John's Journal
State Tourneys, Basketball Reunions And A Mystery Photo2/6/2012
With another Super Bowl in our rearview mirror, winter state tournaments can’t be far away. In fact this week marks the start of the fun, with the State One Act Play Festival at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

Class 1A plays will be performed Thursday and 2A schools will do the same on Friday. Eight section-winning plays will be performed each day between 9:15 a.m. and 4 p.m. (This photo from the 2011 festival is Bagley High School's presentation of "4 A.M." by Jonathan Dorf.)

Next week we’ll have the state ski meet (Alpine on Feb. 15, Nordic on Feb. 16) at Giants Ridge in Biwabik and the dance team state tourney on Feb. 17-18 at Target Center. Then comes a weekly run of tournaments…

Feb. 22-25/ Girls hockey at Xcel Energy Center, gymnastics at University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion.

March 1-3/ Wrestling at Xcel Energy Center, boys swimming at University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

March 7-10/ Boys hockey at Xcel Energy Center.

March 14-17/ Girls basketball at Williams Arena and Target Center, adapted floor hockey at Bloomington Jefferson.

March 21-24/ Boys basketball at Williams Arena and Target Center.

And Speaking of State Basketball Tournaments…

--Past state tournament championship basketball teams are encouraged to plan reunions around this year’s tournaments. Target Center suites are available for rent; the rental fee includes 22 admission tickets. For more information and to reserve a suite, call 612-673-8344. Also a special block of rooms has been set up at the Marriott City Center hotel for teams having reunions as well as other state tournament fans. Call the Marriott at 612- 349-4000 and ask for the Basketball Centennial Room Block. These rooms will be available until Feb. 24 for the girls tournament and March 2 for the boys tournament.

--HELP! The League is busy collecting memorabilia related to our celebration of 100 years of state basketball tournaments. A contributor has dropped off several "old" photographs, but we're not sure what school they may represent. The uniform (photo) has a large "C" on the jersey, flanked on both sides by what looks like wings. Any ideas? Send information to MSHSL director if information Howard Voigt at hvoigt@mshsl.org


BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 257
*Miles John has driven: 5,827

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Correspondent Report: Ulen-Hitterdal vs. Ada-Borup Boys Basketball2/4/2012
Here's a story from Friday night, detailing a big game in northwestern Minnesota...

No. 6 Spartans claim season's second win over No. 10 Cougars
One Gym, One Game, A Great Band And Enthusiastic Fans 2/1/2012
NORWOOD YOUNG AMERICA – Shortly after tipoff at Tuesday night’s boys basketball game between Mayer Lutheran and Norwood Young America, NYA coach Nat Boyer took his gaze off the game for a few seconds and looked across the court. He motioned for the NYA students to stay on their feet. After that, he didn’t have to remind the kids that their vocal chords were a vital component of the Raiders’ game plan.

The atmosphere at Norwood Young America – the district is known as Central Public Schools, also encompassing the communities of Bongards, Cologne and Hamburg – was electric for this Minnesota River Conference game. The winner would grab hold of second place in the league standings behind Watertown-Mayer and also elicit some bragging rights in the rivalry between schools that are less than 10 miles apart.

The pep band was terrific during pregame warm-ups, playing the Rocky theme song as the Raiders came running on the court. The repertoire of the band, under the direction of Adam Halpaus, also included the theme songs from Hawaii Five-O and Blazing Saddles, which warmed the musical heart of folks old enough to remember when those tunes were new. Fans bought walking tacos at the concession stand and came walking into the gym eating their walking tacos. The NYA players traded low fives with the band’s tuba player as they warmed up and some of the junior varsity basketball players – still in uniform – grabbed their instruments and took their spots with the band. The dance team put on a great halftime show.

The Norwood Young America student section was on point from start to finish, chanting and cheering, always standing. They froze in place while Raiders shot free throws, they stomped and they swayed as the home team got off to a rapid start and recorded a 69-54 victory.

“That’s what we needed to do,” said Boyer, who is in his first year at NYA after previous coaching stints at Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton. “We knew we had to get off to a quick start and get our crowd, our sixth man, involved. I think that’s so important in high school basketball.

“(The students) ask me, ‘Do you want us to get into it?’ That’s what I wanted to bring here when I came, was to get the crowd into it. It’s about letting these boys come out and having that support behind them. It’s their show. This is their show and that’s what I want it to be.”

The sixth man had plenty to cheer for right away. The Raiders (10-6 overall, 5-3 conference) came out pressing and running and firing off three-point shots. A typical sequence went like this: Raiders center Luke Marschall blocks a shot, the ball is fired downcourt, Reid Stacken hits a three, the NYA lead builds and the faithful go nuts.

Five players scored in double figures for NYA, led by Ryan Marschall with 17 and Tom Messner with 15. Anthony Gruenhagen had 25 for Mayer Lutheran (14-4, 5-4).

NYA’s press pestered Mayer Lutheran throughout the game, which agan was part of the plan.

“That’s the way we play,” Boyer said. “We try to put as much pressure as possible on teams and make them make mistakes. We use a defensive style that’s known nationwide as ‘thug ‘em, mug ‘em.’ We want to be tough with them and make sure they’re as uncomfortable as can be. That’s what we look for. And if we can get it going on the defensive end, that’s going to lead our offense. It’s like they say: offense wins games, defense wins championships.”

In the first meeting between the two teams, Mayer Lutheran won 60-49 in Mayer on Dec. 22. Norwood Young America didn’t have its full roster that night, and playing rapid-fire basketball while down a man is tough. But the Raiders’ complete cast was on hand for the rematch, including the sixth man.

“I can’t say enough about our sixth man,” Boyer said.

That’s OK, coach. They speak for themselves.

--To see a photo gallery from the game, as well as video of the NYA student section and pep band, go the MSHSL Facebook page.

--Knowing my affection for a certain soft drink, Boyer had a cold case of Diet Coke waiting for me at the scorer’s table. Those 24 cans made their way to MSHSL World Headquarters on Wednesday, and you can see some photos from that event on the MSHSL Facebook page, too.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 257
*Miles John has driven: 5,827

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
New Richland Super Sophomore Carlie Wagner Is A Player To Watch1/30/2012
NORTHFIELD -- In preparing his team to face New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and super sophomore Carlie Wagner on Saturday, Goodhue girls basketball coach Josh Weime used other talented opponents as comparisons.

“We tried to compare her to girls we play: ‘She’s kind of like this, but quicker. She’s kind of like that, but faster, shoots better, jumps higher.’ ”

In other words, Wagner is capable of doing a lot on the basketball court. In fact, Weime said, “She does things that we never see. How do you prepare if you don’t see it?”

Not surprisingly, Wagner was the star of Saturday’s non-conference game at Carleton College, scoring a school-record 39 points. New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, the second-ranked team in Class 2A, recorded a 77-68 victory over the Wildcats, who are No. 2 in 1A. NRHEG improved to 20-0 and Goodhue is 17-3.

New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva is one of only five undefeated girls basketball teams in the state, and the only one in 2A. (The others are Hopkins in 4A and Parkers Prairie, North Woods and Win-E-Mac in 1A.) Wagner has been a key to the Panthers’ success, and Saturday’s school record was only her latest headline.

University of Minnesota coach Pam Borton came to the first practice of the season at NRHEG. … Wagner scored her 1,000 career point in the ninth game of her sophomore year. … She holds the school record in the high jump. … In the first half Saturday, Wagner outscored the entire Goodhue team 22-21.

Opposing coaches have been trying to figure out ways to slow Wagner for years. NRHEG coach John Schultz, who was a youth coach when Wagner was in elementary school, remembers a fourth-grade coach shouting “Take her left side away! She’s lefthanded!” Wagner, however, is not lefthanded. “You can’t tell the difference,” Schultz said.

Wagner, a 5-foot-10 guard, dribbles and scores with either hand. She throws lob passes to talented teammates Anna Schlaak and Jade Schultz, who like Wagner are highly skilled in other sports, too. Schlaak, a 6-foot senior, will play volleyball at NCAA Division II powerhouse Concordia University in St. Paul. Schultz, sophomore daughter of the coach, is a dominating pitcher during the softball season.

Wagner is more prone to pass than shoot, and John Schultz said he has to remind Carlie that it’s OK to put the ball in the hoop.

“She will turn it over sometimes or be too unselfish, and I keep telling her, ‘Keep shooting.’ In her mind I think she knows how many points she gets and she wants to get rid of the ball. That’s the kind of person she is; she’s trying to keep her teammates satisfied.

“She’s a very humble kid. She’s worried more about her teammates and succeeding as a team.”

Saturday’s game was a chance for both teams to prepare for the postseason. The West Gym at Carleton College is a 94-foot court, the same size as Williams Arena and Target Center, where the state tournament will be held in March. NRHEG used the long court to full advantage, running a rapid-fire transition offense with defensive rebounds setting up lengthy passes to Wagner for easy layups.

“To tell you the truth I don’t even remember if any of the kids knew what offense we were running, because it was all transition,” John Schultz said. “Even if they had one kid back we were going to force the issue and push to the hole.”

Most of Wagner’s 22 first-half points came in a half-court offense, while the bulk of her 17 second-half points came on fast-break layups. With sophomore Mikayla Miller (30 points, 10 rebounds and five steals) leading the way, Goodhue whittled down NRHEG’s lead late in the second half. As the Wildcats were forced to foul in the final couple minutes, Wieme hollered, “Anybody but three!” Number 3 is Wagner, of course.

She said she’s been surprised by the attention she is receiving as a sophomore.

“You’ve just got to kind of go with it,” she said. “It’s exciting and cool and it’s kind of like you weren’t expecting it at this age. You just go with the flow.”

Another pleasant surprise has been the Panthers’ success this season. “We knew it was going to be special, but I don’t think we quite had the idea in our head that we were going to go undefeated,” Wagner said. “But it’s happened and we’re working really hard and molding together really well. Our chemistry is really strong on and off the court, and we just work really hard.”

With two high school seasons remaining after this one, Wagner’s future is bright. And there are more Wagners on the way; in fact seventh-grade twins Maddie and Marnie Wagner (pictured with Carlie) are already seeing some varsity playing time.

Carlie is the family star on the basketball court, but Marnie owns a 1-0 lead on Carlie in one statistic: total number of deer taken during the hunting season.

“She blew me out of the water,” Carlie said.

Marnie and Maddie saw some second-half playing time Saturday, and fans will keep seeing all the Wagner girls.

“We’re young,” John Schultz said. “Hopefully we’ll be around for a while.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 255
*Miles John has driven: 5,745

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
It’s Not The Score That Matters … It’s How Much Fun You Have1/27/2012
KENYON – Ninety seconds into Friday’s night girls basketball game between Pine Island and Kenyon-Wanamingo, we had a horse race in the making. Kenyon-Wanamingo senior star Shelby Auseth knocked down a three-point shot on the game’s first possession and Pine Island’s Courtney Pahl answered with a three ball on the other end. Boom boom and away we go, right?

From that point on, however, offense took a back seat. Way in the back, back by the tailgate. The final score was Pine Island 47, Kenyon-Wanamingo 30 and postgame questions about shot clocks were spoken in hushed tones.

But here is a key fact: Pine Island’s averages this year are 47 (offense) and 32 (defense). So the Panthers’ pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-shoot offensive plan and hustle-hustle-rebound-rebound defensive tactics worked out pretty nicely for the visiting team. And a visitor from the MSHSL had a grand time, as well, in his first visit to Kenyon-Wanamingo.

Auseth was the most effective scorer on the court, and that’s the case almost every time the 5-foot-9 senior sets foot on the court. She came in with a 25-point scoring average, and the fact that her team had a grand total of 30 says something about not only Pine Island’s defensive effort but about the style of play.

The Knights would much rather fight it out in an up-and-down, full-throttle contest, but coach Brent Lurken realized beforehand that Pine Island would not follow that script.

“That’s kind of where we thrive, and we knew they were going to slow it down,” he said. “Usually it’s a lot easier to slow a game down than it is to speed it up. But they’re a good team and they play great defense.”

This was an important game in the Hiawatha Valley League Blue division, where teams are starting to see some separation. Pine Island came into the game carrying a No. 7 ranking in Class 2A and a record of 18-1; the Panthers were 17-0 until a week earlier, when they lost at Goodhue, the No. 2 team in 1A.

That fact alone – Pine Island’s loss to Goodhue – should have brought some optimism to Kenyon-Wanamingo, considering that the Knights had defeated Goodhue three weeks ago (before Goodhue, uh oh, beat K-W in the rematch last Tuesday).

With Friday’s loss, Kenyon-Wanamingo fell to 13-5. That’s a great record considering the competition the Knights face, and the future is bright when look at all the young players on the squad: there are an awful lot of 10s and 9s on the “Grade” portion of the roster.

“We’re excited about the future,” Lurken said. “We have a lot of younger girls who play and they’re talented and our junior high teams are looking strong. So we’re excited about the future.”

Pine Island coach Rick Canton explained with great precision why his team’s games are so low-scoring: “Our games are low-scoring because people have a hard time scoring points on us.” Exactly.

“Some teams have slowed the game down on us,” he said. “On Tuesday (in a 42-38 win) Zumbrota-Mazeppa really slowed the game down on us. They went to some half-court sets. We don’t really like to do that. We like to transition. We didn’t press tonight because of Shelby Auseth; if she gets loose she’s so hard to defend.”

TIDBITS …

--The play of the game may have come in the final minutes, when Pine Island was attempting to strangle the clock under a Kenyon-Wanamingo full-court press. As Cede Finstuen held the ball in the backcourt and looked for an open teammate, Canton saw one of his players in the clear right in front of the bench. The coach pointed to the target and shouted, “Right here! Right here! Right here!” And sure enough, Cede threw the ball right to the coach. He made a solid two-handed catch and said, “Thank you.”

--The halftime entertainment was grand. For a dollar, anyone could attempt a half-court shot. Three kids hit the shot and won a two-liter bottle of pop.

--The unsung hero of the Pine Island team is senior Brenna Lien (right). She chose to give up playing basketball this season but the coaches wanted her to remain part of the team. So she plays a crucial role during every game, tracking statistics on an iPad.

“Brenna decided after last year that she wasn’t going to go out,” Canton said. “She’s a great kid and we asked her right before the season started, ‘Do you want to do our stats? We have an iPad, we want you to be part of it.’ She said she would love to. I hated to see her give up basketball because she’s such a great kid. But it shows a lot about all the girls in our program, that someone who decided to not play comes back and wants to be part of the program.”

--One final note: I could have watched the Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs play at Target Center on Friday evening, sitting in a suite via a free ticket that had been offered.But it was an easy decision for me to drive to the gym in Kenyon instead. In fact, I didn’t think twice.

--To see a photo gallery from the game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 253
*Miles John has driven: 5,701

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn