Archive for Brad Salmen

Winter Sports Review: The Future Looks Bright

In reviewing the seasons from this winter’s sports teams, a common theme emerges.

The future looks brighter than ever.

Sure, it’s a little bit of a common cliche that’s put forth after every season.

But in this case, for most of our sports teams, it holds true.

• Take, for example, the Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield wrestling team.

It might seem like the future could not get a whole lotbrighter for the newly-formed DCL squad (which, interestingly, went the entire season without a nickname/mascot).

The co-op, in its first year of existence, achieved what no team from Litchfield or Dassel-Cokato had done in over a decade: send a team to the state tournament.

In addition, the squad sent a whopping nine wrestlers (out of 14 weight classes) to the individual state tournament. This put them tied for second-most behind Simley, the eventual Class AA state champion, which sent 11.

Unfortunately, DCL received some unfortunate news just before the state tournament began. Three of their key wrestlers – Alex Joedemann, Noah Halonen, and Will O’Brien – were disqualified for the entire state tournament weekend after a pre-meet skin check. Besides being ruled out for the team duals, Halonen and O’Brien were unable to wrestle in their individual weight classes at state.

I especially felt bad for Halonen, a senior who had put in countless hours on-and-off the mat to achieve his goal.

Without those three key wrestlers, DCL lost both of their matches in the team duals.

Even so, considering the team advanced to the state tournament, and sent nine individuals, there isn’t much room for improvement next season, right?


DCL will lose just three seniors from this year’s squad – Halonen, Jackson Martin, and Bryce Penk – and will return over 20 wrestlers with significant varsity experience for next season.

Among them will be their top wrestler Jude Link, a sophomore who took second place at 152 pounds in Class AA.

I wrote after the tournament that Link was oh-so-close to being crowned champion, but if you weren’t there watching, you really can’t appreciate just how close he was.

Link took it to his opponent, Fairmont/MCW senior Payton Anderson, all match long in their title tilt. He had several deep shots that Anderson was barely able to fend off. But with 30 seconds left, Link came off a shot a little too high, and Anderson re-shot for a takedown to score a 3-2 victory.

Knowing Link’s off-season dedication, I am excited to see what next season has in store for him.

Among the other returning state entrants are Jerry Simes (4th place), Andrew Joedemann, Victor Franco, Eddie Simes, O’Brien, Beau Nelson, and Brenden Rokala.

Rokala – “Big Rok” –  takes home the postseason award for the most exciting match.

In the Section 6AA tournament, held at DC, Rokala found himself up against Jeremy Phyle of Big Lake in the 285-pound “True Second” match, with the winner advancing to the state tournament.

Rokala, a sophomore, weighed in at 220 pounds. He had a season record of 2-3.

Phyle, a senior, looked to be pushing all of 285. He had a record of 21-13.

Rokala wore down Phyle throughout the first and second periods, and in the third reversed Phyle to his back and stuck him, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.

• The Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato boys hockey team finished one game short of making what would have been their third state tournament appearance in five years.

The Dragons, under first-year head coach Brice Berggren, advanced to the Section 3A title game against Hutchinson.

LDC trailed by just one, 2-1, after two periods, but the Tigers opened the floodgates in the third with six goals to take an 8-1 victory.

The Dragons ended the season with a record of 12-15-1.

Without a doubt, there will be some big holes to fill in next year’s lineup. LDC will lose their top two scorers in Jake Johnson and Alex Heinonen, among others.

Nevertheless, the next few years should be very intriguing. The Dragons will return forwards Mason Schroeder (13-13-26) and Logan Benson (9-10-19), along with talented sophomore defenseman Gavyn Lund (4-12-16) for next season. In addition, they will return three-year starter Darby Halonen in net.

To add to the encouragement, the LDC JV team went undefeated this season, and in fact dominated most of their games. Plus, the Bantam A team (15U) had a phenomenal season, ending up ranked among the top-15 in state.

• Consider this progression: 2, 8, 13.

That’s the number of wins in each of the last three seasons for the Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato girls hockey team.

In the 2019-20 season, LDC finished with a winning record for the first time in over a decade, with a record of 13-12-1.

The Dragons received the #5 seed in the section, and fell to #4 Delano 3-2 in the section quarterfinals.

The team will lose their top two scorers from this season, in Sophia Hillmann (8-17-25) and Alyssa Olson (13-7-20).

However, they will return their next top-eight scorers, along with standout junior goaltender Avery Stilwell.

Stilwell, a three-year starter, posted a .939 save percentage this season – fourth best statewide, in all classes.

In the long-term future, the LDC girls 12U team advanced to the state tournament, and was ranked either #1 or #2 all season.

• In terms of bright futures, it doesn’t get much better than this: returning every single one of your athletes.

That is the case for the Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield boys swimming team this season, as they had no seniors on this year’s team.

After failing to send a swimmer or diver to the state tournament last year, DCL got back on the board this season, as freshman Logan Christopherson advanced to the state tournament in the 100 Breaststroke.

Christopherson finished in 19th place at state, just out of the consolation finals.

DCL had a number of swimmers finish within reach of state qualifying, which bodes well for next season.

• The Dassel-Cokato girls basketball team had a tough go of it this season, finishing just 2-23.

However, the Chargers will graduate just one senior from this team – Cam Patten.

The team will return three juniors for next year – including leading scorer Kezia Lee – along with eight sophomores with varsity experience.

The Chargers were close in a number of games this season, but lack of experience played a big role in their losses.

One more year of experience should bode well for next year’s squad.

• For the first time in eight years, Dassel-Cokato had a gymnast advance to the state tournament this season.

For the first time in 23 years, the Chargers had one participate.

Kiana Keith advanced to the Class A state tournament on the beam. She finished with a score of 8.6625.

She was the first DC gymnast to qualify for the state tournament since 2012, when her head coach Alex Halonen (nee Wente) qualified on the vault.

Halonen sustained an injury that kept her out of the state tournament, however, meaning Keith was the first DC gymnast to actually participate at state since Kara Hedin in 1997.

Keith will be a tough replacement, as will seniors Madeline Pokornowski and Randi Bayerl, both of whom were multi-year starters.

However, the team will return two letterwinners including captain Kianna Anderson and freshman Lauren Abfalter, along with four other gymnasts with varsity experience.

• The Dassel-Cokato boys basketball team will be looking to fill some big holes from this season.

The Chargers improved their record from 2-23 in 2018-19, to 6-19 this season. DC fell to Litchfield 58-41 in the section playoffs.

The team will lose four out their five starters from this year’s squad, including all-conference standout Sanders Asplin, who was the team’s leading scorer with 17 ppg.

Returning for next season is sophomore starting guard Eli Gillman, along with letterwinners Gaige Webb, Ben Smock, Jacob Gnerer, and Ethan Stertz.

Boys basketball review: Chargers to graduate 6 seniors from 6-19 squad


Sports Editor

The Dassel-Cokato boys basketball team finished four victories better than last season.

In 2018-19, the Chargers ended the season 2-23.

This year, the team finished with a record of 6-19.

In the playoffs, DC received the #13 seed in the Section 5AA, which meant they traveled to Litchfield in the first round to battle the #4 Dragons.

Litchfield took a nine-point lead at halftime, 30-21. The Chargers drew as close as six points early in the second half, but Litchfield pulled away for a 58-41 victory to end the season for DC.

Among the highlights of the season, said DC head coach Dave Chvojicek, were big victories over New London-Spicer, Norwood Young America, and Kimball.

“All three were wins by convincing margins, and had multiple contributors,” he said.

Dassel-Cokato was a senior-laded squad this season, as five out of the top-six scorers were seniors: Sanders Asplin, Luke Woetzel, Solomon Jorgensen, Cade Ortquist, and Ethan Mayer.

Asplin was the undisputed leader on the floor. The lightning-quick guard was the only player to average in double figures this season, averaging 17 points per game, along with two assists and four rebounds per game.

For his efforts, Asplin was named to the Wright County Conference West All-Conference team.

Ortquist (6.4 ppg), Jorgensen (6.0), Woetzel (4.4), and Mayer 3.0) will also be big losses heading into next season, along with David Miller.

Jorgensen led the team in rebounds (6.9 rpg), with Woetzel finishing second (5.2).

Mayer, meanwhile, led the squad in assists.

“This year’s seniors were leaders in many ways,” said Chvojicek. “They led us on the court and off in both their performance and attitude.”

The Chargers will return five letterwinners for next season, including starting sophomore guard Eli Gillman (6.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.3 apg).

Ben Smock (2.3 ppg) and Gaige Webb (1.3 ppg) also return, along with role players Jacob Gnerer and Ethan Stertz.

“The group battled all the way to the end in spite of not getting the number of wins they desired,” said Chvojicek. “The servant leadership from our captains (Asplin, Mayer, and Woetzel), was outstanding.”


• Sanders Asplin

• Ethan Mayer

• Luke Woetzel

• Solomon Jorgensen

• Cade Ortquist

• David Miller

Letterwinners: all six seniors, as well as:

• Gaige Webb (JR)

• Ben Smock (JR)

• Jacob Gnerer (JR)

• Ethan Stertz (JR)

• Eli Gillman (SO)

Gymnastics Review: Keith is first since 1997 to participate at state


Sports Editor

For the first time in over 20 years, the Class A Gymnastics
State Tournament included a performer from Dassel-Cokato.

Kiana Keith advanced to the state meet after placing sixth in the beam with score of 8.90 in the Section 6A tournament.

Keith, a senior who until this season had participated in club gymnastics, became the first Charger to participate in the state tournament since 1997, when Kara Hedin did so in the vault.

Keith scored an 8.6625 at the state meet after falling on an aerial (a cartwheel with no hands), an advanced move she had only added to her routine in the week prior to state.

“It was new. I was pumped, because it has been my dream skill,” she said after her performance. “I did it. I fell, but I did it. At the end of the day, that’s good enough for me.”

In between Hedin and Keith, there was one other Charger who qualified for the state meet – DC head coach Alex Halonen.

Halonen, at the time known by her maiden name of Alex Wente, advanced to the state tournament in 2012 on the vault, but was unable to actually compete at the state tournament due to an injury.

Like Keith, Halonen had trained as a club gymnast throughout her high school career, until her senior season.



Along with Keith, the Chargers had three other graduating seniors from this year’s squad: Randi Bayerl, Madeline Pokornowski, and Grace Zeidler.

Bayerl and Pokornowski were each 3x varsity letterwinners, while Zeidler was among the leaders of a JV squad that ended up breaking the school JV team score record three times this season.

“All four of our seniors were outstanding leaders and teammates, and they will be missed,” said Halonen.


Letterwinners, Awards, 

& Records Set

Letterwinners this season included:

• Kiana Keith, SR

• Randi Bayerl, SR

• Madeline Pokornowski, SR

• Grace Zeidler, SR

• Kianna Anderson, JR

• Lauren Abfalter, FR

DC had two gymnasts named to the Wright County Conference All-Conference team: Keith and Abfalter.

The Chargers continued their tradition of a  strong academic showing, garnering the Section 6A Silver Team Academic Award.



Captains for the 2019-20 season were Kianna Anderson, Randi Bayerl, and Madeline Pokornowski.

Captains for next season will be Kianna Anderson and Carlie Tormanen.


Looking Forward

“The Chargers are excited about next season for the feats that they accomplished this last year,” said Halonen. “The coaching staff and gymnasts are all looking forward to the upgrades in difficulty that we can add into the routines for the girls.”


Coach’s Final Thoughts

“I was very pleased with how this season went competitively for the Chargers,” said Halonen. “There were some high moments and low moments, but the girls learned how to respond and compete.

“With our JV squad really stepping it up and challenging each other for lineup spots, we ended up breaking the JV school record by five points. The varsity lineup also stepped up their difficulty and depth throughout the season as well.

“We ended the season on a high note with Keith qualifying for state on the beam, and hopefully we can continue that trend in years to come. I think all of us – coaches and athletes – caught a glimpse of what this program can turn into, and are ready to take that next step,” she said.

The handshake is dead, long live the Bro Bump

By Brad Salmen

Sports Editor

So no matter your age, race, gender, religion, nationality, health, wealth, sexual orientation or political affiliation, we can all agree on this one thing, right?

Life right now is just straight up bonkers.

It’s just so … weird. And eerie. And uncertain. And a little scary. Or a lot scary, depending on your news sources.

And it came on so quickly, that’s the wildest thing about it. One week we’re hearing rumblings about this new virus that’s shutting down parts of China, and the next people have decided that three pallets of toilet paper is the only thing that will save them.

What makes it even more difficult is that we’re being bombarded by all kinds of different information. On the one side we’ve got professional scientists at the WHO, CDC, and other various agencies telling us one thing, and on the other we’ve got Auntie Edith passing on memes on Facebook telling us another. I don’t know who to believe.

Sports were among the very first casualty. And rightly so. If the pandemic truly is as dangerous as claimed, there’s no reason to crowd arenas so we can cheer on men in colorful jerseys throwing a ball around. It’s not worth the risk. As much as we love sports, it’s ultimately insignificant in the big life-or-death picture.

At the same time, sports are a big part of what make life enjoyable for millions of us. It’s no coincidence that when all the major sports started cancelling or suspending their seasons, that that’s when it truly sunk in for Americans that this was the real deal.

And I’ll be honest, for me life without sports is a few shades duller. I enjoy watching sports on TV or at the ball park, and I looked forward to watching my kids participate in sports this spring.

Oh, and it’s also my job as well. So there’s that.

Speaking of which, if you’re wondering what I’m going to be doing to fill the sports pages over the next few weeks, the answer is, I don’t know. I’ve got some winter sports reviews I’ll be parceling out over the next couple weeks, and some ideas for some columns and features, but beyond that … let’s just hope everyone takes heed of the precautions put in place by our elected officials, and the curve flattens out soon.

That’s actually my biggest fear – that too many people will pay attention to Auntie Edith instead of, you know, the people who make it their life’s work to become experts on the subject. You don’t need to be fearful, but you do need to be cautious.

Your grandparents were asked to go to war. You’re being asked to sit on your couch. Think about it carefully and act accordingly.



One other casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic is a demise I’m not really mourning: the handshake.

I’ve always been ambivalent about the importance of a handshake.

“You can tell the quality of a man by the grip of his handshake,” goes the old adage, spouted by old-timey men in fedoras.

Nonsense. You can’t judge someone’s character by how firmly they grasp your hand. My grandmother is among the most honorable people I know, with the tenacity of a viking warrior. But she’s elderly, and has the grip strength of a five-year-old.

But it’s a tradition, traditionalists say. And indeed it is, and among our oldest traditions. Fun fact, it dates back to 5th century Greece, as a way to show each other that they were unarmed.

Well you see then, say traditionalists. We can’t just throw away something that we’ve been doing for 2,500 years.

To which I say, yes, yes you most certainly can. Traditions should be valued by among other things their utility, not their age. It’s why we Americans don’t wear powdered wigs anymore – because someone in the 1800s looked around and said, you know what, this is stupid and we look silly.

I suspect there will be a number of people that will dig in their heels on this, like used car salesmen. I went to buy a car with my daughter the other day, a couple days before all the sports started getting shut down. The salesman seemed like an ok guy despite his fedora. We went on a test drive, agreed on a price, and got set to sign the papers.

The salesman brought in his sales manager, decked out in a sharp suit and tie. On instinct, the first thing the sales manager did was offer his hand for a handshake.

I politely declined, explaining I was uncomfortable because of the whole coronavirus thing, and also I had just gotten over a cold (which was true).

It totally threw him off his game. He remained cordial, but subtly insinuated the whole thing was overblown.

I bought the car anyway. We found out later it had a number of undisclosed issues.

So if not a handshake, what are the alternatives?

There’s the fist bump, which a lot of sports teams are doing now after games in the handshake line, instead of actual handshakes.

There’s the full Japanese bow, but that will never be accepted in American culture because it’s a sign of submission, and we don’t submit to nobody ‘cept the flag.

There’s the salute, but outside of the military, those always look sarcastic.

There’s the bro nod, the “’sup” tilt of your head. You do a downward tilt if you don’t know or recognize the person, and tilt it up if you do.

Solution –I suggest combining the bro nod and fist bump into the “bro bump.” You heard it here first.

Either that, or the Vulcan salute.

Season In Review: LDC Girls take another big step up


Sports Editor

The Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato girls hockey team continued to show huge strides under third-year co-head coaches Brett Damerow and Matt Hogg.

Two years ago, LDC finished the season with two wins (2-23).

Last season, the Dragons quadrupled that total to eight (8-16-2).

This season, for the first time in over a decade, Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato finished with a winning record of 13-12-1.

The team entered the postseason as the number #5 seed in Section 2A, and lost to #4 Delano 3-2 in the quarterfinals.

However, the future continues to look bright for the Dragons.

While LDC will lose their two top scorers in Sophia Hillmann (8-17-25) and Alyssa Olson (13-7-20), the team will return eight out of the next top 10 scorers for next year.

In addition, the Dragons  get to keep perhaps their biggest asset for one more season – goaltender Avery Stilwell.

Stilwell, a third-year starter as a junior, put up phenomenal numbers this year, including a .939 save percentage (fourth-best statewide), and a 2.25 Goals Against Average.

To top it all off,  the team continued to shine off the ice as well. The Dragons repeated as Section 2A Academic Team Champions, an award they have received for each of the last four seasons.

Coach Hogg provided the following comments from this season.

Seniors this past season:

• Sophia Hillmann

• Alyssa Olson

• Grace Walsh

• Sydney Braaten

• Hannah Erickson

• Isabella Haataja

• Daria Heinonen

• Alyssa Ross

We honestly cannot say enough great things about the class of 2020. They were leaders on and off the ice, pushing themselves and their teammates to be better versions of themselves. They helped bring our program to places we have never been, and will ultimately leave behind a legacy of making it an expectation to win and be successful in each and every game we played in.

All of these young ladies are going to do great things in the future wherever their paths in life take them.

Highlights this season: 

• First winning season for the program in the last 10 years

• Overtime victories against New Ulm and Luverne (who was the Class A State Participant from Section 3A.)

• First win against River Lakes in our knowledge in the program’s history.

• First win in program history in our knowledge against the AA Program New Prague.


• Sophia Hillmann, SR

• Alyssa Olson, SR

• Sydney Braaten, SR

• Grace Walsh, SR

• Hannah Erickson, SR

• Isabella Haataja, SR

• Daria Heinonen, SR

• Avery Stilwell, JR

• Emma DeWolf, JR

• Lauren Block, JR

• Kourtney Mielke, JR

• Kristin Foley, JR

• Ella Hansen, JR

• Cassy Justison, JR

• Lydia Niemela, JR

• Emily Johnson, SO

• Emmy Haataja, SO

• Adriana Iverson, SO

• Grace Braaten, FR

• Sophie Stilwell, FR

Award winners:

• Section 2A Academic Champions.

• WCC All-Conference: Avery Stilwell, G.

• WCC All-Conference Honorable Mention: Sophia Hillmann, Alyssa Olson, Sydney Braaten, Lydia Niemela, Kristin Foley

• Team Offensive Player of the Year: Sophia Hillmann

• Team Plus/Minus Rating Award: Sydney Braaten, Lydia Niemela

• Team Most Improved: Grace Braaten

• Hobey Baker Award: Alyssa Olson.

Team Leaders

• Avery Stilwell, JR goalie, had 13 wins (21st in state) and a .939 save pct (4th in state)

• Sophia Hillmann (8-18-26)

• Alyssa Olson (13-7-20)

• Lydia Niemela (11-7-18)

• Kourtney Mielke (11-3-14)

• Emily Johnson (4-6-10)

Looking ahead, what will next season have in store?

As a staff we are very much looking forward to next season.

We will have a great group of returners, with a solid group of juniors (soon-to-be-seniors) leading the way. We will have some new faces that will have to step up and fill roles left behind by our outgoing seniors.

We also have a talented group of young skaters moving up from our Junior Varsity and 12U programs. These fresh faces will bring some new energy, passion, and hunger to our program.

We will have to continue to work hard in the offseason as a team to get stronger, faster, and better with our sticks. As a team we need to find a way to continue to improve on our offensive production that we built on this season. We have a strong goaltender behind us, who can give us the opportunity to win on a nightly basis if we can put pucks in the net for her.

We also have to improve upon our defensive play and make it a nightly goal to give up less shots on net than we did this season.

Final thoughts:

Overall, we are very pleased as a staff on the growth and successes we had as a team this season. There were many great moments and achievements that will not soon be forgotten.

Our senior class will be missed, but they leave behind a legacy of wanting to be not just good but great, that we feel will continue to help our program reach new heights.

We hope to continue to improve upon our conference and sectional record, as our ultimate goal is to give our team a chance to play at Gustavus Adolphus College in February again for a Section 2A Championship.

LDC Girls 12U team advances to state

The Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato girls 12U hockey team advanced to the State Tournament after winning the Minnesota South Region Tournament in Waseca March 6-8.

LDC opened the tournament by defeating Luverne 8-0 on Friday.

They followed up with a 7-1 victory over Rochester Saturday, setting up a showdown with Hutchinson Sunday for a state tournament berth.

The Dragons prevailed by a score of 2-1.

The team will now play in the State Tournament, to be held in Rochester March 13-15.

LDC has a 35-1-3 record, and continues to be ranked as one of the top five teams in the state by Youth Hockey Hub.