The Breakdown Fall League opened up Sunday, as you know, and, as you also are aware, high school coaches cannot and do not coach their teams in the fall. But, they can watch, and lots and lots of them were in the gyms doing just that. I spent the morning and early afternoon at Kennedy, then high-tailed it over to Hopkins to watch Hopkins vs. Wayzata.
Grant has already written up that particular game. I’ll have some additional reporting on the other games and players I saw, but first, the coaches. We made a special effort to talk to some of the new coaches. Here they are.
Brian Batt, New Ulm
Coach Batt takes over for coach Dan Reinhart. Coach Dan and his daughter and combo guard Meleah Reinhart took the Eagles from the deep doldrums to respectability over a period of several years, and for her trouble Meleah earned a well-deserved opportunity to play at Southwest State. Dan wants to follow Meleah, of course, and so he’ll be coaching New Ulm’s 7th graders this year, a little less of a time commitment than varsity head coach.
It must be a New Ulm thing—now Batt takes over as head coach, and his daughter, point guard Joey, takes over as the Eagles floor general and motor and do-everything player. They'll have 2 years to see if they can progress New Ulm even further up the food chain in southwestern Minnesota basketball. The Eagles were 0-22 in 2013 and lost to New Prague in the section 74-24. In 2014 they were 6-20 and lost to Marshall 66-18. Last year they were 23-6 and lost to Waseca in the section final 61-56.
But with the loss of Reinhart, the pressure will be on the new coach’s daughter. Joey Batt is a tiny point guard, but wiry, athletic, quick, strong for her 5-6 size, and strong-willed beyond measure. She’s got great handles, great court vision, great ability to penetrate, and she can score at the rim or dish. The question is who’s she going to dish it to.
Forwards Morgan Eikanger, who was not present on Sunday, and Iyanna Weiland, are options 2 and 3 and, since we know what Batt can do (North Tartan took a pretty strong run at her, but she chose to stay with the MN Rise next summer), New Ulm will go as far as Eikanger and Weiland can take them. Weiland will need to amp up the aggression a bit, especially as it relates to looking for her shot.
Meanwhile, coach Batt thought Lizzie Shave and Hannah Osborne can help at the other guard spot. Shave was quick and aggressive on Sunday, but working on her handles and her decision-making. Osborne, a 5-8, sophomore, was not present.
Coach Batt, by the way, has coached his daughter and her friends throughout the New Ulm system for many years and has served as assistant varsity coach as well as summer coach for the Rise. New Ulm could be better than last year, but more likely they’ll drop a win or two as the supporting cast has to show that it can do more this year supporting just one rather than two star guards.
Brian Doughty, Apple Valley
Coach Doughty probably has an even steeper hill to climb at Apple Valley, losing Lyndsey Robson, Sara Teske and Erin Baxter to graduation and, now, Linnea Bollum to a knee. Bollum is a senior forward, and so her career is now done. Our sympathies to Linnea and her Apple Valley teammates.
But, with change comes opportunity. Doughty spent several years on Jeremy Post’s staff at White Bear Lake (then last year with the Stillwater boys), and he plans to bring some White Bear stuff to Apple Valley—specifically, a new commitment to defense, never the Eagles strong suit, and the likelihood of playing a bigger rotation than Apple Valley players and parents are used to. There’s already a little grumbling about minutes among the Apple Valley faithful.
But why not emphasize defense when you’ve got a beast like Mykel Parham to patrol the lane? Let’s build on that! There will be plenty of offense with Brynne Roland and Megan Baer returning and Kalena Meyers and Chynna Young stepping up. If the Eagles can win this year scoring 60 instead of having to score 70, they and coach Doughty can make some noise.
Mark Stensgard, Simley
Coach Andrew Ewing resigned after 2 years at the helm, and so the Simley girls will have their 4th coach in just 5 years. So they went for the least disruptive option they could make, which was to bring in Mark Stensgard, who has coached most of these girls since 3rd and 4th grade and was assistant girls coach the past 2 years. He also had 2 boys and coached with the boys program for several years. And, unlike, a lot of the first-year coaches, Stensgard is inherited a deep and talented team that seems to be poised for success.
What is Mark Stensgard basketball going to look like? “I love to run. If you can outrun your opponents, eventually it's going to pay off. You’re going to have some turnovers with that, but you’re going to have turnovers either way, so why not try to get some layups and some in and out 3-pointers along the way. We have some good spot up shooters, we have some good bigs who really run the floor, and we have some good guards.”
“They’ve played a lot of AAU, they’ve played a lot of games, so I think they’re ready for the challenge,” Stensgard said.
Ellen Wiese, Eden Prairie
Wiese takes over for Faith Johnson Patterson, and before that Chris Carr, in a troubled Eden Prairie program that has seen way too much talent transfer out the past several years. But, Wiese comes in with her eyes wide open. Even so, 6-2 post Abby Johnson, just a junior, gives one hope. Otherwise, EP will be young. I watched the EP 9th graders for a few minutes with coach Wiese, and I think I can say this. Everybody will get a shot, and there are still a whole lot of girls in the pipeline, and girls who play hard and play with pride can look forward to getting competitive with coach Wiese in a couple-maybe 3 years.
Nicole Bullock, Irondale (2nd year)
OK, Bullock isn’t new new. She’s 2nd year new. But, heck, I’ve lived in my house for 27 years and some people still say I’m new. So, Nicole Bullock, you’re new. Besides, she came to Irondale all the way from Iowa, and that makes you double-new. But, seriously, despite coming from Iowa, Bullock knew some people and asked around, and she knew what she was getting into. Irondale has been a good long while between successes on the basketball court and, frankly, they have a reputation as one of the worst defensive teams in the metro.
So, getting her girls to play team defense is job one. But, she knows that success isn’t going to come overnight, so seniors Sophie Findell (the point guard) and Sarah Loken (a post) are going to lead this team across, but not out of the desert. Hopefully, they’re up for that. And, even juniors Kahlen Jester (combo guard) and Ashley Polson (a big wing) may not see the payoff, though 9th grade post Dora Okpara gives them a shot at respectability in 2019 or 2020. She’s active for her large size with pretty good feet, she creates space, she gives her teammates a nice target, catches the ball and…well, sometimes she puts it in the hole. If her shooting percentage improves even a little bit, she can be a game-changer for the Knights.
As for Bullock, she says she’s a Minnesotan now, and she expects to be around for awhile. Hopefully, for Irondale’s sake, that will be the case.
New Prague situation
Brett reported a couple months ago that New Prague’s Ron Gunderson had requested a one-year leave of absence from his head coaching duties, wanting a rest after 41 years at the controls. Kyle Swedberg, recently an assistant at Park Center, has been announced as the new New Prague coach. I did not see Kyle on Sunday so I wasn’t able to ask him about the situation. And, so, chalk the following up to rumor, only, totally uncomfirmed.
But New Prague fans seemed pretty unanimous in their belief that Gunderson will not be returning. He took the “leave of absence” rout because he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t want a retirement party, no hoopla, no toaster ovens, no balloons, no cakes, no speeches…and so he has chosen not to announce his retirement but just to fade away.
Time will tell. I hope they’re wrong. No offense to Kyle Swedberg but, Ron, please come back!
With the graduation of Maizie Deihl, Taylor Hustad and Keegan Mulvihill, the Trojans will revolve around sophomore post Emily Russo. McKenzie Holgate and Sally Traxler also return but the “re” word around New Prague is probably not return or even revolve. For coach Gunderson, it’s relax. For Swedberg and company, its rebuild.