Monday, December 20, 2010

MSU basketball team earns nice break for holidays

Saturday's victory at Winona State was an early holiday present for the Minnesota State men's basketball team, and the Mavericks have two weeks off before home games against Minnesota Crookston and Minnesota State-Moorhead Jan. 1-2.
The Mavericks, who are 3-1 on the road, are the surprising leaders in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference race, tied with Minnesota Duluth and a full game ahead of four teams, including St. Cloud State and Winona State, two of the top threats in the league. And not for a couple of bad possessions late in the game at St. Cloud State, the Mavericks could be undefeated.
For the first time in coach Matt Marenthaler's career, which has now reached 200 victories, his team is an overachieving bunch whose sum is greater than the parts. This is a team that might not get a player of the week award, though Jefferson Mason and Marcus Hill are always a possibility, but it's a team that thrives on toughness and defensive intensity.
Winona State might be "the bad mix of good players," which has described past Minnesota State teams at times.
You still wonder how this bunch of Mavericks will fare in the final two months of the regular season and playoffs. Will the lack of size hurt? Winona State went hard to the offensive boards Saturday, and had the Warriors converted more often, the outcome may have been different. Other teams will try to do the same thing, especially Southwest Minnesota State.
But for now, the Mavericks are in first place with winnable games coming up against Minnesota Crookston and Minnesota State-Moorhead. When the regional rankings come out in mid-January, the Mavericks could begin at No. 1.
Who would have thought that?
The roster remaions in flux. Backup center Mitch Grundman didn't play last week with a bad back, though Mike Bisenius saw his first action since suffering a collapsed lung during a fall in practice Dec. 9. Anthony Brant, who has shown glimpses of the 3-point prowess he's supposed to have, but Margenthaler said that a knee injury has bothered Brant, who wants to take off the rest of the season and apply for a medical redshirt.
It's going to be an interesting final two months of the regular season for Minnesota State, which should make it fun to watch.

Friday, December 17, 2010

MSU men's, women's basketball vs. Winona State

Weber, Freisen earn all-state honors

The Associated Press' al-state football team finally came out Thursday, and Mankato West's Drew Weber and Hunter Friesen both earned second-team honors.
Weber, a senior linebacker, was named the Big Nine Conference's defensive player of the year, making 25 solo tackles and 131 assists. Freisen, a junior cornerback, had nine interceptions, including three in the playoffs.
Several area players received honorable mention, including Nick Kaus, Philip Nelson and Adam Athey from West.
Other local honorable-mentions were defensive lineman Michael Kroells of Belle Plaine; running back Zach Tvedten of Blue Earth Area; running back Mario Arroyo of Le Center; defensive end Cole Brown of Minnesota Valley Lutheran; lineman Dan Simon of New Ulm Cathedral; quarterback Sean Murphy, receiver Jamie Fischer and defensive back Nick Mans of Nicollet; lineman Teddy DuFrane of Sibley East; and quarterback Conrad Masberg and receiver Jordan Gregor of Waterville-Elysian-Morristown;
The player of the year was De La Salle running back Reggie Gandy, whom Le Sueur-Henderson fans might never forget from the state quarterfinals.

Monday, December 13, 2010

East, West hoops doubleheader on Tuesday

Mankato East and Mankato West meet in a girls-boys basketball doubleheader Tuesday, with the girls game starting at 6 p.m. at the East gym.
These games have been moved back to the respective campuses, with the rematch Feb. 1 at East.
Again this season, the girls game should be more competitive. East has lost its first five games, though three have been within five points, while West is 0-2.
Both boys team lost their opener, with East winning big at New Ulm and West losing big at home against Shakopee. West has owned this series lately, though that should change this season.
The East-West rivalry doesn't have the shine that it did five or six years ago, when there was college-level talent playing before big crowds at Minnesota State.

Friday, December 10, 2010

First real road test for MSU basketball

The Minnesota State men's basketball team plays road games at 7:30 p.m. today at Concordia-St. Paul and 6 p.m. Saturday at St. Cloud State. It's the first real test of the season as the Mavericks have opened the seaosn with six victories.
Concordia-St. Paul has some size so that may cause problems for the undersized Mavericks, and St. Cloud State has strong perimeter players, such as Taylor Witt, Brett Putz and Andrew Bernstetter. Saturday's matchup is clearly better against the Huskies.
As was written in the print edition Friday, this is a different Minnesota State team, built on defense and toughness. There's a lot less flash and more grit on the team, and the likelihood of the 94-88 type games is far less. Look for more scores in the 60s and 70s.
It's easy to have watched the last four home games and conclude that this team isn't as talented as past Minnesota State squads, but the Mavericks are winning differently. Coach Matt Margenthaler was asked last week if this was the best defensive team he's had in 10 seasons at Minnesota State, and the answer was a quick "yes."
Maybe ask Augustana's Cody Schilling, who scored only six points against the Mavericks last week. Witt is one of the premier players in the Northern Sun, and he's struggled against the Mavericks at times.
There might not be as many highlight-reel plays, but the success has been the same. You just have to adjust the way you evaluate this team's performance.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Who did you think would coach the Gophers?

It's amazing to hear the negative reaction about Jerry Kill's hiring as the football coach at the University of Minnesota.
You'd think the new coach has no chance of ever being successful with the Gophers. Why?
Because he's never coached at a major program? Because he's never won a national championship?
Kill has had a nice career, making incremental steps toward this job. His Northern Illlinois team was certainly better than the Gophers this season so why couldn't Kill do a better job at Minnesota?
It should be clear now that no big-time coach, outside of of Mike Leach, wanted to be the Gophers coach. This job is a coach-killer. No coach has left this job for a better one since Lou Holtz broke the faithful's hearts by jumping to Notre Dame.
It's time for the fans to realize that this is not a good job. You're playing in a power conference against a couple of the top teams in the country. Adding Nebraska next season isn't going to help the record. It's a program that lacks any vibe, either from the administration or the public.
The Tim Brewster experiment was such a failure that the program is years away from being competitive in the Big Ten. 
Coaches with options don't come here, which is why Leach publicly lobbied for the job. You have to take a chance on an up-and-comer who's willing to work hard to build something from scratch.
Is that Kill? We'll find out. History suggests that no one can make the Gophers into perennial winners.
Why not give Kill a chance? He can't do much worse than the coaches here for the last 40 years.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

MSU women, men vs. Augustana

Friday, December 3, 2010

MSU basketball vs. Wayne State

Thursday, December 2, 2010

More shakeup for MSU men's basketball

Minnesota State men's basketball coach Matt Margenthaler has booted another player from the team for bad attitude.
Andre Gilbert, a transfer from Kansas State, was dismissed on Wednesday, and Margenthaler said it was a good move for both parties.
Gilbert, who was suspended for the first two games of the season, played sparingly in last weekend's two games. He was clearly out of shape, though he would have been a big body that the Mavericks could have used.
A couple of weeks ago, Margenthaler booted transfer A.J. Wilson for his Randy Moss-like attitude.
Margenthaler has brought plenty of transfers into the program, and most have flourished. Luke Anderson, Jamel Staten, Atila Santos and Travis Nelson all began their careers at Division I programs, but there have also been Wilson, Gilbert and Zach Kiekow, who came here in the early 2000s but his "big-time" attitude didn't fit in.
You win some when you play the "transfer game," and you lose some.
Gilbert and Wilson won't be missed, but their departure leaves the team shorthanded as it begins Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play this weekend.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Final thoughts on Cathedral championship

Now that there's been some time to digest what happened during New Ulm Cathedral's run to the Class A football championship, there's a few thoughts that remain.
Obviously, the Greyhounds had a special streak, losing the season-opener against Springfield before rattling off 13 straight victories. The rematch against Springfield in the section championship was the first hurdle to clear, then came an easy victory over Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City in the state quarterfinals.
The 34-33 semifinal victory over Minneota was the most memorable. Two evenly matched teams, with the outcome decided by quarterback Kevin Larson, who wasn't asked to throw much during the regular season.
The championship game seemed like it would be anticlimactic as Cathedral jumped ahead early. But Barnesville responded, and when Larson was unable to play in the second half, the outcome was in jeopardy.
However, Cathedral adjusted, using a running back at quarterback and trusting in an inexperienced junior quarterback later, and the defense stuffed any momentum as the program claimed its first state title.
As I pondered nominations for The Associated Press' all-state team, I figured Cathedral must have players worthy of that honor. But it was hard to single anyone out. This team was truly greater than the sum of its parts.
Cathedral has had some good runs at the state championship in the past, and this one finally was finished.
It's a great accomplishment, one that might be overdue for coach Denny Lux and a talented group of players.

Friday, November 19, 2010

MSU men's basketball team shorthanded

Minnesota State men's basketball team has already run into some problems with the roster as they participate in a California tournament tonight and Saturday. Both games begin at 7:30 p.m. CST and can be heard on KYSM 1230-AM.
Senior A.J. Wilson, a transfer from Murray State, has been dismissed from the team for what coach Matt Margenthaler called an "attitude that was detrimental to the team." Wilson didn't appear to want to play here, and his actions and attitude were Randy-Moss-like.
Senior Andre Gilbert, a transfer from Kansas State, has been suspended through the weekend for violating team rules. Gilbert has been recovering from an ankle injury and must have been late to practice or some other minor violation that caused Margenthaler to leave Gilbert at Mankato.
Mike Bisenius will be sidelined through December after suffering a paritally collapsed lung during a fall in practice. Bisenius has been bitten by the injury bug during his time at Minnesota State and hasn't been able to get on the court. His presence would be helpful as the Mavericks have had to go small with the lineup.
Guard Anthony Brant, who is probably the team's best perimeter threat, will be out for another week with a knee injury.
The team will probably only go nine deep in the two games this weekend, then hope for some of the others to get healthy. It's been a rough first month of the season for the Mavericks.

New Ulm Cathedral vs. Minneota, Class A football semifinals

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And then there was one; Cathedral still standing

Four area high-school football teams made it to the state tournament, but New Ulm Cathedral is the only one to make it out of the quarterfinal round.
Mankato West lost to Mahtomedi, though that outcome might have been different had the Scarlets added to their 14-7 lead with the first drive of the third quarter.
Nicollet lost to Underwood, which definitely benefitted from poor weather. Nicollet's spread offense struggled in the cold, snow and wind, but that's the deal you make when you choose that offensive style in Minnesota.
Le Sueur-Henderson was rolled by DeLaSalle, but the Giants might have preferred to play outdoors, as scheduled Saturday. Instead, the game was moved Monday to Metrodome, which highlighted DeLaSalle's speed and size.
Cathedral disposed of Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City in the quarterfinals, but the Greyhounds' challenge is tougher in the semifinals Saturday against Minneota, which was rated No. 1 for most of the season before taking a loss. Minneota has won four state championships, including last season.
Cathedral will need to rely on its tested formula of a ground game that controls the ball and the clock and a stingy defense that rarely gives up more than one score per game.
Cathedral has only advanced to the championship game once, in 2006, but lost in the finals. Another trip to the championship game wouldn't be out of the question.
You can follow my live blog from Saturday's game.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What to watch for in high-school playoffs

The high-school football tournament begins Friday, with four local teams playing this week.
Mankato West takes on Mahtomedi at 7 p.m. Friday at Chanhassen. You can follow the game by clicking on the Cover It Live icon on this page or on the Free Press home page.
West hadn't been challenged until last week's Section 2AAAA championship game against Marshall, and its a testament to the team's preparation that the first tight game wasn't the last. West will need to play better to beat Mahtomedi.
Le Sueur-Henderson survived a four-game losing streak to rebound oin the postseason. The Giants were seeded fifth in Section 2AAA and defeated St. Paul Highland Park (4), Waseca (1) and Minneapolis Washburn (2) to advance to the state tournament for the third time in four seasons.
In Class A, New Ulm Cathedral lost the season-opener at Springfield, then waited nine game to get revenge, defeating Springfield in the championship game. Cathedral has a lot of state-tournament experience but haven't got out of the quarterfinals in the last two seasons.
Nicolle has been runner-up in Class Nineman three times since 1999, including last season's loss to Stephen-Argyle in the championship game. But Stephen-Argyle, which has seven state titles in the last 11 seasons, was eliminated in section play.
If Nicollet could get to the championship game, the oppponent might be Edgerton/Ellsworth. Those teams tied for the Southern Confederacy title but didn't play each other this season.

Mankato West football live blog

Sunday, October 31, 2010

No. 1 seeds look good in football playoffs

The No. 1 seeds in Section 2 had a pretty easy time of it in the high-school football playoffs Saturday, with the exception of Waseca in Class AAA.
The Bluejays ran into an inspired Le Sueur-Henderson team that used a power rushing attack with a couple of well-timed passes, to win 42-20 and advance to the championship game at Minneapolis Washburn. LSH has recovered nicely from a four-game losing streak in the middle of the regular season.
It wasn't a good night for the South Central Conference as Blue Earth Area lost 40-13 at Washburn and Fairmont lost to Glencoe-Silver Lake in Section 3AAA.
Mankato West dominated Waconia 43-14 in Section 2AAAA, but the game wasn't that close. West scored on its first play and had a 30-0 lead at halftime. It would be surprising if Friday's section championship game against Marshall is any closer, though a knee injury to leading receiver Nick Kaus could be a concern for the Scarlets.
Waterville-Elysian-Morristown flexed its Section 2AA muscle with a 46-16 victory over New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva. The Bucs, the top-rated team in Class AA and defending state champion, faces undefeated Triton in the championship game. It seems that this section title goes to one of these teams every year.
Nicollet hasn't been challenged much this season, and we'll see if Cleveland, the No. 6 seed in the section, can pull off the upset or if Nicollet can get back to the state tournament.
Another good game in the area will be played at Springfield, which hosts New Ulm Cathedral. Unbeaten Springfield handed Cathedral its only loss in the season-opener.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No big surprises in football playoffs

A couple of lower-seeded teams won, but the high-school football playoffs didn't produce many upsets Tuesday night. It sounded like the high winds were a factor in nearly every game.

New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva got revenge for a regular-season loss to Maple River by winning 14-8 in the Section 2AA playoffs. In the regular-season meeting, NRHEG was minus-5 in turnovers, but the Panthers were plus-5 in the rematch, which they won 14-8.
NRHEG has a tough game coming up Saturday against Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, which won 46-6 the first time these teams played. Interestingly, NRHEG has won all five of its road games this season.

Waseca rolled to a 70-0 victory over Minneapolis Roosevelt in Section 2AAA and now have an interesting matchup against Le Sueur-Henderson, which handled St. Paul Highland Park 52-7.

The best game of the night was in St. Clair, where Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton rallied from a 28-12, fourth-quarter deficit to win 34-28 in overtime. Up next for JWP is Nicollet, which defeated the Bulldogs 48-20 in the regular season.

Monday, October 25, 2010

High-school football playoffs begin Tuesday

The postseason for high-school football begins Tuesday, and though not every local team is playing, there are some intirguing matchups.
In Class AAAA, Mankato East plays at Waconia, whose top player is quarterback Max Williams, whom East coach Dave Frisell descirbes as a mirror image on Cougars' quarterback Abe Kolstad. Williams is the son of former NFL lineman Brian Williams, who played the majority of his career with the New York Giants.
This game will be won in the offensive and defensive lines, which could give East an advantage. The winner gets unbeaten Mankato West on Saturday.
In Section 2AA, top-seeded Waterville-Elysian-Morristown should win easily, but unbeaten Triton awaits on the other side of the bracket.
Maple River takes on New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva in a rematch from three weeks ago. In that game, NRHEG commited seven turnovers. If the Panthers can hold onto the ball, it should be a competitive game.
In another rematch, the nine-man game between Cleveland and Truman should be interesting. The game will be played at Madelia because Truman's field is still not playable from last month's flooding. Cleveland won the first game 32-6, starting a three-game winning streak. The Bluejays have been banged up, playing the top teams in the Southern Confederacy late.
Section 2A looks pretty tough as unbeaten Springfield in the top seed, followed by New Ulm Cathedral (7-1), Le Center (7-1) and Cedar Mountain/Comfrey (6-2). If the top seeds win Tuesday, that should provide interesting semifinals Saturday.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Here comes the Jug

Mankato East takes on Mankato West at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Blakeslee Stadium, and while many don't think the annual crosstown game will be competitive, it's always an exciting atmosphere.
Undefeated West, ranked No. 2 in Class AAAA, is the heavy favorite. The offense, led by junior quarterback Philip Nelson, is averaging more than 40 points per game while allowing only 20 points to seven opponents. No opponent has had two scores of any kind in a game.
It all starts with Nelson, who has completed nearly 75 percent of his passes for more than 1,500 yards with 22 touchdowns, just eight short of the program's single-season record established by Ray Teachout in 2008. Nelson already holds the careee record of 51 touchdown passes, and with another season, he could make that mark untouchable.
East has to keep Nelson, who is also the Scarlets' leading rusher, in check and not let receivers Nick Kaus, Hunter Friesen and Des Spann run free. East can't get into a shootout, though West's defense probably wouldn't allow that.
East needs to control the clock with its running game, which a couple of weeks ago, produced two 16-play drives in a victory over Winona. However, West is tough to run on up the middle so quarterback Abe Kolstad and running back Tevyn Schmidt may need to get some yards on their own..
East leads the Jug series 22-15, though West has won the last four. Last season, West prevailed 51-0 on a muddy Todnem Field.
A victory would give West at least a share of its second straight Big Nine Conference championship. The Scarlets have already locked up the No. 1 seed in Section 2AAAA and a first-round bye.
A victory for East probably wouldn't be enough to move the Cougars up to No. 4 in the section and a home game in the first round, but it would be a huge confidence boost for the playoffs.
Given how many people have attended home games at Todnem Field and Wolverton Field this season, there could be a nice crowd Wednesday. The presale of tickets didn't produce much so if you go, you'd better get there early or the ticket line might be pretty long.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The madness begins for MSU basketball

The Minnesota State men's and women's basketball teams began their seasons with the first offficial workouts at 12:01 a.m. Friday at Bresnan Arena.
The first thing you notice is transfer Andre Gilbert on crutches, with his right ankle wrapped up. Coach Matt Margenthaler said he doesn't expect Gilbert to miss much practice time.
Guard Anthony Brant has a smooth-looking jumper from long range. The Mavericks lacked consistent perimeter shooting in the final month of the season.
The Mavericks have new uniforms, with a simple MSU across the chest and a number on the front and back. It's an old-school look, but it might take a while to get used to it.
The loudest cheers of the night, and maybe the season, was the T-shirt and sub giveaways.
Point guard Marcus Hill, small forward Cameron Hodges and power forward Jefferson Mason look like cinches to be in the starting lineup. It wouldn't be a surprise if the other two are Gilbert and transfer A.J. Wilson, depending on how quickly they fit in at Minnesota State.
Watch out for redshirt freshmen Connor O'Brien and Jimmy Whitehead.

For the women's team, Lauren Barber looks like she's lost some weight. Last season, she struggled early in the season, and offseason conditioning looked like a problem. Given this team's offensive struggles last season, she's going to need to do more than shoot 3s.
It's good to see Andrea Walsh back on the court. It's been almost a year since she had back surgery, and she took a medical redshirt last season. Her play at point guard will be important as the Mavericks replace Tiffany Moe.

The men begin the season Nov. 6 with an exhibition game against Bethany Lutheran, and four days later, they travel to Madison, Wis., for an exhibition game against the Badgers. The first official games come at the Cal State-Sonoma tournament Nov. 19-20.
The first game for the women comes in the Maverick Classic with Grand View College and California (Pa.) University coming to town Nov. 19-20.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tough times ahead for MSU football

The Minnesota State football team's loss to Winona State on Saturday was explainable.
Winona State was playing at home, and the Warriors are pretty good.
The home loss to Concordia-St. Paul two weeks ago, however, wasn't easily explained away. The Mavericks should beat Concordia-St. Paul nine out of every 10 times, and they shoud never lose to the Bears at home.
Take the two losses together, and fans of the Mavericks should be concerned. There are six games remaining, and Minnesota State will be decided underdogs in four, starting with Saturday's homecoming game against St. Cloud State.
The Mavericks' offensive line is a mess, the quarterback situation is revolving issue because of injury, and the defense is giving up points with alarming frequency.
Fans of the team had to know this was going to be a tough season, considering the talent that graduated from last season's team. But a loss to Concordia-St. Paul? That's a major warning sign.
If the Mavericks can't beat St. Cloud State, the rest of the season loses meaning, which could lead to a white flag. The last two seasons have been a lot of fun, watching the Mavericks finally have some success, but it's equally as tough to watch it come apart.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Two weeks until first MSU basketball practice

Oct. 15, the first day of practice for Division II men's and women's basketball teams, is approaching fast, and it sounds like Minnesota State will have another version of midnight celebration to beginning of the season.

Bumped into a pair of incoming transfers — seniors Andre Gilbert and A.J. Wilson — this week at the Timberwolves practices, and they sure look the part.

Gilbert is 6-8 and long, while Wilson is about the same height but a little thicker. Gilbert played at Kansas State two years ago before sitting out since then, and Wilson played at Murray State last season, watching from the bench as the Racers made a short run in the NCAA tournament.

Last season, Jefferson Mason was clearly the most athletic player on the Mavericks' roster. Word is that's no longer the case.

You can debate coach Matt Margenthaler's strategy of bringing in a couple of one-year players, but you can't argue with his ability to find very talented athletes. It remains to be seen if he can get all this individual talent to flourish into team success.

The Mavericks don't have a lot of size, but the Northern Sun has become a league of guards and forwards. With Mason, Marcus Hill, Cameron Hodges, Taylor Morrow and Joe Drapcho, there is plenty of returning talent to mesh with the newcomers.

It seems that outside of the program, expectations are a little lower this season. It's doubtful the coaches and players feel that way. We'll see on Oct. 15.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hey, Timberwolves fans ... are you other there? Hello?

The Minnesota Timberwolves are coming back to Minnesota State to hold training camp, beginning Saturday and lasting five days.
The camp is early this season because the team will be making a trip to Europe for some preseason games.
We'll be devoting a lot of coverage to the Timberwolves, though that franchise has slipped a bit off the sports radar the last couple of years.
In Saturday's print edition, there's an interview with owner Glen Taylor, who has some candid remarks about the past and the future.
While the Wolves are in town, we'll have daily stories about the players. Some of the story lines we'll be chasing are:
1. David Kahn, the president of basketball operations, on how he's shaped this roster and plans for the future.
2. No. 1 draft choice Wesley Johnson on how he'll fit on this team.
3. Newcomer Martell Webster, a draft-day acquisition, on what he may bring to the team now that he'll have a chance for a larger role than he had in Portland.
4. Kevin Love on how the experience with the USA team that won the world championships might help him flourish, now that Al Jefferson is gone.
5. Darko Milicic, who talked about ending his NBA career before being rejuvenated in Minnesota, signing a big free-agent contract this offseason.
Keep an eye on the print edition while the Wolves are in town, that is if you're still interested in that team.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week 3 highlights from high-school football

Finally got a chance to see Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, and that's going to be a tough team to evaluate during the regular season.
The Bucs won 34-14 at Maple River, which is a pretty good result for just about any team in the area. But WEM did not look sharp. The passing attack, which is generally explosive, amassed only 65 yards, while the Bucs rushed for more than 200 yards and all five touchdowns, led by sophomore running back Brady Ayers.
The defense swarmed, especially linebacker Grant Pope, but the Eagles were able to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, one of which came on a 2-yard drive after a blocked punt.
WEM is the top-rated team in Class 2A, and optimism is high. It's tough for the team to meet those expectations each week.

Mankato West rolled over Faribault, which had won its first two games. The 48-2 victory could have been worse, and senior Nick Kaus set a program record with five touchdowns, three by receptions and two on punt returns. Friday's game against Winona might be the last time that the Scarlets will face a team with a winning record until the playoffs.

It was good to see Mankato East post a 15-3 victory at Rochester John Marshall. The Cougars had played well enough to win in the first two games, which both turned into a loss, and needed something to go right to build some confidence. Quarterback Abe Kolstad continues to flourish in his new role.

Le Center showed it will be a tough team to stop, and the Wildcats play at Bloooming Prairie this week in what amounts to the championship game of the Gopher Valley 1A Conference.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Highlights from conversation with MSU coach Hoffner

Sat with Minnesota State football coach Todd Hoffner for a few minutes after Monday night's radio show, and while some of the things he said were not for publication, there are a couple of tidbits to offer.

It looks like senior quarterback Steve Pachan will return soon, possibly as the backup this weekend at Minnesota Crookston. Pachan suffered a sprained knee ligament in the season-opener against Northern Michigan, and sophomore Will Brogan has been adequate as a fill-in.

Pachan may be ready to start the home game against Concordia-St. Paul in two weeks so Brogan probably has one more game to impress the coaches enough to keep the starting job.

Hoffner said the offensive line, which struggled against Northern Michigan, played better against Northern State, though that should have been expected. Northern Michigan has a much better defensive line, but the Mavericks didn't dominate the smaller Northern State line as they should have. If there's not significant improvement in line play at Minnesota Crookston, that might signal an area of concern.

Hoffner said that he and his staff are trying to prioritize areas of need for the upcoming recruiting class. One obvious need is a speed receiver that can stretch the field. Minnesota State has receivers with good hands, but none has scary speed.

The schedule gets difficult in the next month with games at Winona State (Oct.2) and at home against St. Cloud State (Oct.9).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Brogan in, Pachan out as MSU quarterback

Minnesota State quarterback Steve Pachan will not play in Saturday's game at Northern State because of a knee injury. Coach Todd Hoffner said that Pachan will miss "extended" time and wouldn't disclose the nature of the injury.
Pachan was injured in the third quarter of the season-opening 7-6 victory over Northern Michigan last week. Backup Will Brogan, a transfer from California (Pa.) University, took over and completed 6 of 9 passes for 66 yards and the only touchdown.
Hoffner said that Brogan will be the starter, and the backup is Jon Wolf, a true freshman from Oak Forest, Ill.
The Mavericks can survive with only one quarterback, given that the next three opponents are Northern State, Minnesota Crookston and Concordia-St. Paul. But this might become a problem if Pachan's injury lingers into the middle of the season.
The only other injury news from Minnesota State is that Cody Rose will replace Dennis Carter as a starting receiver. Hoffner said that Carter's injury is not serious.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Week 2 for high-school football

By Sunday morning, 25 percent of the high-school football regular season will be done. It goes by too fast.

Last week, there were some interesting happenings, and this week, we find out if they were trends or flukes.
Defending Class AA champion Waterville-Elysian-Morristown was an easy winner over Jordan. The Bucs have a lot of talent returning, led by quarterback Conrad Masberg. It would be surprising if the Bucs lose a regular-season game.
Mankato West opened with a 20-0 victory at Northfield, which isn't surprising. West has owned Northfield the last few years, and the Raiders would do well to find another opponent for the season-opener in the future. Quarterback Philip Nelson accounted for more than 400 yards of offense, with a career-high 313 yards passing.
Le Sueur-Henderson rolled to an easy victory over St. Peter. It's amazing that schools the size of LSH and WEM can annually produce such good teams. It's a testament to the head coaches and youth organizers in those communities.
The biggest story came from Madelia, which hadn't won a game in two seasons before defeating Westbrook-Walnut Grove in the opener. That has to be a big boost for that program.
Check out the prep football notebook in the print edition every Friday for more notes about this season, which after one week is already rushing by.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A win's a win for Mavericks

If anybody tries to tell you that Thursday night's season-opening football game at Minnesota State was well-played, don't believe it.
The Mavericks had only 207 yards of total offense and committed nine penalties. There were two missed field goals and countless missed opportunities. The offensive line opened few holes, unless you count the ones where the defensive linemen came pouring through to hit the quarterback.
Yet, at the end Minnesota State defeated Northern Michigan 7-6, stopping a two-point conversion in the final minute to preserve a key regional victory at Blakeslee Stadium.
Starting quarterback Steve Pachan was ineffective, completing only 3 of 14 passes for 32 yards with one interception. He injured his knee in the thrid quarter, and backup Will Brogan led the Mavericks on the only touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
The defense was pretty good. Though Northern Michigan accumulated 254 yards of offnse, the Mavericks created two turnovers and kept the Wildcats out of the end zone until the final 42 seconds. Cornerback Bryce Kinniry knocked the two-point pass to secure the victory.
There are plenty of things to work on, and the schedule is favorable, with the next three games coming against Northern State, Minnesota Crookston and Concordia-St. Paul.
When it October comes around, the Mavericks have to be better offensively to challenge for postseason play.
But as coach Todd Hoffner said after the game, it's nicer to be working on things after a win than a loss.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Six things to watch for at MSU football opener

Minnesota State opens the football season at 6 p.m. Thursday against Northern Michigan at Blakeslee Stadium.
The opener is generally well-attended so here are six things you can look for as a tip on how the Mavericks will fare this season. (It was going to be five, but one more popped up in my head.)

1. Offensive line. Senior Jeremy Clark, a three-year starter, is back at right tackle, but the other four starters have virtually no big-game experience. Center Mike Brunner made two starts last season, but guard Andrew Essman is a redshirt freshman, guard Mark Vukadinovic redshirted after two seasons at Glendale Community College and tackle Cordell Bell is a transfer from College of DuPage.
Coach Todd Hoffner and Clark have said that the line has improved greatly, but you never know what's going to happen in that first game. Minnesota State needs to run the ball to be effective, and keeping the quarterback healthy is another concern.

2. Steve Pachan. The senior quarterback got plenty of experience last season when starter Ryan Fick was injured. Pachan completed 89 of 179 passes for 1,477 yards with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions, but he was more of a game manager.
This season, he may need to win some games with his arm for an inexperienced offense, with only four returning starters.

3. Young receivers. The starters will be sophomores Adam Thielen and Dennis Carter, with sophomores Nate Nelson and Cody Rose as backups. Thielen caught 21 passes last season, and Rose, who was used primarily as a backup quarterback, made one reception. Carter hasn't played since the 2007 season at Minnesota Duluth, and Nelson played at Lawrence College last season before transferring here.
The position took a hit when senior Omaar Balton was injured, and Hoffner said he didn't know if Balton would be able to play this season.

4. Return game. For the last four seasons, Kelvin Rodgers has been a threat to score on nearly every punt and kickoff return, and he affected the way opponents conducted their special teams. He's graduated, and the Mavericks will use receiver Dennis Carter and possibly running back Jake Aberg in those roles.
It's hard to believe that either will provide the excitement that Rodgers did, simply by dropping back to field a kick.

5. Regional game. Northern Michigan is a member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, one of three conferences in this region, so when it comes time to pick the six teams to advance to the national playoffs, this game will have some meaning.
If the Mavericks win, they will have an edge over Northern Michigan and every team it beats this season. A loss would mean the Mavericks likely need to sweep key conference games with Augustana, Winona State, Wayne State, St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth to get to the playoffs. Certainly, that wouldn't be easy.
And Northern Michigan belongs to the same conference as Ashland University and Hillsdale University, the teams that ended the last two seasons for Minnesota State

6. Last loss hangover. It's important for the Mavericks to defend their home field, and last season's playoff loss to Hillsdale had to have lingered into the offseason.
Have the Mavericks used that loss as motivation, or does it show vulnerability? Maybe we'll see Thursday night.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Battle survives Vikings' first cuts

The Minnesota Vikings made four roster moves Tuesday to get to the 75-player limit, and former Minnesota State lineman Adrian Battles was not one of the victims.
The Vikings put receiver Sidney Rice, who recently had hip surgery, on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list, meaning that he's not eligible to return to the roster for at least six games.
The team also put linebacker J Leman on the injured reserve so he's done. Receiver Marko Mitchell and tackle Bill Noethlich, who is from Southwest Minnesota State, were both released.
The next cuts come Friday, and Battles, who is listed at third-string guard, is almost certain to be waived. However, the fact that he's made it this long bodes well for his chances of being added to the Vikings' or some other team's practice squad or be invited back to the organization next season.
Battles has not gotten much playing time during the preseason, though with the starters unlikely to play in Thursday's home game against Denver, he has a good chance of seeing extended minutes in that game.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vikings could really use another preseason game

A couple of observations from the Minnesota Vikings' preseason game against Seattle on Saturday.

If the proposed 18-game schedule were in effect now, meaning only two preseason games, the Vikings would have been opening the season Saturday. This team seemed ill-prepared for that, playing a sloppy game injected with a few big plays.

The offensive line didn't open many holes, nore did it protect Brett Favre very well.

Favre had his moments, but he also threw two interceptions, one of which was more Bernard Berrian's fault than his. But Favre also fumbled twice.

You probably shouldn't have expected him to be sharp, given that he's only been here for less than a week.

New receiver Greg Camarillo may be an unexpected asset. The trade, which sent cornerback Benny Sapp to Miami, didn't seem like much of transaction earlier this week, but he got open and held on to the ball, which can't be said for all the receivers.

The defense looked good, though that unit will get tougher tests in the regular season, especially that opener at New Orleans on Sept. 9.

The Vikings looked like a team that hasn't practiced together much, which has certainly been the case. There seems to be plenty of work to do before the season begins, if this team hopes to achieve its stated goal of getting to the Super Bowl.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One week until high-school football begins

In just a week, local high-school football teams begin the season, which seems to fly by faster every year.

In case you haven't been scouting the area practice fields, here's a few things to look for on the gridiron.

Mankato West should have another strong team, led by quarterback Philip Nelson, receiver Nick Kaus and linebackers Drew Weber and Adam Athey. It would be a surprise if West doesn't contend for the Big Nine Conference and section championships, and a deep run in the playoffs is possible.

Waterville-Elysian-Morristown won the Class AA championship last season and has most of its roster back. Conrad Masberg is a talented quarterback who really blossomed.

Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton seems like a program on the rise after a few down seasons.

Le Center fullback Mario Arroyo is an all-state candidate.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Three weeks until MSU football team opens season

The Minnesota State football team went through its first practice Thursday night, artfully dodging the area storms to get nearly three hours of work.

 As coach Todd Hoffner always asks after that first workout, "It looked like football, didn't it?"

It's tough to say how the squad will do this season, though the national poll has the Mavericks at No. 21 and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference coaches have picked Minnesota State to win the South Division.

The strength of the team appears to be the defense, with the top three tacklers returning. Linebackers Dan Fehlberg and Matt McQuiston and safety Jesse Hamilton, who has gotten some preseason accolades, give the Mevericks some strength up the middle.

On the line, Don Thomas, Bryan Schmid and Michael Robinson should be stout, and defensive backs Bryce Kinniry and Troy Jones provide good experience against the pass.

The offense seems to be the question mark, with only four returning starters. Quarterback Steve Pachan had some moments as a part-time starter last season, but he was inconsistent. The strength of this unit appears to be running back, where Jake Aberg and Chris Echols are back, bolstered by Northern Iowa transfer Taylor Brookins.

The receivers lack marquee names, but Hoffner said he was happy with the group that includes Omaar Balton and Adam Thielen.

Of course, the offense goes nowhere without a solid line, and four of those five have graduated. Right tackle Jeremy Clark is back, and if that first practice revealed anything, the rest of the linemen are big. We'll see if that translates to good.

The schedule seems good early, starting with a nonconference game against Northern Michigan on Sept. 2. After that road games at Northern State and Minnesota Crookston better be winnable, as well as the home game against Concordia St. Paul on Sept. 25.

Then its Winona State and St. Cloud State in the first real conference tests, and consecutive roads games at Wayne State and Augustana in late October will determine this season's success. If the Mavericks survive those games, the season finale is at home against Minnesota Duluth.

It seems unlikely that the Mavericks can get to 10 wins again, but that's the standard that's been set and anything less will be disappointing. Once you've been to the national playoffs, you don't want to take a step back.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Axe finally falls on MSU programs

Back in 2004, when Minnesota State was trying to figure out how to overcome gender-equity violations, there was talk of eliminating programs.

A couple years later, when the North Central Conference dissolved and the debate was to move to Division I or take a step back to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, there was talk of eliminating programs.

Finally, budget cuts over the last year and expected reductions for the next two years appear to have forced Minnesota State's hand. On Tuesday, athletic director Kevin Buisman announced that he had made a proposal to the higher-ups to eliminate men's and women's tennis, men's swimming and women's bowling as part of a 5 to 7 percent reduction in the athletic department's budget.

Minnesota State offers 23 sports, which is more than any Northern Sun school and more than most Division II programs. In these challenging economic times, that's too many, if you want to be successful across the board.

The hard part is deciding which sports will remain and which will go. Why men's swimming over men's golf? Why women's bowling and not women's swimming?

There are no easy answers. The university will likely have to cut some personnel and scholarship budgets as well, and those won't be simple decisions.

The final decisions on the athletic budget won't come until March, and folks at Minnesota State hope the economic outlook will be better and these worst-case scenarios won't come true.

But you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in state government that sees any meaningful recovery in the next six months. Instead, future cuts could still be necessary.

It might be true that we've witnessed the peak of Mnnesota State sports over the last two years. Several programs were competitive nationally, including the women's basketball team that won the national championship in 2009.

Budget cuts are certainly going to come at a price, and those schools who make the right decisions will be better positioned to have success in the future.

Will these cuts allow the remaining sports to maintain their competitive success? That's not an easy one to answer, either.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Announcement on MSU athletic cuts coming next week

Athletic director Kevin Buisman said an announcement on potential budget cuts for the Minnesota State athletic department will likely be announced in the next few days.
This spring, Buisman said the department, which cut $350,000 through staff reductions or additional fundraising last year, would have about a $90,000 shortfall for the 2010-11 competitive seasons, but the real challenge came for 2011-12, where he expected to be about $350,000 short, a number that might cause the university to eliminate some of its 23 programs.
On Friday, he said that he'll have a proposal to meet those budget problems and pass it on to the higher-ups.
There were plenty of rumors swirling about campus this week. Sources said that the cuts will be more than $400,000, and programs will be eliminated. Gender equity has to be among the main criteria, with Minnesota State offering 46 scholarships for men's and women's sports. Twenty-five of the men's scholarship go to football.
The programs most likely to be cut are the ones that don't have affiliation with the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference: women's bowling, men's tennis and men's and women's swimming. But it hardly seems possible that nearly a half-million dollars can be saved by droppoing those four sports.
There will also need to be some staffing cuts.
Buisman said an announcement on the cuts will be made soon so that coaches can figure out how to work within the new parameters.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Anderson was good hire for Loyola boys basketball

Former Maple River boys basketball coach Tim Anderson became the next boys basketball coach at Mankato Loyola this week, and it seems like a good move for both parties.
Anderson resigned after the 2008 season, posting a 272-93 record in 19 seasons at Maple River. He led his teams to 10 Valley Conference championships and three state-tournament appearances.
But he said after resigning that he would coach again some day, and after a year off to watch his son Seth play at Gustavus Adolphus, he coached the Maple Rivers girls, finishing at 19-5 last season.
He applied at Fairmont and Loyola, accepting the Crusaders' job on Tuesday.
John Landkamer returned to coaching the Loyola baseball team, which created the opening for Anderson.
Anderson is a very good coach, and Loyola has a solid tradition in that sport, winning a state championship in 2003. If anybody can get Loyola back to a state tournament, it will be Anderson. He's passionate and demands discipline, and if the players respond, big things will happen in that program.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dahl back in Mankato

Former Mankato East standout Craig Dahl was back in town this weekend, speaking at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes golf outing on Friday and signing autographs for young athletes at the East football camp Monday.
Dahl will report to the St. Louis Rams training camp on Friday, embarking on his fourth season in the NFL. He's overcome severe injuries to both knees, playing for the New York Giants his first two seasons before joining the Rams last season.
Dahl took advantage of injuries to both safeties to start some games last season, finishing fifth on the team in tackles. But the competition will be tough again during this preseason as Dahl continues his career.
He said he feels comfortable in his position, but he doesn't want to become complacent. He said that losing 15 games lat season was tough, but his team never quit.
For more on Dahl's last stop at Mankato, check out Tuesday's print edition.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another Krugel victory for Chesley

Mankato native Steve Chesley won his second consecutive championship at the 62 annual Loren Krugel Invitational tournament, which wrapped up Sunday at the Mankato Golf Club.
Chesley has a championship resume, having won the state tournament as a senior at Mankato West in 1986. He then went to the University of Minnesota, where swing changes forced upon him caused great frustration.
After basically taking about nine years off from the game, he started showing up at Minnesota Golf Association events again recently, and he posted a one-stroke victory at the 2009 Krugel.
He was tested Sunday, as first Geoff Klein kept pace for most of the final 18 holes, and Jeff Barney had birdie opportunities on the last three holes that could have tied things.
However, Chesley prevailed again by one stroke.
For more on some tournament tidbits, check out Friday's column.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

NBA free agency isn't as big in Minnesota

While a lot of interest centers around the most-prized group of free agents ever, the Minnesota Timberwolves are taking a more realistic approach.
There's no need for this franchise to go after LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh or any of the other marquee names because they have no interest in this beleagured franchise.
However, there may be some hope for the Timberwolves to attract less-bright stars.
The Timberwolves have scheduled a visit with Rudy Gay, a restricted free agent, but it makes little sense to add another wing player to the roster. Corey Brewer, newly acquired Martell Webster and top draft choice Wesley Johnson already fill that small forward/ shooting guard role, though Gay would be the most talented of that group.
The Timberwolves also have a visit planned with power forward David Lee, clearly a more attractive option. He's an unrestricted free agent who averaged more than 20 points and 11 rebounds last season. If he's added to the roster, Al Jefferson certainly would be gone, and Kevin Love's future might also be in doubt.

The Timberwolves have added center Darko Milicic and Euro-prospect Nikola Pekovic, a 6-11 center, but if that's it, the fan base will have every right to be upset.
The Timberwolves have about $20 million in salary-cap space, and the fans expect that it be spent wisely. It's got to be tough to watch other teams try to win championships, while the Timberwolves flounder.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Margenthaler hoping for some one-year magic

Minnesota State men's basketball coach Matt Margenthaler announced his latest signing this week, adding 6-foot-7 guard Andre Gilbert to the roster.
Gilbert certainly brings some baggage (or interesting story, depending on your perspective), with an acquittal of sexual assault charges during his freshman season at South Dakota State, a transfer to a junior college in California, one season at Kansas State playing alongside Michael Beasley and Bill Walker and two years of working and living in California, looking for another chance.
It will be interesting to see how Gilbert, who payed high-school ball at Park Center, is received by the university and the program's fans.
Gilbert is the second transfer who will have just one season with the Mavericks, joining 6-7 A.J. Wilson, who came here from Murray State. Both are obviously talented athletes or they wouldn't have been playing at Division I universities.
But successful programs rarely are built on one-year players. Margenthaler said he's always trying to recruit the best players, and he looks for transfers to fill in holes on the team. Wilson will likely be the starting center/power forward, with Gilbert at shooting guard/small forward.
Margenthaler's desire to win is never in doubt. He puts more pressure on himself than the university puts on him, and having watched the Winona State men and Minnesota State women win national championship, that only fuels his passion for a title.
If it works next season, and the Mavericks have a prolonged run through the postseason, nobody will care where these players came from or why. If it falls apart as it did this season, more scrutiny will follow.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A few minutes with coach Childress

Was able to get a few minutes Friday with Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress, who was in his office reflecting on the recent minicamp and planning the upcoming training camp. In between, he's headed to Afghanistan as part of an NFL coaches tour to meet and greet the U.S. troops.
Most of what we talked about will appear in our training camp guide late next month, but he shared a few things that might be of interest to local Vikings fans.
The Vikings will report to Minnesota State for training camp on July 29 and leave Aug. 13, meaning this will be the shortest training camp period ever.
The team will practice once on July 30, twice on July 31 and once on Aug. 1 before settling into the two-a-day routine. The last practice open to the public will be held Aug. 12, then the team will have a short practice on Aug. 13 before leaving for the first preseaosn game at St. Louis.
Childress said that he still thinks about how last season ended, and the frustration remains evident.
He has high hopes that his team can reach the Super Bowl this season, having made a two-victory improvement in each season as head coach.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

First trip to Target Field

Spent Thursday afternoon at Target Field, and I have a few impressions of the Twins and their new ballpark.
People have been so concerned about the cold weather for April and possibly October games, but Thursday, the sentiment was that it was TOO HOT. Really?
Have we become so soft that we can't handle cold or heat? If only there was an alternative venue, with a roof and air-conditioning ...
The day got off to a disappointing start when I found out that Joe Mauer was not in the lineup. I'm not a Joe Mauer pompom waver, but you'd like to see the Twins' best players face Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, who has been nearly unhittable.
A competitor does not stay out of the lineup in a matchup like this. Will Mauer sit out the All-Star game, which will likely feature Jimenez as the National League starter?
The Twins hit into so many doubles plays that they might be making too much contact.
Target Field has a lot of room to roam, with several places in the concourse from which you have a good view of the action. Never sat down for eight innings.
I'd like to get back for a night game. I like the atmosphere of outdoor events at night better than day.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Rain keeps the baseball away

A few baseball games were played Saturday, but the rain eventually caused postponements until Monday.
At Franklin Rogers Park, Minnesota Valley Lutheran continued its impressive postseason roll, defeating Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial 10-0 in six innings in the Section 2A winners' bracket finals.
Nathan Miller pitched another gem, winning his third game in the playoffs. In three outings, he's allowed only one run with 18 strikeouts. Despite being the higher-seeded team in each game, the Chargers have outscored playoff opponents 33-5, knocking off the top seed from each subsection.
The elimination games have been pushed back to Monday, with Sleepy Eye St. Mary's resuming its game, leading 2-1 after one inning, with United South Central at 5 p.m. The winner gets LCWM at 7:30 p.m.
In Section 2AA at St. Peter's Veterans Park, Holy Family Catholic defeated Kasson-Mantorville 6-2 in the winners' bracket. Mankato East's elimination game against Hutchinson was postponed until 5 p.m. Monday, with the winner getting Kasson-Mantorville at 7:30 p.m.
The championship games in both sections will be played at 5 p.m. Tuesday at their respective sites.
In Section 2AAA, Mankato West was eliminated 4-2 by Chaska on Saturday. West pitcher Matt Anderson had six perfect innings (1 through 4, 6 and 7) but gave up four hits and three walks in the fifth for Chaska's four runs.
The Section 3AA tournament also was affected by weather, and New Ulm's game elimination game against Marshall will start at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Marshall.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Former Twins manager is MoonDogs' opening-night guest

Former Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly will be in Mankato on Wednesday to throw out the first pitch at the Mankato MoonDogs' season-opener against Rochester at 7:05 p.m. Check out the story on Kelly's appearance in Monday's sports section.
Kelly managed the Twins from 1986 to 2001, but he's best known for leading his team to World Series victories in 1987 and 1991. His one-day-at-a-time philosophy and a commitment to fundamentals still defines the team.
He loves the new Target Field, though he has strong memories of special times at the Metrodome. He still works for the organization as a special assistant to general manager Bill Smith.
On Wednesday, he'll throw out the first pitch and sign some autographs for fans. He said the Northwoods League is a great way for aspiring ballplayers to hone skills and possibly get noticed by professional scouts.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Good local softball coming up Saturday

Caswell Park is the place to be Saturday for what should be an entertaining day of high-school softball.
Section 2AA is the most intriguing as the top seeds have advanced in both the South and North subsections.
In the South, top-seeded Mankato East takes on St. Peter, and second-seeded Maple River meets Waseca. In the North, top-seeded Holy Family Catholic faces Belle Plaine, and No. 2 Le Sueur-Henderson gets Hutchinson. All games are at 1 p.m., with the winners playing again at 5 p.m. and the losers eliminated.
The South is a tough read, considering that East plays a Big Nine Conference schedule, which is certainly more difficult than the Valley or South Central conferences. But this sport is all about pitching, and whichever team gets the best pitching will keep playing.
In Section 2A, top seeds New Ulm Cathedral and Mankato Loyola are in action at 11 a.m. Cathedral meets Sleepy Eye St. Mary's, and Loyola draws Martin County West. The Section 2A winners play again at 3 p.m.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MSU baseball team prepares for national tournament

Check out a feature on Minnesota State outfielder/pitcher Danny Miller in Thursday's print edition.
Miller, a junior, has been a stalwart in the offensive and defensive lineup for the last three seasons, but he's also been the winning pitcher in the two biggest games.
He's only pitched in four games this season but was the winning pitcher when the Mavericks defeated Southwest Minnesota State in the championship game of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament and the final game against St. Cloud State at the Central Region tournament which propelled Minnesota State into this weekend's national quarterfinals at Cary, N.C.
The Mavericks (44-14) take on Southern Indiana at 5 p.m. Sunday in the opening round.
On Friday, the weekly column will focus more on how this team emerged from a good, but not great, season to the fifth national tournament in program history.
The Mavericks needed to sweep a doubleheader against St. Cloud State on the final day of the regular season to clinch the Northern Sun championship. The next weekend, the Mavericks overcame two elimination games to win the conference tournament. At the region tournament, the Mavericks were the unbeaten team in the championship series but lost the opener to St. Cloud State and needed to win the final game to advance.
Baseball success is nothing new to Minnesota State, and a national championship would be the school's second in two years, joining the women's basketball championship in 2009.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Some doings at Minnesota State athletics

As mentioned last week, athletic director Kevin Buisman has been required to come up with a plan to cut $250,000 to $350,000 from the budget for an expected shortfall in the 2011-12 competitive seasons, and it likely involves cutting some programs.
As early as this week, he could announce the criteria he will use to determine which programs stay and which ones go. The criteria could include affiliation with the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and the ability to generate revenue.
Of course, gender equity will be the main concern.

The project to put artificial turf on the Blakeslee Stadium surface is off, and instead, the university will spend $350,000 to improve the grass field's crown and drainage. The condition of the field has been questionable the last two seasons, prompting safety concerns by the athletic department.
Busiman said the plan is to launch a major renovation of Blakeslee Stadium sometime in the next five years.

Freshman quarterback Ray Teachout has been booted from the Minnesota State football program after an arrest May 2.
He was cited for underage consumption, disorderly conduct and fifth-degree assault, all misdemeanors, but football coach Todd Hoffner said that Teachout was no longer a member of the Mavericks' football program. A police report stated that Teachout was involved in a scrap with a university security guard that prompted the arrest.
Teachout, a three-sport standout at West who led the Scarlets to a state football championship in 2008, competed for the backup quarterback position during spring practice, and Hoffner was high on Teachout's future, saying that they needed to come up with creative ideas to take advantage of his athleticism.
It seems to be a drastic move to suspended Teachout indefinitely, but nobody at Minnesota State is talking about the details, citing data-privacy rules.
Regardless, it looks a like a sad ending to a promising career.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Buisman prepares for cuts at Minnesota State

Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman talked this week about the future of Mavericks' athletics, and while fans won't notice much change next season, the 2011-12 competitive year may be different.
Minnesota State faced a $350,000 shortfall in the athletic budget last year, and most of that came from staff, though additional revenue streams offset some of the damage.
For the upcoming season, Buisman said that the challenge will be to raise about $90,000 just to maintain status quo due to increased tuition, fees and room and board.
For 2011-12, Busiman said the deficit will be about $350,000, and that likely means that programs will need to be cut. Minnesota State offers 12 programs for women and 11 for men, and next week, it's possible that Buisman will announce the criteria for which programs might be in trouble.
Gender equity is always a concern, and the university will be offering 46 scholarships for men and 46 for women next year..
To read some of his comments, check out Saturday's print edition.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Battles hooks on with Vikings

Former Minnesota State lineman Adrian Battles has signed a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings.
He's the second Mavericks player to sign a free-agent contract with an NFL team in the last two weeks. Defensive tackle Junior Aumavae signed with Dallas shortly after the NFL Draft ended April 24.
Battles attended the Minnesota Vikings' rookie tryout last weekend and was signed Tuesday after completing a physical and taking care of paperwork. Of the 55 draft picks and free agents that attended the tryout, five have been signed.
Battles started 43 of 46 games as a tackle, but his professional future will be at guard, taking advantage of the athletic ability of the 6-foot-3, 300-pounder.
Battles will be taking part in the Vikings' minicamp and organized team activities over the next month and could end up at training camp later this summer, back on the practice fields with which he's so accustomed.
He's pretty pumped up about this opportunity, and check out Wednesday's print edition for his comments.
Cornerback Kelvin Rodgers and defensive tackle Randy Earl also participated in the Vikings' camp but have not been signed. Rodgers said he has another tryout at Baltimore this week.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Former Mavericks get chance with Vikings

Had an opportunity to take in about an hour of practice Friday, watching former Minnesota State football players Kelvin Rodgers, Randy Earl and Adrian Battles participate in the Minnesota Vikings' rookie tryout camp at Winter Park.
The first thing you notice is that it's tough to tell them apart from the others who were on the field. That can be a good thing, given that the former Mavericks look the part, but it's also a negative, meaning that it's very hard to stand out.
The practice consisted of the Vikings draft picks and some priority free agents, then a whole lot of filler. Given that the Mavericks were not listed on the team's roster speaks to the uphill nature of their task.
Rodgers, who also will participate in the Baltimore Ravens camp next week, probably has the best chance of the three to stick somewhere. His speed is top-flight, and his ability as a kick and punt returner gives him at least one NFL skill.
Earl and Battles, while big boys at Minnesota State, don't seem to stand out much so they're going to need to find a way to catch a coach's eye.
It's tough for any Division II player to catch on with an NFL team, and the three Mavericks surely have a tough road ahead of them. But their chances are better now than they were before they were invited to this tryout camp.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Two more Mavericks get pro tryout

Add Kelvin Rodgers and Adrian Battles to the growing list of Minnesota State football players who will get tryouts with professional teams.
Rodgers and Battles will attend the Minnesota Vikings' rookie camp, which runs Friday through Sunday at Winter Park.
Rodgers, a cornerback, is more known for his return skills, having scored on seven punt or kickoff returns in his Mavericks' career. His speed and explosiveness could catch the eye of a professional team.
Battles, a tackle, started 43 of 46 career games at Minnesota State. The 310-pounder was consistent throughout his days at Minnesota State, which could be something that interests an NFL team.
Saty tuned for a story in the print edition later this week or weekend.
Defensive tackle Junior Aumavae, who played just one season at Minnesota State after transferring from Western Washington, was signed as a priority free agent by the Dallas Cowboys shortly after the conclusion of Saturday's NFL Draft and will report to rookie camp Wednesday. A priority free agent means he's more likely to get invited to training camp later this summer.
There's been no news on defensive end Randy Earl, who also could get invited to an NFL rookie camp.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Former Mavericks DT signed by Cowboys

Former Minnesota State defensive tackle Junior Aumavae has signed a free-agent deal with the Dallas Cowboys.
Watching the NFL Draft with his family at their Alaska home, Aumavae said he took a call from Cowboys, who were considering using their seventh-round draft choice on him, but they took another defensive tackle, which discouraged the former Mavericks player.
Aumavae played in 11 games last season and started nine, making 11 tackles with 14 assists with a half-sack and forced fumble.
Former Minnesota State cornerback Kelvin Rodgers and defensive end Randy Earl had also been told they might be drafted but weren't. Both could sign free-agent deals this week.
For more, see Sunday's print edition.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Teachout ready to take the field at MSU

Talked with Minnesota State freshman quarterback Ray Teachout today, and the former Mankato West standout is getting excited for the upcoming football season.
Last fall, Teachout was redshirted, trying to get stronger while learning the playbook and opposing defenses. It appears he's going to end the spring-practice period as the primary backup to senior Steve Pachan, though there will be plays put in the offense to take advantage of Teachout's athleticism.
You might see Teachout lining up at receiver or on defense or as a punt returner. Coach Todd Hoffner said that Teachout's skills are special and need to be utilized.
You can get a look at Teachout when the Mavericks host their annual spring game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Blakeslee Stadium. The event is free and open to the public.
For more on Teachout, grab Sunday's print edition.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Closing in on NFL draft day

The expanded, three-day NFL draft begins Thursday, and about three hours or more after St. Louis makes its first choice, the Vikings will be on the clock.
It seems to make the most sense that the Vikings will use that No. 30 pick to select a defensive back, perhaps cornerback Kyle Wilson of Boise State or safety Taylor Mays of USC.
But the prediction here is that Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty will be the choice.
The closer we get to draft day, the more speculation you hear about the Vikings taking a quarterback. Sam Bradford of Oklahoma will be gone, possibly No. 1, and Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame is also likely to be chosen in the top 29 picks.
That leaves Florida's Tim Tebow and Texas' Colt McCoy as the next two quarterbacks to go, and neither should be taken in the first round.
The Vikings are a team that needs to win now and prepare for the future in other ways. You don't take projects in the first round, and Tebow and McCoy both need work on their throwing motions.
Say what you want about Tarvaris Jackson, but he's more prepared to play in the NFL next season than any of the rookies.
An offensive or defensive lineman would be an easy sell to the fan base, but you know some NFL organization is going to try to prove that he is smarter than everyone else by choosing Tebow or McCoy in the first round.
That would be a classic Denny Green move.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Recruiting tidbits from the area

Minnesota State took in a couple of transfers Friday, one each for the men's and women's basketball teams.
The men added A.J. Wilson, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Murray State. Wilson played his high-school ball at St. Bernard's and Concordia Academy in the Twin Cities, then spent two seasons at Northeastern (Colo.) Junior College, where he put up pretty good numbers.
Last season, Wilson played sparingly at Murray State, though he didn't get in during either of the Racers' two NCAA tournament games. He'll have only one season at Minnesota State, where coach Matt Margenthaler expects Wilson to add rebounding and post offense.
Women's coach Pam Gohl is bringing in point guard Kathleen Reynolds, who played last season at Northern State. Reynolds will have to sit out next season because of transfer rules.
Reynolds was a backup at Northern State, playing in only 16 games and averaging 3.1 points last season.
Mankato West senior Preston Brunz announced that he will go to Kirkwood Community College at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It's the same school that his older brother Bryce attended from 2007-09; Bryce eventually earned a scholarship to Central Missouri, a top-flight Division II program.
Preston said that his familiarity with the program was a big factor in his decision, and he hopes to copy hos brother's success.
For more on these stories, see Saturday's print edition. There's bound to be more recruiting news in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Basketball signing day is Wednesday

Wednesday is the first day of the spring signing period for men's and women's basketball, but don't expect much excitement around Taylor Center.
The men's team will add shooting guard Anthony Brant of Vermilion Community College. He verbally commited to the Mavericks in February.
Brant could fill the role of shooter, which the team lacked in the postseason. He made 113 of 264 3-pointers (42.8 percent) after making a school-record 123 3-pointers as a freshman. He averaged 20.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.3 steals last season, earning the praise of Vermilion coach Paul McDonald.
In the fall, the Mavericks signed guard Alex Hanks of St. Cloud Tech.
There were reports of prospective players on campus last weekend, with more in the next couple of weeks, so you can only imagine that those are a combination of high-school and transfer kids. The biggest hole on next year's roster is center, and if you want a good one of those, you almost always have to get them with transfers.
The women's team signed four players in the fall so there aren't many positions left on the roster.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Former Scarlets return for softball

Former Mankato West softball players Ashley Goettl and Alyssa Black will be back in Mankato on Sunday, playing with Wisconsin-River Falls against Bethany Lutheran in a nonconference doubleheader at the Bethany field, beginning at 1 p.m..
Goettl is off to a good start, batting .464 as the Falcons' primary designated hitter. Black, who also played on the Wisconsin-River Falls women's hockey team, has struggled with the transition, batting only .077 while rotating games at third base.
Goettl and Black were members of some pretty good teams at West so it's no surprise that they're getting playing time as freshmen. For more on the two former Scarlets, pick up Monday's print edition.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Margenthaler mentioned for UW-Green Bay job

Last week, Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter Rob Demovsky blogged that Minnesota State coach Matt Margenthaler might be a candidate for the men's basketball job at Division I Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Margenthaler said that he was surprised when Demovsky called to see if he was interested, and he was told that coaches in that area had brought up his name. It doesn't hurt that Margenthaler's dad, Jack, was a well-known coach in the Midwest.
Margenthaler, who was at the Final Four last weekend with his family, said that he was never a candidate for that job, and Demovsky is reporting this week that Wisconsin-Green Bay has narrowed its search to seven candidates, five of which are Division I coaches or assistants and two are from the area.
Margenthaler said he's spending his time working on next season's roster, not looking for other jobs.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

MSU football team's spring practice begins Monday

The Minnesota State football team will begin spring practice Monday afternoon, hoping to build on consecutive 10-win seasons. The spring practice period allows for 15 workouts over the next 27 days, culminating in the spring game April 24.
The Mavericks have some rebuilding to do, having lost four starting offensive linemen, a quarterback, two running backs and the top two receivers. Defensively, two linemen, two defensive backs and a linebacker are gone.
Quarterback Steve Pachan returns, having started nine games at quarterback, and top rusher Jake Aberg gained 1,201 yards. Those two will be working behind a new line, with mostly new receivers.
The defense may have to carry the team early, with the top three tacklers — linebacker Dan Fehlberg, linebacker Matt McQuiston and safety Jesse Hamilton — back.
Last season began with 10 straight victories before things went wrong, losing the regular-season finale at St. Cloud State and the playoff opener at home against Hillsdale College. With consecutive postseason appearances, the expectations around the program clearly have changed, but it looks to be quite a challenge to meet that mark again this season.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Heartbreak for Sibley East

I was there when the Minnesota State men's basketball team let a 16-point lead slip away in the regional tournament at Winona State, and I thought that might be the most stunning loss I'd ever see.
But after Sibley East lost a 20-point lead with six minutes to play and fell 60-59 in overtime to Braham in the quarterfinals of the Class AA boys basketball tournament, I have now seen a more gut-wrenching defeat.
Sibley East was cruising. Marshall Bjorklund was dominating the inside, and the defenders were harassing Braham's perimeter players. The story of victory and advancing to the semifinals was nearly written.
But that's why every laptop has a delete key.
Braham got hot from 3-point range, and a press seemed to interrupt Sibley East's rhythm. The ball stopped going inside as turnovers cut short several possessions.
As Braham crept closer, you could see that free throws would become important, and the Wolverines, who made their free throws in the section tournament at about 74 percent, were shaky.
Braham's confidence grew as Sibley East's shrank, but the Wolverines still held a one-point lead in the final seconds. However, a questionable call on Braham's final possession allowed the winning free throws, and the stunning rally was complete.
This is a loss these players will remember for the rest of their lives. Sibley East was 24-4 this season, but it's tough to lean on positives after such a shocking defeat. It's too bad that three seniors had their careers end this way.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sibley East's Bjorklund is the real deal

If you've not seen Sibley East senior Marshall Bjorklund play basketball, you only have a few games remaining. And you should try to get a look at this kid.
The 6-8 senior center is averaging 25.1 points and 15.0 rebounds and has led the Wolverines to the state tournament for the first time in 12 seasons. He holds program records for points, rebounds and blocked shots.
His skills were dsiplayed Friday night in the Section 5AA championship game against Foley. He had 30 points and 17 rebounds, and equally impressive were the three assists, passing out of the double- and triple-teams to open shooters.
Bjorklund, the younger brother of former WNBA player Tera Bjorklund, is smooth and powerful. He jumps well, has good hands. He hardly shows any emotion on the court. He just plays hard.
Too bad for the local universities that he's headed off to North Dakota State next season. If Bjorklund ever decides that Division I is not for him and he wants to move closer to home, he'd sure look good in Mavericks' purple.
And coach Matt Margenthaler has been known to welcome a Division I transfer or two in his tenure.
Bjorklund will be tough to stop at the state tournament. There aren't a lot of big centers in Class AA, which makes Sibley East a tough draw for any team.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Few thoughts on NCAA men's basketball tournament

The first day of the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament is one of the three really good dates on the sports calendar, joining Super Bowl Sunday and the final round of The Masters. The first Thursday of NCAA games is far better than the Monday championship game just because of volume.
So before that day begins, here's a few predictions on what will happen:
It's tough to pick against Kansas. The Jayhwaks have a veteran point guard, a big horse in the middle and a lot of young, athletic perimeter players as complements. No. 2 seed Ohio State doesn't have the depth to pull the upset, making Georgetown the only team likely to threaten Kansas.
Kentucky relies on too many young, albeit talented, players to win this tournament. West Virginia would be a threat, but count on coach Bob Huggins to do something that gets his team beat. New Mexico is an intriguing, unknown entity in that region.
It's been a long time since Duke played up to its seed, and this year will be no different. The Blue Devils rely on too much jump-shooting to win six games. They'll get a good test from Louisville or Cal in the second round, Texas A&M in the third round and likely Villanova in the region finals. That's too many consecutive games to be at your best.
The West bracket seems the toughest to predict. Syracuse has been tremendous all season, but losing in the first round of the Big East tournament with the center getting injured has cast doubt on the Orange. Kansas State is dangerous, which would make for a great region final.
The Gophers play Xavier in the first round in a who-cares game. It should be competitive, which is code for ugly but close, but neither team can handle Pittsburgh in the next round.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

St. Cloud State celebrates basketball championship

The championship game of the Central Region men's basketball tournament wasn't artful or pretty, but St. Cloud State sure likes the way it turned out.
The Huskies scored the last 13 points over the final 1:30 to defeat Augustana 84-75 in overtime to advance to the Elite Eight.
The Huskies made 18 turnovers and hit only 25 of 39 free throws, but they proved that they were better than the No. 4 seed in the tournament, taking out top-seeded Minnesota State in the semifinals and third-seeded Augustana in the championship.
Again, the Huskies' role players were key as Josh Ortmann scored 17 points, Brett Putz had 13 points and Theo Rothstein added 10 points. And starter Andrew Bernstetter, who didn't score in regulation time, had six points in the overtime, including a go-ahead 3-pointer.
Many fans thought St. Cloud State was the best team coming in, and it's no surprise that they won. It'll be interesting to see how this team plays at the Elite Eight because it's built for halfcourt, grind-it-out basketball that's usually successful as the games become more important.

Monday, March 15, 2010

No Minnesota State, but still good basketball in town

Even though Minnesota State was eliminated from the Central Region men's basketball tournament Sunday, there's still going to be an interesting championship game Tuesday between Augustana and St. Cloud State at Bresnan Arena.
Augustana and St. Cloud State were the best teams in this tournament. The Vikings' fullcourt, 3-point shooting attack has been effective, though the defensive prowess of their two opponents in questionable. If Augustana is able to control the pace, and get open shots from the arc for Cody Schilling, David Foster and Cameron McCaffrey, the Vikings will win.

The Huskies favor more of a halfcourt game that features rugged Matt Schneck, a post player without peer in this tournament. If St. Cloud State can make it a halfcourt game, and the inside-outside duo of point guard Taylor Witt and Schneck dominates, the Huskies will win.
The contrast of styles makes this an intriguing matchup, made even more appealing if you don't care who wins. And there should be plenty of good tickets available.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Season ends for MSU men's basketball team

It wasn't a shock that Minnesota State was eliminated by St. Cloud State in the semifinals of the Central Region men's basketball tournament Sunday, but it was surprising at how this season, which looked so promising just three weeks ago, came to a sudden end.
Playing at Bresnan Arena used to nearly guarantee a victory, but the Mavericks lost three of their last four home games. For most of the season, the Mavericks were the stronger team in the final five minutes of a game, but that was not the case in the last three weeks as other teams executed better in clutch situations.
A team that could put up some lofty offensive numbers was really held in check by physical opponents who mixed in a good deal of zone defense.
It's tough to find fault in a 25-5 season, especially one that includes a Northern Sun conference championship. This was the sixth straight appearance in the national tournament, and the Mavericks are 149-41 over that span.
But it's got to be tough to come up short again in the region tournament. Eventually, the Mavericks will likely break through and get to the Elite Eight, but it won't be this year, and it's a long time until practice begins again Oct. 15.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Random thoughts from region basketball tournament

After sitting through four games that lasted from noon until 10:30 p.m., here's a few observations on what took place in the quarterfinal round of the Central Region men's basketball tournament Saturday at Bresnan Arena.
Augustana looked tough, though it might be because New Mexico Highlands didn't put up much of a fight. If the Vikings shoot the ball like they did in the first half Saturday (59.3 percent), they're going to be tough.
Mesa State got past Winona State by making free throws when the Warriors didn't. Mesa State is going to have to play better in Sunday's semifinals to advance.
No surprise that Taylor Witt and Matt Schneck led St. Cloud State to the 82-77 victory. The Huskies had some problems at the free-throw line late, but Witt is a clutch player.
In four games, there were 172 fouls called, and teams combined to make 177 of 240 free throws. These games had little flow because of all the whistles.
You could say Minnesota State was lucky to beat Colorado School of Mines, but depth is one of this team's strengths and that was clearly the difference in an 84-80 victory. The Mavericks looked nervous in the first half, and this team needs a dose of confidence before Sunday's semifinal game against St. Cloud State. Not sure how you accomplish that before then.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Let the basketball begin

The Central Region men's basketball tournament begins Saturday at Bresnan Arena, and it could be the best day of basketball that venue has ever seen.
In the first game at noon, Chop Tang, the former Mankato East standout, brings his New Mexico Highlands teammates to town to face Augustana. This game has the potential for a track meet between two gifted offensive teams so the team that makes an occasional stop will win. I'll take Augustana.
In the second game at 2:30 p.m., Mesa State takes on Winona State. Mesa State was the top seed in the region for the first month of rankings but faltered late. Guard Mike Dominguez might be the most gifted offensive player in the tournament. Winona State needs to replace leading scorer David Johnson, who is out with a leg injury. I'll take Mesa State, though this should be close. It's tough to ever count out Winona State.
At 6 p.m., the Mavericks take on Colorado School of Mines. This looks like the most lopsided first-round matchup, though Minnesota State has struggled the last couple of weeks. The Mavericks should be too big, deep and athletic for Mines, who need to contro the tempo.
The nightcap pits St. Cloud State and Metro State. These teams both won conference tournaments, and it comes down to the Huskies' inside strength vs. Metro's athleticism. It's tough to pick against St. Cloud State, considering they have the intangible of getting screwed in the seeding process.
For an extensive preview of the tournament, check out Saturday's print edition.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

East, West play in section semifinals

Only twice in the last 12 seasons has the Mankato West and Mankato East boys basketball teams both missed the section championship game, but both teams are on the road for tough section semifinal games Saturday.
East plays at top-seeded Hutchinson, who won 72-55 at the East gym in December. The Cougars have won 15 of the last 19 games and will need strong games from guard Alex Welter and centers Sam Onsomu and Brody Ziegler to advance.
West plays at second-seeded Willmar. The teams have one common opponent: West defeated New Ulm handily early in the season, and Willmar beat New Ulm by six in the section quarterfinals. Shooters Preston Brunz, Ethan Tramp and Nick Kaus will need to score well for the Scarlets to win.
The section championship game will be played Thursday at Minnesota State's Bresnan Arena.

Monday, March 8, 2010

MSU will host basketball regional

As expected, Minnesota State received the No. 1 seed for the Central Region men's basketball tournament, which will be played Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday at Bresnan Arena.
It's the sixth consecutive national-tournament berth for the Mavericks, who have watched the previous five host teams for the region advance to the Elite Eight.
Two weeks ago, it would have seemed that the home court would be enough to carry Minnesota State to its first final-eight appearance, but the Mavericks have dropped the last two games at Bresnan Arena and don't seem bulletproof anymore.
The Mavericks open with Colorado School of Mines, a surprise eighth seed, in the quarterfinals Saturday. A victory there would push Minnesota State into a semifinal game against St. Cloud State and Metro State, which should be a fun quarterfinal game. The Huskies got screwed in the seedings, staying at No. 4 despite winning the Northern Sun tournament Sunday.
The other quarterfinals games match Mesa State and Winona State and Augustana and New Mexico Highlands, which features former Mankato East standout Chop Tang.
It should be a pretty good weekend of basketball at Bresnan Arena, though with students on spring break, it's going to leave the community to create a homecourt advantage, which seems unlikely.
Things have gone right to put the Mavericks in a position to advance out of this tournament. Now it's up to them.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Prediction for Central Region rankings

The NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament brackets won't be announced until sometime after 8 p.m. today, but I was right on with the Northern Sun individual awards earlier this week so I thought I'd take a stab at the Central Region rankings.
Keep in mind that I have only a slim idea what the regional committee takes into account when deciding which eight teams from the Northern Sun and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference will advance to the national tournament. This is based on polls leading up to today and a gut feeling about how this has operated in the past.
1. Minnesota State. The Mavericks don't seem so deserving, having lost three of the last five games and the last two home games, but you can't throw away the entire body of work. Minnesota State is 24-4, with three losses coming to Augustana and St. Cloud State, other top teams in this region.
2. Mesa State. It seems the committee has preferred to have both conferences represented in the top two. Again, Mesa State has struggled to finish the season, but the Mavericks have been the best team in the RMAC, and we'll see what that means next weekend.
3. St. Cloud State. It seems the Huskies got screwed by the committe last week, showing up in fourth, and despite advancing to the championship game of the Northern Sun tournament, which began at 2 p.m., it's unlikely the Huskies will jump all the way to No. 1. And No. 2 probably goes to an RMAC team.
4. Augustana. The Vikings had a legitimate chance of overtaking Minnesota State, having swept the Mavericks, but they lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, too.
5. Metro State. Metro holds the spot after defeating Highlands in the RMAC tournament.

6. New Mexico Highlands. The most dangerous team in the RMAC, and senior forward Chop Tang is returning to Mankato.
7. Winona State. It's been an up and down season for the Warriors, who needed the victory over Mary in the Northern Sun tournament to guarantee this spot.
8. Southwest Minnesota State with a victory in the Northern Sun championship. Otherwise, Colorado School of Mines or Fort Lewis grabs this spot by default.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Maybe the Mavericks woke the Mustangs

Surprised that Southwest Minnesota State took out top-seeded Minnesota State in the quarterfinals of the Northern Sun men's basketball tournament Wednesday. Maybe you shouldn't have been.
The underdog Mustangs defeated Winona State 81-67 in the tournament semifinals Saturday and will play St. Cloud State in the championship game at 2 p.m. Sunday. St. Cloud State trailed by one with three minutes to play but rallied to defeat Wayne State 74-66 in the semifinals.
The Huskies will play in the national tournament and might get the homecourt advantage in the regional. Southwest needs to win Sunday to get the league's automatic berth.
The pairings will be announced at 8 p.m. Sunday, and it still seems like Minnesota State has a shot at the top seed for the regional. Of course, the Mavericks have lost their last two home games so who knows if that's an advantage?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Southwest shocks MSU men in tourney opener

Southwest Minnesota State shot better than 60 percent and defeated Minnesota State 80-78 in the quarterfinals of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men's basketball tournament Wednesday at Bresnan Arena.
The loss keeps the Mavericks from hosting the tournament's final four Saturday and Sunday and puts into jeopardy the chances of hosting the Central Region tournament the following weekend.
The Mavericks were still ranked No.1 in the region before Wednesday's loss, and No. 2 Mesa State and No. 3 Augustana have also lost this week. That means the Mavericks will hold up as the top seed and host unless St. Cloud State, which is now hosting the conference tournament, jumps up from No. 4 by winning two more games. That kind of jump this late in the season seems unlikely.
But the Mavericks have lost three of the last five games, including the last two home games, and certainly any swagger or confidence the team had has vanished. Minnesota State has been beaten by more physical teams, and the execution at crunch time has been poor.
What looked like a promising March run has turned into a nightmare of losses, and if nothing else, the region has shown to be wide open.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Educated guesses at Northern Sun basketball awards

The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference announces its individual awards Wednesday, and though the coaches vote on the selections, here's a guess at who wins what.
For the men:
Player of the year: Matt Schneck of St. Cloud State.
Coach of the year: Matt Margenthaler of Minnesota State.
Newcomer of the year: Jefferson Mason of Minnesota State.
Freshman of the year: Cameron McCaffrey of Augustana.
Defensive player of the year: Mason.

For the women:
Player of the year: Jheri Booker of Minnesota Duluth,
Coach of the year: Chris Kielsmeier of Wayne State.
Newcomer of the year: Maurika Hickman of Concordia-St. Paul.
Freshman of the year: Alex Feeney of Augustana.
Defensive player of the year: Meghan Rettke of Minnesota State-Moorhead.

For more on each guess, pick up the print edition Tuesday. Check back Wednesday to see how I did.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Big road wins for MSU men, women

If you're going to spend 16 hours traveling to and from a game, you might as well win. The Minnesota State men's and women's basketball teams both faced important games Saturday at University of Mary, and both teams prevailed at Bismarck, N.D.
The men won 75-63 and clinched the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship, in part because St. Cloud State lost at Winona State. The men are the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament, and there is some thought that the Mavericks may have also locked up the top seed for the Central Region tournament in two weeks.
Minnesota State will play Southwest Minnesota State at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bresnan Arena in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament, and with a victory, the Mavericks would host the semifinals and championship game Saturday and Sunday.
There could be a lot of high-quality basketball being played at Bresnan Arena in the next two weeks.
The women needed a victory to get into the conference tournament and prevailed 72-69 at Mary. Minnesota State will face regular-season champion Concordia-St. Paul on Wednesday, and the teams split during the season. It would be an upset if the Mavericks won, but last year, the Bears knocked off top-seeded Minnesota State in the quarterfinal round of the Northern Sun tournament so revenge is possible.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Surprise! Gustavus hosting MIAC championship game

The Gustavus Adolphus men's basketball team was seeded second for the MIAC tournament so it's not surprising that the Gusties are playing in the championship game Saturday. But the opponent and site is a big shocker as fourth-seeded Carleton upset No. 1 St. Thomas in the semifinals and will be the visitor at Gus Young Court at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The winner gets an automatic berth into the national tournament, which is probably the only way either team advances. St. Thomas is likely to get an at-large berth despite the loss to Carleton.
The Gusties have had an interesting season in that every time it seems like they may get on a roll, they take a loss. When it seems as though things might be falling apart, they win again. They have trouble finishing games, though they've won a few at the buzzer.
Carleton was playing poorly early in the season but have won 11 of the last 12 games.
The playoff atmosphere is generally outstanding at Gus Young Court, and both teams will have vocal support. It should be fun, even if you're not concerned with who wins.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Augustana keeps Mavericks from clinching Northern Sun title

A week ago, the Minnesota State men's basketball team had a two-game lead in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, and it look like it was inevitable that the Mavericks would win the title. But losses to St. Cloud State and Augustana have put Minnesota State's hopes of winning a conference championship and hosting the Northern Sun and Central Region tournaments in serious jeopardy.
On Wednesday, the Mavericks lost 72-71 to Augustana, making only 17 of 29 free throws and commiting 14 turnovers. Augustana ended up winning on freshman Cameron McCaffrey's baseline 8-footer with 9.1 seconds, but had the Mavericks taken care of business at the free-throw line, the outcome would have been decided much earlier.
The Mavericks must now win at Mary on Saturday to ensure at least a share of the conference title, and tiebreakers could decide if the conference tournament is played at Bresnan Arena or St. Cloud. It didn't seem like it would come down to this just a week ago.