Preseason Minnesota Volleyball rankings are out

Here are the first Minnesota volleyball preseason rankings of the year:

Class AAA Rankings
1. Eagan (8)
2. Prior Lake
3. Lakeville North
4. Stillwater
5. Champlin Park
6. Hopkins
7. East Ridge
8. Shakopee
9. Moorhead
​10. Blaine
Class AA Rankings
1. Maple Lake (8)
2. Stewartville
3. Kasson-Mantorville
4. Southwest Christian
5. Marshall
6. North Branch
7. Sauk Centre
8. Roseau
9. Totino-Grace
​10. Concordia
Class A Rankings
1. Mayer Lutheran (8)
2. Hayfield
3. Caledonia
4. Bethlehem Academy
5. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton
​6. Rush City
7. Mabel-Canton
8. Wadena-Deer Creek
9. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown
10. Underwood
Minnesota volleyyball

The first Minnesota volleyball rankings are out. Lots of good volleyball teams make their home in southeast Minnesota and we’ll have coverage on our website at bluffcountrynews.com. Spread the word for family and friends that live out of town.

Southeast Minnesota has several good teams in the Class A and Class AA rankings. The first official day of practice is August 14. Fall sports is basically upon us. Can’t wait to get going on the seasons again.

We’ll have lots of sports coverage in southeast Minnesota on our website, bluffcountrynews.com.

 

 

Spring Grove football season comes to an end

Spring Grove football

The Spring Grove Lions football team lost to Grand Meadow 47-21 in the State 9-man, Section 1 title game at the RCTC football stadium in Rochester. (photo by Chad Smith)

The Spring Grove Lions came to play in the 9-Man, Section 1 football championship game on Friday night, November 4th, against Grand Meadow, but it took the offense too long to get going. The Superlarks led 20-0 in the first quarter before the teams began trading touchdowns for the rest of the game, which Grand Meadow won 47-21.

Grand Meadow was the number one ranked team in the Minnesota State 9-man poll at the end of the regular season, as well as the number one seed in the section tournament. They hit the ground running (literally) with Christopher Brain racing untouched 65 yards on the first play of the game. While the Superlarks were scoring on the first three drives of the game, number two section seed and number five state-ranked Spring Grove was only managing only a first down on each of its first three possessions.

Offense was hard to come by for the Lions. They did manage 312 yards of total offense against the Superlarks, but Grand Meadow gained 445 yards. Alex Folz had 100 yards rushing (102 yards, one TD) and passing (153 yards, two TDs). Christopher Bain and Zach Myhre were a solid one-two punch out of the GM backfield. Bain ran for 197 yards (20 carries) and Myhre ran for 126 (14 carries).

Spring Grove standout wide receiver Chase Grinde faced double teams from Grand Meadow defenders all night long. The cornerback would be within five yards of the line of scrimmage and a deep safety would be ten yards directly behind him. Despite the constant double teams, Grinde still caught six passes for 86 yards.

Grinde was also very busy defensively. He led the Lions with a career-high 24 tackles. The problem is, when your deep safety is making all the tackles, the offense is doing a very good job of moving the ball. Grinde had the Lions’ only tackle-for-loss.

Spring Grove was shorthanded in the backfield even before the opening kickoff. The Lions’ leading rusher Cullen Patterson (911 yards) was out with an injury. Brock Schuttemeier moved from his tight end spot to running back and found some tough sledding (13 carries, 43 yards).

Despite falling behind early, the Lions never stopped playing hard. The momentum of the game appeared to turn once and for all in Grand Meadow’s favor when the Lions were driving and turned the ball over on downs at the Superlark 11-yard line.

Here are a few highlights from the ballgame:

The Superlarks upped their winning streak to 47 straight games, and the three-time defending state champs will face Edgerton/Ellsworth in the state quarterfinals on Friday, November 11. Kickoff will be at 7:00 at the RCTC campus in Rochester.

Mabel-Canton volleyball ends in sub-section

Mabel-Canton volleyball

The Mabel-Canton Cougars played Caledonia in the East Sub-Section 1A title game last Thursday night, November 3, and came up short 3-0, ending the Cougars’ season with a 32-4 record. (Photo by Chad Smith)

Sports competition can present the most interesting dilemma. A team can walk onto the playing field or court and know way deep down that they could play the game of their lives and still lose the game. That was the situation facing the Mabel-Canton volleyball team as they played Caledonia on Thursday night, November 3rd, at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, for the East Sub-Section 1A championship.

The Cougars threw themselves at their opponent with everything they had but came up short at the end. Caledonia won by a 3-0 score (18-25, 19-25, 17-25). Fans of both squads knew it would be a good game and the state rankings agreed. Caledonia finished the regular season ranked at number five in the Class A top ten poll, and Mabel-Canton was in the eighth spot in the same poll.

Height would be a deciding factor in the match. Caledonia has six-foot players on the bench that don’t see the court in varsity action, and the six-foot front-liners who do see time had several inches on the smaller Cougar players on the other side of the net. Not only are the Warriors tall along the front line, they’re very athletic as well.

“We knew that we could play a great game against Caledonia and still get beat,” said Cougars long time coach Lonnie Morken. “Caledonia is that good. You don’t see a lot of size like that on high school volleyball teams. They have multiple six-footers on the bench that aren’t playing and we’re lucky to get a kid that’s five-foot-eight or five-nine.”

Mabel-Canton Volleyball

Mabel-Canton volleyball coach Lonnie Morken (standing right side, blue shirt) watches his team place Caledonia in the East Sub-Section 1A title game last Thursday night in the Mayo Civic Center. Caledonia would win the match 3-0. (Photo by Chad Smith

To counteract some of that size, the Cougars needed to be precise with their ball control. Morken said the team also needed to hit their spots from the service line and, for the most part, he said the Cougars did that.

“We did a decent job serving,” Morken said, “but still didn’t quite hit every spot we needed to. Certainly, tonight was all about how Caledonia played. It wasn’t about us playing badly, or them getting lucky because we played badly. They played well and they’re going to be a handful, as the winner of the next match (Hayfield) is going to have everything they can to beat them.”

The team went 54 of 56 from the service line for 96 percent efficiency. Payton Danielson went 12 for 13 at the line and Savannah Slafter was perfect at 11 for 11.

Morken said duplicating that kind of size is very difficult in practice. The coaches talk to the kids and try to prepare them as much as possible. The back row players will talk to the front row players during the match to call out potential open areas.

“For things to have gone well for us tonight,” Morken said, “we would have had to pass and set better. We also needed to terminate balls and we didn’t do that effectively, but that was more about what Caledonia was doing than what we weren’t doing.”

The attack starts in the back row, where the Cougars finished the match with 43 digs on the night. Kenidi McCabe had 11 digs and Coranda Vickerman added ten.

The Warrior bigs along the front line were also very quick and athletic. That made  the matchup even tougher for the Cougars. Morken said the Warriors put in a lot of work on quickness and agility, along with lifting weights. That extra work is something Caledonia is known for.

That height really made it difficult for the Cougars to attack the net. Mabel-Canton wound up with 29 kills (101 attempts) and an uncharacteristic 16 errors. Slafter led the team with eight kills, with Dakota Delaney and Vickerman adding six each. McCabe assisted on 12 kills and Vickerman helped out on ten.

Morken and the team were both hoping to get farther into the playoffs. He said both Courtney Graves (four kills, three digs, three assists) and Coranda Vickerman (six kills, ten digs, ten assists) played well as seniors in their last game for the Cougars. It’s always tough to say goodbye to seniors at this time of year and Morken said it’s no different this season.

“They’ve been with us for a long time,” Morken said. “Coranda was a five-year varsity player and Courtney was a four-year varsity player. Before Senior Night (earlier in the regular season), I added up their win-loss totals over the last five years and it’s insane. It stinks right for them (Vickerman and Graves), but I’m hoping when they look back they’ll be able to say ‘gosh, we had a lot of success playing volleyball at Mabel-Canton,’ and remember more of the successes than tonight’s loss.”

He thought the team improved in a lot of areas over the course of the season. One of the biggest steps forward this team took was learning the mental toughness to overcome an 0-2 deficit in the previous match against Fillmore Central in the sub-section semifinals.

“I don’t know if we would have been tough enough last year to overcome an 0-2 deficit,” Morken said, “so we certainly showed the most growth there. Last year, we were all underclassmen.  This year, we had two seniors, but we’re still really young. It can be tough to get eighth and ninth graders to believe and stay focused, so I think we improved the most with our mental toughness this year.”

Here are some video highlights from a busy night of volleyball in the Mayo Civic Center:

 

 

 

Mayo football ends regular season Friday

The latest round of a long-time Rochester football rivalry went to Mayo high school. The Spartans knocked off the John Marshall Rockets last Friday by a 21-13 score.

Rochester Mayo Spartans

Rochester Mayo beat Rochester John Marshall last Friday night in a close contest by a score of 21-13. Both teams wrap up their regular season schedules this Friday night. (Photo from northstarfootballnews.com)

John Marshall controlled most of the game and didn’t give the Mayo offense much chance to move the ball outside of running back Greg Henry’s 126 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Both teams came into kickoff chasing the number 2 spot in the section 1AAAAA, which will likely now go to the Spartans.

Mayo Coach Don Holcomb said despite his team jumping out to a two-score lead, it was a tight game the whole way.

“We jumped out to a 14-0 lead,” Holcomb said, “and then they scored right at the half. We came out in the second half and held them on defense in the first series, got the ball back, and then put ourselves into a long down and distance situation and gave it back to them. The scored, but missed their extra point, so it was 14-13.”

The Spartans defense stepped up in the fourth quarter to help keep their lead safe.

“It was a really good defensive game,” said Holcomb, “down to the last drive when they were going to score, we held them on fourth down, and got them to turn the ball over on that last down too. It was a nice defensive stand.”

The Spartans have won 8 of their last 10 games against John Marshall, which still leads the overall series between the teams. Holcombe said it’s always a tough game when they play the Rockets.

 

 

He was very proud of the defensive effort.

“They all contributed and they all did things at different times,” Holcomb said. “We still made mistakes, but they really played tough this game. I haven’t seen them hit as hard as they did in this game with both attitude and aggressiveness.”

Holcomb credited JM for making it a tough go for the Spartan offense.

“JM has a very tough defense,” Holcomb said. “They held our offense in check, and we also had missed opportunities in the passing game, but other than that, they played a great game defensively.”

7 games into the 8 game schedule, Holcomb said his team has shown a lot of improvement.

 

 

He credits a good group of leaders for keeping the team going in the right direction.

“We’ve got a nice group of guys that all lead in different ways,” said Holcomb. “They’re growing and improving in that area too, which is important for a ball club.”

Rochester Mayo High School

Mayo quarterback Trajan Grimsrud, shown here from action early in the season, will lead his team to Northfield on Friday night in the regular season finale. (photo from post bulletin.com)

The Spartans head to Northfield to take on the Raiders in their final regular season game.

“They’re a big, physical team again this year,” he said. “We’re expecting a very tough game, and one that we’ve got to come prepared for in the right frame of mind to be able to go there and get the job done.”

Big, physical teams typically run the ball a lot, but Holcomb said the Raiders are starting to mix it up offensively.

“They’ve been throwing the ball more and more as the season’s gone by,” Don said. “They still have those big, physical linemen they like to run behind too. We’ll need to play assignment football, and not try to be a hero on every play. Trust your teammates to make plays, and when you have a chance to do something, get it done.”

Going into the last regular season game, this is a big one in terms of playoff seeding.

 

JM Rockets fall in double OT to Owatonna

Rochester John Marshall

The Rochester John Marshall Rockets face the defending State Class 5A champion Mankato West Scarlets in their next action Friday night in Mankato. (photo from Facebook.com)

The third quarter was the difference as the Rochester John Marshall Rockets fell in double overtime to Owatonna 27-21 last Friday.

The Rockets controlled the first half, but the Huskies threw some different looks on offense against J-M coming out of the halftime locker room. Rockets Head Coach Kevin Kirkeby said his team rallied in the fourth quarter and it turned into quite a ballgame.

“Owatonna has two different styles of offense,” said Kirkeby. “They’ll go into a pistol offense and do more of a spread formation, but they also go under center. Against Mankato West (in their season opener) they only did their pistol offense, so we weren’t sure what they would do against us and prepared for both styles.”

The Rockets defense played well against the pistol during the first half.

Rochester John Marshall High School

The Rochester John Marshall 2015 football team. (Photo from johnmarshallrockets.org)

“Offensively, we didn’t really need to throw the ball much in the first half,” said Kirkeby. “We were having really good success on the ground. (Senior Running Back) Cazz Martin scored two touchdowns (on 18 carries for 102 yards) and things were going well.”

Owatonna came out of the halftime locker room and took control of the game early in the second half.

“The Huskies defense had a whole bunch of different players than what they ran out their in loss against West,” said Kirkeby, “So it probably took them a half to get used to each other. They came out fired up and we just didn’t have a whole lot of offensive continuity.”

He added, “The third quarter was all theirs. They scored twice on their first two possessions of the second half.”

Kirkeby was proud of his team for not letting up and bouncing back in the fourth quarter with some good football.

 

 

The Rockets are 1-1 on the season, and they’ve shown some flashes of good football:

 

JM is a football team with a lot of new faces in the lineup.

“We only have a couple of returning starters on offense,” he said. “On defense, we have about 7 returning starters but some of them are playing different positions.”

They do have a lot of upperclassmen on the field, but not a lot of game day experience to go with it.

“We have a nice mixture of juniors and seniors on offense and defense,” said Kirkeby. “However, it’s not like other teams that have a lot of seniors that have been playing together since tenth grade. We don’t have that.”

Kirkeby is in his third year as Head Coach, and he wants his offense to start with a solid ground game.

“My philosophy in Minnesota is we have all kinds of challenging weather,” said Kirkeby, “so you better be able to run the football. However, you can’t just run the ball or the opponent will stack the box with 9 or 10 guys and make it very difficult. I think a nice 40-60 or 30-70 blend of running and passing plays would be a good place to be at.”

JM has a tough road assignment this week. They travel to Mankato West High School for a matchup with the State Class 5A champs. Kirkeby said, in some ways, the Scarlets might be a better team than they were last year.

 

What aspects of the game do the Rockets need to improve on?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rochester Mayo football starts fast

Rochester Mayo High School

The Rochester Mayo Spartans take a 1-0 record to Rochester Century to face the Panthers in their next action on Friday night. (Photo from ww2.rochester.k12.mn.us)

 

The Rochester Mayo Spartans opened the 2015 football season with a 50-21 road victory over the Faribault Cardinals.

The game was a rematch of the Section 1AAAAA championship game from last year, which went to the Cardinals. While it didn’t take the sting away from last season’s 20-14 Overtime loss, the Spartans played well to open the new season schedule.

 

 

Spartans Coach Donny Holcomb said it’s always great to start the season with a win, but Mayo had to withstand a Cardinal comeback in the second half:

 

He said the Spartans showed some resilience in the fourth quarter.

“Definitely, I’m glad to see the way the kids finished the game,” said Holcomb. “They really came together and finished strong, without pointing fingers at each other.”

Several things stood out for the Spartans in the win:

 

Greg Henry led the rushing attack with 24 carries for 124 yards and four touchdowns.  He added 2 catches for 73 yards and another TD.

New quarterback Trajan Grimsrud was 9 of 16 passing for 141 yards and 2 TD’s through the air.

This year’s Spartans team has a whole lot of new faces in key roles.

“We actually lost 15 starters on both sides of the ball,” said Holcomb. “It’s a fairly new team with a lot of guys that learned from past players and hungry to get their chance to step in like on any high school team, so they’re ready to take over and give their best.”

Despite a lot of new faces, the Spartans did bring back a few familiar names from last year:

 

Holcomb’s offensive philosophy is balance:

 

He wants the Spartans to play aggressive defense.

“We’re going to be a base defense that’s very aggressive,” said Holcomb. “We do want to come out and blitz the other team and find an offense’s weaknesses. We like to do simple things right and blitz when we need to.”

The Spartans will be at Rochester Century in their next action Friday night. Holcomb said it’s always a challenge to play a cross-town rival:

 

What kind of challenges will the Panthers present?

“They’re a team that’s not as big,” said Holcomb, “but that means they’re going to be quick, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. They’re going to play faster than your typical O and D lines, so we’re expecting more speed. We saw some of their skill players in 7-on-7 over the summer, so we know we need to play disciplined.”