John's Journal
Championship Experience Pays Off For Hastings Softball Team5/4/2012
Last year was a dream softball season in Hastings. After finishing third in the Class 3A state tournament the previous two years, the Raiders capped a 23-2 season by capturing the school’s first state softball championship.

Let’s fast-forward. Today the Raiders have a record of 5-9 with more close defeats than they care to remember. There is a level of frustration, but it is swamped by a work ethic and determined attitude to keep improving as the season continues.

“I think we’re getting better each game,” sophomore infielder and team captain Michaela Mills told me before the Raiders hosted Cretin-Derham Hall on Thursday. “We started off a little bit rough but our defense is really coming along, our hitting is really coming along, more people are starting to step up. It’s cool to watch.”

Hastings began the season with five consecutive losses and then won five of seven games before losses this week to Forest Lake and Cretin-Derham Hall, both by two runs. The Raiders have lost seven times by two runs or less, and getting over that hump is high on the team agenda right now.

“We’ve been in every game, that’s the big thing,” said coach Dean Robinson. “We’ve been right there, it’s just a matter of having that big hit. We’ve gotten girls on base, had the bases loaded in every game; a couple games ended with the bases loaded and we couldn’t get the hits we needed.”

Hastings lost some key players to graduation. Two of them, Treya Connell and Brittani Robinson, had been on the varsity since eighth grade. Both were named to the all-tournament team at state last year, as was Mills. Connell’s departure left a big hole in the pitching circle, and sophomore Courtney Van De Velde (pictured) has stepped in.

“Courtney’s learning as she’s going along and she’s pitched every game this year,” Robinson said. “She’s playing a huge role, too. It’s a matter of our defense stepping up and helping her out. I told her she doesn’t need to replace Treya from last year, she just needs to do her part.”

The returning players from last year’s championship team know what it takes to get to the state tournament, and they hope to put that knowledge to good use as the regular season winds down and the Section 1 playoffs begin.

“The biggest thing I think our team learned (last season) is team unity,” said junior center fielder Hailey Lundquist. “In order to win we have to be playing together and be focused.”

Senior right fielder Kaitlin Stark said, “I don’t think our record shows how good we’re playing, but I think by the end of the season people will know we’re a good team. It’s kind of cool because we’re kind of under the radar. When the end of the season comes, no one expects us to do what we hope to do.”

Losing so many close games can become discouraging, but Mills said the Raiders are using it as motivation.

“You have to make it a positive thing and learn from it,” she said. “If you see someone kind of getting down, you have to go over and say, ‘You’re fine, just let it go and just be you. Don’t let whatever happened before affect you. Play like we know you can.’ ”

Robinson said it’s encouraging to see his players continually stick together and keep moving forward.

“That’s the big thing, they’re backing each other and the parents have been awesome,” he said. “We’re right there and everybody can see that. It’s just a matter of one or two things in each game. The big thing is that we peak at the end of the season and that’s what we need to do, just keep working hard.

“They’ve been there, they know what it takes. You can’t coach experience; they either have it or they don’t. It’s just a matter of coming together.”

--To see a photo gallery of the Hastings softball team, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 509
*Miles John has driven: 7,369

--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
A Game For The Ages: Orono’s Flemmer Hits The Record Book5/2/2012
Before a baseball game at Orono High School on Tuesday, I asked Jake Flemmer what he thought of the new bats that are required across the nation on prep diamonds this season.

“They don’t have as much pop but I don’t mind them,” said the Orono sophomore catcher. “They’re all right.”

Yes, they indeed are all right. Judging by Flemmer’s accomplishments this season – including a state-record-tying performance in a game last week – you get the feeling the lefthanded hitter could swing a crooked tree branch and knock the ball all over the park.

In an eight-inning, 14-8 victory at Dassel-Cokato on April 26, Flemmer (pictured) went 6-for-6 to tie the state record for the most hits in one game. The mark is the state’s oldest hitting record, established 61 years ago (in 1951) when New Ulm’s Walt Keckeisen had six hits against St. Peter and matched in 2001 when Bryan Kramer of Blooming Prairie did the same thing vs. Medford.

Flemmer, who had six singles at Dassel-Cokato, said, “I’ve had pretty good days but I’ve never seen the ball as well as I did that day.”

As the Spartans’ leadoff hitter, Flemmer singled in the first, third, fifth and seventh innings, then batted twice in the eighth and got two more singles. His hitting streak actually was eight in a row, because he had ended the previous game with a hit and did the same in his first at-bat in the next game.

Flemmer, who also is a talented hockey player, became Orono’s starting catcher early last season.

“This year he’s continued to grow and learn,” Spartans coach Dick Crandall said. “He has a really good awareness in the batter’s box, he knows what pitchers are trying to do. He’s a smart hitter.”

Flemmer’s statistics are astounding. Through the season’s first 10 games he had a .639 batting average with 23 hits in 36 at-bats. He had three doubles, one triple, one home run and 15 RBI with five walks and two strikeouts.

Orono has a solid lineup, with Will Sperduto hitting .500, Jack Halverson .486 and Tommy Wachman .469. The Spartans are 6-6 after losing to Hutchinson 2-1 Tuesday.

Immediately after Flemmer’s 6-for-6 game, no one was aware that he had tied a record. He learned about it the next morning in school via a text message from his mother.

“I hadn’t really thought about it too much,” Jake said. “We were just thinking about winning.”

Offense in high school baseball has been dialed down this season by the mandated use of BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats. The bats, which reduce the speed of the ball as it is struck, are now required by the National Federation of State High School Associations as well as the NCAA.

Crandall said the changes in the game are clear.

“I’ve only seen one go out of the park in batting practice this year,” he said. “There were some in every round in past years. Everybody will get used to it and it will be fine. But there is a difference.”

In an odd twist, the new bats may have played a role in Flemmer’s 6-for-6 game.

“Maybe that had something to do with the bats,” Crandall said. “Maybe he would have flown out instead of hitting singles.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 507
*Miles John has driven: 7,332

--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
Monson The Miler: Albert Lea Champion Balances Work, Fun 5/1/2012
ALBERT LEA -- Chrissy Monson works hard, trains hard and loves to run. But the Albert Lea junior is learning that the work of being an elite athlete can sometimes interfere with the fun. An important reminder came early this spring.

Monson made a big splash at last year’s state track championships, outpacing some of the state’s headliners in winning the Class 2A 1,600 meters. She finished third in the 3,200 at state last year; she also ran those events at state as an eighth-grader and ninth-grader.

But she had a disappointing cross-country season last fall, was coming off an injury when the spring track season began and did not win her first outdoor 1,600 race of 2012. There was a reason for that.

“One of our captains, Ashley Tewes, said to me, ‘Chrissy, your parents have been trying to tell you but you just aren’t seeing it. You’re getting too worked up, you’re getting too involved. You need to smile. I’ve never seen you run a race without a smile on your face, and you haven’t had that. There’s something different.’ ”

Chrissy was smiling as she told me that story last week during a four-team meet at Hammer Field. But then, she almost always is smiling. When she doesn’t smile, people notice.

“I think it was kind of a rocky winter,” she said. “My dad was like, ‘Chrissy, smile. This is fun, that’s why you do it.’ I have great support that can get me focused. I have so many different people looking out for me. I love the sport and I’ve met so many great people and have had so many great opportunities. Obviously I want to be the best I can but I don’t want to get caught up in it.”

As an eighth-grader Monson placed seventh in the 3,200 and 13th in the 1,600 at state. As a freshmen she finished third (3,200) and sixth (1,600). Last year’s big-school title in the 1,600 catapulted her into the top echelon of Minnesota milers, and she is continually committed to improving.

“She’s totally focused,” said Albert Lea coach Margo Wayne. “She eats, lives and breathes track and running. She’s a wonderful spokesman and role model and just does everything right from the amount of sleep she gets to what she eats to how she trains. She is the whole package.”

My first chat with Chrissy came after she outdueled Shakopee’s Maria Hauger and Alexandria’s Jamie Piepenberg to win the 2A 1,600 last year at Hamline University’s Klas Field. Her father, Maurie, was cheering near the finish line and their embrace after Chrissy’s victory is one of the scenes that endures from that day. When I was in Albert Lea last week – where Chrissy won the 1,600 and 3,200 against competition from Rochester Mayo, Winona and Owatonna -- athlete and father continued the tradition of post-race hugs.

Chrissy has not run as well as she would like in the early part of the season, but she knows that thousands of strides remain to be taken before the state meet June 8-9. In past seasons she would often scan the statewide honor rolls, checking the competition. She doesn’t do that any more.

“I think it was always like, ‘Where can I go next?’ I told myself, ‘You are there. Act like it. Present yourself like it. Don’t get cocky.’ My dad checks (the honor rolls) and I’ll ask him what’s going on?

“He’ll say, ‘Some girls are running some really fast times and you’re not running as fast as they are.’ He’ll tell me, straight out. And I’ll say, ‘OK, let’s do some crunches!’

That’s the kind of commitment that builds state champions. Wayne, however, said Monson can sometimes push herself too hard.

“We talk about that a lot,” the coach said. “If she feels fairly fresh after a workout, she thinks, ‘Should I be doing more?’ It can hard to convince her, ‘Nope, you’re done. That’s your workout.’ ”

The competition among female distance runners in Minnesota is historically strong. Hauger and Piepenberg have battled each other for numerous state tites on the track and in cross-country, and Monson has inserted herself into the discussion. She said the transformation from young unknown to state champion was as simple as trying to run faster than the competition.

“It’s kind of strange,” she said. “I came in as a seventh-grader, eighth-grader, just thrown into varsity right away. No one knew who I was. There was this little girl, ‘Is she in the wrong race?’ All I was trying to do was get the next person. The people in the running world are amazing. Everyone who competes is a down-to-earth, great person. Just getting to know the people has made me want to be that sort of person. I can see that they have fun, they love what they do and they have a passion. I wanted to get that passion, and I have gotten there.

“I want everyone to do their best, and I obviously hope my best is better.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 505
*Miles John has driven: 7,290

--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
Once In A Lifetime Opportunity4/29/2012
(This article was written by one of the high school students who attended a Timberwolves game through the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program.)

By Katie Halter
Red Rock Central High School Student SID

How many high school students can say they have interviewed an NBA player? That’s right, I’m betting close to zero. Well, on March 25, myself, Thomas Elness from Windom High School, Turner Blaufuss from Breckenridge High School, Nick Wagner from Ada-Borup and Luke Sleeper from the University of Minnesota all got the opportunity of a lifetime.

We are involved in an MSHSL program called Student Sports Information Directors. Through this program there have been many perks: Meeting various media personnel at the local level, getting into games free, and the best thing of all is writing about different sporting events we witnessed. I’m sure not all of us thought when we initially got involved in this program that we would ever go to a Timberwolves game and interview a player.

We started the first-ever Student Sports Information Day with the Timberwolves getting a tour of the team offices by Aaron Seehusen, the public relations senior coordinator for the Timberwolves and the coordinator of the student SID day.

We stopped at the boardroom where the team holds various meetings on multiple subjects. We were then joined by various media personnel. Star Tribune beat reporter Jerry Zgoda, Augsburg College sports information director Don Stoner, Fox Sports North television play-by-play man Tom Hanneman, Associated Press reporter Jon Krawczynski and KARE-11 sports anchor/reporter Dave Schwartz all shared the stories of their success and answered some of our questions.

When asked if they believe ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’, they all agreed that it’s a combination of both in this business. You have to know how to handle situations, meet deadlines, and work together; but on the other hand, who you know might impact how far you move up the job chain as well.

We finished our hour-long roundtable discussion and were treated with a tour of the Target Center. We walked around the court and eventually made it into the Timberwolves locker room, which is probably even smaller than my high school locker room! While in the locker room, Nikola Pekovic had just come in from his pre-game shoot around. The media immediately surrounded him, which showed me that you truly have to honor the time and relationships that media gets with players and coaches.

After our tour, it was time for one of the best pasta bars in the world. It was honestly the best pasta I’ve ever had. We enjoyed the company of each other and talked about our experiences being involved in the MSHSL SID program.

We found our seats in the fourth row of the press area. As we got situated, it hit me that we were sitting in the same area as some of the great media personnel in Minnesota.

As the game proceeded we received quarter notes, injury reports and next game previews. The Timberwolves went on to beat the Denver Nuggets 117-110.

After the game, Aaron asked if we would like to stick around and interview a player if they agreed. Of course, all of our immediate answers were YES!

It took about five minutes after the game to get the interview set up. Aaron told us that Anthony Tolliver had agreed to be interviewed by us. I’m not going to lie; I was very star-struck during this, as you can see from this picture. He was a very genuine and down-to-earth player, one that every little kid should look up to.

As our interview came to a close, so did our day. It was one of the best days any up-and-coming journalist could ask for. Thank you to John Millea for setting up this experience and to Aaron Seehusen and the entire Minnesota Timberwolves staff making this day possible. It truly was a day I will never forget.

Smithsonian Museum To Feature Apple Valley Girls Hockey4/26/2012
American history was made on March 25, 1995, when a team from Apple Valley High School was crowned the first girls state hockey championship team in the United States. The Eagles defeated South St. Paul 2-0 in that championship game.

Seventeen years have passed, and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., has chosen Apple Valley’s hockey history to be part of an exhibit called “Hometown Teams” and the Smithsonian program known as Museum on Main Street.

The exhibit is about the spirit, diversity and love of sports in towns across America. “Hometown Teams” will shine a spotlight on teams at the local, high school, college and amateur level, but also on some of the most iconic professional landmarks in America. The exhibition is divided into themes that will feature personal stories from players in audio and video presentations, historical photographs, archival footage, replicas and even objects donated by minor league, college and high school teams. There are six major thematic sections in the exhibit:

“Sports Everywhere”
“Fields of Glory”
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (fan experiences)
“Root, Root, Root for the Home Team” (stories from families and supporters)
“Playing the Game” (athlete stories)
and “Sports Explosion” (the future of sports).

The focus on Apple Valley High School will revolve around the girls hockey team. Minnesota was the first state in the U.S. to sanction girls ice hockey as a high school varsity sport.

Smithsonian staff members will be at Apple Valley High School during the first week of May to conduct interviews with current and former players and coaches.

A note to MSHSL staff from Pete Buesgens, Apple Valley assistant principal and athletics director, included these words: “Thank you to the MSHSL for having the foresight to be an advocate and supporter of women’s athletics and for being at the forefront in the United States! I cannot even begin to imagine the number of young women impacted in such a positive way because of the skills and lessons taught through sport.”