Archive for HJ Sports

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Bulldogs hold off North Lakes Academy for second-straight win

LESTER PRAIRIE – The Lester Prairie volleyball team is a program learning to win. Earlier in the year, the Bulldogs were learning to get off to quick starts. Against North Lakes Academy, Lester Prairie was looking to finish strong.

A dominant win in set one wouldn’t hold up as the Bulldogs let the Huskies hang around. Despite winning set two, Lester Prairie allowed North Lakes Academy to stay alive with a win in set three. After the hiccup in the third set, the Bulldogs got back to their style of play, capping off a 3-1 (25-10, 26-24, 24-26, 25-15) win over the Huskies at home Oct. 27.

“That’s what we work on all the time,” Bulldogs coach Mart Otto said. “I wish there was a magic button to fix that. We’re working on it. They know that’s what they need to do. It’s a matter of making those new habits.”

The Bulldogs came out firing in set one thanks to the serving of Chloe Engelke. The sophomore racked up five aces in the first set alone to give the Bulldogs a 25-10 win.

“She’s got a dang good serve when she’s on,” Otto said. “Her serve is a mean serve. She does a really good job.”

The Bulldogs looked like they would cruise to a win in set two after holding leads of 7-2 lead and 20-13, but the Huskies took advantage of mistakes by Lester Prairie. Miscommunication and mental mistakes allowed the Huskies to make a 7-0 run to tie the set at 24. Following the big run, a service error by the Huskies and a kill from Brooke Albers gave Lester Prairie a 2-0 lead despite the sloppy finish.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t get away with their sloppy play in set three as the Huskies fought to stay alive. Despite holding a 15-7 lead, North Lakes used an 8-0 run to take their first lead of the match at 18-17. The Huskies would on hold down the stretch, winning set three 26-24.

“You can kind of see that we have those serve/receive woes, we dig a hole,” Otto said. “It’s just a matter of them having that inner confidence that they can do it.”

After a letdown in set three, Lester Prairie bounced back in the fourth set. Leading 11-7, the Bulldogs used an 8-0 run to put the Huskies away for good this time as Marissa Radtke collected three kills in that run.

Radtke, a player returning to the program after not playing last season, has given Lester Prairie a big boost this season with her athleticism and senior leadership.

“She’s just naturally athletic,” Otto said about Radtke. “We’ve been struggling with keeping that middle position upfront. That’s a tough spot. She’s filled that well. I don’t think that’s ever a spot she thought she would be put in, but she’s doing a good job.”

With the win, Lester Prairie improved to 3-2 overall on the season. While they’ve won three games already, Otto knows there’s more work to do and it starts with improving their communication on the floor.

“That’s something we’ve been working on even going to back to last year,” Otto said. “They just have to have it where it’s a new habit for them to be talking. They get a little quiet on the court at times. It’s something that we continue to work on.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Friday, Oct. 30  edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter for in-game updates, schedule changes, and more.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

PREP GIRLS SOCCER: Williams sends Royals to Section 6A title game with overtime winner

WATERTOWN – All season long, the Watertown-Mayer girls soccer team has played as a team. No matter the situation they’ve found themselves in, the Royals have found a way as a team. Each game, someone has stepped up. In the Section 6A semifinals, it was Fiona Williams who stepped up.

“It’s about who’s going to be the hero,” W-M coach Joseph Perez said. “We don’t care who it is. We just want to go home with a win. It’s a mindset they’ve become accustomed to.”

Taking on Maranatha Christian, neither team could get their offense going as they were forced into overtime as neither team scored a goal. Less than three minutes into overtime, it was Williams who scored the game-winner in a thrilling 1-0 overtime win for the Royals.

“I was nervous,” Williams said about what was going through her head. “I was just ready to put it in the goal.”

As a corner kick from Megan Barnhart squeaked through a crowd of players, the ball came right into Williams’ window. Realizing the situation, Williams calmly kept the shot on the ground and found a way to squeeze it through traffic and find the back of the net to send the Royals to the Section 6A title game for the first time in school history.

“It feels good,” Williams said. “I think it was definitely a team effort though. We played together and came out on top in the end.”

Patience was the key for Williams and the Royals in the win. After battling a concussion earlier in the season, Williams was cleared to return to play for the playoffs. She’s made an immediate impact, scoring a goal in each of W-M’s playoff wins.

“I’m always super proud of kids that don’t ever give up,” Perez said. “They just work hard to get back on the field. She had a couple of chances during regular time, and she told me she just needed a little more composure. She told me she just needed to breathe. Then she does that. I’m super proud of her.”

While Williams was the hero on the goal, there was another W-M player who’s had to be patient as well. Barnhart, who had the assist on the game-winning goal, also had to deal with injuries throughout her career to get to this moment. A player that brings so much to the Royals on offense and defense, Barnhart was the perfect person to set up the game-winner.

“She tore up her knee back in ninth grade,” Perez said. “She’s come back and just made All-State Honorable Mention. For her, it just means she has arrived.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Friday, Oct. 23  edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter for in-game updates, schedule changes, and more.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

PREP GIRLS SOCCER: W-M’s Perez named Section 6A Coach of The Year

WATERTOWN – The Watertown-Mayer girls soccer program has been a work in progress. Over the past four years, Royals head coach Joseph Perez has made his mark as he’s helped turn the Royals into a team that’s received statewide attention the past two seasons.

For his hard work and success over the past season, Perez was named the Section 6A Girls Soccer Coach of The Year.

“It was completely unexpected, but it is an amazing feeling to be recognized for your work, effort, and dedication at any time,” Perez said. “When it comes from your peers there is an added feeling. It means that they recognize my efforts and that my work is paying off with results that certainly move a community.

While the award certainly means a lot to Perez who has poured an unmeasurable amount of time and effort into the program, he knows it’s not possible if not for his players.

“We have had a fantastic and historical season, but I defer all credit and accolades to my players as they are the ones working extra and investing in this wonderful sport,” Perez said. “All I do is put the plan together and they go out and execute.”

Perez and the Royals burst onto the scene in 2019. W-M had one of their best seasons in school history, posting a record of 11-3-1. In 2020, there was no letdown as the Royals finished the regular season with an overall record of 9-1-1, earning the No. 1 seed in the Section 6A Tournament.

Each year the Royals have improved under Perez. A big reason for that is the relationships he’s been able to build with his players and the team chemistry he’s created.

“Coach Perez is one of the toughest coaches I’ve ever played for,” Julia Otto said. “He’s hard on us because he cares so much about every single one of his players. I think what sets apart our team from others is the bond we all have. (He’s) has made it a point for us to all be friends, and it shows through our season. You can see how close we’ve all grown through how we play. Our team is truly a family. He is so committed to this team and has impacted Royals soccer so much. I couldn’t imagine this team without him.”

“Coach Joseph has made such an impact on the girls soccer program at Watertown,” Mercedes Burmeister said. “Since he started coaching, we’ve only become more and more successful every year. He demands the best from us every game. He cares about the team more than any of us will ever know, and I don’t know what our team would do without him. Playing for Joseph means that you have to be ready to want to get better and put your all into the game. He has earned this year’s award for Coach of the Year by a long shot.”

PREP FOOTBALL: Quick start, big plays lead Litchfield past Watertown-Mayer

WATERTOWN – After a defensive battle with the New London-Spicer Wildcats in Week 1, the Watertown-Mayer football ran into an explosive Litchfield Dragons team that came out firing. Fueled by a quick start and big plays, the Dragons cruised to a 49-7 win over the Royals Thursday afternoon.

“I’m proud of our guys,” W-M coach Andrew Phillips said. “We played a tough New London-Spicer team last week. These guys are a good team. We kept battling. A lot of guys got a lot of reps today which is good. We’re making strides. We’re moving in the right direction.”

It took Litchfield just four plays to get on the board. A 28-yard pass play from Ben Alsleben to Tyson Michels put Litchfield up 7-0 less than two minutes into the game.

After a three-and-out by the Royals, a 10-yard run from Bennett Lecher extended Litchfiel’s lead to 14-0 with just over eight minutes left in the first quarter.

“We just have to bring the intensity,” Phillips said. “We weren’t quite ready there in the first quarter and they punched us in the mouth. We got to be ready to go.”

Down two scores in a hurry, the Royals went three-and-out for the second time in a row. After the punt from W-M, Litchfield gave the Royals some life with a fumble recovered by Hunter Stein.

Following the turnover, W-M went on the attack immediately. A 38-yard complete from Albert Rundell to John Mueller gave the Royals a first down deep in Litchfield territory, but the big play was brought back on a holding penalty. The Royals couldn’t overcome the holding penalty, forcing them to punt for a third-straight drive.

“That’s what the biggest thing was the first half,” Phillips said. “We were hurting ourselves. We make a big play and then make a holding penalty. We were out of position a few plays. Just little things that we got to clean up and get better at.”

The Dragons would add on to their lead with three passing touchdowns from Asleben, putting them up 35-0 with just over six minutes left to play.

Needing to get the offense going before halftime, the Royals did just that. After picking up their first first down of the game, Rundell and the Royals got the offense going.

A 28-yard connection from Rundell to Mueller brought the Royals into the Litchfield territory. With under a minute to go, Wyatt McCabe found some running room thanks to his offensive line.

“I like the way our offensive line has come together,” Phillips said about the final drive in the first half. “When we get those going and they are in the right spots, they move bodies and make holes for our guys. That’s positive to see. We are a young team. For them to have some success against older kids, that’s a positive for us.”

The Royals were battling the clock late in the half. W-M had first and goal from the eight-yard line with just 5.6 seconds left. After a quick fade to Mueller in the end zone didn’t work, Rundell found Cole Lange who used a strong stiff arm to get into the end zone for the Royals as time expired. Ashton Hecksel added the extra point, and W-M went into the half with some momentum down 35-7.

That momentum didn’t carry over into the second half for the Royals. Litchfield would extend their lead to 49-7 with a pair of passing touchdowns from Asleben, sealing the win for Litchfield.

With the win, Litchfield improved to 2-0. With the loss, W-M fell to 0-2 on the season.


For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Friday, Oct. 23  edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter for in-game updates, schedule changes, and more.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Lester Prairie rallies back to top Warriors in five sets

LESTER PRAIRIE – In the Lester Prairie volleyball team’s huddle before the third set, there was no hanging of heads. Despite the Bulldogs being down two sets to none, there was no quit.

Despite playing well in the first two sets and coming up short, Lester Prairie would not go away easily. They wouldn’t go away at all.

The Bulldogs rallied back to overcome the 0-2 deficit to pick up their first win of the season in a thrilling 3-2 (23-25, 22-25, 25-21, 25-21, 15-6) win over West Lutheran/Heritage Christian Tuesday night.

“This is our second game only and both of them have gone five sets,” Bulldogs coach Mary Otto said. “I’m super proud of the girls for not giving up. We have to figure out how to get going in game one though.”

The Bulldogs let early leads slip away in the first two sets. The result was finding themselves in a 0-2 hole. Instead of giving up, the Bulldogs pushed back.

“That’s what I always try to do,” Lester Prairie senior Lizzy Anderson said about the mindset heading into the third set. “I think it’s what a lot of the other girls try to do. We just try to stay up. We don’t want to drop that third set. We want to be competitive and keep going.”

A 6-0 run by Lester Prairie in set three gave the Bulldogs a 7-3 lead as the comeback was on. West Lutheran would rally to tie the set at 14, but an ace from Lydia Leverich and a kill from Anderson kept the Bulldogs alive with a 25-21 win in set three.

“They’re kind of used to fighting back from digging a hole,” Otto said. “They’re advancing and getting better at how to get out of that. The next step will be how to not go in the hole in the first place. They’re doing a good job.”

Anderson and the Bulldogs didn’t stop there. In set four, it was Anderson who evened things up with back-to-back aces to tie the match at two with a 25-21 win in set four.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Otto said about Anderson playing well in her senior season. “She used to be a middle, and she’s been moved to the outside where she’s shinning in her hitting.”

With all the momentum on their side, Lester Prairie didn’t let up. The Bulldogs completed the comeback with a dominant 15-6 win in set five to pick up their first win of the season.

“I think it just shows how well we can come back together,” Anderson said. “We can work together and adapt to what went wrong in the first two sets. I think we did a really good job of that today.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Friday, Oct. 16  edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter for in-game updates, schedule changes, and more.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

PREP GIRLS SOCCER: Royals battle ninth-ranked Waconia to a tie

WATERTOWN – There was a lot on the line Tuesday night as the Watertown-Mayer and Waconia girls soccer teams met. A win for the Royals would clinch their first conference title in school history. A win for Waconia would leave the Royals searching for that elusive conference title.

Neither of those scenarios happened as the Waconia Wildcats scored a late goal in traffic to force a 1-1 tie against the Royals Tuesday night. With the tie, Waconia can secure the conference title with a win over New Prague Thursday night.

“As a coach, I could not ask for more,” W-M coach Joseph Perez said. “It’s emotional because I know how much work they put in. To us, it’s a loss. Anyway you look at it, it’s a loss. We’ll take the tie, though. They know we battled and had the lead. We had plenty of opportunities to put it away and we didn’t. That’s how it goes sometimes. As a coach, I couldn’t be more proud.”

The Royals couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. On a throw-in from Mercedes Burmeister, Hailey Bogema found the back of the net through traffic to give the Royals a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.

“It kind of changed the game,” Perez said about scoring early. “They are not used to playing from behind. You can tell that they were pressing. If they’re pressing, more errors will come. They were rattled and a bit nervous, but they’re a good team. They can battle, too. Credit to them for not giving up.

After W-M controlled things throughout the first half, Waconia began to put the pressure on in the second half. After the Wildcats, a team that averages more than four goals per game were held off the scoreboard in the first half, but W-M goalkeeper Hailey Volkart knew things would pick up in the second half.

“Before this game, I was just thinking all positive thoughts,” Volkart said about her mindset coming into the game. “Anything you think will probably come true. Just positive thoughts and hard work.”

Volkart finished with 12 saves in the tie. The biggest save of the night came on a penalty kick with just over four minutes to go.

“I was thinking no way we just did that,” Volkart said about the save. “It could have possibly saved the game, Of course, they scored right after, but it was a great feeling.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Friday, Oct. 9  edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter for in-game updates, schedule changes, and more.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports