Archive for HJ Sports

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Lakers get back on track with dominant win over NYA

HOWARD LAKE – The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted volleyball team just needed something to go their way. Coming off back-to-back losses in five sets, the Lakers got back on track in a big way with a 3-0 (25-20, 25-16), 25-6) sweep of Norwood Young America at home Tuesday night.

“I thought we just needed this mentally,” Lakers coach Brooke Orazaem said. “It was good just to have this game to get back into a routine and get a win.”

Like they have all season long, HLWW came out ready to roll as they grabbed the early lead with a 25-20 win in set one. This time, the Lakers kept that momentum rolling as they took it to the Raiders in sets two and three.

“That’s something we’ve been solid with,” Orazem said. “We’re having a good start and then for some reason our momentum kind of goes down. It was good to see we were consistent the entire night.”

The Lakers dug deep in set two. Down 11-8, a 5-0 run fueled by three kills from Lexi Koch gave the Lakers the lead.

“Our energy was up,” Koch said about the run. “We just wanted to get rolling and get going. We just wanted to show them what we could do. We wanted to show them how we can play in Howard Lake.”

HLWW didn’t stop there. The Lakers closed the second set on a 17-5 run to go up 2-0. That momentum carried over into set three where HLWW opened the set on a 7-0 run.

“I think we just focused on what we were supposed to be doing instead of worrying about the other side,” Orazem said. “We just took control of what we can and it went from there.”

A big strength for the Lakers this season has been their balance offensively. With multiple weapons at the net, opposing teams can’t focus on just one player. Gabby Teorey, Lilly Bobrowske, Ellen Bobrowske, and Koch all give HLWW threats at the net.

“Right now, we don’t really have that go-to hitter,” Orazem said. “I think that’s in our favor. We can give it to anybody and blockers aren’t stacked up on one hitter. To be able to use everyone, I think that’s going to be one of our advantages this year.”

HLWW will look to keep their momentum rolling after snapping their two-game skid.

“Our energy was a lot of it,” Koch said. “We really kept it up the whole game. It felt really nice to get out there and get some wins.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the September 24 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.  Subscribers have full access to this article and more by clicking here. Subscriptions start as low as $1.50 for a two-day subscription, the same price as a newspaper on a newsstand.

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports

KOVAR: High school sports at its finest

Just 301 days ago I was sitting in the parking lot near the Watertown-Mayer football field. The game was over but the lights were still shinning. At least for a little bit.

It was the end of the fall sports season and not in a normal way. Due to rising cases of COVID-19 that fall, the plug was pulled on the entire fall sports season just like that.

Flash forward to Friday night and the story couldn’t have been more opposite.

As I walked into the new stadium at W-M High School, I knew this night would be an exciting one. I had no idea how special it would be. I had no idea how much it would blow me away.

Covering the W-M football team has been an interesting endeavor throughout my time at Herald Journal. To be honest, there hasn’t been much to cover.

Coming into last season, the Royals have won just three games in the five seasons I covered them. After snapping their long losing streak last year, I was curious what this year might bring for the Royals. I wasn’t expecting this.

Over the years of cover this team, games for W-M were decided in the first three or four minutes. In all reality, I had maybe half a quarter to try and get a good picture before the game got out of hand.

Then came the co-op discussion. I vividly remember sitting in the W-M school board meeting while parents, players, coaches, school board members, and community members talked things out about joining Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted in a co-op to help save two struggling football programs.

Full disclosure, I was 100 percent for going forward with the co-op. It seemed like the best move for both programs to keep their programs going and give them a chance to grow and then go off on their own.

In that meet, the head coach for the Royals Andrew Phillips asked the board and community members to give him a chance. He simply asked for a chance to turn things around.

Phillips knew this wouldn’t be a quick fix, but his dedication to the program along with his staff were determined to turn things around.

It took time. There were bad losses. There were ugly games.

Last year, there was a bit of light shining as the Royals won two games – the most they’ve won since 2016. Flash forward to 2021 and the Royals are a perfect 3-0 through their first three games of the season.

Walking into the new stadium Friday night, there was something different in the air. Of course, there was excitement about the new stadium. There was something else going on. Something special.

That something was the community and football team at Watertown-Mayer.

I’ll be honest, covering the W-M football team over the past few years hasn’t been all that fun. There’s only so much you can write about blowout losses and moral victories each week. Friday night’s game against Albany and everything that comes with it has an endless amount of words.

Midway through the third quarter, I could sense the Royals were going to win this game. As packed house cheering on their home team screamed with every play, things started to hit me. There was something special going on. This was one of the coolest moments I’ve been a part of in my sports writing career.

I’ll admit, I was starting to get a little emotional on the sidelines. The student section was incredible. The new stadium was top-notch. The players were locked in. It was everything people love about high school sports.

It’s a moment that hasn’t happened too often at a W-M football game over the past few years. It’s a moment that I’ll remember for a long time.

Over the past month or so, I’ve taken a lot more responsibilities at the paper being the lone sports editor. Throughout that month, there have been times where I’ve debated whether or not this is something I really want to keep doing.

I’m working 60-70 hours per week. I’m hardly home at night to see my girlfriend or even have time to just sit a relax. I was just getting tired. I kept trying to think of reasons to keep with it.

Friday night gave me the biggest and best reason. Friday night is everything that high school sports should be. Take it from someone who hasn’t played high school sports in more than 10 years now. I still get chills walking into a gym or on the field to cover a game. I love high school sports. I love everything that comes with them. There might not be the best athlete or the top team on the field or court every time, but there’s something special about watching kids learn and grow while competing alongside their friends.

High school sports are special. Friday night was special. It’s the friends in the stands cheering on their classmates. It’s the younger kids taking in the game dreaming of when it will be their chance to play. It’s the parents who sat through every blowout loss throughout the years and now are experiencing wins. It’s the coaching staff who stay dedicated to their players even when the results weren’t there. It’s the W-M school staff. It’s the community of Watertown.

Friday night was your night, Watertown. Enjoy it. You’ve earned it. You deserve it.

Thanks for letting me be a small part of it.

PREP FOOTBALL: Royals ride momentum to win over Albany

WATERTOWN – A more perfect script couldn’t have been written.

On one of the biggest nights for the Watertown-Mayer football program in the past decade, the Royals delivered in front of a packed house as they opened their new stadium with a convincing 32-8 win over the Albany Huskies Friday night.

“We knew we had a good team coming in,” junior quarterback Albert Rundell said. “It was the first time on the new field and we wanted to make a statement. They were good. We had to prove we were good enough. We came in here and proved it. We’re 3-0.”

“We drove here to school this morning and we didn’t have a press box,” Royals coach Andrew Phillips added. “The scoreboard hasn’t even been turned on until tonight. Here we are 3-0 now. This first win on this field is really exciting.”

It didn’t take long for the Royals to give their fans something to cheer about. After forcing a three and out on Albany’s opening drive, W-M blocked the punt and recovered it in the end zone for their first score of the game.

“So many times in the past we’ve let the other team bring the game to us,” Phillips said. “We’ve got to take it to somebody. For us to go out and block a punt right away and score without our offense on the field was a huge tone-setter for the night.”

On Albany’s second possession, W-M forced another turnover setting themselves up in great field position. This time, Wyatt McCabe found the endzone from one yard out, putting the Royals up 13-0 just seven minutes into the game.

“The defense came out and made a statement,” Rundell said. “That’s what we needed. We just held onto that lead the rest of the game and they never caught up.”

Albany cut W-M’s lead to 13-8 shortly before the half, but once again the Royals wasted little time in getting the crowd back into it. On their first possession in the second half, Rundell found Connor Donovan for a 59-yard touchdown to put the Royals back up two scores.

“That was huge to go up two scores,” Rundell said. “It set the tone for the whole second half. We just kept going from there. The defense played great and we just executed.”

Donovan has become one of the go-to receivers for the Royals this season.

“Connor has done a great job this season finding a way to get open and using his speed to get away from guys,” Phillips said. “He makes big plays for us. It’s huge to have that kind of threat for us.”

W-M would go on to outscore 12 unanswered points the rest of the way as they never looked back on their way to improving to 3-0 on the season with the win.

“It’s awesome to be here with everybody,” Phillips said. “We had a packed house here tonight. It was fantastic. For everybody to be on the field here and celebrating, it truly is our entire school behind us. This has been awesome.”

“Having everyone come out here is amazing,” Rundell added. “The student section was great. Seeing all the people in the bleachers making it full, it was amazing.”

With the win, the Royals are now a perfect 3-0 through three games. For a team that’s won five games in the past five seasons combined, it’s a testament to the kids and coaches buying even when times weren’t very good.

“Four years ago I took this program over and said we’re going to build from within,” Phillips said. “We’re going to do with the guys we have and do it ourselves. They all did. They bought into it. These kids who are seniors were freshmen when I said that. Four years, they’ve listened. They’ve done exactly what I’ve asked and it’s paying off for them.”

“We were the seventh and eighth graders he started it with,” Rundell said. “He started that build from within and we’ve just stuck to it. It’s finally paying off.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the September 24 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.  Subscribers have full access to this article and more by clicking here. Subscriptions start as low as $1.50 for a two-day subscription, the same price as a newspaper on a newsstand.

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Royals find rhythm at right times in sweep of EV-W

WATERTOWN – The talent is there for the Watertown-Mayer volleyball team. Now just about a month into the season, the Royals are starting to put it all together at the right time.

Despite a slow start and some rough stretches, W-M never wavered as they kept things rolling with a 3-0 (25-20, 25-17, 25-15) win at home Tuesday night over Eden Valley-Watkins.

“It was really important to come out and get a win off the bat,” Royals coach Andrea Raser said. “We played a lot this weekend and then we have an early game tomorrow against Annandale. We don’t have a practice so we needed to do it right now.”

EV-W had the Royals scrambling early on but it was W-M who came out on top in set one with a 25-20 win. In set two, the Royals showed their composure.

After their five-point lead was trimmed to just one, W-M turned things around on their own without a timeout to pick up a 25-17 win in which they finished the set on a 12-3 run.

“Sometimes, in those tight games, you don’t want to call that timeout if you don’t need to,” Raser said. “You can trust your team to come back and go out and play without calling it. Early on in the season, I try and let them just work it out on their own and let them figure it out. They need to figure it out. It’s one thing to call a timeout and try to stop the momentum. They need to be able to figure out that they can come back and figure it out on the court without me. It’s just a learning lesson.”

The Royals carried that momentum into set three to complete the sweep. A big reason for the maturity and composure of W-M this season is the ability to have multiple threats at the net.

“It’s awesome,” Natalie Ernhart said about having multiple weapons. “Paige was our go-to hitter last year. Now I can move the ball around to anyone and I trust all my teammates.”

With the win, W-M improved to 11-2 on the season. The Royals are ranked No. 2 in Class AA.

“I think we’re off to a really good start,” Ernhart said. “We’re showing a lot that we can prove ourselves to a lot of teams. It’s been fun.”

The Royals have another tough test for them today taking on conference rival Annandale.

“Tonight’s game could come down to be the conference championship game when you look at it,” Raser said. “Annandale is a really good team. We both have a couple of tournaments under our belts so it should be a fun matchup.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the September 17 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.  Subscribers have full access to this article and more by clicking here. Subscriptions start as low as $1.50 for a two-day subscription, the same price as a newspaper on a newsstand.

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports

PREP GIRLS SOCCER: Heun’s 50th career goal leads Royals past Rockford

WATERTOWN – A four-goal day would be good enough for just about anyone. Not for Watertown-Mayer’s Maris Heun.

Despite racking up four goals in W-M’s 4-0 win over Rockford Tuesday night, the senior felt she left some chances out there. Coming out of the game late in the second half, Royals coach Jospeh Perez told Heun what an impressive game she had scoring four goals. Huen’s response – I should have had six.

“That’s who she is,” Royals coach Joseph Perez said. “She always thinking bigger things. As a coach, who wouldn’t appreciate that? She’s striving for better things.”

Heun recorded a hat trick for the Royals in the first half alone. Then in the second half came the milestone, a goal she set for herself.

“It feels amazing,” Heun said. “It was one of the personal goals I set for myself before the season. I like to set goals for the team and for myself. It’s just something to strive for. It keeps me motivated for that time in the middle of the season where you’re just trying to get through the motion of things.”

Through six games this season, Heun has already tallied 10 goals this season. She has two hat tricks already, but she’ll be the first to tell you it’s not all about her.

“There’s no way I could do without them,” Heun said about her teammates. “I had some beautiful passes from them. You can’t score goals without your teammates. It’s not an individual effort. It’s a team effort. You have girls hustling and passing the ball. It’s just something I couldn’t do without them.”

Heun draws a lot of attention from opposing teams. She’s scored 10 of the 14 goals for W-M this season, but she’s up to the challenge and pressure other teams put on her.

“We depend on Maris quite a bit,” Perez said. “She likes that. She likes to be leading the pack. She doesn’t shy away from the attention. She doesn’t shy away from the fact that other teams literally prepare for her. She still goes out there and takes care of business.”

“It’s definitely something I like taking as a challenge,” Heun added. “Challenges are fun and they make the game more interesting. I just like to move around a lot and talk with Carly up top. We do very well up top talking to each other and constantly changing to keep that pressure off both of us. It’s super nice to have teammates that are completely willing to help you out.”

