Archive for HJ Sports

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Crusaders overpower Lester Prairie in Section 4A showdown

Tall, talented and tough: a few words to describe the Mayer Lutheran girls basketball squad this season. They used all three of those attributes to take down local rival and section foe Lester Prairie Tuesday, their size and skill pushing them to a 38-22 halftime lead and their toughness showing when they stomped out a small Bulldogs run in the second half due to diluted Crusader shot selection. Ultimately Mayer Lutheran prevailed 69-46, adding another quality win to their resume as a top-10 Class A team.

“They’re a really well-coached team and have some very good players,” Crusaders head coach Kris Gustin said. “But we knew we had a size advantage and when they came out in man-to-man our high-low was going to be effective for us.”

Mayer’s size at every position was a clear factor on both ends of the floor, deterring many Lester Prairie shots in the paint and grabbing offensive rebounds for putbacks to cushion the lead. The Bulldogs were also without leading scorer Marissa Radtke Tuesday. The handful of games this season Lester Prairie’s competed in without her have revealed some players that can step up. Against a big, strong, talented team like Mayer Lutheran, why not look to eighth-grade point guard Addison Hoof for that boost?

Hoof’s energy on the glass and prowess for swiping the ball from opponents to ignite the fast break gave the Bulldogs life both early on and in the 10-0 second half run to cut the lead back to single digits. Oh, and she was the smallest player on the floor, too.

“It was her fast break,” Lee said of Hoof leading the charge. “She’s so quick. I think the whole team played well, having to play a little differently without Marissa.”

It seemed shorthanded Lester Prairie would keep it tight through the first nine minutes of the game, the Crusaders leading just 14-12; a quick explosion in the form of a 24-10 run to end the half put Mayer in a better position. They had pretty much everything working on the offensive end as long as they were patient. When things got a little too relaxed with the lead, that’s when Lester Prairie’s efforts paid off to make it a close game again. Hoof caught Mayer Lutheran flat-footed a few times beating them down the floor after a hurried shot attempt or steal.

“I thought we were maybe a little impatient at times,” Gustin said. “We talked at halftime about coming out with a killer instinct, and when you’ve got a team on the ropes like that, you have to push through and take control of the game. The exact reverse happened. I thought we got good shots, but they were jump shots; we really wanted to get the ball inside.”

“They did a good job of getting us to turn over the ball,” Mayer Lutheran senior Morgan Chmielewski said. “Sometimes we get kind of excited and push a little too much. But at the end we pulled it together and executed a little better.”

Four Crusaders hit double figures thanks to some deft passing on the interior for paint shots. Guard Emma Lade led the way with 20 points while Chmielewski and Carns added 14 apiece. Lilly Wachholz had a strong presence inside for 10 points as well. As for the home stretch of the regular season, they’ll stick to their guns in the lane and play off of that strength.

“We just need to keep pushing the ball and getting it inside,” Chmielewski said. “Then we can kick out to shooters too. We’re getting pretty good at that.”

Balance, depth and unselfishness usually translates to the postseason — which is looming large with four games to go in the regular season and a couple big challenges left on the schedule for Mayer Lutheran in Minnehaha Academy and Heritage Christian on the road.

“We have two conference games that we have to take care of,” Gustin said. “The girls have a conference championship as one of their goals. The second goal is to be the number one seed in our section. That Heritage game really matters; this year it’s home court advantage in the playoffs. We’re happy to be tested and ultimately glad to be playing good competition at the end of the season.”

For Lester Prairie, a quartet of games over the next 11 days to close the regular season will be big for momentum into a possible rematch with Mayer Lutheran during the 4A playoffs. If they battle like they did Tuesday, no outcome is out of the question.

“We competed with a really, really good team. They’re near the top of QRF in the state and well-deserving,” Lee said. “They’re a big team. I thought our smaller girls did a really nice job against them.”

Taylor Ebert scored 14, Lizzy Anderson eight and Addison Hoof seven for the Bulldogs.

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 Jared Martinson on Twitter: @JaredNHR

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 BOYS BASKETBALL: Watertown-Mayer boys claw back, fall short to Dragons

LITCHFIELD — Trailing the Dragons on the road 41-31 midway through the second half, John Mueller and the Watertown-Mayer boys basketball team knew it would be an uphill battle to come out on top Friday. They put together a 15-5 run in the final few minutes to tie the game, but Litchfield’s timely three-pointer to break the stalemate 49-46 couldn’t be matched on a final Royal possession.

“Being down 10 points to Litchfield is really like being down 100,” Mueller said. “The timeouts Coach Janikula called really helped us down the stretch. It just helped us focus on what we had been doing well to that point — keeping up our ball movement. So we slowly worked our way back.”

The first time these two teams met, Watertown-Mayer embraced their best style of play — patient, halfcourt offense and gritty team defense. The Royals beat the Dragons at their own game that night, 42-31 in a grinder.

The first half of play Friday seemed like it would shake out the same way. Three-pointers by Mitchell Burns and Will Hensel put the Royals up 12-7 just seven minutes into the game, taking advantage of Litchfield’s collective tunnel vision guarding Mueller — something that many teams have attempted in the second half of the season. W-M is learning how to make their opponents pay for that decision with players stepping up into aggressive roles behind Mueller.

“That balance of scoring helps us stay in games,” Mueller said.

Now, the Royals aren’t a bona fide outside shooting team, and that’s no secret. Litchfield deployed a 2-3 zone at times and it forced the perimeter players to make tough decisions with the ball in spots they weren’t normally put in.

“I’m kind of surprised teams haven’t zoned us more,” head coach Kent Janikula said. “Kids have stepped up for us. Tonight they did everything they could to stop John, and they have the bodies to do it.”

Watertown-Mayer trailed at the break 25-21 thanks to a last-second triple from Dragon point guard Tyson Michels on a broken play — a play that was, pound-for-pound, the difference in the game. A strong opening to the second frame by Litchfield pushed the lead between seven and 10 points for a majority of the final 18 minutes.

After being hounded by two or three defenders when receiving the ball and not making a field goal in the first half, Mueller got into the teeth of the Litchfield zone and cashed in at the free throw line to kickstart his 10 points on the night, none more crucial than a wing three-pointer on a kickout from Albert Rundell that cut the Dragon lead from six to three with two minutes left.

Rundell then cut through the middle on the next possession and finished a three-point play to tie the game at 46 while the clock ticked under a minute. A strong defensive possession ended in a three-point make from Ben Alsleben to finalize the score at 49-46, Rundell’s last-second heave at the buzzer just missing.

“They made one more play than us. They have two really good players [in Avery Liestman and Michels],” Janikula said. “Some bounces didn’t go our way, but I thought we were light years ahead of Tuesday (a 36-33 loss to Rockford) in terms of our effort and competing.”

This matchup with Litchfield had its moments of opening up in terms of pace. When the Royals struggled to get clean looks against the zone, they used some Litchfield misses to run in transition and get a few points back. Knocking down six shots from beyond the arc added value to their scoring too. Being more comfortable in those aspects of offense will come in handy during the postseason, where it’s likely the Royals would face uptempo teams in Minneapolis North and Blake.

“It’s going to be quite the shift in the playoffs,” Janikula said. “We’re looking forward to opening up a little more now. It’s hard; our conference plays slower for the most part. A quick shot is basically a turnover against Litchfield. We have two more non-conference games left and I’m excited for those to see what we can do.”

The Royals will have to wait until next season to try for their first regular season sweep of Litchfield since 2017, but the grudge match this year is pretty likely in the Section 5AA quarterfinals; if the first two games are any indication, intensity and competition will be at peak levels.

“I’m really excited to hopefully play them again,” Mueller said. “I think they’re a great game for us.”

Burns scored a team-high 12 points, while Mueller added 10 points and 10 rebounds. Rundell scored 11 with four rebounds and four assists, continuing to prove his playmaking ability at point guard with Wyatt McCabe slowly coming back to full strength off the bench.

Watertown-Mayer falls to 7-5 on the year with six games left, notably a rematch with Annandale sandwiched between non-league games against strong teams in Belle Plaine and Lester Prairie.

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 Jared Martinson on Twitter: @JaredNHR

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

Worst Franchise in Professional Sports

Last week, I gave some reasoning why the Minnesota Timberwolves have reason to be optimistic. As I stated earlier, I’m generally an optimist. In that vein, the Wolves have a few pieces that can at least provide some excitement for the rest of this season into next.

That being said, the actions taken this past weekend were just another checkmark on the resume of why the Minnesota Timberwolves just might be the worst franchise in all of professional sports.

First of all, in case you haven’t heard, head coach Ryan Saunders was fired this past Sunday. This in and of itself isn’t necessarily what’s wrong with the franchise.

Since he started as an interim head coach in the 2018/19 season, his record of 43-94 (.314%) shouldn’t dazzle anybody. The obvious caveat is that his stars D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns have played less than 10 games together but sometimes you just have bad luck. Firing him is a reasonable and defensible decision.

However, the way he was let go was embarrassing at best. The Wolves were in New York and came just short of a 20 point comeback against former coach Tom Thibodeau and his Knicks squad (who are 15-16 and the 7th seed in the playoffs by the way).

After the game, it was announced that Saunders was being relieved of his coaching duties. Firing a coach on the road isn’t ideal but I guess it’s something that happens sometimes.

Almost immediately after, it was announced that the Wolves had agreed to a multi-year deal with Toronto Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch. While GM Gersson Rosas has worked with Finch for a long time and interviewed for the original head coach opening, hiring an assistant from another team midseason hasn’t happened since 2008.

On top of that, Minnesota had just played the Raptors twice in the past week.

On top of that on top of that, head coach of the Raptors Nick Nurse said that the deal came together in about 36 hours. He also said that he knew that their game Sunday against the 76’ers was going to be the last game Finch was an assistant coach for the Raptors.

So let’s get this straight. Saturday morning after the Raptors/Wolves game, the Timberwolves started working on a deal to make Finch the head coach. They let Saunders, who they knew they were going to fire, fly to New York to coach his last game. They fired him immediately after the game. They hired his replacement immediately after that.

Those are not good optics. Professional sports are certainly a tough industry and I don’t expect anyone to be babied, but treating people with respect goes a long way in running a successful franchise.

Just as badly, Karl-Anthony Towns was interviewed on Tuesday about this process. Saunders has long had the support of Towns and keeping your star happy is certainly an important piece to the puzzle of a successful franchise. At his press conference, Towns admitted that he was not consulted at all with the firing/hiring decision or at least informed ahead of time before it went public. He found out at the same time via Twitter as we all did while he was eating pizza with his dad after the game.

How are you supposed to build a franchise of trust, respect, collaboration and integrity when you let your players know that their coach (one who they at least publicly really supported and liked) is being fired via a generic press release and a half-hearted graphic on Twitter?

The moral of this lesson is that Glen Taylor needs to sell the team. Taylor, while he seems to be a nice guy, has shown too long that he doesn’t make good decisions and can’t lead a franchise to any kind of relevancy.

Aaron Gleeman pointed this repulsive stat on Twitter (@AaronGleeman) that should make fans want to dismantle the team entirely.

With Kevin Garnett in 14 seasons

- 513 wins and 457 losses

- .529 winning percentage

- 8 playoff appearances

Without Kevin Garnett in 18 seasons

- 474 wins and 1,062 losses

- .309 winning percentage

- 1 playoff appearance

On a sad yet hilarious side note, Saunders actually has improved this winning percentage ever so slightly. His percentage was .314% against the overall .309%.

The Timberwolves have the worst record in the NBA this season, the worst overall winning percentage as a franchise in the league (.396%), only nine playoff appearances, two playoff series wins (both in 2004), the fewest playoff wins with 18 and the worst playoff winning percentage (.346%).

No other franchise in any other sport can rival those numbers. If the Timberwolves hadn’t stumbled into Garnett, I fear how much worse things would be. Perhaps the franchise would already be in Seattle or Las Vegas…

I reference it often, but The Common Man on KFAN always says the following about his sports teams. He wants his teams to be either historically good or biblically bad so that it is interesting either way.

However, in the case of the Timberwolves, there just might be a parade in downtown Minneapolis if the Wolves went .500 for a season. It starts with Taylor selling the team.