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Crusaders upset Goodhue to advance to Class A state semifinals


DC Enterprise Dispatch

Sports Editor

SHAKOPEE – The Mayer Lutheran Crusaders forced five turnovers, including a tide-turning pick-six right before halftime, en route to a 31-21 victory over second-ranked Goodhue  in the Class A State Quarterfinals Saturday at Shakopee.

It was the first state quarterfinal victory in six tries for the Crusaders, who were unranked in the last Class A poll.

Mayer Lutheran will now face  Minneota Saturday, Nov. 18 at 11:30 a.m. at US Bank Stadium in the semifinals. The undefeated Vikings (10-0) defeated Mahnomen 34-22.

“The fans got their money’s worth,” said Mayer Lutheran coach Dean Aurich of the Goodhue game. “It’s going to be a big challenge, but if we can continue to attack on defense like we did [against Goodhue], we have a chance to win every game we’re in.”



There were a number of offensive stars for Mayer Lutheran in their win over Goodhue.

Quarterback Baden Noennig threw for two TDs, with receivers Branden Carlson and Kenson Boelke each hauling in one apiece, while Matt Menth added a touchdown on the ground.

But without a doubt, it was big plays on defense that won the game for Mayer Lutheran against the previously-undefeated Wildcats. The Crusaders forced two fumbles, and three interceptions.

“In the last 2-3 games, that’s been the key for us,” said Aurich. “Our kids are playing aggressively, and if we keep playing aggressively, good things will happen.”

It didn’t start out looking good defensively for LHS, however. In fact, early on it appeared that defense would be the letdown.

With Goodhue backed up to their own seven-yard line midway through the first quarter, tight end Ryan Schoenfelder took a pass in the flat from quarterback Jack Gadient, made a Crusader defender miss, and broke down the sideline for a 93-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats up 7-0.

“We couldn’t get our run game going, and then they slipped off for a 90-yarder,” said Aurich. “It wasn’t looking good.”

But after a Crusaders punt, the defense forced their first turnover of the game on a fumble late in the first quarter. Moments later in the second quarter, they capitalized with a 20-yard strike from Noennig to Carlson, who made a diving catch in the end zone.

The Crusaders held the Wildcats on the next two drives, forcing another fumble and a punt, before Noennig hit Kenson Boelke on an 18-yard pass to put LHS up 14-7 with 2:54 left to go in the first hafl.

Two minutes later, it was Boelke again that came up with possibly the biggest play of the game.

With Goodhue facing a third-and-long, Boelke read a bubble screen perfectly and jumped in front of the intended receiver for the interception, and raced untouched into the end zone with 28 seconds left in the half.

Aurich credited defensive coordinator Tim Zupke in part for the interception.

“[Zupke] runs schemes a lot in practice, and in this case, Boelke saw it coming,” said Aurich. “Boelke has a knack for getting there, and he was in the right position. That really turned the game around for us, and put us in a situation where we could control the game a little better.”

Up 21-7 at half, Mayer Lutheran made it a three-possession game early in the third quarter, when Cole Cummings hit a 30-yard field goal to put the Crusaders up 24-7. It was the first field goal attempt of the season for Cummings, who also hit on all four extra-point attempts in the game.

LHS then forced Goodhue to punt, and rattled off a seven-play, 64-yard touchdown drive capped off by a five-yard Matt Menth run. The score seemigly put the Crusaders in control, up 31-7 with four minutes left in the third quarter.

The Wildcats were not to be counted out, however.

Goodhue drove down the field for a touchdown just two minutes later, on a 10-yard pass from Gadient to Schoenfelder. After forcing LHS into a three-and-out, Gadient again hooked up with Schoenfelder, this one for 30 yards, pulling the Wildcats to within 31-21 with just over nine minutes left in the game.

In those last nine minutes, the Crusaders struggled on offense, registering just one first down.

Fortunately, their defense stepped up big.

The first big play was a sack by Boelke on fourth down, with six minutes left.

The second was an interception by Noennig on a deep jump ball with four minutes left.

And the final dagger was an interception by Brock Hoese with just over a minute left, allowing LHS to kneel out the clock.

Though the Crusaders struggled at times on offense, especially with the ground game, the team made big plays when they mattered most, said Aurich.

“I wouldn’t say we were much better with the talent [than Goodhue],” he said. “But we made a few bigger plays when we needed to, and our defense stepped up and did an outstanding job.”

Goodhue QB Gadient finished 13-for-28 for 228 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions.  All three of Gadient’s touchdowns went to Schoenfelder, who finished with 155 yards on five receptions.

While the numbers weren’t overly efficient for LHS quarterback Noennig (13-34-190), the junior made good decisions all game, and had several dropped balls by his receivers.

Carlson finished with over 100 yards in total offense, including 72 yards receiving and 51 yards rushing.

Boelke had five catches for 68 yards, while Hoese had three catches for 46 yards. Menth had 47 yards on the ground.

Menth also led the team in tackles with eight, including one sack.

Matt Binstock had seven tackles, with Hoese and Kaleb Winter adding six.

Boelke and Graham Friske each recorded 1 1/2 sacks.



Saturday, Nov. 11
at Shakopee

1 2 3 4 – F

GOODHUE 7 0 7 7 21

MAYER LUTH. 0 21 10 0 31


First Quarter

GOOD – Schoenfelder 93 pass from Gadient (Bigalk kick), 8:09.

Second Quarter

ML – Carlson 20 pass from Noennig (Cummings kick), 2:20.

ML – Boelke 18 pass from Noennig (Cummings kick), 9:06.

ML – Boelke 45 interception return (Cummings kick), 11:32.

Third Quarter

ML – Cummings 30-yard field goal, 3:15.

ML – Menth 5 run (Cummings kick), 8:13.

GOOD – Schoenfelder 10 pass from Gadient (Bigalk kick), 10:28.

Fourth Quarter

GOOD – Schoenfelder 30 pass from Gadient (Bigalk kick), 2:41.





Mayer Lutheran football advances to state semifinals

The Mayer Lutheran football team advanced to the Class A State Semifinals with a 31-21 win over Goodhue Saturday at Shakopee.

The Crusaders advance to face Minneota (10-0) in the semifinal game at US Bank Stadium Saturday, Nov. 18 at 11:30 a.m.

Mayer Lutheran won the turnover battle against the Wildcats, 4-2, with none bigger than a 45-yard interception return for touchdown by Kenson Boelke late in the first half that gave the Crudaders a 21-7 lead.

LHS quarterback Brett Noennig threw for for two touchdowns, and had a late interception that sealed the victory for the Crusaders.

Brandon Carlson caught a 20-yard touchdown pass, and Boelke caught an 18-yard toss from Noennig in the second quarter. Running back Matt Menth scored on a five-yard run in the third quarter.

Cole Cummings hit a 30-yard field goal, and was perfect on all four extra points for LHS.

Look for full coverage in Friday’s Herald Journal.


BACK TO BACK: Chmielewski, Crusaders repeat as Class A champions

ST. PAUL – It was simply meant to be for the Mayer Lutheran volleyball team. After a magical season last year led them to their first state title since 1982, the Crusaders dominated their competition throughout the season to repeat as Class A champions with a 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-13) victory over Minneota in the Class A title game Saturday afternoon.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Mayer Lutheran swept MInneota in the Class A state title game to repeat as state champions.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Mayer Lutheran swept MInneota in the Class A state title game to repeat as state champions.

“We had one goal in mind,” senior libero Mya Chmielewski said. “We knew what we had to do to make it here. It’s the chemistry that matters. You need to have that good chemistry with everyone to go places.”

The Crusaders dominated every facet of the game on their way to winning the title as their seniors capped off their careers with their second-straight title.

“I knew a long time ago,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said about when she knew this group was special. “But you don’t ever expect to be back and keep doing it. You want to, and you push to get there, but it takes a lot of special kids. It takes a lot of special time. It was harder this year than last year to get back here and do what we just did. I’ve known that they’ve been special, probably since when Sophie was 10. Then the others just come along, and it’s been a great journey for four years with them.”

The journey this season has been extra special for senior Madi Beck. After winning her first state title last season, Beck had her father, Jason along as an assistant coach for the ride this season.

“It was so fun,” Beck said about having her dad around this season. “I had him when I was younger. Then at beginning of high school I didn’t have him, so it was kind of weird. It was just awesome. He helped us so much in practice with our front row and our defense and stuff. It was just amazing.”

The Crusaders once again used a balanced attack offensively in the victory. With so many weapons at their disposal, the Vikings of Minneota had a tough time keeping up the powerful Crusaders. Mayer Lutheran had just seven attack errors in the match, while Beck finished with a game-high 17 kills. Maddy Hucky added 10 kills, while Sophia Heuer finished with 13 kills. It was the the second-straight match that Hucky, Beck, and Heuer all were in double-digit kills for the Crusaders.

“We always work together well,” Beck said. “It makes it so much easier to just win games when we all work together.”

Even though it was Beck, Heuer, and Hucky leading the way offensively for their team, they know how important of a role Chmielewski plays. Without her, there would no impressive kill numbers or any awards.

“We are very, very thankful for Mya in the back row,” Hucky said. “You can always trust her to have a good game. She never lets us down.”

“I know as a hitter, I can’t get any of my kills or awards or anything if I don’t have Mya back there digging it up,” Beck added.

Chmielewski, one of nine seniors on the roster, has done it all season for the Crusaders. With her exceptional performances all season long, she was named to the Class A All-State team this season.

“She works hard everyday,” Grimsley said. “She knows her role. I think she gets a little frustrated when one ball gets by her. She gets mad. It’s like, Mya, it’s ok to have one miss. When she doesn’t get one pass up, she’s frustrated, but comes right back. I think our setters were extremely blessed. It’s very unusual to have someone back there like that where she just out-hustles (everyone). She’s not going to let that ball drop. I’m so proud that she got All-State this year because we all were just praying she did. A lot of times like you said, she doesn’t get to see the glory. To be back there and just pumping up the ball to our setters is amazing. She’s got the biggest heart too. I can’t look at her now or else I’ll start crying.”

For a team to win back-to-back state championships, a lot has to go right. Those nine seniors not only brought leadership and experienced, they also showed how great a team can be when they truly love playing together.

“They’re all special in their own way,” Grimsley said when asked if this was the best team she’s coached. “These guys hold a big place in my heart. We’ve talked about how much I’m going to miss them just being on the court. I can definitely say that they are one of the best teams that I’ve had chemistry with out of my groups and the love that they had for each other. It’s been fun. It’s been a great journey for me as a coach. I don’t know how many coaches can say that. You win a state title and that’s amazing. I will definitely miss these guys. These four (Hucky, Chmielewski, Beck, and Heuer) seniors are leaders, captains, and they held it together for me all season. I didn’t have to do much.”

The team chemistry was so important to their run of back-to-back state titles that Grimsley thought about doing something she rarely does. With the lead well in-hand in the third set, Grimsley thought about calling a timeout to share a message with them that they surely already knew.

“I almost did when the score was 23-13,” Grimsley said. “I almost called one because I was bawling on the sidelines already. I saw it. I got a little vision of, oh my gosh, it’s two points. I have these kids for two more points. I thought, I’m going to call a timeout and just tell them I love them, and I’m proud of you guys.”

Grimsley opted not to call a timeout, letting her team finish it off on their own as she’s done all season.

Seniors Hucky, Beck, Heuer, Chmielewski, Nicole Klaustermeier, Lauren Wandersee, Martina Saulsbury, Haley Rowher, and Mallory Kuntz may have played their final game for Mayer Lutheran, but there’s no doubt this team will be remembered.

“Our fire and passion for the game,” Heuer said about how she wants this team to be remembered. “A lot of us have been playing since we were in fourth grade. We wanted this all our lives.”


FUEL TO THE FIRE: Royals eager for return trip after taste of state tournament

ST. PAUL – A trip to the state tournament leaves endless memories for a team. Even though the results didn’t go in favor of the Watertown-Mayer volleyball team on the big stage, this was a season to build on.

The season ultimately came to an end for the Royals with a 3-0 (25-17, 27-25, 25-16) loss to Roseau in the Class AA consolation bracket Friday night. Despite the loss, the Royals showed their willingness to continue to fight like they have all season long.

The Royals failed to win a set in their first state tournament appearance since 2000, but that doesn’t mean the season was a failure. In 2016, the Royals saw their season end in disappointing fashion against rival Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted. After taking a 2-0 lead against the Lakers, the Royals let things slip away as HLWW won three-straight sets to knock off the Royals and end their season. From a team that blew a 2-0 lead in the section playoffs last season, to a team that made it to the Class AA state tournament, is a jump that head coach Andrea Raser hasn’t seen in her time on the sidelines.

“This group of juniors,” Raser said about the jump this team made this season. ‘I’ve had a hand in them since seventh grade, so I’ve got to watch them grow and know that they’re not done growing. More is to come. Having the group of seniors we had this year to say, this is how to do it and this is what teamwork looks like, is a lesson these girls will not lose. They’ll hold onto it and pass it on to others.”

No senior had more of an impact on this team than Ellie Ernhart. Ernhart, who played one of her best matches of the season in her final career game as Royal, finished with 16 digs in the loss.

“She’s the heart and soul of this team,” Raser said. “You could tell how much tonight Ellie wanted this game. She probably had one of her best games of the season defensively. She was on. She just kept fighting through no matter what. That’s our captain.”

It’s not only what Ernhart does on the court that will be a big loss for the Royals. It’s the person and teammate she is.

“No,” junior setter Nikki McDonald said when asked if there’s any way to put into words how much Ernhart meant to this team. “Not at all. She has saved me on digging so many balls so many times. It’s been on fun season. I’m really proud of this team.”

Despite losing the heart of the team in Ernhart along with fellow seniors Monika Czinano and Madison Haag, the future is bright for Watertown-Mayer.

“The goal is to come back,” Raser said. “Dynamics are going to change. We’re losing three seniors. Two of who got a lot of playing time. One who was still so much spunk and heart on this team that didn’t get a lot of playing time, but behind the scenes, she kept us moving. Team dynamic does change. We want to adjust and adapt. Now we have something to fight for.”

Just minutes after having their season came to an end, McDonald was already confident in her team that they can get back to this spot again next season.

“Oh yeah we’re coming back,” McDonald said. “I’m planning on coming back.”



LEAN ON ME: Heuer, Crusaders lean on experience to reach second-straight title game

ST. PAUL – With nine seniors on the team, the Mayer Lutheran volleyball team features an advantage that goes beyond skill. They’ve been here. They know what it takes to be called champions.

After sweeping Wadena-Deer Creek 3-0 (25-22, 25-13, 25-22), the Crusaders will get a shot at what they’ve been chasing all season long.

“They had a little low in the season where they were just like, oh come on,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley. “We want to already be there. So, we had to things a little different as far as set goals for different games and things like that. Now we can finally say that we have the opportunity for a repeat. It’s the first thing we said in the huddle. You got an opportunity now.”

Senior Sophia Heuer lets out a big scream after one of her 12 kills in Mayer Lutheran's 3-0 sweep of Wadena-Deer Creek.

Senior Sophia Heuer lets out a big scream after one of her 12 kills in Mayer Lutheran’s 3-0 sweep of Wadena-Deer Creek.

It didn’t come easy though as the fourth-seeded Wolverines gave the top-ranked team all season long all they could handle. The Wolverines (26-7), started the match on a 6-1 run, building some momentum in the early going. Despite a slow start, the Crusaders never doubted themselves.

“I think that we usually just trust each other,” senior outside hitter Madi Beck said. “We know we will all play our positions and that will make it go. I think we’ve played with each other for so long, that we know what we each can do. We just trust that.”

The Crusaders rallied to tie things at 12, and took their first lead of the set at 13-12 after an attack error by W-DC. With finally getting a lead, the Crusaders outlasted the Wolverines down the stretch to grab a 1-0 lead. The Crusaders had their offense rolling in set one, as three players (Maddy Hucky, Beck, and Sophia Heuer) each recorded five kills.

Sophia Heuer makes an incredible diving save to keep a rally alive for Mayer Lutheran.

Sophia Heuer makes an incredible diving save to keep a rally alive for Mayer Lutheran.



“We talked about that before the game,” Heuer said about how dangerous they are when everyone is clicking. “We wonder what other people say about us when they’re doing their scouting reports. We have so many weapons in the front row and back row. It must be hard for the other teams.”

In set two, the Crusaders left no doubt as they played one of the best sets of the tournament, cruising to a 25-13 victory.

“When we play lose, we play like our best game,” Hucky said. “That’s what we were doing.”

Maddy Hucky did it all for Mayer in their Class A semifinal match. She finished with 12 kills and 28 assists to help lead her team back to the state title game for a second-straight season.

Maddy Hucky did it all for Mayer in their Class A semifinal match. She finished with 12 kills and 28 assists to help lead her team back to the state title game for a second-straight season.

After a dominating effort in set two, the Wolverines didn’t give up in set three with their title hopes on the line. The Wolverines came out firing, and held a 18-13 lead trying to stay alive.

“We just have to play our game,” Hucky said. “We know that we can come back whatever the score is. We just have to trust each other and keep up the talk while working together.  We were just talking and we knew that we didn’t really have any doubt that we were going to lose it. As along as we played how we did in the second game, we knew that we could come back. Even if we were down five.”

The Crusaders did just that, using a 7-0 run to turn a five-point deficit into a two-point lead.

“I think that’s a huge difference from last year,” Grimsley said. “We were just talking about Heritage how they blocked us like crazy. I think they have totally grown from that. That’s a big change from this group. We talk a lot about being resilient. That’s one of our words, and they are. When they’re down, they’re resilient. They stick to it.”

Heuer was the workhorse for the Crusaders in the win. With 40 total attacks, she finished with 12 kills in the win, showing her fire each and every point the Crusaders scored.

“Just like play lose,” Heuer said about her mindset in the match. “Having fun. It all just goes together and works well. I just feed off my teammates when they get kills. It gets me pumped up and then I get a kill. It’s just amazing.”

The Minneota Vikings await the Crusaders in the Class A title game. Minneota swept Bethlehem Academy in their Class A semifinal matchup.  After a long season, the Crusaders are one win away from reaching their goal and repeating as Class A state champions.

“They got one more match together as seniors,” Grimsley said. “They’re going to come out on fire. They’re going to put it together.”

“So excited,” Hucky said. “We’ve been working toward it all year. Nothing can stop us now.”

Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley has her team one win away from repeating as state champions.

Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley has her team one win away from repeating as state champions.



Mayer Lutheran 3. Wadena-Deer Creek 0

KILLS: Maddy Hucky 12, Sophia Heuer 12, Olivia Tjernagel 8, Madi Beck 13, Claudia Stahlke 4. DIGS: Hucky 11, Heuer 17, Lauren Wandersee 11, Beck 8, Mya Chmielewski 21, Stahlke 3. ASSISTS: Hucky 28, Heuer 1, Wandersee 16, Chmielewski 2. BLOCKS: Hucky 2, Heuer 1, Martina Saulsbury 3, Tjernagel 3, Stahlke 3.


PREP VOLLEYBALL: McDonald reaches milestone as Royals fall to North Branch in state quarterfinals

ST. PAUL – It wasn’t a win, but the Watertown-Mayer volleyball team proved they belonged on the big stage. After shaking off the nerves early on, the Royals went toe-to-toe with third-seeded North Branch in their 3-0 (25-20, 25-23, 25-20) loss in the Class AA State Quarterfinals Thursday night.

“That’s what they do,” Watertown-Mayer coach Andrea Raser said. “When you get to the state tournament, you’re on a winning streak. So, when you’re that team that gets down right away and gets down 2-0, you have to remind yourself that you’re here for a reason. You’ve gotten here for a reason.”

After falling behind, 3-0 and 11-7 early, the Royals settled back in and got back to playing their style of volleyball.

“Nerve racking,” Nikki McDonald said about playing in her first state tournament. “Like, this is a really big stage. We’ve been talking about this all season. I know for me personally, it didn’t really hit me until we were in the locker rooms. Then it was like, oh my gosh, we’re at the state tournament. Then you walk out there and it’s a way different environment. It’s just really big. It kind of drowns out the sound which is kind of scary.”

Despite early nerves and some mental mistakes, the Royals gave the Vikings all they could handle. Trailing 13-10, a kill from Paige Thibault sparked a run to tie the set at 14.

“I think the first game is more about learning and adapting to the environment we’re in,” junior Kylie Hoese said. “We did that, and we came back stronger in the second game.”

After dropping set one, the Royals came out swinging in set two. A kill from Hoese gave the Royals a 7-4 lead early, and then the battle began. Hoese, who finished with seven kills, had her number called on more than usual this season, but stepped up to the plate when needed and delivered in a big way.

“It was a surprise, but I was ready for it,” Hoese said. “I’m mentally prepared. I sort of was hoping for it, and I was going to pick up the team with what I was doing. I started planning on doing that tonight and I did my best and so did the team. It was fun.”

Both teams fired punches back and forth, as the set was tied at 23. That’s when North Branch’s Cianna Selbitschka took over for her team.

“She’s a good player,” Raser said. “It’s fun to play against that, though. We stepped up to the challenge, but she’s good. She hit the ball, and she hit the ball well. We knew they were going to go to her. It makes the game fun. Players like that make the game fun. That’s why we play. We play to play against teams like that.”

Selbitschka finished with a game-high 26 kills, as North Branch held off Watertown-Mayer in a back-and-forth affair in set two.

“I think we had some nerves because it was our first game and first time here,” senior Ellie Ernhart said. “Then, we kind of settled in towards the end of the game and we were ready to get going.”

It wasn’t a win for the Royals, but McDonald and her teammates do have one thing to celebrate. McDonald reached 1,000 career set assists in the loss, finishing the match with 26 assists.

“The state tournament’s fun,” McDonald said. “I wasn’t thinking about that. I didn’t know I was close. I could not do any of it without passing and hitting. Ellie hit a big milestone this year, too. I think that just shows how hard we’ve been working and all the little pieces that are involved that go together to make everything work. I think it really shows that we work really well together.”

Just because the goal of a state title is no longer in reach, doesn’t mean the Royals won’t come back ready to play. They still have goals and are determined to end their season with a win on the final day of the regular season.

“That’s why we’re here,” Raser said. “We came here to play. We came here to win, so we’re going to go home winners. We want to win our last game. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here for the challenge and we’re going to do it. That’s what I want these girls to realize. Yeah, we just lost. We lost to a very good team, and you didn’t give up and you fought and that’s what you’ve done all season. That’s why you are here. I’m proud of them.”

Watertown-Mayer will face Roseau in the Class AA Consolation bracket Friday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. A win against the Rams would extend the Royals’ season to Saturday, with a chance to end their season with another win.