Through six games, W-M is 4-1-1 overall. With a senior-led team, they’ll be looking to carry the momentum they have going through the rest of the regular season.

“The thing is, last year taught us to be flexible,” Perez said. “We’ve had to be this year too with so many changes from minute to minute. We’ve had to do the same thing this year with the field not ready and having to give up some home games. Even with that, the kids just show up. They just want to play. We’re pretty heavy on seniors. They want to make sure they have a productive senior year.”

“I think we’re definitely getting things together,” Heun added. “It was super nice to be able to play at home. You could definitely tell we were excited with the energy. Now that we have home games mixed with away games, our energy is just going to get higher. This was an important conference game so our momentum will hopefully carry us forward.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the September 17 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.  Subscribers have full access to this article and more by clicking here. Subscriptions start as low as $1.50 for a two-day subscription, the same price as a newspaper on a newsstand.

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports

AMATEUR BASEBALL: Former Twin Corey Koskie soaking in town ball experience

LORETTO – Corey Koskie was a fan favorite for the Minnesota Twins during his seven-year career with the team. Now after 15 years, the former Twin is back on the baseball diamond once again, but this time around, in Loretto Larks jersey playing town ball baseball.

Koskie has two sons (Bradley and Joshua) on the team, and after some convincing from his oldest son, decided this would be the year he returned to baseball and play for the Larks.

“Both Bradley and Joshua have been playing with the Larks,” Koskie said. “Bradley has been on me for a while to join. With two of them playing now, I thought it would be a good time to go and play. I have another one coming up right below him that will play next year so I wanted to get my feet wet a little bit this year.”

Koskie was certainly around the Larks through the season before he joined. After a matchup with the Delano A’s, he approached Loretto manager Kent Koch with the thought of suiting up.

“That’s one of the cooler parts,” Koch said. “When he first approached my dad and me after the Delano game this year, he said he was kind of interested in playing. My dad and I looked at each other wondering how serious was this.”

It was serious.

Koskie officially joined the team shortly before the signing deadline. In fact, it came down to the very last day to get him on the roster.

“We had to jump through a few hoops to make sure we had all the documentation we needed to get the state board approval,” Koch said. “It literally came down to the final day of the signing deadline. We got the paperwork submitted and he got his four games in to be eligible for the postseason. Then we had to decide where we’re going to put him in the lineup.”

Koskie made his debut for the Larks July 7 in a home game against the Montrose-Waverly Stingers. He found himself in the No. 6 spot as things started to get real for him as he was about to play his first game in 15 years.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Koskie said. “I hadn’t picked up a bat in 15 years. My concern was running to first base. I didn’t want to get hurt. I had no really expectations going in. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I wanted to enjoy it for what it is.”

Koskie’s debut for the Larks was a success. He finished the game going 2-for-2 with a home run, two walks, and four RBI in a 10-0 win for the Larks.

“I kind of surprised myself my first game,” Koskie said. “I was on base every time and my legs were pretty tired and all I did was DH and run a bit. I wanted to go out there and enjoy the experience and play with my kids with no pressure. Just go up there and hit and have fun while enjoying it. I didn’t want to deal with uber-competitive people on the other side. I didn’t want to deal with egos and hurt feelings. I just wanted to have fun and enjoy it.”

Koskie’s transition to town ball has been a unique one. He’s known about the game since his playing days with the Twins, and now being able to be part of it again with his kids is something he’s enjoying.

“I’ve known about town ball,” Koskie said. “Dave St. Peter is a big component of town ball. I’ve played in some exhibition games right after I retired. I was able to see the quality of baseball and the parks in these small little towns. It was really cool.”

While the knowledge of town ball has been there for a while, there’s one thing that surprised him in the first season. He knew the level of talent would be there, but the amount of competitiveness in each game is something that came as a surprise to the former major leaguer.

“Here are the things that surprised me about town ball,” Koskie said. “These guys take it seriously. This isn’t beer league baseball. This is serious baseball. Guys take it really seriously and they compete. That’s kind of one thing that did surprise me.”

The season for Koskie has been filled with ups and downs. While he’s experienced the different side of things so far this season, it’s been a learning experience throughout.

“It’s taken a little bit of a transition,” Koskie said.  “For not playing for 15 years, I’m just trying to get comfortable. I wasn’t really knowing what to expect. I just wanted to play with my boys. I wasn’t really ready for competitive at-bats and meaningful at-bats. I didn’t want to be the reason why the team didn’t get to go to where they wanted to go. It’s one of those things to get comfortable with failure again and just playing with the kids. It took a little bit for me to get set.”

Coming back to the game after 15 years away from it hasn’t been easy for Koskie. He’ll be the first to tell you.

“There’s really no such thing as going out and playing pickup baseball with the guys,” Koskie said. “You’re playing town ball. You’re in front of people playing at 10 percent of the ability that you had. There’s the ego and pride thing that goes into that. You want to compete. You don’t want to get beat. At the end of the day, baseball is a battle. It’s you against the pitcher. The pitcher against you. Who’s going to win that? That’s the core of an at-bat.”

Koskie’s approach at the plate has been different as well. In the prime of his career, focusing during an at-bat has been one of his biggest strengths. Now 15 years later, he’s had to work on that more than he normally has.

“I had a 15-year lag between at-bats,” Koskie said. “It doesn’t come as natural for me. It’s somewhat fascinating. One thing I find super interesting is the ability to focus during an at-bat. The ability to completely focus 100 percent of your focal energy on the pitcher and be able to block out all the sounds and be able to control your mind, your thoughts, and your breathing to give you the best chance to have a quality swing. That’s something I was able to do. Now, I come back and my head is all over the place. When I played before, I was laser-focused and nothing could distract me at that moment. Now it’s a little easier to get distracted.”

While Koskie certainly hasn’t been perfect by any means for the Larks, he’s come through in some big spots for the Larks this year. In the Region 12C Tournament, Koskie delivered the game-tying RBI single in the top of the ninth. His team would go on to win the game in 12 innings, thanks to the baseball gods being on their side.

Buffalo had the chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, but the ball got stuck in the ivy on the right-field fence, holding the game-winning run at third. Loretto would get out of the jam and later on win the game in the 12th.

“The ball that got stuck in the ivy is semi reminiscent of the ball I hit in the playoffs against the Yankees off of Mariano Rivera,” Koskie said. “I hit one down the line and it bounced out. We would have taken the lead in the top of the 9th in that one. The ball bounced out instead of rattling around in the corner and it costs us a run. That was good for us that the ball got stuck in the ivy because they for sure would have scored that run.”

Dealing with success and failure is part of baseball. Koskie knows that full well and that’s helped him keep a positive attitude even when his swing might not be there.

“If you really want to get a hit and you don’t get a hit, the feeling you get sucks,” Koskie said. “There’s frustration and you really want to get a hit and don’t get one for eight or 10 at-bats. People don’t understand how hard that is to deal with from a mental standpoint. Baseball is the only game where you’re forced to deal with failure. No other game is like that.  I’m a 10th of who I was 10 years ago.”

Throughout the year, Koskie has been a nice addition to the lineup for the Larks at the plate and in the dugout. Whether it’s coming through with a base hit or just lending some advice to a teammate, Koskie’s presence is a big reason the Larks are where they are at.

“He’s definitely a nice bat to add in the lineup,” Koch said. “Both on and off the field, he’s just a real wealth of information and fun guy to sit around and talk to. He’s always trying to help out or give tips. He’s been helpful to have around in a coach-type role as well. He’s still the guy who comes in and works hard in the cage. It’s been fun to see him come through in some big situations. Hearing the ball come off his bat sometimes it just comes off a little different than anybody else. He’s been awesome to have. He’s always joking around and having fun with the guys on the bench. He’s an all-around good guy to have around.”

For veteran Tyler Maher, the season has been one to remember. After watching Koskie play growing up to now sharing a dugout with him, this season has been one to remember.

“It’s been awesome playing with Corey,” Maher said. “Not only because it’s one of the players I watched growing up, but just being an overall great human being.  He has unique perspectives on the game and has a wealth of knowledge. Typically, if you want any of that info, you just have to ask him. Having him on our team, with his experience and overall character has elevated the level of play from everyone.”

Koch has also got to experience playing amateur baseball with his family. It’s something special that he’s getting to see a former Koskie do that now right in front of him.

“They’ve gotten to play a few games together now,” Koch said. “There’s been a few times in the lineup where Corey has been hitting in front of Bradley or behind him. There are a few times he’s hit him in. When you get to drive in your younger kid with a base hit, that’s just a cool story in general. It’s just a cool thing when it’s family like that.”

Loretto will kick off their state tournament run Friday night in Chaska as they take on the Dumont Saints. With a taste of amateur baseball under his belt, Koskie is now excited to see what the state tournament brings as he’ll be playing alongside his boy this weekend.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Koskie said. “I’m really excited to see this. My kids have been playing in state tournaments throughout their whole youth sports experience. I’m excited to be part of this state tournament run hopefully and to see what that experience is.”