TWTW: Uncovering a classic record and a mysterious baseball

I cleaned my basement for the first time in, well, OK, ever, on Sunday. I spent about two hours throwing away crap, much of which belonged to my ex-wife, and moving baseball cards, VHS tapes and Christmas decorations into storage.

And I also found a bunch of cool stuff.

I found a copy of the Star Tribune from the first game in Minnesota Wild history, a copy of Baseball Weekly commemorating Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run in 1998. A full-sized ‘Aeon Flux’ movie poster.
An old football playbook (the ol’ ball coach over at Roosevelt has evolved quite a bit since 1997), and this Washington football handbook.

I also made two significant discoveries.

About eight years ago, I had a flood in the house when a part in the freezer in the kitchen froze and exploded in the middle of the night, with gallons of water falling through the kitchen floor and onto a bunch of my stuff in the unfinished basement. Homeowner’s insurance reimbursed me for all the stuff, but there were certain collectibles that couldn’t really be replaced, and the biggest loss — I thought — was an original vinyl copy of ‘Let It Be’, the classic 1984 album by the Replacements, my all-time favorite band.

I collected all of the Replacements albums on vinyl about 10 years ago, but shortly after the kitchen flood, I couldn’t find ‘Let It Be’, which is commonly regarded as their best album. I still had the jacket, but the record itself (and the inner sleeve) was missing.

This past Christmas I looked into buying another copy on ebay, but the four or five copies for sale on there were all going for $200 or more.

So I’m digging through baseball cards, cassette tapes and old newspapers yesterday when I see a record on the cement floor that had been hiding under a bunch of old Argus sports sections. It was wrapped in a partially torn paper sleeve with the ‘Twin-Tone’ logo on it. When I saw that, I literally gasped out loud. Could it be?

It felt like when Beavis & Butt-head are reunited with their TV at the end of ‘Beavis & Butt-head Do America’, and if you don’t get that reference we can’t be friends.

It looked like it had a couple scratches on it, but when I put it on and played it from front-to-back it never skipped.

I also found a baseball. It had a bunch of signatures on it, and I at first figured it was from one of my amateur seasons, as I’ve tried to get a ball signed by all my teammates each year (but only remembered to do so about half the time).

A closer look at this one revealed a bunch of unfamiliar names. Then I saw the ‘label’.

1991 Brookings Cubs? Exactly how did I come into possession of this ball? After all, I was 11 in 1991.

I think I know the answer. I’m pretty sure some guy who played on that team got drunk at my uncle’s house and left it there. When my uncle died, all of the stuff in his house that was even remotely sports related was shipped to me.

You can only make out the first couple letters in the photo, but that name just to the right? That’s Billy McMacken, who would’ve been in his early 20s in 1991. I didn’t recognize any other names on the ball.

So I’ll hang on to it for you, Billy. When the Monarchs make our trip up to Brookings I’ll be sure to bring it along.

Recapping the USF basketball season

Year two of the NSIC era had high highs and low lows for the USF men.
The Cougars looked like they’d be a pretty explosive offensive team in their non-conference games, then opened NSIC play with wins over Wayne State and Southwest Minnesota State.
But the Cougar men would quickly show that they could be really bad if they wanted to be, particularly on defense, and their struggled on that end of the court led to an early season stretch that looked like it would basically ruin their season.
USF was beaten 96-77 on their home floor by Augustana in a highly deflating rivalry performance, which was the first ouf four straight losses heading into the Christmas break.
But they whipped MSU-Moorhead 92-70 in the first game of the New Year, a team that would go on to tie for the North title and could still get into the NCAA tournament.
But three losses followed, at which point USF had lost seven of eight and fallen to 3-8 in conference play.
I pretty much left them for dead at that point. They won six of their next seven, including a big wins at home over Winona State and Bemidji State, but the one loss in that seven game stretch was a 94-53 defeat at Augustana that is probably the worst game I’ve ever seen USF play, including the NAIA era.
There was another embarrassing loss, 109-64 to MSU-Mankato, but again USF rebounded, going 2-0 on the Mary/Minot road trip, and nearly pulling off a miraculous home upset of Mankato.

They finished the regular season with a 12-10 conference record. Had they completed the comeback against the Mavericks, they would’ve finished fourth in the South — ahead of Augustana — and hosted their first round NSIC tournament game.
Instead, they had to go to St. Cloud State, where they lost 86-75, ending their season. It was a tough loss, too, because Charles Ward missed the entire second half with a concussion. He had 17 points before going down and USF may have been able to hang on to their halftime lead if he’d not gotten hurt.
Of the four Sioux Falls teams, the Cougars were the only one not to go to the Pentagon, and regardless of the succecss they had this year, that hurts.

Still, it was a pretty encouraging (if weird) season. Nobody could really figure out how a team can look so bad on some nights and then beat some of the best teams in the region on others.
The answer, I think, is that they were streaky on offense and often bad on defense. By the end of the year, they brought both of those issues a little bit more under control.

When they shot well, they were good. I didn’t see a better pure shooter in the league than Derek Brown, who used a quick release and hard-to-believe catch-and-shoot ability to shoot 47 percent from 3-point range and average 13.3 points per game. He also led the nation in free throw shooting at 96 percent (76 for 79).
Charles Ward averaged 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds, while Mahlon Jones, Rob Goffney and Mack Johnson also had their moments. If you’d said last year that Jordan Stotts would average 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds this year, everyone would’ve been thrilled, but after a hot start, he actually faded down the stretch and will be looking to bounce back next year. Bryan Kielpinski averaged 8.3 points and led the league in blocked shots.

I’m not sure how optimistic to be about this team going forward. Unlike Augie, they don’t have any obvious All-Conference players coming back, and most of their best players this year were upperclassmen. I think they’re going to miss Brown quite a bit. Ward should be a good player next year, but he’s just got the one year left.
Johnson looks like a guy with a real bright future, but Cutler Finneman was slightly disappointing as a freshman. Jones might be the fastest player in the league, but he’ll also have just one more year.
And Mankato, Winona and Augie should all be loaded next year. Being in the South is tough on the middle of the pack teams.

Still, for them to finish 12-10 in the league, after a 3-8 start, is definitely a positive. I didn’t think this team was going to be all that good, and when they started 3-8 I thought it had a chance to get ugly. It didn’t, and that’s a credit to Coach Chris Johnson.

As for the women, they also had a weird year. They lost seven of eight, won six of seven, then lost six in a row.
Then they beat St. Cloud State to get to the Pentagon, and then they beat top seeded, regular season NSIC champion Wayne State in front of their biggest crowd of the season at the Pentagon. I covered 9 of the 14 games at the Pentagon, and the Cougars’ win over Wayne was easily the most entertaining. It gave them a signature win not just for their season, but for the Travis Traphagen era.

The Cougars probably aren’t as bad as their 14-15 record, as evidenced not just by the two tournament wins but also the fact that most of their losses were winnable games. They probably dropped more than their fair share that could’ve gone either way.

There’s reason to be optimistic going forward, as Taylor Varsho was excellent as a sophomore. Sam Knecht won freshman of the year, Marie Malloy made huge strides from her freshman year, and players like Alicia Boe, Amber Paden and Teagan Molden were also impressive at times. Jaicee Ulmer is a strong third wheel.
"I’m excited about our team going forward," Traphagen said. "We have young players that have a lot of room to grow, and I’m excited about our incoming recruiting class. I’m happy with the way we finished the year, and I think winning these two games in the tournament gives our girls a lot of confidence."

Of course, the Cougars will have to replace Laura Johnson, who is one of the best players they’ve ever had.
The all-time leading 3-point shooter in USF history, Johnson finishes fifth on the all-time scoring list with 1,402 points, and her 770 rebounds and 123 career blocks also rank high on the USF all-time lists.
She averaged 15 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 blocks in her senior year.
Johnson had one of the quickest releases I’ve ever seen, and her numbers probably would’ve been even better if there hadn’t been so many games where the Cougars couldn’t find another scoring option to take pressure off her.
I’m not going to put her ahead of Courtney Farrell (even though Johnson obviously played against much tougher competition than Courtney did), but she’s easily No. 2 on my list of USF’s best women’s players. She was also one of my favorites. She’s really funny. I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a college athlete who took her/himself less seriously, and that’s refreshing.

* Speaking of USF hoops, the Gayville-Volin Raider girls, coached by former Cougar Matt Malloy, defeated Freeman 44-40 last night in overtime.
One year after going 4-14, the Raiders are going to the Class B state tournament for the first time ever.
Congrats, Matty.

Recapping the Augustana basketball season

Both Augustana basketball teams saw their season come to an end Saturday at the Pentagon, and for both teams, it was one of their worst seasons in recent years.
The Viking men finished 16-14. They’d reached the NCAA tournament in five of the last six seasons, and probably should’ve got in the one year over that stretch that they didn’t. This was the first time since the 2006-07 season that the Vikings were not in the tourney hunt.

But coach Tom Billeter wouldn’t call the season a disappointment and I won’t, either. Yes, the Vikings are a program that expects to be — at minimum — an NCAA tournament team every year, but that was probably an unrealistic expectation after the personnel hits this team took.
Brennan Olson would’ve been a senior this year, but injuries led him to retire. Olson would not have been a game-changing player, but he definitely would’ve helped.

The bigger losses were a season-ending injury to would-be junior guard Al Richter, and would-be sophomore center Zach Huisken quitting the team. Those two are major pieces, and losing them dealt the Vikings a big blow.

Richter is a scorer with size who likely would’ve been an improved wing defender this year, too, while Huisken gave the Vikings a terrific 1-2 punch in the paint alongside Dan Jansen.

Even losing walkon sophomore guard Tanner Odegaard cost the Vikings a shooter and another body, and then freshman point guard Matt Brazendale missed eight games in the middle of the season with head and wrist injuries. When he came back, he wasn’t quite the same player.

So with all that said, I think a .500 season is about what should’ve been expected. The Vikings lost some games they probably should’ve won, blowing some big leads and playing horrible defense in others, but overall I’d say they neither disappointed or overachieved.
They got to the Pentagon with a win at Northern State. That’s a decent accomplishment for a team that’s better days are obviously ahead of it.

"This might have been one of our better years ever, to take the hits we did and play so many young kids," Billeter said, giving his team a tad more credit than I would. "We just kept coming back and fighting. I’m very pleased, really proud of our guys."

Dan Jansen backed up his freshman of the year campaign with a strong sophomore season, and Casey Schilling surprised everyone by becoming the most productive all-around player in the league.
Yuriy Malashenko had a strong senior year, and freshman point guard Adam Beyer quietly had a very strong year, getting noticably better all year long. By year’s end, Beyer averaged 6.6 points and 3.5 assists per game, shooting 51 percent from the floor. At 6-6, he’s a nightmare matchup for the rest of the league.
Ethan Guske, also a freshman, averaged 7.3 points and shot 39 percent from downtown. Devin Gilligan was a great energy guy off the bench, averaging 5.4 points in just 13 minutes per game.

Richter will be back from injury, and, if you haven’t heard, Huisken is returning to play next year. I imagine he’ll have to prove his dedication to his teammates, and who knows how a year off will affect him, but at the very least he’s a 6-9 kid with the skills to play Division I basketball.

All of which is a long way of saying this season was a stepping stone to the future. It might have been that to some degree even if Richter and Huisken had played. The Vikings will have no seniors next year.
But expectations will, of course, be very high next season, and the Vikings haven’t always responded well to that kind of pressure. I’ll try my hardest not to use the words ‘all-in’ at any point next year.

"It was great to learn this year," said Beyer. "Yuriy and Isaac (Jorgensen) were great senior leaders that really mentored us. We’ll use this season as a motivator for next season. The expectations will be higher and that will make us work harder."

As for the Vikings women, they found themselves in a similar scenario.
For starters they graduated an outstanding senior class that took them to the Final Four, in Alex Feeney, Faith Tinklenberg, Lydia Nelson and Cami Koehn.
Andrea Whitney, a 6-2 sophomore who was outstanding in the postseason, was supposed to step in to replace Feeney in the middle, but she decided to quit basketball. So did Emily Bose, who would’ve been Whitney’s backup.
That left the Vikings without much depth or size in the post. They spent much of the season playing four guards at a time, which meant on most nights whether or not they won or lost usually depended on how they shot the ball from outside. If the shots were falling, they were good enough to beat anyone. If the shots were not falling, they could look pretty rough.

The Vikings finished 16-12, but they got to the Pentagon, where they came close to beating a Northern State team that ended up reaching the finals.
But ultimately, their lack of size forced them to rely way too much on the 3, and they didn’t shoot it well. The Vikings attempted 699 3s, the second most in the league, but hit just 32.2 percent of them, 13th in the league.
Rhianna Gullickson had a very nice season as the de facto center, averaging 12.4 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the floor, but she was often overmatched defensively. Riley Nordgaard had a terrific year in the hustle stats but struggled shooting. Emily Schulte was very streaky as a shooter, while Alex Kneeland shot just 30 percent from the floor. Hayley McCarron opened the year in the starting lineup and ended at the end of the bench.
The highlight, of course, was Shaunteva Ashley, who had one of the best individual seasons in recent Augie women’s history. She ranked second in the league in scoring with over 18 points per game, led the league in assist/turover ratio, shot 49 percent from the floor, 36 percent from 3, and led the team in free throw attempts, where she converted 80 percent of the time. She should be the NSIC preseason player of the year going into next season.

Again, considering what they had, I don’t think it’s really fair to call the Vikings’ season a disappointment.
They’ll miss the toughness that Schulte and Katie Meister, the team’s only seniors, brought to the floor, but otherwise things look good for next year.
Ashley and Nordgaard should only be better. McCarron is going to be a good player. Sydney Rome had some nice moments, and I really like the way Sophie Kenney — the heir apparent at point guard — runs the floor. Having a quarterback who doesn’t worry about getting shots for herself could be a benefit for several Viking players.

Gullickson has another year of eligibility, but it’s unclear if she’s going to use it. With an almost tragic history of knee injuries, it’d be hard to blame her for walking away.
But if she returns she gives the Vikings a reliable senior who never makes mistakes and has a solid inside offensive game.
There aren’t any 6-2 true 5s among the incoming freshmen, but the Vikings should at least be deeper in the middle next season.

"I’m proud of this team," said coach Dave Krauth. "We have some feisty kids that really work hard and fight and they were the heart and soul of our team. I love players that have that kind of tenacity, and we’ll have a bunch of those kinds of kids back next season. We need to be a little stronger and a little more efficient in the post. If we can just get a little of that it could take us a long way."

Wrapping up the NSIC Tourney

The NSIC Tournament wrapped up Tuesday night with the MSU-Mankato men beating Winona State 75-66 in the men’s title game, and the Concordia-St. Paul women beating Northern State 54-36 in the women’s championship.
Sixteen teams played fourteen games in four days at the Pentagon.

It went pretty well.
It was obvious that the Pentagon impressed players, coaches and media from outside the area who hadn’t seen it. Game ops went pretty smoothly. There were a few early glitches. They weren’t providing stats during the opening game between the Augie and Northern women, and the rooms labeled ‘media’ and ‘hospitality’ were both empty. The actual hospitality room was mislabeled, so it kind of took awhile to figure out where everyone was supposed to go to get what they needed.
But the event was well-staffed. Media seating was good and the TV broadcasts appeared to go well.
There were no press conferences for the game, and that was the right call. While the Argus Leader bylined 11 of the 14 games (I covered nine myself), and the St. Cloud Times, Winona Daily News and Mankato Free Press all sent reporters to the event, press conferences are always awkward at these kind of things. Even the Summit League press conferences can be really uncomfortable when they don’t involve a Dakota school.
It did make my job a little tougher, as the players came out of the locker rooms to a hallway full of fans and parents, which made it kind of difficult to get interviews with players.
It didn’t bother me, though, because the postgame kids autograph sessions was a nice touch, and while lots of reporters judge these kind of events totally on how much they’re catered to, I won’t.
The important thing is how good of an experience is created for the players and fans, and I think that was excellent.

I talked to several players and coaches, and they all were very impressed with the Pentagon as a facility, and appreciative of the fan support, which was solid.
Each of the games that featured a team from Augustana and USF were well-attended, and Northern State and SMSU also brought very strong crowds. And even the games where I anticipated really small crowds, there were enough folks in the stands to keep the place from being dead.

I don’t know how the attendance numbers that wound up on the box scores were tabulated, because they were not an accurate representation of the number of people in the stands.
The announced attendnace for the Winona vs. St. Cloud men was 194. There were at least twice that many. The Northern State women’s game against Mankato was announced at 291. There were probably more like 600 or so.

Granted, that still doesn’t sound like a very big crowd, and it isn’t, but in a small venue, it looks better than it sounds. There were no games played in front of a quiet, empty gym. Considering the weather was almost worst-case scenario bad, that’s a good sign.

Then again, what if USF and NSU’s women had been beaten right away like Augie’s teams did? That would’ve hurt attendance.

The primary criticism of having the tournament at the Pentagon is that it’s not a truly neutral site, but I don’t know if that’s really a problem at all.

Did USF and Augie have a home court advantage? Yes. USF especially did, because their students came out in full force. Augie’s fans were pretty quiet — something the Viking players and fans definitely noticed — but it was still more or less a home game for them, especially their men.

But you may have noticed that Augie, USF and Northern all failed to win the tournament despite the home court advantage. Yes, the USF women scored the biggest upset of the tournament over Wayne State, and while the crowd played a big role in lifting the Cougars to that win, my guess is that Wayne would’ve won that game if they’d had anything to gain by winning it (they didn’t).

And I think for a lot of players, playing in front of a hostile crowd is better than playing in front of no crowd.
The Concordia women, for example, were essentially the visiting team in both the semifinals and the finals, and they enjoyed it. Guard Rachel Hansen told me it was a lot more fun playing in front of loud USF fans than playing in front of a small crowd consisting mostly of parents, which, let’s face it, is what we had in Rochester last year.
Some people still want the regular season champ to host, but that’s really not the way it’s being done these days, and let’s face it, some of the schools in the NSIC have less-than-amazing facilities.
The first year of something like this always has somewhat of a honeymoon period, so we’ll see how things work next year, but I think most would agree the first year of this event was a success.

I’ll have season wrap ups for all four USF/Augie teams on the blog later this week. In the meantime, here are links to all of my game stories from the tournament.

Northern women beat Augie
USF women stun Wayne State
MSU-Mankato men beat Augie
Winona men over St. Cloud State
Northern State women upset MSU-Mankato
USF women fall to Concordia
Mankato men drop SMSU
Concordia wins women’s title
Mavericks win men’s championship

Live Chat Day, late NSIC edition

Tuesday is live chat day. Today we’re going to move it back to 5 p.m., because I’ll be covering the NSIC tournament championship games at the Pentagon. The women’s game pits Northern State against Concordia-St. Paul, and MSU-Mankato will take on Winona State in the men’s final.

I realize 5 isn’t the ideal time to kick off a chat since that’s when most of you working stiffs are commuting, but the chat will be open for the duration of both games, so stop by when you can. We can talk NSIC tourney or anything else. See ya then.

Coo women live

Of the four local NSIC basketball teams, the USF women might’ve been the last ones you’d expect to make a run, but here they are, playing in the NSIC tourney semifinals after knocking off top seed Wayne State on Saturday. They’re the last of the four Sioux Falls teams still alive. Their opponent, Concordia-St. Paul, is not a good matchup for them, but being two wins away from an NCAA tourney berth, just about anything could happen.
Their win over the Wildcats was one of the more entertaining games I’ve covered in years. The fans were a big factor.
If you can’t make it out to the game, I’ll be covering it live at
If the USF students/fans are anything like they were against Wayne, it should be a fun one.
Tipoff is at 6 pm.

Matt Malloy finds redemption at Gayville-Volin

If you google ‘Matt Malloy USF’ or ‘Matt Malloy basketball’, the first thing that pops up isn’t a story on Malloy’s exploits as a dynamo point guard for the Cougars. It’s a three-year old story detailing Malloy’s arrest, along with teammate Eric Tisby, for an altercation in the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 2011 at a Sioux Falls convenience store.

Tisby was charged with assault. Malloy was charged with drunk driving. They were the two leading scorers on one of the best men’s basketball teams in NAIA that year, but never played again after the incident. Both pled guilty and received two years of probation.

It was an ugly way for both men’s careers to end, Tisby the far-from-home transfer from Texas (who now plays pro basketball overseas), Malloy the archetypical All-American boy from a prominent sports family who had been South Dakota’s Mr. Basketball and the Class A Spirit of Su winner as a senior in high school for Parkston.
It cast a dim pall over the Cougars’ season, added years to the life of head coach Chris Johnson, and severely damaged the reputation of two young men.

Even missing half of his senior year, Malloy remains one of the Cougars’ all-time greats. He’s fourth on the all-time scoring list with 1,698 points, and might’ve had an outside shot of catching Gayle Hoover for the top spot had he not been suspended.

He wasn’t only one of the best players the Cougars ever had, he was one of the most memorable. He was cocky, outspoken and fearless. He was 5-foot-9 (allegedly) and could dunk. He argued with referees and occasionally his coaches, and while no area college player this side of Josh Mueller was ever the target of as much taunting from fans as Malloy, he never backed down from giving it back to them (for better or worse).
That made Malloy perhaps the most hated player in the GPAC, and when he was arrested and suspended, scores of fans took pleasure in witnessing his fall from grace.
(Photo by Emily Luikens)

After his suspension, Malloy quietly joined the Cougar baseball team — though he did not appear in any games — and finished his schooling, earning his degree that spring.

I kept in touch with Matt after he left school, and he expressed to me more than once his fear of what effect the scandal might have on his future. He wanted to get into teaching and coaching, and I remember him telling me once that he wondered if he’d eventually have to move away, which he didn’t want to do.
But he didn’t go into hiding, either, continuing to play amateur baseball in his hometown of Parkston, showing up at area sporting events, and maintaining his caustic sense of humor.

All Malloy needed was for someone to take a chance on him, and that person turned out to be Gayville-Volin superintendent Jason Selchert.
After a year as an assistant girls basketball coach, Malloy is now the head varsity girls coach and Kindergarten teacher during the day. Yes, Kindergarten.

In his first year on the Raider sidelines, Malloy — who turned 26 on Wednesday — has made quite an impact, leading them to (so far) a 13-7 record and the 10B District championship, following Tuesday’s big upset of top-seeded Viborg-Hurley. Despite no head coaching experience, Malloy has made himself a Coach of the Year candidate as a rookie.

The Raiders were just 4-14 a year ago, and haven’t played in a District championship since Ronald Reagan was President.
They take on Alcester-Hudson tonight in Tea with a berth in Class B regionals on the line.
That means they’re still a few wins away from a state tournament berth, and Malloy seems hesitant to talk up his team’s accomplishments too much, as if he doesn’t want to jinx himself.
Now, full disclosure: Matt and I are friends. I first met him when I covered the State A tournament his senior year in Rapid City, and covered his career at USF, where we maintained a good player-reporter relationship. We kept in touch after he graduated, mostly through baseball, and we played on a flag football team together this fall. I know his family.
And honestly that says a lot about Matt, because I’ve written — objectively and at length — about the worst moment in his life. That would mean a termination of communication with some people, but Matt never gave me a hard time for doing my job, even when it was painful for him.
On some level I’m sure he’s not thrilled that this piece is reminding people of that day three years ago, but he answered all of my questions, and it was apparent some of them were hard for him.
But he’s moved on. He’s doing good work in Gayville, and I thought it would be a good time to catch up with him.

MZ: So your upset of Viborg-Hurley on Tuesday. How big of a win was that?
MM: It’s really big for Gayville-Volin. They haven’t been to a district championship since the 80s. They’ve never made a state tournament. So to go from being 4-14 last year to playing in the district championship is a huge deal for them and the program and the community and everyone involved.

MZ: Do you have a shot at beating Alcester-Hudson (today)?
MM: I think we do. They’re 14-6, we’re 13-7. They have seven seniors and they’re a big, physical team. They beat us by 11 earlier in the year but we hadn’t hit our stride yet. After beating the No. 1 seed we should have some confidence.

MZ: What kind of team do you have? Did you inherit some talent?
MM: Coming off a 4-14 season I was pretty sure we’d improve. I did get a good group of girls. There were no seniors last year, so we didn’t lose anybody. I figured it was really going to be contingent on how hard we worked in the offseason. We’re not very big, so we had to become better shooters and ball-handlers. I think that’s really where I was able to help them being that I was a scorer when I played. We’re still a young team, but they’re pretty dedicated and they’ve really bought into what we’re selling.

MZ: And what are you selling?
MM: Well, Gayville-Volin got second at state in cross country and third in track, and I had girls from both of those teams on the basketball team. So I said, hey, we’ve got good athletes, let’s push the ball, wear teams down and press the whole game, and that’s what we’ve done. They conditioned really hard. I told them to be prepared to work their butts off, and they’ve done it.

MZ: How did you wind up getting the job?
MM: I was the assistant last year. Trey Krier was the head coach. Then he got a job in Yankton as the sophomore boys coach, and when he left they let me be the head coach.

MZ: Did you want it?
MM: Yeah, I wanted it, and I told ‘em that in my very first interview, that I wanted to be the head coach someday, that I wanted to build a program somewhere.
I really think in small towns basketball tradition is important, and it’s something that can’t be coached. You see programs like Avon and Parkston that are always having success — you have to build interest in your program to get girls to come out. There’s a lot of small towns that are having numbers problems right now. You need to build a winning attitude around your program and your school, and I think there’s a great opportunity to do that at a Class B school.

MZ: Is coaching high school basketball what you really want to do?
MM: My dad was a high school basketball coach, and let’s face it, we’re a basketball family. My sisters, my grandpa, my uncles, it was just kind of all I grew up knowing. It’s something I have a passion for, obviously, but it’s also something I know. Sometimes I feel like it’s the only thing I know. I don’t know at what point it kicked in, but I always knew whatever I did in life would involve basketball and kids in some way.

MZ: Did you see yourself coaching girls, though? And would you be OK staying with girls?
MM: I didn’t want to coach girls. I remember my senior year in college saying, ‘whatever I do I just hope I never have to coach girls’. And now that I do I don’t know if I’d ever want to go back to boys. I really think a good girls coach in a small town can be a bigger part of making a successful team then at a ‘AA’ school where you have a ton of athletes to pick from. There’s a lot more molding and teaching that goes on at the small town girls level, and I like that.
(Photo by Jeremy Hoeck)

MZ: So are you in this for the long haul, being a coach and teacher?
MM: Yeah, definitely, for the foreseeable future, anyway. It’s hard — I don’t think the general population realize all that goes on behind the scenes, all the extra hours you put in. There’s days I’ll get to school at 7 in the morning, go straight from school to a game and don’t get home til midnight. That’s a long day. And doing it 2-3 times a week, then going to practice the rest of the week and being at school til 6 at night, that’s a long day, too, especially when you’re teaching Kindergarten. But I’m enjoying it. I can’t really see myself doing anything else.

MZ: How much did you worry about the incident at USF affecting your ability to get a job?
MM: I definitely worried about it a lot, especially trying to get into teaching. It is hard to find male teachers at Elementary schools, and I think that helped me to an extent. But really I just needed someone to give me a chance, and Jason Selchert, the Superintendent at Gayville-Volin, gave me that chance.
He actually ref’d some of my games in college, which I thought would just deter him from me. But he saw potential in me and gave me an opportunity, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
I learned a lot from that whole experience and I think it helps me relate to kids. They’re going through a lot of the same life choices that I struggled with. They know that I’m not perfect and they know they can come to me and talk to me about things like that.

MZ: Do you feel like that incident is still attached to you, that it’s still something other people think of when they see you or hear your name?
MM: Yeah, and I don’t know if that’s ever going to go away. But that’s nothing I can control. All I can do is the best I can at what I’m doing and show people I’ve learned from that, and help kids avoid the same mistakes I made. I think with time — time kind of heals, and I hope I can be successful enough to make the other stuff fade away, but at the same time I know it’s attached to me and it always will be. I just can’t let it hold me back.

MZ: What was the hardest part of going through that situation?
MM: (Long pause) Letting my parents down. Not being able to play basketball, and letting my team down, that hurt, too. Now the hard part is having that one bad decision cause people to think that’s who you are. You still hear it, people still have those perceptions. But that’s not who I am, it’s just one bad decision I made.

MZ: A lot of people in your situation would’ve probably kept a real low profile after something like that, but you didn’t. That honestly surprised me a little. It seemed like you were trying to, I don’t know, not let it change you or something.
MM: That’s who I’ve been my whole life. I made a mistake, but I wasn’t just going to stop being me all the sudden. People saw the way I played basketball and thought that’s the kind of person I was, but they don’t understand that being a 5-9 white kid that can’t shoot, you have to have a chip on your shoulder if you’re going to be successful.
I can’t even begin to explain how embarrassing it was for me to go through all that and how much it hurt my family, but to go into hiding? I wasn’t going to do that. I wasn’t going to let that be the thing that defined me as a person.

MZ: Have you talked to Eric Tisby lately?
MM: I haven’t for awhile. I’m sure if I called him right now he’d pick up the phone and we’d have a 20-minute conversation and it’d be good. But I know he’s playing pro ball, and obviously I’m busy coaching and teaching. You drift away and get busy with your own lives, but he’s still my friend. I’m glad he’s still playing.

MZ: How did you end up teaching Kindergarten?
MM: I student taught 8th grade social studies at Patrick Henry, then I came here last year and was a title teacher where I helped in different classes, and I was around the Kindergarteners a lot. They saw that I was pretty good with the kids and had a knack for being patient with them. They added another Kindergarten class this year and asked me if I’d do it. It’s something new and challenging but I think I’m good at it. In this day and age there’s a lot of single-parent kids, and a lot of kids who don’t have a positive male role model in their life. I try to be that for them.

MZ: Sounds exhausting. I’m sure you’ve got some horror stories already.
MM: I’ve wiped so many butts, Zim, it’s not even funny. Cleaned up a lot of puke. I had a kid go to the hospital after getting a rock stuck in his nose. That was on the second day of school. But it’s been pretty smooth sailing from there.

The Gayville-Volin girls take on Alcester-Hudson tonight in Tea at 7 p.m.

Ready for the Pentagon

The Pentagon field is set.
The NSIC tournament heads to Sioux Falls after the 16-team mens and womens brackets pared down to eight during first round action Wednesday night.

Here’s a recap of Wednesday night and a look at who’s coming this weekend.
USF 75, St. Cloud State 68
Augie 90, MSU-Moorhead 79
Northern State 74, SMSU 45
MSU-Mankato 106, UM-Crookston 63
Concordia 81, UM-Duluth 72
Mary 72, Winona State 66
Minot State 74, Upper Iowa 73
Wayne State 72, Bemidji State 42

Nice win for USF. SCSU only lost at home three times all year and two of them were to the Cougars. Especially nice to see meaningful contributions from Bailey Bouman and Chrissy Strassburg, two seniors who don’t play a whole lot.
An impressive win for Augie, too, as they withstood a 31-point, 13-rebound effort from center Megan Strese thanks to terrific guard play.
Shaunteva Ashley had 30, Emily Schulte 25 and Riley Nordgaard 11 and 10 with five steals and four assists. Sophie Kenney had maybe the best game of her career off the bench.
Ashley is averaging 24.6 points over her last six games. In the 15 games since scoring just seven against Minot on Jan. 4, she’s averaged 22.4 points.

Also of note, Minot State center Carly Boag, my pick for NSIC MVP each of the last two seasons, scored 46 points, and NSIC record and the most points scored in D2 this season. The Beavers needed every one of them, as they narrowly held off Upper Iowa in what would’ve been a huge upset.
By holding on, they ensured that USF’s win over SCSU was the only upset of the first round. Not a big upset, but the Cougars were the only road team to win on the women’s side.

Augie vs. Northern State, Noon
USF vs. Wayne State, 6 p.m.
Mary vs. MSU-Mankato, Noon
Concordia vs. Minot State, 6 p.m.

Augie 66, Northern State 64
St. Cloud State 86, USF 75
Winona State 67, Minot State 56
Wayne State 88, Bemidji State 76
Upper Iowa 86, UM-Duluth 81
MSU-Moorhead 68, Concordia 64
SMSU 82, Mary 65
MSU-Mankato 76, UM-Crookston 60

The USF loss to SCSU was a lot closer than the score reflects, and the Cougars were dealt a big blow when Charles Ward went down with a fairly serious head injury. He suffered a concussion and a bad laceration on the back of his head that required stitches.
It happened right before halftime, at which point Ward had a game-high 17 points and USF led 44-40. They hung admirably in the second, but the Huskies were too much. USF had 20 turnovers. They had nine total in two games last weekend.

Weird win for Augie. Casey Schilling, Dan Jansen and Adam Beyer combined for 25 points on 6-of-29 shooting. If you’d told me that beforehand, I’d have assumed that Augie not only lost, but got rolled.
Fortunately, they seem to have taken my sage advice to Tom Billeter, which was to actually guard Skye Warwick and Jared Hannigan. Those two combined for 11 3s in Northern’s win at the Elmen two weeks ago. Last night they had 13 points combined on 4-for-13 shooting.
Devin Gilligan had 11 points and Evan Pierce nine for the Vikings, modest bench contributions that ultimately keyed the win.

The shocker came in Bemidji, where Wayne State, the last place (tied) team in the South, stunned Bemidji State, the North co-champ. The Beavers apparently cut down the nets after clinching a tie of the North two weeks ago, then went 0-3 the rest of the way, forcing them to share the division title and then ending their season early with a frankly embarrassing loss.
Then again, when you consider Concordia, the team that tied Wayne for last in the South, very nearly upset Moorhead, it kind of reinforces how much better the South is than the North right now.
Moorhead and St. Cloud were the only North teams to win, and both were lucky to escape.
Duluth almost pulled off an upset for the North, going up by as much as 22 over UIU, but the Peacocks rallied.

Upper Iowa vs MSU-Moorhead, 2:30
Augie vs MSU-Mankato, 8:30
St. Cloud State vs Winona State, 2:30
SMSU vs Wayne State, 8:30

Things worked out pretty good for the Pentagon, as far as the local team presence. Both Augie teams made it, USF’s women will be there, and so will Northern’s, although the Wolves men certainly would’ve brought a lot more folks from Aberdeen than the women will.
Attendance could also be decent for SMSU vs. Wayne, as those two schools are both just a two-hour drive.
Hopefully they get there a little early, otherwise there’s going to be a really small crowd for that Concordia-Minot women’s game at 6 on Sunday.

I don’t much like Augie’s chances against Mankato, and the USF women seem unlikely to knock off Wayne. But who knows. Stranger things have happened, and they do have the luxury of being in their home town (although the Coo women have never played at the Pentagon).
The Augie women have never played there, either, and they just beat Northern, soundly, two weeks ago. It’ll be tough to knock them off again, but it seems like a pretty decent matchup.
With Augie’s lack of size, it’ll basically come down to whether or not they make shots.

I’ll be covering all three Augie/USF games on Saturday. We’ll see what happens from there, but I’m looking forward to the tournament.

If Johan wants to come back, he should listen to Eddie Harris

There has been plenty of talk during the Twins’ busy offseason that they were interested in signing former Cy Young winner Johan Santana.
Santana’s career has been ruined by injuries — the trade that sent him to the Mets in exchange for five prospects will go down in history as one of the most disappointing-for-both-sides trades in baseball history — and many have suggested that the Twins were actually the favorites to land the 35-year-old lefthander on an incentive-laden contract this offseason.

Indications have been that Santana would seek a major league deal. The last time the Twins took a risk and gave a major league contract to an injury reclamation project, it was Joel Zumaya, who they ended up paying nearly a million bucks to throw off a mound once in spring training.

Judging by the results of Santana’s workout Tuesday, it seems highly unlikely the Twins, or any other team, would be interested in anything more than a minor-league deal at this point. Santana hasn’t pitched since mid-2012 and might not be ready for game action until next year. And he apparently now throws as hard as I do.

This is depressing, in part because it would’ve been fun to see a Santana reunion, especially with the Twins already getting much of the old band back together, with Jason Kubel, Jason Bartlett and Matt Guerrier all in camp this spring.

Santana’s changeup was good enough that I think he could still be effective throwing in the mid-to-high 80s, so it’s probably too soon to write him off entirely, but it also seems pretty obvious that he’s not ever going to rediscover his Cy Young form or anything close to it.

Maybe he could try learning a knuckleball.

Or, maybe he could take some lessons from Eddie Harris.

Zim’s All-NSIC Hoops Team (Live Chat Day)

For the second year in a row, I’m picking someone from Augustana as my men’s basketball NSIC MVP, and Minot State’s Carly Boag as my women’s MVP.
I’ll explain.

On the women’s side, Boag was an easy choice, as she was last year. In fact, this year she was even more of a no-brainer.
The Australian post led the league in scoring (by a mile) with 21.4 points per game. She was also tops in rebounding (10.8), field goal percentage (.587) and steals (3.0).
By leading the league in steals and obviously making her presence felt in the post, Boag is my pick for defensive player of the year, and that, to me, makes her the only choice for MVP. If you’re even in the discussion for top defensive player, and also lead the league in scoring, who could be more valuable? I’ll make that point again later.

Augie’s Shaunteva Ashley was an easy pick for my All-NSIC team, as she’s No.2 in the league in scoring (17.9) and has really taken her game to another level down the stretch. Like Boag, Ashley is a factor at both ends of the court, but her offensive game has really been something. She’s eighth in the league with 4.3 assists per game, and 14th in the league in field goal shooting at 47.7 percent, which has been especially important as a guard on a team that has struggled to shoot the ball this year. Her assist/turnover ratio of 2.13 is tops in the league.

Rounding out my first five are Anika Whiting of Concordia (17.7 points, 7.0 rebounds), Ali Wilkinson of MSU-Mankato (17.0 points, 7.7 rebounds) and Jordan Spencer of league champion Wayne State (16.2 points, 6.5 rebounds).

Plenty of candidates for Coach of the Year, but I’ll give the nod to Northern State’s Curt Fredrickson, whose Wolves took home the North title.

As for freshman of the year, USF’s Sam Knecht was the most impressive first year player I saw, even after fading down the stretch after hitting a bit of a freshman wall. She finished with 8.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game, the latter two of which ranked 13th in the NSIC.

On the men’s side, I honestly didn’t struggle much with my pick for MVP. The only thing that gave me pause was Augustana’s mediocre record, but for one, I’m not the kind of guy who insists the MVP award has to go to a guy from a winning team (though that’s definitely a factor), and some of the other candidates were from teams with simliar records.

I’m going with Casey Schilling for the same reasons Boag was such an easy choice with the women.
Schilling is regarded as one of the most versatile and relentless defenders in the league. He established himself in that regard last year, in an injury-plagued freshman season.

So if a guy is acknowledged as one of the best defensive players in the league — and then goes out and puts himself in the top 10 in almost every offensive category as well…. isn’t that the end of the debate?

Schilling ranked second in the league in scoring with 18.8 points per game, behind Bemidji State’s Brock Lutes.
But Schilling outshot Lutes (.508 to .503), outshot him from 3 (.431 to .386), had more rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and fewer turnovers. He shot a lower percentage from the line (.853 to .780), but scored more points at the line (149-93).

Obviously Lutes isn’t Schilling’s only competition for the award, but my guess is he’s the favorite, being that he won the scoring title and played for a team that tied for the North title.
Everyone else in the top 6 of the scoring race played for a middle-of-the-pack or lower team.
Assem Marei of MSU-Mankato, who finished 7th in scoring (16.7) and fourth in rebounding (8.1) is probably the other candidate for player of the year, and he’d be my second choice for MVP, with Lutes third.

So to recap on Schilling.
2nd in scoring: 18.8
3rd in rebounding: 8.3
15th in assists: 3.04
4th in steals: 1.82
11th in 3FG%: .431
7th in blocks: 1.25
11th in assist/turnover ratio: 1.37

In the 10 years I’ve been covering Augie and the NCC/NSIC, I don’t ever recall a player providing such bulk production. Schilling is one of the top 3-5 defenders in the league, if not the best, and one of the top 3-5 offensive players.

Augie homerism has nothing to do with it. Schilling as MVP is an easy, easy call.

Lutes, Marei, Upper Iowa’s Joey Woods (6th in scoring, 2nd in assists, 8th in steals) and MSU-Mankato’s Zach Monaghan (11th in scoring, 1st in assists by a mile, 3rd in steals) round out my All-NSIC team.

Coach of the Year was tough. The job done by Upper Iowa rookie coach Brooks McKowen is definitely impressive, as was that of Bemidji State’s Mike Boschee. But I’ll give the nod to Winona’s Mike Leaf, whose team came a game short of winning the NSIC in a year where they had to do some reloading and deal with their share of adversity.

As for freshman of the year, there were several guys who had strong seasons, but Riley Bambenek of Winona State is not a difficult choice. He led the Warriors — a 23-6 team — in scoring at 13.8 a game.

Men’s Awards
MVP: Casey Schilling, Augustana
Coach of the Year: Mike Leaf, Winona State
Freshman of the Year: Riley Bambenek, Winona State
Defensive Player of the Year: Casey Schilling, Augustana

Women’s Awards
MVP: Carly Boag, Minot State
Coach of the Year: Curt Fredrickson, Northern State
Freshman of the Year: Sam Knecht, USF
Defensive Player of the Year: Carly Boag, Minot State

All-NSIC Men’s Team
Casey Schilling, Augustana
Assem Marei, MSU-Mankato
Brock Lutes, Bemidji State
Joey Woods, Upper Iowa
Zach Monaghan, MSU-Mankato

All-NSIC Women’s Team
Carly Boag, Minot State
Shaunteva Ashley, Augustana
Ali Wilkinson, MSU-Mankato
Anika Whiting, Concordia-St. Paul
Jordan Spencer, Wayne State

Live Chat today at 2. Stop by to debate to argue with my picks, talk NSIC tournament, and whatever else.

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