John's Journal
9/6/2016
John’s Top Five Concession Items
1. Buffalo bison burgers
2. Stillwater hot dogs
3. Lakeville South hot dogs
4. Bethlehem Academy hot dogs
5. Babbitt ice-cold Diet Coke
NFL Quarterbacks To MSHSL Coaches: Bollinger and Bouman 9/4/2016
Brooks Bollinger and Todd Bouman have much in common, even if they have met only briefly. Both are former NFL quarterbacks and both spent time with the Vikings. And both are Minnesota high school football coaches.

Bollinger, 36, is in his first year as the head coach at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul. He was the head coach at Hill-Murray in Maplewood in 2011, leading the Pioneers to the state semifinals before joining the University of Pittsburgh as an assistant coach. He came to Cretin-Derham Hall as the quarterbacks coach last year and was named head coach when Mike Scanlan stepped down this winter.

Bouman, 44, is in his third year as the head coach at Buffalo High School. He was an assistant with the Bison for part of the 2007 season, leaving in October when he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The two coaches made plenty of stops during their NFL careers. Bollinger played with the New York Jets, Vikings, Dallas and Detroit between 2003 and 2009, and Bowman was with the Vikings, New Orleans, Green Bay, Jacksonville, St. Louis and Baltimore between 1997 and 2010.

Bollinger, who told me “I maybe met Todd once,” had a memorable debut with the Raiders on Thursday night at Lakeville South. Cretin-Derham Hall trailed 14-0 in the third quarter before rallying for a 19-14 victory. The final two touchdowns came on desperation passes of 43 and 48 yards, the second in the final minute.

Bouman’s team also won its season opener, beating Willmar 47-20 on Friday night in the first game played at Buffalo’s spectacular new stadium. Among the stars for the Bison was Bouman’s son Aidan, a lefthanded-throwing freshman quarterback who completed 13 of 27 passes for 209 yards and five touchdowns.

Both coaches saw their share of high points as players. Bollinger, a North Dakota prep star at Grand Forks Central, was a four-year college starter at Wisconsin and was part of the Badgers’ 2000 Rose Bowl victory over Stanford. Bouman was an all-state athlete in football and basketball and went to state in track at Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in southwest Minnesota. In three years as the starting quarterback at St. Cloud State he passed for 4,354 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Players sometimes ask the coaches about their time in the NFL, and the two don’t mind telling an occasional story.

“It’s harder to impress kids anymore,” Bollinger said. “They care for about 10 minutes and then they just want to know if you’re a good coach. They’ll get a story here and there: ‘What about this guy? What about that guy?’ But most of the time they’re looking at you like, ‘Oh, stop with these stories.’ ”

Rather than talk about the old days, the coaches love working with their players and teaching lessons about football as well as life off the field.

“I enjoy watching kids, from the time they’re freshmen until they’re seniors and they graduate,” Bouman said. “I always say I was lucky enough to do what I did for many years, but I had absolutely wonderful, great high school coaches and it was just a dream of mine to give back to high school kids what I got.”

Family ties also are important to Bollinger and Bouman. One of Bollinger’s assistant coaches is his father, Rob, a former assistant coach at the University of North Dakota. For Bouman, coaching his son is just the latest chapter in a family tradition.

Prior to becoming head coach of the Bison, he spent four years as an assistant coach to his brother Troy at Pipestone High School. Troy’s son Boyer was the Arrows’ starting quarterback for three of those seasons, “so I got to be around that situation and experience that, which was a lot of fun,” Todd Bouman said.

The 2016 season will continue this week with Buffalo playing at Monticello and Cretin-Derham Hall meeting Woodbury at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. The coaches will continue working with their players, knowing what’s important.

“I’m a high school coach because I was fortunate to have an unbelievable high school coach who made a huge impact on my life,” Bollinger said. “I obviously have a passion for this game, but more importantly a passion for passing that on and trying to use this game to impact kids in a positive way and help them become better men. That’s what we’re focused on.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 26
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 1,253
9/2/2016
John’s Top Five Concession Items
1. Buffalo bison burgers
2. Stillwater hot dogs
3. Lakeville South hot dogs
4. Babbitt ice-cold Diet Coke
5. Prior Lake popcorn
An August Volleyball Matchup And Lots To Look Forward To 8/31/2016
The first day of volleyball practice for Minnesota high school teams was Aug. 15, which wasn’t that long ago when you consider what took place Wednesday evening – it was Aug. 31 -- at Prior Lake High School in Savage. This was an early-season matchup between two teams that 1) played in the Class 3A state tournament last year; 2) were among the final four teams at state in 2015; and 3) are ranked among the top four in 3A this season.

Champlin Park lost to Eagan in the state semifinals last year and Prior Lake was defeated by Eagan in the championship match. So on Wednesday we had the defending state runner-up team (the Lakers) against the third-place team at state (the Rebels). Prior Lake came in bearing the No. 2 spot behind Eagan in the 3A coaches rankings and Champlin Park was No. 4 (Lakeville South is No. 3).

And for good measure, the match featured three players who have committed to play volleyball at Big Ten universities: Champlin Park senior Sydney Hilley (Wisconsin) and Prior Lake juniors C.C. McGraw (Minnesota) and Kayla Bair (Michigan).

The result was maybe a mild surprise, with Champlin Park winning a four-set match 29-31, 25-21, 25-19, 25-21. The opening set laid down a pretty solid tone for the night, with the Lakers racing out to a 10-3 lead, the Rebels storming back into a 24-24 tie, and Prior Lake finally putting it away.

One postgame line of interrogation went like this: Can you put too much stock into a volleyball match being played in August … when the state tournament isn’t until November?

“No, you definitely can’t,” said the 6-foot Hilley, who had 25 kills, 16 digs and three blocks. “We played them in our first match last year and they ended up getting second in the state. Both teams are going to get better and if we see them again I’m excited to play them.”

Champlin Park coach John Yunker wasn’t ready to call Wednesday’s result a seismic shift in the earth’s crust, but he wasn’t about to discount how his Rebels played.

“I think the thing we can take away from it is some confidence that, ‘Hey, we can play pretty much with anybody in the state.’ But it is August. We might see them in Marshall (at the Southwest Minnesota Challenge tournament Sept. 9-10), we might see them at the end of the year if we get that far.

“The main thing is, it’s a nice win. We’re going to have some confidence with it, but it doesn’t get us anything going forward. We still have to show up next week and play our matches. We’ve got a lot of returnees but we also have some new players who saw what this is like, and knowing ‘Hey we can do this’ and this is exciting. It’s a huge steppingstone going into the break for Labor Day weekend.”

The atmosphere felt more like October than August, that’s for certain. There was a good-sized and exuberant crowd inside the Prior Lake gym, including a large contingent of Lakers students wearing white and a smaller cluster of Champlin Park students wearing an assortment of NFL and NBA jerseys.

The match was originally scheduled for Tuesday night, but that got derailed because Prior Lake held orientation that evening for incoming ninth-graders. No matter.

“That first set was back and forth and back and forth and back and forth,” Lakers coach Mike Dean said. “In game one we got out pretty quickly and got a nice lead, and they really fought back. That’s one of those mental edges; going into game two, yes they lost but they put up a good fight. And I think our girls saw that and we kind of played a little safe.

“I thought in game three we started battling a little more and in game four we had opportunities. Kayla went on a really nice run at the service line; she’s done that a few times this year. If she gets going back there, we can have a lot of fun.”

Dean said there was no reason to make the match – or the result, to be more precise – bigger than it needed to be. In fact, in the midst of the action he mentioned that to his players.

“That was something we talked about in the huddle, I think it was in game three,” he said. “I could tell we were really tense as a team and we weren’t playing very well. I said, ‘OK, let’s flesh this out. Let’s say we lose. Then what?’

“One of the things we talk about with our girls is being mentally tough, being able to be resilient. I think they showed that. But that was a really good team we played.”

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

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 22
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 1,109
With Great Anticipation, Soccer Returns To The Great Indoors8/30/2016
To soccer fans in Minnesota, it was fitting that the first event to take place at the new Vikings stadium was a soccer game. The British team Chelsea F.C. and A.C. Milan from Italy played in front of a capacity crowd in early August.

No one is expecting more than 64,000 fans to attend the MSHSL soccer state semifinals and championship games at the new stadium between Oct. 31 and Nov. 3, but the return to indoor soccer at the end of the season has helped build a renewed fervor in the sport as teams dream of playing in the big arena.

“The place is unbelievable,” said Anoka boys soccer coach Pete Hayes, whose team is the two-time defending state champ in Class 2A. “This new stadium will be fabulous.”

The state semifinals and finals in girls and boys soccer were played inside the Metrodome until it was torn down two years ago. While the new stadium was being constructed on the same site, the semifinals and championship games were played at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium.

Husky Stadium has plenty of quality amenities, including artificial turf, large locker rooms and top-notch media facilities. In addition, the fans were much closer to the action than at the Metrodome. But the downside, of course, was the weather in late October and early November.

“The weather made for chilly games where everyone was bundled in winter coats and by the heaters,” said Orono senior captain Jenna Rakos, whose team was the Class 1A state champion in 2014 and finished second last season.

“That was definitely a downside to the championship games, and I think that also took away from our fan sections because it was so cold to stand and watch.”

In 2014, high winds in St. Cloud knocked down tents that provided shelter for the teams on the sideline. Rain and snow also made the conditions a challenge.

The Eagan girls team won both Class 2A tournaments contested in St. Cloud. Returning players remember the joy of capturing state titles, as well as the conditions.

“It was brutal,” said current junior Kayle Vrieze. “It was super cold. The worst part for me was at halftime, having to go back outside.”

The return to indoor soccer doesn’t involve section or state quarterfinal games, and fingers are crossed annually that the weather will cooperate for those contests. In late October last year, snow had to be shoveled off the field during a Class 1A boys state quarterfinal doubleheader at Chisago Lakes High School. On the same evening, the conditions were similar for a 1A boys doubleheader at Benilde-St. Margaret’s in St. Louis Park. One of the victorious teams there was Breck, which advanced to the state title game before losing to Orono in overtime.

“By the time we played in the semifinals at SCSU it was seasonably pretty nice,” Breck coach George Stuempfig said. “It was our quarterfinal at Benilde-St. Margaret’s that was miserable, weather-wise. We were the late game, and by that time the rain was changing to snow and the wind was ferocious.”

Orono girls coach Erin Murray, the mother of three young children, said her husband had his hands full in keeping the kids warm and comfortable during blisteringly cold games in St. Cloud.

“Watching these game with three young kids was not ideal for my husband,” she said. “I had a brother and sister that didn't come to many of our games in St. Cloud because their children were young. I know of grandparents that would have been at our games if they were indoors.”

One person who has been through games at the Metrodome as well as Husky Stadium over the last five years – and would love to have his team play in the new Vikings stadium – is Eagan girls soccer coach Bulut Ozturk. He was the coach at Lakeville North when the Panthers reached the Metrodome three years in a row, then took over at Eagan before the Wildcats’ two-year championship run.

“I’m pretty pumped,” he said. “I was pretty spoiled, going into the Metrodome every single year. We went to St. Cloud, where the elements, the conditions, were tough. It was cold. It just wasn’t easy. Of course, I’m not complaining, we won back-to-back state championships there. But we’re happy. I think everyone is excited to go back inside.”

MSHSL football state semifinals and Prep Bowl championship games also will return indoors this fall, with those games played between Nov. 17 and 26. For both soccer and football, anticipation is building for crowds of sport-specific diehards as well as other fans who will want to see the new stadium at high school prices rather than pay NFL prices to watch the Vikings; the most expensive single-session ticket will be $14 for football and $12 for soccer.

“(The new stadium) is spectacular,” Breck’s Stuempfig said. “I was there for the Chelsea-A.C. Milan game. My son, who was with me, said ‘Imagine playing a state tournament game in here.’ I looked around and it struck me that it would be a great experience for our guys.

“We mentioned it in passing to our team, but of course a lot has to happen in order to make it that far, and we don't want it to be a distraction. Yet we very much appreciate that the MSHSL has negotiated to play state tournament games there, because it will be an extremely memorable experience for whoever makes it to play in those games.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 20
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 1,083