Archive for HJ Sports

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Stahlke leads Crusaders to share of MN River Conference title

MAYER – For Mayer Lutheran senior Claudia Stahlke, senior night was a perfect opportunity to step up for her team. After Mayer Lutheran found themselves down 2-1 to conference rival Belle Plaine, Stahlke delivered in the clutch for the Crusaders, leading them to a thrilling 3-2 (23-25, 25-14, 24-26, 25-17, 15-10) victory to earn a share of the MN River Conference title.

“It was a lot of fun,” Stahlke said. “We had a lot of energy on our side. It was just a great night to finish the regular season.”

In set four, Mayer Lutheran was rolling as they led the Tigers 18-12 and were looking to force a fifth set. A 4-0 run by the Tigers brought them within two, but that’s when Stahlke stepped up her game and took over the match offensively and defensively.

“I told her this is you,” Grimsley said about what she told Stahlke during the fourth set. “You get it. You can take her one-on-one. Even if that last set there, we knew it was going to her (Belle Plaine’s Mikayla Coops) every time. It’s just a matter of Claudia having a one-on-one this time, and it worked out well for us.”

Stahlke took over the set for the Crusaders with her talent at the net. A block, followed by two kills, finished off with another block put Mayer Lutheran up 23-16 and forced a decisive fifth set. In the fourth set alone, Stahlke had five kills and two blocks, helping Mayer Lutheran stay alive.

“I couldn’t have done it without the team,” Stahlke said. “I really didn’t want to give up. I think the energy and communication allowed us to (succeed).”

The win in set four for Mayer Lutheran kept their conference title hopes alive, but it wasn’t easy. Belle Plaine stole set one away from the Crusaders despite Mayer Lutheran holding leads of 16-9 and 20-16. Even though the Crusaders let a few moments slip away, the fight was always there.

“They stole game one from us, and they stole game three from us,” Grimsley said. “That’s hard to come back from. We just talked a lot about staying strong and trying to play steady. It was just keep the ball off the floor. Just keep getting opportunities. They just fought hard.”

Thanks to Stahlke’s impressive finish to set four, the Crusaders had a chance to pull off a second five-set win in as many days. An attack error by the Crusader brought Belle Plaine within one, but a block and kill from senior Olivia Tjernagel gave the Crusaders some breathing room. Stahlke would add another kill and a block down the stretch, as Mayer Lutheran completed the comeback in another five-set match.

“It shows that we’re not going to give up,” Stahlke said. “It makes us push even harder and to finish and fight every time.”

It’s the second match in a row the Crusaders have erased a 2-1 deficit and came back to win. With the win, they also improved to 3-0 in five-set matches as they’re finding ways to win.

“It’s great for the future,” Grimsley said. “It’s good to have that in our back pocket.”

For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, October 18 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Tjernagel, Lade hit career milestones as Mayer Lutheran bounces back

MAYER – It was a big night for the Mayer Lutheran volleyball team. Not only did they bounce back from a disappointing loss last week against SW Christian, senior Olivia Tjernagel and sophomore Emma Lade each hit career milestones as the Crusaders got back into the win column with a thrilling 3-2 (25-13, 20-25, 22-25, 25-15, 15-13) victory Tuesday night.

“We finally finished in the last set,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said. “That was nice to see. It was kind of a roller coaster ride the whole time.”

Coming off a 3-0 loss to SW Christian last Thursday, the Crusaders knew how important it would be to move on and bounce back.

“It feels really good to just come back out and play our actual game,” Tjernagel said. “We just weren’t on top of it against SW Christian, but we came out tonight and showed who we really are.”

The Crusaders dominated the opening set throughout as they had the balance they needed to keep Concordia Academy lost at the net.

In sets two and three, the Beacons bounced back. After winning set two, Concordia Academy erased a slow start early and took set three to go up 2-1.

With their backs against the wall once again as they were on the verge of losing their second-straight match, Mayer Lutheran responded. With the match tied at 10, the Crusaders dominated things the rest of the way, finishing the set on a 15-5 run.

In the big run, the Crusaders got a spark from an unusual spot. Junior Brooke Friske stepped in and delivered for Mayer Lutheran, not only helping them stay alive with a win in set four, but also to win the match in set five.

“She stepped (up), Grimsley said. “We put her in the fourth set, and all of a sudden, we saw a little bit of a spark. I think she passed almost perfectly. It was fun to see that little spark.”

Mayer Lutheran had a 10-6 lead in set five as it looked like they were on their way to the win. Concordia Academy had different plans. A 5-0 run for the Beacons gave them the lead, but a kill from Claudia Stahlke and an ace from Lade stopped the run by Concordia Academy, and settled things down for the Crusaders.

Mayer Lutheran and Concordia Academy would trade points as the match was tied at 13, and a great play from Reagan Sauter to keep the ball off the floor and led to an attack error by the Beacons, putting the Crusaders up 14-13. A kill from Tjernagel would end it, putting the Crusaders back into the win column with a big victory on their home floor.

“Now, it’s all about playing steady,” Grimsley said. “What I liked is, we finished. It was nice to see them recover after the third set. Just to see us recover is helpful.”

The Crusaders, the No. 1-ranked team in Class A, are now 2-0 in five-set matches this season thanks to the comeback win against the Beacons.

“It just shows that, even though we lost two, we can still come back and push to the finish,” Lade said. “We all come as one team and work to finish. It’s not just one person.”

While it was a hot start for the Crusaders, they know there’s plenty more to work on. When it mattered most, their defense delivered, which is something they’ve struggled with at times this season.

“Defense was super important tonight,” Tjernagel said. “We were struggling early on, but we came back around and played really well.”

Tjernagel, a University of Northern Iowa commit, also recorded her 1,000th career kill in the win. With her family and future head coach in attendance, it was a moment that she knows happened because of her teammates.

“It was so fun,” Tjernagel said. “Obviously, it’s a team thing. I wouldn’t have gotten it without everyone on my team, with all the good passes and sets. It was a lot of fun tonight.”

While reaching that milestone certainly is an exciting moment, Tjernagel is happy she hit before the postseason began. She’s already played in three state tournaments in her career, and her focus is now set on making it four in a row.

“It was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t want to think about it,” Tjernagel said. “It was so fun, but now, we’ve got a big game tomorrow and the postseason coming up.”

Tjernagel wasn’t the lone player to hit a career milestone. In set four, Lade got her 1,000th career assist on a kill from Tjernagel.

“It feels really good,” Lade said. “I wasn’t expecting it to be tonight. I was thinking maybe tomorrow, but I didn’t know really. I wasn’t really keeping track. It was really exciting.”

“I didn’t even know she was going to get it, and then everyone went crazy,” Tjernagel said. “I’m so happy for her.”

Tjernagel and Lade have been huge pieces to the success for the Crusaders this season. For Grimsley, they know how much they mean to the team.

“It’s a lot of stuff going on,” Grimsley said. “There was a lot of things happening here tonight. It’s hard to stay focused, but I’m really proud of the team to help them get those individual awards.”

Getting the win was nice, but things don’t get any easier for the Crusaders. They took on MN River Conference foe Belle Plaine Tuesday night as they continued their brutal stretch to the end of the regular season to get ready for playoffs.

“I think it’s a lot of fun,” Tjernagel said about the tough schedule. “It really prepares us for the postseason with the competitive games leading up to it.”

The Crusaders come into the matchup with Belle Plaine with some confidence now, after the big win against Concordia Academy.

“It was really nice,” Lade said. “I think we all just really worked together and everything was just coming to us. The main part is finishing strong. It’s almost the postseason now. We’ve got to continue to finish strong. If we don’t, then we might lose.”

With a win against Belle Plaine, Mayer Lutheran would clinch a share of the conference title. A loss would leave them on the outside looking in.

“It’ll be fun,” Grimsley said. “We’ll see what happens. With conference, it could be a three-way tie, or it could be just Belle Plaine. We’d like to be a part of that, but I just want to play steady.”

2019 Twins Season by the Numbers

Let us reflect on the season that was for our Minnesota Twins through the analyzation of some numbers shall we? The Twins broke all kinds of franchise and MLB records, so I thought this would be a good way to put things into perspective. Let’s examine!

101. The Twins managed to win 101 games this season, 17 more than preseason expectations. This win total marks the second best record in franchise history, only one game behind the 1965 team that lost in the World Series.

307. The Twins set the Major League record for most home runs in a season by a team, hammering 307 of them. For a franchise that has always prided itself on playing small ball and focusing on hitting the ball on the ground, this was quite literally the most unbelievable feat that has potentially ever happened in Minnesota sports. I think this even bests Adrian Peterson’s 2,097 rushing yard season. Not a single person in the world could have seen this coming.

5. The number of Twins who hit more than 30 home runs this season, a MLB record. Shout out to Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Mitch Garver.

4. The number of days it took the Twins season to sputter to another disappointing finish, losing in a 3-0 sweep to the New York Yankees…

1. One team in MLB history has won 100 or more games and gotten swept in the first round of the playoffs. Another record for our Twins!

16. The number of playoff losses Minnesota has suffered in a row. This is tied with the Chicago Blackhawks of the 1970’s for the most straight postseason losses for a professional franchise. The Twins can actually confidently say they are the worst playoff team in American sports history.

13. The number of playoff losses in a row that the Twins have taken at the hands of the Yankees. The last time Minnesota beat New York was in 2004 when Cy Young winner Johan Santana pitched a shutout and the Twins won 2-0.

$119 million. The 2019 salary of the Twins, $15 million behind the league average.

Let’s take a quick look at next year.

1. The number of starting pitchers that are currently under contract for 2020. Jose Berrios will be the ace and after that, it is up in the air as to whether they will resign Michael Pineda, Jake Odorizzi or Kyle Gibson.

$45 million. Roughly the amount of money tied up to current players who are now free agents.

$60 million. The amount of money the Twins better be spending on free agents, specifically quality pitching, in the 2019/20 offseason.

This is a tough season to think about. The Twins provided the most exciting baseball this state has seen in a long time. They broke all kinds of records. They were fun to watch and root for. They smashed #bombas like there was no tomorrow.

But it is difficult to think about all of these things when you consider the abrupt ending to their season. Not only did they lose in the first round, but they were blown out in embarrassing fashion, losing 10-4, 8-2, and 5-1. They were never really in it, ever.

Most of the lineup will be returning next season and there is probably about a 3-5 year window where the Twins should be atop the AL Central. It is absolutely imperative that they spend some money on pitching. If they don’t, and years upon years of history tells me they won’t, every year is simply going to be the same. An exciting regular season with an extremely underwhelming and disappointing finish. Prove me wrong Twins.


KOVAR: Further proof I have the best job ever (With Video)

I wasn’t even supposed to be there.

Earlier in the day, I made up my mind which event I was going to cover Tuesday night. I decided that I would go out to Watertown and cover the Watertown-Mayer girls soccer team as they opened up Section 6A play against Rockford. It had been a while since I’ve been to one of their games, so I figured that event was my best choice for an event to cover that night.

It seemed like a good choice. The Royals played well on their way to a convincing 4-0 victory over the Rockets. I had my photos. I did my interviews. It was time to go and write my story.

After I cover a game, there’s always the decision of where I want to go to write my story. Do I go back to the office and work without distractions as I have the whole office to myself? Or do I come home and open the laptop and get to work?

I elected to head home as it already had been a long day of work. As I was heading south on Highway 25 coming into Mayer, I saw that the lights surrounding the football field were still on. I knew it was Tuesday so there wasn’t any football going on, but then I remembered the Mayer Lutheran/Watertown-Mayer boys soccer team had a home playoff game Tuesday, as well.

Fortunately for me, I live less than two blocks away from Mayer Lutheran High School. With the lights still on, I decided to swing into the parking lot, check out the score, and see if the game was still going. At worst I thought the coach and players would still be there and I could get a few quotes to go with their article this week.

It turned into much more. I pulled into the parking lot to see the scoreboard still on, the crowd still in the stands, and the players still on the field. The scoreboard read 2-2 with 10 minutes on the clock. They were just about to start the second overtime period. Talk about good timing.

As I walked onto the field, I saw Mayer Lutheran senior Eli Johnson. I asked him if this was the first or second overtime period to catch up on things. He told me it was the second, so I knew I showed up right in time.

I walked down the sideline a little further and ran into Mayer Lutheran’s athletic director, Kris Gustin. Gustin gave me a quick lowdown on what had happened so far in the game, and then was off to cover my second event of the night.

Neither Mayer Lutheran or Maranatha were able to push across a goal in either overtime period, sending the game to a shootout. This would be the first postseason shootout I’ve ever covered in my sports writing career, and it didn’t disappoint.

As both teams prepared for the shootout, I noticed senior Brady Harnung having a moment with his older brother, TJ, before taking the field. The two were in an embrace as only brothers can do, and I can only imagine the words that were shared between the two.

Harnung then took the field for the shootout as Maranatha Christian Academy had the first shot. Harnung made the save on the first shot attempt he faced, but then the Mustangs found the back of the net on their next two attempts.

Through three rounds, the Crusaders trailed Maranatha 2-1. That’s when Harnung seized the opportunity.

A save by Harnung on Maranatha’s fourth attempt gave the Crusaders life. The Crusaders took advantage as they tied things up at two with a goal of their own, leaving one shot left for each team.

Needing just one more save to keep his high school career going and his team’s season alive, Harnung came through. His third save of the shootout gave Mayer Lutheran’s next shooter a chance to win it. Who was the next shooter? None other than Harnung himself.

As Harnung put the ball down on the grass for Mayer Lutheran’s final kick in the shootout, the student section was going crazy. As Harnung stepped away from the ball to get ready, he calmly told the student section to quiet down. They did just that, but not for long.

Harnung found the back of the net for the game-winner, completing the comeback for Mayer Lutheran in dramatic fashion.

As the ball found the back of the net, Harnung let out a scream of joy, only to be mauled by his teammates, coaches, and peers, as this was his moment.

I wasn’t suppose to be there. I already did my job for the night. I was ready to head home and possibly get to bed at a decent time for once. That didn’t happen and I’m forever thankful.

I’ve had the pleasure of covering so many great teams and athletes over the course of my sports writing career. There’s been state titles won, buzzer beaters, and impressive performances throughout. Harnung and the ML/W-M boys soccer team gave me another one of those moments that I will never forget.

If you’ve been following my work over the course of the past four years here at Herald Journal, you know what I think of sports. For some, sports are simply a game. For me, it’s the ultimate parallel to life. It’s more than just a game.

I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for sports. They offer so many things. Whether it’s dealing with success and failure and translating that to the real world, or being in a moment where you can rise about yourself to create a moment so pure and so beautiful you can’t help but get lost in it.

Sports are a special thing. I’ll never forget that, and I’ll never forget what I saw Tuesday night – only because the lights were still on as I drove home.


Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports

FOUR SCHOOLS FIGHT AS ONE: Crusaders survive scare from Maranatha in thriller

MAYER – Brady Harnung has seen some big moments throughout his high school career.

He’s seen the Mayer Lutheran volleyball team reach the state tournament three years in a row. He saw Cole Hagen drain a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Springfield in the Section 2A title game to send the Crusaders to state. Now, it was his turn for his moment.

After coming up with a clutch save in the fifth round of penalty kicks, Harnung had a chance to be the hero. He didn’t let that opportunity slip away.

Harnung went low and left with his kick, sneaking it past the outstretched arms of Marantha’s Avery Warren to give Mayer Lutheran/Watertown-Mayer a 5-4 thrilling win in a shootout in the first round of the Section 6A tournament.

“Heart and soul,” Mayer Lutheran coach Matt Polding said. “He’s the heart and soul. He is the heart and soul of that team. You can’t make it up. That kid, and all of our seniors, we’re nowhere without them.”

After 40 minutes of play, it looked as if the Crusaders wouldn’t even have a chance to win the game as they struggled from the start. Maranatha grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first half, forcing the Crusaders to rethink things during the break.

“I think it made us realize a lot,” senior Brady Wachholz said. “It made us realize that we can’t just walk through this. We need to work. They’re the underdogs. They weren’t expected to win this game. They can throw it all on the line, and that’s what they did. I think that really hit us and we just weren’t prepared.”

The Crusaders, the No. 4 seed in Section 6A, rallied to tie the game at two in the second half thanks to a pair of goals.

“They decided at halftime to come out and give everything they’ve got,” Polding said. “That team (Maranatha) is a great team. They battled so hard. Maranatha is the classiest team we play. Without question. If we ever had a game like that, I’m glad it was with them. Our kids just decided they wanted to win. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s all them. It’s always been about them.”

As the clock hit zeros at the end of the second overtime, Harnung knew his high school career, and his team’s season for that matter, would come down to him in net. Before stepping in goal to defend five shots by Maranatha, Harnung got some words of advice from his older brother TJ, an assistant coach for the Crusaders. In a brotherly embrace on the sidelines, TJ simply told to seize the moment.

“We did multiple prayers before,” Harnung said with a laugh. “He just said be composed and focus. If you let one in, it’s on to the next one.”

It was good advice for the senior goalkeeper as Marantha found the back of the net on two of their first three shots. Harnung answered back with back-to-back saves on the final two shots for the Mustangs, giving the Crusaders a chance to win it on their final kick.

“I knew I wanted to take a kick,” Harnung said. “I didn’t know coach would put me at five, but that worked out perfectly. I said a prayer before. I saved three, which was enough. Then I finished it. It was crazy.”

Harnung’s game-winner completed the comeback for the Crusaders, a team that has grown over the years into one of the top teams in Section 6A this year.

“That’s my first four-year group of kids,” Polding said. “I’ve seen them grow from ninth grade until now. I couldn’t be more proud of them. They’re just tremendous. I couldn’t be more blessed to have better kids. They are the best.”

It was an eye opener for the Crusaders, who have high aspirations this season. Despite getting the win against the No. 14 seed, they know they need to play better, especially from the start.

“There’s nothing more true than that, Polding said. “There is nobody, especially in our section, that you can overlook. You just can’t do it. There’s too many good teams. Any given night, a kid goes off and your season is over.”

“As coach says, all that matters is 1-0,” Wachholz added. “It doesn’t matter how you get it. You just have to keep on going. Honestly, it wasn’t our best game, but we’ll move on to Thursday.”

The Crusaders will advance to play SW Christian Thursday night at home in the Section 6A quarterfinals. After surviving a scare against Maranatha in the first round, they’ll be looking to get back to the team they were all season, which is a family.

“I’ve been here for five years,” Wachholz said. “This is something I’ve never seen before. Even off the field, we’re just such good friends. That’s something we’ve never seen before with all four schools. You can’t even tell we’re four schools. We just know where we’re going to be. We know what we’re going to do. We know what we expect out of each other. It’s beautiful and it works.”

PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEWS: Bulldogs looking for some homecoming magic; Royals, Lakers hope to build off strong performances

It’s crunch time around the area when it comes to prep football. With five games already in the books, it’s time for area teams to gear up for the final stretch of the regular season.

The Mayer Lutheran Crusaders are coming off their first loss of the season this week. After losing to United South Central in a Class A Top-10 showdown last week, it will be interesting to see how the young Crusaders bounce back this week as they hit the road once again.

Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity finds themselves on a three-game losing streak and will try to right the ship this week. The Bulldogs host Waterville-Elysian-Morristown this week, and will be looking to pick up a homecoming win.

Watertown-Mayer and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted are both coming off their best performances of the season. While the Lakers and Royals still have zero wins combined, both are starting to put things together to gear up for a postseason run.

Both W-M and HLWW have tough tasks ahead of them in Week 6. The Royals will take on the No. 4 ranked team in Class AAA in Annandale, while the Lakers get the No. 1-ranked team in Class AAA. While a win is unlikely for both squads, it’s important for both to keep grinding and working on the little things to put themselves in a spot to compete come section time.

Below is an in-depth preview for all four games featuring area teams.

HLWW at Pierz

The Lakers are arguably coming off their best two performances of the season. In Week 4, HLWW held Rockford to just 15 points in a tough loss. They followed that up with a nice offensive showing in a 40-24 loss to Spectrum last week.

A tall task awaits the Lakers this Friday night as they take on the Pierz Pioneers. The Pioneers are one of the top teams in the Mid State Sub 1 District, as well as Class AAA.

HLWW will be looking to combine a solid showing on both offense and defense this week against the Pioneers. It’s been one or the other the past two games for the Lakers, and if they want to get ready for the postseason, playing well against a talented Pierz team would help.

HLWW also must cut down on their turnovers. That’s been the difference in HLWW’s last two losses as they’ve turned it over four times in the past two games.

Take care of the ball and see what happens against one of the best teams in the state will be the objective for the Lakers. If they can stay healthy and keep improving, they’ll look to make a run in the Section 4AA tournament.

W-E-M at LP/HT

The LP/HT Bulldogs will be eager to get out on the field again this Friday night in their matchup against W-E-M. Not only will it be homecoming, but they’ll also be looking to snap a three-game losing streak, including letting one slip away last week.

LP/HT had multiple chances to put up points last week against Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, but were shutout for the first time this season. If the Bulldogs want to snap their three-game skid, they’ll need to take advantage of opportunities.

Two ways the Bulldogs can get back into the win column are wining the turnover battle and getting the passing game going. LP/HT turned it over once last week against J-W-P and were unable to force a turnover of their own. Being able to get a takeaway would give LP/HT an extra possession and some momentum against a good W-E-M team.

The Bulldogs will also need to get the passing game going. LP/HT’s running game has been solid all year long, but they will need to get the passing game going to sustain drives this week.  They had just 26 yards passing last week against J-W-P. Getting the passing game going may help the Bulldogs get better on 3rd down, as they were just 4-of-11 last week.

Watertown-Mayer at Annandale Cardinals

Watertown-Mayer had chances to pull off their first win in nearly three years last week. They just couldn’t get the stop or key play they needed.

Still, it was a step in the right direction for a program that’s had its struggles. This week will be another tough task for the Royals as they travel to Annandale for a matchup with the Cardinals.

Annandale is a perfect 5-0 on the season, and have been a tough out for any team this season. They’ve won all five games by 14 or more points, and look to be one of the top teams in East Central South District.

Last week, the Royals got the passing game going in a big way. Ansen Dulas threw for over 300 yards, which was a season-high for him by far. If the Royals want to hang with a high-powered Annandale team, W-M will need to have the passing game working again.

Mayer Lutheran at St. Clair/Loyola

There’s no doubt it was a disappointing loss for the Crusaders in Week 5 against United South Central. Even with that, there’s no time for the Crusaders to dwell on it as they hit the road for another district matchup, this time with the St. Clair/Loyola Cyclones.

Mayer Lutheran let one get away from them last week in the second half due to mental mistakes. They gave up two touchdowns of 30 yards or more, and a pick-six. The Crusaders have been the team making big plays all season long, so it was a change of pace to see a team do that to them.

The Crusaders, a young team still learning and gaining experience, will have to bounce back. A 3-2 Cyclones team awaits them this week, and they have to be feeling good about themselves coming off a 42-7 win over Alden-Conger last week.

Mayer Lutheran standout running back Zander Flucas was limited in practice all of last week before returning in time to play against USC. With a full week of practice this week, look for Flucas to have a big impact on the outcome of this matchup.

Sophomore quarterback Ty Hoese also had his first rough game of his career last week. Getting his confidence back and another win would bode well for the Crusaders heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, and the postseason.


Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports