Archive for Kip Kovar

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Czinano’s patience, willingness to learn paying off in sophomore season at Iowa

MINNEAPOLIS – For any high school player transitioning to the next level, it’s always an adjustment.

Watertown-Mayer graduate Monika Czinano is a prime example of a player who waits her turn and makes the most of the opportunity in front as she’s becoming one of the top players in the Big 10 conference in her second year at the University of Iowa.

Czinano and her Hawkeyes returned back to Minnesota for the second time in her career this past week. After playing just three minutes in the first game last year, Czinano made her impact felt this time around in a thrilling 76-75 victory over the Gophers Jan. 16.

“Being able to play in the gym where all my college basketball dreams started is so amazing,” Czinano said. “Even more so when we secure an awesome team win like we did.”

Iowa trailed the Gophers by 13 points with just over nine minutes to go in the game. Over the course of those nine minutes, Czinano and the Hawkeyes outscored the Gophers 19-5 the rest of the way to win their fifth-consecutive conference game.

In her second game back at Williams Arena, all Czinano did was be the game’s leading scorer. She finished with 21 points on 10-for-11 shooting as she continued to shoot the ball extremely well. Through 18 games this season, Czinano is second in the nation in field goal percentage (71.50 percent). For the season, Czinano has made 123 of 172 shots for Iowa, and is averaging 15.9 points per game.

“I am confident that I wouldn’t be the person I am today, or the player I am today, without everything I got to learn and experience last year,” Czinano said. “It completely changed me in the best ways. I was playing under one of the best players and under the best coach.”

That player Czinano is referencing is none other than Megan Gustafson. who was the 2019 Citizen Naismith Trophy Award winner, given to the best player in college basketball.

Gustafson is arguably the best women’s basketball player to ever play at Iowa, and in her freshman year, Czinano soaked in everything possible from Gustafson in practice and in games.

“Megan taught me so much, it’s actually insane,” Czinano said. “Even off the court, she was constantly teaching me how to juggle the life of a student-athlete. You could list off any aspect of basketball, and Megan forced me to grow and improve on it, but most importantly, she taught me a lot about humility and hard work.”

While playing behind the best player in the country has its benefits, the most important thing Czinano learned in her first season had nothing to do with skills at all.

“The most important thing that I learned from Megan was definitely just seeing her overall work ethic,” Czinano said. “Just having someone to really model what it takes to be good in this conference was major for me.”

While. of course. Czinano wishes she had a bigger role in her freshman season, she wouldn’t change it one bit. Going from high school where she played 30-36 minutes each game, to playing sparingly, it made her the player she has become this season.

“A lot of it was taking last year and absorbing everything I was being told and everything going on around me,” Czinano said. “Without last year’s team, and the team I have now, I wouldn’t be the player I am today. I think I just have an overall better understanding of the game. Every year, I want to get more and more efficient, and that comes with learning a lot from my coaches and teammates.”

While Czinano has grown into a rising star for the Hawkeyes this season, she hasn’t forgotten where she came from. That’s why each time she comes home to play the Gophers, it’s extra special to her seeing her support system there for her in person.

“It’s so awesome to have such a big support system,” Czinano said. “I know that no matter where I am, even if I’m not playing in Minnesota, I have a lot of people cheering for me and those people have my endless gratitude. I wouldn’t be the person I am without the people who helped raise me.”

Czinano Earns First B1G Weekly Honor

University of Iowa sophomore Monika Czinano was named to the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Player of the Week Honor Roll, the conference announced Monday.

The Watertown-Mayer grad averaged 20.5 points for the week, missing only two of 20 baskets and shooting 90 percent from the field.

After playing only four minutes in the first half of the Hawkeyes’ comeback win over Wisconsin, Czinano came back to score 18 points in the second half, including 12 points in the fourth quarter. She ended the 85-78 win over the Badgers with 20 points, shooting 8-of-9 from the field. In Iowa’s comeback win over Minnesota, Czinano shot 10-of-11 from the field, leading the Hawkeyes with 21 points.

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Hentges, Bulldogs dig in defensively to pick up fourth-straight win

LESTER PRAIRIE  – Spectrum senior Abby Thompson was a problem early on for the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity girls basketball team in their matchup Tuesday night.  The 5-foot-9 guard for the Sting was a thorn in the Bulldog’s side after scoring 14 first-half points to keep her team in the game. To counter Thompson’s hot start, LP/HT coach Mike Lee turned to a defense he’s hasn’t used much to turn things around and help the Bulldogs pick up a 63-49 victory for their fourth-straight win.

“We did do a box and one against Heritage when we played,” Lee said. “We had pretty good success with them for three-quarters of the game. We don’t want to use that junk defense if we don’t need to, but wins are important. This is a big win for us because they’re a bigger school. We just wanted to secure a better seed.”

Senior Myranda Hentges was the player Lee tasked with slowing down Thompson in the second half, a challenge she was certainly up for.

“I just knew I had to stay close to her,” Hentges said. “Just not let her get the ball. I did a little bit there, but I just had to make sure I limited her scoring.”

After Thompson scored 14 points in the first half, Hentges and the Bulldogs limited her to just four second-half points, two of which came from the free-throw line.

“They really didn’t know what to do,” Lee said. “Next time they will. She (Thompson) got frustrated as most kids do at the high school age. You throw a junk defense on one kid and they often don’t know how to handle it. It was nice to see she only got four. I was hoping she wouldn’t get any so we could put something up in the locker room, but four is pretty good when she had 14 in the first half.”

With Thompson held in check the second half, that opened up the offense as well for the Bulldogs. LP/HT opened up a 43-30 lead in the second half after scoring on four-straight possessions to break open the game.

“We kind of laid an egg the first half,” Lee said. “We came back in the second half and did much better. That’s what we needed to do. We should beat these guys. They’re a good and scrappy team, but we should beat them eight out of 10 times if we play well. The first half we didn’t play super well, but we got a nice win.”

“It was so important,” Hentges added. “Especially for our QRF. They’re a Class AA school, so this will help us out a lot when it comes to playoffs.”

It was a big win for the Bulldogs as they continue to try and make a case for a top-three seed in Section 4A. With four wins in a row and some big games coming up, LP/HT will be looking to keep their momentum rolling going forward.

“It’s so important to find that,” Hentges said about the groove the Bulldogs are on now. “Once we get together as a team and start finding that, we’ll definitely come out hard for the playoff season when we need it.”

For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, Jan. 24  edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Crusaders grind out a huge win against Heritage Christian Academy

MAYER – Mayer Lutheran senior Lexi Schermann stood at the free-throw line with a chance to extend her team’s lead late in a big game against rival Heritage Christian Academy. After missing both free throws, she didn’t let that bother her.

After her second miss, Schermann stole the ball right back, laid it up for two points, and gave the Crusaders a three-point lead with just over two minutes to go. That hustle play by Schermann sparked a 10-0 run for Mayer Lutheran to close out the game and come away with a 59-48 victory on their home floor Monday night.

“It’s frustrating, but sometimes when things like that happen, that’s when I feel the drive to go make that next play,” Schermann said. “You’ve got to forget about it. You just got to forget about the last play.”

Schermann’s steal and layup gave the Crusaders a three-point lead late, but it was the resilence that she showed that impressed her coach.

“It’s one of those things where, as a coach, it would be nice to make free throws,” Mayer Lutheran coach Kris Gustin said. “I looked at Emily on the bench, and then I look up and see Lexi has the ball, making a layup. I guess that’s what you call making up for it. It’s just a great hustle play. That’s her basketball smarts. That’s the mentality we want from our girls. Push that last play aside because there’s nothing you can do about it. Then, just go on and make the next play, and that’s what she did. It was a big play by her.”

Mayer Lutheran outscored the Eagles 10-0 in the final two and a half minutes to get the win. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Crusaders rallied around each other to pick up the big win over a Section 4A opponent.

“Sometimes, it was kind of nerve-racking,” Schermann said. “I thought we did a good job of keeping calm most of the time. We just really worked together and we play as a team. I think that’s what helps us. We always have each other’s back.”

“We really calmed things down when things got tense,” Morgan Chmielewski added. “We pushed the ball to our speed. We didn’t play to theirs.”

A basket inside from Lilly Wachholz gave Mayer Lutheran their biggest lead of the night at seven points, but the Eagles would not go away. An 8-0 run for Heritage Christian gave them their first lead of the game since 2-0, with just over 11 minutes left to play.

“During those times when they were up, I’m not even really rattled because I just have confidence in my team,” Schermann said. “I know that we can battle back. We’ve been down a couple of times during games throughout the season. I feel like, each time that happens, we just know that we can battle back together.”

Scherman’s confidence and demeanor paid off for the Crusaders. With the game tied at 44 with just over five minutes to go, it was Chmielewski who delivered one of the biggest shots of the game for Mayer Lutheran. Chmielewski received the handoff and drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to give her team a three-point lead and the momentum.

“She’s a really good 3-point shooter,” Gustin said. “Especially when she shoots in rhythm. She had a goal for herself to shoot at least three a game. I think in the first eight games of the season, she had shot six. We talked about getting her more shots. She came and took that handoff in the corner and just stroked it. That’s a huge shot. She’s a leader out there. She leads with her effort. You know you’re going to get hard work from her every time.”

Chmielewski’s 3-pointer set up Schermann’s big play after the missed free throws as Mayer Lutheran found a way to pull out the win against a team that’s given them fits the past few seasons. Heritage Christian has ended the Crusaders’ season the past three seasons as the two have grown into rivals on the court.

“This is turning into a rivalry,” Gustin said. “There’s a lot of respect both ways. Both teams have had a successful tradition in the last few years. It’s a battle. We knew it was going to be. Those girls play hard. They play physical. There were periods where we were a little bit worried because they were outplaying us. We needed to step up our play. There’s a lot of respect there, and you tip your hat to them and appreciate their love of the game and how hard they work.”

The win for the Crusaders puts them in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in Section 4A. While it’s a big win, Mayer Lutheran knows how important it is to keep getting better as the season goes on.

“I think this game gives us a lot of confidence,” Schermann said. “We know that we can beat them, but we also know, at the same time, that we can’t just think we’re going to beat them. We know that next time if we play them, they’re going to come out hard and ready to beat us. We just have to stay strong and do the things we do.”

“We know what each other are capable of,” Chmielewski added. “We just know that we never give up. We just keep playing.”

For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, Jan. 24 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.

PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Top-ranked Warriors too much for Mayer Lutheran

MAYER – For the Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team, it was a good test to see where they are at as they hosted the No. 1 ranked team in Class A. In the end, it was the BOLD Warriors who proved worthy of the top ranking as they showcased what they could do in an 82-47 victory over the Crusaders Tuesday night.

“We have to learn from this,” Mayer Lutheran coach Pat Buchanan said. “That’s what winning basketball looks like. That’s what basketball with will and determination looks like. Those guys have everything that you look for in a basketball team. They are veterans, but they know what it’s like to lose and be on the other end. They don’t like that feeling. It’s an all-or-nothing type of mentality for that whole team and their coaching staff.”

Led by one of the top backcourts in the state in Jordan Sagedahl, Gavin Vosika, and Drew Sagedahl, the Warriors came out swinging early. BOLD’s lead was cut to 20-13 after a 3-pointer from Ty Hoese, but then it was all Warriors down the stretch. A 13-2 run pushed BOLD’s lead back to 17, and the Crusaders found themselves down 16 at the half.

After finishing the first half in dominant fashion, it was more of the same for the Warriors in the second half. BOLD opened the half on a 14-0 run, ultimately putting the game away in the opening minutes by taking a 30-point lead over Mayer Lutheran.

“It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s about being prepared,” Buchanan said about how BOLD can score in a hurry. “I don’t think we were prepared for this game mentally. I don’t think we were mentally prepared at all before this game. It’s no excuse, but we had some youth that played young. They don’t know what that type of game is like. You got to learn.”

BOLD’s trio of guards combined to outscore the Crusaders alone with 57 points. Vosika led the way with 23 points, while Drew Sagedahl finished with 18, and Jordan Sagedahl added 16 points.

Hoese was the lone player in double figures for Mayer Lutheran. He finished with 11 points, while Dylan Nelson, Brady Harnung, and Tyler Neitzel each added five points.

The Crusaders don’t have long before another big game appears on the schedule. Mayer Lutheran hosts Jordan Thursday night in a crucial MN River Conference matchup.

“Not letting today happen ever again,” Buchanan said about what’s most important. “That’s the biggest thing to learn. Whatever happened today, don’t let it happen again.”

BOLD 82, Mayer Lutheran 47

Scoring

BOLD: Drew Sagedahl 18, Gavin Vosika 23, Blake Plass 6, Jordan Sagedahl 16, Trenton Ziesmer 4, Joey McMath 3, Andrew Sheehan 2, Matt Moorse 4, Bradaen Tersteeg 3, Cole Visser 3.

MAYER LUTHERAN: Austin Crown 4, Eli Johnson 3, Ty Hoese 11, Dylan Nelson 5, Zander Flucas 4, Brady Harnung 5, Tyler Neitzel 5, Riley Krueger 4, Isaac Hahn 2, Teigan Martin 4.

KOVAR: Plenty of things to watch for over the final months of prep basketball season

The holidays are finally over and it’s time to get back to work. 2020 is officially here, and just like 2019, the year looks to be filled with fun and exciting moments from the world of prep sports.

We are just about at the halfway point of the winter sports season as we get January rolling at full speed. It’s been a fun start to the winter sports season, and the end should be just as exciting if not more.

I found myself looking ahead this week to what is in store to come for the rest of the basketball season. There’s plenty to get excited about. I decided to share some of the games, conference races, and headlines I will be looking forward to, and keeping an eye on for the rest of the basketball season. Let’s get started.

HLWW girls battling for CMC title

The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted girls basketball team has taken a big step forward this season in Ryan Petersen’s first year as head coach. The Lakers currently sit in a good spot in the Central MN Conference race, as things will begin to heat up soon.

Senior guard CJ Decker is playing at an unreal level right now for the Lakers. There’s no doubt she makes everyone else on the floor better, and is playing herself into the conversation for HJ Player of the Year.

Against Holdingford, the top team in the CMC so far, Decker had a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists. She followed that up with a double-double (25 points and 11 assists) in a win over Southwest Christian the following day.

The Lakers also have a legitimate threat inside in Alexa Schumann. She’s taken huge strides in her overall game in the post, and combined with Decker, give HLWW a great one-two punch on the inside and outside.

Schumann is a walking double-double for the Lakers, as she’s improved her ability to finish and grab rebounds. If the Lakers do make a run for the CMC title, Schumann will be a big reason why.

If the Lakers are serious about contending for a conference title, they’ll need more consistent scoring from other players not named Decker or Schumann. Luckily, HLWW has they players who have that potential. Ellie Horn, Ivy Fasching, Abby Niesen, and Mariah Anderson have all shown flashes throughout the season. They can continue to build confidence and become legitimate weapons on offense, a conference title for the Lakers can be had.

With Tuesday’s loss to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, the Lakers sit at 2-2 in conference play. HLWW hosts Royalton Friday night in almost a must-win game if the Lakers are serious about contending for a conference title.

Is this the year Mayer Lutheran girls break through?

It’s no secret the Mayer Lutheran girls’ basketball team has been one of the best and most consistent girls basketball teams in the area the past few seasons. Over the last four seasons, the Crusaders have averaged almost 20 wins a season. In the past two seasons, the Crusaders have made it to the Section 4A semifinals both times, and lost in the title game once in the 2017-18 season.

Although the Crusaders have been one of the most consistent teams in the area, one team has had their number – Heritage Christian Academy. The Eagles have ended the Crusaders’ season each of the past three seasons.

The most surprising defeat of those three came in the Section 4A title game in 2018. Mayer Lutheran defeated the Eagles 82-56 in the regular season on their way to be the No. 1 seed that season. In the Section 4A title game, it was Heritage Christian who got the last laugh with a convincing 71-58 victory in the title game to advance to the state tournament.

If Mayer Lutheran wants to break through this season, the road will once again go through Heritage Christian, as they are once again one of the top teams in the section. Although the Eagles might be a bit down from the last two seasons (6-3 overall so far), they are still a well-coached team that can play well in big games.

I’m sure Mayer Lutheran head coach Kris Gustin is thrilled to no longer have to go up against HCA’s Taylie Scott anymore. She was one of the best players in the section, and always seemed to give the Crusaders fits in big games.

The Crusaders are off to a nice start this season in their quest to get over the hill. They sit at 10-1 overall, with some pretty impressive wins on their resumé already.

With a deep and balanced team all through the lineup, this could be the season the Crusaders break through. They haven’t been to the state tournament since 2001, and it will be exciting to see if they can get it done this season.

LP/HT boys in line for close to 20 wins this season

It’s been a rather odd start to the season for the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity boys basketball team. They are just 5-4 on the season thus far, but have the capability of getting hot and having a great season.

I fully expect the Bulldogs to make a run here in the second half of the season. With 15 games left on the schedule, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them rattle off 12 to 13 more wins in those games. The two games to watch will be against Mayer Lutheran and Watertown-Mayer.

I expect the Bulldogs to play their best basketball of the season coming up and take advantage of a soft conference schedule to rack up some wins. That could help them pick up a good seed for the postseason.

The Mayer Lutheran game will be a huge Section 2A matchup, and could determine a home game for the two teams depending on how the seeding process goes. The Crusaders and Bulldogs will meet Feb. 8 in Mayer.

Can Mayer Lutheran boys get healthy and back to dominance?

One of the strangest stories of the winter sports season so far has been the Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team. Coming into this week, the Crusaders are just 3-7 overall on the year.

If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that through the first 10 games of the season the Crusaders would have just three wins, I would call you crazy.

Injuries have killed the Crusaders so far. They’ve yet to play a game this year with their full lineup. Seniors Jacob Pallas has yet to play a game. Zander Flucas just returned this week in a limited role. Teigan Martin, their top scorer, has also missed a few games.

What’s weird about the Crusaders this season is that they are young. The past two seasons where we’ve seen them ranked in or near the Top 10 in Class A, they’ve had experience. Not this season.

It’s been fun to see young guys step in and gain experience. It will be interesting to see if they can get healthy at the right time, develop some chemistry together, and make another run in one of the toughest sections in Class A, if not the state.

Talking with coach Pat Buchanan after games this season, he’s alright with the losses early on. He wants his team to be healthy and ready come March. Wins should come for the Crusaders as they get healthy and come together. They’ll get a good look at where they are at when the No. 1-ranked team in Class A and undefeated BOLD comes to town Jan. 14 for a big Section 2A matchup. A win there could be huge for the Crusaders in so many ways.

PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Heimerl, Bulldogs snap three-game skid with dominant win

LESTER PRAIRIE – A three-game losing streak in the middle of the season can be rough for a team. For the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity boys’ basketball team, they didn’t let that bother them.

The Bulldogs, who came into the matchup with Heritage Christian Academy with three-straight losses, put that rough stretch behind them immediately as they came out firing in a 74-40 win over winless Heritage Christian Academy on their home floor Tuesday night.

“It’s big to get back on track,” LP/HT coach Andrew Dahl said. “I think overall, our spirits were fairly good, even though we lost a couple of games we could have won. We came out and hit some shots early that kind of gave us some confidence and feeling good. We’ve had a little rough stretch where we had a couple of games we’ve been in it and just haven’t been able to finish. Tonight was good to get back on a roll and feel good about ourselves.”

LP/HT opened the game on a 15-0 run to set the tone early. Senior Alex Heimerl, who was able to sneak a nap in between school and the game, was a big reason for the quick start. He knocked down four mid-range jumpers early on, and the Bulldogs were off and running.

“He came out and hit some mid-range and corner shots,” Dahl said. “He’s been working on that a lot. He said he took a nap before the game, so maybe we’ll have to have him take a consistent nap now before every game. He was big for us. He’s posting up and hitting some outside shots. It’s a good combo to have somebody inside that we can feel confident in.”

It was Heimerl’s best game of the season so far. Being a senior, Dahl is hoping to see Heimerl continue to play well and be a leader for the Bulldogs this season.

“Alex can be a leader for us,” Dahl said. “When he gets going, the other guys kind of build off of him. It kind gets us going at times too when he’s engaged and going hard. It just helps us overall.”

 For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, Jan. 10 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.