Archive for HJ Sports

I’m Thankful For Sports

It’s certainly cliché, but 2020 hasn’t exactly been the most normal year in human history. The pandemic has put a strain on small businesses, families, communities, students and educators and has touched everyone in some shape or form.

In the big scheme of things, sports are something that can be easily pushed aside as insignificant. There are bigger things in life that are going on; more pressing needs.

Life doesn’t hinge on a Vikings win, the Wolves probably are still going to be below .500 and the Twins probably didn’t sign that pitcher that everyone pretended they were actually going to sign.

However, sports are an important reprieve from our everyday lives. Life is complicated enough. It is refreshing sometimes to sit down on the couch and enjoy (or hate watch) a Vikings game.

Even more important than professional sports are youth and high school sports. Their worlds have been turned upside down. Sports seasons were cancelled, graduations were virtual, school dances were eliminated; many of the aspects that make being a kid fun were ripped away from them.

Mental health is something that is very important and the past year has not exactly been a clinic on how to make sure our kids are okay mentally. The difficult part is that a lot of it is inevitable. Nothing about life in a pandemic is going to be regular; hard decisions need to be made in order to keep everyone as safe as we can.

However, thankfully starting in the fall, sports came back. Thousands of kids across the state were able to continue playing the sport that they love at least in some capacity. It might not have been perfect, but it has been important to return to some form of normalcy.

This year, I was able to coach the 8th grade football team at Watertown-Mayer. I had never coached football before and didn’t really know what to expect. After installing an entire offense in just a few days, our team hit the ground running.

Those kids are going to remember the battle they had with New London-Spicer, where down 8-0, a 50 yard bomb got us into the red zone as time was ticking away. A few plays later, we had about a minute left with four chances to score from the 5 yard line. A goal line fade to our 6’6 tight end didn’t go exactly as planned and we had to pick ourselves up after a 105 yard interception return.

The outcome didn’t go exactly as we had wanted, but I guarantee you those kids made a memory. I know losing my first game coaching in that fashion is certainly a memory I won’t forget.

A few weeks later, we had our last game against Mound Westonka. After losing badly in 7th grade, our team was laser focused and wanted to finish the season with a win. The team played inspired, stifling them defensively and moving the ball up and down the field to a 28-6 victory. Those kids are going to remember that game.

At the varsity level, the WM football team had been on a 29 game losing streak. Losing some close games, the Royals just needed to make that final play to get over the hump to get a win.

After an incredible performance, the Royals upset the Glencoe-Silver Lake Panthers 28-10 in a game that I can absolutely guarantee you, those players and coaches remember for their lifetime.

What if these memories hadn’t happened? What if these kids weren’t given the chance to do the things that they love and compete with their friends?

I’m happy that the MSHSL and government  worked to let these kids play. Their decision allowed these kids to have some kind of normalcy in a world right now where that is very much needed. It allowed these kids to make memories and be kids in an environment that is as safe as it can be.

Sadly, fall sports are coming to a halt after Friday and winter sports are being delayed indefinitely. I understand that these are difficult times and there are so many factors to consider when trying to figure this all out. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t sadden me.

As a high school basketball coach, we will now have to wait at least four weeks to get our season underway. I feel for all of our players who just want to play the sport they love and the parents who just want to see their kids have fun and be kids.

To be frank, it sucks.

But sports will return at some point. Our athletes will be back in the gym, parents will be watching their kids play and coaches will get back to doing what they love; coaching.

This is a difficult time for everyone but stay the course. Stay positive. Sports will be back and I know I’ll be appreciative when they do.

I’ll appreciate the late nights of watching film. I’ll appreciate the 50 minute drive from practice to home. I’ll appreciate when our kids run the play wrong. I’ll appreciate the bus ride from Watertown to New London-Spicer… Okay I still won’t appreciate that, but you get the point.

I’m thankful for sports and I simply can’t wait for them to return.

 

SECTION 4A FOOTBALL: Bulldogs overcome sloppy play to beat Parkers Prairie in Section 4A

Flags were present as the Star-Spangled Banner played over the loudspeakers at Lester Prairie Bulldog Field, and flags were present throughout the rest of the game too.

Lester Prairie held off section foe Parkers Prairie 22-14 to advance in the 4A football playoffs despite a bevy of holding calls and stagnant second half ball movement. The Bulldog offense put up all of its points in the first half and were given a scare in the final minute as the Panthers tried to mount a last-second comeback.

“I’m happy that we won, we’ve got to keep that in perspective,” head coach Joe Scoblic said after the game. “But we can’t get shut down in the second half.”

It seemed as if the halftime score of 22-0 would expand as the game wore on. Lester Prairie quarterback Zach Jackson threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Jack Behning, and then a recovered fumble on the ensuing kickoff gave the Bulldogs excellent field position to capitalize. Capitalize they did, with a Logan Lambrecht one-yard score, and the momentum in their favor by the second quarter buzzer.

The script was flipped in the third quarter. The physicality of the Parkers Prairie front line combined with more offensive penalties proved to be the kryptonite of the Lester Prairie offense. A 48-yard touchdown sprint by Panther quarterback Brendan Johnson cut the lead to 22-6.

Lester Prairie’s defense took some gashes in the fourth quarter on the ground and in the short pass game, which led to a Cole Gesell catch-and-run to the end zone with less than a minute to go, making the score 22-14. The Bulldogs got out of the jam, however, recovering the onside kick easily and kneeling out the rest of the clock.

Lester Prairie adds another win to the resume, now 6-1, and tentatively advances to the section semifinals, scheduled to travel to Browerville-Eagle Valley Saturday afternoon. The rest of the season is up in the air, though, with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz set to speak Wednesday on the fate of fall and winter sports. Whether the playoffs continue or not, Scoblic is happy with his team’s performance this season — outscoring opponents 187-85 in seven games and finishing seventh in the latest Class 1A poll, while losing top running back Tanner Scheevel to a broken foot in early November.

“When you’re 6-1, you feel good,” Scoblic said. “We lost to our rival, but it is what it is. We had to get fired up, out of this Scheevel hangover, and we’re still getting through that.”

Jackson was 13-19 for 147 yards and two touchdowns and Jack Behning caught seven passes for 86 yards and both scores. Jackson, Lambrecht and Gavin Eckstein combined for 104 rushing yards on the night.

SECTION 4AA FOOTBALL: Irish hang on against rival HLWW in Section 4AA quarterfinals

MAPLE LAKE – Seniors play a big role for any football team. The 17 seniors on the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted football team mean even more.

Without them, there would have been no thrilling win last year to snap their losing streak. Without them, there would be no season this year. Without them, they wouldn’t have found themselves with a chance to tie the game in the first round of the Section 4AA playoffs against rival Maple Lake.

While HLWW’s season came to an end with a 14-6 loss to rival Maple Lake Tuesday night, the impact those seniors have made on the Lakers’ program the past few seasons is undeniable.

“It’s unbelievable,” Anderson said about his seniors. “You remember covering us and we were looking at a potential co-op. All those guys came out and came together and helped us field a varsity team on our own. They took their licks being all young kids. They were all sophomores playing back then. They’ve been getting better and better. Even though the results aren’t there, they all kept coming out. Clearly, they got better and better every year. They definitely left a trail. They’ve left a trail that hopefully, we can continue to go down and build on.”

The Lakers were looking to win a postseason game for the second season in a row, and they got off to a great start thanks to sophomore Collin Boese. Just when it looked like the Irish were going to go in for a score in the opening quarter, Boese recovered a fumble and returned it 99 yards for the Lakers to give them a 6-0 lead early.

“That was a huge play,” Anderson said. “We’ve been talking a lot about that this year. We’ve been good defensively inside the red zone. We have that bend but don’t break mentality. We talk about how guys fumble the football on the goal line. You see it all the time at all levels of football. It was great to see our guys not giving up and it led to a big play for us.”

With 40 seconds left in the first quarter, Maple Lake took the lead as quarterback Brayden Belanger scored on a sneak from the one-yard line. With the extra point, Maple Lake held a 7-6 lead.

HLWW and Maple Lake traded field position and punts for much of the second quarter as the Irish took a 7-6 lead into the locker room.

Both defenses continued to dominate in the second half. After the Irish took a 14-6 lead on another sneak by Belanger, HLWW’s defense delivered four crucial stops the rest of the way as the Irish turned it over on downs, keeping it a one-score game.

“Our defense is good,” Anderson said. “The number of points we’re giving up doesn’t reflect how well our defense is playing. Our defense has been making plays all year. When we give the defense a short field, it’s tough to stop teams when they get four downs and aren’t worried about punting or kicking a field goal. They’ve realized that one of our strengths is our defense. When we leaned on them, we stayed in ballgames.”

Needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game, HLWW had a drive going with just over minutes left to play. The Lakers ultimately turned it over on downs, giving the ball back to Maple Lake with just two timeouts remaining.

Needing another stop, the Lakers leaned on their defense once again. They delivered, forcing a three and out, giving the ball back to their offense with just over two minutes left to play.

“They’ve been awesome,” Anderson said about his defense. “They are really disciplined. It’s the best thing. We’ve got kids that pay attention to their job and embrace their roles. They didn’t force as many turnovers tonight, but the ones they did were big ones.”

With just over two minutes to go, the Lakers needed to go 77 yards after having less than 50 yards of offense all game long. That didn’t matter.

“They’ve shown me and it’s no surprise,” Anderson said. “These kids have a lot of heart. They play hard. They play hard for each other.”

With senior Bennett Paulson in at quarterback despite dealing with an injury, HLWW got a drive going. A swing pass to Boese got the Lakers moving forward. Follow that up with a nice gain by Noah Bush and the Lakers were cruising. Another swing pass to Boese, and just like that, HLWW was at the Maple Lake 14-yard line with just over a minute to play.

HLWW took multiple shots to the end zone, but the Maple Lake defense held firm as they held on for the 14-6 win, ending the season for the Lakers.

“It was what we thought it was going to be,” Anderson said. “It was two teams grinding it out for potentially their last game of the year. It’s playoff football and rivalry football. It’s a game of inches isn’t it?”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Friday, Nov. 20 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twiter. @Kovar_HJSports

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Chargers outlast Lakers in five sets once again

COKATO – Learning to finish things off and win has been the goal for the Dassel-Cokato volleyball team all season. They showed their making progress towards that again as they battled back in an exciting 3-2 (16-25, 25-26, 16-25, 25-17, 15-12) win over Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Nov. 13.

“This was overall a really nice match for us,” Chargers coach Linda Resop said. “Our team has been working hard in the gym to put together a strong, versatile offense, and we realize it starts with a great pass to give our setters and hitters a chance to run options and connect.”

For HLWW, it was another time they let a lead slip away. Despite having a 1-0 and 2-1 lead over Dassel-Cokato, the Lakers were unable to get that elusive first win of the season.

“Our athletes put up a great fight against D-C,” HLWW coach Carol Meyerson said. “I have to hand it to DC, they do a great job of persevering. I am very pleased with how we played. We were down two starters and had to make some unexpected adjustments.”

The Lakers, who were without one of their top hitters in Marit Gueningsman, came outs swinging early. Back-to-back aces from Abby Niesen gave HLWW an early 7-2 lead. From then on it was all Lakers as they took a 1-0 lead with a 25-16 victory.

In a familiar spot down 1-0, D-C did what they always do – fight back.

A kill from Evelyn O’Brien early on gave the Chargers their first led of the night. O’Brien would add another kill, giving D-C an 8-4 lead and forcing a HLWW timeout.

“We just feed off each other the whole time,” O’Brien said. “Just bring each other up and be super positive.”

D-C would tie things up at one with a 25-16 win in set two, but it was HLWW who came out firing in set three thanks to the emergence of younger players.

Big kills down the stretch from Lexi Koch and Emma Kaillo put HLWW back on top with a 25-16 victory.

“I was impressed with Kayla and Emma,” Meyerson said. “They really stepped it up into their first starting roles on varsity without much prep. Lexi and Gabby also had great nights. They  are excellent leaders and always bring energy and excitement to the game.”

A big reason for the big nights offensively for those hitters was the defense by HLWW libero Jenna Pelnis. She had a match-high 47 digs.

“Jenna also led in the back row with amazing defense,” Meyerson said. “She kept us in a lot of those long rallies.”

With D-C down to their final set, they responded in a big way. The Chargers opened the fourth set on a 6-0 run and never looked back as their offense was clicking. Zoe Verhey, who finished the match with 11 kills, had two clutch kills down the stretch to force a fifth set.

“All our hitters were able to capitalize on this tonight and I think the team was able to see how dynamic and effective they can be when they work together,” Resop said. “Our team is really resilient and not willing to give up on themselves or each other.”

With the match going to a fifth set for the second time in a week, D-C wasn’t satisfied with just forcing a fifth set. HLWW had an early 6-4 lead, but a kill from O’Brien in the back row tied the set at seven.

With the set still tied at 11, it was O’Brien and the Chargers who took control down the stretch in a 15-2 win in comeback fashion.

“We try to play one play at a time, one game at a time, and they do that with a lot of heart,” Resop said. “Now, we have to figure out how to start fast, so we don’t always have to play from behind.”

“It was back and forth the entire time,” O’Brien added. “I think we did a really good job of pulling it together and coming through. It’s kind of been a rough season so far, but we haven’t stopped. We keep going.”

For HLWW it was their second five-set loss in the same week. While they were so close to picking up that first win, Meyerson knows how important it is to stay focused going forward.

“It can be disappointing to lose two five-set matches in the same week, but these girls are excited for the last couple weeks of the season,” Meyerson said. “I think we’ll continue to see some competitive matches.

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Friday, Nov. 20 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twiter. @Kovar_HJSports

PREP FOOTBALL: Mayer Lutheran blows past Lester Prairie to capture district title

MAYER – Something had to give when the Mayer Lutheran and Lester Prairie football teams faced. In a matchup of two teams who have dominated on defense all season long, it was the Crusaders who came out on top of that battle as Mayer Lutheran cruised to a 46-6 victory over the Bulldogs on their home field Thursday night, winning the district title in the process.

“The win felt great,” Elijah Jopp said. “With how weird this year has been, it feels great to go undefeated and be district champions. The team chemistry is unbreakable and we’re ready for the playoffs.”

It was a perfect start for the Crusaders as they looked to gain the edge early. After the Mayer Lutheran defense forced a punt, it took just one play for Mayer Lutheran to get on the board. Sam Dennis gained the edge and took it all the way to the endzone for an 80-yard touchdown to give Mayer Lutheran an early 6-0 lead.

“It was a good way to start,” Mayer Lutheran coach Dean Aurich said. “We got off to a really good start in this weather.”

The offense was just getting going. A three-yard touchdown run from Cole Stuedeman and a two-yard touchdown run from Sam Dennis made it three-straight scoring drives for the Crusaders to open the game.
Facing a big deficit early, Lester Prairie gained some momentum. After forcing Mayer Lutheran to punt, the Bulldogs blocked the punt and took over at the Mayer Lutheran 25-yard line. Lester Prairie was unable to capitalize on as they turned it over on downs without gaining a single yard.

“We just didn’t play well from the beginning and the whole game actually,” Bulldogs coach Joe Scoblic said. “We didn’t come out to play for some reason. We didn’t have a great week of practice and that’s how we played. We didn’t come out after it tonight.”

Following the turnover on downs, it didn’t take long for Mayer Lutheran to extend their lead even more. This time it was Dylan Nelson getting in on the action. Nelson broke free for a 44-yard touchdown run, putting the Crusaders up 24-0 with just over seven minutes left in the second quarter.

“It was pretty fun,” Nelson said about having a big game in the win. “It’s always fun to have blocks and be free to run through tackles.”

The Bulldogs were without starting running back and linebacker Tanner Scheevel in the loss who was out with an injury. His absence was missed dearly on both sides of the ball as he’s become a top player in the district as a sophomore.

“We spent the whole week trying to figure out how we lineup with wherever he (Scheevel) is,” Aurich said. “We knew where we were going to be wherever he lined up. We just need to stop him because he’s that good.”
“We weren’t expecting Scheevel to be out, so that made it a little easier on us,” Nelson said. “We still came in strong and didn’t expect anything less.”

Despite not having Scheevel, Scoblic wasn’t happy with how his team played from the start.

“Tanner isn’t going to make a 40-point difference,” Scoblic said. “You just gotta look inside and get after it.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Friday, Nov. 20 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. 

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

@Kovar_HJSports 

MVP Effort Saves Vikings

Just a few short weeks ago, the Minnesota Vikings season seemed dead in the water. Coming off an embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Falcons, all hope seemed lost (rightly so I might add). With a matchup with the division leading Green Bay Packers, the season was hanging in the balance.

What Vikings fans didn’t see coming was Dalvin Cook’s MVP campaign. Against the Packers awful run defense, Cook ran the ball 30 times and mustered up 163 yards and three touchdowns. Cook wasn’t done, as he was the leading receiver on the team as well, turning two catches into 63 yards and a touchdown in a 28-22 win.

An encore to that performance was going to be tough to do… unless you are Dalvin Cook. Cook ran for 206 yards, only the third Viking to do so (Adrian Peterson a NFL record six times and Chuck Foreman once), on only 22 carries. That is a 9.4 yards per carry if you were struggling with the math. Dalvin also notched two touchdowns as well as another 46 yards through the air in the dominating 34-20 win over the Detroit Lions.

Again, if you struggle with math, let me help you out. In the past two games, Cook has logged 52 carries, 369 rushing yards, 109 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Not too shabby.

For some perspective, Cook leads the NFL with 858 rushing yards, despite missing a game. Cook also leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 12 on the season. If you are currently thinking to yourself “12 rushing touchdowns in 7 games seems like a lot of touchdowns,” you’d be correct. That pace of 24 touchdowns would be tied for the 5th most all time in a single season.

Quarterbacks tend to throw for more touchdowns than running backs are able to rush. That is the simple nature of football. However, Cook currently has more total touchdowns (13) than the following starting quarterbacks on the season: Daniel Jones (8), Cam Newton (10), Phillip Rivers (10), Nick Foles (11) and the same as fan favorite Teddy Bridgewater (13). If that doesn’t stop you in your tracks, I’m not sure what will.

Being 3-5 certainly isn’t anything to write home about. However, when looking at the remaining schedule, it’s difficult not to let a little optimism creep in. First, the Vikings are favored by 2.5 points at Chicago this Monday night. While the Bears offense is downright terrible, their defense is phenomenal and the Vikings never win in primetime against the Bears.

However, if they can sneak away with a victory, the Vikings are going to be favored in the next three matchups with the Cowboys, Panthers and Jaguars.

Fun fact time; the next four opponents for the Vikings have lost their past 18 games, carrying losing streaks of 3, 4, 4 and 7. It isn’t unrealistic to say that Minnesota can (and quite honestly should) go 4-0 and get to a 7-5 record.

The last four weeks include difficult matchups with the Buccaneers and Saints as well as rematches with the Bears and Lions. If you want to chalk them up for 2-2 in that stretch, Minnesota has a reasonably clear path to 9-7. Heck, you can even throw a mishap game into the mix to finish 8-8 and Minnesota still has a great shot at the playoffs.

With seven teams qualifying this year, a .500 record likely is going to be good enough to grab that 7th seed. Dalvin Cook should absolutely be in the MVP conversation, especially if Minnesota has a strong second half and pushes for a playoff spot the way we expect them to.

In a season that seemed all but lost, Dalvin Cook swooped in to save the day with one of the most impressive two game stretches in NFL history. It seems unlikely that Cook can continue this historic pace, but even 80% should be good enough to keep the ship righted and to make a legitimate playoff push.