John's Journal
Field Is Finalized For State Softball Tournament6/2/2012
The brackets are set for the state softball tournament, which will be held Thursday and Friday at Caswell Park in North Mankato. Congrats to all the teams who qualified.

Here are the quarterfinal matchups…

Class 1A
Eden Valley-Watkins (16-7) vs. Blooming Prairie (20-3)
Red Lake Falls (22-4) vs. New Ulm Cathedral (20-4)
Cherry (23-0) vs. Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (24-0)
Sebeka (21-4) vs. New Life Academy (16-7)

Class 2A
New Ulm (20-2) vs. Kasson-Mantorville (23-2)
Albany (19-1) vs. Maple River (18-7)
Hawley (16-3) vs. St. Anthony Village (22-3)
Mound Westonka (16-9) vs. Cloquet (13-9)

Class 3A
Stillwater (18-8) vs. Farmington (17-4)
Bloomington Jefferson (17-2) vs. Mankato East (24-3)
Big Lake (14-7) vs. Maple Grove (22-2)
Forest Lake (23-1) vs. Orono (23-1)
Boys State Tennis Tournament Is Ready To Roll6/2/2012
In a week packed with state tournaments, boys tennis will be contested at two sites in Minneapolis. The Class 2A competition will be held at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center and 2A will take place at Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in south Minneapolis.

Team competiton will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, with singles and doubles matches taking place Thursday and Friday.

Here are the team brackets…

Class 1A Quarterfinals
Breck vs. Duluth Marshall
Blake vs. Thief River Falls
Mound Westonka vs. Fergus Falls
Rochester Lourdes vs. Luverne

Class 2A Quarterfinals
Eden Prairie vs. Wayzata
Rochester Mayo vs. Eagan
Maple Grove vs. Elk River
Mahtomedi vs. St. Cloud Tech
Adapted Softball Dynasties Add More Championship Hardware6/2/2012
Two teams that have become very familiar with state championships added to their trophy cases Saturday by winning titles in the adapted softball state tournament at Coon Rapids High School.

In the PI division, Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka won its fourth straight state title with a 9-2 win over Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville. And in the CI division, Anoka-Hennepin captured its third consecutive state champinship with a 7-2 victory over Dakota United.

Here are the All-Tournament Teams …

PI Division: Chris Reichel, South Suburban; Grayson Nicolay, Dakota United; Josh Heim, Steven Fletcher, Wayzata/Minnetonka; Erik Santa, Corey Gieske, Anoka-Hennepin; Natanael Bernard, Mark Braun, Devian Thompson, Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville; Jordan Klein, Andy Madson, Charlie Wittmer, Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka.

CI Division: Andy Brown, Osseo; Bruce Matusovic, Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville; Amanda Henderson, Lucas Coy, South Washington County; Michael Dedeker, Tyler VanDerWerf, Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville; Quintin Nicolay, Ricky Arends, Joe Sandey, Dakota United; Troy Couch, Zach Theroux, Tyler Korkowski, Anoka-Hennepin.

Photos from the tournament can be viewed at the MSHSL Facebook page.
A Broken Leg, A Magical Season And A Return To State5/29/2012
When the 2011 softball season ended and the players from New Life Academy were celebrating their school’s fourth consecutive Class 1A state championship, there was one common thought as the dust settled: That was a great run for the Eagles.

Indeed it was. New Life – a Woodbury school with 239 students – made Minnesota history a year ago by becoming the first team to win four softball crowns in a row. Last year’s trip to the state tournament in Mankato also was the Eagles’ sixth in a row; the state record is eight straight appearances by Winona Cotter from 2000 to 2007.

New Life’s six-year string of success included a total record of 138 wins and only 22 losses. During the four-year championship run, the Eagles were 93-16. But as thoughts turned to the 2012 season, there was another glaring fact about New Life: The Eagles’ roster included a grand total of zero seniors.

Most people figured that the good times were over … including New Life coach Mick Ramey.

“I did, too,” he said Tuesday. “I hoped we’d go 50-50 this year.”

He issued that statement with a grin on his face, the grin of a guy whose team was headed back to Mankato. On the strength of a 5-3 victory over Minneapolis Washburn at Hamline University, the Eagles claimed the Section 4 title and their seventh consecutive state tournament appearance.

Their record is 16-6. They are not ranked in the Class 1A top 10. Oh, and their starting first baseman watched Tuesday’s game with a giant yellow cast on her left shin and foot. While sitting in a wheelchair.

Sometimes there is magic at work. Sometimes a team is better than everyone thought it would be. And sometimes both.

“I’m as happy as ever,” said sophomore Jessica Lamb from her wheelchair in the midst of the postgame celebration. “I’m so proud of us.”

Lamb was hurt on Friday during a 6-3 win over Washburb that knocked the Millers into the loser’s bracket. Washburn then defeated Heritage Christian Academy 6-4 on Friday, setting up Tuesday’s game. The injury came in a play at the plate.

“I was sliding into home on a passed ball, the catcher came down and we kind of like collided,” Lamb said. “Her knee drove into my shin.”

Bang. Crack. One broken tibia and one cracked fibula later, Jessica was undergoing surgery. Her teammates were frightened by her injury, but they held things together and kept winning.

“It was very frightening,” said freshman pitcher Valerie Hohol. “But we all got our emotions in check and kept our cool. We prayed about her and just kept going. She really motivated us and just put a little fire in our gut and helped us keep going.”

The challenge for Washburn was a steep one. The Millers -- trying to become the first Minneapolis public school to reach the state softball tournament -- needed to win Tuesday’s game in order to force a final, deciding rematch on Thursday. Washburn out-hit New Life 7-4 Tuesday but made too many errors and gave the Eagles too many chances.

With the aid of three walks and a hit batter, the Eagles scored twice in the first inning on a bases-loaded walk and a bunt in the same situation. They got two more in the second with singles by Hohol and Malorie Giere driving in runs, and three fourth-inning errors helped the Eagles score their fifth run. Lauren Post drove in two runs for Washburn and Lia Gambucci had one RBI.

Many of the Eagles had Lamb’s number 7 written on their arms, and they rushed to her side when she arrived in her wheelchair a few minutes before game time. They had spent time with her in the hospital over the long holiday weekend, but seeing her on a softball field again was special.

“She just got her cast on today, so that was the first time we’ve all seen her out of the hospital,” Hohol said. “It was great.”

Her spot at first base is being filled by sophomore Chloe Westlund, who made the move from center field. It was probably fitting that Tuesday’s game ended on a ground ball to sophomore Amanda Heidmann at third base, who threw to Westlund. Chloe caught the throw with her foot on the bag, raised her fist in the air and joined her teammates in a mob at the center of the infield.

In the middle of the mob was Hohol. Like her coach – and most everyone else who had an opinion about the Eagles before the season began – Hohol had her doubts about where this season would end.

“I really don’t have many words to express it,” she said. “People didn’t expect us to go to state, and at the beginning of the year I didn’t even expect us to go state. We just grew as a team and grew as people. It was great.”

And it continues to be pretty great.

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

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 573
*Miles John has driven: 7,766

--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
Racing For Records: Park’s Alowonle Clears Every Hurdle5/25/2012
R.J. Alowonle is fractions of a second away from making Minnesota track and field history. And if – when? – the senior from Park High School in Cottage Grove carves his name into the record books, those closest to him will remember the days when he was a little kid carrying his Pokemon cards and tagging along with his big sisters when they were Park athletes.

Alowonle is the youngest of five children and the only boy. Track runs in the family; his sister Jummy was a two-time state champ in the long jump and won one triple jump title before competing at Iowa State.

“When I was younger I would always come with my sisters to practice,” R.J. said. “People remember me as Jummy’s little brother, who had his Pokemon cards at every practice.”

Park boys track coach Mike Moran, who has known Alowonle since he was small, said. “His sisters ran for us and he hung around the pole vault pit. We knew he was going to be a good track guy.”

He has turned into much more than a good track guy. As a sophomore, Alowonle won the big-school state championship in the 300-meter hurdles, finished fourth in the 110-meter high hurdles and was a member of Park’s third-place 4x200 relay team. A year ago he won both hurdles races at state, placed fourth in the triple jump and ran a leg on the Wolfpack’s third-place 4x100 relay unit.

And this season he is on the cusp of breaking two of the oldest records in state high school history. The record in the 110 hurdles is 13.85 seconds, set by Owatonna’s Rick Schroeder in 1981; Alowonle’s best time this spring is 14.13. The 300 hurdles mark is 36.97 by Minneapolis North’s Dan Bannister in 1987; Alowonle’s best is 37.03.

But he’s not just a hurdler with the best times in the state in 2012. He also ranks No.1 in the 100, the 400 and the triple jump while ranking second in the 200 (to Park classmate D’Monte Farley). Park’s 4x100 relay team also has the second-best time in Minnesota this spring (behind North St. Paul). And for good measure, Alowonle ranks 18th in the long jump.

“He’s a really good student, top 10 in his class,” Moran said. “He’s got everything going for him. He’s really, really popular and the kids all love him. Mention ‘R.J.’ and the whole school knows who he is.”

Alowonle, who also is one of the state’s best soccer players, was “untouchable” on the junior high track team, according to Moran. As a ninth-grader he fell just short of qualifying for the state meet in the 110 hurdles. And as a sophomore he exploded onto the scene.

He didn’t run the 300 hurdles as a freshman and stayed away from that event for most of his sophomore season. “I just thought it was way too hard and I didn’t want to try it,” he said.

Late in his sophomore spring, however, he ran the 300 hurdles for the first time in a meet for sophomores and freshmen. He finished first, practiced for a few days and then won again at the Suburban East Conference championships. He won once more at the section championships and took home a gold medal at the state meet.

That means Alowonle has never been beaten in the 300 hurdles. Which, as Moran said, “is amazing.”

Alowonle’s legend became even larger in recent days, when he expressed a desire to run the 400 meters. He had run in the 4x400 relay but never in the open 400. So what happened? He set a school record of 48.28, which is 1.1 seconds off the state record and the fastest time in Minnesota this year. (Other 400 runners will be relieved to learn that Alowonle will not run the 400 in this year’s section or state meets.)

Park has had a boys track program since the 1940s and all-time standings have been compiled in each event. Alowonle ranks first or second in the 100, 200, 400, both hurdle events, the long jump and triple jump.

“And if he ever high jumped he could probably be in that, too,” said Moran.

Alowonle’s high school career is winding down. The Suburban East Conference finals were held Friday at East Ridge, the Section 3 meet is scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday at the University of St. Thomas and the state championships will be held June 8-9 at Hamline University. Alowonle will compete in both hurdles races, the triple jump and the 4x100 relay in those meets. If all goes well, his dreams will be fulfilled.

“I would really like to get four firsts in the state meet, and more importantly I really want Park to take first (in the Class 2A team race),” he said. “Last year that was never one of our goals, but getting third last year really opened a lot of kids’ eyes and everybody’s been training really hard this year.

“My times, I would like to see them drop as well because I want to get the state records in the 110s and the 300s.”

Alowonle and Farley will be key components to the Wolfpack’s team title aspirations. They have been good friends and teammates since junior high.

“We’ve been really close, always,” R.J. said. “In junior high we did some of the same events. We push each other so hard in practice and we love each other so much that if we are going to lose, we want to lose to each other. That relationship is what’s helped me a lot. We’re super competitive but super friendly. Him without me or me without him, I don’t think we’d be nearly as good as we are.”

Farley has signed with the track program at North Dakota and Alowonle has the done the same with North Carolina. A year ago they became the first male Park track athletes to qualify for state in four events. They hope to do the same this year and end their high school careers in high style.

As for breaking a state record -- or two? Alowonle has envisioned what that would feel like.

“It would mean the world,” he said with a smile. “It’s a crazy feeling; even beating any Park record is fantastic. It’s one of the greatest feelings ever.”

UPDATE: Alowonle broke the state record in the 300-meter hurdles at Friday's Suburban East Conference championships. His time was 36.38 seconds, breaking Dan Bannister's 1987 record of 36.97.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 571
*Miles John has driven: 7,734

--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