College sports: Minnesota West hits the hardcourt on Friday
WORTHINGTON —It has taken more than a year for the renovations on Minnesota West’s Center for Health and Wellness to go from plan to completion. And now that the updated structure is ready, the Bluejays winter athletic teams are experiencing a healthy excitement about performing there.
West’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will tip off the season at the new gym on Friday at 6 and 8 p.m.
“It was a long 16-month process. We knew, obviously, that the prize was a really good facility, so we’re happy to be in there,” said men’s basketball coach Justin Heckenlaible.
All three of Minnesota West’s winter athletic programs will be active this weekend. The Sanford Regional Hospital Classic begins Friday with the women’s basketball team playing Dakota State JV at 6 p.m. The men play at 8 p.m. Friday against Northwestern JV. Then on Saturday, the West women contend at 4 p.m. against Dordt JV, with the men following at 6 p.m.
On Saturday, several Minnesota West wrestlers go on the road to participate in the Rochester Open in Rochester.
Heckenlaible has three sophomore leaders ready to go for the Sanford Classic, starting with last year’s “sixth man,” 6-4 forward Cody Harris, a Rapid City, S.D., resident who averaged seven points per game last season. Also on hand is 6-1 guard Jackson Seitzinger, a Yankton, S.D., product who assumed a starting role in the latter half of last season. He averaged six points per game and has been termed by Heckenlaible a “defensive stopper.”
Also providing leadership is 6-5 back-up post player Taylor Lupton of Sioux Falls, S.D.
Others expected to play leading roles this winter are are pair of transfers. Cyrell Hodges, a 5-9 sophomore point guard, comes to Minnesota West from McCook Community College in Nebraska. Jordan Thomas, a 6-3 sophomore guard, arrives at Worthington via Des Moines Area Community College. He sat out last season.
Minnesota West posted a 16-14 record last season which included a berth in the region championship, where it lost to Rochester.
“This is probably the most athletic team I’ve had,” the 13-year West coach Heckenlaible describes his 2013-14 unit. “I think we can create a lot of turnovers in the half-court and in the full-court.”
Heckenlaible, who says his team is “not very big,” believes he has a squad that can be successful employing a running, pressing, up-tempo style.
This season marks the 33rd at Worthington Community College and Minnesota West for Lady Jays skipper Mike Fury.
“It actually feels like it’s only been about 10,” Fury said this week.
Perhaps Fury’s youthful enthusiasm is maintained, in part, by recent history. The Lady Jays put up a 20-6 season in 2012-13 and were runners-up in Region 13. There is proven talent returning for 2013-14.
Three of them were also key members of the fall volleyball team. They include 5-11 forward Tiffany Gehl, 6-0 forward Lindsey Drooger and 6-0 sophomore Kristen Andersen. Gehl, from Fulda, averaged 20.5 points per game as a freshman and is an honorable mention All-American. Drooger, from Edgerton, comes off a campaign where she averaged 15.8 points per contest. Andersen, a Worthington High School grad, is a transfer from Mankato who wasn’t eligible to play for West last season. However, she has practiced with the team.
“We’ve got a pretty good core of incoming freshmen who, once they show they can play, are going to be very good ballplayers for us,” Fury said.
Seven of the 11 players recently concluded their volleyball seasons at Minnesota West.
“We’re going to kind of knock the volleyball rust off and get it going with basketball,” Fury remarked about the upcoming Sanford Classic event.
Fury teams have traditionally been aggressive on defense, and the 2013-14 campaign figures to continue that record.
“I hope that’s one of our trademarks. We take a lot of pride in that,” said Fury, who added that quickness and shooting ability should also help the Lady Jays find the win column often.
West head coach Robert Purcell will send six of his wrestlers to compete across the state in Rochester on Saturday.
Kareed Williams (freshman, 125 pounds, from St. Paul), Matt Henning (freshman, 125, Hull-Western Christian), Michael Tanner (sophomore, 141 pounds, Royal Palm Beach, Fla.), Jared Nickman (freshman, 157, Lincoln, Neb.), Ben Goodwin (sophomore, 174, Lincoln, Neb.) and Josh Valandra (freshman, HWT, Chamberlain, S.D.) are making the trip.
Goodwin is a team captain and national state qualifier, where he went 1-2. Tanner competed at the nationals last year. Nickman is a former high school state champion. Williams, Henning and Valandra were high school state qualifiers.
Purcell said the Bluejays may struggle this winter in their dual matches due to a couple of open weight classes, but the team should be stronger when five more wrestlers — who participated on the football team — get into wrestling shape.