Archive for HJ Sports

KOVAR: Mayer Lutheran and Minneota set to face off for Class A title

MAYER – For the first time in school history, the Mayer Lutheran football team will be playing for a state championship. In order to reach that ultaimte goal, the Crusaders will face their toughest take of the season as the only thing that keeps Mayer Lutheran from a state title is the Minneota Vikings.

The Vikings have the pedigree of success over the past decades. Minneota has won three state titles since 2014 including 2017 in which they beat Mayer Lutheran in the state semifinals.

This is a different team though on the sideline for Mayer Lutheran. After already making school history by reaching the Prep Bowl, the Crusaders are ready to add another chapter to their legacy.

Neither team has played a close game this season. Mayer Lutheran has outscored their opponents 495-106. Minneota has outscored their oppoennts 524-33. The Vikings have allowed just six points throughout the first three quarters all season long.

Mayer Lutheran’s closest game of the season came in the first game of the season in which they were missing four key starters. It was their lone loss of the season in a 32-27 defeat against Gibbo-Fairfax-Winthrop. Since then, the Crusaders have rattled off 12-straight wins inlcuding a 48-12 win over the same G-F-W team in the section championship game.

Minneota’s two closest games have been against BOLD and Rushford-Peterson, both 20 point wins. BOLD held the Vikings to a season-low 20 points but failed to score. Rushford-Peterson struggled to get anything going offensively but held Minneota to 28 points in a 28-8 loss in the Class A semifinals.

“Mayer is a very big and talented team,” Minneota coach Chad Johnson said. “They have a lot of different weapons. We have seen good running teams and good passing teams throughout the season but I don’t believe any team has had this many athletes and this much balance.They have a good mix of size and speed. If you keep extra guys in the box to contain their run game, then you risk giving up a big play with their passing. If you commit an extra guy to their passing game, you risk giving up a big run play.”

Both Mayer Lutheran and Minneota will most likely be playing in their closest game of the seasons when they battle it out for the state title. Both teams also bring experience into the mactchup. Mayer Lutheran features a roster with 16 seniors, many of who play both sides of the ball. Minneota has 11 seniors on the roster.

Minneota reached the championship game with a win over Rushford-Peterson in the semifinals. The Vikings used a quick start to put the Trojans in a hole early on. After a 73-yard touchdown run from C Sik to put Minneota on the board, Sik scored again after an interception to give the Vikings a 14-0 lead.

An 18-yard touchown pass from Isaac Pohlen to P Gillund on 3rd and long was the backbreaker for R-P as Minneota extended their lead to three scores before half.

Mayer Lutheran also used a quick start to reach the state championship game. After forcing a three and out for defense, the Crusader went 97 yards on just two plays to take a 7-0 lead. Another stop from the defense set up a punt for New York Mills. Mayer Lutheran blocked the punt and Teigan Martin returned for his second score of the game put the Eagles down two scores in a hurry.

Getting off to a quick start will be the key once again for both teams in the Prep Bowl. The team that can stick to their gameplan the most early on should have the advantage. Mayer Lutheran is built to score quickly so they seem better suited for a comeback if need be. A hot start for the Crusaders would force the Vikings to air it out more, something they do on ocasion.

Minneota features size the Crusaders haven’t seen before. Mayer Lutheran features speed the Vikings haven’t seen before.

Both teams should be able to move the ball but it could come down to penalties and turnovers that determine a winner.

I belive these are the two best teams in Class A and they’ll get the chance to prove who is the best on the state’s biggest stage.

PREDICTION – Mayer Lutheran 27, Minneota 21

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports

CLASS A STATE FOOTBALL: Hoese, Mayer Lutheran cruise past New York Mills

MINNEAPOLIS – Ty Hoese was in the stands as a spectator the last time the Mayer Lutheran football team played inside US Bank Stadium. This time he was the starting quarterback on the field.

Along with 15 other seniors, Hoese and the Crusaders moved another step closer to their ultimate goal as they came out on fire in a convincing 41-6 win over New York Mills in the Class A State Semifinals Saturday afternoon to reach the Prep Bowl for the first time in school history.

“When we were little we always watched those guys,” Hoese said. “We always wanted to do what they did, but we always wanted to go farther and go all the way. We all were in the stands. You watch and think that someday I got to get there. It’s awesome.”

Hoese delivered for the Crusaders in a big way, turning in one of the best performances of the season. He completed 9-of-16 passes for 221 yards and five touchdowns, a performance head coach Dean Aurich wasn’t surprised with after his week of practice.

“We had a practice this week and I’ve never seen a team connect like that,” Aurich said. “The dimes he threw and the passes he threw, we were on. Today was just as good. He was laying them out there.”

After Mayer Lutheran struck first on a 33-yard connection through the air from Hoese to Teigan Martin, it was the special teams who delivered. After forcing another three and out, Martin returned a blocked punt 40 yards for another to score to give Mayer Lutheran a 14-0 lead in the span of fewer than two minutes.

“It’s kind of like our season,” Aurich said about the fast start. “We had a lot of challenges but these kids have fought through them and good things happen. The passes that these two guys (Hoese and Martin) got going right away really put them on their heels. That set the tempo of the game.”

After Hoese and Martin connected for the first score of the game, Hoese got his other weapons involved. A pair of touchdown passes to Elijah Jopp put Mayer Lutheran up 28-0, putting New York Mills in an unfamiliar position. On Hoese’s first four pass attempts, he completed four of them for 146 yards and three touchdowns.

“They like to pay a lot of attention to him (Martin),” Hoese said. “If they don’t pay attention to him, we get it to him. Then they double-team him later on and we can throw it deep. We have playmakers all over the field. They have to pick and choose who they want to stop. That really helps us”

After jumping out to a commanding lead early, the Eagles battled back. After a pair of turnovers for Mayer Lutheran, New York Mills got on the board thanks to a nice catch on 4th and long. Mayer Lutheran would settle down in the second half, holding New York Mills in check the rest of the way.

“The second quarter, the kids were kind of down,” Aurich said. “Inside the locker room, I was getting kind of worried because we did start so fast and had so many good things happen. We took a little dive after that. We talked about that and luckily these guys came out and played better in the second half.”

A team built to run the ball, Mayer Lutheran held the Eagle’s ground game in check. The Crusaders held the Eagles to just 176 yards of total offense in the win.

“We read some articles about how New York Mills has a running game that’s really tough,” Aurich said. “Our defense kind of took that personally and said let’s stop it. They did a good job of that.”

The win for Mayer Lutheran sends them to the Prep Bowl for the first time in school history. They’ll take on Class A powerhouse Minneota in the state championship game Friday.

“These guys have been dreaming of this a long time,” Aurich said. “They’ve been good for a long time. It’s been something we’ve been looking forward to. That’s going to be two good teams fighting it out. We got to get our running attack to be steady enough to make our play-action work. They know we throw the ball pretty well. They were watching this. It would be nice to get all three phases of the game going but we’ve got to stay steady. We haven’t had a grinder yet. I think it will be next week.”

“We always talked when we were kids saying that we’re going to win it all when we get there,” Hoese added. “Now we have the chance Friday.”


CLASS A STATE VOLLEYBALL: Crusaders blow by Minneota to capture Class A state title

ST. PAUL – All season long, Mayer Lutheran volleyball coach Joelle Grimsley has been preaching one game at a time. She didn’t listen to her own message.

At the beginning of the season, Grimsley knew what her team was capable of. She knew what lied ahead and prepared her team for it and it paid off on the state’s biggest stage. Mayer Lutheran captured their fourth state title in program history with a convincing 3-0 (25-15, 25-20, 25-18 ) sweep of No. 2 ranked Minneota in the Class A championship match Saturday.

“At the beginning of the year we played Minneota the first match,” Grimsley said. “All of us coaches said this is what it’s going to come down to. Our last match of the season will be Minneota versus Mayer Lutheran. You have to plan for that. You have to practice for that. We knew this was coming. We peaked at the right time. This was, by far, the best game we’ve played all season.”

The planning and practice for the Crusaders paid off. From the opening serve, Mayer Lutheran had the Vikings on their back heels all day long. With four All-State players leading the charge along with Stella Maass and Brooke Sauter stepping up, the Crusaders couldn’t be touched.

“It takes more than one,” Grimsley said. “It takes more than two. We talked about it taking 14. Before we left the locker room we talked about 14. I think when a team plays defense like our girls did today, that is so frustrating to play against. We had some incredible digs. Our libero has played the best she has ever played. For her to step up and do what she did today and never be a libero before was awesome. We kept the ball alive and just played smart. We knew if we did that, there would be frustration on the other side of the net. I think we frustrated Minneota to the point where they were in a panic mode and that’s exactly what we wanted to do.”

“That was our goal the whole time,” Emma Lade added. “Just try and get them out of system and do whatever we can. That just showed how good of a team we are. It showed how our hitting and defense affects other teams.”

A dominant 25-15 win in the opening frame set the tone for the Crusaders. They kept things rolling in sets two and three as the Vikings had no answer for their relentless attack at the net.

In set three, Minneota was looking to hold off elimination, but Stella Maas had other plans. A 9-0 run sparked by Maass put the Vikings in another big hole they were unable to climb out of as Mayer Lutheran took control of the match once again.

“Our setters were able to keep the ball moving,” Gabby Wachholz said. “Minneota was kind of caught off guard by that. You would think it would go to Lilly, but Stella came through and found the court.”

“Stella was like a blocking machine,” Grimsley added. “We were all wondering where did that come from. During one timeout I told Stella to get her, and then she went out and did it. It was awesome.”

Having already beaten Minneota twice during the regular season, Mayer Lutheran was not ready to overlook them in this matchup.

“I think we focused on how the past does not define the future,” Gabby Wachholz said. “They’re a new team. We’re a new team. They’ve gotten better. We’ve gotten better. We came out stronger and had a more intent purpose and we found a way to win.”

“The past is the past,” Grimsley added. “It’s really difficult to beat someone in three. We had a game plan and one of the best things about this team, and there’s a lot of them, but they trust us coaches. We told them our game plan and we worked hard to put it together and they went out and did it. Our coaching staff is just so grateful that we have kids that listen and then take action.”

Mayer Lutheran was the No. 1 ranked team in Class A throughout the entire season. While the top-ranking was nice, finishing it off with a state championship brought out the emotions as they reached their ultimate goal.

“It’s just so surreal that we’re here and won,” Maass said. “We’ve been working for this all season and we finally did it.”

“It’s the best feeling,” Lilly Wachholz added. “Ending my senior year like this, I couldn’t have asked for anything else. It’s amazing.”

The Crusaders had five seniors who got out on top with a state title. They’ve done more than bring the school their fourth state title in volleyball. They’ve led by example throughout their careers.

“I’ll miss these seniors a ton,” Grimsley said. “These guys have played with me for four years. They’re going off and they’ll play somewhere else but they will have this memory for the rest of their life. That as a coach is what I want to give them.”

The state title for the Crusaders is their fourth in program history and the third for Grimsley in her storied coaching career. While many great teams and players have come through the program, this team showed Grimsley something she’s never seen before.

“The joy that they felt at the end was something I’ve never seen,” Grimsley said. “Seeing the joy on those faces and the tears coming out, they couldn’t even stop it. The team chemistry with this group at the beginning was not where it needed to be. You can have a really skilled team not win it. They have the skill and they came together. The seniors led that and all these kids felt it and saw it. Their chemistry and their joy were like no other team.”

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports

CLASS A STATE FOOTBALL: Martin, Mayer Lutheran steamroll their way to Class A semifinals

JORDAN – Mayer Lutheran football coach Dean Aurich knew his team was good. He didn’t know how good.

He does now.

Taking on the Murray County Central Rebels in the Class A state quarterfinals, Aurich saw his team knock off the No. 1-ranked team in Class A with a dominant 34-8 win Friday night over the Rebels to advance to the state semifinals

“I just told them we’re for real,” Aurich said with a laugh. “It’s hard to say because you just don’t have common opponents. We’re a strong team and we showed it.”

A battle early on, it was the Mayer Lutheran defense that took over the game in the second quarter. After allowing MCC to take the lead in the first, the Crusaders held the Rebels in check the rest of the way as Tim Zupke’s defense delivered with another stellar performance.

“He does a great job,” Aurich said about his defensive coordinator. “They had some crazy formations. We like his defense and against this quarterback because it really puts a lot of pressure on them.”

Mayer Lutheran quickly looked to answer after falling behind. After turning it over on downs inside the 10-yard line, it took an incredible throw and catch from Ty Hoese to Teigan Martin on the next drive to put the Crusaders back in front.

“They were giving us that little out route all day,” Aurich said. “We took it three or four times and probably could have taken a couple more. Teigan’s got great hands. That was a big play for us.”

On 4th and goal from the 10-yard line, Hoese found Martin in the back corner of the end zone for the score and to give Mayer Lutheran the lead.

“The ball was in the air and I’m tall,” Martin said about the catch. “It’s just what I do. It was huge. It gave us all the energy and momentum we could have possibly wanted. It was awesome.”

Martin’s catch put Mayer Lutheran ahead with just over four minutes left in the second quarter. After the defense came through with another three and out, it was time for Hoese and company to complete the two-minute drill.

Hoese and the Crusaders went 57 yards with no timeouts. The drive was capped off by a seven-yard pass to Sam Dennis giving the Crusaders a 21-8 lead heading into halftime.

“That was big,” Aurich said. We practice it all the time. Ty runs it really well. It was a great two-minute drill.”

The score for Mayer Lutheran was a big one as they doubled up by getting the ball first in the second half. A 40-yard touchdown pass from Hoese to Abram Jopp completed the two for one for Mayer Lutheran as they extended their lead to 28-8 less than four minutes into the third quarter.

Up three scores, Mayer Lutheran knew it wasn’t over. Taking on a team that averages more than 33 points per game, the Crusader defense stood firm the rest of the way, holding the Rebels to a season-low eight points.

“We just rely on each other so much,” Isaac Hahn said about the defense. “We practice hard together. We just trust each other. We’ve all got to do our job and trust that everybody else will do theirs. It seems to be working so far. It’s fun to go out there and see four guys in the backfield.”

“We knew if we kept to our game plan and listen to our coaches everything would be fine,” Martin added.

With the win, Mayer Lutheran advances to the Class A semifinals next weekend. Another win next moves them closer to the goal they’ve had all season long and even before that.

“We’ve been playing together since eighth grade,” Martin said. “We want to win it all. That’s been our goal ever since we were 12 years old. That’s our goal.”

The Crusaders will face New York Mills in the semifinals Saturday at US Bank Stadium for a trip to the Prep Bowl.

“Their goal is to try and be the No. 1 legacy,” Aurich said. “It’s going to take some work because every game is against someone good.”

“I can’t wait,” Martin said. “It’s a gorgeous place to play. It will be a lot of fun.”

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports

CLASS A STATE VOLLEYBALL: Wachholz, Mayer Lutheran cruise into state title game

ST. PAUL – The Mayer Lutheran volleyball team has had a target on their back all season long as they’ve been the No. 1 ranked team in Class A throughout. Each time they take the floor, they know they’re going to get the opposing team’s best.

Junior Gabby Wachholz made sure the Crusaders moved one step closer to their ultimate goal as she came out on fire from the opening serve to lead Mayer Lutheran to a 3-0 (25-16, 25-7, 25-19) sweep of Bethlehem Academy to advance to the Class A championship match.

“We have that X on our back being ranked No. 1 all year,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said. “It’s normal. Everywhere we go, we know that people are out to get us, Who wouldn’t be? When you’re the underdog, you want to win that and beat somebody. We know that and we talk about that a lot. Everybody wants to beat you.”

Gabby Wachholz was unstoppable for Mayer Lutheran in the opening set recording eight kills on just 12 attacks to give Mayer Lutheran the 1-0 lead.

“I was just focused on playing smart and playing for my team,” Gabby Wachholz said. “Finding the court and keeping the other team guessing (was big).”

Gabby Wachholz and the Crusaders didn’t let up after taking control with the win in set one. A dominant 25-7 in set two put Bethlehem Academy in a big hole as Mayer Lutheran continued to set the tone.

“I think that’s super key for us,” Lilly Wachholz said. “We talked about just starting strong and playing the pace of our game. I think in that first set we just stayed consistent the whole time and that boosted everyone’s confidence for the second and third set.”

With the win, Mayer Lutheran sits just one more win away from capturing their fourth state title in program history – a goal they set for themselves since the beginning of the season.

“This is something we’ve been looking forward to the whole year,” Gabby Wachholz said. “It just feels surreal. We’re all so happy and excited.”

“After last year and not being able to get this experience, and now this year here we are, it’s awesome,” Madeline Guetzkow added.

While state tournament appearances have been a regular occurrence, that doesn’t take away from how much this year means to this program. Mayer Lutheran will be playing for their third state title in six years, a moment that’s not lost on the head coach.

“It’s emotional for me because it’s the third time now,” Grimsley said. “It’s just emotional because all the memories these girls get is what I do this for. It’s crazy to think that we’re here again. With this group of girls, it’s really exciting and well deserved.”

Mayer Lutheran will enter the Class A title game with six-straight sweeps this postseason. While they are certainly playing well, Grimsley wants her team to peak tomorrow on the state’s biggest stage.

“They’re just playing well,” Grimsley said. “They were scrappy tonight. You can see that if it doesn’t go to our setter we still find a way to stay in system. That’s what we’ve done all year. It’s just been fun to see some of the other kids step up. If we’re out of system, we’re still going to be aggressive and get that ball over. This is what we’re expecting our team to do. We’re trying to peak tomorrow. Tomorrow we want to play our best.”

The Crusaders will face a familiar foe for the Class A title in Minneota. The two programs have combined to win the past four state titles and have met twice already this season. Mayer Lutheran won the two previous matches, both of which went the maximum amount of sets. First serve is set for 1 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center Saturday.

“It feels amazing,” Lilly Wachholz said. “It shows all the hard work that we’ve done since August. Now we’re here. It feels good now that it’s paying off that we’re finally here.”

 Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports 

CLASS A STATE VOLLEYBALL: Mayer Lutheran makes quick work of South Ridge

ST. PAUL – The long walk to the press conference room at the state tournament for two Mayer Lutheran seniors was a bit more enjoyable than the last time they made the trip. Instead of hanging their heads over a loss like they did when they were upset in five sets as the No. 2 seed back in 2018, seniors Emma Lade and Lilly Wachholz were all smiles as they and their team took care of business in a 3-0 (25-4, 25-10, 25-16) sweep over South Ridge in the Class A State Quarterfinals Thursday night.

“You can’t forget what happened,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said. “Lilly came into this conference room saying this is a lot different than the last time we came here. Last time we were crying and sad. We’re not going to repeat that this year. So far, so good.”

Mayer Lutheran, the top seed in the Class A state tournament, came in as heavy favorites in their opening game. A team that’s taken in one game at a time all season long, the Crusaders were reminded why that’s so important after seeing the top two seeds in Class AA get upset earlier in the day.

“The very first thing we said when we got back to our rooms and back together was that anything can happen on any given night,” Grimsley said. “That did reiterate what we’ve been preaching all year.”

The message was well-received by Grimsley’s team. Mayer Lutheran wasted no time in getting things rolling as they opened the first set on a 12-1 run. They held the Panthers to just four points in the first set as they had things firing on all cylinders.

“There were definitely some nerves and excitement before the game,” Lilly Wachholz said.”When we got on the court, I think everybody played really well.”

“We emphasized being consistent and playing at our level and not playing down to their level,” Gabby Wachholz added. “I think we did pretty well at that.”

Mayer Lutheran dominated play the rest of the way as South Ridge didn’t have an answer for them. Whether at the net or elsewhere on the court, the combination of size and speed was too much for the Panthers to handle.

“I think it’s a force,” Grimsley said. “We’re all so tall but we move fast. The best thing about our group is that we have some that are tall, but we’ve got people who aren’t as tall and can just jump out of the gym. We don’t have to rely just on our height.”

The way Mayer Lutheran’s starters dominated from the start, that gave Grimsley a chance to put all her players in at some point to get the state tournament experience, something she vowed she will always do.

“I’ve been here a few times and there was one time that I didn’t get one player in and I could not stand it,” Grimsley said. “They deserve that opportunity on the court. The timing was right tonight. These girls know we would never be as good as we are without them at every practice. They deserve to be on that court, too. Every one of these starters knows that. I thought they played really well and it was good for them to see what the experience is like. I will never again in my coaching career have somebody not get on the court ”

Mayer Lutheran’s reserves kept the momentum rolling during their time to shine. They completed the sweep as 11 different players had at least one kill in the win that sent the Crusaders to the state semifinals.

“It’s not just ourselves,” Lade said. “That’s really what it’s all about. We play as one team. We practice as one team. It’s not just one player. It’s all about the team connection and chemistry.”

The Crusaders have been a team on a mission all season long. After not getting a shot at state a season ago, senior year is the perfect time for them to give it all they got.

“I think it makes it just that more special,” Lilly Wachholz said. “We have the postseason and there is that end goal that we’ve been working for all season. I think that just pushes us more each game. It’s our last year. We’re just giving it our all every game. Our motto is to show up. Every game we’ve got to show up. Showing up and putting it all out there every game.”

“We’ve had a fairly similar team and that has given us time to grow,” Gabby Wachholz added. “I think we’re stronger and I think it shows on the court. We trust one another.”

Mayer Lutheran will face a familiar foe in the Class A semifinals Friday. Bethlehem Academy is the only thing separating them from a spot in the championship match, and although they already beat the Cardinals once earlier this season, nobody is overlooking them in this matchup.

“They’re scrappy,” Grimsley said. “They’re super scrappy. We have to play hard. Even though we beat them, it doesn’t matter. It’s a whole new venue. It’s a whole new day. Nobody wants to lose here.”

“They’re a good team,” Lade added. “They made it to the state tournament so obviously they’re a good team. I just feel like we have to play our game and we’ll do our job.”

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports