Open letter to the Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team

Dear Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team,

When I enrolled at Winona State University in the spring of 2011, I wasn’t 100 percent sure of what I wanted to do. After switching around between a few majors, I finally decided to settle on journalism for a career. I fell in love with the idea of getting to know people, and being able to tell their stories. It’s a special feeling to be able to capture a moment and put it into words. Combine that with sports, and it was a no-brainer.

During my first true journalism class, my professor stressed the idea of being unbiased, and keeping your personal thoughts and opinions out of the story. I’d like to think I’ve done a good job of that in my two-plus years in this field thus far, but this year it was tough.

As an alumni of Mayer Lutheran, who just so happened to play basketball there as well, it was very tough to try and stay neutral about this team. It wasn’t just hard because Mayer Lutheran is my alma matter, it was tough because I knew a good chunk of the kids on the team on a personal level.

Whether it was running the summer camps for youth players as a member of the varsity team, or just helping out with the Knights program on weekends when I had the time, I got to be around these kids when they were at a young age. Watching these kids develop into good basketball players, and even better people, was something truly special.

It’s Cole Hagen and Baden Noennig. Both were just young boys hanging around at the summer basketball camps. It was working with them on the little things that make the differences in games. I’d like to say that my coaching was a big reason for the success those two had, but we all know that’s not true. They’ve had the talent all along, and now the whole state got to see what they could do.

Cole, when you hit that shot to beat the buzzer to beat Springfield in the Section 2A title game, you gave me a memory, and a moment, that I will never forget. From watching you as just a kid and working with you at summer camps, to sending your team to the state tournament for the first time since 2000, it’s something I’ll never forget. It’s even a better moment knowing everything you’ve gone through this season in your final season in a Crusader uniform. Congrats, Cole. Congrats on a great career, and becoming an even better man.

Baden, the sky is the limit for you, young man. Keep your head down, work hard, and most of all, be yourself. I’m looking forward to one more year covering you in red and black. The coaches in the Minnesota River Conference will be glad you’re gone after next year.

It’s Branden Carlson and Matthew Menth.  We go way back to the Zion Mayer days. Whether it was you two coming to all our games during my career, or the careers and legacy the two of you have both left,  at Zion, and now at Mayer Lutheran. I couldn’t be more proud to see those two guys who work so hard in everything they do. You two do it the right way, and it’s been a pleasure to watch the two of you grow as athletes and people.

It’s Kobey Woolhouse and Garrett Tjernagel. During spring break of my freshman year in college, I got a text asking if I wanted to come and help coach some seventh and eighth-graders over weekend. Loving the game of basketball, the choice was an easy one. Woolhouse and Tjernagel were both on that team that weekend, and it was only just a couple of tournaments, but I knew if those two stuck it out and worked hard, they could do something special. I wasn’t wrong about that. Congrats to both of you on fantastic careers at Mayer Lutheran. The future is bright for both of you, wherever life takes you.

It’s been an incredible season. I know the goal of a state title came up a bit short, but take a look back on what you accomplished this season.

29 wins – A school record.

Third place Class A State Tournament – Best season in program history.

Those two things are nice, but take this from a guy who still gets goosebumps every time he walks into a gym before a game. Take it from a guy who’s been out of high school for seven years and still wishes for just one more game with his brothers. Remember the little things about this team. Remember the laughs. Remember the good times. Remember the bad times. That’s what matters.

It’s Coach Pat Buchanan. When I first interviewed you for a story about the coaching change, I could tell you were something special. You won me over when you said that you’ll make them play defense.  This was a talented group who just needed the right guy to get them over the hump. There’s no doubt that was you. Congrats on a fantastic season, and I truly thank you for everything this season. As a journalist who covered your team, and as alumni who spent many years (and blood, for that matter) in this program.

Despite playing on two really good teams in my career, I never got the experience of playing in the state tournament. In fact, my playoff career was pretty much the opposite of what you boys accomplished this season. My junior year, we lost in the sub-section semifinals in a battle against Sibley East. My senior year, we lost on a shot at the buzzer that was eerily similar to Cole’s shot.

I won more than 60 games in my high school career. A lot of them felt really good, and there’s plenty I remember to this day. No game in Mayer Lutheran history will top knocking off Springfield at the buzzer, and I wasn’t even on the team. I think I speak for a lot of former players in this program by saying thank you. Thank you for representing Mayer Lutheran on the state’s biggest stage.

Congrats on an incredible season, and to the six seniors, congrats on great careers. You made history. You’ve left a legacy, and have taken this program to where it has never been before. Thanks for letting me be part of the ride.

Go Crusaders.

 

Sincerely,

 

#35 (Class of 2011)

2 comments

  1. Mom says:

    More than a game. You’ve always known that. Your writing proves it

  2. James Hennig says:

    As a grandparent and lover of basketball, I have watched the game for many years from the days of Bob Cousy (sp) and the Boston Celtics to now. I have really enjoyed watching the Mayer boys play the game at a much deserved state tournament level. They truly have raised the standard of play and have given future teams a high mark to follow. Most of all I am very proud of their humility in the midst of victory. Congratulations on an outstanding season.