Archive for HJ Sports

PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Rockets stymied Royals with variety of defenses

WATERTOWN – When you play the Rockford Rockets, you better be on your toes because they’ll throw everything (and the kitchen sink) at you. The Watertown-Mayer boys basketball team learned that firsthand in a 64-53 loss in which the Rockets showcased several different defensive styles to pick up the win Monday night on the road in a Wright County Conference West matchup.

“We know that they’re traditionally a 3-2 zone team,” W-M coach Kent Janikula said. “They run variations off of it. I thought (Jayden) Heimerman did a pretty good job as the point guard identifying what they were in. It is difficult, though. That’s kind of how they play. We knew coming in and were prepared for them to switch zones, but you’re not necessarily sure what defense it’s going to be. It’s tough.”

While the Royals gave the Rockets a run, the variety of styles of defense by the Rockets was just enough to slow them down. The Royals trailed by three with just over five minutes left to play after junior Cale Wabbe converted a four-point play.

That’s when Rockford took over, outscoring the Royals 15-7 the rest of the way to pick up a big conference win on the road.

“We talked about how if we can compete at that level, you’ll get rewarded,” Janikula said. “It was a one-possession game with about five minutes to go, and they bested us in the last five minutes. It’s one of those things that if they compete at that level, we’ll put ourselves in situations to win. I thought we competed hard. They just made more plays than us late.”

The Royals had their hands full with Rockford’s 7-footer Calvin Sisk inside. Even when he wasn’t near the ball, Sisk has an effect on an offense with his superior size inside.

“It’s unique for sure,” Janikula said about the zone defense with Sisk in the middle. “It’s more of a mental thing, especially in terms of the offense. You know he’s lurking back there to swat some shots. We really preached that you’re not going to beat him with floaters over the top. You’ve got to go into his chest. That’s definitely a huge advantage they have defensively. They can funnel things to him, and that makes it difficult.”

Despite coming up short of getting the win, Janikula likes the way his team competed. Thanks to recent weather, the Royals have a busy week ahead of themselves, and Janikula will be looking for his team to remain engaged throughout as they prepare for the second round of conference play.

“It’s all about competing,” Janikula said. “I thought they played hard tonight. If we continue to play hard, you’re going to be rewarded and get some wins. It’s just putting yourself in a situation with five minutes to go to win a game.”



ROCKFORD: Todd Traen 15, Nick Manthana 24, Carter Kulavik 9, Ryan Boysen 5, Calvin Sisk 4, Brock Desens 7.

WATERTOWN-MAYER: Cale Wabbe 4, Sam Ragner 11, Jayden Heimerman 11, Will McBee 8, Ethan Tang 10, Patrick Anderson 5, Ansen Dulas 2, Ben Hess 2.



There is no debate with Tom Brady

After all the hype and hooplah, the Super Bowl has come and gone. Two weeks of endless storylines repeated over and over again. The old school coach against the offensive guru. The experienced team against the newcomers. The greatest quarterback of all time against… Jared Goff.

Two weeks of debating, contemplating and observing accumulated in a 13-3 win for the New England Patriots over the Los Angeles Rams. Most people were utterly bored with this game, and to a certain extend, I don’t blame them.

The explosive Rams offense could only muster up 3 points on 260 total yards. They didn’t even run a play from the red zone. The Patriots weren’t much better until a late game touchdown drive where they finally moved the ball.

The casual fan found the whole night a bore. The commercials weren’t exceptionally exciting and the game was a yawner… But was it?

The Patriots Dynasty is something rarely ever seen in sports. This level of success is not easy to come by. Even rarer, potentially, is a franchise trotting out the same Head Coach and Quarterback combination for the past 19 years. Oh, by the way, having that duo make 9 Super Bowls and winning 6 of them is pretty astounding as well.

Tom Brady is 30-10 in his career in the playoffs. If Tom Brady was his own franchise, here would be the NFL’s most playoff wins by franchise:

1. Steelers 35.

T-2. Packers, Patriots*, and Cowboys with 34.

5. 49’ers 31.

6. Tom Brady 30.

*In reality, he would be 5th because the only reason the Patriots make this list is because of him.

Some other records he has include; most regular season wins by a quarterback (207), most passing yards in regular season & playoffs (81,693), most passing touchdowns including playoffs (590), most division titles (16), most playoff wins (30), most Super Bowl appearances (9) and most wins (6), and most Super Bowl MVP’s (4).

I’d be hard pressed to try to find another quarterback to try to compare those numbers with. One of my favorite stats about Brady is that has thrown the most touchdowns to different receivers with 71. I’m not sure the Vikings have thrown touchdowns to 71 different receivers in the history of the franchise.

This shows how much the world has changed around Brady but how his world somehow stays the same. Many different linemen, running backs, receivers, coordinators and defensive players have cycled through the Patriots organization the past 19 years. Heck, Brady threw 23 touchdowns to Randy Moss in 2007 to set the receiving touchdown record and casually threw 3 touchdowns to former Viking Legend Cordarrelle Patterson this year. If that doesn’t prove his greatness, I don’t know what will.

But with all of these changes, two things have stayed the same. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. At 41 years old, we keep waiting for the year where Brady suddenly just doesn’t have it. But this year proves one thing: as long as Tom Brady is suiting up, the Patriots will be there in February competing for a Super Bowl. There is no debate. Tom Brady is the greatest NFL player of all time.


The Twins Will Never Be a Mystery

Here is another classic edition of: What did the internet completely blow out of proportion, misinterpret, or paraphrase today?

With negative temperatures for the next week, baseball couldn’t feel further away. However, with pitchers and catchers reporting in a couple weeks, baseball will be back before we know it. Nothing says baseball like -15 degrees!

Anyway, the Minnesota Twins have been in national news this past week for an unusual reason…. And no it is not because they released an alternate home jersey with gold trim.

Two of baseball’s biggest stars, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, are still on the free agent market. Both players are looking for a long term, potentially $300+ million deals and have been patiently waiting for the right situation to come along.

ESPN Baseball Analyst Buster Olney has been caught in a whirlwind due to a simple side remark. When discussing where these two players might end up, he was going through teams who haven’t spent a lot of money this year yet. The Twins were brought up as having room to add a player financially.

This has somehow turned into internet headlines and “click-bait” articles saying that “The Minnesota Twins are a dark-horse team to land Machado and Harper.” What is sad is that there are people who: 1. Don’t have any idea the context with which Olney mentioned the Twins and 2. Actually believe the Twins would be willing to spend money on a star player.

For context, baseball has no salary cap. Teams can spend as much as they deem fit on their roster. That is why teams like the Yankees and Dodgers (who spend $200+ million) are frequently seen at the top of the standings while teams like the Rays and Marlins (who spend less than $50 million) are usually at the bottom.

Now, spending is partially dependent on income. Nobody would argue that the Twins should spend like the Yankees or Dodgers because Minnesota doesn’t pull in the same kind of revenue numbers.

However, a general rule for the MLB is to spend 50% of the organizations revenue on payroll. Since 2012, the Twins have been under this 50% benchmark every single season. In this 7 year span, Minnesota has fallen short of that benchmark by a total of $87.5 million.

This has been consistent for virtually the entirety of the Twins existence. They weren’t even willing to resign World Series MVP and Minnesota native Jack Morris after the 1991 World Series because they didn’t want to spend money on both him and Kirby Puckett.

The Minnesota Twins have never in their history shown the ability to pay for talent with the exception of Joe Mauer (which they were forced to do because fans would’ve rioted/disowned the team had they not signed him). This is the way the Twins have been run and will always be run.

The Twins are not a mystery; we know exactly what they are and what they always will be.

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Decker nets 1,000th career point as Lakers cruise past Paynesville

HOWARD LAKE – The gym at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School was so silent you could hear a pin drop. That was until junior guard CJ Decker knocked down a free throw to complete a three-point play, scoring her 1,000th career point.

Decker’s free throw helped her reach the impressive milestone, and the HLWW girls basketball team went on to cruise to a 62-26 victory over the visiting Paynesville Bulldogs Friday night. While it was just one free throw, it’s surely one that Decker will remember for a long time.

“It was stressful,” Decker said about getting the last few points. “The shots, just some of them weren’t falling. Last game, I tried to get it and it didn’t come. I’m just glad that all my family is here and my friends. My teammates were there supporting me. It was awesome.”

While the moment was special in itself, the fact that Decker got to do it on her home floor with family and friends looking on, only adds to the moment for her.

“It was nice that we had three home games in a row,” Decker said. “It was nice to be able to get it done here with all my people.”

While Decker knew she was close to reaching the milestone, she didn’t know how close. That was until she accidentally read a text message on her mother’s phone.

“At the beginning, I didn’t want to know,” Decker said. “I didn’t know until I had 30 to go. I accidentally read one of mom’s texts and I saw it. I didn’t want to know until then, but I figured I was close.”

Decker not wanting to know her points total comes to no surprise to her coach. He’s seen her be a team-first player throughout her career, and getting herself to her career milestone was no different.

“The girls really wanted it for her,” HLWW coach Rick Baumann said. “The word got out, and I tried to keep it a secret, but you know how that goes. It’s a great honor for a great player. Even tonight you could see that she didn’t force anything. She played with the flow of the game. She knew she was getting there, but she’s such a team-first player. That’s hard to come by. I appreciate her even more for how she plays, and puts our team first all the time.”

Decker needed 19 points coming into the game against Paynesville to reach 1,000 for her career. After scoring 10 in the first half and the Lakers comfortably in front, Baumann began to draw up sets for Decker to get it done.

Although Decker had multiple chances to reach the milestone with a 3-pointer, it was only fitting the way it happened.

Decker came up with a steal on one end, dribbled all the way down the court to make the lay up with a foul to bring her within one point. Knowing she was close, Decker calmly stepped up to the line, and found nothing but the bottom of the net with her free throw.

“That’s just it,” Baumann said. “You could tell she was short with her shot because she didn’t want to force it. She didn’t want to take away from what we do as a team consistently. It was a great way to get it, too. She’s made a lot of baskets for us that way over the years, and that’s a great way to finish it for her.”

While the moment will be on she remembers forever, its a sigh of relief as well for Decker. She felt the pressure of the milestone approaching, but can now go back to playing her game, which has the Lakers playing well as of late.

“It is,” Decker said about getting it done being a relief. “There was a little bit of pressure. Scoring that two after (I got it) was nice. It was just normal.”

For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, Feb. 1 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.

PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Noennig, Crusaders grind out big conference win

MAYER – It was as bad of a start for the Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team could have had. A slow start and sluggish play didn’t stop them though from taking care of business.

The Crusaders put the sluggish start behind them, and picked up an important 46-44 victory over SW Christian Tuesday night in a MN River Conference matchup.

The Crusaders came out sluggish from the start, and in fact, even before the game. SW Christian was issued a technical foul during warmups, and before the game even started, Mayer Lutheran missed two free throws. Things didn’t get any better, as the Crusaders allowed two wide-open 3-pointers for the Stars, giving them an early lead. Just 66 seconds into the game, Mayer Lutheran coach Pat Buchanan sat his starting five to send a message.

“The message was, we need to focus,” Buchanan said. “We didn’t have our focus. I told them what defense we were in, and I don’t know what they were doing out there. I had to take them out. That’s just understanding that you have to be focused. We’ve been struggling with jump starts in games. That was one where we didn’t get the first jump because the first five weren’t ready. Being prepared for a game starts two hours before, or a night before the game. We’ve just got to get better at that.”

While the starting five for Mayer Lutheran were learning a lesson, Eli Johnson gave the Crusaders a much-needed spark off the bench. He knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to get Mayer Lutheran going when they needed it most. Johnson, along with the other four who came in for the starters, continued to give the Crusaders depth, which is something Buchanan hopes continues.

“That’s what we’ve been working on,” Buchanan said. “We’re trying to get better strength in our numbers. The bench guys came prepared and were ready to go. That’s what we’ve been working all year for. We’re trying to put it all together right now.”

The lesson for the starting five worked, as their next rotation paid dividends. Senior Baden Noennig returned and scored five quick points to tie the game at 11.

“We started off slow,” Noennig said. “It took us a little bit to get into it, but we got into the flow of things and started hitting shots. We just fell into that groove. We found that intensity we needed.”

With the slow start behind them, the Crusaders got back to their style. Mayer Lutheran held the Stars scoreless for more than six minutes, and used a 16-3 run to take a 27-14 lead with just over three minutes left in the first half. In that run, Jacob Pallas and Noennig connected on a lob pass for another big dunk by Noennig against the Stars to get the crowd into it.

“When we get out and run and get some easy transition buckets,” Buchanan said. “That’s big for us. “When we get out and go, good things happen. It looks good out there. If we can get stops, we can get out and run with anybody.”

For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, Jan. 25 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.

WELCOME HOME, NO. 25: W-M’s Czinano returns home as Hawkeyes top Gophers

MINNEAPOLIS — When Monika Czinano was just a little girl, there were plenty of influences on her by her family.

Living in Minnesota, Czinano was a big Gophers fan, and would often have her birthday parties at Williams Arena. Her grandfather, an Iowa Hawkeyes fan who passed away when she was young, did all he could to nudge her the other way.

Flash forward to Monday night, and the story comes full circle. In front of her family, friends, former teammates, and friends at Watertown-Mayer High School, Czinano returned home with a little bit of that influence on each side. She was back at Williams Arena once again, but this time, in an Iowa Hawkeyes jersey.

“Monika’s grandpa, a huge Hawkeye fan, passed away when she was 8,” Monika’s mother, Theresa Czinano said. “So. to see her play for them is a bit mind-boggling. And then to see her play in The Barn in front of so many Watertown fans was pretty surreal. It almost felt like a home game, and I guess, in a way, it was.  There were tears for sure, but happy tears.”

Monika Czinano battles for rebounding position in Iowa’s matchup with the Minnesota Gophers Monday night. It was Czinano’s first trip back home with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Monika Czinano battles for rebounding position in Iowa’s matchup with the Minnesota Gophers Monday night. It was Czinano’s first trip back home with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Czinano, a freshman on the Iowa women’s basketball team, was making her first trip back home. While it was a bit of a weird feeling at first coming home, it’s a moment and memory she’ll remember forever.

“This is where I came when I was a kid,” Czinano said. “I was telling my teammates that this is weird coming back to Minnesota and being on the opposing end having birthday parties here when I was a kid. Getting a win against the Gophers on top of it is huge.”

Czinano’s biggest fans

Czinano played just four minutes in Iowa’s 81-63 victory over the Gophers. Although most people knew Czinano’s playing time would be limited, that didn’t stop them from coming out in full force.

More than 65 people made the trip to Williams Arena to support Czinano in her first game back in her collegiate career. Whether it was family, her former teammates at W-M, youth basketball players who look up to her, or kids from the W-M Unified Sports in which Czinano was so active during her time W-M, the loudest cheers of the night came for No. 25.

“This is insane,” Czinano said about the support. “I didn’t expect anything like this. My mom told me that people were coming, but I had no idea that it was to this level. This is amazing. It’s great to come back, and to be able to play in a conference where I do get to come back home every once in a while.”

While Czinano was busy taking care of business during the game, her friends and family who made the trip were soaking it all in. Coming from a small town, the town of Watertown has rallied around Czinano, claiming her as one of their own.

Monika Birthday

A birthday party at Williams Arena was the perfect place for Czinano. Of course, tha had to include a picture with Goldy.

“I was leaving a boys’ game about a month ago and was teasing a friend who begrudgingly watched one of Monika’s games on TV,” Theresa Czinano said. “He admitted he actually enjoyed watching it, and I told him that I kind of have a horse in the race, but I would understand if he didn’t want to watch.  He leaned down and said, ‘Ya know, to be honest, I kind of feel like I have a horse in the race, too.’ I may never forget that.  I hope our community feels a little of that. So many people helped her get where she is. I hope she’s made them proud.  She asked me if I thought anyone would come to a game when she’s a senior and I said, ‘maybe, especially if Lindsey Whalen was still coaching.’  But if not, we’ll still be there, her family, and we’ll probably still make signs. The excitement of watching her play will never wear off.”

Learning from the best

When Czinano decided to attend Iowa to continue her basketball career, she knew there was a highly-touted player by the name of Megan Gustafson already there. Both Czinano and Gustafson play a similar position, and instead of choosing to play somewhere else, Czinano saw an opportunity.

While Czinano was used to playing 30 to 34 minutes a game in high school, she’s lucky to see the floor for 10 minutes or so in her freshman season. While that can be tough to deal with after being a Miss Minnesota Basketball finalist, Czinano has accepted her role this season for the Hawkeyes.

“I know what my role is this year,” Czinano said. “I’m just a huge sponge. This year, I’m just soaking up everything. In different years, I’ll have different roles. My role right now is to be a big morale booster and to be really good in practice. When I get in the game, just know what is happening, so in future years, I can have a bigger role.”

One would think that Czinano has had a love for the game since an early age, but that’s not the case. She wanted to quit basketball entirely when she was in fourth grade, and endured even more later on her in life with injuries to get where she is now.

Monika Baby

Even when Monika Czinano was little, it’s always been about Iowa and Minnesota. Her grandfather was a huge Iowa Hawkeyes fan, while Czinano would often have her birthday parties at Williams Arena for Gopher basketball game. When Czinano returned home Monday night as part of the Iowa Women’s basketball team, the two collided once again as Czinano returned home to play against the Gophers for the first time in her collegiate career.


“Monika was my child who wanted to quit basketball after fourth grade because it was too hard, too much running, and too much sweating,” Theresa said. “So, to see how far she’s come, and how much she’s overcome to get here, it is pretty amazing.”

While Czinano might not see the floor this season as much as she wishes, she knows the opportunity that is in front of her. She has a whole season to learn from one of the best players in the Big 10 – if not the country.

When it comes to records at Iowa for the women’s basketball program, Gustafson is the only name that comes to mind. An All-American, the Big 10 Player of The Year last season, and the player who holds nearly every single record for Iowa is what Czinano has the chance to learn from. Gustafson was the only player in the country last season to average more than 25 points per game, and shoot better than 67 percent from the field. Gustafson will go down as one of the best players of all time at Iowa, and Czinano is soaking up and learning as much as she can along the way from her.

“The amount I’ve learned here, even in the first week, is insane,” Czinano said. “She’s amazing. I’ll go shoot with her on her off days. There’s knowledge that you think you know, and she’ll tell me just to tweak this little thing. Then you’re like, wow. How have I never thought of that? She’s just an amazing player and an amazing teammate, and she makes us all better.”

Getting to go up against Gustafson every day in practice only bodes well for Czinano. While it’s been an adjustment, she’s hoping this year prepares her for the years to come, when it’s her turn to dominate in the paint for the Hawkeyes.

“It was definitely a big adjustment,” Czinano said. “Coming from a school where I’m the only one like that, going against her every day was a huge adjustment in the beginning. It’s made me a better player overall. I can never trade that for anything.”