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A Growing List Of Accomplished Coaches
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/31/2013 8:47:19 PM

In recent weeks I have listed coaches who have led boys and girls teams to state championships in two different sports. The discussion was sparked when Minneota won the Class 1A girls basketball title; Vikings coach Chad Johnston also coached the Minneota football team to the 2009 Class 1A state championship.

Thanks to input from fans all over the state, we can add these other coaches to the list:

--Apple Valley’s Chuck Scanlon: girls hockey and boys soccer.

--Anoka’s Dave Tank: boys basketball and girls soccer.

--Springfield’s Paul Dunn: Football and softball.

--Hopkins’ Ken Novak Jr.: Boys basketball and girls tennis.

--Rochester Lourdes’ Myron Glass: Girls basketball and boys cross-country.

Are there others we can add to the list? If you know of someone, send an email to jmillea@mshsl.org

‘The Epitome Of The Kind Of Person You Want On Your Team’
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/21/2013 6:11:40 PM

Ben Albert’s line in the boxscore of the DeLaSalle-St. Paul Johnson basketball game Thursday at Target Center was filled with zeros. The 5-foot-11 DeLaSalle senior got into the game only after the outcome had been determined, played four minutes and did not take a shot, commit a foul, block a shot, get a rebound, etc.

But he represents one reason why the Islanders are one of the best teams in Minnesota high school basketball. They defeated St. Paul Johnson 86-59 and will face Austin on Saturday in an attempt to win their second consecutive Class 3A title and third since 2006.

Albert is an atypical basketball player because he has only one hand; his left arm ends at the elbow. But he is a typical DeLaSalle basketball player because he works hard to make his team better. He is one of three seniors on the team, someone coach Dave Thorson calls a leader.

“People get caught up about what Ben doesn’t have but I like Ben because of what he does have,” Thorson said. “He’s a tremendous leadership guy, he’s in the National Honor Society and he will be the valedictorian or salutatorian of his class.”

Ben played in 18 of the Islanders’ 28 games prior to the state tournament, averaging a little more than one point a game.

“He’s made some threes in a whole bunch of games,” Thorson said. “And he’s one of the kids who are so important to our preparation for games like this. We can’t do that without kids who sell out.

“Ben has to guard (DeLaSalle starters) Jarvis (Johnson), James (Lawson), Sacar (Anim) every day in practice and he competes every day. He is absolutely the epitome of the kind of person you want on your team.”


When the 2014 boys state basketball tournament is held, something will be very different along press row. Mike Morrissey of KDHL radio in Faribault has made play-by-play calls of every tournament but one since 1968. That’s 45 years, and that’s how legends are made. The 2013 tournament is his last one before retiring.

Mike is truly a legend. He has been the voice of St. Olaf College, a fixture in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and he is a member of Minnesota Coaches Halls of Fame in three sports (football, basketball and baseball).

Mike missed one tournament long ago when he took a radio job in Nebraska. He returned to Minnesota pretty quickly, however. “I was too far away from civilization,” he said.

Mike, 72, will be spending next winter in Florida. He has promised me that he will send me emails during the 2014 tournament, describing warm breezes and the umbrella in his drink.

Thank you, Mike, for being a gentleman, a true professional and a good friend.


Upsala High School senior Matt Abeler, along with some of his teammates, are busy with basketball this week but will soon return to performing in the school musical. Abeler is the male lead in “High School Musical” … a story in which his character must choose between his basketball success and his love of music.

Four other members of the Cardinals basketball team are also in the cast. All the basketball success has cut down on rehearsal time for the school play, but they’ll get back to the stage after the tournament.

Upsala defeated Battle Lake 71-60 in Thursday’s Class 1A quarterfinals at Williams Arena and will play in the semifinals Friday afternoon at Target Center.


--This has been a pretty good winter for the Fadness family of Austin. Kris, the coach of the Packers boys basketball team, recorded his 300th career victory in the Section 1 championship game and on Thursday the Packers advanced to the state championship with a thrilling 85-65 overtime victory over Marshall. His daughter Sela, a junior at Austin, won the Class 1A all-around championship at the state gymnastics meet last month.

--Musically, Thursday’s games at Target Center began in a special way. The bands from DeLaSalle and St. Paul Johnson sat together and teamed up to play “Crazy Train” as the first tune of the day.


*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 7 for the tournament, 59 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 554
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,739
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

The Pride Of Brainerd, On The Court And In The Stands
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/20/2013 6:36:14 PM

My favorite moment from the opening day of the boys state basketball tournament took place before the games ever started. My second favorite moment happened after the first game at Target Center had ended. Both involved the Brainerd Warriors.

The Warriors knew they had a tough assignment in the Class 4A quarterfinals. Brainerd was one of three unseeded teams in the field and its opponent was top-seeded Apple Valley and all-everything junior guard Tyus Jones.

Kentucky coach John Calipari was sitting in a front-row seat at Target Center for the 10 a.m. game. That’s nothing new to the Apple Valley team and fans; big-name coaches have been popping in at Eagles games regularly in pursuit of Jones.

But this whole enterprise was something new for the Warriors , who had not been to state since 1991. But they do have their routines, and one of the finest was on display during the national anthem. Most teams simply stand at their bench and line up facing the flag. Warriors coach Scott Stanfield and his crew, however, went to the free throw area in front of their bench, with the coaches standing on the free throw line and the players lined up in a semi-circle on the three-point line. Everybody had their right hand over their heart. It said something about respect, which we can sometimes lose sight of.

The Warriors hung tough with Apple Valley, leading 36-34 at halftime as Jack Sauer hit an NBA-plus three-point shot at the horn. Apple Valley played a better second half and finished with an 81-67 victory behind 19 points, seven assists and six steals by Jones.

After the game ended and the teams shook hands, there was another special moment. The giant contingent from Brainerd -- one of the largest crowds for a quarterfinal game that I remember – stood as one and applauded their boys. And the Warriors stopped for a second or two on the court and waved to their fans before heading to the locker room.

Brainerd has much to be proud of.


Apple Valley’s last trip to state was in 2009, but none of the current players were part of that squad. So it probably wasn’t surprising that the Eagles didn’t get off to the best start against Brainerd.

“We had a lot of jitters early, I think,” said fourth-year coach Zach Goring. “And Brainerd is a good team. They don’t have any superstars but they really play well together.”

Jones, who said the Eagles had to regroup at halftime, scored only four points in the first half but was a highlight reel at times in the second half.

“He clearly was the difference in that game,” Stanfield said. “He was tough on us, and I thought our kids battled hard against him. He sees the court like other high schools kids don’t.”

Jones said, “We got to give a lot of props to Brainerd. That’s an extremely good team and they played well.”

--Apple Valley will meet Eden Prairie in Thursday’s semifinals at Target Center. The Eagles defeated Woodbury behind 20 points by Andre Wallace .


The best game of the 4A quarterfinals was Park Center’s 74-72 victory over Lakeville North in overtime. North trailed by 19 points in the first half but came out with a flurry after halftime.

Park Center’s Quinton Hooker and Lakeville North’s J.P. Macura traded baskets much of the game; Hooker finished with 29 points and Macura had 26. But the most important shot for Hooker was one he missed.

The Pirates held the ball for the last shot in overtime. Hooker fired from the free throw circle, the ball rattled out and teammate Isaac Mathews tipped it in for only his second field goal of the game.

“When the ball goes up, I try my best to read where it’s going to come off the rim and get in position,” said the 6-foot-4 junior reserve.

--Park Center’s opponent in Thursday’s semifinals will be Edina, which rode the offensive skills of guard Graham Woodward to beat Andover 99-61. Woodward scored 40 points, 32 in the first half. The tournament record for single-game scoring is 51 by AlBrook’s Cory Mountain vs. Maranatha Christian in 2006.


--DeLaSalle 70, Sartell-St. Stephen 55/ Reid Travis had 23 points and 16 rebounds for the Islanders. Parker Hagen led the Sabres with 19 points

--St. Paul Johnson 64, Delano 54/ Quashingm Smith-Pugh had 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Governors. Delano’s Dalton Pulis had 20 points.

--Austin 59, Blake 56/ Tom Aase scored 20 points and led a second-half comeback for the Packers. Blake’s JR Bascom had 17 points.

--Marshall 69, Grand Rapids 52/ Riley Sharbono led Marshall with 18 points and Alex Illikainen had 31 for Grand Rapids.


--Minnehaha Academy 53, Perham 41/ Jesse Johnson scord 13 points for the Redhawks and Tyler Glines had 15 for Perham.

--Litchfield 64, Redwood Valley 55 (2 overtimes)/ Litchfield scored the final 10 points of the second overtime and Zach Kinny led the Dragons with 18 points. Alec Koster led the Cardinals with a game-high 27 points.

--Annandale 56, Byron 42/ Matt Miller led Annandale with 16 points and Jack Nelson had 17 for Byron.

--Esko 60, Hayfield 54/ Kory Deadrick’s 30 points paced the Eskomos and Cole Kruger had 28 for Hayfield.


Class 3A semifinals at Target Center
Noon/ DeLaSalle vs. St. Paul Johnson 2 p.m./ Austin vs. Marshall

Class 4A semifinals at Target Center
6 p.m./ Apple Valley vs. Eden Prairie 8 p.m./ Park Center vs. Edina

Class 1A quarterfinals at Williams Arena
Maranatha Christian vs. Mountain Lake, 11 a.m.
Rushford-Peterson vs. Lakeview Christian, 1 p.m.
Upsala vs. Battle Lake, 3 p.m.
Southwest Minnesota Christian vs. Walker-Hackensack-Akeley, 5 p.m.


--Coaches should leave nothing to chance. That’s why Eden Prairie assistant coach Nick Ravn was looking at his cell phone as well as the scoreboard clock as he left the arena floor at halftime. He was synchronizing a stopwatch ap on his phone with the scoreboard, so the Eagles would know how much time they had before returning to the court.

--Target Center is a Pepsi-only building ... but some of my best friends are smugglers. That’s how two 20-ounce Diet Cokes arrived at my courtside location Thursday morning.

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


*Diet Coke Count: 3 for the day, 3 for the tournament, 55 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 546
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,689
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

Add Another Name To A Short List Of Accomplished Coaches
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/18/2013 1:31:08 PM

Over the weekend, I posted an item here on John’s Journal about coaches who have led boys and girls teams to state championships in two different sports. The discussion was sparked when Minneota won the Class 1A girls basketball title Saturday; Vikings coach Chad Johnston also coached the Minneota football team to the 2009 Class 1A state championship.

We can add at least two other coaches to the list:

--Apple Valley’s Chuck Scanlon did so with girls hockey (1995, 1998) and eight boys soccer teams.

--Anoka teams coached by Dave Tank won boys basketball championships in 1981 and 1992 and a girls soccer title in 1989.

Are there others we can add to the list? If you know of someone, send an email to jmillea@mshsl.org

An Epic Championship Game And An Assault On The Records
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/16/2013 7:24:58 PM

Late Saturday afternoon, this message was sent to me via Twitter: “Being the wordsmith you are, give me THE one word to describe the NRHEG-Braham title game.”

The answer, for me, was easy. Epic. The Class 2A girls basketball state championship game was epic. Absolutely epic. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word to describe a high school sporting event, but it is an unquestionably perfect fit for what we witnessed at Target Center.

New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva defeated Braham 60-59 to win its first state title in a game that had as many swings as a spy novel. NRHEG jumped out to an early lead, Braham star Rebekah Dahlman was in first-half foul trouble, Braham rallied in the second half and the darn thing went down to the wire.

The hero for NRHEG was, of course, Carlie Wagner. The junior scoring machine set all manner of state tournament records (we’ll get to that in a second), but her biggest play was a steal as the final seconds ticked away. Wagner had made one free throw to make it 60-59 with six seconds left, but the Bombers had a chance … until Wagner stole the ball and sealed it.

Now, about those tournament records. Last year, when NRHEG placed third at state, Wagner set tournament records with 48 points in one game and 112 in the tournament. She topped both of those marks Saturday and also bettered or matched records set by some of the game’s pioneers.

Wagner now holds six tournament records: Most field goal attempts in a game (43), most field goals made in a game (21, matching the 21 by Albany’s Kelly Skalicky in 1981), most points in a game (50), most field goal attempts in a tournament (110), most field goals made in a tournament (48) and most points in a tournament (129).

Skalicky had also held the record for field goals made in a tournament, Kay Konerza of Lester Prairie (1982) had held the record for field goal attempts in a game, and the mark for most field goal attempts in a tournament had belonged to New York Mills legend Janet Karvonen (1980).

“This is crazy, it hasn’t sunk in that we just won,” Wagner said before the Panthers cut down the nets. “I just can’t think right now.”

Wagner has made a verbal commitment to play basketball at the University of Minnesota in a couple of years, and Gophers coach Pam Borton watched from the court level Saturday. Dahlman, the all-time career scoring leader in Minnesota, had two points and three fouls at halftime but was spectacular after that, scoring 30 points in the second half before fouling out with 37 seconds to play. Dahlman will continue her basketball career at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

“She’s incredible,” Wagner said of Dahlman. “She does things I’ve never seen before.”

My favorite moment Saturday came as the 2A all-tournament team was announced. Wagner (and her eighth-grade sister Maddie) were recognized, as was Dahlman. Carlie and Rebekah embraced and they both smiled as they congratulated each other.

We’ll see more from the Wagners (Carlie, Maddie and Maddie’s twin, Marnie) next winter. But before that, Carlie will turn her attention to the track season, where she is the defending Class 1A state champion in the high jump.


Both coaches knew what would be a major factor in deciding whether Minneota or Ada-Borup would be the Class 1A state champion: Minneota’s Taylor Reiss. The 5-foot-10 sophomore is the linchpin of the Vikings’ inside game.

Ada-Borup led by two points at halftime. That’s when Minneota coach Chad Johnston had a simple message for his players. He said, “If we want to win, we have to make sure the ball goes into Taylor Reiss.”

That indeed happened as Reiss finished with 30 points and 12 rebounds, both game highs.

“She really was the difference today,” said Ada-Borup coach Dave Smart. “We couldn’t keep her off the offensive glass and that’s the price we paid.”


DeLaSalle won the 3A title for the third year in a row, defeating Red Wing 65-60. The game was close into the second half -- the Islanders led by two at halftime – but Red Wing was held to 22 points in the final 18 minutes.

Tyseanna Johnson scored 25 points and Allina Starr had 20 for the Islanders, and Macy Kelly led the Wingers with 17.

In the 4A game, Hopkins also notched its third title in as many years with a 68-45 victory over Bloomington Kennedy. The Royals led by two at halftime but outscored the Eagles 40-19 in the second half.

Nia Coffey led Hopkins with 25 points and 16 rebounds. Jade Martin scored 19 points for Kennedy.


----Minneota’s Johnston also coached the Vikings football team to the Class 1A state title in 2009, begging the question: How many coaches have won state championships with both boys and girls teams in two different sports? Apple Valley’s Chuck Scanlon did so with girls hockey and boys soccer. If you know of any others, send me an email (or a Tweet).

--An interesting sight in the Target Center corridor where locker rooms are located, including the Timberwolves’ locker room: NBA players, walking to their practice court in the Target Center health club, ducking in order to stay out of the way of high school girls basketball players as they were being interviewed.


1A/ Kaelin Smieja, Upsala; Jessie Mathews, Bethlehem Academy; Shelby Kaster, Madison McKeever, Win-E-Mac; Monica Vega, Megan Kolness, Shaina Stevenson, Ada-Borup; Taylor Reiss, Emily Stienessen, Molly Hennen, Minneota.

2A/ Chase Coley, Natalie Holdahl, Minneapolis Washburn; Taylor Finley, Leah Szabla, Nathalie Ratcliff, Providence Academy; Maddie Wagner, Carlie Wagner, NRHEG; Jaclyn Hollenkamp, Dani Braund, Rebekah Dahlman, Braham.

3A/Grace Sawatzke, Alyssa Lentner, Monticello; Jessica January, Kyla Adams, Richfield; Tesha Buck, Macy Kelly, McKenna Schaffer, Red Wing; Allina Starr, Tyseanna Johnson, Patiance Griffin, DeLaSalle.

4A/ Phillis Webb, Janay Morton, Osseo; Madison Guebert, Tyra Johnson, Eastview; Jade Martin, Jasmyn Martin, Kenisha Bell, Bloomington Kennedy; Taylor Anderson, Erin O’Toole, Nia Coffey, Hopkins.


--North Suburban won its first adapted floor hockey CI championship with a 7-6 victory over Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville. The game was a nail-biter from start to finish and it was the Cougars who scored a whopping five times in the final period to take the title. Junior center and All-Tournament Team member Tyler Engel scored three times for the Cougars. Eighth-grader Anthony Bengston had 2 goals and 2 assists, while Cody Jacobsen had a goal and three assists in the game. Brenden Wamhoff also scored a goal for North Suburban. The winning goalie for the Cougars was All-Tourney Teamer Kody Blatt, who had 26 saves.

-- The Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka Robbins completed a PI three-peat with a 5-0 shutout over a very tough Dakota United squad. Two offensive players shined for the Robins in the championship game: juniors Tyler Sarff and Joe Dubisar. Sarff had a hat trick while Dubisar scored twice. The Robins wouldn’t have been able to win their title without the Herculean efforts of goalie Charlie Wittmer. The senior net-minder had 29 saves and earned a spot on the PI All-Tournament Team.

--To see photo galleries from the tournaments, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 16 for the tournament, 54 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 538
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,639
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

Championship Saturday Schedule
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/15/2013 10:50:42 PM

Girls basketball at Target Center

Noon/ Minneota vs. Ada-Borup in Class 1A
2 p.m./ Braham vs. New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva in Class 2A
6 p.m./ Red Wing vs. DeLaSalle in Class 3A
8 p.m./ Hopkins vs. Bloomington Kennedy in Class 4A

Cracked In The Head, Bloody Knee … No Problem
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/15/2013 5:50:54 PM

Shelby Corbin took an elbow to the head on Thursday and bloodied a knee on Friday, but the junior guard from Minneota wasn’t thinking of either her noggin or her kneecap after Friday’s Class 1A girls basketball state semifinals. The Vikings were headed to their first state championship game, and that’s a pretty good remedy for aches and pains.

With about five minutes to play in Thursday’s quarterfinal against Mountain Iron-Buhl at Williams Arena, Shelby was coming off a screen when she got smacked in the forehead. She crumbled to the court and sat out the rest of Minneota’s 60-53 victory.

There was a fear that she had suffered a concussion, so she was the subject of plenty of medical attention after Thursday’s game and prior to Friday’s semifinal against Bethlehem Academy at Target Center.

“If she was concussed, we wanted to know,” said Minneota coach Chad Johnston.

Two trainers and a physician assessed Corbin’s condition Thursday, and a doctor saw her again about an hour before Friday’s game. She was given the OK.

“I took it easy,” she said of the time between games. “I tried to stay away from loud noises and I stayed in the dark as much as possible. I woke up today determined to play. I was ready.”

Shelby stood next to a giant photo of Ricky Rubio in a Target Center corridor as she talked to reporters. She wasn’t sure how she got the bloody right knee during Saturday’s game. “I don’t know how that happened,” she said.

Doesn’t really matter, does it?


Johnston also is the football coach at Minneota, a team that has had plenty of success in the autumn. The Vikings were the 2009 Class 1A state champions.

“I never thought 18 years ago, when I started teaching, that I would coach girls basketball,” he said. “Football was my thing.

“I don’t know if I treat (the girls) any different,” he said. “I have high expectations for myself and I have high expectations for the girls. My family sacrifices a lot, not seeing me much for about seven or eight months of the year.”

Johnston has coached the Vikings girls basketball team for 12 years now and has a record of 234-76. Minneota will meet Ada-Borup in Saturday’s state championship game at noon at Target Center. In last year’s state quarterfinals, Ada-Borup defeated Minneota 67-63.


--Of the nine players on the court for Minneota on Friday, the only senior was Hanna Prellwitz, who played seven minutes off the bench. The Vikings starters were three sophomore and two juniors.

--Ada-Borup is equally young, with just one senior (starter Megan Kolness) on the roster.


Ada-Borup is a familiar name to girls basketball fans. The Cougars previously went to state in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012, winning state championships in 2008 and 20009.

Dave Smart became the Cougars coach in 2002 and remained on the job through the 2009 championship season. He stepped aside before the 2009-10 season but returned a year later. In his first year back, Ada-Borup reached the section finals, and now they have had back-to-back trips to state.

Ada-Borup had a major victory in Thursday’s quarterfinals, beating two-time defending state champ Maranatha Christian 70-53. The Cougars weren’t quite as sharp Friday, and Smart said the quarterfinals probably had something to do with that.

“I don’t know if I’d call it a lack of focus, but we were coming off that huge win over Maranatha,” he said. “We had all our eggs in that basket. Today we didn’t have as much energy. But when the chips were down some of our kids took charge.”


Before Friday night’s Class 2A semifinal between Braham and Providence Academy, Braham star Rebekah Dahlman was limping a bit. The state’s all-time career scoring leader, who will play collegiately at Vanderbilt, didn’t have the best game numbers-wise as the Bombers beat Providence Academy 49-39, but that didn’t matter to her.

“My knee and my hip were hurting, but I was not going to let that stop me,” she said. “Just to get the W, that’s all that matters.”

Dahlman made only five of 18 field goal attempts but hit 13 of 19 free throws and scored 20 points. Braham was the 2A state runner-up in 2010 and the champion two years ago; Providence Academy won it all last season. The Bombers will play New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva in Saturday’s 2 p.m. state championship game.

Braham is a running and gunning team, while Providence is as deliberate as a courtroom. Bombers coach Tim Malone said, “We felt the first team to 50 would win, but we didn’t play fast enough to do that.

“We average 82 points for a reason, because we like to play fast and get up and down the floor.”

--Carlie Wagner, as usual, was the star for NRHEG. The junior who made a verbal commitment to play for the Gophers tied her year-old state tournament record by scoring 48 points in the Panthers’ 69-60 semifinal win over Minneapolis Washburn.

In last year’s 2A quarterfinals, NRHEG beat Braham 75-45. NRHEG then lost to Sauk Centre and finished third in the tournament.


--Win-E-Mac takes a record of 27-3 into Saturday’s 1A third-place game against Bethlehem Academy at Concordia College in St. Paul. All three of the Patriots’ losses came against Ada-Borup, their rival in the Pine to Prairie Conference.

--If Hopkins defeats Bloomington Kennedy in Saturday’s 8 p.m. Class 4A championship game, the Royals will equal the three consecutive championships won by Minneapolis North in Class 3A from 2003-05. The coach of that North team was Faith Patterson; she now coaches at DeLaSalle, and the Islanders are also seeking to match that three-year championship run. They will meet Red Wing in Saturday’s 6 p.m. 3A title game.

--More to come this evening ...

--To see photo galleries from the tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 12 for the tournament, 50 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 538
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,589
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

Out Of Nowhere, A Shooting Star Is Born
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/14/2013 7:21:05 PM

The first star of the Class 1A girls state basketball tournament was an unlikely candidate for a roar from the fans and a series of postgame interviews. But that’s part of the magic of these things, and Upsala junior Kaelin Smieja was exactly that – magic -- on Thursday at Williams Arena.

Here’s the setup: coming into the Upsala Cardinals’ first-ever trip to the girls state tournament, Kaelin – who is not a starter -- had not exactly been a pillar of offense. Her scoring average was 2.53 points per game and (key statement alert) she had made seven three-point shots all year.

So what happened in Upsala’s 66-51 loss to Bethlehem Academy? That’s right, the kid lit up the Barn. She finished with a game-high 23 points and she made seven of 10 three-point shots. Not only did she tie her three-point total from the previous 30 games, she also tied the state tournament record for the most three-point baskets in one game. She now shares that mark with Esko’s Angela Grussendorf, who hit seven bombs in 1988 against Kenyon.

Kaelin had heard an announcement about something or other – and saw a standing ovation from the giant Upsala crowd -- after she fouled out with a minute to play, but she wasn’t sure of the specifics until I went through the details with her after the game.

“That sounds pretty cool,” said the newest member of the state tournament record book. “I knew I could make threes. When the first one went in I thought, ‘Hey, this is pretty awesome.’ And they kept going in.”

Coach Paul Pelzer said he wasn’t as surprised by what Smieja did as where she did it.

“She’s a really good shooter. But for a bench player to do that in this atmosphere, that’s the surprising thing.”

The defeat put a mild damper on the Cardinals’ celebration, but there were still plenty of smiles.

“A few tears are falling,” Pelzer said outside the locker room. “But they know they gave it their all. They did what they could. I’m so proud of those girls; they will remember this for a lifetime.”

The coach’s daughter, senior Aimee Pelzer, had 16 points, seven assists and three rebounds in ending one of the finest careers in the history of Minnesota high school basketball.

Aimee came oh so close to becoming the first girls player to reach the 1,000-plateau in three categories. She finished with more than 2,600 points and more than 1,000 assists; had the Cardinals won Thursday (ensuring two more games) she might have cracked the 1,000-rebound mark, as well. She finished with 978.

The only boys player to reach 1,000 in those three categories was 2008 Ellsworth graduate Cody Schilling.


Bethlehem Academy’s quarterfinal victory Thursday continued what has been a great year for the Faribault school. The Cardinals’ football team advanced to the Class 1A Prep Bowl last fall before losing to Mahnomen and the volleyball team won the 1A state championship.

Nine of the girls basketball players also played volleyball, and senior hoopster Jessie Mathews was an all-state and all-state tournament volleyball player last fall. She is the school’s career girls basketball leader with 1,679 points and also is the career leader in assists and steals. She will play basketball at St. Mary's University in Winona.


The Minneota Vikings have played in three previous state tournaments, losing in the quarterfinals each time. So when they defeated Mountain Iron-Buhl 60-53 in Thursday’s 1A quarterfinala they found themselves in uncharted waters.

“Usually we’re moping around and figuring out where we’re supposed to go,” coach Chad Johnston said, smiling. “It feels good to get that monkey off our back.”

The Vikings will play Minneota in Friday’s semifinals at Target Center at noon, followed by Ada-Borup vs. Win-E-Mac. Ada-Borup defeated two-time defending state champ Maranatha Christian 70-53 and Win-E-Mac beat Mankato Loyola 59-49.


Bethlehem Academy coach Tammy Filzen has large cards that she holds up to call plays. My favorite was one that read: “2 Whales.”

Maranatha Christian also used signage, including “Box,” “Blitz” and “Motion High.” But nothin’ beats a pair of whales.


--With Upsala’s loss, all three first-time entrants in the state tournament are finished. In Class 2A, Pine Island and BOLD were defeated Wednesday.

--To see photo galleries from the tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.


*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 8 for the tournament, 46 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 528
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,489
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

Thursday's Games In Girls State Basketball Tournament
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/13/2013 8:08:22 PM

The girls state basketball tournament will continue Thursday with games in three classes; all except 2A. Check out the schedule by clicking here.

Some Survive And Advance, While One Coach Says Farewell
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/13/2013 3:04:11 PM

The girls state basketball tournament is a four-day affair that is always filled with stories of personal and team triumphs, and every so often someone says goodbye to the game.

On Wednesday at Target Center, St. Paul Central coach Willie Taylor (pictured) coached his final game with the Minutemen. Taylor, who has been a high school coach for 20 years (the last 15 at Central), announced before the tournament that he was stepping down to pursue college coaching opportunities. And the end came when the Minutemen lost to Osseo 63-56 in the Class 4A quarterfinals.

Asked what he will remember most from his time at Central, Taylor, 53, didn’t talk about basketball. He talked about young people getting an education.

“The big thing for me is every year I’ve been at Central, we’ve had kids going to college,” he said. “Not all of them played college basketball but they went on to college.”

Taylor coached Mounds View to the state tournament in 1994, and at Central his teams played at state in 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and this year. Central won state titles in 2007 and 2008. He leaves the game with a 336-84 record.

“Central is me,” he said. “It’s part of my life. I love Central. I just think it’s time for me to try something else.”


Hopkins, the top-seeded team in Class 4A and the two-time defending state champion, rolled past St. Michael-Albertville 77-58 in Wednesday’s quarterfinals. The first word out of Royals coach Brian Cosgriff’s mouth when meeting the media afterwards was “ugly.”

He talked about how his team didn’t shoot overly well (40 percent), had too many turnovers (27, the same number as the Knights) and made less than half their free throws (23 of 28).

“But the bottom line is you’ve got to survive and advance,” he said. Hopkins will face Osseo in Thursday’s semifinals at Target Center. The Orioes beat St. Paul Central 63-56 Wednesday.


When Bloomington Kennedy and Eastview meet in Thursday’s 4A semifinals at Target Center, there will be secrets. The teams met twice in South Suburban Conference play, with Kennedy winning 57-49 on Jan. 2 and Eastview evening the score 66-46 on Feb. 15.

“There’s no doubt about it,” said Kennedy coach Quintin Johnson, whose team beat Anoka 66-48 Wednesday. “Eastview is sitting there waiting for us for the third time.”

After Eastview defeated Rochester Mayo 54-40, Lightning coach Melissa Guebert said there will be no surprised in the rematch.

“We really respect each other,” she said. “Our kids enjoy playing against them and they enjoy playing us. It will be a really good matchup.”


Braham senior Rebekah Dahlman already was the state’s all-time career scoring leader, but she added another big number Wednesday in a 79-42 victory over BOLD in Class 2A. Dahlman had 40 points, which gives her 5,003 for her career.


After Mayo lost to Eastview at Target Center, the next game was between Pine Island and Providence Academy in Class 2A. Mayo coach Rich Decker and Pine Island coach Rick Canton go way back; Canton played for Decker when Decker was starting his coaching career at Kenyon in the late 1970s. Canton also was an assistant under Decker Bethlehem Academy in Faribault for one year.

Decker is no stranger to state tournament, at least on the boys side, having brought Kenyon to state in 1980 and Rochester Lourdes in 1999 and 2000. He was inducted into the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2003 and resigned from coaching and retired from teaching at Lourdes in 2004 after 20 years there and a career record of 527-203. Until taking over the Mayo girls team this season, he had spent eight years as coaching B squad boys at St. Charles.

“There’s a great deal of satisfaction to see the team be successful and see the school be successful,” Decker said. “You’ve got to be really proud of our kids. They got a lot better as the year went on, and that’s what you want.”


When I asked St. Michael-Albertville coach Kent Hamre how this year’s Hopkins team compared to past Hopkins teams and the great teams in recent memory, his answer was, as they say, outside the box.

“You’d have a better chance of comparing them to NSIC teams,” he said, referring to the NCAA Division II Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. “They would be a top five team in the NSIC.”


Two teams Wednesday forgot to read the pre-tournament information packet, which spells out that each team must bring its own basketballs for warmups. So if you noticed teams using only three balls (borrowed balls) to loosen up, you know which teams were guilty.


In the Class 3A quarterfinals at Williams Arena, top-seeded Richfield had plenty of fans cheering for the Spartans. Thirty-eight buses carrying 1,800 K-12 students made the trip to see the Spartans defeat Hill-Murray 54-35.

Pine Island, which lost to Providence Academy 33-22 at Target Center Wednesday evening in 2A, brought the whole town on nine school buses for fans, three charter buses and another bus for the band. And in 2A at Williams Arena, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva fans filled seven coach buses and four school buses. The Panthers defeated Pelican Rapids 62-49.


Leo the Lion from the Hopkins Royals is one of the greats. And the St. Paul Central Minuteman is equally awesome.


--Defending state champions: 4A Hopkins (two-time), 3A DeLaSalle (two-time), 2A Providence Academy, 1A Maranatha Christian (two-time).

--Faith Patterson was the coach of the last team to win three consecutive titles; Minneapolis North in 2003, 2004 and 2005. She now coaches DeLaSalle, which is seeking to match that three-year championship run.

--Upsala in Class 1A and Pine Island and BOLD in 2A are making their appearances in the state tournament.

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


*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 4 for the tournament, 42 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 528
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,489
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

The Hockey Fans’ Take On The State Hockey Tournament
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/11/2013 11:26:59 AM

The history, the fans, the tradition, the spectacle ... the boys state hockey tournament has something for everyone. Brian Jerzak talks to the fans at the nation's premier high school tournament. Read his story by clicking here.

Edina Defeats Hill-Murray, Wins 2A Hockey Title
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/9/2013 7:34:06 PM

The boys hockey season came to a close Saturday with Edina beating Hill-Murray in the Class 2A state championship game. St. Thomas Academy rallied in the final period to defeat Hermantown in the 1A boys championship game. Read Luke Sleeper's stories by clicking here.

A Remarkable Championship Game That Will Be Discussed For Years
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/9/2013 5:59:45 PM

Saturday’s Class 1A boys hockey state championship game was one that will be talked about for years to come, for varying reasons. For one, it was St. Thomas Academy’s last game in 1A before opting up to Class 2A next season, and the Cadets capped their time in the smaller class with a 5-4 victory for their third consecutive title and fifth in eight years.

Another reason was the way the game ended. Hermantown led 4-2 late in the second period before the Cadets scored three goals in the third, including the winner by Tommy Novak with six seconds to play.

But most of all, chatter will center around decisions by the officials in the final stages of the game. After a penalty was called on Hermantown, the Cadets scored the winner on a power play. The Hawks and their fans will aways believe that the officials should have called a similar penalty on St. Thomas Academy.

“I didn’t think we should have had a penalty on the one at the end,” Hawks coach Bruce Plante said, speaking in a measured tone. “And then we had the same type of thing at the other end. I thought they should have made a call right there. Their guys wraps our guy up and skates around. That’s the way I saw it, anyway.”

The Hermantown players were absolutely crushed after losing in the state championship game for the fourth year in a row and to the Cadets for the third straight time. During the postgame ceremony, there was no Hermantown rush to accept the runner-up trophy. Senior captain Jake Zeleznikar took it, skated to the bench and handed it to one of the coaches. While the Hawks sat in a silent locker room, the trophy was on a table outside the closed locker room doors.

Few teams ever play in a state championship game, doing so four years in a row is nearly impossible … and losing all four years is pure heartbreak. Especially when you’re playing the best game of your life and leading 4-2 in the final period.

“I loved our effort,” Plante said. “I thought it was the greatest effort ever. It was great. They played hard and played well. I don’t think we can play any better than that.”

In the locker room, he told his players that he loved them. He told reporters, “This is probably the most difficult loss I’ve ever had in my life.”

Plante and Cadets co-coach Greg Vannelli both showed their emotions afterwards, but when discussing massively different topics. Plante talked at length about the public school vs. private school debate, while Vannelli had tears in his eyes when asked about the fact that so many people outside of St. Thomas Academy don’t care for the Cadets.

A reported asked Vannelli a clearly satirical question: When you move to 2A, will you miss all this love and affection? The coach fought back tears and said simply, “I’m proud of our guys. It’s tough. We had a target on our back all year and to come through like this was really great.”

Next question: Do you get tired of wearing the black hat all the time? Vannelli’s reply: “We just focus on the positive things. I can’t control what other people think. I’m just proud of our guys.”

A question to Plante included the word “hatred” for the Cadets, and he quickly jumped on that interpretation.

“I have no hatred for the Cadets. And that’s another misconception that I heard on TV yesterday, that the coaches don’t like each other. That’s not true. I have nothing against the Vannellis, they’re great coaches, they do a good job of what they do. I don’t buy this private school philosophy, that’s all. I don’t think you should be able to get kids from Wisconsin and Missouri and all over Minnesota and make a team and play single A hockey. I don’t think it’s right. And I certainly don’t think it should be in single A hockey. We’ve been so unbelievably fortunate to be able to be in this championship game four times, it’s amazing, really.

“You saw how they played. These guys can’t play any harder than that. We don’t have three first lines; they have four. We just can’t pull guys like that. And I’ll tell you something else; this year I had nine parents, kids, (who sent) emails who wanted to move to Hermantown and play for us. You know what I tell them? ‘Stay there and play with the kids and do your best there and make everyone in your community proud.’ That’s what I tell them.”


--Hermantown's initial goal against St. Thomas Academy was the first goal scored against the Cadets in five-plus postseason games. At that point, St. Thomas Academy had outscored its last nine opponenets 80-3.

--Before games, players stretch, jog and otherwise limber up in the open spaces underneath the Xcel Energy Center stands. Before the 1A championship game, I walked past the official’s locker room and saw one of the officials – wearing a t-shirt, shorts and sneakers – jumping rope. It’s all about preparation.

--Cheap, unclassy shot by the St. Thomas Academy students, who chanted “Fire Bruce!” – a personal reference to Plante. Behavior like that is embarrasing to their school and their alumni.


CLASS 1A: Hermantown’s Chris Benson was the recipient of the award.

CLASS 2A: Ryan Lundgren, Duluth East.


CLASS 1A: Matt Colford, Breck; Colton Poolman, Tommy Hajicek, East Grand Forks; Alex Funk, Rochester Lourdes/Stewartville; Neal Pionk, Chris Benson, Travis Koepke, Adam Smith, Hermantown; Jack Dougherty, Wyatt Schmidt, Matt Perry, David Zevnik, St. Thomas Academy.

CLASS 2A: Meirs Moore, Alex Toscano, Phil Beaulieu, Duluth East; Jacob Dittmer, Moorhead; John Dugas, Zach LaValle, Sam Becker, Mitch Slattery, Hill-Murray; Parker Reno, Andy Jordahl, Connor Hurley, Dylan Malmquist, Edina.


--Breck 3, East Grand Forks 2: The Mustangs scored all three goals in the second period and defeated the Green Wave in the third-place game. Tommy Hajicek scored both goals for East Grand Forks.

--Duluth Marshall 6, Rochester Lourdes 5: The Hilltoppers finished fifth by winning a game that saw six goals in the first eight minutes. Connor Flaherty and Matthew Klassen each scored twice for Marshall.


--Duluth East 7, Wayzata 3: Alex Toscano and Phil Beaulieu each scored twice for the Greyhounds as they beat the Trojans in the third-place game.

--Moorhead 5, Eastview 2: The Spuds survived 37 minutes worth of penalties and eight Eastview power-play opportunities to win the fifth-place game at Mariuccu Arena.


*Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 16 for the tournament, 38 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 504
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,439
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

Edina, Hill-Murray Will Meet In 2A Championship Game
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/8/2013 8:19:30 PM

Edina defeated Duluth East in Friday's Class 2A boys state hockey semifinals and Hill-Murray rallied to beat Wayzata. In Class 1A, St. Thomas Academy rolled past East Grand Forks. Read Luke Sleeper's stories by clicking here

After A Game That Ended In Double Overtime, The Aftermath
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/8/2013 7:39:09 PM

After a two-overtime hockey game that ended with players from one team piling on top of each other and players from one team leaning on each other in agony, the debriefing provided an equally clear contrast.

The process at the boys state hockey tournament goes like this: When a game ends, a media steward asks the reporters who they would like to interview. Both coaches are automatically brought to the interview room, along with the requested players. The losing team normally goes first, sitting at a raised table in front of microphones and bright lights as the media asks questions, followed by the winners.

The difference is stark. The losing team, especially the players, are usually grim. Sometimes the losing coach will meet the media by himself. The winning team enters the interview room at Xcel Energy Center in a buoyant mood, ready to talk, smile and laugh.

So after Hermantown had defeated Breck 4-3 in a Class 1A semifinal that went into two overtimes, the Mustangs were the first on duty in the interview room. Coach Les Larson sat between seniors Matt Colford and Thomas Lindstrom. Larson did most of the answering, which was understandable.

“It’s hard, but you know what? We told our guys the best that they could do is the best that they could do,” Larson said. “And I don’t think we left anything on the table. Is it hard to take? It’s tough. And our guys are taking it tough. But the greatest thing about this game is tomorrow we get to play again (for third place), and we get to play here.

“You’ve got to turn the page and you’ve got to accept losing. That’s part of the deal. Maybe that’s the best thing about this game; how do you handle that stuff, adversity?”

Larson, who has been the Breck coach for five years, talked about the pride he had in his players and he complimented Hermantown and Hawks coach Bruce Plante.

“It was a great game. Hermantown’s a great team, strong defensemen, great kids. They’re hockey players up there, and well-coached. And Bruce is a great guy. That’s why we play, to be in situations like this. It couldn’t get any better. When you critique your own play, you have to take into consideration the other team. And they played very well.”

Colford summed up the Mustangs’ day pretty well when he said, “We worked really hard the whole game and didn’t get the last bounce.”

Plante then brought four requested players with him to the interrogation center: Zach Kramer, Jake Zeleznikar, Bo Gronseth and Travis Koepke. The man of the hour was Kramer, who had scored the winning goal. His smile didn’t need the bright lights to make it sparkle.

The first question to Kramer was garden-variety Journalism 101: How does it feel?

“Oh, pretty good,” said the smiling junior. A few questions later he was about racing to reach the puck that, a second later, he put in the net. “That was probably the fastest I’ve ever moved on skates.”

Plante is an old-time coach – in his 24th year as the head man at Hermantown -- who admits that he’ll bark at his players but they always know how much he cares about them.

He admitted to having tears in his eyes when Kramer scored the game-winner. He also gave some love to Lane LeGarde, who did not score when the Hawks were awarded a penalty shot in the first overtime.

“We could have chosen to have a power play or let 28 (LeGarde) take it,” Plante said. “We gave him a chance to be the hero. He made a nice move, he just missed by an inch or so and the kids rallied around that, as they should, because it was a positive thing.”

Pretty quickly the questioning turned to the championship game. The second semifinal had not yet started, but just about everyone assumed that St. Thomas Academy would get past East Grand Forks (which the Cadets did by an 11-0 score).

Hermantown and St. Thomas Academy will meet in Saturday’s championship game for third straight year. The Cadets beat the Hawks 5-4 in overtime two years ago and 5-1 last year. Hermantown fell to Breck in the title game in 2010, meaning the Hawks are trying to avoid four consecutive runner-up finishes.

“We just have to play our game again,” Plante said. “We have to play as good as we can. I think in last year’s championship game we played as good as we can. I think the two previous years we played very well. We didn’t get the puck to go our way. Today it kind of went our way.”

--St. Thomas Academy has scored 23 goals in the tournament; the tournament record is 30, set by Eveleth in 1945. The Hermantown-St. Thomas Academy game will begin at noon Saturday. This is the Cadets' final season in 1A before they move up to 2A next season.


Breck’s enthusiastic student fans came to the game wearing white. But they had something special in mind, and it was pretty clever. When Breck scored, the students yanked off their white shirts to reveal red shirts. That signified, of course, that the goal lamp had been lit.


--Moorhead 5, Lakeville North 3: Aaron Herdt and Grant Weiss each had two goals for the Spuds and Jack Poehling scored twice for North.

--Eastview 3, Centennial 2: The Lightning scored a goal in each period to advance to Saturday’s fifth-place game vs. Moorhead,

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


*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 11 for the tournament, 33 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 504
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,439
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

Hurley’s Hat Trick Leads Edina Into Class 2A Semifinals
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/7/2013 8:20:20 PM

Three goals by Connor Hurley helped Edina beat Lakeville North in the Class 2A boys state hockey quarterfinals Thursday. Hill-Murray also advanced with a victory over Eastview and Wayzata beat Centennial in overtime. Read Luke Sleeper's story by clicking here.

Sometimes It’s All About The Team … Injury Or Not
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/7/2013 7:14:42 PM

When Lakeville North boys hockey coach Trent Eigner talks about senior captain Alex Wood, you would be wise to listen. Wood’s story is the kind that makes you appreciate what team is all about, what it means to not give up on your buddies.

“You don’t come across kids like this very often,” Eigner said Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. “When you do, it’s good fortune.”

Wood is a defenseman for the Panthers, who lost to Edina 9-3 Friday in the Class 2A state quarterfinals. The fact that the 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior was even on the ice was a longshot before the season began, because he was walking around on a right knee that was shredded.

The anterior cruciate ligament went kaboom in the Prep Bowl on Thanksgiving weekend. Wood -- a linebacker who was named the defensive player of the year in the South Suburban Conference and was a finalist for the Mr. Football Award -- was playing fullback with 90 seconds left to play in North’s 28-7 loss to Eden Prairie. He threw a block and immediately knew something was wrong.

“I took a step, felt a pop and then felt a ripped feeling in my knee,” Wood said. “My thoughts were, ‘So that’s what (a torn ACL) feels like.’ ”

The knee required surgery, but Wood didn’t want to miss his senior hockey season. He has signed a letter of intent to play football at Minnesota Duluth, and a lot of athletes would have said goodbye to their No. 2 sport, undergone surgery and began rehabbing for their first college football season. Not Wood.

He sat out the Panthers’ first eight games and just missed it too much. Instead of surgery, he was fitted with a knee brace and began doing all the work he could to be able to play hockey. He talked to Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese, who approved Wood’s attempt to return to hockey.

“I told (Eigner) it was time for me to get back on the ice and I did what was necessary to do that,” Alex said. “I was rehabbing religiously, lifting weights for my upper body, to prepare and get stronger. I was cleared to do some leg lifts, quad extensions, hamstring curls, I got on the bike for 30-40 minutes at a time to try and get my endurance up.”

He returned to the ice for a holiday tournament, a little more than a month after his injury. And he was skating with his teammates on Thursday; his final game as a hockey player will come Friday or Saturday, depending on how North fares in the consolation bracket.

“You don’t get kids like Woody very often,” Eigner said. “I’m sure there are other programs with similar kids with similar attributes, but for me this is our guy as far as a kid that just competes. He pours himself into everything he does. The sacrifice he made coming off the knee injury, being there for us, was really special.”

Wood will have finally knee surgery on April 16.


Moorhead sophomore goalie Jacob Dittmer made the save of the day Thursday and proved that he is capable of filling some big skates. Michael Bitzer was a goaltending legend in Moorhead before graduating last spring; he won the Frank Brimsek Award as Minnesota’s best senior goaltender after going 18-9-2 with a 2.30 goals-against average and helping the Spuds reach the state tournament.

Bitzer has played 32 games this season with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, ranking fifth in the league with a GAA of 2.63. He has made a commitment to play college hockey at Bemidji State.

Dittmer stepped into the crease this season and learned quickly. He came into the state tournament with a record of 11-6-2, and his finest moment came in Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Duluth East. Dittmer sprawled in front of a shot, clipped it with his left skate, then quickly reached back with his glove hand to stop a rebound attempt. It was an NHL-caliber highlight.

“(Bitzer) is a special player and Jacob’s just a sophomore,” Spuds coach Peter Cullen said. “He’s trying to learn things, learn his own game, find himself in different ways in the net. He’s been a work in progress and he’s making progress.”

Duluth East’s winning goal against Moorhead was scored by Jack Kolar early in the second period. Dittmer made 29 saves and East goalie Dylan Parker stopped 12 shots.

Duluth East will face Edina in Friday’s semifinals at 6 p.m.

--In Thursday’s evening session, Hill-Murray beat Eastview 6-3 and Wayzata beat Centennial 2-1 in overtime.


--I Tweeted this before Thursday’s 2A games began: “Remember what happened last year in the #mshsl 2A boys hockey state quarterfinals? That's right, the top four seeds all lost.” That was not the case this time. In both the 2A and 1A quarterfinals, the seeds held.

--Thursday’s first pep band tune was a beauty. The Duluth East orchestra pumped out Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” to start a fantastic day of hockey and music.

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


*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 7 for the tournament, 29 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 504
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,389
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

Marshall Tigers Make History And Show Us What’s Important
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/6/2013 6:46:47 PM

The new kids on the hockey block came to the state tournament for the first time in school history, found themselves on the wrong end of a pretty good shellacking … and they were all smiles and pride afterwards.

Congratulations to the Marshall Tigers, who showed us Thursday that this thing called high school sports isn’t only about winning. It’s also about working together, overcoming obstacles, hanging in there and seeing how far you can go.

Marshall goaltender Mason Campion said, “I guess it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.” That may be true, and the Tigers’ first trip to the boys state hockey tournament will leave everyone with great memories. After they were defeated by second-seeded Breck 6-1 in the Class 1A quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center, a lot of things didn’t really matter.

Marshall came in with a record of 14-10-1. Didn’t matter. No team from the Southwest Conference had ever played at state. Didn’t matter. The Tigers had reached the section championship game only once prior to this season. Didn’t matter. They were outshot 40-17 by Breck. Didn’t matter.

The only thing that really mattered was this: The Tigers made it to state.

“I didn’t really expect us to get here,” Campion said. “We just go out and work hard every game, see what happens. It’s fun to be a part of this team. Even if we just lost, I don’t care; it’s fun to be out there. It’s something you dream about. You just want to play at the Xcel Energy Center, and we’re here.”

This was supposed to be a year to rebuild in Marshall. Last year’s team finished 16-8-1 but a bunch of seniors graduated and a first-year head coach – Dave Coubert – took over this season. They were injuries during the regular season, with a raft of youngsters moving up from the junior varsity to the varsity .

In the Marshall Independent’s preview of the state quarterfinal game, Coudert told sports reporter Travis Andries what his expectations were.

“It's going to be a test,” Coudert said. “The only worse draw would have been (top-seeded) St. Thomas Academy, so we just want to see hard work, heart and no giving up. Just do Marshall proud, that's what we want.”

No problem there. The other seven teams in the 1A tournament combined for 44 state appearances and nine state titles. Didn’t matter.

The highlight for the Tigers came early in the second period when they scored their first goal in a state tournament. Junior Jeremiah Barker got the goal with assists by junior Andrew Bell and sophomore Derek Rasmussen. Here’s the best part of that tale: The goal was Barker’s very first goal of the season.

Coudert told the media afterwards, “We kept on saying, ‘Who’s going to be the first one to get a goal for Marshall in the state tournament?’ Jeremiah went out there and got a sweet goal.”

Barker was as surprised as anyone.

“When I tipped it, I didn’t realize it had gone in. I saw a flash of it and I couldn’t believe it; ‘Wow, I just scored a goal at the Xcel Energy Center.’ It was exciting. It was a great experience and I’m glad my parents were here to be able to see that.”

I’m glad we were all able to see that.

Well done, Tigers.


--Hermantown’s top line is a scoring machine, with Chris Benson (30 goals), Tyler Koepke (29) and Bo Gronseth (26) scoring almost at will this season. Fittingly, they each scored a goal in the Hawks’ 3-0 win over Duluth Marshall on Thursday.

The trio first came to the varsity as sophomores, when they were known as the Diaper Line. They helped the Hawks reach state that season, and their improvement has been steady.

“They were our second line last year,” coach Bruce Plante said. “Chris got to play on our top line a little bit because we needed a left winger. And this year these guys came in being our top line. I knew they were going to be good. I had no doubt about that because they had done well as 10th-graders and they had done really well as juniors.

“We have a pecking order in Hermantown and the older guys get a lot of the ice time. It was their turn. They see each other very well, their vision is great, they’re friends, they’re unselfish, they’re the kind of line you really love to have as the top line. They’re fun to have around and they’re totally unselfish.”

--In Thursday evening’s 1A semifinals, St. Thomas Academy defeated St. Cloud Apollo 12-0 and East Grand Forks beat Rochester Lourdes 3-2.

--Friday’s first game of the 1A consolation bracket at Mariucci Arena will be a challenge for the arena announcer as well as radio broadcasters. That’s because the 10 a.m. game will be between Marshall and Duluth Marshall. It’s probably best to refer to them as the Tigers and the Hilltoppers.

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


*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 4 for the tournament, 26 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 496
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,339
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

New Metro West Conference To Begin Play In 2014
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/5/2013 10:36:19 AM

Chaska, Chanhassen, Bloomington Kennedy, Bloomington Jefferson, Robbinsdale Cooper, Richfield and St. Louis Park will form a new conference. Read the details by clicking here.

It's Time For The Nation's Premier High School Sporting Event
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/4/2013 11:30:52 PM

This is a big week in Minnesota, as the boys state hockey tournament takes center stage at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Every year, the event draws interest from all across the country as well as in Canada.

For example, The Hockey News -- a Toronto-based publication that is known for its in-depth hockey coverage -- will be represented at the tournament.

The tournament begins Wednesday and will end Saturday with the Class 1A and 2A state championship games. All quarterfinal, semifinal and championship games will be televised by KSTC Channel 45.

Wednesday’s Class 1A Quarterfinals
(# seeds)

#2 Breck (24-3-1) vs. Marshall (14-10-1), 11 a.m.
#3 Hermantown (23-4-1) vs. Duluth Marshall (16-12), 30 minutes after end of 11 a.m. game
#1 St. Thomas Academy (24-2-2) vs. St. Cloud Apollo (18-10), 6 p.m.
#4 East Grand Forks (22-3-3) vs. #5 Rochester Lourdes (20-8), 30 minutes after end of 6 p.m. game

Thursday’s Class 2A Quarterfinals
(# seeds)

#2 Duluth East (24-4) vs. Moorhead (14-11-2), 11 a.m.
#3 Edina (22-6) vs. Lakeville North (11-16-1), 30 minutes after end of 11 a.m. game
#1 Hill-Murray (25-2-1) vs. Eastview (18-9-1), 6 p.m.
#4 Wayzata (21-7) vs. #5 Centennial (22-4-2), 30 minutes after end of 6 p.m. game

Student Media Members Take In A Wild Game
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/4/2013 3:22:19 PM

Sunday night was another highlight in the growth of the MSHSL Student Media program, with several high school students enjoying the Wild’s home game vs. the Edmonton Oilers as credentialed media members. The Student Media program encourages students to act as reporters for their schools (information on the program can be found by scrolling to the bottom right of the MSHSL home page.)

Nick Wagner of Ada-Borup, JoNathan Chartrand of Chisago Lakes, Jared Rubado of Brainerd and Zach Halverson of White Bear Lake were met in the Xcel Energy Center lobby by Ryan Stanzel of the Wild media relations staff. Ryan gave the students a quick tour of the building and they enjoyed a pregame meal in the media dining dining room on the ice level. (They also posed for a photo with FSN North Wild play-by-play broadcaster Anthony LaPanta.)

Before game time, the students had a question-and-answer session with Michael Russo, who is the Wild beat writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and KARE 11 television sports anchor/reporter Dave Schwartz. They talked about their career paths and offered advice to the young journalists.

The students watched the game from a booth in the press box, and between periods they toured the NHL statistics booth as well as the NHL video replay booth. After the game, the students attended Wild coach Mike Yeo’s postgame press conference.

Members of the Student Media program have had similar outings at Timberwolves games (twice) and a Twins game, and we are happy to have the Wild join our group. The professional franchises treat the students very well, and they all go home with outstanding memories and a working knowledge of what takes place behind the scenes at a professional sporting event.

--More photos can be viewed on the MSHSL Facebook page.

Eden Prairie Historically Dominant In Winning 2A Swim Title
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/2/2013 11:41:42 PM

Eden Prairie cruised to the Class 2A boys state swimming and diving championship Saturday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center, and St. Thomas Academy won the Class 1A crown. Read Luke Sleeper's story by clicking here.

A Night For Champions At State Wrestling Tournament
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/2/2013 11:30:08 PM

Championship Saturday at the state wrestling tournament is always a night filled with drama and celebrations, and the 2013 version filled the bill perfectly. My favorite moment came when Grand Rapids 182-pound senior Jamison Evans completed an unbeaten season with a last-second decision over Christian DuLaney and then ran into his coach’s arms … and head.

Evans is a big young man, but he is no match for Thunderhawks coach Dan Jinks. Evans not only leaped into the coach’s arms, but went extra vertical and landed almost right on top of Jinks. It was a tremdendously happy scene, just one of many on one of the greatest nights of the year for high school sports in Minnesota.

The familiar names carved their names a little deeper into the record books. Simley senior Jake Short (Class 2A, 152 pounds) won his fourth state title, as did St. Cloud Apollo senior Mitch Bengston (3A, 138). Apple Valley ninth-grader Mark Hall (3A, 152) won for the second time, staying on track to become the state's first six-time state champ.

Overall, six wrestlers repeated as champions in Class 1A, six did so in 2A and six did the same in 3A. That’s what you call symmetry.

Apple Valley had seven individual 3A champions, going 7-1 in the final round.

Three of Saturday’s title matches pitted past state champions.

--In Class 2A at 138 pounds, Coltan Laganiere of Kasson-Mantorville defeated Brett Stolarzyk of Stewartville.

--In 2A at 195, Lance Benick of Totino-Grace beat Broc Berge of Kasso-Mantorville.

--And in 3A at 195, Tommy Petersen of Lakeville South beat Chase Morlock of Moorhead.

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


*Diet Coke Count: 3 for the day, 10 for the tournament, 22 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 488
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,289
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

Boys State Hockey Tournament Pairings Are Set
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/2/2013 10:41:58 AM

The process of setting the brackets for next week’s boys state hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center was completed this morning. The coaches in each class determine which five teams will be seeded via electronic voting. The teams seeded fourth and fifth meet in the state quarterfinals, and the opponents for the top three seeds are decided by random draw.

Here are the pairings…

Class 1A
Wednesday’s Quarterfinals
#2 Breck (24-3-1) vs. Marshall (14-10-1), 11 a.m.
#3 Hermantown (23-4-1) vs. Duluth Marshall (16-12), 30 minutes after end of 11 a.m. game
#1 St. Thomas Academy (24-2-2) vs. St. Cloud Apollo (18-10), 6 p.m.
#4 East Grand Forks (22-3-3) vs. #5 Rochester Lourdes (20-8), 30 minutes after end of 6 p.m. game

Class 2A
Thursday’s Quarterfinals
#2 Duluth East (24-4) vs. Moorhead (14-11-2), 11 a.m.
#3 Edina (22-6) vs. Lakeville North (11-16-1), 30 minutes after end of 11 a.m. game
#1 Hill-Murray (25-2-1) vs. Eastview (18-9-1), 6 p.m.
#4 Wayzata (21-7) vs. #5 Centennial (22-4-2), 30 minutes after end of 6 p.m. game

Coach Is Gone, But Inspiration Remains For Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/1/2013 5:55:15 PM

The state wrestling tournament is a hotbed of raw emotion, with a never-ending supply of screaming from the stands, high-wire encouragement from coaches and for the wrestlers, a very fine line between success and the end of the road as the season comes to a close.

But let’s go back to the first day of wrestling practice last November, when another kind of emotional scene played out in a very peaceful spot. The scene was a cemetery in Belgrade, Minnesota. That’s where the wrestling team from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa went to visit their former coach as the season began.

Rich Vos was 38 years old and riding his bicycle in the early-morning darkness on Oct. 16 when he was struck by a semi-trailer and killed. Since that day, nothing has been the same for the B-B-E Jaguars.

Before beginning their first practice of the season, the wrestlers ran to St. Francis DeSales Catholic Cemetery, about a mile from the high school. Waiting for them there was Rich’s widow, Beth, a mother of two young children. She and the wrestlers gathered at the gravesite and she read them a letter. Beth tried to put into words what the coach would have said to the team if he could have done the writing.

“She wrote about what Rich would have wanted this year, what he thought we could accomplish,” Jaguars senior Tyler Tensen told me Friday at Xcel Energy Center. “How it would be awesome if we would dedicate this year to him. And of course we did.”

Rich has been listed as the team’s head coach all season. The mats inside the high school gym carry the words “Always in Your Corner.” The coaches have Rich’s name printed on the back of their shirts. The wrestlers have t-shirts that say “His Vision, Our Mission/ In Memory of Coach Vos.”

“It was definitely hard,” said Tyler, one of three Jaguars to qualify for the state tournament. “The whole season, not having him was hard. Losing him was definitely a big motivator through the year, that’s for sure. And it was certainly hard not having a good friend and a coach around.”

Assistant coach Brian Friedrichs, who took over as head coach, works as a National Guard Readiness NCO in Sauk Centre. He was on his way to Camp Ripley for a staff meeting when he learned that Vos had been killed.

“That evening I went to see the family and the next day we talked to wrestlers, to see how they were doing,” he said.

Right after Vos died, many of his wrestlers who also played football had to play the final regular-season game.

“They had to think about finishing the regular season that next day, on MEA Wednesday, and then the playoffs,” B-B-E athletic director Rick Gossen said. “Talk about an emotional roller coaster for 16-17-18-year-old kids.

“I think the students and staff supported each other very well. They had a chance to grieve and heal. It’s one of those things that never leaves you. You never stop feeling that loss, especially for the wrestlers that were closest to him.”

--Tensen (126 pounds) and fellow senior Patrick Rooney (182) each won two matches Friday to advance to Saturday’s semifinals. Sophomore Josey Tensen lost in the opening round at 106 pounds.


Every defending state champion won in the first round of the state tournament Friday, but the number was whittled a bit in the second round.

Friday’s marquee match came in Class 2A at 126 pounds. Simley senior Juan Torres, last year’s champion at that weight, won a 5-4 decision in the quarterfinals over Rockford junior Ty Griffin, who was the 2012 champ at 120 pounds.

--St. Cloud Apollo senior Mitch Bengston, a three-time champion, is on track for another 3A title. He will meet Blake Carlisle of Prior Lake in Saturday’s semifinals.

--In Saturday’s 3A semifinals, Apple Valley will have eight wrestlers and St. Michael-Albertville will have seven. Apple Valley had 14 individual qualify for state and the Knights had 12; they tied for the 3A team championship on Thursday night.

Semifinal matches will take place Saturday morning, with title matches scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

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


*Diet Coke Count: 3 for the day, 7 for the tournament, 19 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 488
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,239
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn

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