Unbeaten, Untied, Uncrowned

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In terms of surprises, upsets and games of relevance, the East Mills/Stanton football series is arguably the most interesting fall rivalry in the Corner Conference.   But for all the great games between the two teams, its a game that didn't get played 10 years ago that sets this rivalry apart from the others.

Malvern and Nishna Valley combined to form East Mills and started to play fall sports in 2007.  The Wolverines were ineligible that season for the playoffs that season but played a full nine game schedule, winning all nine by a considerable margin.  EM didn't play a tough schedule that year, but they did put one sided beatings on Essex and CAM.  Both were top 15 teams in the state, and Essex was arguably top10.  The Trojans made the playoffs that year, losing in overtime in the first round to Walnut.  

As fate would have it, the Corner Conference was split in two that season.  EM, Fremont-Mills, Sidney, Farragut, Essex and Hamburg in one district.  Souh Page, Villisca and Stanton were in the other.  That's the 2007 Stanton team.  The Vikings were the eventual state champions that season with a perfect 13-0 record.  Two teams, both unbeaten and thusly the debate began.

Interestingly, CAM played both EM and Stanton that year, as well as Walnut and ArWeVa all of whom were unbeaten after the eighth week of the season.  When Cougar head Coach Joe Wollums was asked who was the best of those four teams before the playoffs started his response was immediately, "It's tough for me to imagine anyone beating Stanton."

The BCMoore computer ranked East Mills fourth and would have made the Vikings nine point favorites on a neutral field.  Still, games aren't played on paper and speculation went on for months as to who the better team was.  The two teams did play each season after that, with Stanton winning each year from 2008-2010, but 2011 was an entirely different story.

The 2011 Wolverines handled Stanton 48-12 and went on to thrash every team it played that year not called Fremont-Mills en route to an 11-2 season.  The Knights were state champions that season.  That glorious, often neglected, East Mills team was the second best 8man team in Mills County, the Corner Cofnerence, the district, and the whole state of Iowa.  No other team, not even Armstrong Ringstead, would have bested the unlucky Wolverines that season.

East Mills spent two season in 11 man football before dropping back down to eights in 2014 when they marched into Stanton heavy favorites (20+ BCMoore), but the Vikings roared to a 30-0 lead before holding on for the 66-54 win.  2015 was the reverse with Stanton being slightly favored before East Mills got a pick six from Miguel Sanchez that led to a 40-24 Wolverine win.  Stanton was a little too much for EM last season winning 28-6.

What will 2017 bring?  Both teams are in a little bit of a rebuilding mode, but I think its fair to call Stanton the favorite, especially with the human wrecking ball Dillion Rocha and Drake "The Snake" Johnson on the field, but I've been wrong on this game before.  I plan to be there and I will find out if I'm wrong or right then.

I think Stanton would have wobn the 2007 game ten years ago.  I'll never know if I'm wrong or right about that one though.  Come find me at a game sometime if you want to discuss it, or anyone other matchup, theoretical or real life.  

The 2007 Wolverines were unbeaten, untied and uncrowned.  Nothing will ever change that.

 

The Mental Aspect

Take a two by six piece of lumber, say about 20 feet long. Put it on the ground on a flat surface where you have a clear path over the top of it. Now walk to the other side without falling off. Pretty easy isn't it? Now stretch that same piece of timber between two tall buildings and gather a group of several hundred people or so to watch from far below. Same piece of wood. Same width. Same length. But it's not quite the same is it?

 

Suddenly you are going to notice if there is even the tiniest crosswind blowing. You are going to check and make sure your shoelaces are tied perfectly. You are likely going to take a few minutes to mentally prepare yourself before you step out over the abyss. You might even take to the internet to find tips about tightrope walking and inquire if you can carry one of those long poles that they use for balance. You can't. Just you and 20 feet of space. That is if you do it at all.

 

When I was still coaching I always gave some variation of this speech a couple times per season.

 

This is the mental aspect. It's not about the fundamentals of walking. You already know how to do that. It's not about keeping your balance. Years of athletics have honed your ability to stay upright in tough situations. Of course you know HOW to do it. But can you? Or more importantly, WILL you. This is pressure. It's what you can't drill at practice. It what they neglect to tell you at the fancy camps you attend over the summer. It's what you don't develop playing off season sports because no one other than your mom is really interested in the results of those contests.

 

You might be able to walk across on your hands all relaxed over the summer. In December you might be able to hop across on one foot or do it backwards. That's great if it's helping you to cross it when the stakes are raised. I've seen guys who appeared to be able to do anything have their legs turn to jelly when the pressure was on. They inevitably have some ready-made excuse. After they always lost the high-pressure match they only wanted to talk about number of contests they won against freshman or personal statistics accumulated in contests no one saw. I LOVED competing against those guys.

 

Welcome to post season sports. Win or go home. Win or buy a ticket to watch any more games this season. I'm old and I've been around high school sports in one capacity or another my whole life. I'll let you in on a secret. No one will ever ask you who you beat in week two of the season. A few people might mention the home stretch. Postseason, though. Now that is a different story, isn't it? Everyone will care, and more importantly so will you and your teammates.

 

The regular season season exists to prepare you for the post season. It's why you don't get too down after you lose and you don't get too high after a win. Regardless of result, those contests are to be used as a barometer of where you are as a team and an individual. It's important not to let the emotion consume you following these games. Stay the course. Don't disrupt the path of your team or your goals because of one single, non-essential game. Don't become a distraction to your teammates and your coach.

 

You can only truly learn to succeed by first falling short. How else are you going to know where you need to improve? Or where some future opponent is going to be able to exploit one of your weaknesses? Maybe some crappy, biased refereeing costs you a game. So what. You had a better night than they did, and crappy crews/refs don't usually get to work the important games. They will have to buy a ticket to see you play in February too, so don't let them bother you.

 

I loved making opponents mad. The thought of them thinking about me on a personal level instead of simply walking to the other side of the proverbial two by six filled me with confidence. The goal is winning; it's not personal. The goal is staying alive and keeping the season afloat. So, you slap that two by six down on the floor and practice walking across with people throwing stuff at you. You practice with obstacles in your way. You practice with people shouting insults at you. You practice by putting yourself in harder, more challenging situations than you'll see to prepare, not feeding your ego by cupcaking it all season.

 

Listen to your coach. He/she has a plan. They have walked the plank more times than you can count, and want your success more than anything. Handling your own failure is one thing. Watching someone you have bonded with and grown to love over the course of a season fail haunts you for years. I speak from experience on that.

 

The post season is right around the corner. It will be time to make your walk soon. Clear your mind and take everything you have learned during the season, in the off season, and away at camp. Focus on that and avoid thinking about what happens if you lose your balance and fall. It's as simple as walking to the other side. That's mental preparation.

 

Why do you see crazy upsets in the post season? Why is there always some ten-loss team making life hell for the favorites come February? Good question right? It's because their mind is right. They HAVE to cross the abyss to save their season. They don't fear it, they embrace it. You better get there yourself. Inevitably all but the greatest among us fail along the way. When and if it happens to you, know deep down inside you did everything you could to help your team (or yourself if you wrestle). If you don't it will be tough to look at yourself in the mirror for years and years. Again I speak from experience. That is if sports matter to you like they do me. If not, I'm really not talking to you and you are likely used to having to buy a ticket to see the mentally tough play anyway.

 

Now get back to the proverbial two by six in your gym. Back and forth and back and forth. Clear your mind of everything else. It's going to be time to put it across the drop soon and we are all coming to watch you cross it when you do. See you soon.

Dignity in Defeat 101

I've hit my head on the ground before. I've wrestled since I could walk. Even at age 46 I occasionally get together with other grapplers whose best days are long behind us. I know you don't care about that. I only bring it up to cement the fact that my head, even to this day, gets bounced off the ground now and then. Keep in mind, that's on a soft surface that is intended for people to land on without fear of injury. Even so, it still hurts to hit your head on it.

 

Maybe you know the coppery, almost blood-like taste that wells up in your nose and mouth. The dull ache at the point where your head makes contact with the ground. You may know the ringing in your ears and the brain fog that takes over for a minute or two after it happens. Sometimes you get dizzy. In truth, these are mini concussions.

