more about her teammates and succeeding as a team.”

Saturday’s game was a chance for both teams to prepare for the postseason. The West Gym at Carleton College is a 94-foot court, the same size as Williams Arena and Target Center, where the state tournament will be held in March. NRHEG used the long court to full advantage, running a rapid-fire transition offense with defensive rebounds setting up lengthy passes to Wagner for easy layups.

“To tell you the truth I don’t even remember if any of the kids knew what offense we were running, because it was all transition,” John Schultz said. “Even if they had one kid back we were going to force the issue and push to the hole.”

Most of Wagner’s 22 first-half points came in a half-court offense, while the bulk of her 17 second-half points came on fast-break layups. With sophomore Mikayla Miller (30 points, 10 rebounds and five steals) leading the way, Goodhue whittled down NRHEG’s lead late in the second half. As the Wildcats were forced to foul in the final couple minutes, Wieme hollered, “Anybody but three!” Number 3 is Wagner, of course.

She said she’s been surprised by the attention she is receiving as a sophomore.

“You’ve just got to kind of go with it,” she said. “It’s exciting and cool and it’s kind of like you weren’t expecting it at this age. You just go with the flow.”

Another pleasant surprise has been the Panthers’ success this season. “We knew it was going to be special, but I don’t think we quite had the idea in our head that we were going to go undefeated,” Wagner said. “But it’s happened and we’re working really hard and molding together really well. Our chemistry is really strong on and off the court, and we just work really hard.”

With two high school seasons remaining after this one, Wagner’s future is bright. And there are more Wagners on the way; in fact seventh-grade twins Maddie and Marnie Wagner (pictured with Carlie) are already seeing some varsity playing time.

Carlie is the family star on the basketball court, but Marnie owns a 1-0 lead on Carlie in one statistic: total number of deer taken during the hunting season.

“She blew me out of the water,” Carlie said.

Marnie and Maddie saw some second-half playing time Saturday, and fans will keep seeing all the Wagner girls.

“We’re young,” John Schultz said. “Hopefully we’ll be around for a while.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 255
*Miles John has driven: 5,745

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn

It’s Not The Score That Matters … It’s How Much Fun You Have
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/27/2012 11:45:16 PM

KENYON – Ninety seconds into Friday’s night girls basketball game between Pine Island and Kenyon-Wanamingo, we had a horse race in the making. Kenyon-Wanamingo senior star Shelby Auseth knocked down a three-point shot on the game’s first possession and Pine Island’s Courtney Pahl answered with a three ball on the other end. Boom boom and away we go, right?

From that point on, however, offense took a back seat. Way in the back, back by the tailgate. The final score was Pine Island 47, Kenyon-Wanamingo 30 and postgame questions about shot clocks were spoken in hushed tones.

But here is a key fact: Pine Island’s averages this year are 47 (offense) and 32 (defense). So the Panthers’ pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-shoot offensive plan and hustle-hustle-rebound-rebound defensive tactics worked out pretty nicely for the visiting team. And a visitor from the MSHSL had a grand time, as well, in his first visit to Kenyon-Wanamingo.

Auseth was the most effective scorer on the court, and that’s the case almost every time the 5-foot-9 senior sets foot on the court. She came in with a 25-point scoring average, and the fact that her team had a grand total of 30 says something about not only Pine Island’s defensive effort but about the style of play.

The Knights would much rather fight it out in an up-and-down, full-throttle contest, but coach Brent Lurken realized beforehand that Pine Island would not follow that script.

“That’s kind of where we thrive, and we knew they were going to slow it down,” he said. “Usually it’s a lot easier to slow a game down than it is to speed it up. But they’re a good team and they play great defense.”

This was an important game in the Hiawatha Valley League Blue division, where teams are starting to see some separation. Pine Island came into the game carrying a No. 7 ranking in Class 2A and a record of 18-1; the Panthers were 17-0 until a week earlier, when they lost at Goodhue, the No. 2 team in 1A.

That fact alone – Pine Island’s loss to Goodhue – should have brought some optimism to Kenyon-Wanamingo, considering that the Knights had defeated Goodhue three weeks ago (before Goodhue, uh oh, beat K-W in the rematch last Tuesday).

With Friday’s loss, Kenyon-Wanamingo fell to 13-5. That’s a great record considering the competition the Knights face, and the future is bright when look at all the young players on the squad: there are an awful lot of 10s and 9s on the “Grade” portion of the roster.

“We’re excited about the future,” Lurken said. “We have a lot of younger girls who play and they’re talented and our junior high teams are looking strong. So we’re excited about the future.”

Pine Island coach Rick Canton explained with great precision why his team’s games are so low-scoring: “Our games are low-scoring because people have a hard time scoring points on us.” Exactly.

“Some teams have slowed the game down on us,” he said. “On Tuesday (in a 42-38 win) Zumbrota-Mazeppa really slowed the game down on us. They went to some half-court sets. We don’t really like to do that. We like to transition. We didn’t press tonight because of Shelby Auseth; if she gets loose she’s so hard to defend.”


--The play of the game may have come in the final minutes, when Pine Island was attempting to strangle the clock under a Kenyon-Wanamingo full-court press. As Cede Finstuen held the ball in the backcourt and looked for an open teammate, Canton saw one of his players in the clear right in front of the bench. The coach pointed to the target and shouted, “Right here! Right here! Right here!” And sure enough, Cede threw the ball right to the coach. He made a solid two-handed catch and said, “Thank you.”

--The halftime entertainment was grand. For a dollar, anyone could attempt a half-court shot. Three kids hit the shot and won a two-liter bottle of pop.

--The unsung hero of the Pine Island team is senior Brenna Lien (right). She chose to give up playing basketball this season but the coaches wanted her to remain part of the team. So she plays a crucial role during every game, tracking statistics on an iPad.

“Brenna decided after last year that she wasn’t going to go out,” Canton said. “She’s a great kid and we asked her right before the season started, ‘Do you want to do our stats? We have an iPad, we want you to be part of it.’ She said she would love to. I hated to see her give up basketball because she’s such a great kid. But it shows a lot about all the girls in our program, that someone who decided to not play comes back and wants to be part of the program.”

--One final note: I could have watched the Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs play at Target Center on Friday evening, sitting in a suite via a free ticket that had been offered.But it was an easy decision for me to drive to the gym in Kenyon instead. In fact, I didn’t think twice.

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

*Schools/teams John has visited: 253
*Miles John has driven: 5,701

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn

Call Her Coach: Darwitz Takes Over At Lakeville South
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/23/2012 8:06:05 PM

K.K. Naasz, a junior center on the Lakeville South girls hockey team, heard the rumors last summer. She wasn’t sure if she should believe them, because they simply sounded too good to be true.

“It was a big secret for a long time,” Naasz said. “It started leaking out that Natalie Darwitz was going to be our coach and all of us were like, ‘What?!’ Then people were saying, ‘No it’s just a rumor.’ ”

Senior defender Tori Bailey, however, had the inside scoop. Because she is a team captain, Bailey knew the identity of the Cougars’ new coach before her teammates. And when the team gathered together at Hasse Arena late last summer and the new coach walked through the door, the excitement was evident.

“When we all met here at the arena that day, everyone’s face just lit up when she came walking in,” Bailey said. “Just the whole atmosphere, in the arena, and our team chemistry, everything just took a step forward. It was such a good feeling when she walked in.”

Like all young female hockey players in Minnesota, the Cougars knew all about Darwitz’s pedigree: star at Eagan High School beginning in seventh grade, career points and assists leader at the University of Minnesota, Team USA, the World Championships, the Olympics.

“She was my hero, ever since I was a little kid,” Naasz said. “Knowing her from the Gophers and Team USA, it was exciting. I remember going with my team as a little kid to games at the U and saying, ‘Oh, there’s my favorite player, Natalie Darwitz!’”

Darwitz was an assistant coach with the Gophers women’s hockey team when Lakeville South athletic director Neil Strader learned that she might interested in the coaching vacancy at South. Phone calls were made, interviews were conducted and the 28-year-old accepted her first head coaching job. She also had worked as an assistant under her father Scott Darwitz, the head girls hockey coach at Eagan High School.

When word of the hiring got out, Strader said “There was a lot of ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Is this a joke?’ After I assured people that it was true, everybody was extremely excited, especially me.

“Natalie’s a wonderful head coach, and she’s a better person than she is a coach. She’s an outstanding athlete, she brings to the table everything you’d want. I can’t say enough about her. She’s done a tremendous job leading our program and she’s brought a new excitement to this arena and to girls hockey in Lakeville. The Natalie Darwitz effect is definitely pretty big around here.”

Darwitz took over a team that has known success, reaching the Class 2A state tournament in the last two years (and losing in the state quarterfinals each time). The Cougars are 15-5-1 this season after a 3-1 loss at Eagan on Saturday in a battle of father and daughter.

Natalie Darwitz’s number has been retired at Eagan, and her father knows how important she has been to girls hockey in Minnesota. And he also knows that coaching is a great way to give back.

“Whatever Natalie can give back to girls hockey for the career she had, that’s what I’m so proud of,” Scott Darwitz said. “I go to a lot of Natalie’s games and I talk to the parents and the boosters and they’re really happy to have her there. I’m so proud of her for what she’s giving back to the game. That’s phenomenal.”

Natalie Darwitz has a business degree with an emphasis on sports management from the University of Minnesota, and she currently is working towards a teaching license in physical education at Concordia University in St. Paul. She’s on track to student teach next fall and have her teaching license next winter.

She said she was happy in her coaching role with the Gophers, but the challenge of coaching her own team was part of the attraction at Lakeville South.

“As I kind of evaluated myself and where I saw myself in five years, this was a good opportunity for me to take charge of it and take a step out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I was kind of at a crossroads in my life, making the transition from playing to coaching. I really enjoy coaching, it’s one of my passions in life. Switching gears from playing to coaching was something that really excited me about this job, to come to a newer program that kind of was starting to establish itself, had a lot of promise, a brand new rink. When I get opportunities I kind of want to evaluate them and if there’s something that can make me better and I can grow from it, then I want to take it on with a full head of steam.”

The players at South quickly realized that the person they knew only as a superstar athlete was also someone who was extremely approachable.

“Before this we admired her so much and she was famous. But now that she’s been around, we realize that she’s just another human,” Bailey said. “She is still a big idol in all of our lives and we all look up to her and hope to be like her, and who she is off the ice, too.”

Darwitz (pictured here with her father) admitted there was a learning curve for her, particularly in getting to know her players.

“I didn’t know a lot of the girls and I didn’t know much about the product on the ice,” she said. “Now, to see how far they’ve come, to get to know their personalities, it’s pretty fun to think back to when I had no idea who I was talking to. It took me a while to learn their names. We almost went old school, putting their names on tape on their helmets.

“I just love being back in the high school atmosphere. There’s nothing like high school sports, there’s nothing like school pride and facing a rival, having the band playing. There’s nothing like high school hockey. So when we played our first game, the goosebumps kind of came back. At the same time it feels like just yesterday when I was in high school. It’s just a fun atmosphere and I hope the girls don’t take it for granted, because there’s nothing like playing a high school sport, especially hockey in the state of Minnesota.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 253
*Miles John has driven: 5,605

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn

New Rules: The Way Hockey Should Be Played
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/18/2012 4:05:02 PM

Jake Horton, one of the captains of the Benilde-St. Margaret’s hockey team, played hard and played safe Tuesday night when the Red Knights had their first game under Minnesota’s new rules. The final score at the St. Louis Park Rec Center was Benilde 8, St. Francis 1, but the number of goals was almost inconsequential to the style of play.

Safer hockey is, hopefully, the new normal in Minnesota.

“It’s especially dear to our team, knowing that one of our players went down with one of those hits,” Horton said. “It’s definitely a lot more in our hearts when we’re out there.”

The senior defenseman was speaking of Jack Jablonski, of course. A few hours after Tuesday’s game ended, an optimistic message from Jack’s family was posted on his Caring Bridge site. The update included these words:

--“We're thrilled that Jack is able to sit up several times a day.”

--“Jack is getting stronger by the day, and that brings him closer to moving on to rehab. We're excited for him to begin the next chapter of his life.”

Benilde home games offer plenty of ways to support Jack and his family. His number 13 has become a familiar sight in rinks across the state. A large table in the arena lobby Tuesday held t-shirts, sweatshirts, mittens, hats, buttons, stickers, wristbands and more, with all proceeds going to the Jablonkis.

The Red Knights have Jack’s 13 sewn onto their jerseys and placed on their helmets. The St. Francis team brought along a poster in support of Jack, signed by players and other students, that was taped to the glass.

A saga that began on Dec. 30, when Jack was injured as he was checked into the boards, now continues with what everyone hopes is a better game. Last weekend the MSHSL instituted stiffer penalties for checking from behind, hits to the head and boarding, and this week’s games are the first tests of the change.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly allowed me inside the locker room during his pregame talk. (Video is posted on the MSHSL Facebook page.) The coach was direct and clear as he spoke.

“It would be tough, unless you’re living under a rock, to not have seen what the rule changes are,” he told the Red Knights.

“The line’s supposed to be in the sand: check from behind, boarding, hits to the head, that’s an automatic five (minutes). And you know what that means. That’s five minutes we’re short and they can score as much as they want. It can also carry a 10-minute misconduct and a DQ, which would put you out for the next game, as well. Honestly I’m not worried about it because that’s not our game, we don’t play that way.

“There are going to be mistakes made, that’s the nature of the game. We like to pride ourselves on a smart game, and we’re going to be smart all over the ice but we’re going to be smart about this, too. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also the way you’re going to win the game. You start doing this crap, you’re going to lose hockey games. Being safe and taking care of each other, and taking care of the other team you’re playing against is important, as well.”

One five-minute major for contact to the head put a St. Francis player in the penalty box early in the first period, but only minor penalties for holding, charging, elbowing, hooking, etc., were called the rest of the way.

The officiating crew of Brian LaShomb, Brad Larsen and Adam Knutson talked to the captains (Horton and Christian Horn from Benilde-St. Margaret's and Zach Foesch and Cameron Kaehler of St. Francis) about the rule changes on the ice as the teams warmed up.

Their message was as clear as Pauly’s: “You guys know what’s going on right? The onus is on you. If you see that hit, stay away from it. We hope there’s none of that. That would be awesome.” (Video also is posted on the MSHSL Facebook page.)

The game was one-sided, with the Red Knights outshooting St. Francis 56-12. Grant Besse, a junior who has made a verbal commitment to play at the University of Wisconsin, scored four goals and junior T.J. Moore scored twice.

After the game, Pauly was confident that everybody is on board with the new brand of hockey.

“First and foremost, I think the kids are very much aware of the rule,” he said. “That’s a good start. Hopefully we can keep their attention. The five-minute major came into play with one hit to the head, but honestly I don’t think I saw another play like that throughout the evening. Truth be told, I think some of the minors they’re calling now, I think that’s been stepped up. Which is good.”

St. Francis coach Tyler Schaff said that prior to the rule changes, playing a physical style would probably have been the Saints’ game plan against the fast-skating Red Knights.

“To play against a team like Benilde with all their skill, usually you’d want more contact,” he said. “We had a few more penalties today but they adjusted well to it. They keep their hands down, they see the number and they’re not going at them, they’re just containing. It was a lot better.

“We talked about Jack Jablonski and we also had a couple of team meetings where we went over the rules for the new penalties. These guys are a good group, they respect the rules, they respect the coaches and their teammates. They want to do what’s best.”

The Red Knights’ Horn said the changes are clearly the best thing for the game.

“It definitely does change the game quite a bit. There’s room for those younger guys who are skilled and fast and have good hands, they can step up and make something happen. They don’t have to wait until they’re seniors to really get noticed. There are those guys who are big and like to be enforcers; they have to play a different game now. They’ve got to find out what their game is, really, instead of trying to make it to the next level off of just being able to make big hits and everything.

“It really makes the game what it should be; skilled hockey up and down the ice, passing the puck, stickhandling, shooting and scoring goals, and goalies making saves.”

Horton agreed, saying the rule changes “really bring awareness to the kids and it makes the game more of what it should be, fast-paced, up and down the rink like it should be. It’s not about the big bruisers, the big hits along the boards or from behind. We want it back to the way it should be played; fast-paced hockey, scoring goals, stopping pucks. It’s good to have it back that way.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 251
*Miles John has driven: 5,583

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn

The Anatomy Of A Surprise Hockey Announcement
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/15/2012 6:52:19 PM

At 10 p.m. Saturday, the news began flying around Minnesota and beyond on social media, web sites, television and radio: The MSHSL had implemented immediate changes in hockey, stiffening penalties in an effort to eliminate dangerous hits that can result in injuries.

Once the decision was made, the timing of the announcement hinged on some secrecy, some trust in the media and the belief that about 15 teenage athletes would keep quiet on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else.

The process of making the change took some time. You can even flip the calendar back to last summer, when a meeting of the MSHSL Hockey Advisory Committee was scheduled for Jan. 10, 2012. That committee includes boys and girls hockey coaches.

Clearly, recent injuries to Benilde-St. Margaret’s sophomore Jack Jablonski and St. Croix Lutheran senior Jenna Privette raised the issue’s importance. Safety is paramount in high school athletics, and coaches, officials and others decided the time was right to take a stand against dangerous play.

Last Tuesday, the Hockey Advisory Committee met at MSHSL headquarters in Brooklyn Center. As Saturday night’s MSHSL announcement said, “The committee members had already established contact to the head and checking from behind as ongoing areas of concern to discuss prior to the recent injuries of the two players who remain hospitalized. At the meeting the committee members immediately established a priority to address the issue of proper contact in the game.

“The boys' and girls' coaches on the committee quickly agreed that the best way to address increasing violent hits was to escalate the penalty structure and to get all parties involved (coaches, players, officials, fans) to seek to change the culture of the game.”

The committee settled on the changes in penalties that were announced Saturday night. The National Federation of State High School Associations quickly approved the changes, and the next challenge was the timing of the announcement. Since hockey games were played Saturday, the announcement was made after those games had been played and before games resumed this week. That way, everyone involved would be aware of the midseason changes with no confusion about when they took effect.

A demonstration session was held Friday afternoon at an ice arena in Andover. Girls and boys from the Andover High School teams, along with their coaches and two officials, were asked to demonstrate several plays – incorrectly and correctly – as a crew from KSTC Channel 45 (the MSHSL’s TV partner) filmed the session and MSHSL staff took still photos.

The still photos are part of a slideshow demonstration that also was released Saturday night, and KSTC is in the process of producing a video that will further explain the changes. That video will be posted on mshsl.org as soon as it is finished.

Before the Andover hockey players took the ice, MSHSL associate director Craig Perry explained what they would do, talked about the timing of the announcement on Saturday night and gave them this final instruction: No Tweeting, no Facebook.

A few selected media members who regularly cover the MSHSL were informed of the decision a couple of days before the announcement, on the condition that the news be withheld until 10 o’clock Saturday night. This specifically allowed the two Twin Cities newspapers – the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minneapolis Star Tribune – to have stories about the changes in their Sunday print editions.

The media members were invited to the Friday session in Andover, where reporters interviewed MSHSL staff, officials, coaches and players, and photographers shot photos and video. Their stories began appearing online at 10 p.m. Saturday.

I was knee deep in the internet Saturday evening, well before and long after 10 p.m. At the stroke of 10, MSHSL assistant director and web guru Chris Franson posted the news release about the changes on www.mshsl.org (he and I had been corresponding via text message during the evening, and a few seconds before 10 he sent me a text that said “5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … “).

Also at 10, I posted this message on Twitter: “MSHSL stiffens hockey penalties for checking from behind, boarding, contact to head. Changes effective immediately,” followed by a link to the news release on www.mshsl.org.

While Chris Franson was posting the news on the web site and I was Tweeting it (as well as posting a link on the MSHSL Facebook page), MSHSL director of information Howard Voigt was using a mass email to send the news release to media members around the state.

The news spread very, very quickly. Broadcasters who had received the email as their 10 p.m. newscasts began hurriedly announced the rule changes, promising more information would follow.

The Twitter traffic was big. Here are a few examples of what was written…

--“Huge step for high school hockey. Great to see immediate change.”

--“I am glad MSHSL is being proactive, need USA Hockey to make this a bigger priority.”

--“The NCAA needs to make CFB (checking from behind) a five and a game misconduct like MSHSL just imposed.”

--“Very glad to see MSHSL rule changes. Those recent injuries really bother me.”

--“The new MSHSL rules for hockey are welcomed. I wonder how the on-ice officials feel about it. Will it be harder to police, sort out?”

--“MSHSL already taking bows for new checking rules. Give it time & coaches will say that refs have gone nuts calling majors & DQs.”

--“These penalties don't go far enuff - a rule breaker should be ejected, banned from high school hockey”

A news conference will be held Monday at the MSHSL office, allowing all media to have their questions answered. A few hockey games will be played around the state Monday evening, and as the season continues the new rules will be employed.

We will see what happens in the future. And now you know how we got here.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 249
*Miles John has driven: 5,558

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn

Sportsmanship, Human Kindness Trump Wins And Losses
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/13/2012 11:32:21 AM

This email arrived at MSHSL headquarters today. It is very self-explanatory...

I just wanted to share my story with you in the hopes that the deserving people would get some recognition. My name is Steve Schreiber. I am the head girls basketball coach in Menahga. I've been the head coach for the past three years and the culture we've developed here is a very tight-knit group of girls that both myself and my assistants care about very much.

The past week has seen an 11th-grade student in our school pass away and a 12th-grade student from neighboring Sebeka pass away. Being a small school the death in our student body was very devastating but many of the girls were friends or relatives of the girl who died in Sebeka as well. It is the toughest week I've had as a teacher or a coach and to see the team that I am so close with really hurting has made me hurt as well.

On Thursday, January 12th, my girls left school early to go to the funeral in Sebeka. We picked them up after the funeral and drove straight to our game with Bertha-Hewitt. Menahga and Bertha girls basketball haven't really been on the best of terms over the past handful of years so I didn't really know what to expect. We had just come off a rough, heartbreaking game against Nevis Tuesday night (and not heartbreaking because we lost, but more so because of some of the extracurricular things that happened and the pain my girls were going through). I was afraid of what another game like that would do to them.

Before the game even started Bertha's star player, Arei Stokes, came and gave me a sympathy card to read to my girls. I chose to hold off until after the game. When I read it, I saw the appreciation in all my girls' eyes. It truly meant a lot to them. The game played out and it gave my girls a few hours of relief from the pain and grieving they are going through. It was a hard-fought, but clean, game that allowed both teams to have fun.

After the game was over the Bertha girls were so respectful towards my girls, with some of them even coming over after the handshakes to give my girls hugs.

It truly meant so much to me to see the outpouring of positive thoughts towards my girls. Notice, I didn't mention a score, or who won or lost. That's because it didn't matter. The Bertha girls basketball team and coaching staff aided my team and me personally in our grieving process and for that I am so grateful.

Steve Schreiber
Menahga Public School

DeLaSalle Remembers Brother Michael Collins
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/11/2012 6:23:10 PM

Dave Thorson was in tears as he talked about calling the cell phone of Brother Michael Collins, president of DeLaSalle High School, even though he knew that there would be no answer. Thorson, who for 17 years has been the boys basketball coach at the private school on Nicollet Island in downtown Minneapolis, just wanted to hear his friend’s voice on the outgoing message.

Brother Michael (right) died early Sunday morning, a victim of lung cancer that came and went swiftly and tragically. Collins, 74, was diagnosed with the disease only in December, and his passing has struck hard at the people of DeLaSalle … as well as people at Shanley High School in Fargo, St. Mary's College High School in Berkeley, Calif., and Cretin-Derham High School in St. Paul.

“I can’t delete him out of my phone,” Thorson said as the tears came and went. “I’ve called his phone to hear his voice.”

I spoke with Thorson on Tuesday night at St. Agnes High School in St. Paul. The Islanders, who are ranked eighth in Class 3A, had just improved to 8-2 with a 93-54 victory over the Aggies in a Tri-Metro Conference game. There was a moment of silence before tipoff in honor of Brother Michael. Basketball, however, has taken a back seat as the Islanders cope with the loss of a man Thorson called “not only a mentor and a boss, but one of my closest friends.”

How close were Thorson and Collins? Brother Michael is godfather to Dave and Rita Thorson’s 3-year-old daughter, Ella Ray. Collins has four other godchildren.

Collins graduated from DeLaSalle in 1955 and attended St. Mary's University in Winona, earning a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies with minors in English, speech and music in 1959. He took his initial vows with the Christian Brothers in 1957, began his teaching and administrative career at DeLaSalle in 1959 and moved to Shanley in 1967 and St. Mary's in Berkeley in 1980. He returned to the Twin Cities in 1987 as one of the first co-principals of the newly merged Cretin-Derham Hall. He spent a sabbatical year in 1990-91 as part-time Assistant to the President at DeLaSalle while finishing his doctorate in Private School Leadership from the University of San Francisco. He was named president of DeLaSalle in 1991 and was the longest-tenured chief administrator in the 112-year history of the school.

“When I think of Michael Collins, the first thing I think of is the brilliance of his leadership in terms of empowering people,” Thorson said. “He was a brilliant, intelligent man and could have done a lot of things on his own without a lot of other help. And the reality is that I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who I’ve seen lead and motivate so many different kinds of people.”

I did not know Brother Michael well. I had several visits with him, the longest and most recent coming in 2009 when DeLaSalle celebrated the opening of a new football facility, the first home field in school history. In a story I wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Collins said this about the event:

“It's not just 40 boys playing football. It's an extension of who we are, creating a sense of community and people celebrating something together.”

Brother Michael absolutely nailed it with that comment. He explained what school activities should be about: the community spirit and celebrations that naturally occur as we cheer for our teams.

“He got it,” Thorson said. “He cast this shadow that will live forever on the island. He cared about so many people.”

I also spoke Tuesday with DeLaSalle junior basketball player Shawn Fitzgibbons, who was lucky enough to call Collins his mentor at school.

“We were close,” Shawn said. “I could go to his office just to talk, we had a bond. He had a great influence on everybody he met.”

Thorson said Fitzgibbons is a living legacy to Collins. “Brother picked Shawn out when Shawn was a little kid coming to my basketball camp. He really liked him and he came up and talked to him. They forged a very nice relationalship.”

Thorson also helped me reach former DeLaSalle star Cameron Rundles, who was a four-year starter, a member of the Islanders’ 2006 state championship team and helped Wofford College (S.C.) reach two NCAA tournaments. Via email, Rundles – who is playing professional basketball in England -- said Brother Michael was a father figure to him.

“When someone asks what Brother meant to me, my answer is simple,” Rundles wrote. “Brother meant everything to me and was somebody that I could count on 100 percent of the time. No matter the situation, no matter the circumstances, he was a person that would do ANYTHING for myself as well as others.

“The biggest memory that I have of Brother -- and I'm sure everyone that has been a part of the DeLaSalle family can account for this -- is every year around Christmas time when he sang the famous “Chestnuts” song during the Holiday Choir Concert. Still to this day, any time that song comes on I think about him and I smile. No matter if I'm in Minnesota or in another country, I can actually close my eyes and hear his amazing voice sing that song with all he has got every time he sings it!

“Brother was the type of guy that a young man like myself and many others aspire to be like. A man that filled the room with joy when he walked into it, a man that genuinely made you feel like you were the most important person in the world at that time when he engaged you, a man that would not only talk to you when you needed him, but would hug you and give you the physical attention that a young man needs, a man that understood the importance of helping the youth so much he made sure he surrounded DeLaSalle students with the best staff members that were not only worthy educators, but worthy people, a man of great character. I'm just blessed and honored to know Brother personally so I can tell my children about this man and attempt to be and do half of what he achieved while he was with us.”

Collins was a towering figure at DeLaSalle and beyond. He was a prominent national education figure during his 53-year career. In his tenure, enrollment at DeLaSalle more than doubled, the school raised more than $25 million from benefactors and at least 96 percent of graduates in the last decade have gone on to college.

With his passing, there will be a lot of adjustments. One of them will come on graduation day, when Thorson won’t be sitting next to his friend.

“He and I would sit at graduation and I would just say to him, ‘Gosh, these kids are going to go on and do great things.’ He would say great things happen because of great people. He deflected the credit, and that was his brilliance, that he empowered so many people.”

Shawn Fitzgibbons will be among a group of honorary student pallbearers during Brother Michael’s funeral at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis. Ella Ray Thorson also will be part of what her dad called “a celebration of life.”

“The impact he’s had on my family, I can’t even begin to talk about it,” Thorson said as his emotions rose once more. “I’m a pretty tough guy. You know me, John, I’m a hard (bleep). Ella Ray asked me on Sunday if Brother was in heaven. And if there’s one question I absolutely know the answer to, it’s that he’s looking down on us.

“I can’t even fathom him not being here.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 249
*Miles John has driven: 5,558

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn

Jabs, A Big Return, Rubio And More: A Day At The Timberwolves Shootout
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/7/2012 4:01:59 PM

The annual Timberwolves Shootout is one of the highlights of the boys basketball season, with some of the best teams from Minnesota and surrounding states gathering at Target Center for a day of competition. Saturday’s 16th edition of the Shootout consisted of six games, and there were plenty of stories to follow and share.

We saw a team pay tribute to a friend who is in a hospital a few blocks away. We saw one of the state’s top players on the court for the first time all season after suffering an injury. We saw Ricky Rubio, we saw a future Gophers player, a seven-foot center and one of the highest-ranking recruits in the nation. Here’s a look …


The last week has been very tough for everyone at Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Sophomore Jack Jablonski suffered a severe spinal injury in a junior varsity hockey game on Dec. 30, and the Red Knights are hurting for their friend, who is being treated at Hennepin County Medical Center.

The Benilde boys basketball team paid tribute to Jablonski with T-shirts, shoes and positive thoughts. They wore shirts that had the Twitter hashtag #jabs on the front, and Jack’s number 13 on the back with the words “Jack Jablonski In Our Hearts.” Some of the Red Knights also wrote tributes to Jack on their shoes.

Coach John Moore said one of the most important events since Jablonski’s injury came Thursday night, when his team played host to Columbia Heights. The Benilde students wore white and cheered and chanted in support of their friend Jabs throughout the game.

“This has been an incredibly emotional, physically draining week for everybody,” said Moore, who is not a faculty member at Benilde but has a daughter on the staff. “At Thursday night’s game everybody got to just let out some energy, and on Friday everybody was kind of marching to a little different step.”

The Red Knights played very well Saturday, defeating St. Thomas More from Rapid City, S.D., 68-50.

“It’s emotional. It’s tough,” Moore said. “I’m happy with our guys. I thought we would be down a little bit physically and emotionally. And we weren’t.”


Before Saturday, Johnny Woodard had not played competitive basketball since July. The Duluth East senior suffered a shoulder injury last April, aggravated the injury in July and underwent surgery. He was on the shelf as the Greyhounds began the season with a 2-7 record, but he was the best player on the court in his first game back. East rolled past previously unbeaten Rice Lake, Wis., 86-71 at the Shootout.

Woodard, a 6-foot-4 guard, finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds, making 11 of 19 field-goal attempts. He received medical clearance to play on Thursday.

“We were 2-7 coming in, so you can kind of see a transformation,” said East coach Chuck Tolo. “He leads and they will follow. He’s pretty much the heart and soul of our group.”

Woodard averaged more than 26 points a game last season and helped East reach the Class 4A state tournament. The Greyhounds were 22-7 a year ago.

“It was stressful,” Woodard said of missing this season’s first nine games, “especially going through the tragedy of watching my team lose.”

Before the injury, Woodard was getting attention from Division I colleges, including the University of Minnesota. Gophers coach Tubby Smith was in the stands for the East-Rice Lake; he has signed 6-foot-5 Rice Lake senior Wally Ellenson, who had 11 points and five rebounds against Duluth East.

Woodard has heard little from Division I coaches since being hurt, but Saturday’s performance was a big first step in returning to their radar.

“Once he got hurt things kind of quieted down,” Tolo said. “I think they want to see what was going to happen. Maybe if any of those people are around, they saw that he’s healthy and he can play.”


--Highly recruited sophomore guard Tyus Jones had scored 32, 34, 37, 38 and 39 points during Apple Valley’s 8-1 start and he went over the 1,000 career point mark during the first half Saturday. Apple Valley defeated Onalaska, Wis., 66-64 in the closest game of the day, with Jones getting 18 points, five assists and two steals. Matt Thomas scored 33 for Onalaska, which was the day’s best scoring total.

--Minnetonka defeated Pelican Rapids 86-66. The Skippers shot 78 percent in the first half and 34 percent in the second half. They were led by Lattrell Love’s 27 points; he made 13 of 14 field-goal attempts.

--Cedar Falls, Iowa, jumped out to a 45-26 halftime lead and went on to defeat Prior Lake 67-56.

--Hopkins led 52-33 at halftime and rolled past Sioux City, Iowa, East 97-74. Four starters scored in double figures for Hopkins, led by Zach Stahl with 21. Iowa signee Adam Woodbury, a 7-1 center, had 23 for East, which is ranked No. 5 in Iowa’s largest class.


--The Timberwolves worked out in the Target Center practice gym Saturday morning before flying to Washington, D.C., for a Sunday game. As they returned to their locker room to shower and dress, the Pelican Rapids team was in the corridor waiting for their game. The main draw was rookie Ricky Rubio. As he walked past the Vikings, a couple of them said, “Hi Ricky.” To which he responded, “Hello.”

--Prior Lake senior fan Nick Anderson won $1,000 by sinking a half-court shot at halftime of the Prior Lake-Cedar Falls game. During each game, one student from each school took a half-court shot. Shootout organizers had considered buying an insurance policy to pay off any winners, but decided the odds favored no one making the shot.

--Several members of the Vanderbilt football coaching staff watched the Hopkins game. Hopkins senior forward Andre McDonald, who plays wide receiver in the fall, had made a verbal commitment to play football at Vanderbilt but de-committed last week when Vandy receivers coach Chris Beatty took a job at Illinois. McDonald said Vanderbilt remains on his list of possible schools, but he also will look at others.

--I was in the skyway at Target Center, purchasing a soft drink that shall not be named from a vending machine. A fellow walking past, presumably en route to a fun-filled Saturday evening in downtown Minneapolis, saw me and shouted, “Hey John, no Diet Coke?!” My reply: “This is a (unnamed soft drink) building, and they’re killin’ me!”

--The tallest players in Saturday’s field were 7-foot-1 Prior Lake junior Carson Shanks (who has committed to Utah State) and Sioux City East's Woodbury. Right before tipoff of the Hopkins-East game, Woodbury worked his way down the scorer’s table, bumping knuckles with everyone seated there. Nice gesture.

--Tweet Exchange of the Day/ Question from the Twittersphere: “How did the 7-footer from Prior Lake look today?” Me: “Very tall.”

--Rice Lake’s warm-ups carry a nice slogan on the back: “Play True, Live True.”

--Minnetonka coach Tom Dasovich has coached in prior Shootouts, but he was confused when he looked for the scoreboards that are normally positioned above the lower bowl in each end zone ... but weren’t used Saturday. Minnetonka’s game with Pelican Rapids had just begun when the coach looked up and said, “Where’s the scoreboard?” One of his assistants pointed up to the giant scoreboard above the court and said, “You’ve got to look up there.”

--Total attendance for the Timberwolves Shootout was 3,306.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 247
*Miles John has driven: 5,558

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn

From Latvia To Mounds View: Hall of Fame Coach Ziggy Kauls
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/5/2012 2:25:55 PM

Zigurds “Ziggy” Kauls is one of the best-known coaches in Minnesota history, having guided the boys basketball team at Mounds View High School for 45 years. Kauls, who will retire after this season, ranks third in career coaching victories in his sport, has taken 12 teams to state tournaments and owns two state championships.

In the job since 1967, Kauls has coached three Mr. Basketball award winners and is a member of the MSHSL Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He may have even invented the concept of the open gym during the offseason.

The court at Mounds View has received a new adornment, with the words “Kauls Court” painted in large letters near both mid-court sidelines. The court will be officially dedicated in Kauls’ honor on Jan. 13 when the Mustangs host East Ridge in a Suburban East Conference game.

Kauls, 70, should write a book. If he does, however, high school basketball in Minnesota won’t be the only subject. History – personal history – is a major part of his story.

I talked with Kauls after a game earlier this week, sitting with him in the near-empty Mounds View gym, and we chatted again on the phone a day later. He told me about his aunt, Edith “Oma” Kauls, who was 99 years old when she died on New Year’s Day. Edith was born in Latvia, as was her nephew Zigurds. The memories flowed as we talked…

Kauls has a scar on his neck from an injury suffered when he was 4 years old. As he told me, “I fell into a bombed-out window.” This was in 1945, and it’s one of his earliest memories. He received medical attention from a group of nuns, but he just remembers seeing people dressed in black and white. “And I remember getting pushed in a cart to where they did the sewing.”

Latvia, in the Baltic region of northern Europe, was not a pleasant place in the World War II era. Kauls, who was born during the war, said “Russians occupied the Baltic states before the war. Then the Germans occupied it, then Russians re-occupied. That’s not a good deal. It was best to get out of there.”

Because Kauls’ father could speak German the family was able to relocate to Germany, where they lived in a refugee camp that housed about 2,000 people. From there the Kauls – parents Alma and Teodors, six children (sons Teodors, Ivars, Zigurds, Juris and Andris and daughter Mara) and their grandmother – traveled to the United States, arriving in late December1949.

“We were originally destined for Northfield,” Kauls said, “but when the sponsors found out it was a family of six kids and a grandmother they said they couldn’t handle it.”

The president of the school board in Forest Lake – who had a small farm where he grew strawberries and had dairy cows and pigs -- offered to take in the Kauls. They lived in the basement of the family home for almost a year and then were able to rent a house not far from there.

Kauls’ parents found employment and the children worked on the farm and did other jobs. Edith’s family came to the area in 1952, and some of the Kauls kids found work with a contractor in Forest Lake. “He hired my oldest brother Ted and my cousin Guido to work for him,” Ziggy said. “We were like little helpers; we’d bring shingles to the roof, we helped with waterproofing, we helped the carpenters.”

All the Kauls pooled their money – Ziggy didn’t keep a penny until he graduated from high school – until the parents were able to repay the overland portion of their trip to Minnesota.

Ziggy and his brothers were outstanding athletes at Forest Lake, playing multiple sports. Mounds View athletic director Bob Madison has heard the story of Ziggy, as a high school basketball player, asking the coach for keys to the gym so he and his teammates could work on their shooting skills.

“He probably created the concept of open gym before he graduated from high school,” Madison said.

Kerwin Englehart, who was the Forest Lake basketball coach when Ziggy was a junior and senior and later became athletic director for Rochester public schools, confirmed the open gym story.

“He came to me and assured me there was no problem and he would handle everything,” Engelhart said. “And there was no problem. He was a very good player, very hard-working and dedicated, very coachable. I’m very proud of him.”

Ted Kauls played basketball at the University of Minnesota until suffering a knee injury and Ivars Kauls played football for the Gophers and was a standout on the track team. Ziggy played basketball at Hamline under legendary coach Joe Hutton. That’s where the idea of becoming a coach began.

In the fall of 1962 he was a student-teacher at Mounds View. He graduated from Hamline the following spring and was hired as a teacher at Mounds View. When the district opened Irondale High School in 1967, Mounds View boys basketball coach Jim Geske – the only coach in program history -- became Irondale’s first athletic director.

“The guys on staff had been head coaches and had no desire to be head coaches again,” said Kauls, who had done some scouting for Geske. “The principal called me in and asked if I wanted to be the head coach. I said I didn’t have much experience and he said, ‘We’ll give you a chance.’ ”

And now, 45 years down the road, Kauls has a record of 728 victories and 349 losses. The only Minnesota boys basketball coaches with more wins are Bob McDonald of Chisholm (975-392) and Bob Brink of Rocori (924-320).

When Madison was named athletic director at Mounds View 10 years ago, he didn’t know Kauls and was unsure how the longtime coach would view him.

“Ziggy welcomed me with open arms,” Madison said. “Once I was on board I was a Mustang, and he treated me that way. He had two expectations, that the baskets were at 10 feet and the floor got swept. He needs a gym and a ball, and that’s about it.”

Kauls led the Mustangs to the state tournament for the first time in 1972, and they won the Class 2A championship. Eleven more trips to state followed, including the 1999 Class 4A championship. Mounds View’s Steve Schlotthauer (1986), Nick Horvath (1999) and Travis Busch (2005) were named Mr. Basketball in Minnesota.

“We always talk about doing things that you know how to do well and not doing things that make you look bad,” Kauls said. “You have to gauge, you have to know what it is and it will change from game to game. Consistency is important, and eventually consistency gets you to tradition.”

This year’s team has a record of 7-2 and will play at White Bear Lake on Friday night.

“It’s not all about basketball for Coach Kauls,” Madison said. “A lot of people assume life for him is just basketball, but it’s really not. Basketball is a huge passion or him, it’s like an extreme hobby and he loves everything about basketball.

“But what he really loves about it is what it does for young men; the dedication, the discipline, the class. A team slogan is Tradition Never Graduates, and they’re producing success. No matter the sport, that should be the goal. For Zig, basketball is the vehicle he uses to get young men there.”

Indeed, Kauls helps young men get there, while always remembering where he has been.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 235
*Miles John has driven: 5,512

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn

Coming Soon: Story Of A Remarkable Coach
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/5/2012 8:44:20 AM

I’ve been working on a story about a coach who has been well-known in Minnesota circles for decades. But in researching the story, I have discovered that there is much, more more to this person than the sport he coaches.

His background reads like a novel; his life is inspirational, hinging on war, relocation and an amazing family story.

I’m wrapping up the reporting on this story and am hoping to post it later today.

Let’s Get Started On 2012!
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 1/3/2012 9:26:28 AM

Happy 2012 to one and all, and it’s time to get back in the saddle as we resume the winter season. State tournaments will be upon us in a few short weeks, so the rush has begun.

This week on mshsl.org, we will continue to celebrate 100 years of state basketball tournaments. Each week until the state tournaments begin, the MSHSL is announcing a different category of “state tournament bests.” These lists have been compiled with the assistance of a committee of basketball historians and experts from around Minnesota. We’ll kick off the series with an alphabetical listing of the top five coaches in the history of the boys state basketball tournament. Keep an eye out for that.

Following that theme, my week will be basketball-heavy. Tonight (Tuesday) I will be posing as a television analyst alongside play-by-play man Jerry Otto Jr. on CTV North Suburbs’ coverage of a boys basketball game between Roseville and Mounds View. On Saturday I’ll be at Target Center for the annual Timberwolves Shootout, with a lineup of six boys games featuring some of the top teams in Minnesota and surrounding states.

Here’s the Shootout schedule…
11:00 a.m.: St. Thomas More (S.D.) vs. Benilde-St. Margaret's
12:30 p.m.: Rice Lake (Wis.) vs. Duluth East
2:00 p.m.: Pelican Rapids vs. Minnetonka
3:30 p.m.: Cedar Falls (Iowa) vs. Prior Lake
5:00 p.m.: Sioux City East (Iowa) vs. Hopkins
6:30 p.m.: Onalaska (Wis.) vs. Apple Valley

Have a great week!

*Schools/teams John has visited: 231
*Miles John has driven: 5,449

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn

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