Here are the first Minnesota volleyball preseason rankings of the year:
Class AAA Rankings
1. Eagan (8)
2. Prior Lake
3. Lakeville North
5. Champlin Park
7. East Ridge
Class AA Rankings
1. Maple Lake (8)
4. Southwest Christian
6. North Branch
7. Sauk Centre
Class A Rankings
1. Mayer Lutheran (8)
4. Bethlehem Academy
6. Rush City
8. Wadena-Deer Creek
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.
The Med City Freeze open Southern Plains Football League play on Saturday, April 30, at the RCTC Regional Stadium in Rochester, Kickoff is at 7. (photo from hometeamsonline.com)
The Southern Plains Football League officially has a new member from Rochester. Say hello to the Med City Freeze football, a new amateur team featuring players from around southern Minnesota, Iowa, and as far away as Chicago, Illinois and Atlanta, Georgia.
Three men from Rochester are the leaders in getting amateur football back in the area. Rochester John Marshall graduates Storm Soto, Tim Nela, and Jeff Sipple all love football, and simply wanted to bring amateur competition back home to Rochester.
“Jeff and I played for another team in the league, the South Central Hawgs (in Truman, MN),” said Soto, “and we had been commuting back and forth for three years. After the most recent season, we sat down and built a plan to do this in Rochester. We asked Tim to join us and founded the Med City Freeze.”
Tim Nela is a Rochester native and listed as a running back on the current Freeze roster. They’re excited to bring a brand new team into an already established league.Haw
“It is 9-man, amateur tackle football,” Nela said, “and it’s an adult league, so players are 18-plus. We’ve brought a team to a league that’s already established in its twentieth year. It’s not a situation where we created a team and then created a league.”
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)
That doesn’t necessarily mean the new roster has no experience in Southern Plains league play.
“Storm is going into his fifth season,” Nela said, “and Jeff is going into his fourth. This will be my first season in the league.”
Other veterans on the roster include Nathan Polansky, a running back from Rochester in his third season, as well as Duane Quam, a fullback/linebacker from Byron, who is going into his third season.
How does a brand new team go about finding players to fill out the roster? In a word: tryouts.
“We had a series of two open tryouts,” said Soto. “We evaluated players based on skill level and picked the strongest 40. We can have a roster of up to 50, but only 40 can dress, so we stuck with that number.”
Soto added, “We all have a lot of confidence in the roster we’ve assembled.”
The roster includes a lot of recognizable players from Rochester and some familiar names from around southern Minnesota as well.
“They’re kind of from all over,” said Soto. “Rochester, primarily, but we have people from Jackson, Minnesota who are traveling down I-90 to play, as well as players from Plainview, Pine Island, and Stewartville.”
It’s already time to start practicing for the April 30th opener against the North Iowa Bucks at the Rochester Community and Technical College Regional Stadium. The first practice is actually this Sunday, February 21.
“A lot of guys have been training on their own,” Nela said. “It’s crazy. For example, we were already up at working out at 5:00 this morning. We believe so much in what we’ve assembled that when the first game hits, we’re ready to put on a show.”
Between now and the first game, the biggest challenge will be to get a roster of players who’ve never been on the field together to gel into a unit.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” said Soto. “There’s a lot of new personalities that we’re taking on, but the key will be to have everyone buy into what we’re doing. If they do that, I’m confident we can go all the way to an SPFL championship.”
The team locations range from eastern South Dakota, through Minnesota, and all the way into Iowa. The Freeze will be members of the Eastern Division, so they won’t have to travel quite that far.
It is amateur level competition, but the three-team founders said don’t let that fool you. You may be surprised at how skilled some of the players are.
The skill-set has a good range,” Soto said. “In this league, you have high school players all the way up to former NCAA Division One players. Last year we played against four or five guys that were Division One, including players from the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Minnesota.”
He added, “It’s a very physical and demanding league.”
The Freeze has coaches ready to start practice on Sunday.
There are costs associated with getting a brand new team off the ground. The Freeze began a Kickstarter campaign to help offset some of those costs, and they’d appreciate any help the public can give:
The Freeze kick off the season on Saturday, April 30, at the RCTC regional stadium with a 7:00 kickoff against the North Iowa Bucks.
The Rochester Community and Technical College softball team is 27-14 on the season and ranked at number four in the national Division 3 top ten as they finish the regular season schedule on Thursday, April 30, hosting a doubleheader with Riverland College, a team the Yellowjackets swept in their first matchup back in early April.
The 27 wins so far have come in spite of having a very young roster and a first-year head coach in Niki Peterson. The Jackets took a doubleheader from Minnesota West Community and Technical College to start the final week of the regular season on Tuesday. Peterson said they played well.
RCTC softball coach Niki Peterson (Photo from rctcyellowjackets.com)
“It’s helps when your pitching is that on,” said Peterson. “We hit the ball well, and we’ve done that most of the season, except when we’ve faced some of the tougher Division One and Division Two competition. Overall, our hitting has been pretty solid all year.”
She said the Yellowjackets are a threat to take the ball deep up and down the lineup.
8 of the 9 players in the RCTC starting lineup have at least one home run (Photo from rctcyellowjackets.com)
“I think everyone in our starting lineup but one has at least one home run,” said Peterson. “We have power, but we also have some speed on the base paths. Ashley Bunting (Redwood Falls, MN) is actually leading the nation in stolen bases with 62.”
The roster doesn’t contain a lot of experience at the college level. “We only have five sophomores on the roster,” said Peterson, “and only four are in our starting lineup. The other one is out with a torn ACL.”
“Coming in as a first year head coach, I just didn’t know what to expect,” said Peterson. “I knew the sophomore class because I was an assistant coach last year, and I knew their capabilities. With all the knew faces coming in and they weren’t my recruits, I just didn’t know a lot about them.”
Peterson added, “Two of our best players this spring are walk-ons. Kristen Erickson is a J-M (Rochester John Marshall) graduate who I actually recruited two years ago, but she took a year off and came back. Amber Gehrke is a Zumbrota-Mazeppa graduate who reached out to me and said she’d just been attending school and decided she wanted to play.”
On-field leadership is coming from a recent Stewartville high school graduate.
“Christina Stanger is a freshman who plays like a four-year senior,” said Peterson. “She leads this team off the field and on the field too. She leads vocally, physically, and keeps the team in the game mentally. She’s an all-around leader, and to have her doing that as a freshman is great for me as a coach, but it’s also great to have her for another season.”
One of the sophomore leaders is catcher Katie Gatzlaff, a native of Springfield, Minnesota. Peterson said, “Katie runs the show behind the plate, and the team relies on her experience for leadership out on the field at gametime.”
A deep pitching staff is another strength of this spring’s team.
“We actually have five pitchers,” said Peterson. “They’re all very capable and could be starters for other teams in our conference. The two leaders on the staff are Alexis Schunke (Stewartville MN) and Laura Chalmers (Red Wing MN). Alexis actually threw a perfect game in our second win over Minnesota West on Tuesday.”
Peterson added, “She was just on. She hit her spots, and that was obviously the best she’s thrown all year.”
The Yellowjackets head to postseason action after the final doubleheader on April 30.
“We’re off to regions,” said Peterson. “It’s next week, on May 7 and 8. The conference champion will host the tournament, so as games wrap up this week, we’ll find out where we’re going.”
Update: The YellowJackets finished the season by sweeping Minnesota West in a doubleheader, winning game one 11-1, before taking the nightcap 19-3 to finish the season at 29-14.