The Wright Call

By Dave Wright

For Steve Walsh at Cretin-Derham Hall, it’s a getting-to-know-you process. For Sean Jensen at Minnehaha Academy, it’s introducing a new offensive attack. For Brad Moening at Highland Park, it’s getting the troops used to competing against each other.

However, for all three high school coaches there’s also a common thread. The first week of fall practice, which started for all prep athletes on August 15, is a breaking-in period. The hard work commences in the second week, since the start of their seasons is rapidly closing in.

Walsh is the new kid on the block. Forty years ago, he was one of the boys gunning for the quarterback position on a talented CDH football team. After great high school, college and professional careers under center, he turned to coaching a high school team in Florida and later coaching a pro team in the Canadian Football League. Now he’s back home at his prep alma mater, looking to revive the Raider’s gridiron fortunes. Asked about his first week with his new team, Walsh said, “It’s an ongoing process. It’s been an unusual three years for our seniors. Part of what we’re doing here is establishing a culture.”

College and pro teams have a month to get ready before they play a regular-season game. High school football teams have three weeks. You can fit a scrimmage into that narrow window, but for guys like Walsh it starts with getting to know a new cast of characters. In addition to learning what his players can do on the field, he feels it’s necessary to remind them what they do off the field is important as well.

“Social media has changed coaching,” Walsh said. “It creates a selfish attitude. I tell the kids to take three deep breaths (before communicating something off the field they may regret later). The reality is that six years or so down the road, a potential employer will be able to check everything they ever did on social media.”

“We don’t cut anybody,” Jensen said. “We’ll place them all on a team. You want them to grow. We’re not that big of a school. There may be an opportunity for an eighth-grader to move up.”

Numbers have never been a problem at CDH. Between the school’s three football teams, Walsh has roughly 100 players in the system. There was plenty of film to watch and some summer workouts to evaluate talent, but there’s nothing like being on the field to give a football coach a chance to see what he has to work with.

“We have to learn a lot about how to make them better players,” Walsh said. “That’s the challenge.”

An encouraging sign has been players going hard at 6:30 a.m. weight sessions and morning workouts. He’ll find out how that translates to the field when the Raiders open the season on September 1 at Spring Lake Park.

Minnehaha’s Jensen

Jensen faces a different situation at Minnehaha. This is his first year as the head boys’ soccer coach, but he has served as a coach of younger Redhawk teams on the pitch and as a varsity assistant.

“The first week is tough,” Jensen said. “The kids played soccer together during the summer, but we started with some hard conditioning.”

There was also a “placement” practice designed to help Jensen make some critical decisions. In addition to the varsity, Minnehaha has a pair of JV soccer squads. One is the traditional team where players could get called up to the varsity, while the other is along the lines of a freshman squad for players new to the sport and those who still have a lot to learn.

“We don’t cut anybody,” Jensen said. “We’ll place them all on a team. You want them to grow. We’re not that big of a school. There may be an opportunity for an eighth-grader to move up.”

At the end of the first week, Jensen had arranged scrimmages for his team against Totino-Grace and Simley and a later against Johnson. “At a school like ours, it’s important to schedule the right teams,” Jensen said. “I want to challenge our guys.”

The Redhawks went 8-7-1 last year. Sawyer Boehm, the IMAC Player of the Year in 2021, is now at Gustavus. Still, Jensen felt there was enough talent returning to schedule nonconference games at DeLaSalle, which went 16-1 last year, and Saint Croix Prep, which went to the section championship game.

Jensen is installing a new formation he hoped would be ready to be rolled out when the season opened at Breck on August 30. “We have the personnel to execute the new formation,” he said. “We have a good nucleus returning.” On the flip side, there was a mere week to get everything in place for the opener. 

Highland’s Moening

Moening has been coaching Highland Park cross-country runners for two decades. Accordingly, he knows every season is different. This fall presents some unique challenges for Moening and the Scots. The girls are the defending Class AA state champions and have won the last 10 straight Saint Paul City Conference championships. The boys finished second in the state and have won three of the last four City Conference crowns. Both were ranked among the best teams in the state as the new season unfolds.

All of that means nothing now. On the girls’ side, Moening’s daughter Molly, a runner extraordinaire, has gone off to college in Vermont. However, there are several strong legs returning. Ellie Moore, Sam Palm and Ziva Westrich, who were all among the top 41 state finishers last year, are back for another run.

On the boys’ side, Davis Isom, Ben Martin and Gavin Roberts finished in the top 27 at last year’s state meet and are seniors this year. 

Moening is a creature of habit. So on the first day of official practice, the roughly 100 strong Scots dutifully took to the Highland golf course for a 1.5-mile run to work the kinks out. Moening then broke his charges into groups of eight or so, matching runners with others of similar ability. “We have some very dedicated kids,” he said. “Some of them ran 500 miles this summer.”

Unlike football and soccer, cross-country doesn’t have scrimmages. Instead, there are several scoring meets that lead up to a series of climaxes. The first  is the City Conference meet on October 17, followed by the section meet and, if all goes well, a return to state on November 5. The last meet is already circled on the team’s calendar.

Accordingly, Moening will build slowly, placing runners in different meets with the goal of having the best group available when the championship season starts in mid-October. “It’s a process,” he said. “The goal is to get them used to the pace and build their way up.”

Walsh and Jensen use scrimmages to set their lineups for their season openers. Moening uses the five meets on his regular-season schedule to prep for the big three runs at the end of the season. “The kids want to go as fast as they can right now,” he said. It’s an understandable itch, but Moening knows they need to scratch it at the end of the year, not in September.

Dave Wright can be reached at


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