MLA looks to win the numbers game
The start of the 2018 track and field season has presented a challenge to the Mt. Lake Area coaching staff — a good challenge, but a challenge nonetheless. MLA entered the season with over 70 participants on the roster. And with the team starting the season indoors, that has made for some cramped quarters in the elementary school gym and throughout the hallways of the school. But those numbers also mean opportunity for the Wolverines. After back-toback years of having no state qualifiers, MLA is hoping to be able to push some competitors through to St. Paul in June.
The push toward June’s state meet held at Hamline University begins in earnest on Saturday, when the Wolverines take part in an indoor meet at Minnesota State University in Mankato. MLA hopes to be more competitive throughout the season. The added depth will undoubtedly help. “We had 78 kids on the first day of practice, which is the most we’ve had in many years,” MLA Coach Scott Boelke said. “It’s a nice problem to have. Track is a numbers game. When you have numbers, you have depth and can fill more events. “We also have a lot of young kids on the roster this year. That’s exciting to see. Some of those kids might contribute this year, but we’ll have a lot of those kids well into the future.” Both the Wolverine boys and girls return several talented upperclassmen. The boys may have more depth in the upper grades, while the girls figure to be young at several spots. But the numbers are encouraging. “We have four of our top five scorers back for the boys,” Boelke said. “They are all juniors or seniors. We have a couple of high-scoring sophomores back as well. We should be pretty solid at the top. “The girls have a few seniors who are back. Beyond our top three, we’ll be pretty young.”
Where the Wolverines figure to be at their best are in the sprints and hurdles. Leading the way is senior Reynaldo Capetillo who narrowly missed a state berth each of the past two years after qualifying as a freshman. “Reynaldo fought some injuries the last two years, but he’s coming in healthy and focused this year,” Boelke said. “He’s in about the best shape I’ve ever seen him in. Hopefully he can get himself back to that next level. He can run any of the sprints and relays. We’ll see what is best for him and the team to see where the best shot to move on would be. “Sophomore Sam Paulson is probably strongest in the jumps, but he has tremendous quickness in the sprints. He was on our 4×200 that did very well. Kris Menken is coming off a torn ACL from football, so we might not have him in the sprints. But we have some good options in the younger grades.”
In the hurdles, MLA returns junior Ethan Klassen and sophomore Joel Salgado, who were each section qualifiers last year. “They push each other every day and that makes both of them better,” Boelke said. “They’ve both gotten a little bigger and stronger.” In the distance races, the Wolverines return talent and confidence. Sophomore Emilio Garcia de la Cruz figures to anchor the team in the 800 along with senior Emmanuel Fentanez. Junior Ryan Blomgren will likely lead the team in the 1,600 and 3,200. “All of those guys had a very good cross country season last fall,” Boelke said. “I’m hoping the success they had in the fall carries over to the spring. The three of them would give us three pretty solid legs of a 4×800 relay.”
Jumps also figure to be a strength for the Wolverines with Paulson leading the way in the high jump, long jump and triple jump. Capetillo will also figure into the mix in the long jump. “Sam and Reynaldo both had a lot of good jumps last year,” Boelke said. “It’s a matter of where the best chance for them to move on is. Sam can do all of the jumps. Triple is probably his best jump. He could probably pole vault if he wanted. “A.J. Vongsy will probably help us out in both the sprints and jumps. Collin Hampel is a junior who could figure into the mix in the jumps. Emilio Garcia de la Cruz did some pole vaulting last year. We have a couple of junior high kids eager to try it as well.”
The throws figure to be less experienced for MLA. Senior Michael Watkins returns as MLA’s only veteran. Senior Kris Menken might see time in the throws, depending on how far rehab has gone with his knee injury. “We really need to find someone to pick up the slack,” Boelke said. “Michael has worked hard and Kris has looked good so far, but we could always use more.”
The Wolverines return three seniors who figure to shoulder much of the scoring load entering the season. Two, and potentially all three, of the seniors will likely figure into the equation in the sprints. Senior Jewel Soutthivong can run virtually any distance and senior Marta Stoesz gives MLA a solid option for relay depth while also competing in jumps. Senior Jenneel Rodney could give MLA depth in the sprints and relays. “Jewel can run pretty much any distance,” Boelke said. “Jewel did some 200 and 400 last year, but she’s shown a lot of interest in the 800 this year. Marta does a great job in the 400 and the 4×400. “I think Jenneel is primarily going to focus on throws, where she scored a lot of points last year. We’ll maybe put her in the 100 or a relay every now and then, but we’d like to try to get her higher on the podium in the throws.”
That leaves things wide open in the sprints. “Chloe Klassen is a junior who has some experience sprinting,” Boelke said. “If we can keep her healthy, she should be able to score points. But we have open spots where maybe some junior girls can step in and steal some points. “In the hurdles, we have freshman Eryn Friesen back with a couple of junior girls who have shown some interest. We don’t have a lot of experience there.”
The longer distances are a bit of a question mark. “We have some girls who ran cross country in the fall who, for some reason, did not come out for track,” Boelke said. “It’s really open for the taking if someone wants to step up.” The field events figure to be the biggest strength for the Wolverines with veterans and depth. Nowhere is that more evident than in the throws. “We’re anticipating a big season from Jenneel Rodney, but we have a pretty talented sophomore coming up behind her in Saige Wall who has a lot of potential,” Boelke said. “We’ll have a lot of meets where both of them are scoring points.”
In the jumps, Stoesz has shined in the high jump but has experience in long and triple jumps. “Marta has section meet experience,” Boelke said. “We have Sierra Pankratz back, who had a great year triple jumping last year. Jewel Soutthivong has done some long and triple jump. But, again, we’re still looking for younger girls who are willing to give things a try.”
Boelke anticipates his squads to be able to come together well to compete in a talented Red Rock Conference. “Our numbers will certainly give us a shot,” Boelke said. “Murray County Central’s boys and Southwest Christian’s girls had so much quality last year. Fulda and Heron Lake-Okabena are paired now and both had some good talent coming back. WWG/RRC has some good talent, especially in the distance races. Hills-Beaver Creek and Adrian also have some good kids. “For a small-school conference, the Red Rock is as tough as it comes. Hopefully we can make a dent with our numbers. We also get to host the conference meet, so hopefully that helps.” The sub-section figures to be a challenge. “We’re one of the smaller schools in the sub-section,” Boelke said. “With Redwood, Jackson and Windom in there, we know it will be a challenge. We know we’ll be a little young. “But if our numbers hold up over the next couple of years, the future looks really promising.”
Wolverines set sights higher in 2018
A year ago, the Mt. Lake Area-Comfrey Wolverine fastpitch team took a considerable amount of time just getting used to each other. Once the Wolverines found their comfort zone, though, things took off. MLAC won four of its last six games entering the playoffs, then picked up a pair of wins to advance to the Section 2A semifinals. But back-to-back losses to Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s and Nicollet ended the Wolverines’ season with a 13-10 overall record. This year, the Wolverines have several returning players at key positions and have their sights set on taking another step forward. Coach Brian Hopwood said that, so far, things have gone very well.
“We’ll be inside for a while, but we’re doing a lot of hitting and fundamental drills,” Hopwood said. “We had a productive first week. The biggest positive is the girls really enjoy being together. They work hard together. “The experience of getting to the section semifinals will be big for us. We have five girls who saw a lot of time last year back. They saw some success last year. We also have good numbers, but only two seniors. That bodes well for the future.” The Wolverines have a big luxury, having a veteran pitcher returning. Junior Molly Carnell earned allconference honors last year. “Last year, we didn’t know quite what to expect from Molly,” Hopwood said. “She was young, but had been forced to pitch when Comfrey was on its own. But she works hard. She’s worked to develop her pitches. She had a lot of great games. “The thing with Molly is that she’s always around the plate. This year, she’s developed her off-speed pitches and should be able to keep hitters off-balance a little better.” Hopwood added that senior Jordan Boldt, junior Rylie Tollefson and sophomore Taylor Naas could also see innings inside the circle. “We have some girls who are capable of giving us some innings,” Hopwood said. “Jordan, Rylie and Taylor all saw some innings over the summer. If we have multiple games in a week or a doubleheader, we might need those girls to give us some innings.”
Behind the plate, sophomore Margo Stoesz emerged as a threat both at the plate and on defense, earning allconference honors. “Margo made big strides last year on defense,” Hopwood said. “She’s always been a solid hitter, but her defense improved a lot last year.” At first base, junior Jaelin Renquist steps in after being primarily an offensive threat last year. “Jaelin is a very good hitter and has been our designated hitter the last couple of years,” Hopwood said. “We could put junior Rylie Tollefson or junior Lexi Toll at first as well.” The rest of the infield is relatively set, with Naas at second base, Tollefson a returning all-conference shortstop and Boldt at third. “All three of those girls saw a lot of varsity innings last year,” Hopwood said. “Rylie is solid with the glove and has a big bat. Jordan is a tremendous defender and Taylor is a good threat at the plate and a strong defender.”
The outfield is where the question marks are for the Wolverines. MLAC will be without junior outfielder Hailey Pidde, who was an honorable mention all-conference player last year, after Pidde suffered a torn ACL during basketball. “That’s a big blow for us because Hailey really emerged on offense and defense last year,” Hopwood said. “Right now, we’re probably looking at having Lexi Toll in center. She has a good glove and can cover a lot of ground. “Sophomore Destiny Sybounheuan saw some innings in the outfield and at second last year. She’ll probably play either left or center. Right field is a bit of a question. We have a senior, Natalie Goblirsch, who works very hard and will get the first shot at it.” Hopwood said that the Wolverines should also have decent depth. Junior Kayla Vonk, sophomores Emma Stade and Emilee Xayanourom and freshman Sabrina Hanson will start the season as reserves. “We have a couple of junior high girls who will be pushing for varsity time this year as well,” Hopwood said. “We have an eighth-grader in Emma Windschitl who has a lot of promise and a couple of seventh-graders in Brooke Naas and Jaci Tollefson who have the potential to step into the lineup. We also picked up some more junior high girls from Comfrey. It’s exciting to see more girls at that level come out for the sport, wanting to be part of the team.” Hopwood anticipates the Wolverines being right in the thick of the hunt in both the Red Rock Conference and Section 2A.
In the conference, Hopwood points to defending state runner-up Edgerton- Southwest Christian as the favorite. “Edgerton lost a lot of talent, but they’ve been solid for a number of years,” Hopwood said. “Murray County Central has improved a lot the last couple of years. Adrian and Red Rock Central have some nice players back. I’m not sure what Heron Lake-Okabena will have back or what they’ll get from their new pairing with Fulda. But everyone in the conference should be improving.” In the section, Hopwood figures Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s will again be the team to beat. “St. Mary’s lost their pitcher but has everyone else back,” Hopwood said. “If they can find a pitcher, they’ll be tough again. I’d expect Cathedral to be tough again. Cleveland and Nicollet had nice, young teams last year. And Sleepy Eye Public always has good numbers and good athletes. “Mankato Loyola paired with St. Clair, which bumps them up to Class AA. But the section should still be pretty solid.”
Cobras prepare for regionals
The future of wrestling in southwest Minnesota will be on display over the weekend, as the Windom- Mt. Lake Cobra youth wrestling team hosts the season’s biggest tournament. Windom Area High School will once again host the Northland Youth Wrestling Association Region 2 individual tournament. The top four finishers in each age and weight class will advance to the NYWA State Tourney, which will be held April 5-8 in Rochester. Those finishing outside the top four may be selected for the NYWA State Invite, which is also held April 5-8 in Rochester. Wrestling on Saturday begins at 9:30 a.m., for grades K-4, while grades 5-8 begin at roughly 1:30 p.m.
To qualify for regions, wrestlers had to place in the top three at their age and weight bracket at a district tournament. Those were held two weeks ago in Minneota, Springfield and Adrian. This year, Region 2 will have an additional state bid for each bracket. In most years, only three wrestlers from each bracket advance. This year, four advance. Windom has hosted the NYWA Regional Tournament for over 20 years. It typically attracts over 500 wrestlers and nearly 1,500 spectators. The WML grades K-6 team competed in the regional team competition this past weekend in Tracy, recording two wins to finish in seventh place.