Archive for HJ Sports

BEATING CANCER: Riley Krueger’s journey back to basketball

MAYER – Riley Krueger’s life changed in an instant.

In the middle of his sophomore year, Krueger was a skinny and athletic basketball player who caught the eye of new Mayer Lutheran head coach Pat Buchanan. To Buchanan’s misfortune, he would have to wait and see what Krueger could do at the varsity level. He would have to wait even longer than he thought.

THE BEGINING OF THE STORM

In his first year as head coach of the Mayer Lutheran boys’ basketball team, Buchanan was taking in a junior varsity game in early January. While watching intently, he noticed a sophomore with great potential.

“He caught my eye in my first year here when he was a sophomore,” Buchanan said. “I was looking at this little, quiet kid. He can go unnoticed because he’s so quiet. I started watching a couple of the junior varsity games and I said, “Man, this dude can help us right now. We can back up Garrett.”

While the idea of having Riley on the varsity would be a nice addition, Buchanan was forced to wait.

“We couldn’t play him because he transferred in,” Buchanan said. “He wasn’t eligible. At that time, I saw something special in him. That’s when I really started to see something special and started to look forward to his junior year.”

Waiting a season to have Riley on his team didn’t seem like the worst thing, but life has plans of its own.

The first few days of Riley’s junior year put a wrench in Buchanan’s vision and Riley’s basketball goals. What started as a simple illness quickly became more serious.

Shortly after school started, Riley was complaining about flu-like symptoms and stayed home from school. His parents thought it might be food poisoning, and things began to improve for him.

A few days later, the symptoms returned for Riley. After missing two days of school, his parents decided to play it safe and take him in to get checked out.

“I kind of thought of it as not a big deal,” Riley said. “I just assumed it was the flu or food poisoning or something. After a week or so, it kind of went away. Then it came back, with another week of vomiting and stuff. That’s when we knew we had to check it out.”

While it seemed certain that something wasn’t right for Riley, the worry turned into action. Riley’s dad, Dennis, was out hunting when he got a call from his wife, Sherri, that stopped him in his tracks.

“We thought it was food poisoning when he first was sick and throwing up,” Dennis said. “I was actually out bow hunting. She was going to take him to the doctor to get checked out because he was throwing up so much. I was literally in my tree stand. I typically don’t have my phone on. I noticed I had a few missed calls. I finally got a hold of her and she told us that I needed to meet them at Children’s Hospital. She didn’t say why. She didn’t want to say anything in front of Riley. I was a little frustrated because I was wondering what’s going on because she wouldn’t say anything. She just said that I need to meet them there.”

The timing of Riley’s illness added another challenge for the Krueger family.

“We were selling our house at the time,” Sherri said. “He was sick and then went back to school. Then about two weeks later, it was the night before our house was going on the market. In the middle of the night, he comes upstairs and says he threw up again. At that point, I knew this wasn’t food poisoning, but you don’t know what it is. You never think it’s anything serious.”

Upon Riley’s first visit to Children’s Hospital, there was a feeling of uncertainty. At first, doctors and staff weren’t sure what they were looking for. Once they found a problem area, they needed to make sure what was going on before announcing it to Riley and his parents.

“What I remember about that is the person who came in to do the ultrasound said she was going to do the gallbladder,” Sherri said. “I thought it was going to be the whole abdomen, but she was like, ‘Nope. It just says the gallbladder.’ Then, all of a sudden, she jumped up and said she’ll be right back. That’s when I was like, something is wrong. She probably knew right away and didn’t say anything. Then I remember when the doctor shook my hand and said ‘good luck’. At that moment, I thought it was bad the way he said it.”

As doctors continued to do tests on Riley, the Kruegers finally got some confirmation on what was going on. Riley had cancer. Upon hearing the news, the Kruegers had to wait more than a week to find out what would be the plan of action going forward, as they still had to identify which type of cancer Riley had.

“It was hard,” Dennis said about the waiting game. “The main doctor at Children’s came in and told us he has cancer, but they didn’t know what type. They couldn’t start treatment until they knew what it was. There are so many different types that you need to know how to treat it. You can’t just start giving him something when you don’t know the type of cancer he has. It was over a week until we actually found out. That was the hardest part. Knowing he had cancer, but not knowing how bad it was. They couldn’t say anything.”

Throughout the week of waiting for the diagnosis, worry set in for Riley’s parents. While there was nothing they could do at the time, Sherri and Dennis knew their son was a fighter.

“The whole team of doctors was there,” Sherri said. “I remember one guy asked me, ‘what is my biggest fear?’ That’s when it finally hit me. It was if they said they can’t do anything. That was my biggest fear. I didn’t care if we have to do this for a long time or what the treatments are like. Riley’s tough. He’ll do anything he has to do. He’s tough and he’s a fighter.”

While Riley’s parents were constantly thinking about what might come of this situation, Riley chose a different way to handle it. He handled the wait like he does all things. Not thinking about things he can’t control, and relying on his faith.

“At the time, I just tried not to think about it,” Riley said. “That’s just the kind of way I deal with stuff. Don’t think about it until I know for sure. I wasn’t getting worked up about it, but I didn’t know for sure what it was. It was pretty scary and stuff. Just praying and reading Bible verses gave me some comfort. I had that stuff to help me get through it.”

After more than a week of waiting for the official news from the doctors, Riley and his family got the report. Riley was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a cancer that starts in white blood cells. It usually grows in lymph nodes—the pea-sized glands in the neck, groin, armpits, and elsewhere that are part of the immune system.

The news that your kid has cancer is a scary moment for parents, but the doctors and medical staff quickly showed optimism for Riley.

“Once they finally figured out what it was, the doctor was able to come in and tell us what it was,” Dennis said. “He told us that this is one of the most treatable and curable cancers you can get, and we don’t use the world curable often when we talk about cancer. That was the best news we could hear.”

News about Riley’s diagnosis quickly spread around Mayer Lutheran. Within days, Riley’s basketball coach was there in his hospital room to offer his help in any way possible.

“It didn’t go to basketball for me,” Buchanan said about hearing the news. “When it came to me, I didn’t think about basketball. Basketball wasn’t important to me anymore. It was this kid going through something terrible. I wanted to know how could I support him the best – him and his family. The thought was how could I be there for him. I don’t know what they’re going through, but I wanted to be the best supporter that I could. That was my only thought.”

Among the good news of Riley’s diagnosis also came hard news. Riley’s goal of playing varsity basketball would be put on hold at the very least, and possibly forever.

“The first thought was he’s never going to play basketball again,” Sherri said. “Right in that mindset, Pat came into the hospital. He came up there and told us that we don’t have to come to the parents meeting for basketball and that we’ll just let you know what’s going on. I was like, ‘let us know what’s going on? He’s not playing basketball ever. What do you mean let us know what’s going on?’ I didn’t think there was anything to know about the season.”

As Sherri was unsure about her son playing basketball again, Buchanan made sure he had Riley’s jersey waiting for him when he was able to return to the floor.

“Pat’s next question was asking Riley what jersey he wanted,” Sherri said. “He was like, ‘you might not play this year, but you’re still on the team.’ I hadn’t really thought about it that way. That was huge. That was huge for Riley. From that moment, he knew he was still a part of the team.”

Riley began chemotherapy following the diagnosis. While there were certainly tough times for both Riley and his parents, Riley stayed steady throughout.

“I was a little nervous because he never showed any emotion,” Dennis said. “Through the whole process, he never cried once. To me, it was hard to keep it together when we were in front of him. We were trying to be strong. It was just hard for me to understand that he fully believed the doctors when they said he was going to beat this. It was a hard process. For him to totally believe, 100 percent, and not be worried was amazing.”

Steady as a rock throughout, there was never a doubt in Riley’s mind he would not only beat cancer but also return to the basketball court for his senior year.

“I had a lot of trust with the doctors and nurses,” Riley said. “They told me right away that this was curable and that they’ll make sure everything goes well. I knew I would get through this. The goal was to be ready for my senior season.”

As Riley began to work his way through treatment, his mother was right there beside him every step of the way. To see what Riley had to go through to get back to where he is now will always stick with her.

“The things he had to do,” Sherri said. “You don’t really realize it. I remember him having to do 10 squats. He could barely do them. You look and realize how difficult it was to do 10 squats in a hospital room during chemo. You look at that then, and now he’s sprinting up and down the court and starting to dunk. He had that mindset for sure.”

 

A COMMUNITY OF SUPPORT

Riley and his family were not alone throughout his battle with cancer. From his basketball team to the volleyball and football teams, as well as Mayer Lutheran as a whole, the support for the Kruegers was there from the beginning.

Throughout the volleyball season, the Crusaders wore #Play4RI T-shirts, including at the state tournament. The football team would carry a flag with the same message, all in support of their teammate, friend, and classmate.

During a Mayer Lutheran volleyball game, the student section wore all yellow (Riley’s favorite color) in support of their friend and classmate who was battling cancer.

During a Mayer Lutheran volleyball game, the student section wore all yellow (Riley’s favorite color) in support of their friend and classmate who was battling cancer.

“It made him feel like he was still a part of what was going on,” Dennis said. “Even though he wasn’t there, he still was part of it. It was very nice to have support from everybody.”

Riley’s basketball teammates found their own way to honor him, as well.

“That was the most important thing that year,” Buchanan said about Riley. “We were going to honor him every single day in whatever way we could. Whether we’re walking around in school, or we’re out here playing this game. We left his jersey number (No. 32) untouched. That was his. He was on that roster. The wristbands just unified us as a team and showed that we were there for him. We wanted to let it be known that we were there for him.”

The support for Riley and his family went beyond Mayer Lutheran. All of Riley’s nurses, doctors, and medical staff did anything possible to help make this battle easier for him and have him be able to come home and be with his team.

Bracelets were made and worn by players, classmates, and members of the community in support of Riley and his battle with cancer.

Bracelets were made and worn by players, classmates, and members of the community in support of Riley and his battle with cancer.

“They bent over backward for him,” Sherri said. “They would schedule transfusions on the day before a game so he wouldn’t be dizzy. All his counts and everything would be high enough. They bent over backward for him to be able to make games. They would count down the hours to make sure things worked for him so he could come sit on the bench.”

Having his jersey set aside, seeing his friends and classmates wear shirts for him meant the world to Riley. It was something that helped him throughout his battle with cancer.

“It meant a lot,” Riley said. “The school has been really good throughout my whole battle with cancer. All the sports teams, student sections, and teachers were incredible. It was just really good.”

THE RETURN TO THE GAME HE LOVES

Dec. 3, 2019, will be a special day for the Krueger family for years to come. After battling cancer and beating it, Riley would play in the first varsity game of his career to open the season for Mayer Lutheran. While Riley saw some time on the court with his team in the summer, he would be making his first official varsity appearance.

“In the summer, he got a couple of games in with the same coach and teammates,” Sherri said. “I remember it was like that feeling when you drop your kindergartener off at school for the first time. We looked up and he was taking his first free throw. You just felt he was my baby again and I didn’t want anyone to hurt him.”

Taking on the Bloomington Kennedy Eagles, Krueger checked into the game for the first time in the first half, for the first time since beating cancer.

“There are things and someone bigger than us out here in this world,” Buchanan said in an interview after the Bloomington Kennedy game. “To see a kid go through and fight cancer that he has been fighting, and to see him step up on the floor, it’s special. At the end of the day, basketball doesn’t matter. You look at that. Basketball doesn’t even matter. We’ve supported him and we were excited for him. Finally, he was in the huddle with us. We’re going to enjoy this. He’s going to enjoy this.”

Riley’s first game back was a goal for him all along. He finished with just four points in his first game back, but reaching his goal and playing the game he loves was the most important thing that night.

“It just feels great,” Krueger said following the game against Bloomington Kennedy. “After a whole year without it, I just really appreciate being back. Basketball, I just can’t live without it. Last season just made me really appreciate it.”I just wanted to play with all my heart and go from there.”

Mayer Lutheran senior Riley Krueger attempts a free throw in his first game back since beating cancer.

Mayer Lutheran senior Riley Krueger attempts a free throw in his first game back since beating cancer.

The moment wasn’t lost on Riley’s parents either.

“It was special,” Dennis said. “Very special. It was emotional to watch him go out there and play.”

With Krueger back at full strength, he’s been a big piece to the success for the Crusaders all season long. While basketball is certainly an important part of Riley’s life, his coach has been making sure his team can learn from Riley and what he’s already accomplished in his young life off the basketball court.

“We all go through certain things, but I don’t think any of us have gone through what he’s personally went through as a young man,” Buchanan said. “You can battle through everything. He’s a true testament to that. Some people think it’s a cliché statement, but it’s not. It’s true. When you’re able to battle through things like that, what’s going to hold you back from doing anything in this world? You can fight through a lot of things. It’s not just about the game of basketball, but to be able to help you through that in life. I think that’s the biggest lesson we can learn from that.”

While having Riley back on the court this season has been a blessing for Buchanan and the Crusaders, it pales in comparison to everything else he and his family have in front of them.

“It’s just the joy that he gets to do a lot of things in life now that may be in a nine-month span he never thought he would be able to do,” Buchanan said. “He gets the chance to watch his favorite teams. He gets to hug his mom and brother and dad. He gets to be with family and hang out with his good friends at school. I know basketball and being with this family is important too, but just the fact that he can wake up every morning right now and live a normal life is bigger. That’s a great blessing there that we got from above.”

As Krueger and Mayer Lutheran gear up for the section tournament and fight to keep their season alive, Buchanan will forever be grateful for the relationship the two of them have built on and off the basketball court.

“He’s a great kid,” Buchanan said. “Behind his quietness, there’s a super funny kid in there. I think you’ve got to be really lucky and really blessed to see that part of him. I think I’m lucky and blessed to see that part of him. He’s a special kid and I wish the world for him. I know he’ll accomplish great things.

Riley’s return to the Crusaders goes deeper than his coach. Fellow senior and lifelong friend Brady Harnung had to watch his friend go through one of the hardest times of his life at an early age. Flash forward to the present, and the two of them will finish off their high school basketball careers together on the court, something that wasn’t a given a year ago.

Riley Krueger and the Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team will open their postseason run Saturday, Feb. 29 at home against Cedar Mountain.

Riley Krueger and the Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team will open their postseason run Saturday, Feb. 29 at home against Cedar Mountain.

“It’s been great to have him back,” Harnung said. “He’s right back to where he left off. It’s just crazy to see the journey he’s been through. It’s just great to see him back. Being friends with him since sixth grade just makes it a lot better. It’s been so long that we’ve been playing together. Senior year has a lot of emotion with everything, so we’re just glad that we get to play together again. He inspires us to work hard for sure. He worked hard to conquer cancer. Now we need to work hard to get us to state. That’s our goal.”

Krueger and the Crusaders open Section 2A play Saturday, Feb. 29 when they host Cedar Mountain. While it will be Krueger’s first varsity playoff game, he knows how important this journey he’s been on is.

“This season has already gone by super fast,” Riley said. “Now, I’m thinking that I’ve got to work my hardest so we can finish the season the way we want to.”

Being forced into a battle with cancer at a young age takes its toll on you. Riley never gave up. He never will, and it’s taught him to make the most of every moment.

“It gives you a new outlook on life,” Krueger said. “It’s taught me to try the best in everything you can because you never know what could happen.”

TOURNAMENT CENTRAL: Updated brackets throughout area section tournaments

Playoff season is here once again and Herald Journal has you covered for all area teams. Bookmark this page to stay connected with updated brackets, scores, and news from area section basketball tournaments provided by Herald Journal Sports Editor Kip Kovar

Also, follow Kip Kovar on Twitter for in-game updates, breaking news, and stories throughout the postseason.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

 

UPDATED SECTION TOURNAMENT BRACKETS

SECTION 4A GIRLS BASKETBALL BRACKET

SECTION 5AA GIRLS BASKETBALL BRACKET

SECTION 2A NORTH BOYS BASKETBALL BRACKET

SECTION 2A SOUTH BOYS BASKETBALL BRACKET

SECTION 5AA BOYS BASKETBALL BRACKET

 

PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Mayer Lutheran tagged with No. 3 seed, LP/HT hits the road as No. 5 seed

The seedings and pairings for the Section 2A boys basketball team were released Saturday morning.

Being the No. 1-ranked team in Class A for most of the season, it was no surprise the BOLD Warriors were the top-seeded team in the Section 2A North Sub-Section. The Warriors are 24-1 on the season, and have one of the most explosive offenses in Class A. Led by Jordan Sagedahl, Gavin Voskia, and Drew Sagedahl, the Warriors are in position to break through for a section title after knocking on the door the past few seasons.

The New Ulm Cathedral Greyhounds are the No. 2 seed in the Section 2A North. Alain Woitas’ squad had another successful season, finishing with an overall record of 22-3. All three of NUC’s losses have come to ranked teams in Class A or AA.

Mayer Lutheran comes in as the No. 3 seed. The Crusaders, despite battling injuries all season long, still managed to post a record of 12-14 with a grueling schedule. Mayer Lutheran is 2-2 against Section 2A opponents. Their two wins are against Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity and Cleveland. Their two losses come to the top two seeds, BOLD and New Ulm Cathedral.

After winning just nine games in the past two seasons combined, the Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s Knights took a big step forward this season. SESM finished with a 14-12 overall record and is the No. 4 seed in the Section 2A North. The Knights are a member of the Tomahawk Conference. The Tomahawk Conference is arguably one of the toughest conferences in Class A.

Hoping to host a home game for the first time in two years, the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity Bulldogs will hit the road as the No. 5 seed. The Bulldogs finished the season with a 16-10 record and closed out the regular season with an impressive streak. LP/HT won eight of their final 10 games of the regular season. Their two losses in that stretch came to Mayer Lutheran and New Ulm Cathedral.

Below is a look at the seeds and schedule for the Section 2A tournament. Both Mayer Lutheran and LP/HT will open postseason action Saturday, Feb. 29. The Crusaders will host No. 6 Cedar Mountain. LP/HT will travel to No. 4 Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s. Both games are at 7 p.m.

SECTION 2A NORTH BOYS BASKETBALL SEEDS
1. BOLD

2. New Ulm Cathedral

3. Mayer Lutheran

4. Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s

5. Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity

6. Cedar Mountain

7. Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop

8. Cleveland

9. Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart

10. Sleepy Eye

 

SECTION 2A NORTH SCHEDULE

SECTION 2A NORTH PLAY-IN GAMES (Thursday, Feb. 27)

(10) Sleepy Eye at (7) G-F-W, 7 p.m.

(9) BLHS at (8) Cleveland, 7 p.m.

SECTION 2A NORTH QUARTERFINALS (Saturday, Feb. 29)

Winner of BLHS/Cleveland at (1) BOLD

Winner of Sleepy Eye/GFW at (2) New Ulm Cathedral

(6) Cedar Mountain at (3) Mayer Lutheran

(5) LP/HT at (4) Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s

SECTION 2A SOUTH BOYS BASKETBALL SEEDS

1. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown

2. Springfield

3. Mt. Lake/Comfrey

4. Nicollet

5. Martin County West

6. T/ML/GHEC

7. St. Clair

8. Loyola

9. Madelia

10. United South Central

11. Alden-Conger

To stay updated on all things for the Section 2A tournament, follow Herald Journal sports editor Kip Kovar on Twitter.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

 

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Crusaders claim top spot in Section 4A, Bulldogs earn No. 3 seed

The pairings and seedings for the Section 4A girls basketball tournament were released Saturday morning.

Mayer Lutheran received the top seed in Section 4A after finishing with an overall record of 21-5 this season. The Crusaders are the No. 6-ranked team in Class A.

Mayer Lutheran is by far the deepest team in the section. With talented seniors leading the way, combined with underclassmen looking to contribute, the Crusaders are hoping this is the year to breakthrough.

Heritage Christian Academy received the No. 2 seed. The Eagles are the defending Section 4A champions, and posted an overall record of 19-6. Heritage Christian Academy is ranked No. 8 in Class A.

The Eagles are led by the trio of Kirstin Robbins, Taylor Schuck, and Jordyn Allen. Heritage Christian can score in bunches, and if they get other role players to step up and contribute, will once again be a tough out this season.

The Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity Bulldogs earned the No. 3 seed in Section 4A. LP/HT coach Mike Lee and the Bulldogs had another strong season as they finished the regular season with an overall record of 16-10.

Marissa Radtke leads the charge for the Bulldogs. A proven scorer capable of putting up big numbers will once again be key for LP/HT. While Radtke draws a lot of attention, the Bulldogs have the pieces around her, as well. Taylor Ebert, Emily Rademacher, Paige Heimerl, Lizzy Anderson, Kara Lee, and Addison Hoof are all key pieces for LP/HT.

Below is a look at the rest of the seeds for the Section 4A tournament. Section 4A play begins Tuesday, Feb. 25 with the first round. Both Mayer Lutheran and LP/HT will kick off their postseason play Saturday, Feb. 29 at home.

SECTION 4A GIRLS BASKETBALL SEEDS

(1) Mayer Lutheran

(2) Heritage Christian

(3) Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity

(4) Legacy Christian Academy

(5) United Christian Academy

(6) Avail Academy

(7) West Lutheran

(8) Liberty Classical Academy

(9) Hope Academy

(10) PACT Charter

(11) Community of Peace Academy

(12) Eagle Ridge Academy

(13) Trinity

(14) Recording Arts

(15) Lincoln International

 

To stay updated on the Section 4A tournament, follow Herald Journal sports editor Kip Kovar on Twitter.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

CLASS A STATE GYMNASTICS: Youth shines on bright stage as Royals finish third at Class A state meet

ST. PAUL – The bright stage of the state gymnastics meet was no problem for the Watertown-Mayer/Mound Westonka gymnastics team. With no seniors and only one junior competing for the Royals, W-M/MW had their young talent on full display for the state to see as they finished third at the Class A state meet Friday afternoon at Roy Wilkins Auditorium. W-M/WM finished with a team score of 144.375 to reach the podium for the second time in the past three years.

“It feels awesome,” sophomore Anna Mielke said. “Coming in, we were really shooting for the top three, and we made it. It’s super exciting being surrounded by family and the people I love.”

Big Lake won the Class A title, finishing with a team score of 146.825. Perham finished in second, just edging the Royals with a score of 144.925.

The Royals, the six-time defending Section 5A champions, got a big boost from freshman Maggie McCabe. Just a freshman, McCabe was making her first appearance at the state meet, but came through in all three of her events to help lead W-M/MW.

“It was my first year competing,” freshman Maggie McCabe said. “It was a really great experience to finish so high with such a young team. It was super fun.”

While competing on the state’s biggest stage for the first time can nerve-racking, McCabe leaned on her teammates, and her teammates leaned on her, just like they have all season long.

“I just know my team has my back,” McCabe said about dealing with the nerves. “If one of us falls, I know we’ll pick each other up. We just have to go out there and do what we know.”

It was a season filled with improvement throughout each meet for the Royals. After losing several key seniors from last year’s state team, the Royals put in the work all year long to get back on the podium once again.

 It’s just really rewarding for this group,” W-M/MW coach Steve Hangartner said. “We started out so low, and we just built on that. They really improved. It’s a pretty fun group.”

 

Check back later for the full story on the W-M/MW gymnastics team taking third place at the Class A state gymnastics meet.

Try Hockey for Free Day Feb. 22 in Delano

Delano is hosting Try Hockey For Free Day Saturday, Feb. 22, from 12-1 p.m.

Only Equipment needed is Skates, Helmet and gloves
Questions Contact Kevin at kscotreed@gmail.com

Try Hockey For Free Day!
On Saturday, February 22, USA Hockey and 350 local associations across the country will host Try Hockey for Free Day. Participating locations encourage kids, ages 4 to 9, to come try youth hockey. All locations will have limited equipment available for use.

We need coaches to help out so if you are available please attend as we try to grow our organization and get more kids involved.

https://www.tryhockeyforfree.com