Archive for Kip Kovar

PREP GIRLS SOCCER: Heun’s hat trick leads Royals to upset win over Orono

The Orono Spartans have been a thorn in the side of the Watertown-Mayer girls soccer team the past few seasons. Not anymore.

Thanks to a hat trick from senior captain Maris Heun, the Royals picked up a huge 3-2 win over No. 7-ranked Orono at home Tuesday night.

“It feels amazing, W-M coach Joseph Perez said. “The kids just believe. That’s the main thing. They continue to believe. It’s been a process. Even my assistant Emma played against them for five years and she couldn’t beat them. It feels good. I’m so happy for the kids.”

While the Royals were the ones celebrating at the end, the start of the game put them in a hole early. Less than four minutes into the game, Orono took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Nora Chouanard. Just like that, W-M found themself in an early hole.

After Orono grabbed the early lead, the Spartans didn’t let up. Orono nearly made it 2-0 midway through the first half, but a great save from Hailey Volkart kept it a 1-0 game. The Royals dodged another bullet later in the first half as a goal by the Spartans was erased on an offsides call.

Despite the slow start and finding themselves in an early hole, W-M battled back.

An athletic goal from Heun got the Royals on the board with just over seven minutes left in the first half. After the slow start, W-M found themselves right there with the No. 7 team in Class A.

“I’m a big believer that when you play a team like that tied at the half, there’s hope,” Perez said. “I thought if we put one in, we could press a little harder on them. They’re not used to that situation.”

With the game tied at one at the half, all the momentum was on the Royals’ side as they controlled the tempo of the game after Heun’s first goal. With a little hop in their step in the second half, W-M turned up the pressure and made things happen offensively.

“They are so used to being the ones who dictate the pace,” Perez said. “This time around, we decided that we were not going to let that happen. Even if we lost, we were going to leave everything on the field. The girls know we don’t want to lose at home.”

Alaina Thonn took one for the team leading up the second goal of the game for the Royals. After deflecting a kick from the Orono goalie, the ball found its way to Heun who saw a wide-open net.

“I saw Alaina get hit in the face,” Heun said about her second goal. “I was worried about her, but the ball went up and the first thing I noticed was the goalie was not in the net. Against these good teams, you never know how many chances you’re going to get. With those chances, you need to put them away. I saw there wasn’t a goalie in the goal and I knew I just had to hit it.”

Heun found the back of the net for her second goal of the game, giving W-M a 2-1 lead in the process.

“She continues to amaze me every game,” Perez said about Heun. “She’s so humble, yet so hungry. I’m just super proud of her. I’m just glad she’s on my side.”

W-M then had a chance to extend their led to 3-1, but a nice save ultimately led to a goal for the Spartans. After the save, Orono wasted no time as Tess Bazil tied the game at two with just under six minutes to play.

Settling for a tie would have been a nice outcome for the Royals, but that’s not what they did. Despite Orono tying the game up late, W-M kept pushing.

“We were still hungry,” Perez said. “We went for more. We persevered and overcame.”

For the third time, Heun delivered with another goal off a throw-in, giving W-M a 3-2 lead with under three minutes left to play.

“We definitely played with a lot of heart,” Heun said. “We played with passion and you saw it on the field. We were talking and playing together. None of this could have come without that. We got to come together. We got to come to play. We beat Orono. It’s just amazing.”

The Royals took care of the ball the rest of the way, sealing an exciting and huge win they’ve been working for all season long.

“It feels wonderful,” Heun said. “I’m so proud of all of us tonight. We’ve been shooting for this for so long. This is just so good. We have eight seniors this year. It’s wonderful.”

It was a big win in many ways for W-M. Not only did they stay unbeaten on the season, but they also showed they can fight back against one of the top teams in the conference.

“I think it’s good to have this kind of game,” Perez said. “It’s good to have games where you got to overcome and fight back. They had never been in that position this year. Today, they showed that they’re ready for bigger things.”

The bigger things W-M will look to accomplish include fighting for a conference title. They’ll look to build off the big win and keep things rolling as they return to play Thursday, Sept. 24 against Holy Family.

“I’m hoping we can,” Heun said about using this win going forward. “We got our eyes set on everyone. We’re going for conference champs this year.”

KOVAR: Amateur baseball delivers despite all the challenges and uncertainty

There’s just something about amateur baseball in Minnesota that is special.

When I look back 138 days ago, sports were nowhere to be seen. The Minnesota State High School League just canceled spring sports, and it looked like amateur baseball might go down with it. That wasn’t the case.

While the 2020 amateur baseball season didn’t start on time, there was still a season. That meant the world to so many people in so many ways. For sportswriters, it meant we could get back to doing our jobs which was something we were never sure when it would. For communities across the state, it meant an escape from reality a bit even if there were a few changes that needed to be made. For the players, it meant playing the game they love so much.

Back in May, I teamed up with Jeremy Stender, Chris Damman, and Josh Monahan to create an All-Decade Team for the Crow River Valley League. It went over well and it was a good program for people who were craving amateur baseball like we were.

At the end of the broadcast, we all asked each other if we think there will be an amateur baseball season. We all thought there would be at some point, but we didn’t know what it would like.

After missing a month of the season in May, the Minnesota Baseball Association stepped up to the plate. The MBA allowed teams to begin their seasons (with guidelines of course) and the season was underway. June marked the return of amateur baseball to Minnesota.

I won’t lie. Not everything ran smoothly for amateur baseball teams out of the gate. Several teams across the state had a player or players test positive for COVID-19 early in the season. Those teams and players did the right thing and quarantined to keep other teams and players safe. Once cleared, they returned to play.

I remember talking with people in the middle of that stretch that thought this meant the end of amateur baseball. That wasn’t the case, and I’m thankful for that.

Amateur baseball continued with the regular season. Region Tournaments were played under limited attendance along with other strict guidelines. Whatever they needed to do, amateur teams and their communities did whatever they needed to do to keep the season alive.

Then there was the community of Milroy who went above and beyond the call to keep amateur baseball alive. Back on July 24, the New Ulm City Council voted 5-0 against hosting the 2020 Class C State Tournament in New Ulm. That put co-host Springfield, and the MBA in a tough spot with the state tournament scheduled to begin at the end of August.

With just over a month to get ready, the Milroy Yankees stepped to the plate and knocked the duties of hosting a state tournament out of the park. From field conditions to concessions. From tickets for fans and taking care of the media. It’s as if the Yankees had things lined up from the get-go.

It’s been pretty impressive what an amateur baseball team can do on short notice. That goes for all teams around the state. Without you and your ability to adapt to these crazy circumstances, there wouldn’t have been a season. Without the MBA, there would be no season. I thank you for that.

The last sporting event I covered before COVID-19 got going was a playoff basketball game. Once spring sports got canceled, I wasn’t sure when the next game to cover would be. It wasn’t easy dealing with that.

I missed sports. I missed telling the stories of athletes. I even missed typing up box scores.

Amateur baseball has always had a special place in my heart throughout my sports writing career. It’s just different from high school sports for a special reason. Without amateur baseball this summer, I’m not sure where I would be.

I enjoyed the crazy season that was the 2020 amateur baseball season. Congrats to the Farimont Martins on a special run to the Class C title. Congrats to all teams who made it to the Class C State Tournament. Most of all, thank you to all the teams in the MBA who showed that baseball can still be played even in the middle of a global pandemic. Baseball is special. It’s the players and fans around the state that make it even more special. Thanks for doing everything possible to give me another summer of coverage that I won’t forget anytime soon.

Mowing in Milroy: Saints Field groundskeeper Cole Flick helps Yankees transform field for state tournament

MILROY – Fans traveling to the tiny town of Milroy, MN for the amateur state baseball tournament might not have known it, but they were treated to yet another Cole Flick creation.
Flick, a DC phys ed teacher and baseball coach, is also the head groundskeeper at Saints Field in Dassel. Over the years, but especially with the advent of social media, his sharp and crisp mowing patterns at the ball park have gained him a measure of status and notoriety in the groundskeeping/turf management world.
So it was only natural that Flick’s name was mentioned when the Milroy Yankees began asking around for groundskeeping help and advice after learning just a month before the state tournament that they would be one of the two Class C hosts (along with Springfield).
Originally, New Ulm was slated to be a host field, along with Springfield. But on July 24, the New Ulm city council voted to withdraw from hosting, leaving the Minnesota Baseball Association (MBA) board scrambling to find a second host site. They chose Yankee Stadium in Milroy (population 252), 13 miles east of Marshall.
Pat Dolan, the Milroy Baseball Association Director who has been with the team since the late 1960s, explained that the MBA gave him Flick’s name as someone who might be able to lend his expertise in getting the field ready for the tournament, which began Aug. 21.
Dolan said Flick showed up to the field four days after they contacted him, a little over two weeks before the start of the tournament.
“He walked out on the field and looked over the grass, and said, ‘You’ve got good grass. This is gonna work good,’” Dolan said. “That was a relief. Then he asked if we had a real mower, which we did, and he said, ‘well, this is going to work out great.’”
Flick drew up a pattern that could be easily adjusted for three different patterns, one for each weekend of the tournament.
“I thought he was just going to show us the pattern, and that would be that,” Dolan said. “But nope, he sat down on our mower for an hour and a half and did the whole pattern.”
Dolan said Flick gave the Yankees some instructions on how to maintain the turf, and said he would show up in a few days to check on the progress.
“He came down again, a two hour drive, and did the mowing again. And again. Then, he showed up during the state tournament and mowed again,” Dolan said. “Not only that, he helped us do other things on the field, working the mound, home plate, the sprinklers … he helped us all weekend.
“Then he came down during the week [before the second weekend of the state  tournament] and did it all again.”
All told, Flick had made the two-hour trip to Milroy eight times in a span of just over two weeks when this article was written on Tuesday. He planned to go down there again for the final weekend of the tournament this weekend.
The kicker, said Dolan, was that Flick refused any sort of compensation for his help.
“He’s just a crazy nice guy,” he said. “I just can’t say enough good things about him, he’s been tremendously enjoyable to have around.”
To top it all off, the field looks better than it ever has, said Dolan. Many players and fans have remarked on the field’s pattern.
“We’ve had great reviews,” he said. “It’s been unbelievable, the things he did. We were just really fortunate to have his help, especially on such short notice.”
An amateur baseball sensation
Flick’s work on Saints Field has drawn rave reviews for years.
His designs wowed visiting fans in 2005, 2016 and 2019, when the DC Saints hosted the state tournament. In 2006 he won the State High School League Coaches Association Field of the Year/Groundskeeper of the Year award, and in 2016-19 he has been a top-six finalist in the Allett Mowers “Creative Stripes Contest.”
It’s only been in within the last decade, however, that his work started gaining real notoriety and attention, due to social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and the like, along with being featured on Fox 9, Fox Sports North, and in Todd Mueller’s book Town Ball Parks of Minnesota
Flick, who joined the DC Saints in 1996, said he really didn’t get too involved on the field until 1998, when the Saints requested that they take over management of the field from the city of Dassel.
In the early 2000s, Flick remembers working on the field for a high school baseball playoff game that featured Paynesville and another team.
“I mowed it with some really crisp lines. It wasn’t anything special but it was nice,” he said. “I remember listening to the Paynesville kids oohing and aahing about how it looked.’”
It was in 2005, when Saints Field hosted their first state tournament, where he made a big splash, debuting the now-famous “Sunray” pattern.
His work and expertise has led to him being in demand for ball clubs throughout Minnesota looking to spruce up their field.
In fact, on one of his mowing trips, it was actually his third ball field stop of the day, out of what would be four. He started in Springfield to offer assistance there, stopped by the Wabasso ball field to talk with the Athletic Director about improvements they could make in the fall, stopped by Milroy to mow Yankee Field, and ended up at Saints Field to meet with two grounds crew members from Waconia.
His love for ball park fields even infected his son Gus, who is in his second year at Southwest Tech in Sioux Falls, SD, working towards a degree in turf and grass management.
“I guess my passion is baseball field maintenance. I’ve gotten to know so many other groundskeepers, some from small towns like ours, Milroy for example,” said Flick. “I’ve had help and advice from others that work professionally in the turf grass industry.
“It’s like a brotherhood where we all want to see each other succeed,” he continued. “I still have a lot to learn, but if I could offer help to others I’m more than happy to do so.”

PREP GIRLS SOCCER: Crusaders fall to Hutchinson

MAYER – The Mayer Lutheran girls soccer team suffered another tough loss in the opening week of the season. An impressive goal early put the Crusaders down early as the Tigers got their offense rolling in a big way in their 4-0 victory over the Crusaders Tuesday night.

“It was a tough loss for us.,” Mayer Lutheran coach Keith Traska said. “They scored an amazing goal in the first minute of the game at a crazy angle from almost 23 yards out. It might have been the best in-person goal I’ve ever seen.”

After Hutchinson grabbed an early 1-0 lead, the Crusaders began to get back to their style of play. While they were unable to get the offense going themselves, several injuries throughout the game kept Mayer Lutheran shorthanded most of the way.

“After that, we settled down and played a great first half,” Traska said. “In the second half, we struggled after they scored their second goal. We had a couple of injuries during that game the had us playing girls in different positions than normal.”

Marsia Green led the way for the Crusaders in the loss. She had all four of the shots for Mayer Lutheran, two of which were on goal.

With the loss, Mayer Lutheran fell to 0-2 on the season. The Crusaders return to action Friday night against Waconia.

“We played hard, but we have some adjustments to make in order to be ready for Waconia on Friday,” Traska said. “The good news is that we play Hutchinson again on Tuesday and we will have Brynn Martin back for that game.”

STATE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: Young America to lean on talent, experience for another tournament run

YOUNG AMERICA – The Young America Cardinals are no longer a secret when it comes to amateur baseball. After back-to-back thrilling runs at the state tournament the past two seasons, the Cardinals are on everyone’s radar now.

After winning their second-straight Region 7C title, the Young America Cardinals come into the 2020 Class C State Tournament as the No. 1 seed from Region 7.

While expectations might be high for the Cardinals outside of the team due to their recent success, the Cardinals know how important it is to take it one game at a time.

“As far as our expectations coming in, I feel like we should take it one game at a time because that’s what it really comes down to,” Young America manager Adam Kostecka said. “If you don’t win the first one, you don’t get a second chance.”

Taking things one game at a time can be hard for a team like Young America. The Cardinals have been playing on the final weekend of the tournament the past two seasons, including playing in the semifinals in 2018. The taste of getting so close the past couple of years only fuels the Cardinals to make another deep postseason run this year.

“I also want the guys to feel like we deserve to be here.” Kostecka said. “The last two years were great, but we want more. Someone told me after the 2018 loss to Sobieski to not worry, and this team is built to do this for years to come. That may be true, but it takes some luck and some breaks and not just talent. I want our guys to remember that we aren’t guaranteed anything and still have to earn every win.”

Experience is one thing the Cardinals bring to the state tournament. Young America is back at the state tournament for a fourth-straight season. While state tournament experience is always nice, a majority of the Cardinals players have been playing in big games long before their amateur baseball careers took off.

“As far as experience goes, I honestly believe that most of these guys truly don’t look at it any different than any other big game they have played in,” Kostecka said. “Most of them have some college experience and know what it’s like to play in important games on big stages. It helps to have been there a few times in a row, but overall, I feel like most just treat it like any other elimination game they have been a part of.”

Talent goes hand-in-hand with experience for Young America. From top to bottom, the Cardinals are one of the deepest and most talented teams in the state. Whether it’s pitching or offense, Young America ranks near the top in all the state.

A talented pitching staff of Josh Lenz, Dillon Whittaker, and Isaac Hormann only go better for Young America this year. All three have showed up in big games on the mound for the Cardinals, and will be relied on even more this time around.

Young America has also added some more depth to their pitching staff through the draft. With the first overall pick in the draft, the Cardinals selected Cologne’s Christian Johnson. He is coming off a breakout season last year in which he pitched the Cologne Hollanders into the final weekend of the state tournament.

Young America also added Tanner Luebke (Cologne) and Pat Regan (Green Isle) to their pitching staff, as the rich got richer heading into the state tournament.

“Our pitching staff was pretty solid before the draft, and adding three good pitchers obviously helps,” Kostecka said. “Christian’s track record speaks for itself, and is a great addition to our staff for sure. I have seen both Tanner and Pat pitch, and feel like they could be very useful if we can make a deep run. I am not sure how the draftees will exactly be used yet, but if we get to Labor Day weekend, we know that’s a lot of innings in three days, so more good pitchers never hurts.”

With the addition of three strong pitchers, pitching and defense will be the key for the Cardinals as they look to make another deep run. While Young America might be known for their dangerous lineup at the plate, pitching and defense is where it starts for the Cardinals.

“If we want to make a deep run, we have to pitch and play defense,” Kostecka said. “That’s what I think we do well, so hopefully that continues. I know our lineup is capable of scoring us runs, so if we don’t kick the ball around and give people free passes, I believe we have a chance to win every game.”

Young America also comes into the state tournament battle-tested. Playing in the Crow River Valley League and Region 7, the Cardinals have been grinding it out since the season began.

“Playing in Region 7 is a battle every year,” Kostecka said. “In normal years with 18 games, the difference between three losses and four losses could mean you drop two or three spots in the seeding. That’s the difference between a bye into the region tournament and becoming the No. 5 seed. It’s a good region with a lot of good teams and it definitely helps to see that level of competition going into state.”

The Cardinals have a bye into the second round of the state tournament after winning their region. The time off is a welcomed thing for Young America, as they’ve had one of the most grueling schedules of any team in the state. The Cardinals played four games in four days midway through the regular season, and followed that up with three games in three days near the end of the regular season. To top it all off, the Cardinals had to beat Waconia and Watertown in back-to-back games on the same day, just to win the Region 7C title.

“Down the stretch we played a lot of baseball, and I think the guys are welcoming a little break,” Kostecka said. “It will be good for the guys to be able to step away for a bit and get rested for hopefully a long state tournament run. If we get to Labor Day weekend, I have no doubt we’ll be ready to play four games in three days. We have the pitching staff to do it, and adding three more gold arms is going to help.”

As Young America awaits to see who they will play in the second round of the state tournament (Luverne or Mora), they know how crazy the state tournament can be. The Cardinals have played in their fair share of thrillers over the years,  which shows them just how important each inning is at this time of year.

“As far as crazy games, I guess we like it that way,” Kostecka said. “We know every team at the state tournament is there because they’re a good team. You can’t take an inning off, or your season could be over, just like that. I believe defense and pitching wins most games at the tournament, especially if you are deep in pitching. If you play defense and score more than three runs, you have a chance to win every game.”

STATE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: Watertown Red Devils looking to continue momentum into Class C State Tournament

WATERTOWN – It’s been a long time in the making for the Watertown Red Devils. This weekend, Watertown will be taking part in the Class C State Tournament for the first time since 2008.

While it’s been 12 years since the Red Devils have competed in a state tournament, there’s just one player left on the roster who was their the last time the Red Devils reached state. It’s manager Jared Duske.

“This tourney is not easy to get to, especially out of this region,” Duske said. “Me being the last player from that 2008 roster, I want my guys to know that we cannot take this for granted and to leave everything out on the field, because you really don’t know when you will be back.”

Watertown comes into the state tournament as the No. 2 seed from Region 7C. After collecting wins over the Green Isle Irish and Young America Cardinals, the Red Devils fell to the Cardinals in the Region 7C title game last Sunday.

Duske and the Red Devils don’t have a ton of state tournament experience on the roster with their long absence, so he knows how important it is for the guys to just enjoy the moment.

“I want the guys to stay loose and have fun,” Duske said. “(Just) play the game we have been playing all year. If we are down in a game, do not panic. If we are up, do not let up. Play the full game and see where you are at the end of it.”

While the Red Devils don’t come in with a ton of state tournament experience as a team, there is one player who does. Ace pitcher and leadoff hitter Pat Tschida has several years of state tournament experience under his belt. Tschida has been the big prize for teams who’ve won the Region 7C title previously as the no-brainer No. 1 draft pick. This year, Tschida will be relied on for more than his arm and bat. He’ll be asked to lead the younger guys who are experiencing this for the first time.

“I cannot express enough how much Pat means to this team,” Duske said. “Not only on the diamond, where everyone is aware of the damage he can do, but off the field. Pat is there for every person in that dugout. The team knows we are a Red Devil family, and Pat preaches that. We are all there for each other.  Winning is very important to Pat, but doing it with guys that you call family is even more important to him.”

Tschida has played a huge role on teams who’ve made deep runs in the state tournament from the Crow River Valley League before. This year, he’ll be looking to do the same thing once again, but with his own team.

“Pat is our spark plug,” Duske said. “He brings energy everywhere. The young guys feed off his energy and are attentive when he is speaking. We do not have much state experience, but we do have some. (Zach) Iten was in the final weekend last year with Cologne, (Jonah) Lewis was with Carver last year, and I have had a go in 2008 and a few different years with a few different teams.”

While the state tournament experience is minimal for Watertown, Duske believes the drive his team has right now makes up for the experience that some other teams might have.

“Having said that, I believe that experience is very good to have going into the tourney, but the drive to get back is the most important,” Duske said. “The taste of the state tourney never leaves you.  Once you have been there, you do whatever you can to get back. Pat having won a state title with Plato, I believe drives him to get his team to the tourney and win some games, so they can experience the feelings he has felt there.”

The Red Devils are a team that has fed on momentum all season long. After a 10-3 regular-season record, Watertown earned the No. 3 seed heading into the Region 7C Tournament. Although they ended the region tournament with a loss, the way they battled back late was big.

Watertown trailed 7-1 entering the bottom of the ninth inning against Young America in the Region 7C title game. After scoring five runs, the Red Devils found themselves with a chance to tie it, or even take the lead after trailing big. The fight Watertown showed late gave Duske a reason to be excited heading into the state tournament, even after a loss.

“It was huge,” Duske said about fighting back late. “The guys kept after it. They never gave up, even when it looked like the game was going sideways. That game may be a blessing in disguise, in all honesty. I think it reiterated that we are never out of a game. The whole year, we preached just keep playing the game, keep attacking at the plate, and have an approach. No matter if we are down six or up six, do not let the score dictate how you play the game. They hung on at the end, but that game told us that we can play with anyone. Young America is a very deep and talented team that is looking to make a deep run in the state tournament. We hope we can do the same.”

The Red Devils will take on the Red Wing Aces in the first round of the Class C State Tournament. The Aces are the No. 3 seed from Region 5. First pitch is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 22 at 8 p.m. in Milroy.

“We just have to play loose, and know that we are a good team,” Duske said. “Guys need to enjoy the tourney and take it all in.  Get that taste that I was talking about.  We have to show up ready to get after it right away and stay after it.  Heading into the last game of the tourney, I believe we were on a nine or 10-game winning streak in a very tough league schedule and even a tougher region.  We hope to carry that momentum into Milroy on Saturday night.”