Archive for HJ Sports

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Czinano, Royals outlast Panthers in offensive showdown

GLENCOE – There was plenty on the line for the Watertown-Mayer and Glencoe-Silver Lake girls basketball teams in their matchup Tuesday night. For the Royals, it was just another game.

The Royals and Panthers put on an offensive clinic in the big-time matchup, but it was the Royals who came up with the key stops down the stretch for an 81-77 victory to clinch at least a share of the Wright County Conference West title.

“I was wondering how this game was going to end up,” Watertown-Mayer coach John Rosholt said. “They shot the ball so well. I didn’t know how it was going to end. It was just both teams going up and down on the floor. I think if I was a fan, it would have been a fun game to watch.”

Both the Royals and Panthers shot the ball better than 44 percent for the game, as the difference came in the final minutes down the stretch where the Royals were able to get key stops and make just enough free throws to hold on for the win.

“That’s how it always is with Glencoe,” senior Monika Czinano said. “They’re very fast and a very active team. We knew that. We’ve been playing them for a while. We know that they’re fast and they’re moving, so we just had to make sure we’re matching that and getting up and down the floor.”

Czinano, who added another double-double on the season with 33 points and 17 rebounds, got the Royals rolling early. Despite a strong start, the Panther used their full court pressure to make a run to close out the first half. The Panthers scored 13 points off 10 W-M turnovers in the first half, and took a two-point lead into the locker room at the break.

After battling back-and-forth to start the second half, sophomore Shelby Mueller continued to play well while seeing extra minutes for the Royals.

“That was big,” Rosholt said about the way Mueller stepped up. “Our kids, we don’t get a drop off at all when we go to the bench. We don’t. We actually get sparks. That’s what we want. We want kids to come off the bench and give us a spark. That’s what we get from our bench. They do a nice job. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Shelby’s ready to play.”

Mueller scored just five points, but also added five assists and four rebounds to go along with her stellar defensive effort.

“I really needed just to zone in,” Mueller said. “I needed to trust my teammates that they’re going to be there for me and help me through it.”

Look for the rest of the story, as well as more HJ sports coverage, in the Friday, Feb. 16 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.


‘That’s us’: Tjernagel, Carlson lead Crusaders to huge conference win against Jordan

MAYER – Step through the doors of Mayer Lutheran High School and into the gym, and you will find something special. It’s not only the Crusader boys basketball team that is putting on a show in recent weeks, it’s the parents, students, and crowd that’s loving every minute of it, as well, that makes the gym a special place to be in right now.

Hosting MN River Conference rival Jordan Friday night, the energy and thrill of the game of basketball was on full display as the Crusaders and Hubmen battled it out for the hopes of keeping their conference title hopes alive.

In the end, it was the Crusaders who locked down defensively down the stretch, while handing the Hubmen their first conference loss of the season in a thrilling 54-46 victory on their home floor.

The Crusaders, who kept their conference title hopes alive with the win, held the Hubmen to just 46 points in the game, and closed the game out on a 27-5 run in dominant fashion.

“That’s us,” Mayer Lutheran coach Pat Buchanan said. “That’s us locking in. That’s when we started to work in the second half. The focus was on defense. They were our second game. We gave up 88. We looked in the mirror. That has not happened since. I don’t think we’ve given up more than 62 points since.”

Trailing by five at the half, it was the defense that stepped things up for the Crusaders after the offense was up to par in the first half.

Mayer Lutheran senior Garrett Tjernagel had his hands full all game long dealing with Jordan's Eric Tiedman and Andrew Niebuhr inside the paint.

Mayer Lutheran senior Garrett Tjernagel had his hands full all game long dealing with Jordan’s Eric Tiedman and Andrew Niebuhr inside the paint.

“That just showed that we were ready tonight,” senior Garrett Tjernagel said. “We came out in the first half ready, and then in the second half, even more than what we were doing in the first half. We just locked in on defense, and that helped us a lot.”

Trailing 39-26 with 11 minutes left, the Crusaders dug deep. After Jordan’s Eric Tiedman picked up his fourth foul and was forced to sit, Branden Carlson and the Crusaders made their move. Carlson hit two big 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, bringing Mayer Lutheran within three with just over four minutes left to play.

“I had strep last game, and was pretty awful that game,” Carlson said, who finished with a game-high 16 points. “I wanted to have a big game here tonight. I was feeling it in warmups, so I thought, why not shoot. It just fell.”

Carlson couldn’t have picked a better time to get hot, as the Crusaders were partially shorthanded in the matchup. Junior Baden Noennig came into the game battling the flu, but opted to give it a go and fight with his teammates to keep their conference title hopes alive.

“To come out and grind it out, I mean, he didn’t have to be out here tonight,” Buchanan said. “He wanted it for his brothers. He was out here for his brothers and he grinded it out. You can’t ask a player of his talent to do anything else. He grinded it out for his family.”

Despite battling the flu, Noennig made his impact felt on the game. With a steal and layup with 3:05 left to go, Mayer Lutheran was back on top after a 17-6 run.

With the Crusaders on top, a ruckus crowd only became louder as the Crusaders fed off the energy from their home fans.

“These guys have been awesome here,” Carlson said about the atmosphere and crowd. We couldn’t do it without them. They’re so awesome.”

Senior Branden Carlson hit some big-time shots down the stretch to give the Crusaders a spark in the second half.

Senior Branden Carlson hit some big-time shots down the stretch to give the Crusaders a spark in the second half.

Along with the common crowd for the Crusaders was the addition of several alumni, returning to get a look at the highly-touted Crusaders.

“Without those alumni, I’m not here,” Buchanan said. “These other players aren’t here. They’re important to building this. We want to make sure, when they come out to support us, that we show up. We play a good game. We don’t want to just come out here and lay an egg. This is a phenomenal crowd. I tell people, if you haven’t been to Mayer, come. It’s electric in this building, and I love it.”

While Carlson catching fire from deep in the second half helped the Crusaders fight back into the game, it was the play on Tjernagel inside all game long that kept the Crusaders within striking distance as battled it out with Tiedman (6-foot-6) and Andrew Niebuhr (6-foot-11) all night long.

“Oh my goodness,” Tjernagel said about battling it out with Jordan’s monsters inside. “It’s different. It’s not every day you can play against a 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-11 kid. It’s definitely good practice. It’s just good to get a feel for the competition that will be there for later on down the road.”

Tjernagel held his own and more in the paint for the Crusaders, finishing with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

“Garrett is a different Garret than he has been in the past,” Buchanan said. “That’s key for us for what we’re trying to do and where we’re trying to go. That’s all the seniors, but Garrett had a big-time game. We needed him to go inside tonight. We needed some easy buckets, because our 3-pointers weren’t going down tonight. He led us in that department.”

While things were never easy for the Crusaders in the win, the six seniors showed off their toughness by overcoming everything with a big win to keep pace with the Hubmen in the race for the MRC title.

“There’s so many crucial seniors,” Buchanan said. “Those guys grinded it out. They didn’t have the best of games tonight, but they did the little things. Sometimes, it’s not about the scoring. It’s just about the little intangibles that don’t show up in the stats. It’s the leadership and energy that they bring. That’s what that was about tonight. They don’t get to play Jordan again. They wanted to make it be meaningful. That’s meaningful for them, and I love those guys. It’s for them.”

“I can’t think of a better way,” Carlson said about knocking off Jordan on Senior Night. “It was awesome.”

While it was a big win for the Crusaders, they’re not satisfied yet. For a team that’s had high expectations from the beginning of the season, there’s a lot to be desired yet, and games like this only will prepare them for what’s to come.

“With teams like this, and then playing section opponents during the season, it’s good for us,” Tjernagel said. “A lot of kids haven’t been in these situations before, and for us to know what it’s like, that will have us ready for it.”

The Crusaders have five games left on the schedule before they gear up for the postseason push. At 18-3 overall, the Crusaders have faced many different experiences, and have shown they can win games in different ways.

“The joy about tonight’s game is that we’ve seen this before,” Buchanan said. “We’ve had this experience for us to get ready for March. We talk about those experiences. Those experiences are helping us get better, and understand how to win when March comes. When March comes, we’re going to be tough. If you want to grind out games, we’re going to grind it out. If you want to go up and down, we are going to go. Pick your poison on how you want to play us, because we’re ready for whatever you bring.”

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Defense leads Lakers past Rocori

HOWARD LAKE – There’s no better prescription for a three-game losing streak than playing some great defense. That’s just what the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted girls basketball team did throughout as they cruised to a 52-27 victory on their home floor over Rocori Monday night.

“We needed this one tonight,” HLWW coach Rick Baumann said. “The ball just hasn’t been going into the basket for us. We struggled a little bit early, but anytime you hold a team under 30 points, you’re playing pretty good defense. This was a good one for us.”

After losses to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Pierz, and Kimball, the Lakers were in position for a much-needed win. With it being just their second home game in the last six games, the Lakers came out engaged on defense and ready to go.

“That’s what we talk about,” Baumann said. “This is the time of year where you got to lock in defensively. There’s teams that are going to take certain things away, but if you can play defense on a nightly basis, that’s something that will help you lock in. I thought we did a good job helping each other. That’s a big thing, too.”

After sophomore Alexa Schumann got the Lakers off to a nice start offensively by scoring the first six points of the game, the Lakers were forced to work without her for a majority of the first half. Schumann picked up two quick fouls, forcing her to sit for much of the first half. The Lakers learned to play without Schumann in her absence earlier this season while she was out with injury, and kept things rolling with her on the bench, building a 22-12 lead at the half.

“It’s been huge,” Baumann said. “Erin’s (Luchsinger) been playing really well for us in the minutes she’s gotten. Lily (DeBoer) has stepped up for us. Even our guards have helped pick up slack too at times. With her missing some games earlier in the year, we we’re able to add some depth and get some valuable minutes out of those players. They know we need more than two players to score. The more depth we can get, the better off we are as a team.”

Look for the rest of the story, as well as more HJ sports coverage, in the Friday, Feb. 16 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.

DYNAMIC DUO: With Chmielewski and Hucky leading the way, Crusaders have big plans come playoff time

MAYER – There’s many ways for a player to have an impact on a game in the sport of basketball. Whether it’s on offense or defense, a coach will always welcome you to their team if you work and play hard.

While the Mayer Lutheran girls basketball team is enjoying another successful season, it’s been seniors Mya Chmielewski and Maddy Hucky leading the way. Chmielewski and Hucky are the school’s all-time leading scorers, and on the floor, they are completely different players. Although Hucky and Chmielewski have different styles of play, there’s no doubt they are both effective as their names appear at the top of the schools’s all-time scoring list.

Mya Chmielewski and Maddy Hucky are Mayer Lutheran’s all-time leading scorers in school history.

Mya Chmielewski and Maddy Hucky are Mayer Lutheran’s all-time leading scorers in school history.

“They are two different players,” Mayer Lutheran coach Kris Gustin said. “Mya is a freak athlete. She’s explosive, and for much of her career, it really has been the defense that creates points for her. She’s really worked hard the last couple of years to develop a jump shot. Maddy throws up some of the craziest shots, and they just seem to go in. If you were to describe Maddy in one move, it’s either the 3-pointer, which obviously she has a great shot from out there, or it’s the dribble penetration usually proceeded by a quick cross over and then the pull up jump shot. She shoots at odd angles. She shoots with people hanging all over her, but it’s that pull up jump shot. She elevates well. She’s long and gets above girls which has obviously helped her.”

Although unexpected and something that means a lot, both Hucky and Chmielewski agree it was special to accomplish what they have together as teammates, and have their names with some other girls they’ve looked up to growing up.

“It’s cool to be able to do it with Mya,” Hucky said. “With us being girls, it’s cool to do that and have more than the guys. It really shows our hard work and dedication. We got a chance to play all four years, too, so that helps.”

“It’s fun to have someone else to experience it with,” Chmielewski said. “I looked up to a lot of those girls in grade school. Their hard work showed me what my hard work can do.”

Whether it’s Chmielewski turning turnovers into points, or Hucky knocking down 3-pointers, the Crusaders are a tough matchup to guard when both are on the floor.

“They’re two different scorers and both of them have their unique skill sets that help our team,” Gustin said. “They really actually feed off each other in a game. Mya’s ability to penetrate and kick the ball out creates openings for Maddy. If a team has to focus on Maddy because she’s having a good game, it opens up the lane for Mya.”

While Chmielewski reached the 1,000th career point milestone last season, Hucky joined the elusive club this season and hasn’t looked back. On the season, Hucky is averaging 15.9 points per a game, and has knocked down 43 3-pointers already this season.

“Maddy’s shots are phenomenal,” Chmielewski said. “She makes them all. She’s really good at driving into the lane and getting that pull up jump shot.”

While Hucky as the edge on the 3-point shooting, Chmielewski is a fearless guard that strives on getting into the paint and getting points of turnovers. Chmielewski is averaging 15 points a game, while also having 64 steals and 81 assists on the season.

“Mya can just get in the lane,” Hucky said. “She can draw the foul and hit pretty much any shot in the lane. That really helps. Her defense is obviously really good too with her steals.”

With two big-time scorers on the floor for the Crusaders in Hucky and Chmielewski, that not only makes things easier for their teammates, but also themselves. If one is having an off game, there’s no panic as they pick each other up and work together to get the win.

“I know there’s not as much pressure going into it,” Hucky said about having Chmielewski to rely on. “I know Mya’s there and she’s a big scorer, too. Everyone’s game just feeds off each other when we’re all doing good. If one person is doing good, we feed off it, and then everyone else does good. It’s just really fun to play like that.”

The Crusaders post a record of 14-7 so far this season, and of those seven losses, six have come against ranked teams in Class A or AA.

With an impressive record and playing against some tough competition, that only helps the Crusaders get ready for a deep run in the Section 4A tournament coming up this month.

“It’s definitely a goal,” Hucky said about getting over the hump in the section tournament this season. “He’s (Gustin) definitely been talking about it a lot and making sure we work hard in practice. Everything is, OK, we have to do this because we’re going to see it in a section game.”

With a strong season thus far, the Crusaders are likely to claim the top seed in the Section 4A tournament this season barring any let down in the final few weeks. With a group of players who have experience, combined with a wide-open section, the Crusaders know this is their time.

“We have a window right now,” Chmielewski said. “We need to take advantage of the opportunity we have.”

Before the postseason arrives, the Crusaders have one other thing on their mind – a conference title. With three conference games left on the schedule and trailing Norwood Young America by just one game in the standings, the Crusaders have a big matchup with the Raiders on their home court next week.

If the Crusaders want to take down the Raiders and keep their hopes of a conference title alive, they’ll need to continue to keep playing their style of team basketball. Although the points may come from Hucky and Chmielewski a majority of the time, players like Nicole Klaustermeier, Olivia Tjernagel, Sophie Heuer, Brooke Paulsrud, and Symone Jopp are crucial parts to the success of the Crusaders.

“Over the course of my coaching career, we haven’t had a lot of those special Division I or Division II players,” Gustin said. “It’s been a lot of team basketball. This kind of exemplifies that. They got good pieces around them that do their roles. I think it’s comforting to know that you’ve got teammates around you. You got pieces around you. You just do what you can for your team on any given night.”

PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Ziermann’s growth on both ends of the floor helps propel Bulldogs

LESTER PRAIRIE – The season has been filled with ups and downs this year for the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity boys basketball team. While some might think that’s a negative, for the head coach Nat Boyer, there’s a reason for all of that.

“That’s one of the reasons why we played who we played earlier in the year,” Boyer said. “We wanted to play those teams, those AA and AAA teams, earlier on in the year because empty wins don’t matter. We learn every time we play. Win or lose.”

LP:HT BBB-Ziermann

In the final month of the regular season, the Bulldogs are hoping to get things straightened out for what looks like a big battle in the Section 2A tournament.

With Michael Ziermann leading the way fresh off becoming the school’s ninth boys basketball player from Lester Prairie to join the 1,000 point club, you can’t count the Bulldogs out.

Ziermann reached the milestone in a tough loss to crosstown rival Mayer Lutheran Jan. 20 on the road. He opened up the game up by scoring the first nine points of the game for the Bulldogs, and was able to reach the milestone after knocking in his first free throw attempt of the game. Although the moment was nice for Ziermann, not coming away with a win against the Crusaders took a bit of the moment away.

“It was a cool accomplishment after everything you put into it,” Ziermann said. “To just kind of feel that moment. Most of all, we wanted that win more than anything. It comes at a price.”

Ziermann is the ninth boys basketball player in Lester Prairie history to reach that milestone. His name is now associated with some of the best players to come through the program, and that’s something special for the junior guard.

“It’s cool, because I know Nick Machemehl is the most recent,” Ziermann said. “I work out with him, so it’s kind of fun to be able to be a part of that. All the accomplishments that those guys made in their careers, so it’s pretty cool to be a part of that.”

It’s always a special moment when a player reaches that milestone for many reasons. With Ziermann, the record is nice, but his coach has been more impressed with his growth on both ends of the floor that’s helped lead the Bulldogs.

“The thing that we really wanted to see out of Michael was on the defensive end,” Boyer said. “Could he have gotten the points earlier? He could have. He’s shifted his focus throughout the season on the defensive end and creating. That’s what we need from him. We need to have a complete player, and not just someone who can score. He’s taking that on. We’ve seen growth even throughout this year. Things early on in the year that weren’t coming as clear as they are now. We want to continue to see him move forward and become the kind of ballplayer he can be and we need him to be.”

With the milestone behind him, Ziermann and his teammates are focused on playing their best basketball when it matters most. After dropping four-straight games, and seven of their last eight games, the Bulldogs have rattled of two wins in a row.

“It’s fun to be able to see things in practice and then go out on the court and just see the ball move so well,” Ziermann said. “Guys are hitting shots. It’s just fun right now. It’s good to be playing the best basketball come playoff time. That’s what we want.”

With four games left in the regular season before the MN Christian Athletic Association tournament and section play begins, it’s time for the Bulldogs to continue to play their best.

“We’re at a time now where we got two,” Boyer said. “We’re hoping to roll off three on Thursday night here against GFW, and then we need to continue to roll going into playoffs. Now, it’s all preparation. We prepare for each game, but we also prepare for what’s coming at the end. We look at one game at a time, but we also have to forecast with how’s this going to help us in another contest. That’s one of the things you’re seeing. We got players, that as a team, they’re pushing each other. They’re taking accountability. It makes it easier when they get a long as well as they do, because this is a pretty cohesive group.”

The Bulldogs know what lies ahead of them in the postseason. Competing in Section 2A, which boasts six ranked teams in the top 20, the Bulldogs know it will come down to the little things if they want to battle with some of the state’s best.

“All the things we talk about in practice, even the tiny little things that you don’t think matter, they’re going to matter against these teams coming up,” Ziermann said. “Everybody is ranked in state. We know we have a lot coming up in our section. It’s going to be tough for us. We know we have to prepare well for that.”


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PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Ruzicka, Buhr lead Bulldogs to third-straight win

LESTER PRAIRIE – It wasn’t pretty down the stretch one bit, but a win is a win, and the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity boys basketball team will take it. In a game filled with runs back-and-forth, it was the Bulldogs who escaped with a 73-71 victory over Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Thursday night on their home floor despite some poor free throw shooting down the stretch.

“We did not finish well,” LP/HT coach Nat Boyer said. “Free throws down the stretch did not fall the way we need them to fall. We came out and scored a lot of points in the second half, but we gave up a lot of points. It’s about stopping them and about finishing. This is a good one to have behind us now.”

The Bulldogs (8-12, 3-5) were in control throughout, but couldn’t put the game away at the free throw line down the stretch, which gave the Thunderbirds multiple chances to tie the game or even take the lead. The Thunderbirds (5-15, 4-8) had a chance at the buzzer to take the lead after two missed free throws, but the half court desperation attempt wouldn’t fall as the Bulldogs held on and escaped with the win.

“Kudos to them for playing the way they did,” Boyer said. “They battled right to the end and had plenty of chances to beat us. Thankfully, it didn’t fall for them, and we made the stops when we had to.”

Junior Dylan Ruzicka and Leighton Buhr stepped up their games big time in the win for the Bulldogs. Ruzicka knocked down six 3-pointers for the second time in three games. While making the start Thursday night, Buhr posted 17 points, eight rebounds, and three assists in place of Andrew Jackson who was out sick.

Ruzicka picked the right time to get hot for the Bulldogs. After opening the game on a 16-3 run, the Thunderbirds made a run of their own to take their first lead of the game with just over two minutes left in the first half. With both teams trading buckets, Ruzicka caught fire and knocked down three big 3-pointers in the final two minutes to give the Bulldogs a 29-22 edge at the half.

“The big thing for me is, that it’s not really me at all,” Ruzicka said about his hot shooting. “I’m sitting there, and I just set myself up. Those boys in there, they do all the work. They get me open and get me good looks. I’ve been able to finish lately. I went through a small slump, but I’m starting to come back because of those boys.”

While Ruzicka’s hot streak might comes as a surprise to some, Boyer knows he’s a shooter and has so much confidence in him, that he gave him, and him only, the green light to fire away late in the second half.

“I don’t do this very often, but I said nothing but layups,” Boyer said. “Then I pulled him back and I told him except for you. They knew it. We had a couple of guys that looked at me and said he just shot it. I said, ‘yup’. That’s because I gave him the green light. He’s shooting well and we got to keep that. With Dylan, it’s about confidence. He’s a very good shooter, and he just has to be confident to shoot.”

Look for the rest of the story, as well as more HJ sports coverage, in the Friday, Feb. 16 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports