Archive for ED Sports

O’Brien strikes out 17 in softball season opener

LITCHFIELD – Evelyn O’Brien struck out 17 batters to lead DC to a 4-0 road victory in the Chargers’ season opener at Litchfield Tuesday.

O’Brien gave up just four hits, and walked three, in a complete-game shutout.

Madi Yager had a two-run double, and Ashley Johnson an RBI single for the Chargers.

Check out Friday’s Enterprise Dispatch for a full recap.

DC baseball falls to ACGC, Litchfield

The Charger baseball team is 0-2 on the season, falling on the road at Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City 11-0 in their season opener, before falling 10-9 to Litchfield in 10 innings at home Tuesday.

Against Litchfield, the DC baseball team rallied twice in late innings, but could not rally a third time in a 10-9, 10-inning loss to Litchfield Tuesday at Saints Field in Dassel.

Litchfield led 7-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh, but DC rallied for five runs to tie the game 7-7.

The Dragons responded by scoring twice in the top of the eighth, but DC fought right back with two in the bottom half to again tie the game.

After both teams were held scoreless in the ninth, Litchfield scored a run in the top of the 10th, and the Chargers were unable to match in the bottom half.

“Today I was pleased with many positive things I saw,” said DC head coach Cole Flick. “We didn’t quit and competed hard even when down five runs, and again when down two.”

Check out Friday’s Enterprise Dispatch for a full recap.

Charger boys golf opens season

The Chargers boys golf team opened the Wright County Conference West season with a fifth-place finish at Glencoe, and a sixth-place finish at Timber Creek.

Nathan Clark was the top scorer for DC at Glencoe, finishing with a 4-over 40. He was three strokes back of meet champion Luke Maas of Watertown-Mayer, who finished with a 37.

Kaden Johnson (44), Nick Stonelake (50), and Jackson Baker (55) rounded out the scoring for the Chargers.

At Timber Creek, both Clark and Johnson finished with a 44. Stonelake finished with a 47, while Jud Whittaker finished with a 50.

Check out Friday’s Enterprise Dispatch for a full recap.

KOVAR: Women’s sports have come a long way and so have I

It’s the 50th anniversary of one of the most important moments in sports history. No, I’m not talking about the anniversary of Jack Nicklaus winning The Masters and the US Open back to back for his 10th and 11 majors. No, I’m not talking about the Dallas Cowboys winning their first Super Bowl with a 24-3 win over the Miami Dolphins. I’m talking about the passing of Title IX.

It wasn’t very long ago that I was one of those stereotypical males who thought female sports were boring. I fell into the trap of the idea that men’s sports are superior and women’s sports are a waste of time. Boy was I wrong and have I changed.

Attending a Final Four was always a dream of mine ever since I started playing the game of basketball and fell in love with it. That dream became a reality when Minneapolis hosted the Men’s Final Four in 2019. I not only got to attend the Final Four, but also the championship game, a moment I’ll never forget.

March Madness has been my favorite sporting event ever since I got into sports. I still remember how cool it was that my 7th-grade teacher Mr. Shipler would let us watch some of the games on the first day in class. I still remember being forced to go to bed before the games ended on a school night only to sneak out of bed and go downstairs to catch the final moments. I’m sure my parents fully knew what was going on.

March Madness and sports have always been a huge part of my life. From playing them or just simply being a fan and watching, sports hold a special place in my heart. They’ve helped me get through some tough times. They’ve presented experiences and opportunities that I’ve never thought would be possible.

Growing up, it was always men’s sports though. I hardly ever turned on the WNBA or even attended high school sports other than volleyball. My high school basketball coach even made us attend a few girls basketball games throughout the season as a team, but in reality, none of us really wanted to be there.

I admit that I was one of the cliché guys who thought women’s sports were boring. I’ll also admit I was wrong.
Over the years, not only have I matured and changed that narrow-minded thinking, but female sports as a whole have taken off in popularity and most of them are now getting the coverage they deserve. There’s still some work to do though.

This past weekend I attended the Final Four once again but this time on the women’s side. It was never a dream or a goal to attend one years ago, but I’m so glad I got to go this year. More than 18,000 women’s college basketball fans packed the Target Center as UCONN and South Carolina played for the National title. As I was walking around the arena before the game started, I counted more than a dozen females walking around wearing Minnesota high school apparel. Maybe some of them were there just to see Paige Bueckers. Maybe some of them wanted to be a part of something special.

It’s the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Women’s sports have come a long way. I have come a long way. For those of you who are still stuck in the idea that men’s sports are far superior to women’s sports, give it a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

Reflections on a chaotic winter sports season

Greetings from the Copper Country in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or as I like to call it, “The Opposite of Spring Break.”

Last year, we took our family on our first plane trip to Florida for Spring Break. It was nice and warm.

This year for spring break, we apparently decided winter was over too early, and went off in search of more with an 8-hour drive to the UP.

To be fair, it’s not out of the blue. My wife grew up in the Copper Country, and in fact we lived in Calumet for seven years, so this trip was more about connecting families.

So while I’m somewhat used to lake effect snow and extended winters, I was quickly reminded why I’m grateful to live in Minnesota when the last two hours of the drive turned into three because of wintery road conditions.

We made it, though, and now that we’re here it’s been a welcome respite to just take a breath and reflect on what was an extremely busy winter sports season.

Aside from my regular day job, and covering seven DC winter sports teams on the side, we also had two kids in youth hockey – which is basically a full-time job unto itself.

I tell myself to just enjoy these busy times. In a few short years, our kids will be grown and gone, and I’m sure we’ll end up looking back wistfully on these chaotic days.

Speaking of which, next week we’ll have a preview of the spring sports teams, and then after that we’ll be rolling into the spring sports season.

In the meantime, however, here are some reflections from covering our local high school kids this winter.

***

Jude Link is responsible for two of my most favorite photos I’ve ever taken.

The first was after his semifinal victory at the state tournament two years ago as a sophomore.

The second was after winning the Class AA 160-pound title this season as a senior.

It’s been a treat watching Jude’s career. He burst on the scene as an eighth grader, and emerged in the end as the most decorated wrestler in DC (and now DCL) history.

Watching him win in overtime in the state championship match was gratifying, for a number of reasons.

For one, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has worked as hard as Jude has to reach the pinnacle of his sport.

For another, he had been so, so close not once, but twice already in his career. He made the state title match his sophomore season, but lost 3-2. He made it again last season, but once again fell short by a 4-2 score.

That meant, this was it. This year was his last chance.

As I mentioned in my front-page article, it wasn’t an easy senior season for Jude. He battled injury all season long, and had a target on his back the entire way as the top-ranked wrestler at his weight. It’s an interesting observation into human nature that people seemingly automatically cheer for the underdog; when Jude lost on a late takedown in the section final, almost the entire gym appeared to be cheering for his opponent.

He battled back, however, and wrestled extremely smart throughout the state tournament, culminating in the overtime victory in the championship match.

In one moment, all the pressure seemed to release from Jude in a roar that I was grateful to be able to capture on camera.

As a rule, I don’t interview high school students often. For one, it’s just easier to get what I need from the coaches, as they know what I’m looking for in writing a story. For another, high school students generally aren’t well-versed in interview-speak, and it can end up being awkward for everyone involved.

However, I do make an exception for extraordinary results, and this certainly qualified.

I tracked Jude down in the tunnel shortly after his match to interview him. At that point, he was still reeling with emotion from his title victory. I’ll be honest, as a former wrestler with some understanding of the difficulty of his path, I must admit I got a little verklempt myself. I don’t know if he remembers what he said to me in the whirlwind of it all, but he did just fine.

Congratulations, Jude. Nobody deserved it more.

Congratulations also to Hayden Hoernemann, Tate Link, and Spencer Henke for making the Big Dance as well. Hoernemann, a senior, took fourth, while Jude’s brother Tate, a junior, also took fourth. Henke wrestled the match of his life in the section semifinals, and while he did not place at state, it was a big achievement to make The Show as a freshman.

***

Congratulations are also in order for Lauren Abfalter, Coach Alex Halonen, and the DC Gymnastics team on a record-breaking season.

Abfalter, a junior, was just the third DC gymnast to make the state tournament in the last 25 years.

Meanwhile, the Chargers had a phenomenal season, breaking the team record in scoring with a 135.225, shattering the previous team record of 133.45. They also set a new team record on the vault.

Most impressively, they did it with a roster of no seniors. While they will lose foreign exchange student Jara Krummacker, Abfalter and the rest of the squad will return next season for Halonen, who was named Section Coach of the Year.

DC moved to a different section this season. While overall there are fewer competitive teams in this new section, it did also end up being the section of state champion and perennial powerhouse Watertown-Mayer.

While the Chargers aren’t quite at the level teamwise to challenge the Royals for a section title, they should have a shot at taking things to the next level next season.

***

Speaking of teams with a lot of returning firepower, look out for the LDC girls hockey team in the next few years.

Goodness, they should be fun to watch.

The Dragons were one goal away from making the second state tournament in team history, falling in the section championship game 3-2 to Mankato East.

LDC graduated just four seniors from this year’s team, and return the vast majority of their offensive firepower. They’re still very young, as their leading scorer (Lydia Schultz) is just an eighth grader, and a number of other key players – including both goaltenders – are freshmen.

While Mankato East also returns a lot of talent, the future is bright for the Dragon girls, and I’m excited for coaches Matt Hogg and Brett Damerow.

Side note, the section semifinal game against Minnesota River, a four-overtime LDC 2-1 victory at home, will go down in the program annals as one of the most thrilling games in  team history.

***

I’m just going to come out and say it. Sometimes you have to wonder just what the [bleep] the MSHSL is thinking.

For nigh on a decade, the LDC boys hockey team has been in Section 3A, which encompasses the western/southwestern quadrant of the state.

This year, in their infinite wisdom, the MSHSL decided to basically annex LDC into Section 2A, a section composed of entirely city/western suburb schools.

It honestly makes no sense. LDC would have been much better suited remaining in 3A, or even moving to 5A (western/northwestern exurbs) or 6A (western MN).

Instead, the Dragons got put into what was, in my opinion, the toughest overall section in the state, regardless of class.

There were three section teams in the top-10 in Class A, and another four teams in the top-20.

The Dragons had a very solid 16-8-1 record, against top Class-A talent.

Instead of most likely being  the #1 or #2 seed in Sections 3, 5, or 6, LDC ended up being the #5 seed in Section 2.

Nevertheless, you need to win to proceed, and the Dragons fell short in their first-round game against #4 Providence Academy.

Unfortunately, the Dragons will lose 14 seniors from this year’s squad, and will have a lot of roles to fill next season.

***

Other teams that took steps in the right direction included both the DC boys and girls basketball teams.

The girls, despite being undersized in nearly every game they played, had a solid regular season, and finished with a minor upset in the section playoffs, their first playoff win under head coach Rob Walters.

Bailey Quern would have most likely finished as a 1,000-point scorer, but for the Covid-shortened season last year.

The boys, meanwhile, improved from two wins last season, to nine this season under second-year coach Tony Dehler. They will return their top-three scorers.

The DCL boys swim team did not have an athlete advance to state this season, but will have several prospects for next season including junior Logan Christopherson, a previous state entrant.

All in all, it was a memorable 2021-22 winter sports season. Here’s hoping we get another unfettered season next year.

David Howell joins Toronto Blue Jays MLB coaching staff

By BRAD SALMEN

Sports Editor

When we last caught up with 2016 DCHS graduate David Howell in the early-Covid era of August 2020, Howell had just started his new position as a Development Coach for the Toronto Blue Jays organization at their alternate training site at Rochester, New York.

Fast forward just 19 months later, and Howell has done it.

He has officially made “The Show.”

A press release put out by MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday made it official – Howell is a member of the 2022  Blue Jays’ Major League Coaching staff. Specifically,  as the “Major League Pitching Strategist.”

“It’s been a bit of a wild ride,” said Howell, putting it mildly.

***

The Enterprise Dispatch chronicled Howell’s path from an unhappy and dissatisfied college graduate with an eye for baseball analytics, to being hired by the Toronto organization in a minor league capacity, in our Aug. 21, 2020 issue.

Howell stayed at Rochester through the end of the 2020 season in late September.

Come spring of 2021, Howell went back down to Florida as a coach at the Blue Jays’ spring training complex in Dunedin, Florida.

His title, simple enough: Complex Pitching Coach.

His spring work impressed the Blue Jays’ staff enough that they asked him if he would continue on staff with the AAA Minor League Buffalo (NY) Bison club.

“I was basically the bullpen coach. But they asked, what do we call you, and I thought: wouldn’t it be funny if I stayed the Complex Pitching Coach, but changed ‘Complex’ from a noun to an adjective,” Howell said.

And that was his title for the remainder of the 2021 season with the Buffalo Bison: Complex Pitching Coach.

Howell spent the 2021 season with the Buffalo AAA squad.

After the Buffalo season was complete, Howell returned to his apartment in Florida, where he continued to work fall camps with the organization.

Then came the call: would you like to work with the big league club?

***

As the Major League Pitching Strategist, Howell will have his own uniform, and travel with the team.

(For those wondering, the Blue Jays will visit Target Field Aug. 4-7).

“I’ll be helping out the pitching and bullpen coaches with  day-to-day operations, figuring out what things look like, and applying what I know to assist them in fixing problems,” said Howell. “[The position] uses some of my technical background, and the hands-on experience I’ve gained. It’s kind of a mix of those two skill sets.”

Though he worked incredibly hard to get to this point, Howell said he remains grateful for the opportunities he’s received.

“I frequently think about the different directions my life could have taken [with an office job after college],” he said. “I know I’ve gotten lucky.”