Archive for Sports

In which I bid adieu for good, mostly, for now, anyway

By Brad Salmen

(Former) ED Sports Editor

So one night early this summer, I came home late from the Enterprise Dispatch office.

I had worked hard that day. I had tapped extensively on two different keyboards, one at home, one at the ED office.

I had produced a large number of letters, words, and sentences. Some were even coherent. All in all, I felt satisfied. I’d thrown some solid ones and zeros into the cloud.

I was about to hop in the shower when I happened to catch my side profile in the mirror. Which, as any fellow dad bod will tell you, is enough to ruin any good mood.

That day, however, I was genuinely shocked. I pulled out the scale, and was shocked even further. Suffice to say, I’d put on a good Covid-19, or 20. Or 25, if I’m being honest.

I resolved at that moment to do whatever it took to get back in shape. So, I started biking more, eating a little healthier, and adhering to intermittent fasting.

It’s been a long grind, but slowly I’ve been chipping away. I’ve lost those 25 pounds, and my goal is 25 more.

One thing I noticed, however, is that working evenings and weekends as the Enterprise Dispatch Sports Editor often meant two steps forward, one step back as far as unhealthy habits.

Then, a month ago, I realized this September would be six years as Sports Editor, and it just … hit me. It was time.

Time for a change for my health. Time to spend more time with family. Time to try something different.

I don’t know what that will be, yet. But I’m excited to find out. Maybe it’ll be a different kind of writing. Maybe it’ll be radio – I called Michigan Tech basketball games for three years, and really enjoyed it. Or maybe it’ll be nothing, for a while. Goodness knows I’ve let all kinds of house and yard projects pile up with the convenient excuse of having to cover a game.

It’s a cliché, but it really is bittersweet, saying goodbye. Overall, being the Sports Editor was very enjoyable and satisfying. I’ve witnessed some amazing moments, some heartwarming moments, and even some heartbreaking moments. I’ve met some amazing people, and I feel blessed for having been a small part of their lives.

I’ve also been blessed to have a wife, Natalie, that has supported me throughout.

Now, it’s my turn to support her.

A big reason I feel ready to quit the Sports Editor position is that Nat’s energy healing business, Tranquil Energy, has grown in leaps and bounds over the years, to the point where she’s had to turn many people away because she had a household to run.

After six years of her supporting me while I gallivanted off to a hockey game, the time has come for me to take over some of those duties, so she can fully pursue her dreams and goals. I can’t wait to see how high she can fly.

And in the end, I’m not going away entirely. I’ve agreed to help take photos of local games and events, and I may continue writing the occasional column here and there. And who knows, maybe I’ll be back some day.

But for now, I bid adieu as Sports Editor of the Dassel-Cokato Enterprise Dispatch. Thank you all for your support. What a fun ride it’s been.

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.”

A life-changing victory: Koivisto wins Northern Ireland Open to move into top-500 in the world

By BRAD SALMEN

Sports Editor

Tyler Koivisto trophy

BALLYMENA, NORTHERN IRELAND – Tyler Koivisto was a last-minute addition to the Northern Ireland Open, the crown jewel in golf’s European Challenge Tour.

The term “long shot” underestimates the odds for the 2011 DC graduate – at least, for those who don’t know him.

After the Northern Ireland Open, however, the golf world now knows his name.

Koivisto seized his opportunity in a big way to win the Northern Ireland Open in true underdog fashion, shooting a 13-under 267, two strokes ahead of closest challenger Kristian Krogh Johannessen of Norway.

The win inexorably changed his life. Consider:

• Koivisto now has an automatic card for the European Challenge Tour through 2021. (The Challenge Tour is one step below the European Tour, the Europe equivalent of the PGA Tour).

• It catapulted him to sixth place in the Challenge rankings. The top 20 finishers in the Challenge Tour are granted membership in the European Tour.

• By winning the tournament, Koivisto is now ranked #495 in the entire world, ahead of such notables as Ernie Els (#514).

• And, oh yeah, he won 32,000 Euros ($38,803).

“It’s been a crazy week. I’m just trying to process everything,” said Koivisto. “I’m a long way from the Cokato Town & Country Club.”

 

***

Koivisto had a stellar amateur career, starting at Dassel-Cokato High School. He took fourth in the state tournament as a senior at DC, and won sixtournaments at St. Cloud State, including an individual conference title.

But after graduating, Koivisto put any dreams of a golf career on hold for three years, instead becoming a teacher at Pinewood Elementary in Monticello.

However, in the summer of 2018, Koivisto was given a good opportunity to play full time, and quit his teaching job to focus solely on golf. With his wife Jane (Pietila), the two moved to Arizona, where he embarked on a wide range of Mini Tours, State Opens, and Monday PGA Qualifiers.

Over the past two years, the two have worked in tandem. Jane, a Registered Nurse, worked when necessary, and other times accompanied Tyler to his tournaments to caddy for him.

The Koivistos have worked together on the Dakota Tour, the Outlaw Tour in the Southwest, the Golden State Tour in California, and numerous other mini tours and state opens.

Tyler said he would not have been able to pursue his dream without Jane by his side.

“She’s been unbelievable since Day one, when I was still teaching and I got this inkling of an opportunity to play full time and give it a shot,” he said. “She was on board right away. She always believed in me, I think even before I believed in myself. It’s been amazing, how supportive she’s been.”

 

***

In pursuit of his pro golf career, last year the Koivistos ponied up the money for Tyler to attend the European “Q School” in Austria.

“Q School” for the European Tour is similar to the “Q School” for the PGA Tour in the United States. The top golfers are granted membership to the top league (European Tour, PGA Tour), with the next-best golfers making the second tier league (Challenge Tour in Europe, Korn Ferry in the USA).

The European Q School has three stages. The top-25 golfers make the European Tour, the next 25 get full cards for the European Challenge Tour, and the next cut get “conditional status.”

Koivisto played well enough to make the first Q School cut, and get conditional status. This gave him “A1” membership to the Challenge Tour, meaning he would be first in line to be called to play if there were late cancellations at a Challenge Tour event, whether it was a player getting called up to the European Tour, an injury withdrawal, or a sponsor invite.

“It was the bare minimum, the least amount of status [on the Challenge Tour],” said Koivisto.

And thus it was nothing more than kismet that Koivisto received a phone call on Friday, Sept. 4, letting him know there he was second on the reserve list at the Northern Ireland Open, and would he be available?

The next day, the opening was confirmed, and Koivisto booked the next available flight for Dublin, Ireland.

“I told them, yes, I’m going to take any opportunity I can get,” he said.

He arrived in time to unpack and put in a couple practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday, before the tournament began on Thursday.

 

***

Koivisto did not know it at the time, but the Northern Ireland Open is usually the marquee event in the Challenge Tour. In years past, golf fans from throughout Northern Ireland have packed the grandstands.

This year, with all the Covid restrictions, there were no fans. In fact, there were not only no fans, but no caddies, and Jane had to stay at home. Only event workers and media were allowed. Golfers were in a “bubble”, only allowed to travel from their hotel to the course at Galgorm Castle, near Ballymena, Northern Ireland.

Koivisto said the restrictions may have helped his overall performance. With less outside distractions, he was able to concentrate on his game.

“With everyone carrying their own bag, it was kind of like old times, grinding away solo,” he said.

He started the tournament with a three-under 67 Thursday, one stroke off the lead.

He then shot a one-over 71 Friday, and fell four strokes off the pace.

Then came Saturday. Koivisto had a round for the ages, shooting an 8-under 62, putting him in the lead by three strokes.

“Saturday, I hit the ball a little better, and got the putter rolling,” he said. “I really was focused on each shot, not getting caught up on results, and what it might mean. If you start thinking like that, you’re in trouble.”

Koivisto started Sunday’s final day by parring the front nine, before birdieing holes 10 and 11.

Andrew Wilson (England) and Johannessen each came within a stroke of Koivisto as he played the back nine, but after a bogey on 14, Koivisto birdied 15 to take control.

“That birdie [on 15] was huge. I kinda knew at that point I was going to get it done,” said Koivisto. “On 16, 17, and 18, I hit the best drives of my life.”

Koivisto made the green in two on the par-5 18th, knowing he needed three putts or less to win.

He put his first putt within two feet of the hole, and tapped in for birdie, and a two-stroke victory.

“It was pretty cool coming up 18. Even though there were no fans, there were cameras, and the volunteers, staff, everyone was out there to watch the final hole,” he said. “To see your name on top of the leaderboard, and hit the green in two on a par-5, knowing you had four putts to work with … once I nuzzled it up close, it was more relief than anything.

“I was done with a long week, and then at that point I was able to think about the results,” he said.

Koivisto said the moment didn’t fully hit him until after he had hoisted the trophy, and talked to the media.

“I got done with all the press stuff and interviews, and got back to the clubhouse and turned my phone on. I had 105 messages. I started bawling,” he said. “It was so encouraging to see all the support, from people who care about you and what you are doing.

“It was really special for me,” he said. “It was a dream week of golf. Hopefully, it was just a start.”

 

***

There can be no other way to put it. The Northern Ireland Open was lifechanging for Koivisto.

And it was, indeed, the startof a new path.

As mentioned, Koivisto has a full card for the Challenge Tour through 2021. With that, he will also get a few chances on the European Tour.

The first opportunity for both comes next weekend, in the Open de Portugal at Royal Obidos. The tournament will be co-sponsored by the European Tour, and the Challenge Tour.

Koivisto said his wife Jane will be allowed to attend and caddy for him, pending a Covid test.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing her, and sharing this with her,” he said.

Beyond that, his future is in his hands.

There are a few Challenge Tour events remaining in 2020, with most likely 20-30 tournaments in 2021, depending on scheduling (and Covid restrictions).

Koivisto said he plans to play as many of those events that make sense to hopefully keep his top-20 spot – which will give him a card on the European Tour.

As for his winnings from the Northern Ireland Open, Koivisto said the prestige and confidence from winning such a big tournament means much more to his career.

“It’s a tough grind. There are a lot of expenses in chasing professional golf to its highest levels,” he said. “The money [won] helps, and we’ll use it to pay some bills, but ultimately it’s knowing you can win big events at the big stages that is the biggest motivator.

“We kind of went from zero to 100. It was a dream week,” he said. “But it’s part of the process to get to your final goal.”

Vikings Season Preview

There were times where it didn’t seem likely that we would even have an NFL season this year. Amid bubble concerns, testing questions and travel parties, football has persevered and began last night with the Kansas City Chiefs dominating the Houston Texans 38-14 behind three rushing touchdowns for rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Well, I’m writing this on Tuesday afternoon, so that is simply an optimistic projection in hopes that I have a good week in fantasy football, but I digress.

The Minnesota Vikings have shaken up things considerably since we last saw the purple and yellow in action. Let’s take a look at the offense, defense and schedule to see where things stand ahead of week one of the NFL season.

Defense

Key Additions: DE Yannick Ngakoue, CB Jeff Gladney (31st pick), CB Cameron Dantzler (89th pick)

Key Losses: DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph, DT Michael Pierce (opt-out), LB Ben Gedeon, CB Xavier Rhodes,  CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander

This is far and away the most turnover in the defensive unit since Mike Zimmer has taken over. Defensive staples Griffen, Joseph, Rhodes and Waynes are all out, leaving room for rookies and young veterans to take over some serious playing time. The Vikings don’t roster a corner over the age of 23, although safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris should be around to clean up messes, of which there will be plenty. In a shocking move, Minnesota was able to trade a 2nd round pick along with a conditional 5th for Pro Bowler Ngakoue, who has 37.5 career sacks, 14 forced fumbles and is actually younger than star defensive end Danielle Hunter.

Offense

Key Additions: WR Justin Jefferson (22nd pick), T Ezra Cleveland (58th pick) WR Tajae Sharpe (sort-of)

Key Losses: WR Stefon Diggs, C Brett Jones, G Josh Kline, WR Laquon Treadwell (just kidding).

There is really only one major change to report on the offensive side of the ball. The Vikings essentially were able to ship off headcase and perennial complainer Stefon Diggs for Justin Jefferson (22nd pick), a 2020 5th and 6th and a 2021 4th. While it will take some time to get Jefferson up to speed, the offense should perform similarly to last season. The biggest question mark is the offensive line. Thankfully veteran tackle Riley Reiff took a pay cut to stay with the team. Aside from Reiff, the Vikings trot out lineman with less than four years of experience. Hopefully, they can’t be any worse than they were last season.

Let’s take a quick peek at the schedule, classify each game as Favorable, 50/50 or Formidable and examine one key aspect of each game.

Schedule

Week 1: vs Green Bay Packers. The Pack are the definition of a 50/50 game and no crowd at US Bank Stadium is going to be weird.

Week 2: at Indianapolis Colts. Easy choice for a Favorable for me. Phillip Rivers is over the hill.

Week 3: vs Tennessee Titans. The Titans made the AFC Championship game in shocking fashion and returned most of their team, making this a 50/50 game. Without Linval Joseph or Michael Pierce, will Derrick Henry run roughshod through the Vikings interior?

Week 4: at Houston Texans. I have to go with Favorable, despite it being an away game. I know Deshaun Watson is a great QB, but I just don’t see this offense being very good with the departure of DeAndre Hopkins and addition of David Johnson.

Week 5: at Seattle Seahawks. For what feels like the 18th year in a row, the Vikings travel west for a primetime game (Sunday Night) against the Seahawks. This is a clear cut Formidable game as Mr. Unlimited himself will likely take over and thwart Minnesota’s chances.

Week 6: vs Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have improved, but this is a Favorable game. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley will test the unproven corners early and often, making it an upset candidate.

Week 8: at Green Bay Packers. Any game at Lambeau teeters on the side of Formidable, but I have to stick with 50/50. I don’t love the Packers defense and the offense isn’t anything to cower in fear against.

Week 9: vs Detroit Lions. Although it is no doubt a Favorable game, the Lions could be pesky as they have improved across the board. The homecoming for Adrian Peterson will be emotional.

Week 10: at Chicago Bears. Just as dependable as a primetime game in Seattle is a primetime game in Chicago. The Bears are only one season removed from a 12 win campaign, but at this point it might be QB Nick Foles instead of Mitch Trubisky. 50/50 it is.

Week 11: vs Dallas Cowboys. There is hope that by November, US Bank Stadium will be able to hold fans. If so, I’d imagine longtime Viking Everson Griffen will get quite the standing ovation. The Cowboys stack up as one of the favorites in the NFC, making this a challenging yet winnable 50/50 game.

Week 12: vs Carolina Panthers. Christian McCaffrey is a freak and Teddy “Two-Gloves” Bridgewater returns to Minnesota as a starter… However, the Panthers defense is awful and the offense really only has one weapon, albeit a great one. Favorable.

Week 13: vs Jacksonville Jaguars. QB Gardner Minshew has all the swag in the world, but the team is tanking for Trevor Lawrence. Favorable.

Week 14: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom Brady and the retooled Bucs are certainly Formidable. Add in starting safety former Gopher Antoine Winfield Jr. and hopefully soon to be relevant Gopher receiver Tyler Johnson and this will be a fun one to watch.

Week 15: vs Chicago Bears. At this point, the Bears likely have gone from Trubisky to Foles back to Trubisky and back to Foles. Favorable.

Week 16: at New Orleans Saints. A Christmas Day bash on a Friday afternoon at the Superdome is definitely Formidable. The Saints want revenge from last year… and the year before.

Week 17: at Detroit Lions. The Lions are likely to be around .500, but the Vikings should be better. Sorry Stafford. Favorable.

By my count, I tallied eight Favorable matchups, five 50/50 games, and three Formidable games. The Vikes are atop the NFC North with nine projected wins and are tied for 8th in Super Bowl odds at 25/1. Based on the schedule, I’d be comfortable with a 10 win projection, a NFC North division title and a chance to make a playoff run.

 

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.

A life-changing victory: Koivisto wins Northern Ireland Open to move into top-500 in the world

By BRAD SALMEN

Sports Editor

BALLYMENA, NORTHERN IRELAND – Tyler Koivisto was a last-minute addition to the Northern Ireland Open, the crown jewel in golf’s European Challenge Tour.

The term “long shot” underestimates the odds for the 2011 DC graduate – at least, for those who don’t know him.

After the Northern Ireland Open, however, the golf world now knows his name.

Koivisto seized his opportunity in a big way to win the Northern Ireland Open in true underdog fashion, shooting a 13-under 267, two strokes ahead of closest challenger Kristian Krogh Johannessen of Norway.

The win inexorably changed his life. Consider:

• Koivisto now has an automatic card for the European Challenge Tour through 2021. (The Challenge Tour is one step below the European Tour, the Europe equivalent of the PGA Tour).

• It catapulted him to sixth place in the Challenge rankings. The top 20 finishers in the Challenge Tour are granted membership in the European Tour.

• By winning the tournament, Koivisto is now ranked #495 in the entire world, ahead of such notables as Ernie Els (#514).

• And, oh yeah, he won 32,000 Euros ($38,803).

“It’s been a crazy week. I’m just trying to process everything,” said Koivisto. “I’m a long way from the Cokato Town & Country Club.”

Check out Friday’s Enterprise Dispatch for the full story.