The Four-Point Play: Road Warriors
If you get to accumulate frequent flyer miles with airline trips, what can you cash in from spending lots and lots of hours riding through the county highways of Minnesota on a bus?
The BOLD boys basketball team would like to know.
The Warriors have not played a home game since Jan. 9 and have three games remaining on a string of nine consecutive road tilts.
The school district's buses are probably due for some oil changes in the near future. In just those nine games, BOLD will travel 1,016 miles—almost the distance between Olivia and Atlanta—just driving around west central Minnesota.
"I realized it before the season started, but until you're in the middle of it you don't realize how mentally draining it is to be on the bus all the time," Warriors head coach Jake Brustuen said. "Our conference games are pretty much all over an hour, hour and a half away."
The team's longest bus affair is still yet to come. The Warriors will make the 164-mile round trip when they head to Morris to take on the Tigers on Feb. 13.
With that game coming a Tuesday night, it just means another late night for the team.
"The guys don't say much about it, but you can kind of tell it's sort of draining on them," Brustuen said. "We're leaving by around 4 p.m. most days, so it gives the guys about 45 minutes to jam in their schoolwork. It's usually a quiet ride up to the game with some guys taking short naps or getting some homework in. But on the way home, it's tough to do schoolwork on the bus."
It's understandable that, sometimes, these are just the ways that schedules play out with all the factors to take into account.
But doesn't there have to be a better way to fit all of a team's games into its season while seriously taking into account student-athletes' needs of schoolwork and sleep than to schedule a month's worth of road games?
Hancock's boys basketball team can relate to all of this.
With a home game against Central Minnesota Christian on Saturday, the Owls capped off a stretch of 10 consecutive games away from home.Two of those games weren't "true" road games, as Hancock had neutral-site battles with Morris at the University of Minnesota-Morris and with Renville County West at the Target Center, but the point remains.
The Owls traveled a combined 1,109 miles, although in one more game than the Warriors will play.
Hancock emerged from its road trip undefeated during that span at 10-0, while BOLD has recovered with four straight wins after losses at Minnewaska and Melrose to kick things off.
"I'm sure that's been tough for them, too. It's been draining a bit for us, but those are still two teams that have come out and won most games, so they're doing something right," Brustuen said.
'Cats always land on their feet
At the outset of the 2017-18 basketball season, Jake Schultz and I went on the WCT Sports Show and dubbed New London-Spicer as our preseason No. 1 boys basketball team.
Now, as a general rule of thumb, preseason rankings mean next-to-nothing; and when the WCT Sports Show makes preseason rankings, they mean even less.
But, alas, there were still high hopes around the Wildcats program this year.
"We had a lot of returning kids with experience from last year, so we were expecting to have a good year," head coach Chad Schmiesing said.
On Jan. 19, though, NLS slipped below .500 at 6-7 with a 10-point loss to Dassel-Cokato. Even with close losses to state-ranked opponents like Willmar, Melrose and Annandale, as well as the likes of Minnewaska, Rockford and Albany, the Wildcats weren't where they had hoped to be.
"Consequently, we had a tough schedule to open the year and went through a tough stretch where we had a lot of close games that could have gone either way," Schmiesing said. "It worked out that we didn't do enough in those games and lost more than we won."
Since that loss to the Chargers just over two weeks ago, the Wildcats appear to have found their stride, rattling off five wins in a row.
"Each game you learn something new," Schmiesing said. "We took a lesson from each one of those close losses."
Last Friday night, NLS showed that it really learned its lesson from earlier in the year.
On Jan. 5, the Wildcats outplayed Annandale at home for much of the night, but eventually came up short, 65-61. Facing the No. 9 Cardinals on Friday, NLS went with a smaller lineup for much of the game and stymied Annandale's top offensive threats en route to a convincing 65-48 upset victory.
"We tried to apply more pressure on them," Schmiesing said. "I don't know if they struggled because of that or if they just had an off-night shooting, but often those go hand-in-hand."
The Wildcats have always had one of the area's top players this season in point guard Brandon Adelman, but Schmiesing says that now the rest of the pieces are fitting into the picture better than before.
"We've been sharing the ball, making that extra pass and hitting shots," Schmiesing said. "Guys have been getting a lot of opportunities with Brandon getting doubled or trapped. Tristan Thompson is playing well. Ryan Wyganowski, a transfer, is fitting in well and shooting really well. Those kinds of guys, Ander Arnold, Brandyn Harlow and others, are a big factor for us offensively."
Despite its slower start, NLS entered the week as the top-ranked team according to QRF in its sub-section, 3AA North, that once again appears to be wide open.
"I'd say that with us, any of Minnewaska, Redwood Valley or Morris could really make a run in the section," Schmiesing said.
With the way things are going, this March could be a fun one.
In case you missed it (I promise, it's okay if you did), Warriors guard and shooting robot Stephen Curry was spotted on the field before Super Bowl LII on Sunday wearing a Minnehaha Academy Redhawks.
According to Minnehaha Academy athletic director, girls basketball coach and overall friend of the brand Josh Thurow on Twitter, Curry's college roommate married a graduate of MA and, somewhere along the line, got a hold of some Redhawks swag. Being the greatest shooter of basketballs literally ever, Steph Curry can do whatever he wants, and so he wore it to the big game.
It was cool, all of it.
It also got me to thinking: Which famous sports personalities should don gear from area teams?
Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, ACGC Falcons size-medium t-shirts
The Bash Brothers played with Atwater High School grad and current Falcons baseball coach Mike Kingery in Oakland in 1992, so their muscles bulging through a definitely-too-small ACGC tee is only the next logical step in the process. Someone please spin some Photoshop magic and make this happen.
Allyson Felix, Dawson-Boyd track jacket
We'll fit this one right in with the Bash Bros connection. Felix took silver in the 200 meter dash in the 2004 Olympics for the United States and was a track teammate of Dawson-Boyd graduate Carrie Tollefson, who reached the semifinals in the 1,500 meter run in Athens that summer.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Noah Slagter jersey
I once saw Slagter wearing an Antetokounmpo jersey at a Willmar girls basketball game, and it's only right for the Greek Freak to show some respect back to the Cardinals all-time leading scorer.
Brett Favre, Willmar Cardinals fanny pack
There's no connection here. I just really want to see my favorite athlete from my childhood wearing a red Willmar fanny pack.
Johnny Manziel, Brandon Zylstra New London-Spicer jersey
Hope you're all limbered up, because this one here is a stretch.
Brandon Zylstra, an NLS graduate, was the leading receiver in the Canadian Football League this past season and recently signed a futures contract with the Vikings.
Johnny Manziel almost signed a contract with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL.
You do the math.
Dreier vs. Dreier is going to a Game 7.
Dad tied the father-son head coaching series back up at 3-3 when Mike Dreier's New London Spicer girls took down Annandale, coached by son Matt, on a Shea Oman buzzer beater Friday night. It was a win that would normally bring about a fully-blown feeling of elation for the state's all-time winningest girls basketball coach, but things are just a little different when the Wildcats beat the Cardinals.
"Even when we win, it's a bit of a hollow feeling still," Mike said. "Don't get me wrong: I'm still as happy as I can be for our girls to come away with a win like that, but it's different for me when you win against your son."
Matt picked up the first two wins in the Wright County Conference series in between the Cardinals and Wildcats in 2015-16 before NLS won both contests one season ago.
This year, Annandale won 48-35 on Jan. 9 in New London, but the Wildcats clawed out the most recent affair to even the series again.
"He got us earlier this year by 13," Mike said. "He's got a really good team over there, a really good program."
Does Mike, an animated coach on the sidelines, think his son inherited the same competitiveness?
"We've got a lot of competition in the family," Mike said. "We both want what's best for our girls. It's just too bad someone has to lose."
Making things even more special for the Dreier family in this year's series was another son, Joey, joining Mike on the bench as an assistant coach.
"It is really a special thing to have another of my kids on the sideline with me," he said. "To have three of us on the court together in a game, it really puts things in perspective of how lucky we've been."