Category Archives: Writing Portfolio (Marshall Independent)

THE NEXT LEVEL: Marshall native Griffin shining at North Dakota

MARSHALL – Southwestern Minnesota has had its share of talented setters over the years, but only one is currently playing volleyball at the Division I level.

Sydney Griffin, a 2014 Marshall High School graduate, is a junior setter for the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

“I chose North Dakota mainly because I knew I was going to be consistently challenged for the starting position,” Griffin said. “Knowing that I could get that taken from me at any point helps me to keep striving to get better every day in practice.”

Since becoming the team’s starting setter in 2015, she hasn’t let anyone take it from her. Last season, Griffin posted 1,379 set assists, the fourth-most in a single season in UND history.
This year, she has 580 assists entering Thursday night’s match at the University of Idaho. Only one player in the Big Sky Conference has more.

Griffin attributes that to a balanced attack with three different players at middle hitter, allowing for some flexibility if someone is having an off night.

“I am always trying to get my hitters in the best situation possible,” she said. “That includes evaluating what blocker on the other side might be shorter or struggling, which one of my hitters is hot that match, what play is working against the other team’s defense and what plays my other hitters can run to help get my hot hitter a one-on-one or, best-case scenario, no blockers.”

Griffin recorded a career-high 70 assists against Southern Utah last season, but that’s not the match that sticks out in her mind as most memorable of her career. It’s the home match against in-state rival North Dakota State 11 days earlier that Griffin remembers most.

She only had 34 set assists that night, but it was the game environment that sticks with her.

“There were so many fans,” Griffin said. “We swept our rival and I got the chance to play against some of my old club teammates. I am really looking forward to getting the chance to play them again this year down at their place.”

That strong fan support extends to Griffin’s parents – Curtis and Kristy. Their support is greatly appreciated by Sydney.

“I love having them at any match they can make it to and am very fortunate that they are able to travel to some of our away matches as well,” Griffin said. “My team also appreciates when they come because they are the loudest ones in the fan section.”

North Dakota starts a four-game homestand on Thursday against Sacramento State.

NSIC VOLLEYBALL: The Northern Sun shines bright in volleyball

MARSHALL – The latest Division II volleyball coaches’ poll came out on Monday and Southwest Minnesota State University was ranked fifth overall.

That marks the 41st consecutive poll that the Mustangs have been in the Top 10 and 137 straight polls dating back a full decade to 2006 with the program in the Top 25. Normally, that type of dominance would indicate the team has a firm hold on the top of the conference, but it is not the case in the gauntlet that is the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

If you looked at the top of this week’s poll, you might think you were mistakenly looking at a list of NSIC power rankings. SMSU may be fifth in the poll, but it is still just fourth among NSIC schools – Concordia-St. Paul, Minnesota Duluth, and Wayne State are all ranked ahead of the Mustangs.

The NSIC dominance does not stop there, as Winona (No. 9), Northern State (No. 11) and Augustana (No. 14) all represent the conference in the Top 15. That list of seven ranked schools means almost half of the NSIC is among the best 15 schools in the nation.

Here’s where things get tricky.

Once we get to the postseason, these schools are jostling for a bid to represent the Central Region in the NCAA Tournament. The issue comes in the fact that only eight schools will represent the Central Region in the postseason.

If the NSIC were the only conference in the region, it might not be a problem. But that’s not the case. Also sharing a region with the Mustangs and the rest of the NSIC are the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) and the Great American Conference (GAC).

Each of the three conferences in the region get an auto-bid into the NCAA Tournament. That means no more than six NSIC schools will qualify. Last year, only three NSIC teams made it into the tournament.

As dominant as the NSIC is in the poll right now, the MIAA is not far behind. It has three teams ranked in the Top 10 and two more are in the Top 25. The GAC has zero teams currently ranked.

All told, there are 12 Central Region programs considered to be among the Top 25 in the nation. But only seven of them will qualify for the postseason field of 64.

Seems like a flaw in the system, no?

I understand that NCAA Division II uses a regional-based model to help cut down on travel budgets. But it’s unfortunate that it causes well-deserving programs to fall short of the postseason while programs in other regions of the country qualify with lesser resumes.

It places extreme importance on the NSIC Tournament, as Northern State experienced last season.

The Wolves entered the conference tournament ranked fourth nationally, but a sweep in the quarterfinals at the hands of Winona State found them out of the postseason altogether because they entered the match just eighth in the region – firmly on the bubble. From No. 4 in the country with a 25-4 record to not even qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, just like that.

Meanwhile, other programs qualified for the postseason like 18-12 Regis and 18-15 New Haven out of the South Central Region, just to name a few.

The extreme difficulty to qualify out of the NSIC makes the current run by Terry Culhane and Southwest Minnesota State even more impressive – 12 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament and going for a 13th this season.

Don’t look at the Mustangs’ No. 5 ranking and assume that the streak will be extended another year, though. As Northern State coaches, players and fans can attest to, postseason qualification is not a given in the gauntlet that is the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and the Central Region.

NEXT LEVEL: UMD’s Bofferding returns home in game vs. SMSU

MARSHALL – Not very often does a player get to open his senior season of college on the same field he played on in high school. That’s exactly the opportunity presented to University of Minnesota Duluth senior Beau Bofferding, who played his Marshall High School home games at Mattke Field.

That’s where UMD opens the 2016 season, as the Bulldogs will face the Southwest Minnesota State University Mustangs tonight at 7 p.m.

Bofferding graduated from MHS in 2012 after a senior season that included 1,423 rushing yards, 431 receiving yards and 37 total touchdowns for the 9-1 Tigers.

“It’s always fun to get a chance to go back home to where football started for me,” Bofferding said. “And to get a chance to play in front of some family and friends I don’t necessarily play in front of every Saturday it’s gonna be fun!”

Just as he showed his versatility on the field for Marshall, Bofferding brought that skill set to the Zenith City.

The senior plays both running back and wide receiver for the Bulldogs.

As a senior, he’s taken a bigger leadership role. That includes his role as a team captain; a position he’s really taken to.

“Being a senior captain, it’s been an absolute honor to be a part of the UMD football program for five years,” Bofferding said. “I just wanna go out and lead this team the best I can day in and day out and give my all both on and off the field. To be a senior captain of a college football team is something I’ve always dreamed about, to be honest. That time is finally here and I couldn’t be more excited about it.”

Entering the season, Bofferding has amassed career totals of 528 rushing yards on 67 carries, 73 receptions for 953 yards and 24 total touchdowns at UMD.

“He’s a natural tailback that worked his way into being a big-time wide receiver at the slot position,” UMD head coach Curt Wiese said. “He’s a versatile player, so we’re gonna find every way we can to try to put the ball in his hands.”

That includes on special teams, where Bofferding has worked as both a kick returner and punt returner for UMD.

Maybe his biggest play came in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Division II playoffs against Ouachita Baptist, when he returned a kickoff 96 yards. He was tackled on the 1-yard line on the play, but the play set a UMD record for longest kick return in program history.

Record books are not unfamiliar territory for Bofferding. He ended his Marshall High School career as the record-holder in rushing yards (3,141), rushing touchdowns (59), receptions (58) and total touchdowns (72), while also holding single-season marks in rushing yards (1,423), rushing scores (34) and total touchdowns (37).

Most of those records still stand today, but some may be in jeopardy soon thanks to the early success of Jefferson Lee V as a sophomore in 2015. Lee did already top the single-season rushing record with 1,474 yards. Lee’s 27 rushing touchdowns came in second to Bofferding’s 34 scores as a senior.

Bofferding isn’t concerned about his records.

“I’ve always thought growing up that records are meant to be broken,” Bofferding said. “That’s what they’re there for. For him to come close and chase (my records), I’m very excited for him.”

Tonight will be the first time Bofferding has played on Mattke Field since high school.

When UMD was last in town in 2012, it was the year he sat out as a redshirt.

“I understand everyone in Marshall is a Mustang fan, but it’ll be fun to have some family and friends cheer for me and the Bulldogs if they want,” Bofferding said. “That’s something I’m looking forward to.”

AMATEUR GOLF: Marshall native Matt Bennett plays in U.S. Amateur Championship

MARSHALL – When Marshall native Matt Bennett qualified for the US Amateur Championship, he was reassured that his game is good enough to play at the top level of amateur golf.

Though Bennett missed the cut with an 18-over-par 158, he hasn’t let it shake his confidence.

“Missing the cut obviously stunk, but I got to see where my game stood up to other players,” Bennett said. “I was lucky enough to play with the 17th ranked amateur in the world. He reassured me that I was good enough, but that I needed to work on a few areas of my game. And coming from such a good player, that was a really cool thing to hear.”

Harrison Endycott of Australia is the player Bennett is referring to. Bennett also shared the course with Nick Carlson from the University of Michigan, who advanced to the match play semifinals on Saturday.

The Amateur Championship is the biggest tournament of Bennett’s career so far, and he took a lot away from the experience both on and off the course. One of his favorite moments was the players banquet, where all 312 amateurs who qualified for the tournament were in attendance.

“Seeing 312 of the best amateurs in the world all in one room was special,” he said. “Many of the games’ future top players were there and hopefully I can be one of them.”

Whether it was getting access to players-only areas or getting a special parking pass, Bennett felt good about how the USGA treated the players.

“The USGA runs tournaments right. I felt like a real PGA pro out there last week. They really treated us like we were special and it was totally different from any other tournament I had ever been to.”

Now Bennett transitions back to his college career. He’s hoping to build on his success from the spring and his experience last week and use it to improve his game.

“I think this tournament will help as I enter my season by giving me an extra confidence boost. At every tournament I play in I feel as if I should be able to finish in the top five or even win if I’m on my ‘A’ game,” Bennett said. “Hopefully this fall season treats me as well as the spring season did and I can hopefully get a few more individual wins along with team wins as well.”

Mustangs underrated entering 2016 season

MARSHALL – Football is back.

At all levels, practice is commencing and the games will begin to count over the next month. Southwest Minnesota State University opens its season at home against the University of Minnesota Duluth on September 1, while Marshall High School starts out on the road the following night in Jordan.

Nine other area games line the opening weekend schedule of high school football under the lights.

At the college level, SMSU was recently picked to finish seventh in the 16-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

Personally, I feel that is too low.

I don’t buy that SMSU which tied for fourth a season ago will drop to seventh, two spots behind a team which it beat last season (Bemidji State University) and one spot behind a team with two fewer wins than SMSU last season (Northern State University).

The Mustangs are coming off an 8-3 record; their best season since joining NCAA Division II in 1995. The eight-win season also tied the 1990 team for the second-most wins in program history, only trailing the 1991 Mustangs that went 9-1.

Since Cory Sauter was named head coach in 2010, the key to the Mustangs’ offensive attack has been a strong passing game. That should be the case once again in 2016.

SMSU returns its signal caller in junior Blake Gimbel. In his first season as a starter, Gimbel led the NSIC by completing 66.4 percent of his passes, which set an SMSU single-season record.

Nearly a quarter of his 237 completions went to Nate Huot. Now a junior, Huot decided last November to focus solely on football over the offseason after being a two-sport athlete in football and basketball his first three years on campus. With two years of eligibility remaining, Huot is 10th in SMSU history in receiving touchdowns while sitting not far outside of the Top 15 in receptions and receiving yards.

In total, the Mustangs return their top seven receivers from a season ago.

In the backfield with Gimbel will be senior running back Ashanti Payne. Payne finished seventh in the NSIC with 771 rushing yards. His numbers came as a backup to Davontay Stevens, who was second in the conference with 1,066 yards. Those 237 carries will have to go somewhere, so look for Payne to have an even bigger season in 2016.

The key question for the offense will be along the offensive line. Of the four offensive starters the team lost to graduation, three of them anchored the offensive line.

The program saw a similar situation a few seasons ago, when it entered the 2014 season having to replace its entire starting line.

This time around, the Mustangs can lean on senior left tackle Grant Greenfield, who has started every game in the last two seasons.

The defense will have to replace five senior starters from 2015, including defensive end AJ Page. The DE Page finished his career third in school history in tackles for a loss (52), fourth in sacks (20.5) and ninth in tackles (276). He was named second team All-NSIC South in 2013 and 2015.

The linebacker group returns the services of senior Tyler Flud, who led the 2015 Mustangs with 85 tackles.

In the secondary, SMSU will look to replace Andrew McReynolds. McReynolds did not miss a game in his career and started 34 consecutive games over his last three seasons. He closed his career in the SMSU record book in interceptions, kick returns and punt returns.

Also gone from last year’s secondary are cornerback Donovan Woods and safety Jared Twedt.

The lone returning player in the defensive backfield is senior Caleb Leichtnam. In his first season for the Brown and Gold, Leichtnam tallied 77 tackles and led the team with four interceptions.

I may be wrong with my belief that SMSU will finish higher than seventh. That’s why they play the games, as the overused cliche goes.

Right or wrong, I’m going to enjoy these next few months. Football is back!

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.”

COLUMN: Fighting for a following

Pat Summitt passed away on Tuesday.

If you aren’t familiar with her, she is the all-time leader in coaching wins in NCAA Division I basketball history. Not just women’s basketball, but men’s too; more wins than names like Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp.

Pat Summitt was a pioneer.

If you aren’t familiar with her, unfortunately you are not alone.

Women’s sports are on the rise across the country, but there’s still a long way to go.

One of the biggest areas lacking is respect.

June 23 marked the 44th anniversary of the passing of Title IX. While it has created opportunities that previously weren’t there for women, it hasn’t had a big effect on the perception of those sports and the respect the players get.

After the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals, headlines were written about how Cleveland is no longer the sports market with at least three major sports teams suffering the longest title droughts in pro sports.

The new title-holder, according to many, is Minneapolis-St. Paul.

There’s only one problem with that – it’s not true.

In fact, Minneapolis-St. Paul had a pro sports team at the White House on Monday to be recognized as the reigning champs. The Minnesota Lynx have won three championships in the last five years.

It’s not good enough for many sports fans.

Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve recognizes this and has gone on the offensive. Whether on social media or in press conferences, she’s not afraid to speak her mind about how the WNBA is portrayed. It’s not about men’s sports vs. women’s sports for her though, saying in a recent tweet, “I like the men’s game too! We can do both.”

Not everyone sees it the same way, but Reeve won’t give up.

“We feel like every day we’re fighting it but it’s worth the fight,” she said in a recent column by Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “It drains the heck out of you. There are some days you walk out of here so angry at some of the things that you hear and see because it’s not right.”

One of the upsetting remarks I’ve heard is that a high school boys basketball team could beat a WNBA team. Who cares? It’s a different level of basketball, but that doesn’t make one better or worse than the other.

We’ve been blessed with some great female athletes in the Marshall area over the years – from Mary Jo Miller to Shannon Bolden to Riley Nordgaard, Taylor Reiss and Marah Mulso. Many of these players had high school careers you could put up against any area male athletes and they’d easily hold their own.

The list of names will continue to grow as women’s sports continue to grow. People like Pat Summitt have been pioneers, but it’s the pioneers of today who are trying to take it to the next step.

Cheryl Reeve and her players are part of the growth that will happen. But the biggest growth needs to come from you, the fan.

Give women’s sports a chance. It doesn’t matter what game you go to; just go. You just might be watching the area’s next pioneer for women’s sports.

 -This column was published in the June 30 edition of the Marshall Independent. Direct link: http://www.marshallindependent.com/page/content.detail/id/585871/COLUMN–Fighting-for-a-Following.html

AREA BASKETBALL: SW MN Stars to host Drake Bigler Memorial Invite

MARSHALL – Thirty high school teams are competing in the fourth annual Drake Bigler Memorial Invite today in Marshall.

The first games of the day tip off at 8:45 a.m. with games running all day at Marshall High School and at Southwest Minnesota State.

The tournament is hosted by the Southwest Minnesota Stars AAU program and teams come from southwestern Minnesota, eastern South Dakota and northwestern Iowa.

The tournament was named after Drake Bigler, the five-month-old son of Brad and Heather Bigler who was killed in a 2012 drunk driving collision.

“We are thankful to the Southwest Minnesota Stars program for using Drake’s name to help improve awareness for drunk driving,” Brad Bigler said. “I am thankful for Ross and Ryan’s relationship being more than just basketball. They do things the right way and it is an honor to have them use Drake’s name to make a difference.”

A portion of the event proceeds will be donated to the Drake Bigler Memorial Fund.

Stars director Ryan Reitsma says Bigler and SMSU have been a great supporter of the Stars over the years, which includes letting the program use SMSU facilities for player development and team practices.

“My brother Ross approached Brad about naming this tournament after Drake,” Reitsma said. “At the time, we wanted to simply wanted to help remember Drake and help give a reminder to young people of how important it is to make solid choices and to understand the potential impact of choices you make every day on the lives of others. Hopefully running a tournament named after Drake for years to come will generate reminders for people directly outside of the Marshall and SMSU communities who are familiar with Brad and Heather’s story.”

Many of the players who are in the Stars program will be playing in today’s tournament.

In addition to three Marshall teams, other schools participating include Jackson County Central, Mountain Lake Area, Sioux Falls Washington, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Dawson-Boyd, Westbrook-Walnut Grove and Murray County Central.

“One unique thing is having many of our players compete with their high school team in one tournament on the same day, which allows them to support each other while playing on their high school team,” Reitsma said. “Directing and operating this tournament also gives us an opportunity to personally engage with high school coaches directly and get to know them as people who mentor players in our program.”

That relationship is something rare in AAU basketball.

For the Stars, they strive to be step in step with the high school coaches.

“We value relationships with high school coaches as we greatly appreciate their dedication and time invested into the lives of young men through coaching and mentoring,” Reitsma said. “Very few people fully understand and appreciate the dynamics of their role and investment they are making into their role of coaching. As a program, we work to be something that will supplement what high school coaches are working to accomplish in developing skills and solid basketball fundamentals, but also challenging them to be outstanding teammates.”

Price of admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children.

THE NEXT LEVEL: Kassidy Przymus shows promise in first year at UMM

MARSHALL – Winning a conference championship is a great accomplishment. Winning a championship while also snapping an opponent’s 11-year championship streak is even greater.

That feat was accomplished on May 7 by the University of Minnesota Morris women’s track and field team, which includes former Tracy-Milroy-Balaton athlete Kassidy Przymus. The College of St. Scholastica women’s track and field program had won 11 straight Upper Midwest Athletic Conference titles, which is a streak that began in 2005.

“They’ve been extremely strong in the UMAC for years,” UMM coach Jessica Devine said of the CSS streak. “Over the past few years, we’ve chipped away at the point difference and knew we had a shot this year, but also knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

“It was really a great team effort and we couldn’t be more proud of our women,” Devine added. “To have a group so young be able to step up to the plate in a big competition like that is really special and something to show a lot of promise with in the future.”

Przymus typically competes in three events for the Cougars – discus, hammer and javelin. At the UMAC Outdoor Track & Field Championships, she scored a pair of second place finishes in discus (112-5) and hammer (127-0).

The hammer and javelin are two new events for Przymus this year, but she has embraced the challenge. One of the things that has helped with the adjustment is her experience in the discus.

“I put in countless repetitions in my discus event and I have a good understanding of how to break down skills to improve my ability,” Przymus said. “Coming into track my first year at UMM, I had to compete in two events that I had never even tried. Luckily for me, I am a very fast learner and developed solid skills necessary to be competitive.”

Despite her inexperience in the event, Przymus made just shy of a 22-foot improvement on her hammer distances over the course of the outdoor season. She opened the year with a hammer throw of 105-8 at the Hamline Invitational on April 3. That distance would’ve placed her 10th at the UMAC Championships.

Her second place finish didn’t come easy, as she began the day with two out-of-bounds throws.

“The first day was very nerve-wracking,” Przymus said. “I knew I was better than how I was throwing. I knew that if I had a solid throw, it would get me into the finals and I’d get three more throws. That’s just what I did.”

Przymus made it to finals and finished second, only trailing teammate Sammi Brinkmann. Brinkmann broke the UMM school record with a throw of 163-0.

That second-place finish helped Przymus earn UMAC all-conference honors.

In addition to her second-place finishes at the conference meet, Przymus finds herself in the UMM top-10 record books in discus, hammer and javelin.

Looking back, Przymus attributes her first-year success to her time away from the game. She did not participate in track and field in her senior season at TMB to take post-secondary education option classes at Southwest Minnesota State.

“This sparked my inner drive,” Przymus said of her year off. “I did not end where I wanted to my junior year and I believed that I could reach higher highs and improve on my skills.”

Przymus was one of five freshmen throwers for UMM this season, along with one junior and one sophomore.

With three years of eligibility remaining, her coach sees a lot of upside in the former TMB athlete.

“I don’t think she fully realizes what she’s capable of yet,” Devine said. “I see big things in Kassidy’s future as a thrower for UMM. She’s an athlete, so competition comes natural to her. I think with some good work in the off-season and a little more studying and learning of her events, she could become pretty dominant in the UMAC, as well as work her way up in the rankings nationally.”