 

I've made no secret that I'm a huge fan of Chelsea Weis, and in my eyes her reputation for toughness coupled with her sheer determination to win every time she competes was earned long ago. She's tougher than most of the wrestlers I coached over the course of my days in high school wrestling rooms. Many of you saw Cheslea's head bounce off the floor Friday night in the second half of Stanton's loss to Sidney in the Corner Conference tournament final. I would have understood if she had stayed down.

 

Part of me WANTED her to stay down. The game had all but slipped away, and the Viqueens were going to likely lose to a deeper, more technical Cowgirls squad. The dad and coach in my head immediately spoke up. “Make sure your head is ok before you get up and start running around again.” But she didn't, of course. She got up and kept trying to win. I know she was hurting because the dad and coach in my head kept my eye on her.

 

Stanton didn't have the luxury of mass substitutions and as the second half progressed and Cowgirls began to surge, the Viqueens bodies began to fail them. Their legs became wobbly and weak from playing what essentially amounted to 6 on 10 basketball. They fell. They got back up. And they kept trying to win.

 

Even when Maddy Duncan started finding her range and turned it into a horror show of three pointers and the chances of an upset sank to near zero, the Viqueens ran and fell. Then they got up only to come crashing down again. They played tenacious, team oriented defense. They passed the ball selflessly and they attacked the basket with reckless abandon.

 

They never whined to the refs for help. They continued to listen to and play hard for their coach. I don't think it's a coincidence that they are the only team this season to lead Sidney at halftime. The Viqueens turned what could have been a boring, double digit beatdown, ho-hum win for Sidney into a tutorial on how an overmatched team can compete and give themselves a chance to win when logic dictates that it is simply not possible.

 

I don't cheer when two Corner Conference teams play each other and as far as Sidney goes, their entire coaching staff consists of people I care about on a personal level. I am thrilled at their run of success and it is decidedly deserved, but my heart started to hurt a little bit for the Viqueens late in the game when Sidney began to put Stanton in the rear view mirror.

 

It was the type of effort that deserves to be immortalized with a huge upset, but it's going to go down in the scorebook as an 11 point loss. Another victim in the Cowgirls laundry list of victories this season. There were no excuses, no disparaging of the opponent. Just tired smiles when it was all over.

 

 

So now I'll get to my point. Sometimes in life you do everything right and you fail. You prepare correctly. You stick to the plan. You handle adversity with courage. Then you give 100 percent effort, only to just fall short. This is the lesson high school sports are supposed to teach our children. Some times your best just isn't good enough, and that's okay. It's the hard work that is to be celebrated. You are learning to prepare for life.

 

The moment I saw the Stanton crowd stand up and sing to the players after the game, I had seen everything I needed to see. Losing with grace 101. Of course you are frustrated and mad deep down inside and the correct way to handle it is to go back to the drawing board and plan again and work just as hard.

 

It prepares you for athletic success in the short run and more importantly it steels you for the ups and downs of life beyond high school. The rage and depression I felt in the weeks and months that followed my own failure at the end of my high school career made me better able to successfully navigate the day to day stuff I deal with in today. I'm convinced to it's why I'm pretty happy on a day to day basis. You aren't fully equipped to deal with emotional situations yet in high school but Stanton managed admirably anyway. It tugged at my heart strings from the perspective of an outsider, a dad, and a former coach.

 

The next time I fall and hit my head in life I know whose example I'm going to follow. Sidney deserves all the wonderful things that are being said about them and the success they have had the last two years but it's worth remembering that you don't always have to win to leave a long lasting, positive impression on people. Last night was case in point.

Cowgirls' Dominance and Memories of the Essex Trojans

Just over a decade ago, I beleive it was the 2005-2006 school year, The Essex Trojans were 8-man softball state semifinalists, 21-2 in basketball and finished one game from the state touranment in baseball. When you add in their Corner Conference track title in the spring, it gave the Trojans the distinction of winning an outright conference title in all four HS sports seasons.

 

Granted, there is no "conference" football title, but as state semifinlists that season it can be factually argued that they wrapped up the season as the most accomplished team in the conference. That was a motley assortment of athletic talent combined with a zero mercy mentality that laid waste to the rest of the league in all four sports. The list of names reads like a who is who of southwest Iowa. Slater, Duysen, King, Almquist, Young, Ward and Ward.

 

It hasn't happened since then. Even the most dominant class to come through the Corner since then have fallen short, both male and female. It's much harder than one would first surmise. Difficult to win three let alone four. Hell it's hard enough to win fall and winter both, let alone run the table for the full school year.

 

In 2015-2016 the Sidney Cowgirls won three of the four sports seasons and came really close to pilfering the basketball season title with a little help from Nishnabotna and some Plummer magic down the stretch. In the end, Essex defeated Sidney by a basket in late January at Allen Stuart Gym to claim the title for themselves.

 

Fast forward to 2016-2017. The Cowgirls rolled through the volleyball season unbeaten in conference, and with last Friday's win over Essex, Sidney would have to lose twice in its reaming regular season games to lose a claim on an outright title. Not likely.

 

The reality of the situation is that the Cowgirls will enter track season two for two, and they are already defending track and softball champions. Between Lexy Larsen and Mac Daffer the Cowgirls graduated a ton of points, but the speed and depth run deep in Rodeo City right now and its tough to envision Sidney not being the favorite.

 

The incredible Stanton boys juggernaut that followed the aforementioned Essex squads never managed to do it. Neither did Nate Meier and the county line wrecking crew in Tabor, nor did the incredible gilrs classes at Fremont-Mills that followed. The Stanton Viqueens for all their success in so many sports over the last ten years never managed it either.

 

Now keep in mind that the Cowgirls as of yet have only won the Corner volleyball title. There are still three more to go, but I'll be watching carefully. Yeah, I know. School closings, consolidations, declining participation, I get it. It's still a pretty big deal. Besides if it was as simple combining rosters, East Mills would have done when they joined in together back in 2007.

 

The Essex teams of a decade ago were simply loaded with talented and they played with an unbridled fury that I think back on even today and say “remember when?” For now they sit alone and undisturbed on one of the shelves that whirl around in my memories. I guess time will tell if I have to slide them over to make room for the Cowgirls iof 2016-2017.

8-man State Tournament Bracket Predictions

Just for fun.  I'm going to try and predict the entire 8-man state tournament bracket game by game.  I'll pick the first round games tonight

 

Harris Lake Park/Audubon

The Wolves are a top five team I think.  Unbeaten and they played in a strong district.  They have a win over Newell-Fonda and I don't think I need to remind anyone around here what they are capable of. 

I'll take HLP

Newell Fonda/ArWeVa

Strangely, Coon Rapid has wins over both these teams, but their loss to Audubon followed by ArWeVa's subsequent win over the Wheelers relegated the Crusaders to third place.  I think this one is pretty even, but I like Newell Fonda and the strength of a tougher schedule and more recent experience at this stage of the seson.

Newell Fonda

Bedford/Elk Horn Kimballton

This will not be the same game s the first time around.  Elk Horn is injury free and motivated.by the thrashing they suffered at the hands of the Bulldogs early this season.  Bedford struggled mightily with Sidney who was crushed by a healthy Elk Horn.  The Danes also have the size and strength up front to resist the Bedford ground attack, which was what Stanton couldn't do last Friday after taking a huge lead.

I'll take Elk Horn.

Lenox/Fremont-Mills

Ugh.  Really?  Let both teams play someone else.

Fremont-Mills

Turkey Valley/Gilbertville Don Bosco

These are two of the best teams in the state matched up in the first round..  I've been eyeing a TV/FM matchup all season and I'm sticking with it.

Turkey Valley by a score or two?

Central Elkader/ASGWR

Central is the better team according to comparative scores. 

Central Elkader

Midland Wyoming/HLV Victor

Midland has a win over Central Elkader.  Both good teams.  HLV Victor just isnt on that level.  This is lopsided.

Midland Wyoming.

Twin Cedars/Marungo Iowa Valley

Twin Cedars is unbeaten but just hasn't played anyone.  Pretty even matycup on paper, but I'll take Iowa Valley on more experience in close/tough games.

 

Never Say Never

Some of you know me better than others, so if this is review, bear with me.  I'll get to the point.  My background is in the sport of wrestling, all the way up to and including coaching at the high school level.  I'm not a "rah-rah" guy.  I firmly believe the true value of high school sport is teaching you to deal with heartbreak, adversity, and the need to rise from the ashes of your own scorched dreams to do it all over again.

I had a rival in high school.  Actually longer than that.  We first wrestled each other in kindergarten.  Our last match was at the Nebraska state tournament, in the championship match our senior year (he won, if you are curious).  I didn't like him.  He didn't like me.  Think Sidney/Hamburg, Malvern/Valley, Stanton/Essex, Bedford/Everyone.  It was bad. 

Neither of us have any high moral ground to take.  We both acted like asses in HS.  Not only did we cross paths on the mat, we crossed paths socially too.  Same girls.  Same parties.  Same part of town.  Our distaste was mutual and well warranted.  Never in a million years would i be friends with the guy.  Not because he beat me.  Hell, I disliked him after the matches I won.  I just didn't like him.  Or so I thought.

Last Friday night after the East Mills/Fremont-Mills game, I saw two kids who are obviously far beyond where I was when I was in high school.  I told you my background to frame this story in context.  Walking from the field to my car in Malvern, I stopped near the school to talk to people i know. It's very dark there and my eyes are garbage, but as I was walking away I saw two football players about to cross paths.  One in black and gold, the other in green.   Wordlessly as they passed each other they shook hands.

Simple as that.  One in the clutches of an agonizing loss, the other riding high on euphoria from a thrilling win.  They realized it's not personal.  It's intense.  It's emotional.  It's violent, but it's NOT personal.  They treated each other with dignity.  Dignity that the situation deserved because it was an amazing game that one side couldn't have played without the other.  I couldn't have done that at that age, and it's one of my true regrets.

About five years ago I got a very strange Facebook friend request.  You likely already guessed it was my rival.  More curious than anything else I accepted and it's one of the best choices i have ever made.  We have become friends, and I am stunned to learn that he and I are really exactly the same.  We rarely talk wrestling, and we have never touched on any of our matches or conflicts.  We talk about our kids and our lives.  What we do in our free time and where life has taken us since we tried to kill each other about 25 years ago.

Never is a long time.  Never say never.  It's like a little black spot removed from my soul and it's all part of growing up (which you NEVER stop doing).  When I look back on my athletic career, I don't agonize over the losses.  I don't second guess choices I made in the heat of competition, but I do regret my actions apart from the competition.  I never would have shaken his hand silently in the dark, and I guess that gets me to the point of all this.

I don't care how much you think you dislike your opponent.  He/she is more like you that you can believe.  More like you than you WANT to believe.  You are chasing the same goals and the same hopes and dreams.  Only one of you can have them.  It's not personal.  It's life.  Some people never figure it out.  Look around.  Life is full of adults who haven't let go of what happened in high school, and it holds them back.  Worse yet, it holds the next generation back too.

I turn 45 in a few weeks and I still find myself apologizing for mistreating people in the name of sport over 25 years ago.  It's a humbling experience and one I would have preferred to skip.  I saw two athletes get it right Friday night, and they didn't do it because people were watching.  They did it because they are getting it right.  Let your rival be your inspiration, your catalyst.  Let them motivate you beyond the field and on into the rest of your life.  Don't let it become personal.  Then it's just an anchor around your neck.

I made a new friend, albeit 25 years later than I should have.  It's a good thing.  Makes me happy when I see kids getting it right.  Thanks for reading.  i promise not to be serious very often,

 

Gut Shot

Through sheer coincidence this season, I saw both Nishnabotna's week nine football game at Stanton and its playoff volleyball game against Sidney. The last game of the season for both teams. I don't want to dwell on the negative, but on a personal level my heart hurts for a lot of people. Primarily the current students, but it goes so much deeper than that. Some of you haven't known me as long as others, but my Corner Conference timeline and Farragut intertwine like a braid. Instead of what's last, I would instead like to talk about an unusually large percentage of my Corner Conference firsts.

 

The first Corner Conference football game I ever saw was Stanton at Farragut in the first round of the state 8man playoffs in 2002. I had no frame of reference then so I didn't realize what I was seeing that day. Blair Holman, Mike Dreyer, Clay McGargill and Kevin Bugg. The Hackett Field Wrecking Crew. Knowing that I loved 8man football and had watched it for years in Nebraska, my wife suggested I check out an Iowa 8man game. I didn't even realize they played eights in Iowa at that time, but as my wife is really really smart and also from Iowa, I took her word for it and went to Farragut.

 

My first night on the job at the C.B. Nonpareil as a sportswriter in 2003, I did my very first short story on a Farragut volleyball win, transcribing the stats and comments sent in via email by head coach Dave Laumann. The first phone call I ever took was from Essex coach Denny Perry, but that’s a different story all together and much like most of our conversations would take much more time than I have right now.

 

The first football game I think of when someone asks what was the best high school game you have ever covered was Farragut vs. Walnut in the first round of the 2004 8man state football tournament. Jerry “The Anvil” Henstorf and Andy Carey led the Admirals back from three scores down in the second half to take a lead with under two minutes to go. We will just go ahead and forget the rest of that game. That's also the day I met Valley News reporter Kevin Slater for the first time.

 

The first time I ever went on a state tournament photo shoot to do interviews for the Nonpareil was when Farragut qualified for the 2005 state volleyball tournament. By this time I was handling most of the Corner Conference sportswriting for the Nonpareil. Most writers preferred the larger schools so it wasn't tough to put myself in that position. Everyone was happy. I also learned how to pronounce Fionnuala that day.

 

In 2007, with my reputation as a Corner Conference specialist established, the aforementioned Kevin Slater (who at met at a Farragut game) offered me a job at the Valley News covering the league with an emphasis on Essex, Sidney and of course Farragut. The first game I covered for the VN was Hamburg at Farragut in a game that was truly exciting. The Wildcats' Kaleb Kahue scored the winning touchdown for Hamburg on the very last play of the game.

 

When I covered Farragut football games I always spent a lot of time giving Quentin Heitshusen a hard time on the sidelines. He was helping compile stats that year and I made the job much tougher by hitting him with a steady barrage of relevant and irrelevant conversation. I talk a lot, and Q doesn't talk all that much so it worked out great. Eventually he invited me over to his house for a bonfire and beverage with his family after a game. It marked the first time I got invited to someones house in a Corner Conference town. He also called me a dumbass that night which is his way of saying he really does like you.

 

In 2011, I left the Valley News and launched SWISportsCorner, not necessarily in that order. A fully interactive news, photo and blog website dedicated completely to a conference, which is commonplace on the college level, but unique on the high school level (as far as I know). I've since been a guest at homes in other Corner towns, seen amazing games at other schools and met people in every town I consider to be friends. There are people I'm excited to see no matter what town I'm in.

But so many of the pivotal moments, the incidents that truly made me start to fall in love with the whole conference, involved Farragut. The school I lovingly call “The Gut.” I'm absolutely gutted (see what I did there) over recent events, but both the school and the town have affected me in a positive fashion. Without it, I may never have started this website. So for that I'm pretty grateful and if Farragut had a positive affect on a remote stranger like me, it must have been wonderful for everyone who attended.

 

I so wanted to close with something inspirational or witty, but I'm at a loss for words. I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry.

Wet Trashbags and Detecto Scales

Friedrich Nietzsche said “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Might be the truest words ever spoken.

 

The bus picks my kids up for school at 6:45, before sunrise this time of the year. It's also trash day here in my neighborhood and the truck usually comes before 7:30 so it's easier to take the bags to the alley the night before. I did so last night and neglected to put a new liner in the trash can in the kitchen. So as I got out a new Hefty Bag, my youngest came rushing back into the house because she had forgotten to grab lunch money. It's raining this morning and she was pretty wet when she gave me a hug before darting back out into the dark.

 

It left drops of water on the trash bag which then caused the bag to stick to my arm and torso. It's a cold, nasty feeling and for better or worse a feeling I'm all too well acquainted with. I don't know how long I stood there staring out the window, but when I snapped out of it I had already broken a sweat and my heart rate was greatly elevated. Over two decades removed from my own competitive athletic career, the mere hint of getting up before the crack of dawn to pull a trashbag (and several layers of sweatclothes) over my upper body, caused my mind, body and soul to lock and load.

 

Seems kind of silly I guess, but I reckon we all have our triggers that motivate us to do whatever it is that needs doing that day. I used to peel back the blankets most every school day, wrap myself in a lawn and garden bag. Over that I would slip on sweatclothes, always red and blue. Not my school colors. HIS (not going to use his name, but I wouldn't care if he knew) school colors. Then I would run. I ran because I had to make weight Saturday. I ran because I wanted to eat that day. I ran harder because I gassed out in a match once and lost to a scrub that had no business being on the mat with me. The last mile I would be in another world focusing on the raging pain in my legs and lungs, visualizing that ever so slight hitch to the right before going left.

 

If you could get them to bite, even the tiniest bit on the gambit to the right, their sprawl would be at the wrong angle when you went back left. If you did it perfectly, they would miss completely and they would drop forward onto thin air and you would appear right behind them without being touched. If they didn't bite on the fake, well that would be bad so it had better be perfect. Anyway, now I'm boring you. But the point is I would do this most mornings in the freezing cold and then I would go to school. First bell was 7:35 and dismissal was 2:45. Considering I had been up and running by 6:30, that’s a pretty solid eight hours. But of course I wasn't done yet. Not even close. Off to practice. Two more hours of abusing your body physically and mentally, THEN you get to go home and hopefully you won't have too much homework.

 

Did I mention I'm hungry? And really nervous (scared?). This Saturday I'm gonna put on a skin tight unitard (glorious blue and gold, OUR colors) and my shoes that I had special ordered with a white on white pattern so that I could color them with special artistic markers specially designed to work on shoe fabric. I had to walk like three miles to the art store but it was worth it. They were blue and gold also. Pretty sweet. Then I would ask coach to tape up both my mangled hands so that I didn't injure them any further. My thumbs were so jacked I couldn't snap my headgear without popping them out of socket. Teammate snapped my headgear for me. Always the same one. He was like a brother to me (I'm an only child) and the ritual made me feel less alone and scared. Then I went out in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands at the big meets and honestly I usually won. But winning is irrelevant to the point I'm trying to make. The whole reason you play a sport in high school are the losses.

 

Sometimes you get your ass kicked. Anyone can win classy. Not everyone does, but it's not difficult at all to hold it together after success. It's the failures that shape you. Get home Saturday night and hurl my shoes in a rage, my sweet UCLA colored blue and gold kicks that I colored myself, down into the basement because I don't deserve to have them. They would usually land near the scale. A bunch of relatives got together one year for my birthday and bought me a doctor style scale for my birthday. It was a “Detecto.”

 

And after locking myself in my room Saturday night and devouring an unholy amount of Funyons, Twix, and Root Beer, I would be right back on that Detecto Sunday morning, gauging the damage and calculating the weight cut for the week. Sometimes a Sunday night run was necessary and sometimes I could put my feet up until Monday morning. Dragging myself out of bed to do it all over again Monday morning after a loss might literally be the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I'm 15 pounds over, I didn't finish my calculus homework and today I have an oral examination in advanced Spanish that consists of having a impromptu, unrehearsed conversation with Javier the foreign exchange student from Argentina while the teacher records it so she and Javier can critique me and give me a grade. And I'm still really pissed off about losing. Did I mention I'm broke? No time to work amongst all this fun.

 

I did all of this before age 20. At an age when you lack the brain development to have the maturity level you have as an adult that helps you get through the day without going to pieces. You know what? A lot of you are doing this right now. Maybe you are beyond all this and it all makes sense to you. Maybe it doesn't, and you are wondering what the hell you were thinking when you consigned yourself to the misery of trying to be an elite student-athlete.

 

Now I'll get to the point. The reason we endeavor to excel is intensely personal. We all have our own reasons for chasing athletic dreams that 99.999 percent of us will never get paid a dime for chasing or achieving. That's your business. But when you feel desperate, don't despair. You are supposed to find your breaking point. No different than lifting weights. Your sets and reps are carefully constructed so that you are always flirting with muscle failure. That’s why you have a spotter. The big picture is no different. I'll tell you the long term benefits.

 

When you have been putting in 10+ hour days for free, a workday with the guarantee of a paycheck (grueling cardio optional) doesn't seem all that tough. That's all I have to to do today, and I can eat as much as I want? Piece of cake (literally, haha). I don't fear social failure anymore. What's rejection compared to losing an athletic contest you spent your life preparing for in front of you family, friends and peers? I got a raw deal in a match my junior year, the only match that I ever lost that I blamed a ref for. I got homered, deep in rival territory. I threw a fit. My coaches had to drag me out and on the way out I got hit in the head with a hamburger. Do you know what it's like to sit on a bench bawling your eyes out, realizing not only that you lost but that someone would rather hit you in the face with their three dollar sandwich than eat it? I do. So forgive me if the work day doesn't intimidate me.

 

I married way over my head because I wasn't afraid to fail. I don't get social anxiety. I used to have to get on a scale stark naked, have my weight announced loudly to a room full of people and THEN I had to get off the scale and stand with my arms over my head while officials carefully inspected my whole body for ringworm. You think a little public speaking, or walking into a room full of strangers (fully clothed) is going to scare me off? Doesn't mean I succeed every time I try, it just means I keep trying.

 

I was downtown a couple months ago and a guy attempted to take what I had in my hands (and presumably my pockets too) by force. I lost nothing but a couple minutes of my time. Neither the pressure nor the heat of the moment caused me to panic. Every practice is full of physical and mental tests. Reaction, explosion and muscle memory is burned into your brain. Some jackass thinks he is going to victimize me without showing a weapon? Whatever.

 

I'm not scared of my own feelings and emotions. I have no problem telling people that I love them or that I'm a better person for having known them, and when you learn to do that unashamedly the quality of your relationships, platonic or otherwise, drastically improves. You think you are the only one that feels insecure? Everyone does sometimes. Some people can't be the first one to say it. Doesn't mean they don't feel it. Only one way to find out. You have bounced back from failure before and you will do it again.

 

None of this would have been possible or apparent to me if I hadn't given my heart and soul to the pursuit of both athletic and academic excellence, despite the fact that at age 45 I am now not particularly athletic or academic. So think about that the next time you ask yourself “why.” It's not a sprint. It's a marathon. Everyone needs to talk once in awhile while they are going through it. Find the coach or teacher you trust and tell them exactly what's on your mind. You will be amazed at the support net you have. Need to talk to someone neutral? Call me. I'll talk you through it and I won't even ask your name.

 

Shortly before he died, Jimmy Valvano (Google Jimmy V ESPY speech if you ever need inspiration) said

 

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.”

 

That's real talk. I've done all three just typing my thoughts out here and it's not even 9 a.m yet. All that from a wet trashbag on a chilly morning. Anyway, I've likely embarrassed myself several times over here. Wouldn't be the first time. Don't give up. Don't ever give up.

 

I've got s*&t to do. I'm out. See ya soon.

 

An All Corner Conclusion

So two Corner Conference teams have made it to the finals of the regional volleyball tournament. It's a really interesting game when you think about it. Put it this way. Stanton has now qualified for the last seven regional finals in a row. They won four of the previous six. The Viqueens simply are the standard by which volleyball is measured in this conference. Now consider they are a substantial underdog.

 

Sidney has taken over the role as front runner by brute force after years of not being a factor in the conference race or tournament. They were an eyelash from the regional finals last year, losing in five to F-M without he benefit of a consistent senior contributor. The whole team is back with the addition of two freshman that are major contributors. The Cowgirls won both the regular season and the conference tournament without a loss. They didn't even lose a SET to a Corner team until last night. Their record is 31-1, with the only loss being to a strong 2A team. Stanton sports a more modest 22-15 record and entered the tournament essentially unseeded.

 

Sidney has swept Stanton without incident both times they have met this season. The Cowgirls have the best player in the conference in Lexy Larsen, as well freshman Camryn McClintock who is the head coach’s daughter and fourth overall in kills this conference season. You can't really just focus on one of the two. Pick your poison or play them both straight up. Neither seems like a great option.

 

Sidney also has one of the most athletic back rows I have ever seen, and the Cowgirls overall ability to pass, hit and set accurately away from the net is what really sets them apart. Mackenzie Daffer just went over the career 1000 assist mark, and she also led the conference in ace serves this year. McClintock and Jaden Daffer (also a freshman) both have over 200 digs this season. Larsen, Macknzie Daffer and Quinn Sheldon all have over 100.

 

Furthermore, if you do find a way to cope with Larsen and McClintock, Cassidy Hobbie, Kenna Nenneman, Mackenzie Daffer, Ashley Focht and Mackenzie Hulsing all have hitting percentages over .150 with Focht over .300 albeit on far fewer swings. They have team chemistry. Sidney truly looks like its having fun during games. From the looks on their faces during games it might as well be rec league sand volleyball.

 

The former coach in me can see that this team has “it”. I can't define “it” but if you have spent a long time around high school athletics you know exactly what I mean. But what makes this game so interesting to me is that so does Stanton.

 

Throw out the record. Sure the Queens have 15 losses, but look more closely at the record. They haven't lost toa 1A team not named Sidney since the last week of September when they fell 3-2 to Essex. The loss has been avenged twice including 3-1 win in the second round of regionals. No one wants to see Stanton in the playoffs. No one.

 

The Queens have been criminally underrated the last two seasons and have responded with two trips to the regional finals. When will we learn? They were given VERY little chance against Mount Ayr. Pressure? The girls on this team have never NOT played in a regional final. If you look at the list of teams Stanton has played in the post season in recent history you know they aren't afraid of Sidney, no matter how good the Cowgirls are.

 

As easy as it is to like Sidney on paper, so many things give you butterflies if you are backing the Cowgirls in this game. The Queens have a hot hand right now in Chelsea Weis, who will swing for you until her arm falls off if necessary. She leads the entire free world in attempts this season with 981, but a group of hitters have emerged around her.

 

Ally Focht, Brandy Morrison and Savanna Moffett all have over 100 kills. Focht, Morrison and Jody Vanderholm all have over 50 blocks. Devin Druivenga, Weis and Focht lead the defense and this is pretty much the lynch pin to the whole thing. Stanton is going to get a brutal test on defense. There can be no question that there is too big of a gap there for the Viqueens to be able to compete on a season long basis, but they don't have to win for two month. They only need hold up for two hours, and that's a completely different proposition.

 

Post season sports are just a different animal. Pressure does strange things to people. Packed gyms change the very atmosphere the game is played in. Every mistake is amplified. Every success is rewarded with thunderous positive reinforcement. Mount Ayr simply melted in the glare of the hot lights last night, while Stanton grew stronger and stronger.

 

Sidney isn't invincible. F-M proved that by taking a set last night in the Cowgirl's own gym. Yeah, it's a big leap from that to Stanton taking three sets from them. It's also a big game, a team with a big tradition and a big heart getting a shot on neutral turf

 

The best part for me I guess is no matter who wins it's a great story. You either get the charismatic Cowgirl's, who light up every gym they are in, or the old guard Stanton who has been repeatedly disrespected the last two seasons coming home to claim the crown. Someone is going to state, that's a guarantee.

Because We Are Adults

I recently attended an “Honors Night” ceremony for two of my kids. It's a school district award held in the auditorium at what used to be Technical High School here in Omaha. It's a beautiful old building and the auditorium is quite ornate. I know you don't care about my kids' honors night and the point here isn't to talk about my kids. I'm just setting the stage and explaining why I was there.

 

To me the relevant point is that the people in attendance, at the very least, have taken an interest in their child's education and taken time out of their schedules to attend what is a well thought out ceremony in a beautiful venue. In theory, these are the families that would be the most supportive of their child's school and the most apt to set a good example by modeling appropriate behavior during the event. The thing about theories is that they are sometimes very, very wrong.

 

My kids go to a big inner-city school. I don't have the program in front of me but I would estimate about 75 to 100 kids received some sort of recognition. Each student gets his or her name and accomplishments read, shakes hands with the presenter and walks across the stage. I guess it's somewhat like a graduation ceremony in design. The school administrators make a huge effort to get this sort of thing done in under 90 minutes, partially in reaction to complaints in the past that the ceremony has simply lasted too long. Admittedly, it had been long enough to make me fidgety in the past, but the night is so not about me. Thusly, I suck it up and sit still until the last honoree has received a certificate. Because I'm an adult.

 

I was pleased at the announcement last year that the principal was trying to streamline the event and I listened while he asked for cooperation from the audience. The principal made one request, which was to hold applause until the entirety of each section had been announced (there were about six groups with 10 to 15 students in each one). Seems like a simple, logical concept to me. You can't read the next name if someone is making noise in the audience because it's not fair to have a student's name obscured by the loud family of the kid before him or her. Honestly, it really is tedious to offer up polite applause to every single kid that walks across the stage as he or she gets an award. Let's all agree that we respect each others' kids, and that we are all extremely proud of our own. Because, you know, we're all adults.

 

About half the crowd didn't get it right. Seriously, half. Some applauded constantly. Some applauded for all the kids they happen to personally know. Some applauded only for their own offspring. This last group definitely won “most obnoxious”. They all failed to listen to the instructions to hold applause until the end of each section. Furthermore, the directive from the principal was simply to NOT do something. If you fell asleep you would get it right by default. They actively chose to ignore the principal, essentially putting their own interests and importance ahead of all other students and the staff. At a middle school event. To which nobody paid admission. And they even gave away free cookies. Free freaking cookies! For all this all everyone had to do was show up and follow one simple instruction.

 

Of course this utter failure by many significantly slowed the process, as the presenters were forced to wait in between in between names for the noise to die down. One guy (an adult at least in his 40s) stood up and shrieked “That's my son!” when his boy was announced. Yeah, it is, and you just made him wish you had stayed home because everyone at school is going to tease him about his father squealing like a toddler at Honors Night. This is about him, not you dude, so sit your a$$ down. By the way, my son is up there too and most everyone here has a child on the stage so you aren't really all that special amongst this company. It's not as if tons of random people go to middle school honors nights because of their entertainment value.

 

The event ended up lasting over two hours again, and of course people were complaining about it on the way out. Mostly the same people who failed to follow instructions in the first place. Weird. What's frustrating is that the staff of the school recognized a legitimate complaint from parents that Honors Night lasted too long. So, they brainstormed and came up with an idea to speed things along. A good idea. An idea that required everyone just to do nothing. Nothing! And by simply doing nothing, they would help solve the very problem that THEY had complained about in the first place.

 

But none of this is the real problem. The real problem is the horrible example that a full half of the parents were setting for the kids who are most assuredly watching their every move all night. The “do as I say not as I do” mentality has never worked well. It becomes difficult to insist that kids to go to school and show the respect the staff and other students deserve when you can't be bothered to show the same courtesy yourself and you don't care who knows that. If that's you, than you are adulting wrong.

 

I believe in schools. I believe in teachers and I believe in the students. It's an institution that does much more than simply teach book learning. It taught me to be a better person. It made me WANT to be a better person. I want the same for my kids, and yours. If you don't buy into it, that's fine. To each their own, but rather than come and show blatant disrespect to the entire concept, stay home and don't mess it up for the adults.

Volleyball and Violet

Where were you in October of 2003? I was about to turn 33. My daughter had just entered the terrible twos and my son was still an angry infant. Now he's an angsty seventh grader, his older sister is considering high schools and a driver's permit, and our youngest daughter is in her first year of middle school. In 2003, I had only seen one Corner Conference football game in my life and I was working at an area newspaper still trying to figure out how to pronounce Farragut athletic standout Fionnuala Carey's first name.

 

This years' senior class was getting used to kindergarten. Malvern, Nishna Valley, Farragut, Hamburg and Villisca were all still Corner Conference schools and no one knew who Jeremy Christiansen was. Blair Holman had just graduated from high school and Christa Subbert was but a freshman at Stanton. Her Viqueens didn't win the Corner Conference volleyball tournament that year, but it would be a LONG time until that happened again.

 

It took the incredibly talented F-M class of 2014 to end the run; this season Sidney won the tournament title. That's three different champions in three years, previously simply unheard of around here. Why? Because the Viqueens won the tournament title eleven years in a row. Eleven. Stanton's volleyball dominance in the Corner Conference had become a given, the only real competition for second place.

 

In addition to the 11 consecutive tournament titles, Stanton dominated the regular season conference as outright champions every year from 2008 to 2013 before sharing a title with Fremont-Mills last season. In 2006 and 2007 they were runner-up to Villisca, so they finished no lower than second every season from 2006 to 2014.

 

It wasn't just local success. Stanton appeared in six consecutive regional finals in a row, winning four of them. That's four trips to the state tournament in a field of no more than eight earning the birth. While the expansion to five classes has certainly increased the odds for everyone to go to state, the Viqueens managed it a couple times under the old four class system.

 

There simply isn't a conference program in any sport to dominate so thoroughly over the same time period. So many things can affect a program on a year to year basis. Injuries, low numbers, transfers, a lack of leadership, coaching changes, you name it. That doesn't even take into consideration the fact that every team in the area is gunning for you and you get everyone’s best effort each time you play. Stanton raised the bar for volleyball excellence and that benefits everyone.

 

As the 2015 volleyball season climbs closer to its apex and the importance of the matches reaches fever pitch, it seems more and more likely that this simply isn't going to be the Viqueens year (although I would NEVER count them out). So I wanted to take a second and admire the landscape of Corner Conference volleyball. A landscape that Stanton has created, even if its going to be another team riding off into the sunset this season.

 

It's 2015. I have more gray hair and three kids busy with their own activities and friends. I've seen nearly 100 Corner Conference football games. Christa Subbert is a high school teacher. Jeremy Christiansen has a state title. Blair Holman coaches just about every sport at Nishanbotna. Villisca, Malvern, Nishna Valley, Hamburg and Farragut no longer appear on the Corner Conference roster. And I know Fionnuala is pronounced fin-noo-lah.

 

A lot has changed since 2003, but one thing hasn't. Seeing Stanton on the volleyball schedule still makes opposing teams very nervous.

The Lay of the Land

One of the nuances of living in the city is learning the most efficient way to drive on the various city streets. If you drive in Omaha (or any city I'm sure) enough, you will notice that some long streets have traffic signals in sync to reward driving the speed limit, especially downtown. That is to say if you are driving over the speed limit on these streets, you will be forced to stop at a red light, whereas if you drive exactly the speed limit you will catch them all turning green. It's set up to reward you for driving a little SLOWER than you normally would, and the payoff is actually getting to the end faster. it's a little counter-intuitive, but logical enough to follow.

Yet I can't count the times on nearly a daily basis on this type of road, that i will watch the same car pass me three or four times, only to have me catch the light without having to brake while they are at a complete stop. ultimately, there will come a choke point where it does really matter who gets there first, and in these cases its usually me because I will know exactly when and where to goose the accelerator. Mind you a lot of the people I see getting it wrong have license plates from right here in Douglas County. They have enough info to get it right, if they knew where to look. That is if they are looking at all.

With that being said one could further extrapolate that someone from out of town, someone not used to driving in Omaha at all wouldn't be aware of any of this. This doesn't take into consideration, rush hour, one way streets, heavy traffic, frequent speed traps or the ever present road construction. I'm well acquainted with all of this as it exists specifically in the “Big O”.

I'm not a particularly good driver. I'm certainly not a fast driver. Still, its safe to say I could beat the vast majority of people reading this in a race across Omaha at rush hour, simply through superior knowledge of the lay of the land. You might be a better driver than me and have a much more bad ass car then me, but without practice and a few trial runs you stand little chance. The turns I take, the speed I drive, the roads I avoid all might make little sense to you. It doesn't mean I will make the correct choice every single time. Sometimes you weigh the odds and roll the dice and you crap out but you can bet I am making the percentage choice, even if it seems counter intuitive. Much like the scenario I started with.

Coaching a high school athletic team is 100 times more complicated than driving across Omaha. I know because I have a ton of experience doing both. Driving is one person, one car and the same city every time. Coaching is a team full of kids, a team full of attitudes and a different opponent every time. I can't count the times I was second guessed and had to hear a logical enough argument for how I SHOULD have done it, and there is nothing you can say in response. Not because they are right, but because you don’t want to insult anyone, or you don't want to give something away that you are keeping close to your vest, or sometimes you just simply don’t want to lose your job.

You don't know who is hiding an injury. You don't know who is waiting for the first opportunity to claim injury to get out of a tough situation. You don't know who is distracted because their significant other broke up with them two days before the game. You don't know which kids have a 50/50 chance of correctly identifying left or right in a pressure situation. You sure as hell don't know which kid has been crying on the couch in the coaches office nightly after practice because one of their parents is dying and they don't feel like they have anyone else to talk to.

I get really frustrated when I hear people second guessing coaches (or teachers for that matter). It might seem perfectly logical to start player “a” over player “b” to you based on what you think or what you have heard from others, but the truth is unless you are at practice every day you can't possibly know. It also might make sense to take the interstate or 24th street south if you want to get to Bellevue from my house and this is pretty solid thinking unless you try it between 4:30 and 5:30 in which case you will drive right into a traffic jam.

Sure it might make sense to you to pass in a given situation, just like it might make sense to goose the accelerator down Douglas Street in downtown Omaha to get to Council Bluffs faster. Maybe your quarterback got slammed on his shoulder earlier in the game and a throw of that nature would be risky because he feels like he doesnt have 100 percent of his arm strength, but he does have the balls to get back out there and play through the pain. And driving fast on Douglas out of the question because the lights are at 30 MPH and while you are stopped I will catch the light at speed and beat you to the bridge.

My point is that I'm sure you know more about cars than I do and you very well may be a better driver than me, but if you are dropped in the middle of Omaha with no GPS I will likely beat you every time. This is a fairly easy concept to grasp and most people won't dispute it. I just don't understand why our teachers and coaches don't get the same leeway. We all know it isn't cool to tell someone else how to do their job if we have no experience in the same field, but for some reason this doesn't apply to teachers or coaches.

Sometimes coaches do make mistakes. Because they are human. But you can bet they considered all the angles and made the percentage play. You can't possibly know everything unless you are at practice every day helping, and if you were doing that you would never in a million years run the head coach down in public.

You don't have to take my word for it. Give it a try yourself. The world is full of armchair quarterbacks and backseat drivers. Throw your hat in the ring and let me know how it goes. Watch out for the speed trap on south 13th coming out of downtown. You won't see it until it's too late.

Week 5 matchups

Essex @ Stanton - It's going to be an uphill climb for the Trojans that have managed to remain healthy this season.  Alex Dailey and Cody McClintock are quietly posting great seasons receiving.  Both are top ten in the district in yard receiving, but the offense against CAM last week looked nothing like the offense in week one against Lamoni.

McClintock leads the defense in tackles with 30, but he will have to make a ton to slow down a Stanton team still reeling from letting leads lip away twice Friday in Mlavern. The Vikings just have too many weapons.  Five different players caught passes against East Mills.  David Sorenesen, Brady Johnson, Reece Anderson, Alex Bechtold and Chris Jones all caught passes.  Bechtold averaged five yards per rush and Jones averaged four.

Stanton has too many weapons and will be celebrating homecoming.  The Vikings should have some momentum heading into its week six clash with Fremont-Mills.

 

CAM @ Sidney - Forget the last two weeks for Sidney.  F-M is gonna shutout a lot of teams and last Friday the Cowboys were still in the game at halftime in Lenox.  The Tigers depth and size eventually worse the Cowboys out and Lenox rolled up a big lead in the second half, but Sidney was competitive for a half on the road in a very tough place to play.

So the Cowboys are 2-2 with losses to two really solid teams, one of which is arguably the best in the state.  CAM isn't a top ten team.  They are well coached and always very physical but this isn't one of their stronger teams.  A fully healthy Sidney team I would make a two score favorite, but the Cowboys are banged up.  Much like last season I think this game is a tossup with a tiny edge to Sidney.

 

Lenox @ Nishanbotna - It appears Lenox is for real.  They beat Sidney for the first time this decade last Friday and moved to 4-0.  The Tigers are always deep and physical and extremely well coached and not afraid to to run up the score one bit.

Caught in the crossfire are the Blue Devils, who having played Fremont-Mills last week should be afraid of anything, but this is a tall order.  Botna has a lot of talent.  With the exception of last week against F-M, they have been winning every game this season at the end of the first quarter and that includes the Elk Horn and the East Mills games.  Much like SidneylLenox last week, I can see this one being close for a half, but I just don't know if the Blue Devils have the depth to handle Lenox running at them for all four quarters.

Fremont-Mills @ East Mills - The Wolverines are a pleasant surprise this year.  I certainly didn't expect them to be 4-0.  Their team chemistry appears to be 100 percent.  They play with heart.  They fell behind Stanton right away last Friday, fumbling five times in the first half (losing two) and threw an interception.  They still managed to come back and win by two scores against a team every bit as good as them on paper.

This week is different.  Between the Powers brothers and Sam Phillips you have three guys that can go the distance any time they get a little space.  If you sell out to stop them, guys like Carter Jennings and Beau Malcom will eat you alive.  No one has been able to run the ball against F-M this season and Parker Powers has been the best pass defender in the conference each of the last two years.  He has three picks already this season. 

East Mills is the best team the Knights have played this year and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.  The next few weeks are going to be a delightful mix of games between EM, FM, Lenox and Stanton.  It should be fun to watch.

 

 

Collision course

Don't look now but Sidney has emerged as the favorite in the Corner Conference volleyball race this season.  It can't come as a huge surprise if you saw the final game of the Cowgirls season in 2014.  Without a senior on their roster, the Cowgirls took conference tournament champion (and near state qualifier) Fremont-Mills to the brink, in a 3-2 loss in Tabor.  Interestingly, the only other five game match the Cowgirls played last year was against Essex.

The Cowgirls have roared to a 9-1 record to start the season and gotten a measure of satisfaction with a 3-0 blitz over the Lady Knights to open the 2015 conference season.  It's certainly unfamiliar territory for current Cowgirls.  It's fair to say they will be a contender all four sports seasons this year.  They are already defending conference track champions and they are loaded with experienced athletic talent. 

On the other side of the conference, Essex is experiencing a renaissance of their own.  The Trojanettes conference softball title this summer was the first title in a ball sport for Essex in nearly a decade.  Essex has racked up 11 wins this season already and showed mental toughness last week in rallying from an early deficit at home to beat Nishnabotna 3-1.

This summer Essex shook off an early conference loss (to Sidney) to run the table the rest of the way and take the league title with a 9-1 record.  They made it to the finals of the conference basketball tournament last season.  picking up right where they left off, Essex claimed second at the Fairfax Missouri volleyball tournament to open the season, losing only to much larger St Joe Benton in the final. 

Neither team has lost to a 1A opponent this season and they meet tomorrow night in Sidney.  One team will draw first blood in not only the conference volleyball race, but also in what is going to be the first of many in all four sports this season.  It's an important match tomorrow night.

The Cowgirls are led by Lexy Larsen, arguably the best hitter in the conference.  She leads the league in kills and kills per set.  Camryn McClintock is only a freshman but she is already well known on the club volleyball circuit as well as the coach's daughter.  in her first season as a Cowgirl she is already fifth in the conference in kills and aces.  Mac Daffer leads the league in assists.

All around catalyst Daiton Martin leads Essex. She is eighth in the league in kills and digs.  Defensive specialist Kelsi Leininger is ninth in the league in digs.  Bethany Johnson in ninth in the league in blocks.  What the Trojanettes lack in raw firepower they make up with quickness and defense.

Sidney/Essex in what is sure to be the first of many marquee matchups between the two schools this season.  Round one is tomorrow night in Sidney.  Early leg up in the conference standings is on the line.

 

 

 

Must win game in Malvern

Some football games take on added significance beyond standings or records, or even an established rivalry.  Two teams winding up in the same place at the same time with apparently similar strength.  Both needing a win badly for whatever reason.

On October 10, 2008, East Mills and Stanton played a game like that.  You might remember the story.  in 2007, East Mills in its first year of existence as a school, went 9-0.  Unbeaten, untied and uncrowned.  The Wolverines were not eligible for the post season that year, and they were placed in a different district as Stanton.  The Vikings were also unbeaten and untied in 2007, en route to a state championship.

The questions lingered long after the season ended.  What if?  What if they had played?  No way of knowing what exactly what would have happened in 2007.  However the 2008 schedule had them facing each other on October 10th.  It went Stanton's way that night.  Matt Pruss ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns.  Alex Whigham scored three times and Chris Palmquist threw for three touchdowns.

East Mills would eventually have its day in the sun.  The Wolverines 2011 team was arguably the second best 8-man team to ever play in the Corner.  Over the last five years they are the second most successful team in the conference.  Consider this then.  only two Corner Conference teams have ever beaten East Mills in football.  Stanton and F-M.  But the Wolverines are 1-9 against those two teams.

2015 has the two teams on a collision course and it might not look like it at first glance but there really is a ton on the line this Friday in Malvern.  The eye test favors Stanton.  They have only given up nine points this season and they have essentially the same team they had in 2014 when they beat the Wolverines in Stanton in what was considered a fairly big upset.

Ben Christiansen has been the most accurate passer in the district 23-31 (72%) and has seven touchdown passes to only one interception.  Josh Hopkins has run amok this season for EM.  He has nearly twice as many total rushing/receiving yards as any other player in the district.  He is averaging nearly 10 yards per carry.  only Sam Phillips averages more. 

Scoring against the Viking defense won't be easy.  Connor Hultman has emerged as one of the best defenders in the area between his tackle totals and his pass defense.  Alex Bechtold leads the district in tackles, while Brady Johnson and Reece Anderson are both in the top ten.  The Stanton varsity has yet to give up a touchdown this season, but it's fair to say they haven't played a team that poses as many problems as the Wolverine offense.  Christiansen has thrown scoring passes to five different receivers.  Noah Richter, Luke Stortenbecker, Miguel Sanchez, Weston Copperstone and Hopkins have all scored on pass plays.

The Stanton offense is no less diverse.  Johnson is the biggest pass catching threat in the district, but Hultman has also thrown touchdown passes to Chris Jones, Bechtold and David Sorenson.  The Viking rushing attack is two headed with Bechtold and Jones having nearly identical attempt and yard totals.  Jones is fast.  He was third in the conference 100 meter last spring and provides balance to the power running Bechtold.

Hopkins gets the lion share of tackles on the East Mills defense, and this is my true concern for the Wolverines in this game.  Fatigue will certainly play a role if Hopkins has to carry the buld of bulk of the offense and the defense.  He shouldn't have to.  Only two of East Mills top ten tacklers in 2014 were seniors.  Hopkins, Richter, Stortenbecker, Christiansen, Matt Glockel and Daniel Smith were 2-6 last season in tackles for the Wolverines.  It's a talented, experienced group that has flown under the radar.

With Stanton gearing up for a run at the district title, this is simply a must win game with F-M and Lenox looming on the schedule.  For East Mills it's a chance to avenge last years loss and make a run of their own towards a post season berth after missing out last year.

It's a battle of unbeatens Friday night in Malvern.  It's the first big game of the season, and even if it's not necessarily a rivalry, it's a must win game between two of the historically strongest teams in the conference.  Be there or be square.  I'll see you in Malvern

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corner Conference Volleyball

Purely statistical look at who returns in Corner Conference volleyball action this season.

How did graduation affect each team this season? - Only four of last seasons 12 top hitters return.  Most teams lost their first option.  Gone are Player of the Year Taryn Williams of F-M, Jess Doyle of East Mills, Haley Weis of Stanton, Kim Graham of Essex, Emily ray of East Mills, Heidi Vanderholm of Stanton, Macy Williams of F-M and Anne Marie Maher of Nishnabotna. 

Only Sidney, who didn't have any seniors last year, returns it's primary hitter Lexy Larsen.

All teams except Botna return at least one setter.  Sam Moran is lost to graduation, as are Logan Wagg and Elizabeth Walker.

Defensively, among dig leaders last season, the two biggest losses are Tayrn and Macy Williams of F-M.  Jess Doyle is gone for EM as well.  The top blockers were hit hard as well.  Gone are Amber Ohnmacht of Essex, Haley Weis of Stanton, Andrea McClary of F-M, and Stephanie Frink of EM.  These were the top four blockers in the conference last season.

The edge here clearly goes to Sidney.

Who returns among hitters? - Among last years 12 most prolific hitters,  Lexy Larsen is back for Sidney, Chelsea Weis and Ally Focht for Stanton and Samantha Opal for East Mills.  Larsen is the top returning hitter, but Stanton returning two hitters with over .200 kill efficiency might give the Viqueens the advantage here.

Setters? - Every team except Essex and Botna return at least one player with 250 assists last season.  Delaney Langfelt leads the way individually with nearly 600 assists, Sidney Sidney will enjoy having both Mac Daffer and Mackenzie Hulsing who combined last season for nearly 650. Ally Focht had over 300 last season for Stanton and Emmy Duysen returns for East MIlls with 277.

Edge here to Sidney with two options returning?

Defense - Daiton Martin and Kelsi Leininger return for Essex with over 600 combined digs last season.  Quinn Sheldon and Larsen for Sidney, Kennedy Hughes for Botna, Devin Druivenga and Chelsea Weis for Stanton. 

Edge here might go to Essex with Sidney right behind them.

Net defense - Sam Opal is the top returning blocker, Maryn Phillips (Botna) and Taryn Hansen (FM) return as well.  Stanton returns two of the top blockers in the conference in Weis and Focht.  The depth appears to give Stanton the edge here.

Serving - Serving stats are tougher to quantify, but among players with at least 35 aces and a 90% accuracy or better Chelsea Weis leads the way.  Delaney Langfelt is back for F-M wit her 98 percent serving rate.  Also returning are Ashley Focht of Sidney and Ally Focht of Stanton.

Another edge to Stanton?

It's just a superficial look at pure statistics and who returns, but it still tells a lot about the landscape.  One thing I've learned watching the Corner Conference for better than a decade is it's usually safe to say Stanton will be a factor in the race for he league title.  Most years they are the favorite and this year might be no different with Sidney appearing to be the early threat to challenge them.

 

 

 

8-man district 8

Purely statistical/factual look at the Corner Conference football landscape this season. This assumes everyone goes out for football and obviously can't take injuries into account.

  • How was each team affected by graduation - Huge edge here for Stanton.  One senior on last years roster, Kyle Peterson.  Peterson contributed a solid 500 yards of rushing and 50+ solo tackles, but it won't be the same as Fremont-Mills attempting to replace Spencer Phillips.  The Knights return a surplus of talent as well, but lose the majority of its experienced size/muscle with the departure of Phillips, Bret Blackburn and Haydn Meier.  Multi purpose man Mackenzy Lang is gone too.

Sidney loses a fantastic game manager in quarterback Michael Coates.  Gone also is top reciever Jake Cain, ball carrier Blane Moreland and  Erick Rodriguez (4th in the district in rushing, defensive starter and best kicker in the area).  Sidney will also have to replace two solid experienced lineman in Emmitt Gilson and Jacob Burge. 

Botna loses all around dynamo Andrew Welch, who will be nearly impossible to replace with a singe athlete.  Receiver Tyler Beem is gone also, but the Blue Devils roster remains largely intact.  East Mills loses its quarterback Logan Currin, one of its two standout running backs in Cavin Darnold and its entire group of receivers Austin Edmunds, Sam Rew and Gabe Barney.

Essex loses its top tackler and rusher in Austin Woods but returns the majority of its roster in one piece.

Edge - Clearly Stanton

  • Quarterbacks - Jason Rusten and David Sorensen lead the way for Fm and Stanton respectively.  Rusten will be coping with fewer weapons round him and Sorenson will be coping with the added expectations that come with leading a team tying to break through to the next level.  Josh Haning was having a good season for Botna before injuries slowed down his season and Ian Issacson brings plent of game experience back for Essex.  Sidney and East Mills will be starting someone new.

Edge - FM and Stanton.  Botna and Essex behind that

 

  • Running Backs - Josh Hopkins (East Mills) and Parker Powers (FM) are the top returning rushers.  Powers is likely the most explosive big play threat in the area and Hopkins is a proven combination of speed and ability to punish would be tacklers.  one to watch is Botna's Chad Blank who established himself as the fastest player (without pads) in the conference this year.  Sam Phillips averaged over five yards per carry last season for FM.  Alex Becthold is the top returning rusher for Stanton, but keep an eye on Chris Jones who emerged as one of the fastest sprinters in the conference last spring during track season.   Cody Davis was solid for Essex last season as a second option to Woods.

Edge - Again FM and Stanton with an edge to FM. 

  • Receivers - There is Stanton's Brady Johnson, then Essex's Cody McClintock and then the rest of the field.  Johnson caught 84 passes for 1300 yards and 18 touchdowns.  McClintock caught 43 for 660 last season.  Keep an eye on Blank and Phillips.

 

  • Tacklers - The top three returning tacklers are all Stanton Vikings.  Alex Becthold (1st), Connor Hultman (5th) and Brady Johnson (7th).  Parker Powers was eighth in the conference in tackles last season for FM.  Other tacklers in the top 20 last season, were Josh Hopkins of East mills, Dustin Issacson (Stanton), David Sorenson (Stanton) and Noah Richter of East Mills. 

Edge - Stanton

  • Line play - Graduation spared the bulk of East Mills' men in the trench.  Matt Glockel is one of the most underrated athletes in the area and along with Daniel Smith and Anthony Ossman the Wolverines will return a lot of the line intact.  Stanton of course returns its whole line.  Fremont-Mills has a bit of line rebuilding to do but more than enough depth and weight room work ethic to do it.  Ben Phillips had 10 tackles in the backfield last year for Botna and he returns for the Blue Devils.

Edge - East Mills

  • Pass defense - Parker Powers has been the best pass defender in the conference the last two years, and even with the graduation of Brandon Meston, F-M should still have the lockdown in the defensive secondary.  Connor Hultman had three interceptions last year for Stanton.

Edge - FM then Stanton

  • Kicking game - Parker Powers is the only player returning who has kicked an extra point.  Cody McClintock and Josh Drake (East Mills) are the leading returning punters. 

Edge - F-M

I need to talk to coaches and get more details before I write anything more detailed but this is a good start for discussion.  I don't think it would be unfair to tag Fm and Stanton as the early favorites, but thats simply on paper.  To be continued.

 

 

Fremont County Affair

You have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a baseball season where neither Sidney nor Nishnabotna was involved in the Corner Conference baseball title. 

Sidney won it in 2010 after splitting two of the greatest baseball games ever with Botna.  East Mills upset the Blue Devils in the very last game of the season to hand the Cowboys the title.  I still maintain that East Mills team is as good as any Corner team in the last three seasons, but that's a story for another day.

Of course in 2010, Botna won the rubber game in the playoffs and went on to play in the 1A state tournament.  in 2011, it was all Botna.  The Devils ran the table, losing only in the strangest of upsets to Stanton that year and then again in another bizarre upset in the substate final, missing a second straight state trip after getting ten runned by Orient-Macksburg, a team with a losing record.  No Sidney/Botna drama that year, but that changed fast in 2012.

Sidney was the strongest team that year and jumped out to a commanding lead in the league standings.  They ten runned Botna in Hamburg early and reeled off11 consecutive conference wins after that to build an insurmountable lead.  Botna on the other hand under first year coach Blair Holman struggled, losing three of its first four league games before going on a winning streak of its own.  The Devils reeled off 15 consecutive wins after a 1-7 start to the season

Both streaks were intact when the two teams met in the last game of the conference season.  Sidney had already clinched the league title but what followed is the Sidney/Botna baseball rivalry in a nutshell.  Joseph Heitshusen outdueled  Casey Cruickshank 8-6 in a seven inning war in Sidney where the action on the field was almost as good as the action in the stands between the two rival fan bases.

Botna won three more games in a row, including a win over Shenanadoah, before the two teams met again in Essex in the playoffs.  Brendon Hardy got the best of Heitshusen in another good pitching duel.  Cruickshank enraged the botna crowd by getting hit by a pitch in nearly every at bat, at least once on a pitch that would have been a called strike had he taken it.  Sidney won 6-4 and the Cowboys nearly knocked off Treynor the next round behind a stellar farewell pitching performance from Cruickshank.

in 2013, Botna was a perfect 14-0 in league play, but had to escape an extra inning game in Sidney where Jake Cain pitched 7 2/3 innings of one hit baseball striking out 14 along the way.  Heitshusen pitched all eight innings giving up only two hits and managing to hit a half a dozen batters to boot.  It was a freezing cold night for June and a lot of batters got hit by pitches.  it was intense to say the least.

In 2014 and 2015 Botna was co-champ with FM and Sidney hasn't beaten Botna since 2013 but if you look closely at both games this season, thursday's game looks a lot more interesting.  Sidney led 4-0 in the first game before a five run sixth inning propelled Botna to a 7-5 win.  Game two saw Sergio Rodriguez and Jake Cain combine to no hit the Devils, but Botna still pulled out a 2-1 win.

It's always a blast when these two teams get together whether anything is on the line or not.  Because it's Sidney and Botna playing baseball.  it's the best long term rivalry in the Corner Conference regardless of sport.  The two head coaches were both fantastic players themselves, one from Farragut and one from Hamburg.

This is as good as it gets in the Corner. One team will see its season end Thursday night.  Botna is the champ, Sidney is the challenger on a hot streak.  You can bet your ass it will be intense.  See you there.