Yellowjackets baseball wants more consistency

It’s been more of an up-and-down season than Rochester Community and Technical College Yellowjackets baseball coach Steve Hucke would like. The team is 12-12 on the season, including a trip down south to play against some very good competition.

The early season strength of the Yellowjackets has been pitching. The batting order is still looking for a little more consistency, but Hucke said they’ve got the talent to hit the ball well. They’ve also been bitten by the injury bug.

Yellowjackets baseball

RCTC baseball coach Steve Hucke says he’s looking for more consistency from the Yellowjackets, who are 12-12 on the season going into their next action on Thursday, April 13, with a home doubleheader at 2 and 4:00. (article from wn.news.com)

“Our record says we’re .500 and that’s kind of how we’ve been playing,” Hucke said. “We’ll come out one day and play really tough and look really good. For some reason, we’ll come back and I don’t know if we’re satisfied with that or what. I’m happy with the wins but I’m not satisfied with being .500 because I think we’re a better team than that.”

The Yellowjackets baseball team had a  big question mark coming into the season, which was pitching. The team had to replace some good arms from last season but they’ve had some good kids step up and fill some of those roles. He says the unfortunate thing is the batters can’t seem to generate consistent run support.

 

 

“Our relief pitchers have come in and they understand their role that they’re supposed to fill when they enter the game,” Hucke said. “It’s been fun to see them come in and hold leads or get saves, and to pitch well enough for us to have a chance to come back and get a win.”

The first bullpen breakdown of the season didn’t happen until last Sunday when a normally reliable reliever came in, left a pitch up, and gave up three runs to Dakota County Technical College in the seventh inning. However, the Jackets did come back and win the game 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning on a walk-off base hit.

As he looks up and down the batting lineup, Hucke feels the team has a lot of potential to do some damage at the plate. The biggest challenge right now is the Yellowjackets baseball team is struggling with injuries.

 

 

“We’ve got the sticks to do it,” Hucke said, “we just need our approach at the plate to be a little more consistent and in tune with what we’re trying to do. We’re getting there.”

The team is getting much better defensively after what Hucke called a very rocky start to the season. He said the team likely has more errors to start a season than they’ve had in the last few years. A lot of it may have to do with spending most of their time inside the bubble over the football field working out to suddenly finding themselves outside in the middle of competition, switching from AstroTurf to natural grass.

“You get used to attacking the ball a little bit differently now that you’re on grass versus staying back and waiting for it to get to you on turf,” Hucke said. “We’re making some great plays in the outfield. Our outfielders have been phenomenal and we’re getting there around the infield so I think we’ll be okay.”

The team is coming off a Sunday afternoon split against Dakota County Technical College, dropping the first game 4-0 before coming back in dramatic fashion in the second game, winning 4-3. Hucke said the conference schedule is going to be as competitive as ever this spring.

“Our conference is pretty competitive and very talented,” he said. “We’ve also played one of our toughest non-conference schedules in recent years. We played a lot of tough teams on our spring trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, including a lot of Division 1 and Division 2 teams (scholarship programs). We came out of there at .500 against good teams so I can’t complain too much about that.”

Hucke said the trips down south give the team a chance to get to know each other. It’s important to find out who gets along with who and the team gets to find out about each other.

“Now, they’re forced to be together every day on a bus, in the condominiums where we stay, and out on the diamond,” Hucke said. “They’ll find out what the team is made of after a trip like that.”

The Yellowjackets baseball team is back in action on Thursday, April 13, with a home doubleheader against the St. Mary’s JV squad at 2 and 4:00. They’ll hit the road for a Friday conference doubleheader at St. Cloud Tech with games scheduled for 1 and 3:00.

 

Yellowjackets fall by one in basketball opener

RCTC Yellowjackets basketballThe Rochester Community and Technical College Yellowjackets opened the men’s basketball season at home on Wednesday night against Dakota County Technical College out of Rosemount. The Jackets played their first regular season game after making a run into the National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament last year, finishing as the national runner-up. In case you didn’t know, that wasn’t their first deep foray into the postseason.

Head coach Brian LaPlante has built a very good program in his two decades at the college. Including Wednesday night, his overall record at the school 396-174. Over the course of his career as Yellowjackets coach, he’s taken his team to six national tournaments. The Yellowjackets have some things to clean up (it’s early, who doesn’t) they were very entertaining to watch. I’d encourage more members of the community to spend some time at the Regional Sports Center and take in some basketball this winter.

The Jackets led by a point at the half, 35-34, but Dakota Tech outscored RCTC 38-36 in the second half to pull out the win. Late in the second half, Malik Jones (Chicago, IL) made a three-point play on a lay-in and free throw to give the Yellowjackets a one-point lead. However, the Blue Knights would answer with points of their own. RCTC had one last chance with 1.2 seconds on the clock. Jones wound up with the ball at half court and let it fly from there, with the ball clanking off the front of the rim before falling to the floor while the buzzer sounded.

Dakota County won the turnover battle with the Yellowjackets, 14-20. Those 20 RCTC turnovers would lead to 25 points for the Knights and that likely was a deciding factor in the game. Neither team shot the ball from the free throw line. Dakota would shoot 60 percent (20 for 33) while Rochester went for 56 percent (9-16). You’d think since the Knights doubled the number of Jacket free throws, Dakota was more aggressive taking the ball to the basket, and you’d be right.

RCTC seemed content to take shots from the perimeter for most of the night. They would finish the night shooting 46 percent (28 for 60) from the field.  Rochester was six for 17 from beyond the three-point line while the Blue Knights were four of ten.

The Yellowjackets had four of their starting five in double figures on the night. Malik Jones scored 13 while Stillwater product Nick Ogren also had 13 (two for three beyond the arc). Jones was also the top rebounder with 11.

The Yellowjackets are home on Friday night to play Milwaukee Area Technical College in the second game of a doubleheader at 8:00. The women’s game will start at 6.

Highlights from Wednesday night’s game:

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:

 

 

 

Med City Freeze prepare for season two

“Season two (for the Med City Freeze) is going to be a lot of fun.”

Those are the first words Tim Nela chose to say as he thought about the two rounds of tryouts the Med City Freeze held in recent months.  The Freeze held the tryouts to fill out their 2017 roster for the Southern Plains Football League season next year. That’s not the only reason they’re holding tryouts. They also need to put their team together to take part in the 2016 Winter Pigskin Classic coming up on December 17th at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“We definitely established a coaching staff,” said Nela, one of the four founders of the Freeze, “that was the main focus the first year (in 2016). Now we have players coming over from other teams that are coming over and we’ve got people who’ve played at all different levels of football.”

Med City Freeze football

The Med City Freeze football team hosted tryouts for the 2017 roster at the Rochester Community and Technical College campus in Rochester, Minnesota, on Friday, October 21. The Freeze will play in the Winter Pigskin Classic on December 17 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (Photo by Chad Smith)

Storm Soto is another one of the team founders, and he said the difference between year one and year two is incredible. The number of people trying out for the team last year was considerably lower than the number that turned out at the recent tryouts.

“Now that year one is done and everyone saw the success,” Soto said, “and year two is booming. It’s one of those unfortunate things that some really talented players won’t make the Freeze roster this year because of so much talent to choose from.”

He said people might be more attracted to the team because the Freeze were 7-1 in their inaugural season. Soto said players were able to see the kind of quality organization they put together and the good competition they play on a weekly basis during the season.

This year was a clean slate as far as filling the roster. Everyone that was on the roster last year was required to try out again, even Soto, Nela, and Jeff Sipple, the third team founder (Joseph Hockert is the fourth). Soto said some of the guys who made the team last year likely won’t make the roster this season.

“We aren’t just looking for the best athletes,” Soto said, “we’re looking for the best people too. The Freeze want people who are going to fit in with what we do. We want tenacious attitudes on the field but we don’t want attitude off the field.”

Nela described the drills at both tryout sessions as “pro style.” They didn’t necessarily do a bench press and run a 40-yard dash like players do at the NFL combine, but they did do a lot of conditioning drills.

“Jeff (Sipple) had the best times for all the agility drills,” Nela said, “but he worked harder than anybody in the offseason. Being the quarterback and one of the (team) founders, he understands that if you want to be on the field, you have to be willing to work for it.”

Soto said most of the players showed up in good condition. He called a couple of the players they’re adding to the roster next year, “studs.” Nela liked what he saw from the prospective Freeze players.

“They were guys out there that brought a different type of energy that we didn’t have in season one,” Nela said. “Some of these guys are going to make plays on the field, but off the field with the things we do outside of football, even on things like bus rides, they’ll be very good for the team.”

Soto said the Freeze have a big chunk of the roster already filled out and they hope to have everything done and players called in the next several days. There’s even more urgency than normal because the Freeze will be taking part in the Winter Pigskin Classic on December 17 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“The (SPFL) league has put this on in the past at the Metrodome,” Soto said. “I think it shows a lot about the credibility of the SPFL to do something like this. I give a lot to league commissioner Jay Doyscher, who has busted his tail to legitimize this league, and I commend him for making this a possibility for amateur football players.”

The league will have games running all day at U.S. Bank Stadium, and Nela said it’s a great opportunity to see the stadium for those folks who haven’t been able to make it to a Vikings game.

“It’s $15, you could spend all day out there and watch some good football,” Nela said. “We’re playing the Buffalo Ridge Wildcats, an undefeated team last year that featured the best offense in the league.”

The team will have half a dozen practices to install the offense and defense, getting everyone in their right positions. The Freeze game kicks off at 6p.m., but the gates open for the all-day event at 9 that morning.

The Freeze will be hosting a couple of fans buses for those who don’t want to drive to the Cities and pay for parking. Pre-sale tickets are $15 dollars, with the door price at $20. For more information, check out the Med City Freeze Facebook page or email medcityfreeze@gmail.com.

Building a football team on October 21st at the RCTC campus.

RCTC football becomes impromptu family reunion

As long as there’ve been athletic competitions like football, fathers have been taking their sons to games to enjoy a little bonding time.  Most sports fans I know have at least one favorite story of going to games with their dad and hanging out.  Good times with their dads will often lead kids to continue the tradition when they become parents themselves.

RCTC football equals a family reunion

The Rochester Community and Technical College football team beat Minnesota West in its home opener on Saturday, September 3, by a 26-8 score to even the overall season record at 1-1. (photo by Chad Smith

I got to take my two oldest boys with me to the Rochester Community and Technical College football game today.  If you know anything about what my family went through over the last four years, you’d know what a monumental thing that is.  It seems like such a small thing to go to a football game, doesn’t it?   When you haven’t been able to do that thing for a long time due to circumstances beyond your control, that little thing becomes big.

The day was a knockout for a college football game with temps in the 70’s.  There was just enough cloud cover to keep the heat from becoming oppressive, as it’s been known to do in late August/early September.  But no, this was a perfect day to watch football.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t the prettiest game I’ve seen in some time.  There weren’t a lot of big plays for either offense but the Yellowjackets came away with a 26-8 win to even their record at 2-0.  I didn’t recognize a lot of their players from last year’s squad. That team finished runner-up in the national championship game last year.  Last year’s coaching staff is gone too, so it’s going to be a rebuilding year for the Jackets.

I’d love to see those college athletic teams get more support from the Rochester community.  Those kids play hard and the cost to see them play is actually pretty affordable.  The facilities are some of the nicest I’ve seen in all my years of covering sports, so it’s worth the time and a little investment to take in the college atmosphere.

I’ve got a son and wife who are students out to RCTC, so I’m looking forward to getting to know the place a lot better in the months ahead.  Sure, it would be nice to see more Rochester folks out there.  If you’re a sports fan, you’re definitely missing out on some fun.

The offensive struggles made highlights a little harder to come by, but the Yellowjackets offense did find some rhythm in the second half.

Miracle of Birth Center brings agriculture to the public

Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester, Minnesota

The Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester gave the public a chance to get up close to animal agriculture, with the goal of educating the public on just where there food comes from and how it’s produced. (photo by Chad Smith)

As some people entered the Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester, the sounds of a brand new calf, ten-day-old goats, and just-born piglets fighting for the best positions near mom to nurse brought back a flood of memories from living on a farm.

However, most of the people entering the Center didn’t have an agricultural background to draw on so it was a completely new experience for some of them.  That’s the reason Ag Star Financial and several local sponsors pooled their resources to bring the Center to life.  The goal is a simple one: to educate the public about agriculture.

“We have a lot of education stations in here for kids and adults too,” said Tracy Nelson, Miracle of Birthing Center Manager.  “People can get up close with hens that laid eggs and then watch the eggs hatch.  We also have baby chicks and ducklings they can touch.  We also have ten-day-old goat kids.”

Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester.

The Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center gave the public a chance to get up close and personal with ten-day-old goats and other animals found in American animal agriculture. (Photo by Chad Smith)

Ed Kuisle of Rochester brought the goats, and he said it’s been one of the most popular exhibits in the Center for one reason:  personality.  The goats are a novelty for the kids, and he said they have a lot of personalities already at just ten days old so kids really enjoy interacting with them.  The goats come from a big dairy farm down by Altura.

“The owner of the farm milks about 600 of them.  These goats are billies (male),” said Kuisle, who grew up working on a dairy farm near Rochester. “The owner of the farm feeds them out to 50-60 pounds and then sells them.  All the does stay on the farm for milking.”

Four sows were on display during the fair, and they were all expected to farrow.  One of the sows farrowed on Thursday morning and had ten brand new piglets.  The birthing didn’t stop there either.  A brand new Holstein calf was born on Thursday afternoon.  The bull took his first steps in front of an appreciative crowd shortly after 2:30.

Miracle of Birth Center in Rochester

The general public had a chance to watch a Holstein bull calf being born on Thursday afternoon, July 27, at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester as part of the Miracle of Birth Center. (photo by Chad Smith)

“We actually announce that we have a birthing going on over the public address system of the fair and it fills up,” Nelson said.  “There are a lot of people on the bleachers and standing around.  We even put it up on the TV’s here in the building and do some play-by-play for people in the building.”

Nelson said people ask lots of questions.  For example, they seem surprised at the size difference between a mother sow and her piglets.  Another question they get is how the little chicks could actually fit inside the eggs they hatch from.  They also think the size of the bigger animals is surprising.  And those kinds of questions are the reason the Center is in existence.

“The biggest purpose of the Center is to educate the public about animal agriculture,” Nelson said.  “It’s about giving people the experience of seeing live animals of different ages and sizes.  Whether they actually get to see a live birth or just come and see the animals here, they’re learning about animal agriculture.”

Nelson said Kuisle is one of many volunteers that make the Center possible.  Kuisle said with a smile on his face that he volunteers one week a year, and it’s at the county fair.  But he was quick to add that a project like the Miracle of Birthing Center has been very successful.

“It’s gone very well,” Kuisle said. “It was slow the first couple of days but it’s really picked up.  The goal is to expose young people to what happens on the farm.  Most children today can’t come out to a farm anymore so this type of project works out well here.”

Kuisle said he gets a lot of questions too.  Some of them include ‘are the animals born with teeth?  Are they boy or girl?’  And the biggest question he gets is ‘can I pet them?’

Miracle of Birth Center in Rochester

The Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester gave youngsters a chance to interact with live animals raised in American agriculture. (Photo by Chad Smith)

Nelson also grew up on a dairy farm.  She said she’s a little surprised at the disconnect between rural and urban folks, but not entirely surprised.  She said a lot of people grew up with agriculture in the family, but those numbers are falling.

“It’s surprising how much some of the people know about agriculture,” she said, “and it’s surprising how little others may know about Ag.  Most people really seem to want the information about where their food comes from”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northwoods League baseball, the Honkers, and high-def

As the weather in southeast Minnesota warms up, the Rochester Honkers get busier preparing for the 2016 Northwoods League baseball season, set to start on May 31 at Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Rochester Honkers, Northwoods League baseball, HD cameras

The Rochester Honkers open their Northwoods League baseball season on May 31 at the Eau Claire, Wisconsin Express (photo from northwoodsleague.com)

The Honkers front office staff has all but wrapped up signing players for the upcoming season. Honkers General Manager and Co-Owner Dan Litzinger said the action in the front office has been ramping up in recent weeks.

“It’s been very busy,” Litzinger said. “We have a small front office staff of two or three people, so it’s a lot of work.

On a tour of the park as preparations continued recently, the first thing people might notice are new cameras being installed around the field. The Northwoods League is upgrading the Honkers video system at the ballpark to a full 1080p HD, and Litzinger said that’s unprecedented.

Rochester Honkers, Northwoods League baseball, Summer, HD cameras

The view from center at Mayo Field in Rochester is about to get an upgrade to HD in order to improve the quality of watching Northwoods League baseball online. (photo from digitalballparks.com)

“We’re installing a new camera in centerfield that’s up 25 feet just left of center,” Litzinger said. “It will give it a really pro look with the picture coming in over the right shoulder of the pitcher. There will be three more HD cameras by first base, third base, and behind home plate, so watching the games online will be a whole new experience.”

The new cameras are going to enhance video production all across the Northwoods League, and will include replay capability. You can get access to the games on the Northwoods League website or on the Honkers website as well. Click on the “Watch Now” button on either site and follow the prompts.

It’s a pay-per-view access, but pay by the game, the month, or the season, and its give you access to the entire Northwoods League and not just the Honkers

The team roster for 2016 is set with a 30-man roster, three coaches, and ten temporary players mean everything is full. Now they just wait for possible readjustments to happen.

“Things like grades, injuries, girlfriends, a grandmother dies, and other things like that will flip our roster starting soon,” Litzinger said. “So there’s a backup list of players and you hope in the first two weeks that your record is 7-7 and not 0-14, otherwise there’s no chance of making the first half championship in our division.”

The Honkers look far and wide to pull in players. This year’s roster actually has a strong California flavor to it because two of the team’s coaches have great connections in that particular state.

“Trevor Hairgove and Demetre Kokoris are both coming back,” Litzinger said. “They’re California guys (Hairgrove at UC Riverside and Kokoris at Santa Barbara City College) with connections through their colleges. So, we have a lot of kids from California colleges, but overall, the kids come from both coasts, from Florida to California up north to Washington and Oregon.”

Rochester Honkers, Northwoods League baseball, HD cameras

Dan Litzinger is co-owner and General Manager of the Rochester Honkers of the Northwoods Baseball League. He’s been the GM since 1997. (photo from northwoodsleague.com)

He added, “We have players from New York and even a couple coming all the way from Taiwan.”

Team Co-Owner Kim Archer actually has a son that lives in Taiwan and met an agent that wanted to send players overseas to play baseball. One of the players coming in is a high school senior that’s left-handed and throws hard. The other coming in is also a pitcher and a high school junior.

“It was a challenge to find a host family that spoke Mandarin Chinese,” Litzinger said. “We found one that was a current host but not scheduled to host anyone this summer. Thank God they stepped up and said ‘we’ve had foreign exchange students and we’ll take both these kids.’ Hopefully, this brings us some international exposure too.”

From year to year, most of the roster typically turns over from one summer to the next. Typically, Northwoods League teams try to get four to six players back from one year to the next. It’s important for several reasons.

“One is the fan base,” Litzinger said. “They’ll have an automatic connection with guys who may have played the year before. There are always kids you want back and kids you don’t, plus, some kids can’t come back for whatever reasons.

One big reason players may not want to come back is they want to get out and see the world. Litzinger said it’s hard to tell them no when they want to travel and play in other places.

“How do you tell someone who got an offer to play in Alaska not to go there,” said Litzinger, who’s been the GM since 1997. “There are kids who may have a goal of playing in the Cape Cod League out east, and even though I think we’re a better league, they want to go and try it.

“We tell them to go and give it a try, and most come back saying playing in Rochester was a much better experience,” Litzinger said. “Those players actually become pretty good recruiting tools for the Northwoods League.”

The Honkers have four kids on the roster that return from last season.

One of the more recent additions to the roster was Jackson Douglas of Iowa Western Community College. He played his high school ball at Rochester Mayo.

The Honkers open the season on May 31 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to take on the Express. They return home to Rochester the next night for the home opener, also against the Express.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Med City Freeze win their opener on a blustery night

The Med City Freeze football opener was both a challenge and success as well. First off, the goal of any sport is to win the game and the Freeze did just that, 20-0 over the North Iowa Hawks.  The victory made the return of the Southern Plains Football League to Rochester official.

The weather was indeed the biggest challenge.  Cold, blustery, rain, sprinkles, and a wet bum as fans sat on bleachers made for a rough night for the folks in attendance.  I have no doubt that the attendance would have been much better with nicer weather, but Mother Nature evidently missed the memo that there was a game tonight.

Med City Freeze opener

Three Rochester John Marshall graduates spearheaded the effort to bring amateur football back to Rochester. From left: Jeff Sipple, Tim Nela, and Storm Soto. (photo by Chad Smith)

Hats off the a whole lot of people who put in a lot of work to get the program going in Rochester, but a big tip of the cap to Storm Soto, Tim Nela, and Jeff Sipple for bringing nine-man football action back to town. These three are all from Rochester and spearheaded the work that brought spring football back to the area.

As I sat and watched the action for about an hour (hey, it was cold, all right?) I saw some good things.  I saw balance on offense and a Med City Freeze defense that forced one turnover and nearly had another.  I saw some great hits from both defenses. I saw some mistakes, but honestly, some of that had to do with the wet weather and a slick football.  The weather looked a lot more tolerable because the game was taking place at the Rochester Community and Technical College football field.  I’ve never seen a more well-put together field at the Junior College level, and they take very good care of it.

I put together a few plays so you could get a taste of the action on Saturday night.  Again, the Med City Freeze won 20-0, and are back on their home field next week against the Southeast Minnesota Warhawks, who curiously play their home games in Carlisle, Iowa.  Love the name, though.

 

 

 

Med City Freeze debut on Saturday night

The Med City Freeze is set to make its Southern Plains Football League debut on Saturday night against the North Iowa Bucks. Kickoff is at 7:00 at the Rochester Community and Technical College Regional Stadium.

The last several weeks have involved practicing and getting the offensive and defensive systems in place, as well as getting a new team used to playing together. It’s been a lot of hard work for the Freeze to get to this point.

Practice a grind

“From the football aspect of things, it’s been a grind,” said Storm Soto, Med City Freeze co-founder, Team President, and tight end. “We extended some of our recent practices from two hours to three to get some good work in.

Med City Freeze make their debut.

The Med City Freeze, pictured at a recent practice, is getting set for their debut game on Saturday in Rochester against the North Iowa Bucks. Kickoff is at 7 at the RCTC football field.

“From the organizational side of things, we’re still working on things like getting sponsorships,” Soto said. “We’ve also been making commercials and things like that, and this final week before the game will involve getting things all set up.”

Dalton Haas is the offensive coordinator who runs the play calling. He’s a two-year league veteran as a player and was a Rochester John Marshall standout. He said practices really took off once the players really got the playbook down pat.

“Everyone is getting comfortable,” said Haas, “they don’t have to think about the plays called, they’re just going out and making plays. The transition from the first practice to the seventh was amazing with the number of big plays in practice.”

Players in good condition

There wasn’t a lot of extra conditioning work necessary as most players came into practice in good shape. That allowed the Freeze to really get to work on learning the plays.

“A majority came in good shape,” Soto said.   “You could tell a lot of guys put in extra work in on their own from the first week of practice up until now. I think we’re going to be one of the best conditioned teams in the league.”

Balance on offense

As the team has picked up the offensive playbook, it looks like the key word to describe their playing style is balance. Freeze fans should see a good mix of running and passing the football.

“You’ll see a good dose of the running game,” Soto said, “and our passing game will feature plays out of all of our formations and sets. Our passing style will be aggressive, and we’ve got the right players to do so.”

Fans will see all kinds of well-known football sets they see in other football leagues.

Med city Freeze make their debut.

It’s offense versus defense pictured here at a recent Med City Freeze practice. Physical and gritty is how they describe their style of play as they open the season Saturday in Rochester. Kickoff at RCTC field is 7:00.

“You’ll see a little bit of everything,” Haas said. “You’ll see Pro-I, shotgun, passing, running, with nothing to complicated, just being solid on the basics.”

Learning curve for new team

Getting a brand new team to learn to play together was a challenge. However, there might have been some benefits to being a brand new club.

“In a way, I think it was a good thing,” Haas said, “because everyone started at square one. Everyone was learning together, so the learning curve was equal for the whole team. It was a good bonding experience, because we had players who were catching on helping those who were a little behind.”

The Freeze is a brand new team this year, but they do have some Southern Plains Football League veterans to build around, including a couple players who helped to found the team.

“Storm Soto has played five years,” Haas said, “our quarterback, Jeff Sipple, has played four years, so we have some experience. We have a lot of people who’ve played at all levels, from high school all the way up to D1-AA, so we’ve got a lot of football experience overall.”

Physical style up front

The best way to describe this year’s team is physical and gritty, and its starts with the big boys up front.

“We’ve got guys up front that don’t mind getting after it and putting people on their butts,” Soto said. “Our defense will be physical, and in the secondary we have great length and speed. Linebackers are physical and they get to the football quickly.”

As mentioned, Dalton Haas is the OC. He and Brandon Luhmann handle the offense. Jordan Pogalz is the defensive coordinator and Jason Born is a defensive assistant.

First game keys

The goal against the North Iowa Bucks is obviously to win the game, but to get there, it’s going to be very important for a brand new club to make as few mistakes as possible.

Med City Freeze make their debut.

The RCTC football field in Rochester is the home field of the Yellowjackets, and will be the home field Saturday for the Med City Freeze in their Southern Plains Football League debut on Saturday at 7pm.

“Just the basics of not fumbling the football,” Haas said, “and each player just doing his assignments on not getting carried away. It’s all about fundamentals, and when that happens, everything else will fall into place. I think the biggest thing is we’re just anxious to get out and play someone else.”

With roster turnover from year to year, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from North Iowa on Saturday.

“They have a lot of good talent over there,” Soto said, “but year in and year out it’s hard to tell because teams are always recruiting someone different, so it’s hard to get a scouting report. That first week is where you get your scouting reports, and then you trade notes with other organizations.

“The biggest key will be to put four good quarters together,” Soto said, “and fly around the field from start to finish.”

Admission is only $6 per person, and 13 and under gets in for free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RCTC softball heats up after slow start

RCTC softball heats up

The Yellowjackets softball team will host the CTC tournament this Friday and Saturday at the RCTC dome in Rochester, MN. (photo from myFox47.com)

The Rochester Community and Technical College Yellowjackets softball team is 7-10 on the season. Head Coach Niki Peterson said they’re playing good softball after a slow start to the spring.

The season schedule began with good competition against teams from Iowa, as well as a trip to South Carolina. The Jackets were 0-8 after returning from down south, but have won seven of their past nine games.

“Things have gotten better,” Peterson said. “It’s one of the things I’ve learned coaching junior college softball. It’s a two-year rotation with new people in every year instead of juniors and seniors to lead the way. It takes a little longer for them to acclimate to each other.”

RCTC softball coach Niki Peterson and her Yellowjackets are playing well right now.

RCTC softball coach Niki Peterson’s Yellowjackets have won seven of their last nine games as they get set to host the CTC Classic this Friday and Saturday at the RCTC Dome. (photo from rctcyellowjackets.com

Peterson believes in playing a tougher schedule, which she says makes her team better in the long run. The Yellowjackets didn’t even play an NJCAA Division three team until they returned from South Carolina.

“We played four division two teams in our first tournament,” Peterson said. “We then played Division two, Division one, and one NAIA team when we went on our spring break trip to Myrtle Beach (South Carolina). Our record suffered a little because of it.”

She added, “However, our kids came into the games against the northern schools last week, and we outscored those teams 44-3 in three games.”

After committing multiple defensive errors during the trip south, Coach Peterson said the one area where the team has shown the most improvement is in their defense.

“We were missing McKayla Ahlrich (Sleepy Eye, MN), who’s our starting shortstop,” Peterson said. “She’s a basketball player. It took her a couple games to get comfortable as she hadn’t played since her senior year in high school, but she made a huge difference when she came on.

“We had a ton of errors early in the season,” she said. “We were beating ourselves. We did play some tough competition, but I think we could have hung with them better if our defense was cleaner.”

In addition to the defense, the hitting has picked up considerably as well.

“Christina Stanger (of Stewartville) was one of our leaders at the plate from last year,” Peterson said. “She struggled early on, but has come on hot the last few games. She was seven for ten at the plate with two home runs in the three games last week.”

Injuries are a part of every season and sports, and it’s been no different so far with the Yellowjackets.

“Haley Vanourney (Marion, IA) is one of our captains and one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” Coach Peterson said. “She sustained a concussion during the trip to Myrtle Beach and we lost her for a week. She’s back and swinging the bat well.

“Sammy Hogan (Palatine, IL) hits third in the order for us,” Peterson said, “and she’s been crushing the ball all year. Hogan’s hitting well over .600 for us.

One thing the coaching staff stresses at the plate is getting a quality at bat, no matter what the outcome is. She said the kids are buying into that system.

“It’s okay if you step in and that first pitch isn’t your favorite,” Peterson said. “It’s okay not to swing at it. We were swinging at pitches that might not be our favorites and we were hitting easy-out ground balls or popups. We’re focused on picking out a good pitch to hit and hitting it hard.”

The pitching mound will see some good depth this year. Up to four Yellowjackets may see some time out on the mound.

RCTC softball and pitcher Sammy Hogan are warming up

RCTC softball pitcher Sammy Hogan was named the National Junior College Athletic Association Division Three player of the week on March seventh and 14th. (photo from rctcyellowjackets.com)

“Our top one-two pitchers are Sammy Hogan (two time NJCAA Division Three Player of the Week) and Quincy Gross (Columbia Heights, MN),” Peterson said. “They’re doing well. In her last two starts, Sammy threw a no-hitter and a one-hitter. Quincy is battling a little, but when she’s on, she’s tough. She’s got good movement on her pitches.

She added, “Haley Vanourney will also pitch for us. She’s a nice counterbalance for us. She’s doesn’t throw quite as hard, but has nice movement on her pitches. McKayla Ahlrich will also throw a few pitches as well.”

The Jackets will host the CTC invitational at the RCTC dome this Friday and Saturday. The other teams will include Rainy River Community College, Vermillion Community College, Hibbing Community College, and Madison College.

Here’s the complete Yellowjackets roster:

 

No.   Name        Pos.  B/T  Cl.     Ht.    Hometown/High School

14     McKayla Ahlrich        P/INF                FR            Sleepy Eye, MN / Sleepy Eye

 

20     Kayla Branstad C/INF                FR            Northwood, IA / Northwood-Kensett

 

10     Ashleigh Dralle Utility                SO             Farmington, MN / Randolph

 

16     Brittany Ellis     Outfield             FR            Lansing, IA / Kee High

 

12     Paige Gadient    Utility                SO             Goodhue, MN / Goodhue

 

7       Quincy Gross    P/INF                FR            Columbia Heights, MN / Columbia Heights

 

15     Sammy Hogan  P/INF                SO             Palatine, IL / St. Viator

 

5       Makayla Kaeppel       OF            FR            Hawkeye, IA / North Fayette Valley

 

3       Shantel Loos     Infield               FR            Rochester, MN / Century

 

18     Emmy Miller     INF           SO             Cannon Falls, MN / Cannon Falls

 

13     Jordan O’Connor       OF            SO             Preston, MN / Fillmore-Central

 

4       Christina Stanger      OF            SO             Stewartville, MN / Stewartville

 

1       Haley Vanourney      C/P/INF           SO             Marion, IA / Marion