Archive for Kip Kovar

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: HLWW falls to Southwest Christian, continues to battle despite tough season

HOWARD LAKE –  Wins have been hard to come by for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted girls basketball this season. Despite that, the effort and commitment to getting better have been there all season long.

Taking on Southwest Christian, the Lakers battled once again despite being shorthanded. Missing a handful of starters was too much to overcome as the Lakers fell to 1-12 on the season with a 58-38 loss to the Stars at home Monday night.

“It was nice to see girls who usually haven’t gotten the chance to step up,” Lakers coach Ryan Petersen said. “It was fun to see some energy from people we haven’t seen much of on the floor.”

Petersen relied on his bench heavily in the loss to the Stars due to injuries and foul trouble. Sophomore Ivy Fasching was one of the few regulars out there for HLWW, and she did all she could to help lead her team. She finished with 19 points to lead the way, including scoring the first four of the second half to bring her team within 10.

“Our goal is to be the hardest working team on the floor,” Petersen said. “That’s what we preach. We asked our girls to step up for our seniors and play hard the rest of the year. They did that tonight.”

Closing the gap to 10 was as close as HLWW would get in the second half as SW Christian proved to be too much. Chloe Brunsberg led all scorers with 23 points as the Stars picked up a big Section 5AA win on the road.

With just four games left in the regular season, the focus for the Lakers now shifts to getting ready for the playoffs. Besides getting healthy, continuing to get better will be the key for HLWW.

“Improve on anything we possibly can improve on,” Petersen said about what the focus will be going forward. “It’s a lot of learning in practice and games. We’ve got a lot of really good kids. They’ve bought in even through this tough stretch. It’s been fun to go to practice with them and work every day. Their attitudes and willingness to get better and play hard for each other is great.”

With just one win, it might seem like there hasn’t been much fun for the Lakers to enjoy this season. That’s not true for Petersen who’s enjoyed his young team with just four seniors on the roster.

“It’s a fun group,” Petersen said. “This is one of the most fun teams I’ve been around. The energy they bring to practice every day and their willingness to get better. There are little things we’re seeing and hopefully, it translates to big things later on.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the March 6 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports

 

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Czinano sisters lead Royals to WCC win over Litchfield

WATERTOWN – The Czinano family is coming full circle. Back when Maggie Czinano was an eighth-grader, she had her older sister Monika to look up to and learn from. Now it’s Maggie leading the way for her younger sister Mallory.

It took both Czinanos for the Royals to come out with a 72-61 win over the visiting Litchfield Dragons Friday night as both teams dealt with foul trouble throughout.

“It definitely was a team effort tonight,” Royals coach John Rosholt said. “We told the girls that there’s going to be games like this where there are going to be a lot of fouls called. We can’t control the referees. That’s something that’s out of our control. We just got to play through it. I thought our bench stepped up and did a real nice job.”

With Maggie Czinano drawing a box-and-one coverage, it gave everybody else a chance to step up. They did just that, especially in the second half. After leading by just two at the half, W-M extended their lead to as many as 13 in the second half.

“Foul trouble was something we had to overcome tonight,” Maggie Czinano said. “We definitely got bench play tonight which was amazing. Nothing changed when those bench girls came in. That was big for us.”

After Bella Barden got the scoring started with a three-point play the old-fashioned way,  Maggie Czinano and Carly Killian took over. Czinano scored five straight for the Royals, then it was Killian who delivered with a big 3-pointer to put the Royals up 52-43.

“We kind of stalled out a little bit when they went to the junk (box and one), but after a while we got everybody else involved,” Rosholt said. “That’s what we need. You need to get everyone involved. That’s when they said they can’t stay in that junk anymore because everybody is looking to shoot the ball. That’s how you break the triangles and two, the boxes and ones, and stuff like that.”

After that, it was time for little Czinano to take over. Mallory Czinano scored seven straight points for the Royals, giving them a much-needed spark.

“Before the game, we had such good energy,” Mallory said. “We brought that on the court and it was nice. We just kept it going. My teammates had such good passes to me. It was just great. The energy was fun to build off.”

Mallory Czinano, a freshman, was big inside for the Royals despite dealing with foul trouble of her own. She finished with 10 points, giving W-M a presence inside they need to open things up on the perimeter.

