Chanhassen-Chaska football rivalry heats up among friends

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 5, 2013 - 8:12 PM

Chanhassen, new in 2009, won the past three meetings.

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Head coach Bill Rosburg directed his team during Chanhassen's practice Thursday afternoon, September 5, 2013, on the eve of their game against Chaska.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Chanhassen football coach Bill Rosburg feels stirred up yet sentimental about playing Chaska, his team’s chief rival, Friday.

Rosburg, a former teacher and assistant football coach at Chaska, showed “my favorite picture from coaching” to his Chanhassen science classes earlier this week.

“It’s of a third-grade football team which has a handful of those knuckleheads, my own son [Joe], and a handful of our knuckleheads,” Rosburg said. “How rare is that?”

Chaska and Chanhassen became instant rivals when the latter opened in 2009. The Eastern Carver County Schools’ senior highs sit barely 2.5 miles apart on opposite sides of Hazeltine National Golf Club.

Youth sports in those neighboring communities are combined through the third grade, Rosburg said. Once in fourth grade, however, young athletes are funneled into pipelines headed for either high school.

Familiarity, coaches and players from both schools say, breeds a certain camaraderie. It also intensifies on-field meetings; neither side wants to lose before loyal fans from both communities. Storm activities director Austin Tollerson said more than 5,000 people are expected for the game at Chanhassen, despite seating for only 2,800. Ticket sales began Thursday.

“It’s the most memorable game we play,” Chaska quarterback Justin Arnold said.

Chaska won the first two games, including a 47-7 blowout of senior-less Chanhassen in 2009. Rosburg pointed out that Chaska’s defensive starters were playing in the fourth quarter, a subtle mention that spoke to a growing rivalry.

Chanhassen has won the past three meetings, including a playoff victory last fall to end Chaska’s season.

“That game just ate us up inside,” Arnold said. “We didn’t want to wait a year to play them again.”

Current Storm seniors such as standout offensive lineman Frank Ragnow have not lost to Chaska and want to keep it that way.

“Everybody is talking about it,” Ragnow said. “Our pep rally on the first day of school we talked about it. I got asked this week in the halls about 30 times, ‘How are you going to do against Chaska?’ I hear it from teachers, students, even the janitor. It’s a huge week.”

Chanhassen has been the envy off the field. Chaska, which for years was the district’s only high school, opened its current building in 1996. Chanhassen christened its large, modern building — with dorm-style lounge areas, a state-of-the-art performing arts theater and enviable athletics facilities — in 2009.

Less than a year later, as students flocked to enroll in the newer school, district officials limited transfers from Chaska to Chanhassen in an effort to keep enrollment similar. Those restrictions were later lifted and the transfer itch has since eased. Both schools showed enrollment increases this year. Chanhassen has 1,620 students this year; Chaska has 1,362.

Rosburg played football at tiny Truman High School just north of Fairmont in south-central Minnesota and now leads Chanhassen players onto their turf home field for games. Modest by comparison, Chanhassen’s grass practice field “was our game field” in high school, Rosburg said.

“This is not typical,” Rosburg said. “We’re extremely fortunate to be given everything we need to be successful. We have no excuses.”

Fourth-year Chaska coach Lambert Brown said Chanhassen’s draw as the district’s shiny new school “was on my mind” when he took the Chaska job.

“The kids in this district have a choice, but I’m a believer that the best support for your program is your players,” Brown said. “If they are enjoying the experience, you’re going to have a strong program.”

Brown experienced rivalry games during former coaching stints at White Bear Lake and Fridley, but said two high schools within the same district adds flavor.

Chaska’s practice on the first day of school, historically difficult because players are pulled in myriad directions all day, went smoothly because players were focused on Chanhassen, Brown said.

“It’s unique because the kids all know each other and are friends outside of school,” he said. “If you went to White Bear Lake, you really didn’t know anyone from Mounds View.”

Ragnow counts Chaska players Calvin Buesgens, Carter Groskreutz and Lucas Ward among his good friends. Arnold feels likewise about Storm running back Cole Kirchoff. Several players from both teams are in a fantasy football league, Ragnow said. (With the first overall pick in the draft, Ragnow selected Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.)

“There is a lot of friendship,” Arnold said. “But once we’re on the field we don’t treat them like we know them.”

The teams need a victory for different reasons. Chaska enjoyed a comeback victory against Hopkins on Aug. 23, then had a bye week. The Hawks seek to continue their momentum, while Chanhassen, shut out in a loss against Hudson (Wis.) last week, seeks redemption.

“This week is a perfect week to come back, show we worked hard over the summer and make a statement that we are not the team we showed last week,” Ragnow said.

The game marks the season debut of Chanhassen senior running back Raymonte Maynard, a transfer from Minneapolis Washburn who on Thursday was cleared to play by the Minnesota State High School League.

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  • Chanhassen offensive lineman Frank Ragnow warmed up with the team after school Thursday, on the eve of the Storm’s game against neighboring Chaska.

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