Archive for HJ Sports

PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Seeds announced for Section 2A North boys basketball tournament

The seeds and pairings for the Section 2A North Sub-Section boys basketball tournament have been released. Section 2A is loaded with talent once again, and features four of the top five-ranked teams in Class A.

Below is a look at the seeds and pairings for the Section 2A North Sub-Section.

SECTION 2A NORTH SEEDS

(1) BOLD

(2) MN Valley Lutheran

(3) Mayer Lutheran

(4) New Ulm Cathedral

(5) Cedar Mountain

(6) Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity

(7) Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s

(8) Sleepy Eye

(9) Cleveland

(10) Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart

SECTION 2A NORTH PLAY-IN GAMES – Thursday, Feb. 28

(10) BLHS at (7) Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s

(9) Cleveland at (8) Sleepy Eye

SECTION 2A NORTH SUB-SECTION QUARTERFINALS – Monday, March 4

Winner of 10 vs. 7 at (1) BOLD

Winner of 9 vs. 8 at (2) MN Valley Lutheran

(6) LP/HT at (3) Mayer Lutheran

(5) Cedar Mountain at (4) New Ulm Cathedral

 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter for all things Section 2A tournament related.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

LOOK WHO’S BACK: Royals dominate Section 5A meet, headed back to state for fifth-straight year

WATERTOWN – A trip to the Class A state meet has become a yearly tradition for the Watertown-Mayer/Mound Westonka gymnastics team. For the fifth-straight year, the Royals will be back at the state meet after dominating the competition at the Section 5A meet Feb. 14.

“It feels really awesome,” senior Ailsa Gilbert said. “Today, we really came together as a team. We had fun. We had each other’s back. We left it all out on the floor and came away with the win.”

While the end result was another impressive win for the Royals, things didn’t start out too smoothly for W-M/MW. After a slow start on balance beam, for the Royals’ standards, they put that behind them and finished strong on their way to posting their best score of the season.

“We started out on beam, and were a little rough there,” Royals coach Steve Hangartner said. “They left it on beam. We were able to put the other three events together. Sometimes you can get down after an event, and it affects everything else just like a basketball game. They put it together after that first event. They went out in the hall and did some talking to each other and said let’s get going. After that, they finished pretty good.”

After the shaky start, Gilbert, a senior captain, gathered her team together and settled them down following their first rotation.

“I think it shows what we are as a team,” Gilbert said. “I gathered all the girls and brought them into the hallway. We just let our emotions go and knew that was that event, and we have the next event. We knew we needed to have fun and do our thing. On floor, we did just that, and we came away with a great result.”

With beam behind them, the Royals turned things around on floor to get their mojo back. The Royals posted their best score of the four events on floor, totaling a score of 36.875 as a team.

On floor, the Royals had the top three spots as a team, and four of the top five. Gilbert won floor with a score of 9.475, while freshman Anna Mielke took second place with a score of 9.275, helping the Royals bounce back in a big way in their second rotation.

 

“You just have to go event-by-event,” Mielke said. “Move-by-move. Do your best, and then move on. We did bond as a team. It became a very team aspect over being an individual one. It was really cool to see.”

The Royals would go on to dominate in their final two rotations, capping off another Section 5A title and a trip to the state meet. When the Royals could have let a disappointing start keep them from reaching their goal, they came together.

“We know that when ever we don’t have the best event, the team has our back,” Gilbert said. “Me and Anna, personally, we always know we have each other’s back and everyone else on the team. I think that’s so cool. It’s not like we have three captains. It’s like everyone is a captain, because everyone comes together and they have everyone’s back. It’s super cool, especially when you have a mistake on an event. You know that they’re going to be there. They’re going to help you through it.”

While the Royals surely have an abundance of talent, there’s something else about the team that sets them apart from the competition.

“They’ve got a lot of team chemistry,” Hangartner said. “They get along. They all think team first. It’s easy in a sport like this to think individually. We had some girls that didn’t do as good as they usually do, but right away, they were back out there cheering for the next girl, even though they didn’t do as well as they would have liked. That’s probably the biggest thing.”

The Royals have the perfect makeup of a team. With four seniors (Gilbert, Kylie Hoese, Taylor Hix, and Teagan Schmidt), surrounded by young talent like Mielke, Ella Blinkhorn, Paige Thibault, Kate Thibault, Maris Huen, and Erin Singsank, the dynamic of the W-M/MW gymnastics team is one to behold.

“We have some really good captains,” Hangartner said. “Teagan and Ailsa were captains last year and this year. Then adding Taylor as a captain this year added another dimension to that. That really helped. That really helps when you have leadership where everybody is having fun and there’s nobody fighting. There’s no drama. We can just coach without having to deal with situations. It makes it a lot more fun. They’re having fun. Everybody is having fun.”

There’s no doubt that this senior class has made their impact on the program. They’ve led the right way and it’s made the Royals one of the most successful programs in the state.

“There is going to be positive repercussions in the next few years because of these seniors,” Hangartner said. “There’s a lot of things that they can do that I can’t. They can pull a team together and get things done that a coach can try to do, but when it comes from their peers, it’s pretty neat to see it.”

While the seniors are there for leadership, there’s plenty of young talent eager to push them and make sure no one on the team gets complacent. There’s also no doubt that the age difference between teammates has no problem on creating life-lasting relationships.

“I just love that we can be such good friends on and off the mat,” Gilbert said. “(Despite) our age difference, we are so close. When we’re in an event, we know it’s game time. We’ve got each other and we’re going to put our best foot forward. We’re proud of each other.”

It’s been an especially fun and memorable season for Mielke. Just a freshman, Mielke won the all-around title at the Section 5A meet with a score of 36.650. While Mielke has always looked up to Gilbert and other members of the team, she gets to compete with and against her, which is something that means a lot to her, and a big reason for her individual success this season.

“When I was younger, I always looked up to Ailsa,” Mielke said. “Now, having her as a competitor and a teammate, it’s really cool. We push each other to do our best. It’s been to just keep pushing myself to do better. It’s setting goals and trying to accomplish them. Just keep moving forward, try to do better, and always improve.”

Gilbert is a great person to look up to for Mielke. Not only has she been a constant leader for the Royals in her gymnastics career, she’s also accomplished something that no gymnast ever has in program history. When Gilbert takes the mat Friday for the Class A state meet, she’ll be doing so for the sixth time in her career – a school and program record.

“It’s super cool,” Gilbert said about the record. “I didn’t really actually know that it was a record. Learning about that today was super cool. I’m just very fortunate that I’ve had the ability, and just the opportunity to do this for so many years with such a great team. I’ve made so many memories along the way.”

While the Section 5A title was a reasonable goal for the Royals coming into this season, they’ve certainly earned it. The Royals have endured injuries and illness all season long, keeping them from sending out their full lineup for most of the season. Despite all that, the Royals battled through the regular season, and once again will find themselves on the state’s biggest stage.

“This is the first meet we’ve had our whole lineup in from last year,” Hangartner said. “We did have some people that came in a stepped up, like Maris. We had some injuries early, and it was just trying to get everyone healthy. That’s just part of it.”

With many meets where the Royals knew they wouldn’t be sending out a full lineup, patience was the key. Knowing the talent was there, the Royals remained patient and kept pushing forward, as they knew they couldn’t win the section title in December or January.

“Each meet is it’s own little challenge,” Gilbert said. “We pick something that we’re going to fix. Building up to the section meet, we’ve done all these things and now it’s kind of showing. We hope that we can show more and shine even more at state.”

“It’s hard,” Mielke added about being patient. “You just have to keep working hard and keep working forward. We use our meets almost as practice to get the experience. Then we go back to the gym and work on them. It’s super cool to see everything we’ve worked on throughout the season come together.”

At the state meet last season, the Royals brought home a second-place finish. With their entire roster back –and now healthy – the Royals have their sights set high once again.

Those sights are set on Detroit Lakes, one of the top gymnastic programs in the state. The Lakers have won the last four Class A titles, and with the improvement of other Class A teams, the Royals will be in for a battle.

“It’s going to be a hard reach, but we’re definitely reaching for that,” Gilbert said. “We’re going to put our best foot forward, and we are going to have so much fun at the state meet. Hopefully, that shines through on our performances.”

I think that they’re there and we just have to go for it,” Mielke added. “They’re the top dogs, and you always want to beat the best.”

PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Scheevel, Bulldogs fluster Warriors with strong defensive effort

LESTER PRARIE – In the day-and-age when it seems to always be about the offense, Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity High School senior Tyler Scheevel plays by his own rules. While he’s capable of scoring for the Bulldogs, Scheevel hangs his hat on the defensive end.

Often called upon to guard the opposing team’s top-scorer, Scheevel answers the call with physicality and a smile. Scheevel showed just how disruptive he can be on the defensive end as the Bulldogs cruised to a 63-44 victory at home Monday night.

“We locked in on a couple of their top scorers,” LP/HT coach Andrew Dahl said. “Tyler Scheevel did a really nice job, as did Trevor (Schuette) and Parker (Bayerl). That got us going. We got a few steals and long rebounds, which got us out and running. That always helps, rather than to have to set up the offense in the half court every time.”

Scheevel was assigned the duties of slowing down West Lutheran’s Brett Vollrath on the defensive end. Despite giving up 5-plus inches to Vollrath, Scheevel limited him to just 11 points while frustrating him all night long.

“He’s a beast defensively,” Dahl said about Scheevel. “He moves his feet well and is super strong. I’m sure kids don’t like going up against him. It’s nice to have him as a lock-down guy to shut down the opponent’s top guy.”

While it’s not a glamorous job, Scheevel is all for it. He’s not afraid to get physical with the opponent’s top-scorer, and takes it upon himself to limit him as much as he can for betterment of the team.

“I just know that, I have to do all that I can do to shut him down,” Scheevel said. “The less points he scores, the less points they score. If he scores a lot of points, it’s just trying to cut that down and gives us a better chance. I just work my butt off and stay in front of them and try to keep them from scoring. I just do my best and let the chips fall where they fall.”

With Scheevel’s ability to be physical without fouling, frustration begins to wear on his opponent.

“It definitely helps when they get frustrated,” Scheevel said. “You can get in their head, and it really helps throw their game off right away early when you can get in their head.”

The Bulldogs came out strong to open the game, helping to cruise to a much more comfortable win this time around against West Lutheran. In the first meeting with the Warriors earlier this season, the Bulldogs escaped with a three-point victory after struggling to shoot the ball.

“I thought we moved the ball better tonight,” Dahl said. “We hit some shots, both inside and outside. At their place, we struggled to get anything going, but found a way to win. It was good to see us kind of pull away and take it to them a little more tonight.”

“We knew that we played not well the first time,” Scheevel added. “We knew we could really beat these guys. We just had to come out and play hard and play as a team.”

The win snaps a two-game losing streak for the Bulldogs. With the postseason right around the corner, Dahl knows how important it was to get back into the win column and build some momentum.

“Just being able to see some shots fall and get out and run a little bit was nice,” Dahl said. “I think that’s going to be big for us going forward.”

KOVAR: Crusaders looking for history to repeat itself Tuesday night against Jordan

MAYER – In order for the Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team to win a second-straight conference title, they’re going to need history to repeat itself.

When the Crusaders host conference rival Jordan Tuesday night, it will once again be for a shot at the conference title. Just like a season ago, Mayer Lutheran will be looking to bounce back from a loss to the Hubmen earlier this year in search of another conference title.

In the 2017-2018 season, Mayer Lutheran fell to Jordan 88-77 on the road in their first matchup. That point total would be the most they allowed all season long.

In the second meeting between the Hubmen and Crusaders, Mayer Lutheran needed a win to at least clinch a share of  the conference title.

In that matchup, Mayer Lutheran locked in defensively, and held Jordan to just 46 points, as they picked up a huge win on their home floor to keep their conference title hopes alive. Those 46 points scored by the Hubmen in that game was the third-lowest scoring output by them all season for a team that averaged more than 70 points per game. Mayer Lutheran closed that game out on a 27-5 run in front of a packed gymnasium.

“That’s us,” Mayer Lutheran coach Pat Buchanan said in an interview following that game. “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.”

Come Tuesday night, the Crusaders will be looking for history to repeat itself once again. When the Crusaders take on the Hubmen on their home floor, they’ll need to pull off another big victory to keep their conference title hopes afloat.

Jordan defeated Mayer Lutheran earlier this season in another tight game. After the Crusaders had a four-point lead at the half, Jordan’s Ryan Samuelson and the Hubmen were too much for Mayer Lutheran in the second half.

Jordan outscored Mayer Lutheran 33-25 in the second half, and Samuelson finished with a game-high 35 points to lead the way for the Hubmen.

It’s a perfect matchup for these two teams as they gear up for another postseason run. Both teams made the state tournament last season, and Tuesday night’s game will surely have a playoff feel to it as the best two teams in the MN River Conference square off.

It’s a nice little appetizer for hoops fans to enjoy before the postseason begins. Get there early for a good seat and enjoy the beauty of high school basketball on full display.

So You’re Saying There’s A Chance

The Timberwolves made the playoffs for the first time last season since 2004. After the Jimmy Butler saga to begin the season, the playoffs seemed to be nothing but a dream for 2018.

Injuries have not helped Minnesota’s cause. Robert Covington has been out since January 1st with a knee injury, Tyus Jones has been out since January 18th with an ankle injury, Derrick Rose has missed 14 out of 24 games since Christmas while Jeff Teague has missed 17.

With all of these injuries, the rotation game to game has been out of whack and wins have been hard to come by. No offense to the following players, but if your lineup down the stretch of a must win game against an inferior opponent consists of: Isaiah Canaan, Luol Deng, Dario Saric, Anthony Tolliver, and Gorgui Dieng, you’re probably in big trouble. (And they were, they lost 122-112 to the Magic).

As Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague have finally returned, things have began to look a little more normal. Minnesota is going into the All-Star break on a two game win streak, boasting an impressive win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

Against the Rockets, rookie Josh Okogie shined pestering James Harden all night. Although Harden still finished with 42 points, Okogie smothered and frustrated him all night. The highlight of the evening was Okogie stopping Harden’s drive and then blocking his signature step-back shot, an impressive defensive feat.

Jeff Teague was a spark returning to the starting lineup to go for 27 points and 12 assists while Karl-Anthony Towns got his usual 25 points and 9 rebounds. Add in double figure scoring from Deng, Okogie, Saric, Rose, and Gibson and this was potentially the most balanced and impressive win for Minnesota this season.

Noticeably gone from this account of the game is Andrew Wiggins, as he was out with an illness. I’m not going to turn this into a negative Wiggins column because that is a pretty tired bit. However, it can’t go unsaid how hard the team played and how cohesive they looked without him.

Anyway, with just 25 games left in the regular season, Minnesota is 4 games back of the 8th spot in the playoffs. I wouldn’t bet my life savings on them notching their second straight playoff berth as they will need to play much better more consistently, but it isn’t impossible. They have to pass the Lakers, Kings, and Clippers and that is going to be a very tall task.

I know you are probably thinking to yourself “Who cares if they make the playoffs? They will just be the 8th seed and will get swept by Golden State.”

You are probably right, but it matters to the team. This young core of Towns, Wiggins and coach Ryan Saunders need to break this losing culture. They need to continue to build on successes, improve, and get a bigger taste of playoff basketball.

One of my favorite scenes from Dumb and Dumber comes to mind. Lloyd Christmas is asking Mary, a married woman whom he loves dearly, what the chances are that a guy like him and girl like her end up together. Her response is heart crushing: “1 in a million.”

Lloyd’s response is priceless: “So you’re saying there’s a chance!”

The NBA Playoffs are Mary and the Timberwolves are Lloyd. Even though Lloyd definitely does not end up with Mary, let’s just pretend he does and have Lloyd’s optimism.

GROWING PAINS: Crusaders fall to Jordan, still learning how to finish off games

MAYER – With a young group of players, learning to close out games takes a while. That’s the situation the Mayer Lutheran girls basketball team finds themselves in as the end of the regular season looms on the horizon.

Taking on one of the top teams in the MN River Conference, the Crusaders gave the Jordan Jaguars all they could handle, and more. In the end, Mayer Lutheran came out just short as Jordan made a few more plays down the stretch in a 52-48 victory Tuesday night.

“I thought the girls did great,” Mayer Lutheran coach Kris Gustin said. “The first time we played them, they went 12-for-28 from 3-point range. That’s just way too many to give up. I thought defensively we made some really good adjustments. The girls responded well with what we asked them to do.”

“We had the lead, and it got tough,” senior Symone Jopp said. “We lost, but in the end, it was a good game for us and we got better from it.”

The Crusaders controlled the game for most of the first half, and held a five-point lead at the break. To open the second half, Mayer Lutheran scored on back-to-back possessions with buckets from Brooke Paulsrud and Olivia Tjernagel to make it 32-23 Crusaders.

Although the Crusaders have had their struggles offensively at times this season, they seem to be trending in the right direction, as Paulsrud and Lexi Schermann give Mayer Lutheran a one-two punch at the point guard position.

“Lexie comes in at the break, and it kind of disrupts the flow,” Gustin said. “Nothing against her, it’s just another player in our rotation. We just have to get used to playing together. I think we’ve seen the fruits of that patience paying off as we seem to be turning the corner to try and jell at the right time.”

Paulsrud and Schermann give Mayer Lutheran options at point guard. With Paulsrud stepping up her game lately, it’s allowed the Crusaders to draw up looks for Schermann as she can play off the ball, which opens things up for everyone.

“Either one of them can run things from the top,” Gustin said. “When Brooke is up at the top, our offense runs smoothly and we can run Lexie off of screens. We also have Emma and Morgan who can hit down the outside shot. There’s a lot of weapons there. It’s coming together.”

After a strong start to the second half for Mayer Lutheran, Jordan fought back. A 9-0 run by the Jaguars gave them a 41-36 lead as the Crusaders nearly went five minutes without a point.

Kat Brown-Erdal was a big reason for the run by the Jaguars. Whether she was scoring or not, Brown-Erdal took over the game for Jordan.

“In the second half, Jordan came out with a little bit more energy,” Gustin said. “Really, the difference in the game was Kat Brown-Erdal. She’s a phenomenal ball player. They made some adjustments to give her some open looks, and she’s a playmaker. She kind of took the game over. They had that little run where we turned the ball over a few too many times and they took advantage of it. That’s the way basketball goes.”

A 3-pointer from Emma Lade snapped the drought for the Crusaders, bringing them within two with just over four minutes to go. Jordan answered back with a 3-pointer from Sidney Bendzick, pushing the Jaguars’ lead back to five.

When it looked like Mayer Lutheran would let things slip away, Morgan Chmielewski answered back with a clutch 3-pointer of her own.

A steal from Jopp and put back from Chmielewski tied the game at 48 with 57.3 seconds left, but the Crusaders couldn’t make the big play late. Jordan would go 4-for-4 from the free throw line to get the win, leaving Mayer Lutheran searching for answers in close games down the stretch.

“We look at our team, and sure, we’ve played 22 games this year, but we’re still young,” Gustin said. “We have one senior. We’re playing two freshmen and a sophomore a lot of minutes. We still have those growing pains. We have to figure out how to win games.”

Despite the loss, there’s plenty of things the Crusaders can take away from it. A battle against one of the top teams in the MRC only will help them get better as the season goes on.

“You want to win, but this game certainly made us better,” Gustin said. “Competing against a team of that caliber, we were right there with them the whole game. It is a good matchup for us.”

“It helps us get better,” Jopp said. “It helps us figure out what we need to work on going forward.”

The Crusaders have four games left on the schedule in the regular season, three of which will be on the road. As the postseason approaches, Gustin knows how important it is to learn how to finish off games to get ready for another deep postseason run.

“We have four games left,” Gustin said. “We win two of those games, and I think we put ourselves in a good position in the section. We had an opportunity to do that tonight, but we just have to learn how to finish games. That’s part of that learning process.”