“We talked about the benefits of having a post presence,” Rosholt said. “That’s big. She stayed aggressive and kept looking to score.”

Despite being a freshman, Mallory Czinano is becoming a legitimate scoring option for the Royals. After passing up shots earlier in the season, she’s not afraid to make a move resembling her oldest sister (Monika) down in the paint now.

“Earlier in the year, she would get the ball at the rim and her sister (Maggie) would call her name and she would automatically throw it out to her,” Rosholt said. “Now she’s starting to say that I can ignore my sister every once in a while and shoot the ball myself.”

The bond for Mallory and Maggie on the floor has brought smiles and wins for the Royals. In the end, they’re both just happy to play the game together.

“I remember when she used to play with Monika,” Mallory said. “It was a fun experience for her and now I’m getting that playing with her this year.”

“It’s really cool,” Maggie added. “It’s cool to see me enter Monika’s position that she had for me. That baby Czinano nickname is (for her now). It’s just so fun.”

The Czinano dynamic hasn’t been lost on Rosholt either who’s been coaching all three of them.

“That is fun,” he said. “They’ve been a fun family to have and play with. They’re fun to coach.”

With the win, W-M improved to 11-3 overall and 7-4 in the Wright County Conference. Their conference schedule, although tough, has them ready to get going for when the postseason arrives.

“It has been tough,” Rosholt said. “Every game has been tough. Litchfield is so athletic and so deep. When we play them, it’s always a strange game at their place and it’s always a close game here. The conference just has some quality teams in it.”

The Royals are back at it Tuesday, March 2 when they host New London-Spicer. The Wildcats are the No. 1-ranked team in Class AA and are still undefeated this season. The Royals are hoping the win over Litchfield carries over.

“It’s always a goal for us every year to beat Litchfield,” Maggie said. “Those wins bring confidence and I know it feels good in that locker room right now.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the March 5 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports

 

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Mayer Lutheran focused on the mission during 10-game winning streak

MAYER – There’s a lot of ways to describe the last month for the Mayer Lutheran girls basketball team. The best way might be to say unfinished.

Despite being ranked in the top-five in Class A and riding a 10-game winning streak following a pair of wins over Southwest Christian and Norwood Young America, the Crusaders remained focused on their mission.

“We’re on this mission,” Mayer Lutheran coach Kris Gustin said. “We talk all the time about the mission. The mission is to win our conference. The mission is to secure a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The mission is to win our section.”

The Crusaders are well on their way to accomplishing their first mission. With a 9-0 record in the Minnesota River Conference thus far, Mayer Lutheran could clinch a share of the conference title with a win over Belle Plaine Thursday night.

“It feels really good,” senior Morgan Chmielewski said about where her team is at. “It shows how big our program has grown. Even though we did lose a big senior class, we’ve bounced back.”

While the MRC has been a bit down compared to years past, that doesn’t mean it’s been easy for the Crusaders. They’ve worked through conference play without a hiccup thus far, a trend they want to continue.

“It’s down a little bit, but there are good coaches and good players in this conference,” Gustin said. “The reality is, you don’t know when the ball isn’t going to going in. You do know that you can play defense every night. That’s what we preach.”

“Going back to the loss against W-E-M, we knew we had to come back and play hard,” Emma Lade said. ‘We’ve been doing that. Getting everyone in on everything has really been a key to our success.”

Since the loss to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, the Crusaders have rattled off 10-straight wins. While there certainly was disappointment follow that loss, the Crusaders love where they are at now.

“That was a tough one,” Gustin said. “I think everyone in that locker room would like to have that one back. Everyone in that locker room also believes that if we got a matchup with them now, we would beat them. We’ve grown a lot. We got experience now. It’s fun to see them grown and have fun together. It’s a great group of girls that are really gelling.”

“I think it shows that even after a loss, we can bounce back,” Chmielewski said. “We’re resilient and we can keep playing at a high level. We just brushed that loss off and learned from it. We just keep growing.”

Defense has been a mainstay for the Crusaders this season. Through 12 games, Mayer Lutheran is holding teams to just 43.3 points per game.

“We feel like when we played tonight defensively, there’s not a lot of teams that can play with us,” Gustin said. “We talk about our defensive intensity every time we play. When we defend well, good things happen for us. It’s a staple of what we do. It all starts with the defense.”

Over Mayer Lutheran’s last six games, they’ve averaged a margin of victory of 33.6 points. Despite multiple blowouts, the Crusaders are focused on getting better each time they step on the floor.

“We talk about it every day,” Gustin said. “It’s hard when you’re beating teams the way we are.  We talk every day about that we have to step on the court and figure out a way to improve. Whether it’s cutting down on turnovers, playing a different defense, or executing a press break, we just have to figure out how we put all those pieces together. That’s our goal.”

Mayer Lutheran’s ability to score in a variety of ways makes them a tough matchup defensively. Either inside or outside, the Crusaders have the weapons to make teams pay in a big way.

“We’ve shot well all year,” Gustin said. “We’ve got girls who can put it in from anywhere. We’ve got outside shooters. We can go inside with our size. We have a little bit of everything. We feel we can adjust to how a team plays us. We have all the tools we need to make that work.”

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter.

Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports

PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Longstreet, Tigers string together complete game in road win over Waconia

WACONIA –  The first 18 minutes of a game hasn’t been the problem for the Delano boys basketball team. It’s been the final 18 that’s been the difference.

After a tough loss on the road to Jordan the week before, the Tigers strung together a solid 36-minute performance to get back in the win column with a 50-41 win over the Waconia Wildcats Tuesday night.

“It feels good,” Delano senior Trey Longstreet said. “It’s been a while since we’ve beaten Waconia twice. It’s always good to get a win. We’ve kind of been struggling. We dropped one to Jordan, but it’s nice to get back on track.”

For the fifth game in a row, Delano held their opponent to 21 or fewer points in the first half. After holding Waconia to just 14 first-half points, the Tigers used a 13-4 run to take a nine-point lead into halftime.

“It’s nice to win in the conference,” Michael Krueger said. “It was a great win. We stuck to our game plan and played slow. We ground out the win and it felt pretty nice.”

Long possessions and strong defense were the keys for the Tigers in the win. After losing a key scoring threat in Levi Farniok to injury, Delano has changed up the way they play and it’s working as they are 4-1 in their past five games.

“We had a bad week three of four weeks ago and we decided it’s tough for us to stop a team 70-80 times,” Delano coach Terry Techam said. “We want to limit the number of possessions we have to stop them.”

In order to do that, Techam has to have his players buy into that. They’ve been doing just that as Krueger and Jackson Stewart have elevated their plays since taking on bigger roles.

“They both just play so hard,” Techam said. “Jackson ideally would be playing 50-60 percent of the game. Now he’s playing 100 percent and battling the big guys. He just gives you everything he has. Same with Michael. When he makes some shots like tonight, he really is effective.”

The effort on the floor hasn’t been lost on their teammates either.

“People step up,” Longstreet said about Krueger and Stewart. “That’s what we needed. They’ve played a big role. That’s what you need on a team. You next those next guys to step up.”

Krueger and Stewart have been big inside for the Tigers the past month. Playing in the Wright County Conference, the two of them have seen their fair share of battles with bigger players.

“It’s a battle every game,” Krueger said about what it’s like inside. “There’s no small team in this conference. We’re probably one of the smaller teams. That’s why we grind out the game and take long possessions.”

“In this conference, you need some bulk and strength in there,” Techam added. “Night in and night out, it’s very physical.”

Krueger and Stewart aren’t the only players stepping up their game. Will Strandemo continues to knock down big shots, while Longstreet seems to be able to deliver when called upon.

“We have a great group that really busts their butt,” Techam said. “They give everything they got. Sometimes we struggle to score. Tonight was kind of typical of us, but we made enough plays to win.”

“Our team came together and took care of the ball,” Longstreet said. “It was a slower game, but we made the most of our opportunities. That’s what we needed to do to win.”

With the win, Delano improved to 10-4 overall and 6-4 in the WCC. With Mound Westonka pulling away in the race for the conference title, the focus has been on getting ready for the postseason.

“With what Mound is doing, a conference championship is not in the cards,” Techam said. “That’s kind of been on our focus now. We’re trying to get ready for the section tournament.”

Playing in the WCC is a good way to do that. With a physical game awaiting them each night, Longstreet knows their schedule will have them ready for the postseason.

“I don’t think we’ll have to play a team as physical as any team in this conference,” Longstreet said. “That’s to our benefit. I think it’s huge we play a tough schedule in the regular season. Now we’re going to come into sections and be a physical team.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Feb. 26 edition of the Delano Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information. 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter.

@Kovar_HJSports

An open letter to the MSHSL

Dear Minnesota State High School League,

I’ve been covering high school sports for almost seven years now. Throughout those years, I’ve had the pleasure of telling so many great stories about great people. I’ve covered state championship teams. I’ve covered teams just happy to be at a state tournament. I’ve even covered teams that failed to win a game in their entire season. The common theme in all of those is that there are stories to tell.

In my college journalism class, we were taught to find the stories and angles that others might miss. I’ve taken that to heart throughout my journalism career.

A lot of people think the story is about who scored the most points, who hit the game-winner, or who made the fancy play. That’s not true at all. It’s part of it, but there’s so much more.

When I heard the news last week that the MSHSL is considering not letting media cover state tournaments in person, I was immediately disappointed. I was disappointed for so many reasons.

Covering high school events in person is critical to every sports editor’s coverage. This past fall, I was forced to cover games remotely due to being in close contact with a positive COVID-19 test. While I was able to do my job in a way, it just wasn’t the same. There were so many stories, moments, and opportunities for great coverage that I missed as I was sitting at home watching through a screen.

On John Millea’s podcast last week, he stated the MSHSL is considering having media cover state tournaments remotely.  I have so many worries about that.

First off, Millea said the MSHSL wants us to cover games via live stream. Even though we’ve been covering games in person with no problem all year long, now they want to make that change. We can cover them throughout the section tournament and then all of sudden it’s not safe to do so anymore?

Millea stated that if the MSHSL goes forward with having media cover games remotely, the live streams need to be working 100 percent of the time. I struggle to believe an organization that struggles to have a working and useful website can pull that off. The MSHSL supposedly updated their website within the past two years, only to make it harder to find what you need to find, and then once you get there, the information isn’t even there. The MSHSL had months to find a way for teams to enter something as simple as a roster, yet we have nothing.

My other concern about working remotely to cover these important games is the things we will miss. We are at the mercy of what the camera shows us. I can’t tell you how many times the best part of my stories have come from non-action moments. It’s the moment on the bench between teammates. It’s the moments between a player and a coach. It’s moments that the camera isn’t looking for. It’s what we’re looking for.  It’s what journalists are looking for.

We take pride in finding stories that go beyond the top scorer and who won the game. My saying is that 85 percent of people who read our articles were at the game. They know what happened and who won. It’s our job to find a story they didn’t know or see. Trying to watch a game online hinders that greatly.

Another big concern I have is the idea of a pool photographer for each media outlet. Sure that sounds like a great idea, but in reality, it’s just not possible. If the plan is to get a general picture of each team, that’s great. That’s just not how we do our job.

Like looking for stories, we’re always searching for the perfect picture to go with it. We’ve been covering these teams all year, and for most of us, we’ve been covering these kids their whole careers. We know what to look for. We know what we want. To say a pool photographer will work for our coverage is simply not true. It only takes away from it even more.

If the MSHSL goes forward with a pool photographer I’m sure we’ll get some photos. I’m sure some of them will be very nice photos. When we will actually get them I have no idea. It’s not like we’re on deadline or anything.

What that pool photographer will send us is a generic photo of the team’s best player most likely. They won’t get that shot of the player off the bench we want to feature in our story. They won’t get that photo of that kid coming in at the end of a blowout who has nothing but a smile on their face playing in a big arena. They won’t get that photo that adds so much to our coverage.

Oh, and I look forward to that pool photographer taking photos of my 15-20 wrestlers that qualify for state this year. To say that’s possible for each team is asinine. When I get an email from a parent asking why there isn’t a photo of their kid in the paper, can I just forward that email to you guys?

On his podcast, Millea also stated “We’re following the Gophers and the pro teams on this” in regards to not allowing media to cover games in person. First off, that is a flat lie. The Gophers, Timberwolves, and Wild have all been allowing media to cover games in person all season long. Where Millea got this information is beyond me. I expect more from a ‘media specialist’.

While there are new protocols for those people covering college and professional sports, they are in the building. They are looking for stories they won’t see watching at home. It’s critical to their coverage.

The last thing that ticks me off about this discussion is the disrespect to local newspapers the MSHSL would make if they go forward with these decisions. Newspapers in general are struggling. Add in a global pandemic, and many are finding it hard to make ends meet.

I know for Herald Journal, we have invested a ton of time, effort, and resources into covering high school sports this year. With no community events going on, it’s all we have. To allow radio stations in and not newspapers who need to be there to do their job is a slap in the face.

There’s no doubt I have had a lot of issues and problems with the MSHSL over the years. I am thankful for what they did in getting a winter sports season going and having a state tournament. Without that, I wouldn’t have a job.

With that said, I hope they take a hard look at what this means if they decide to not allow media to cover the tournaments in person. I hope you see how much it affects us journalists and the papers we work for. We’ve been doing it safely all season long. We are grown adults. We can wear masks. We can stay six feet apart. Let us do our jobs the way we know for our coaches, players, schools, and communities.

Sincerely,

Kip Kovar

Herald Journal Sports Editor

 

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Bulldogs focusing on bigger picture after loss to Waseca

LESTER PRAIRIE – When Lester Prairie girls basketball coach Mike Lee walked into the locker room after the Bulldogs matchup with Waseca, it wasn’t a sad room. Despite coming up short in a tough 60-56 loss to the Bluejays at home Friday night, Lester Prairie got better and that’s been the goal for his team all season long.

“They knew they played well,” Lee said. “It wasn’t a sad locker room. They played well but they also knew we lost the game. They beat us officially, but we lost it. We had plenty of chances. We make a couple of more layups, we win the game.”

In a season in which the Bulldogs have cruised through conference play for the most part, finding themselves in a battle throughout is exactly what Lee thought his team needed.

“I loved this game,” Lee said. “I don’t care if we lost or won. Of course, I want to win, but I’d play every game like this all year. This is basketball. This is what I like compared to other games we’ve had this year.”

The biggest lead on either side was just seven points and Lester Prairie and Waseca battled it out. With senior and leading scorer Marissa Radtke back in the lineup coming off an injury, the Bulldogs felt whole again.

“It felt so great to get back on the court with my teammates,” Radtke said. “This is probably the best game our team has ever played.”

Lester Prairie had a one-point lead at the half but found themselves playing catchup for most of the second half. Whenever it looked like Waseca would pull away, the Bulldogs would answer right back as they would dig in on the defensive end.

“I think we did a really good job on a couple of really big kids,” Lee said. “We had plenty of chances to win, but we missed some layups and some free throws. We were lost every once in a while out there, but defensively, I thought this was our best game of the year so far.”

Lester Prairie’s defense has been a big focus for them all season long. While they got stops when they needed to, Lee wants his team’s rebounding to improve as the season progresses.

“We didn’t box out,” Lee said. “In my 10 years here, we’ve struggled boxing out. If anybody has a good box-out drill, I’d take it. We just struggle boxing out. We don’t have that person that just wants the ball. I thought (Taylor) Ebert did really well at times rebounding and Addison (Hoof) went up and got one against a 6-foot-3 girl. There are certain things that we need to be more consistent with.”

Ebert did more than just rebound at times for the Bulldogs. She knocked four 3-pointers and had the late bucket for her team to bring them within two in the final minute.

Radtke led the way with a team-high 22 points, while Lizzy Anderson added 11 points. With Radtke back in the lineup and Hoof continuing to play well of the bench, Lee likes where his team is at going forward with Hoof playing her role well.

“If she can understand coming off the bench as the sixth person that will be huge,” Lee said. “Some of my best players have been the sixth person if they accept that role. I know she will and it’s going to make our team a whole lot better.”

The Bulldogs fell to 8-3 overall with the loss. Even with the loss, Lester Prairie finds themselves feeling better about where they are at with just a few weeks of the regular season left.

“Even though we lost we grew so much as a team and that will help us win when it really matters,” Radtke said. “As for the team, we are so grateful to back on the court with the whole team. We are happy to be able to get back to playing and improving as one.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Feb. 26 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.