Archive for Kip Kovar

KOVAR: Enjoy the finale of what has been an exciting CRVL regular season

The playoffs aren’t quite here yet, but the last few weeks of the regular season in the Crow River Valley League have had a playoff feel to it. Although the best part of the season is about to come, let’s not forget about the exciting finish we have coming up to the regular season.

It’s been a while since the final week of the regular season in the CRVL has had this much drama attached to it. With less than a week to go, no team in the CRVL has clinched a spot in the Region 7C Tournament. To put that in perspective, last year the Plato Bluejays locked up the No. 1 seed in the region tournament early, finishing with a regular-season record of 17-1. This year is a little different in a couple of ways.

The division titles for the CRVL North and South are still there for the taking. In the North, Winsted, Glencoe, and Watertown are all fighting for the title, and more importantly, the bye into the Region 7C Tournament. With Waconia ruled ineligible for the postseason in 2019, that opened the door for all three teams and created an exciting race for the CRVL North title.

There’s even more at stake when it comes to the CRVL North title. Not only does the winner receive a bye into the region tournament and a guaranteed top-two seed, the two teams that don’t win the division find themselves in a tough situation. Instead of being a No. 2 seed, the two teams who don’t win the North will likely find themselves in the No. 5 to No. 8 seed range come playoff time.

Things are just as exciting in the race for the CRVL South title. Carver and Brownton had leads early in the season, but the Young America Cardinals find themselves at the top of all of it now with less than a week to go in the regular season. With just six days left in the regular season, all three teams vying for the CRVL South title play crucial games the rest of the way as they look to seal their spot in the Region 7C Tournament, and possibly grab a No. 1 seed.

Adding to the unusual and unpredictable season it has been for the CRVL, neither Plato or Green Isle are contending for a division title. It’s been a long time since that’s happened as the two have been the powerhouses in the CRVL for a long time.

While they aren’t competing for a division title this season, that doesn’t mean they can be overlooked in the league playoffs. The Bluejays, despite dealing with an abundance of injuries all season, still feature Chris Odegaard, one of the top players in the entire league. Along with Odegaard are several key players such as Matt Odegaard, Kyle Panning, Tyler Lang, Joe Nix, and others who know what it takes to win games in the postseason.

The Green Isle Irish can’t be overlooked either. After starting the season 1-7. the Irish are playing much better lately as they look to have found some momentum to build on going forward in the playoffs. The Irish will be a tough matchup in the CRVL playoffs for whoever ends up matched against them.

One of the biggest surprises of the season has been the Winsted Wildcats. The Wildcats won just six games last season, and seven games the year before that. Now they find themselves in the hunt for the CRVL North Division title, and a possible top-two seed in the Region 7C Tournament.

The Cologne Hollanders are another team that has taken the next step forward this season. After finishing under .500 the past two seasons, the Hollanders are as hot as anybody in the CRVL right now.

After a tough loss to Young America July 13, the Hollanders responded the next day with a huge 4-3 win over the Carver Black Sox, in which they rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Cologne is finding ways to win games this season, and that’s a scary thing for other teams in the CRVL. Last year’s batting champion, Carter Clemensen continues to swing a hot bat this season, and the Hollanders have the pieces in place to make a deep postseason run.

After a surprising and impressive run at the Class C state tournament last season, the Young America Cardinals seem to be the team to beat in the CRVL right now, if you can say that. The Cardinals are not only talented, but they’re deep.

That goes for the Young America pitching staff, as well. Josh Lenz is arguably one of the top pitchers in the league. After a bursting on to the scene at state last season, Lenz is the ace for the Cardinals and gives them a legitimate chance to win against anyone. Dillon Whittaker, Jordan Kohls, Hayden Meyer, and Isaac Hormann are all talented pitchers, as well, for the Cardinals, giving Young America one of the deepest pitching staffs in the CRVL.

The conclusion of the CRVL season, however it ends, will be an exciting one. The best part is that it won’t be over for long. The CRVL league playoffs will get underway right after, and the best two weeks of summer, the Region 7C Tournament, begin in Carver and Cologne after that.

It’s been an incredible summer of amateur baseball in the CRVL. The regular season hasn’t disappointed, and it is only going to be better here in the final week. I hope you enjoy it as much as I will.

Loether excited to take over reins of Watertown-Mayer softball program

WATERTOWN – She’s been in the Watertown-Mayer softball program the last four seasons, but next spring, she’ll be the one calling all the shots. After four seasons as the junior high coach at W-M, Bethany Loether will be the new head coach for the Royals softball team this spring.

“I’m excited,” Loether said. “It will be a good opportunity. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to developing the program.”

With being a part of the Royals’ program the past four seasons, Loether has already built some relationships within the program. Although it will be her first crack at a varsity coaching job, she’s got a good idea of the players currently in the program as she’s coached them in one way or another at some point.

“This will be my varsity coaching debut,” Loether said. “I’ve coached the high school kids in the summertime and things like that, but I haven’t officially been a high school coach. I think that it’s helpful that I have relationships built. This senior class, they were eighth-graders in my first year. They will be my only class that I haven’t directly coached in games, but I’ve helped coach in practices. From juniors on down, all those people I have had, so that’s exciting and fun. I hope that will help the transition to me being a new coach and for me being able to understand my players a little bit better right off the bat.”

Over the years as a junior high coach, Loether has made her way into practices here and there to help out. She’s got a good understanding of most of the players on the roster this upcoming spring, but also realizes that kids do a lot of growing up in four years.

“One of my seasons, I kind of went back-and-forth between practices to where I would go up with coach (Scott) Isakson and pitch batting practice or work on specialty stuff,” Loether said. “I’m also very aware that kids grow up a lot in four years. I’m excited to be on the other side of it, and to be able to see the growth they’ve done in the last four years. We’ll be able to work even a little bit deeper than I was able to do in seventh grade with them.”

It may be her first head coaching job at the varsity level, but Loether already has a mindset and identity for her program she wants to build. It stems from her playing days at the University of Minnesota, and she knows how important a role sports can play in the life of a high school kid.

“For me personally, I just have a high value of sports,” Loether said. “I think it’s a great vehicle to train and equip people in life. For me, the biggest thing is that winning and the stats and stuff will take care of itself if you’re doing the right things. The most important stuff is that I’m developing girls who are confident and people of integrity. The teamwork and collaboration is huge. I want them to go out and give their all, whatever that looks like. One person’s best is going to be different than the next person.”

Loether is a firm believer that there are roles for everyone on the team. While those roles may be different from player to player, it’s an important thing to understand to succeed in sports and in life.

“It’s understanding the value of roles. Not everybody is going to have the same role on the team, but one role is not any less than the next. If they can come together and understand the value of the whole body and each of its parts, those are the things that are important to me, and how that applies later on in life. That’s kind of my focus.”

While Loether enjoyed a four-year career with the Gophers, she’s certainly picked up on things during her time at the collegiate level. Whether it’s drills, how to practice, or influences she has had throughout the way, Loether hopes to tie that all together at Watertown-Mayer.

“I played in college for the Gophers for four years and the stuff you learn is important,” Loether said. “The intensity of practices are much harder than games. Games were fun almost and a piece of cake because of the work you put in during practice. I have a lot of fun and different drills to hopefully make practice fun. I’ve had some pretty great mentors over the years, both in high school and in college, and I’m so thankful for the role models and influences I’ve had all my career.”

Orphans continue to find ways to win close games in North Star League in victory over Maple Plain

HOWARD LAKE – In order to compete in the North Star League, you have to be able to win close games. The Howard Lake Orphans have taken that to a new level as they won their third-straight NSL contest with a 3-2 win over the Maple Plain Diamond Devils Wednesday night at Memorial Park.

Not only was it the third-straight win for the Orphans, it was the third-straight win that came by one run. It was also the third-straight NSL game the Orphans won by a score of 3-2.

Howard Lake found themselves down 2-0 heading to the bottom of the fifth, but once again, there was no panic. In the bottom half of the fifth, the Orphans took advantage of sloppy play by the Diamond Devils. After Noah Bush led off the inning with a walk, Maple Plain gifted the Orphans their first run of the game, thanks to an error.

Matt Streich was looking to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move Bush into scoring position, but a wild throw by the Diamond Devils went into left field, allowing Bush to come all the way around and score to make it 2-1.

Streich was held up at third following the error, and Zach Kuefler tied the game at two with an RBI single. In just eight pitches, the Orphans turned a 2-0 deficit into a tied game.

After the Orphans rallied to take the lead, Jared Koch took control of the game on the mound. In the final four innings, Koch racked up four strikeouts to give the Orphans an extra boost late.

Koch wouldn’t stop there, though. In the bottom of the seventh, he helped himself out with an infield single that allowed Steve Boger to score and give Howard Lake a 3-2 lead.

The Orphans had a chance to add on to their lead in the eighth, but left the bases loaded. That didn’t come back to haunt Howard Lake as Koch retired the Diamond Devils in order in the top of ninth, finishing off a complete game victory for himself.

In nine innings of work, Koch scattered 11 hits and struck out eight to earn the win.

Kuefler, Boger, Brad Bickmann, and Koch all had two hits to lead the way offensively.

With the win, Howard Lake improved to 10-6 in the North Star League. They currently sit in a tie for third place with Maple Lake in the standings. Delano has the top record in the NSL at 15-1, with Hutchinson in second at 12-4.

Howard Lake returns to league play Sunday, July 14 in a big matchup at Hutchinson.

Minnesota Christian Athletic Association becomes Minnesota Classic Athletic Association

Movement among member schools has led the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association to reorganize; adding new member schools, renaming and getting a new look for the 2019-2020 school year.

During the 2018-19 school year the MCAA saw Southwest Christian Academy move to the MN River Conference and Bethany Academy make a decision to schedule independently. Both moves were due to changes in enrollment that were affecting their ability to schedule within the MCAA. In addition, the 2018-19 school year would also be the last scheduling year for Maranatha Christian Academy, New Life Academy of Woodbury, St. Croix Preparatory Academy & Trinity School of River Ridge. These schools would be joining the newly formed Skyline Conference for the 2019-2020 school year.

With those changes in place, remaining MCAA member schools, Heritage Christian Academy, Legacy Christian Academy, Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, PACT Charter School, Spectrum High School, and West Lutheran High School went to work evaluating potential schools to invite into the MCAA. They looked at location, enrollment, sports offered and mission before inviting North Lakes Academy of Forest Lake & Eagle Ridge Academy of Minnetonka/International School of MN to round out the conference of eight.

MCAA Executive Director Chris Laird of Heritage commented,  “There are a variety of emotions as our conference transitions. We have been Blessed with great competition and quality relationships over the past 20 years. However, changing enrollments and geographic realities made the change necessary. I am confident that our new conference will be highly competitive at the Class A level. More importantly, I know that all of our schools will strive to reflect the values of sportsmanship and character building that have always been the cornerstone for the MCAA!”

The new make-up of the conference would also mean that only 3 of the 8 schools hold foundationally Christian principles. In recognition of this fact, founding member schools decided a name change was necessary to more inclusively represent all schools in the conference. The conference is proud to preserve the MCAA acronym by renaming to Minnesota Classic Athletic Association.

The Minnesota Classic Athletic Association will compete in boys & girls cross country, volleyball, boys & girls soccer, boys & girls basketball, boys & girls track & field, boys & girls golf, baseball and softball.

CRVL moving forward after Waconia rule ineligible for 2019 postseason

GLENCOE – It’s official. The Waconia Lakers, who boast one of the best records in the Crow River Valley League so far this season, will be ineligible for the 2019 postseason.

During a special state board meeting with the Minnesota Baseball Association June 30, the state board upheld the ruling by the Crow River Valley League that the Waconia Lakers were using an ineligible player this season.

Waconia was using a player it signed this season who could not provide proof of residence in Waconia’s radius. The player played in six league games this season before it was brought to the attention of the CRVL.

With the state board’s decision, the Waconia Lakers are no longer eligible for postseason play in 2019, and any player on the Lakers’ roster can’t be drafted by other teams in the CRVL for the state tournament.

The issue of Waconia’s player was brought to the attention of the league during the playoff roster meeting June 24. Representatives of the St. Boni Saints filed an official protest to the CRVL, saying the address for a Waconia Lakers player was not correct.

During the league meeting, the CRVL teams voted 11-0 in favor of the player being ineligible as his address did not match where he was living at the time.

The Waconia Lakers met with the state board June 30 to appeal the league’s decision, but the board ultimately sided with the CRVL, making the Lakers ineligible for the 2019 postseason.

With the state board’s decision final, another CRVL meeting took place July 1 in order to determine how the league would finish off the rest of the regular season and the postseason.

The league voted and passed that the Waconia Lakers would not receive any further punishment other than was what given by the state board. The state board ordered the Waconia Lakers would forfeit the six games the player played in, and finish out the season as scheduled. Waconia agreed to finish out the regular season, despite not being eligible for the postseason in 2019.

In the six games the illegal player played in, Waconia won five of them. The Plato/Waconia game was the only game the player played in that the Lakers lost. Thus, Brownton, Carver, New Germany, Glencoe, and St. Boni were awarded a win. With Waconia’s forfeits, their 9-2 record drops to 4-7.

When it comes to playoffs, things are different now too for the CRVL. With only 12 teams now eligible for the postseason, the CRVL had to figure out how it would go about the CRVL playoffs. The league ultimately decided that the winners of the CRVL North and South divisions would receive a bye into the Region 7C Tournament. This is consistent with how the league has determined it in previous years.

The teams with the next two best records, regardless of division, would also receive a bye into the Region 7C tournament. The two division winners will be the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, while the next two teams will be the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds.

The rest of the eight playoff eligible teams will then play best of three-game series to determine the final four spots in the Region 7C Tournament.

Waconia will finish out the regular season as scheduled and future games will count in the CRVL standings. After the 2019 Class C State Tournament, the Lakers will meet with the state board again and ask to be reinstated for the 2020 season. If reinstated, the Lakers will be on probation for two years with the state board.

Mayer Lutheran’s Tjernagel to be a part of USA’s Junior A1 team

For a volleyball player, there’s a lot of dreams and goals that come along with the game. Winning a state title in high school, playing collegiately, and many more.

For Mayer Lutheran’s Olivia Tjernagel, she already has two of those locked up. Tjernagel, who will be a senior this coming fall, already has two state titles on her resumé, and has committed to play Division I volleyball for the University of Northern Iowa. If that’s not enough, the highly-touted player is taking another big step forward to help her case another dream of hers.

“I am more than excited to head down to Florida to compete with Team USA this summer,” Tjernagel said. “I always dreamt when I was a kid about being able to play in the Olympics someday, and now this is just one step closer to achieving that dream of being in this pipeline. Ultimately, I am super excited to be able to play with, and against many other talented and gifted athletes. This will be a very fun experience for me, and I wouldn’t be able to be where I am today without all my teammates and coaches you have pushed me along the way and have always supported me.”

A year ago, Tjernagel was selected as an alternate for the USA Junior A1 team. Although she passed on the opportunity, her hard work and success on the court this season earned her a spot. Going from being an alternate to making the team this year has Tjernagel even more excited knowing the hard she’s putting in is paying off.

“Last year I was offered an alternate position for this team,” Tjernagel said. “This year, I have now made that team. Knowing I improved over the year has brought me so much joy. It shows me that I have worked hard in everything to achieve this goal of mine.”

It wasn’t an easy thing to accomplish to seal her spot on Team USA. With tryout locations across the country, Tjernagel endured a four hour tryout that consisted of just about anything you could imagine.

“There are about 30-plus tryout locations nationwide for both boys and girls,” Tjernagel said. “The tryout session lasts four hours, and during that time, they split you up into your position that you wish to tryout for. You work on some designated skills for that position, and then you play some 4-on-4 games, and ultimately, scrimmage in the end with 6-on-6. This is all done while USA selected coaches are critiquing you.”

With her spot solidified on the team, the next step for Tjernagel is to go to Fort Lauderdale. Starting July 13, Tjernagel will head down the train with the other girls who made the team as well as compete against other teams.

“Now that I was selected for the team, I will fly down to Florida from July 13th through the 23rd and train with other girls who have also made this team for the first half that I am there,” Tjernagel said. “Then the second half I am there, we will be competing against other teams from both the U.S. and around the world. It will be exciting, because the main court of the event will be livestreamed. This will give my extended family an opportunity to watch.”

While this is the first step of Tjernagel’s Olympics dream, she also realizes this is a great opportunity to improve her game even more. With more than a week to train and compete, she’s going to soak it all in.

“I am hoping to be able to improve my skills and knowledge for the game as I play with Team USA for 10 days,” Tjernagel said. “I hope to meet many new people and be able to become friends with them. I also hope to be able to bring back to school some of the drills we did over there. This is just the beginning, and with having the dream of being in the Olympics one day, being part of the USA pipeline is just one step closer to achieving that dream.”

With one more season left in her high school career at Mayer Lutheran, Tjernagel knows how this experienced will help her get ready even more for her final season as a Crusader.

“I know that playing for Team USA will help to prepare me for my senior season,” Tjernagel said. “I will be able to bring back good drills that we could possibly use at practices. With being able to play at such an elite level with Team USA, it will help me with the overall quickness of the game.”

Playing for Team USA will also help her get ready for the game at the college level.

“Playing in college is the next level past high school, but on a more elite scale,” Tjernagel said. “USA HP does just that. It helps to find those elite players with that same potential to compete at that level. “

As exciting as playing for Team USA is, Tjernagel is also chomping at the bit to get her senior season of high school going. In three seasons at the varsity level, she’s played in three state tournaments with two state titles. With one season left, Tjernagel is not shy about wanting to make it 4-for-4 on state tournament appearances, and sees it as the perfect way to wrap up her impressive high school career.

“I am so excited for my last school season,” Tjernagel said. “I know every single one of us want to make it back to state again this year. There are three of us (Claudia Stahlke, Riley Corrigan, and Tjernagel) on the team who would share that 4-for-4 experience. I know all three of us for sure have this in the back of our minds to make it back for the fourth year in a row with being on varsity all four years. Not to mention a great experience for our whole team, our school, and our communities, because they all support us.”


The Olivia Tjernagel File

Freshman Year

- Class A State Tournament All-Tournament Team

- MSHSL Class A State Tournament Champion

Sophomore Year

- Herald Journal All-Area VB 1st Team

- MN River Conference Honorable Mention

- MSHSL Class A State Tournament Champion

- Breakdown Sports USA Volleyball Top 75 Juniors to watch in 2018

- Breakdown Sports USA Volleyball Class A All-Breakdown Team

- Breakdown Sports USA Volleyball Section 2A All-Section Team

- Named as an alternate for the 2018 USA Women’s Junior A1 National Program

- Breakdown Sports USA Basketball top 75 Juniors to watch in 2018

- Breakdown Sports USA Basketball All-Section Team in 2018

- – made the 2017 Soph 79 List

- – made the Club Ball – Class of 2020 Watch List

Junior Year

- Committed to play D1 volleyball for University of Northern Iowa

- Class A All-State First Team selection

- MN River Conference All-Conference selection

- MN River Conference All-Conference Most Valuable Player

- Set MSHSL state record for total blocks in a single season with 165

- Class A State Tournament All-Tournament Team

- Made the 2019 USA Women’s Junior A1 National Program team

- Herald Journal Volleyball Player of The Year


Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports