Archive for HJ Sports

An open letter to the MSHSL

Dear Minnesota State High School League,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Kip Kovar

Herald Journal Sports Editor

 

PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Rockford zone and cold shooting stymie Laker offense

ROCKFORD — Let’s look back at January 26, 2021. That was the date of the first meeting between Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted and Rockford in boys basketball, and the Lakers led by six at halftime in that one. Rockford surged back to win 78-73 in HLWW’s gym, but the frontcourt combo of Drew Burau and Spencer Lade scored 36 points in the loss — showing that on their better nights, the Lakers can compete with the best of the Wright County West and Section 5AA.

Friday’s rematch in Rockford didn’t play out as smoothly, especially on offense. HLWW got the looks they wanted early against the Rockets’ man-to-man defense — then the vaunted 3-2 zone was implemented and the Lakers had trouble finding the paint they dominated so well back on Jan. 26, dropping the contest 71-42.

“The difference was they had the top guy in their zone drop and cover the high post,” HLWW senior forward Spencer Lade said. “That made it tougher for the guards to get the ball into us. Last game we’d get the ball inside and the Rockford defenders would collapse on me, which led to open kickouts or easy layups for my teammates.”

That small adjustment from Rockford was enough to force the Lakers into corners as they scanned for open lanes to drive and pass into. It didn’t help matters that the Rockets were on fire from downtown all game, even without starting point guard Ryan Boysen. Nolan Perry made HLWW pay for leaving him open beyond the arc multiple times, scoring 15 points.

When the Lakers did find openings to score inside and got good looks from the outside, the basketball gods didn’t comply.

“That’s the game of basketball. Sometimes they go down, sometimes they don’t,” HLWW coach James Carr said. “In games like this, we’re telling guys, ‘keep playing hard until the end.’ I’m proud of how they kept playing. Every time we hit the court, we’re always looking to improve.”

HLWW trailed 35-18 at halftime and Rockford kept them at that distance the entire half, extending the lead to as much as 26 by the time the benches were emptied. Lade scored a team-high 10 points, while the guard trio of Carson Woolhouse, Bennett Paulson and Noah Bush added six each.

The efficient high-low pairing of Burau and Lade didn’t get the touches it normally would; the Rockets played a majority of the game with five guards and wings, able to cover ground and block gaps that the Laker frontcourt would usually slip through to reach the rim.

The Lakers are now 4-7, beyond the halfway mark of the regular season. Three of their losses have come by a combined nine points — to section foes Litchfield, Rockford and Watertown-Mayer. The playoff push is looming, and even just knowing you can hang with teams ahead of you, in addition to having seen them twice already, can be enough of a built-in advantage to make some noise come playoff time.

“As far as the section goes, this was a tough section opponent,” Carr said. “We’ve seen them a couple times now, we’re going to continue to get better.”

“The mindset is that we need to put a full game together,” Lade said. “We either have a good first half or good second half. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it soon heading into playoffs.”

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

Follow Jared Martinson on Twitter: @JaredNHR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Lakers supporting cast steps forward in loss to Rockford

HOWARD LAKE — Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted sophomore guard Ivy Fasching has been the main source of offense for the Lakers this season. Her 19.5 points per game through the team’s first seven contests accounted for nearly half the team’s points per game average. An off night for Fasching would surely spell trouble for the rest of the team’s prospects — until the first half of tonight’s game against Rockford.

A few turnovers, some missed three-pointers and three personal fouls in the first 18 minutes made it hard for her to find a rhythm offensively that would keep HLWW afloat. It was then up to the other starters to pick up some responsibility; Abby Niesen and Brooke Baumann helped lead a late half run to cut the deficit to 25-21 at the break.

“We’ve kind of been waiting all year for some other girls to look to be scorers,” head coach Ryan Petersen said. “I was happy to see our team step up.”

Niesen scored all seven of her points in the first half adding point guard duties to her job description. Baumann’s trademark hustle on the offensive glass got her six points and a handful of rebounds throughout the game, and center Carolyn Remer used soft touch at the free throw line to facilitate her six points. Coming into Thursday, the trio averaged 4.6, 4.2 and 4.9 points per game respectively. They combined for 19 tonight.

Fasching found a better groove after halftime, scoring the team’s first five points and finishing with 15, but quickly snagged her fourth foul at the 14-minute mark and had to sit for six minutes. A 25-23 deficit became 47-32 by that point, but the Lakers’ short rotation along with foul trouble meant Niesen, Baumann and Remer hardly exited the floor.

The team defense — especially in the first half — was a chief reason for the better offensive balance as well. Rockford was forced into double-digit turnovers by the intermission and the Lakers made them earn their field goals at the free throw line. Heavy minutes for the starters and some trouble clearing defensive rebounds made things a bit more lopsided in the second half, but HLWW recovered a little to drop the game by a final score of 58-44.

“That’s what it’s been all year, halfcourt defense for us has been solid,” Petersen said. “We do things right, it’s just about doing them consistently. Rebounding has been a huge deal this year too, and we’re just trying to improve every day on those things.”

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

Follow Jared Martinson on Twitter: @JaredNHR

BEYOND THE BOX: Learning on the fly, making the most of things, and old school basketball

Beyond the box is a weekly look back on three of the best moments from the last week of high school sports. As sports editor, I often finish a week of coverage and move right into the next week. This weekly column will give me a chance to look back on things to put it all in perspective.

WINSTED – I’ll be completely honest. This season has been one of the weirdest and unusual seasons I’ve ever covered. This is my sixth year with Herald Journal already and I’ve seen a lot of great things. I’ve never seen a season like this before.

One of the biggest reasons I love high school sports is the atmosphere. There’s nothing like walking into a high school gym and hearing the pep band play with the bleachers filled up. That’s just not happening this season for obvious reasons.

I understand that we can’t have full stands with people. I understand that we can’t have pep bands and all the pomp and circumstance that comes with prep sports. I just wish we could.

It’s been different this season, but I’m glad we have a season. I’m glad each day I can wake up and know that I’m going to be able to cover a game today or write a story. It’s what I love to do. It’s what I want to do.

With that being said, let’s take a look at what happened this past week.

Delano girls basketball team is a team to keep an eye on

Sadly, it took me this long to get my first look at the Delano girls basketball team in person.  I was impressed, to say the least.

Just like the girls hockey team across the street, the Tigers feature a roster with a lot of young talent. That bodes well for the future, but some impressive upperclassmen are leading the way right now.

As I watched Delano take on New Prague Tuesday night, I was impressed with how players like Louisa Stowman, Macki Deters, and company handled themselves. The Tigers have three freshmen playing big minutes this season, and with that will come some growing pains and learning moments.

Even when it looked like Delano might let their lead slip away, there was never any panic. They worked together to get the win.

I talked with Stowman after the game and asked her what it’s like to play with younger girls. Her answer blew me away. I was expecting an answer along the lines of they need to learn things. Instead, she mentioned how important it is for everyone to learn. Not just the young girls.

“It’s definitely harder,” Stowman said about playing with younger girls. “They’re still learning. We’re still learning. We just have to learn to play as a team.”

If the Tigers continue that attitude, they will be a fun team to watch the rest of the season and beyond.

Bulldogs looking for another postseason run

There’s no coach in the area who tries to get his team ready for the postseason more than Lester Prairie’s Mike Lee. This year, it’s been even more of an emphasis.

The Bulldogs are without star and leading scorer Marissa Radtke currently who’s been out with an injury the past few weeks. While she’s expected to return later this season, it’s been a blessing in disguise for Lee and the Bulldogs.

With Radtke out, players like Taylor Ebert, Lizzy Anderson, and Addison Hoof have been challenged to take on more. Hoof has jumped into the starting lineup, while Ebert and Anderson have picked up the scoring and leadership in Radtke’s absence.

This stretch the Bulldogs are on now will only help them in the postseason. Then when you add Radtke back in the mix, Lester Prairie could be in for another exciting postseason run.

Mayer Lutheran’s twin towers are refreshing to watch

Anytime Mayer Lutheran and Lester Prairie meet in any sport, it’s one of my favorite events to cover. There’s nothing like a rivalry game. When these two meet, it’s always fun.

While Monday night’s game between the Crusaders and Bulldogs wasn’t as close as it might have expected to be, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the way Mayer Lutheran played.

We’re in the day and age of everybody loving the three-point shot. That’s not what Mayer Lutheran did. The Crusaders had a clear size advantage inside and they took advantage.

In the matchup, Mayer Lutheran attempted just nine 3-pointers and still scored 83 points. How? They took the best shots instead of good shots.

The Crusaders shot 60 percent from the field in the win. They took just 16 shots outside of the paint and outscored the Bulldogs 60-20 in the paint.

Like I said, in the day and age where everyone wants to see 3-pointers, it was refreshing to see Teigan Martin and Isaac Hahn worked together inside with the high-low action. the high-low action happens to be one of my favorite styles/plays in basketball. When you can get two big men working together, it’s a lot of fun to see.

 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter.

@Kovar_HJSports

Timberwolves Looking Toward Future… Again

It feels like the same narrative year after year. Things seem like they are trending positively until the season starts. The Minnesota Timberwolves then typically win about five of their first 20 games. At this point, fans only can begin to think about next year and try to meld together some sort of optimism…

As Wolves fans know, that optimism is usually a house of cards year after year after year.

But since I am really an eternal optimist about most things in life, here I am writing the same piece I do every year about how things could perhaps get turned around for our Minnesota Timberwolves.

Karl-Anthony Towns is the real deal

This season was doomed once KAT was out. That’s just a fact. The Timberwolves, when perfectly healthy, would’ve been flirting with a .500 record in my opinion. Take away the key to everything they do, and this is one of the worst teams in the entire league.

However, when Towns has been healthy, the Wolves have actually looked competent. KAT is still recovering from his difficult bout with COVID-19, but as he gains his wind, things have been better.

Honestly, since the month of February started, Minnesota has looked slightly better. Their losses have been closer, losing by 2, 3, 2, 5, 3, 7 and 6. This may seem like a pointless observation, but they are figuring some things out as we go. A healthy KAT is a tremendous value to this team. If the Wolves are going to be relevant in any way next year, they need him around. But he needs help…

Malik Beasley and Anthony Edwards could be legit

Beasley has been a pleasant surprise this season to me. When the Wolves re-signed him, I was nervous that he was a little pricey at around $14 million per year for a guy who only plays offense. While he still doesn’t play defense, he has been quite impressive on offense, averaging 21 points per game while shooting 40% from 3-point range. If Russell can return to some form of his All-Star season self, a core of Beasley, Edwards, Russell and Towns is intriguing.

On that note, 1st overall pick Edwards is starting to come into his own. After struggling to begin the season, the rookie is up to 14 points per game and is looking more confident as he goes. It’s difficult to try to find your path without Towns on the floor as Edwards has been looked to as the main guy at times. He’s going to fail with this role as a rookie but the experiences are good for him and he can be a starter alongside those other weapons.

The Cap Situation needs some work

The Wolves have essentially no contracts coming off the books for the 2021-22 season. This is a big bummer. Touting the youngest roster in the league, the Wolves could certainly use some reinforcements this offseason. Two things will determine how much help they get.

First, the Golden State Warriors hold the Timberwolves first round pick unless it is in the top three. Right now, the Wolves would be in a position to have the highest odds to be in the top three, even though those odds wouldn’t be that good. Hopefully Minnesota can be in the top three this season, get a top end draft pick and stay healthy going into next season.

Second, the Wolves will have a decent amount of expiring contracts next season. Expiring contracts are one of the hottest commodities in the NBA, as teams who have realistic chances of signing star players can use expiring contracts to open up cap space. Let’s be real, the Wolves are never signing a free agent that is more than a bench player.

Contracts that will perhaps be juicy to other teams include: Ricky Rubio ($17.8 million – this is a little rich, but so few players in the league have middle level contracts like this, somebody might bite), Jauncho Hernangomez ($7 million, please someone take him) and Jake Layman ($4 million) and Josh Okogie ($4 million) whose contracts are probably too insignificant to matter.

Hopefully the Wolves can parlay those expiring deals into good picks and/or veteran players that can help the team win some games now. I’m not overly optimistic but there are pieces there to figure something out.

Is Ryan Saunders a good coach?

This is one of the biggest question marks going into next season in my opinion. This is also perhaps one of the most difficult aspects to assess. Saunders has not been successful as the head coach of the Timberwolves in terms of wins and losses. At the end of the day, that obviously is the most important stat.

However, there are a lot of things working in his favor. First, he has yet to really coach a consistent group of players game after game, where Towns and Russell are both available. It’s hard to truly assess his abilities when he is stuck with half of an NBA roster.

Additionally, he has the trust and support of key players like Towns and Russell along with GM Gersson Rosas and current owner Glen Taylor. This is not insignificant in today’s NBA as being liked is sometimes more important for job security than the results.

I’m not sure what the right answer is but Wolves management will have a lot to discuss this offseason. Hopefully, the rest of this season gets a little better and the path becomes clearer. Hopefully Russell can return and he can finally play a stretch of games with Towns. Hopefully Beasley and Edwards continue to improve and the offense really starts to take place. Hopefully the Wolves start playing some defense.

With one playoff appearance since 2004, all we can really do is hope.