Monthly Archives: October 2015

More than a game

MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota State University Mustangs men’s basketball team opened their exhibition season with a 71-69 win over the SMSU Alumni team Saturday.

It was more than just a game though, as the matchup was part of the sixth annual Andy Wiersma Day at SMSU.

“I think this game is so much more than basketball,” said SMSU men’s basketball coach Brad Bigler. “For our guys, it’s a great learning experience. It gives us a chance to talk about what it means to be a Mustang and how they can make an impact in the community by doing just the little things – how they represent themselves, their families and our program at a high level.”

Wiersma was a member of the Mustangs for five seasons, from 2001 to 2006. He was killed in an auto accident on July 27, 2008.

A four-year letterwinner at SMSU from 2002-06, he played in 112 career games while starting 36 times. He recorded 418 points and 237 rebounds in his career, while shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from 3-point range.

He may have only finished his career with a scoring average of 3.7 points per game, but it was the plays that didn’t show up in the scorebook that stood out to his fellow Mustangs. One of those Mustangs was Jacob Fahl, the program’s all-time leading scorer. Wiersma redshirted during Fahl’s junior year before the two saw playing time together on the 2002-03 team.

“He was the ultimate teammate – always positive, took charges, and there was a toughness to him,” said Fahl. “He knew how to do a lot of things. He was a fun guy to be around.”

Each of the four years he played, Wiersma won the team’s Mustang Award. The award is given yearly to a member of the team who exemplifies the qualities of being a Mustang student-athlete. After Wiersma graduated, the award was renamed the Andy Wiersma Mustang Award in his honor.

Honoring AW

The day for the two teams started at the Marshall Cemetery.

“It’s part of the tradition,” Bigler said. “It’s an environment that catches the attention of the new guys, and it allows us in a quiet place to talk about what it means to be a Mustang.”

The tradition’s importance isn’t lost on the veterans of the program, however.

“I think it’s important to talk to some of the younger guys and teach them about the tradition of Mustang basketball,” said junior forward Mitch Weg. “A few older guys talked, and they talked about what they thought being a Mustang is all about. For me, that’s really cool to hear. It gives you something else to play for.”

The game

There was still a game to be played on the floor.

SMSU had a 64-57 lead with under a minute remaining, but the Alumni chipped away at the lead. With the score at 69-68 with 4 seconds left, Weg made two free throws to give the Mustangs a 71-69 win.

Weg spent a lot of time at the free throw line, scoring 17 of his team-high 19 points there.

It’s a game that Bigler knows is a yearly test for his squad.

“Like always, this is probably the most physical game we play all year,” Bigler said. “When you look across and see Vinard Birch, Matt Zager, Jordan Miller and Nick Smith who are young guys that basically started four years and were all-conference players, you knew it was going to be a battle.”

Jon DeRock led the Alumni with 12 points.

SMSU is now 5-1 against the SMSU Alumni, including five consecutive wins in the series.

Next up

The Mustangs have just under a few weeks to prepare for their next game. The Mustangs will face the University of Minnesota on Nov. 6. SMSU?has faced the Gophers twice, with the last meeting coming in 2007.

Opening tip from Williams Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.

SMSU MEN’S BASKETBALL: Youthful Mustangs open practice

By Josh VanKlompenburg
jvanklompenburg@marshallindependent.com

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Photo by David Merrill
SMSU men’s basketball coach Brad Bigler takes his team through a drill during practice on Thursday.

MARSHALL – He wasn’t supposed to be here.

However, early last season, Shaun Condon found out he would miss his senior year with a broken leg.

Condon applied for a medical redshirt in the offseason and it was granted, meaning the Clara City native will don the number 10 jersey once again for the 2015-16 season.

“It’s weird, I didn’t think I’d be here,” Condon said before the first official practice of the season on Thursday. “I’m really excited. These guys all work so hard. It makes coming here a lot easier and makes it a lot more fun.”

As the lone senior on the squad, he will be one of the team’s leaders on and off the floor.

“Mainly that’s what I’m looking forward to is being a leader to these young guys,” Condon said. “I’ve been here a long time, so I know the ins and outs, the little things.”

SMSU enters the year coming off a 12-17 campaign in 2014-15. The team’s eight wins in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play were the fewest for the program since the 2005-06 season, when Greg Stemen was in charge.

It was a season of transition, dealing with a multitude of youth.

Despite the youth on the team, there were signs of growth that the team hopes will transition to this season.

“Over the course of last year, we saw a lot of improvement with those true freshmen,” SMSU men’s basketball coach Brad Bigler said. “We still have a young roster, but it’s completely different from having seven true freshmen last year. Those guys now know the routine and they have the ability to pick up things a little bit faster.”

Local flavor

Southwest has also had somewhat of a local flavor on its squad, but this year that flavor is stronger than it’s been in a while.

Bigler added two players to his roster from within a 50-mile radius of Marshall, including 2013 Marshall graduate Derek Buysse. Buysse averaged 21.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore at Minnesota West last season. He will redshirt this season, and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

The other new guy staying close to home is true freshman Michael Lee, a 6-foot-6 forward who finished his prep career at Dawson-Boyd averaging 24.6 points and 11 rebounds per game as a senior.

It isn’t by accident that Bigler and his staff recruit close to home.

“We want guys that have a passion for Mustang basketball,” Bigler said. “Any time you can get those local guys who’ve been to our camps and are very familiar with it, I think they have a little more pride when they step out on the floor.”

Looking ahead

The Mustangs will play their first exhibition game of the 2015-16 season on Oct. 24 against a team comprised of SMSU alumni.

Two weeks later, SMSU will make its third-ever trip to face the University of Minnesota in an exhibition game at Williams Arena on Nov. 6.

SMSU will open the regular season on Nov. 14 at Fort Hays State (Kansas). The home opener will be a nonconference game against NSIC opponent Northern State five days later.

THE NEXT LEVEL: Setting the standard

Photo courtesy of MSU Moorhead Athletic Comm. MSU Moorhead’s Casie Baer sets the ball for her teammate during a game against U-Mary.

Photo courtesy of MSUM Athletic Comm.
MSU Moorhead’s Casie Baer sets the ball for her teammate during a game against U-Mary.

By Josh VanKlompenburg
jvanklompenburg@marshallindependent.com

MARSHALL – She might not admit it, but Casie Baer has set a standard of excellence wherever she plays.

The 2009 Independent Player of the Year helped lead Canby – a program that won just five matches when Baer was starting on varsity as an eighth grader – as high as No. 2 in Class A as a senior in 2011.

Now a senior at Minnesota State-Moorhead, Baer enters today’s match against Minnesota-Crookston just 39 set assists away from becoming the ninth Dragon in program history to surpass 2,000 career set assists.

Perhaps the highlight of her career to this point came on September 11 when she recorded a career-high 62 set assists against Grand Valley State.

“Our team was playing as a unit,” Baer said. “It makes my job easier as a setter when it doesn’t matter which hitter I set to because they will get the kill, and that’s what was happening. This season, in general, I think that is one of our biggest strengths.”

Coming into the season, her single-match high was 38 set assists and her highest single-season total was 570, both coming in 2014.

Part of Baer’s increased success can be attributed to her increased role on the team. She is the primary setter in 2015 after splitting duties in her first three seasons.

She credits learning behind more experienced setters as a reason for her growth.

“Splitting setting duties has made me the setter I am today because the talent that Anna Olson and Sam Sullivan had was incredible,” Baer said. “Learning from them each day made me the best that I can be.”

Her current role helps to change things on the fly when necessary, while also keeping continuity.

“If something needs to be changed I can change it that second instead of waiting for my next rotation on the court,” Baer said. “It has also given our team a rhythm and being able to have the same sets for the hitters makes it easier for them as well.”

Looking back, Baer credits her work ethic to her time in Canby. She finished with 3,567 set assists as a Lancer, and believes she brought competitiveness and an ambition to always work hard into her college career.

“I owe a lot of my hard work and dedication to my high school coaches and teammates,” she said. “Amy Wagner believed in my ability to succeed as a volleyball player when I was very young. She taught me how to better myself and give 100 percent effort each day I step on the court.”

Four years since she suited up for Wagner and the Lancers, Baer tries to keep up with the Canby program whenever she can. She says it’s not always easy to do with her busy schedule and the limited broadcast options available for high school games.

“You can bet that Canby volleyball is going to have a big fan next year, and I wish them the best luck for the rest of the season,” Baer said. I know they can go far if they all set their minds to it.”

As for her current team, MSUM currently sits at 11-3 overall and 4-2 in Northern Sun play. Baer and the Dragons will play in Marshall against Southwest Minnesota State on Oct. 23.

Originally published: Oct. 3, 2015