GM, Caledonia boys, Medford girls return to state

Payton Leahy takes this pass reception down to the Lanesboro four yard-line, setting up Spring Grove’s third touchdown in a 21-12 section quarterfinal win against Lanesboro. Photo by Cheryl Patterson
S. Lee Epps

The high school sports spotlight is now aimed at this week's state tournaments after section volleyball and football championships were decided last weekend.


Section 1A volleyball was again incredibly strong and competitive with four of the state's top 10 ranked teams - No. 6 Mabel-Canton, No. 7 tie Kenyon-Wanamingo, No. 7 tie Medford and No. 9 Caledonia. Unfortunately, again, only one could advance to state. 

In last year's section final, Medford defeated Mabel-Canton and went on to finish as state runner-up. The Tigers graduated only one senior but added a transfer from Owatonna. There would be a section championship rematch this year.

But first in last week's East Sub-section finals, Mabel-Canton prevailed in four exciting and well-played sets against Caledonia, 3-1. In the West Sub-section, it took Medford five sets to dismiss K-W.

Then, it was five sets again for the Tigers to out-claw the Cougars, 3-2 last Saturday at Rochester. Medford took the first two sets - convincingly 25-14 before coming from behind and then holding off a late Cougar rally in the second set 25-23.

But Mabel-Canton took set three, 25-19, and then the fourth set, 25-20. The Cougars appeared to have all the momentum, but the fifth set was tied seven times before the Tigers scored five of the next six points to go up 12-8.

M-C was back within one at 13-12 before a kill and an ace block sent Medford (24-8) back to state, 15-12. 

Undersized Mabel-Canton closed at 34-3 with all three setbacks coming against state-ranked squads.The Cougars achieved 30 wins for the 11th time in the last 12 seasons.

In the Class AA Section One finals, season-long state-ranked No. 1 Stewartville (27-4) won 3-1 against defending section champ and state-ranked No. 4 Kasson-Mantorville (27-6).

The state volleyball tournaments begin this Thursday, Nov. 7 and concludes on Saturday in the Twin Cities.

Football 9-man

Section One was the only one in 9-man football in which the top seed did not make it to the championship game. In six of the eight sections, it was the top two seeds in the title tilt. And it was No. 1 versus No. 3 in Section Two.

But in the Section One title game, No.  2 seed Grand Meadow mangled No. 5 seed Houston, 35-0. It was true to form; this section 9-man championship game is hardly ever competitive. Except for Spring Grove's dramatic 36-35 win over Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran in 2017, the average margin victory in the other 16 games (since 2003) has been 26 points.

Grand Meadow has now won seven of those 17 section championship games by an average winning margin of 25 points. But when the Superlarks lost four times, it was by an average margin of 28 points.

Except for the nail-biter against Cleveland/Immanuel, Spring Grove lost five title games by an average margin of 20 points and won three times by an average margin of 23 points.

This year's No. 2 versus No. 5 matchup surprised few after a wide-open regular-season race. All eight of the section squads were part of the regular-season, nine-team East Sub-district - all except Lyle/Pacelli, which went to Section Three for the postseason.

In the final regular-season game, the Larks had humbled the Hurricanes, 43-6. But since then, Houston met and swamped No. 4 seed Southland, 46-18. The Rebels had been state-ranked most of the season. 

Then in the semi-finals, the 'Canes clobbered state-ranked No. 2, previously undefeated and top section seed LeRoy-Ostrander by another very similar and surprisingly lopsided score, 44-18. 

But again, Houston was no match for Grand Meadow, which racked up 21 points in the first quarter on the way to a 28-0 halftime lead and ultimate five-touchdown shutout.

It was the second straight section final denial for the Hurricanes, who had whipped Grand Meadow (36-14) in the 2018 semi-finals before falling in the finals to Spring Grove, 28-6. 

Since becoming a 9-man program, Houston is now 2-3 in section title games, having been the 2008 state champion.

While the 'Canes closed at 7-4, the Superlarks (10-1) had lost only to LeRoy-Ostrander, 30-18, back in week three. The Larks' only two serious challenges in their 10 wins both came from No. 3 section seed Spring Grove (7-3).

In week six, Grand Meadow won 21-7 at Spring Grove. In the section semi-finals, the Superlarks came from behind in the fourth quarter to overtake the Lions, 24-14. In their other two playoff games, the Larks outscored the opposition, 77-0.

Grand Meadow returns to the state tournament after a two-year hiatus and for the sixth time in eight years. Prior to Spring Grove's back-to-back state titles in 2017 and 2018, the Superlarks won four straight state crowns (2013 through 2016) after being state runner-up in 2012.

The Larks' 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6 task back again at Austin's Art Hass Stadium is formidable - against Section Three champion and state-ranked No. 1 Mountain Lake Area (11-0). The Wolverines' last loss was against Spring Grove in last year's state championship game. This year, they are averaging 51 points a game while giving up 11.

Of the eight state-tourney teams, six were No. 1 section seeds, along with a pair of No. 2 seeds. That highly-regarded card includes state-ranked No. 1 Mountain Lake Area (11-0) versus Grand Meadow (10-1), which did receive some votes in the final state poll, and No. 5 Win-E-Mac (11-0) versus unranked Warren-Alvarado-Oslo (8-3). 

In the other half of the bracket, No. 3 Renville County West (11-0) faces No. 4 Hancock (11-0) in the most highly-ranked matchup and Mountain Iron-Buhl (9-1), which received some votes in the final poll, versus unranked South Ridge (8-2). 

The tournament then moves to U. S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis with the state semi-finals on Friday morning, Nov. 15 with the championship game on Saturday morning, Nov. 30.

State-ranked No. 2 Blooming Prairie (10-0) won the Class A Section One championship game, 59-12, over Goodhue, 

Class AA state-ranked No. 1 Caledonia (11-0), the four-time defending state champion, claimed a 66th straight win, 27-7, over a good Chatfield team (8-3) in the section finals. It was a closer encounter than the Warriors' 41-8 romp in the teams' regular-season game.

Caledonia takes on Pipestone Area on Friday, Nov. 8 at Rochester. The winner advances to the semi-finals on Friday, Nov. 15 (11:30 a.m.) at U. S. Bank Stadium. The finals follow on Friday, Nov. 29.


Sub-section 1A East Volleyball

#9 Rushford-Peterson 3, #8 Lanesboro 2

#5 Spring Grove 3,  #12 Houston 0 

#7 Chatfield 3, #10 Kingsland 0 

#6 Wabasha-Kellogg 3, #11 Schaeffer Academy 0 



#1 Mabel-Canton 3, #9 Rushford-Peterson 0

#4 Fillmore Central 3, #5 Spring Grove 0

#2 Caledonia 3, #7 Chatfield 1

#6 Wabasha-Kellogg 3, #3 Cotter 0 



Mabel-Canton 3, Fillmore Central 0

Caledonia 3, Wabasha-Kellogg 1

FINALS: #1 Mabel-Canton 3 vs. #2 Caledonia 1


Section 1A championship

1A West champ Medford 3, 1A East champ Mabel-Canton 2




(#1) LeRoy-Ostrander38, (#8) Mabel-Canton 22 

(#5) Houston 46, (#4) Southland 18

(#3) Spring Grove 21,  (#6) Lanesboro 12 

(#2) Grand Meadow 42,  (#7) Kingsland 0 



Grand Meadow 24, Spring Grove 14

Houston 44, LeRoy-Ostrander 18



(#2) Gr. Meadow 35, (#5) Houston 0