Monthly Archives: July 2016

AREA BASKETBALL: Creating Stars on and off the basketball court

“When my sons first thought about playing AAU basketball as 14-year olds, I was not overly excited about the idea. I worried about injuries, I had witnessed how some programs were run and I wanted the boys to be well-balanced individuals.”

Those were comments made by Jeff Hansen of Tyler. His sons Cooper and Carter wanted to join the local AAU basketball program to meet knew people and see how they matched up at a higher level. Hansen was hesitant at first.

AAU basketball has earned a negative reputation all across the country, thanks in part to traits like poor coaching and athlete egos that are prevalent on other teams. The Southwest Minnesota Stars, based in Marshall, try to do things differently.

“As a program, our goal to create a positive experience for all our players and families by integrating Christian values, playing team basketball, expecting a high level of sportsmanship, providing an organized schedule, communicating clear expectations, and being a class act in the way we handle ourselves on and off the basketball floor,” Southwest Minnesota Stars director Ryan Reitsma said. “We seek to emphasize a high level of character and integrity which is hopefully interwoven into the fabric of all aspects in how we operate our program and coach our players.”
There are four different teams within the Stars program, from 17s (incoming seniors) all the way down to 14s (incoming freshmen). The coaching experience ranges from one to three years of high school coaching to the current director of basketball operations for the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League.

The 16s and 17s play in eight tournaments, with the last tournament of the season for both teams beginning today in Kansas City.

Limiting the teams to just eight tournaments in a season is a move that’s intentional by the Stars directors to not overload the players, as well as only attending tournaments closer to home.

“In running this program for eight-plus years, we have never seen the basketball development or recruitment of players significantly benefited by playing in more than eight tournaments,” Reitsma said. “We have also found that staying in the Midwest for our tournaments to be the most beneficial to our players in our region as very few kids attend college for four years outside of the Midwest.”

Earlier this summer, the Stars also hosted the Drake Bigler Memorial Invite, which brought 30 teams to Marshall from high schools across southwestern Minnesota, eastern South Dakota and northwestern Iowa.

With the program based in Marshall, there are a lot of area standouts who have worked their way through the Stars system. One of the more recent alumni is 2016 Murray County Central graduate Grant Rohrer.

“AAU helped me become a better high school player because of the fast pace and how much more physical it is,” Rohrer said. “I know that I wouldn’t have had the success that I did in high school if I wouldn’t have played for the Stars.”

Rohrer averaged 23.8 points and 14.6 rebounds per game as a senior for the Rebels. This winter, he will continue his basketball career at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.

Two of the players on this year’s 17s roster are Zach Bloemker (Marshall) and Spencer Smith (Tracy-Milroy-Balaton).

“Zach plays extremely hard with the ability to make perimeter shots and put pressure on the defense with his ability to drive,” Reitsma said. “Spencer is quite athletic and has the ability to score in a variety of ways for this team.”

Last weekend, the Stars’ 16s team drew high praise from Ryan James of Northstar Hoops Report, who is considered one of the top recruiting resources in Minnesota. He tweeted: “Love the fight in this @SWMNStars 16s. OD Othow (Worthington) is an active rebounder and smart passer, Marcus Boyd is a promising talent too.”

Trey Lance (Marshall) and Anthony Ross (Westbrook-Walnut Grove) are the two area athletes on the 16s.

The 15s have seven area athletes on the roster, including Bentley Boike (Dawson-Boyd), Matt Onken and Bryce Paulsen (Marshall) and Carter and Cooper Hansen (Russell-Tyler-Ruthton).

The Hansens’ father, Jeff, is one of the coaches for the 15s. While he initially had reservations about letting his sons join the Stars, his fears quickly went away.

“I have seen many programs that focus solely on winning and have selfish ballplayers,” Hansen said. “The group that my sons are a part of are incredibly unselfish, great teammates, and have become wonderful friends. The Stars programs look to be competitive, but also focus on the whole individual. It is an environment that supports the players as young men, not just a basketball player.”

AREA GOLF: Marshall grad Bennett to golf at US Amateur Championship

MARSHALL – In sports, there are certain ways to measure how good a player is. In golf, one of those measuring sticks is to qualify for the US Amateur Championship.

Last week, 2014 Marshall High School graduate Matt Bennett did just that with a two-day score of 147 in the US Amateur Sectional Qualifier at Dacotah Ridge Golf Club in Morton.

He tied for second place in the event and now advances to the US Amateur Championship, which will be held August 15-21 at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

“Going into qualifying, I was really hoping I could play to my best, but I was not sure if that would be good enough or not,” Bennett said. “Qualifying for the US Am just reassures me that my game is good enough to play at the top level of amateur golf and hopefully one day at the professional level.”

He started out the qualifier strong, carding a 4-under 68 in Round 1. That score was the best round of the tournament.

“I played really steady,” Bennett said. “I kept my shots out of trouble and was able to get up and down when I needed to. I was able to take advantage of my length by having short wedges into greens rather than an 8- or 9-iron like some of my playing competitors.”

He found some trouble in the second round, which included going into the water on back-to-back holes in the middle of the round. Bennett finished with a 4-over par 76.

It was words from his caddy, Jacob Baker, that helped him recover from the rough stretch.

“After going in the water twice, I was a little nervous at that point and I didn’t think I had much of a chance,” Bennett told MNgolf.org. “My caddy reminded me that I had the lead and that the course is playing harder and the scores were going to be higher, so he really helped calm me down.”

Bennett’s 76 put him in a tie for second place and as one of the three golfers who qualified for the US Amateur Championship. The fourth-place finisher was just one stroke behind Bennett.

Bennett will have a different caddy for the championship – his father Steve.

“My dad has caddied for me in other tournaments over the years and I think he is looking forward to it, as am I,” Bennett said.

The tournament will begin with two rounds of stroke play on Monday and Tuesday. The field narrows to 64 golfers on Wednesday and the tournament shifts from stroke play to match play.

Bennett hopes he can advance past the match play portion of the tournament.

“My goal is to hopefully make the first round of match play,” he said. “I feel like my game is good enough to reach the match play portion, and potentially even win a match or two.”

New challenges

The course will present new challenges for Bennett. Along with the speed of the greens, he said the biggest adjustment will be the course’s length.

“Marshall (Golf Club) from the back tees is only about 6,600 yards, but Oakland Hills can stretch to a whopping 7,445 from the back tees,” Bennett said. “During the tournament, I will have a lot longer shots into the greens so learning how much my approach shots will release once landing on the green will be a big factor.”

TV coverage

Match play will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 from Wednesday through Friday. Coverage will go from 2 to 5 p.m. each day.

On Saturday and Sunday, the coverage will shift to Fox for the semifinal and championship matches during the same time slot.

Earlier matches on Thursday and Sunday will be streamed online at USGA.org.

A part of history

Golfing at Oakland Hills Country Club and in the US Amateur Championship puts Bennett alongside a list of legends. Past course champions include Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan.

“It is an amazing feeling to think of all the great names who have played in the US Am,” Bennett said. “Nearly all of the best players to ever have played the game have played in the US Am. Oakland Hills has hosted the most prestigious tournaments in the US for nearly 100 years now and I am ecstatic to play it for the first time in a couple of weeks.”