BLAST FROM THE PAST: Remembering more about that ‘79 boys’ basketball tournamentWORTHINGTON — It has been nearly three weeks ago since my last “blast” ran (Feb.19), featuring the story of Round Lake’s dramatic 1979 upset of the state-ranked Windom Eagles in the District 7 quarterfinals at Mountain Lake on a blustery, bone-chilling mid-February evening 30 years ago.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — It has been nearly three weeks ago since my last “blast” ran (Feb.19), featuring the story of Round Lake’s dramatic 1979 upset of the state-ranked Windom Eagles in the District 7 quarterfinals at Mountain Lake on a blustery, bone-chilling mid-February evening 30 years ago.
Of all the “blasts” that I have written over the past four-plus years, this “story” has likely received the most feedback. I received lots of e-mails, several phone calls and many personal comments responding favorably to the research of the event and how the memorable event was told. Some readers even told me that they felt like “they were right there” watching the action unfold.
Thank you, I certainly appreciate those positive comments about that story, which a few people had suggested I do a “blast” about.
But as I frequently do, telling the “whole story” takes a lot of space and with all of my writing, there was not room for the team picture of those ‘79 Round Lake T-Birds. So in this follow-up feature, while a March storm postponed the Worthington vs. Mankato East Section 2AAA quarterfinal boys’ basketball tournament game, we have room for the team picture.
My thanks go to head coach Tom Schultz for providing that photo from his 1979 Thunderbird (Round Lake High School’s annual).
Schultz still teaches business education and social studies classes at Round Lake-Brewster High School, along with coaching all three seasons. Tom is an assistant football coach for Southwestern United (the combination of RL-B and Southwest Star Concept, which represents the Heron Lake-Okabena school district), the assistant boys’ basketball coach for RL-B and is RL-B’s head golf coach.
A busy guy, Schultz, who was Don Kuiper’s assistant coach during Worthington’s stellar girls’ basketball seasons of the late 1990’s, was Round Lake’s only boys’ basketball coach during that memorable ‘78-79 season.
That’s right — due to financial concern cutbacks — Round Lake did not have an assistant coach that winter.
“Thinking back that was quite a season,” recalls Schultz, who later was the head coach for the Sioux Valley-Round Lake-Brewster girls for nearly a decade in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. “I remember coaching both the varsity and the B-squad, as well as working with the junior high kids, too. It seemed like I was always running a practice or coaching a game.”
So who won District 7 in 1979?
I left off the story, with Heron Lake-Okabena defeating Round Lake, 51-49, in the semifinals at Mountain Lake, ending the T-Birds’ “Cinderella ride” one game after the 76-75 victory over Windom on the same court four nights earlier.
“What happened to our boys after that?” asked Heron Lake’s Lucy Ferguson when her and husband Bob were talking to me about the Round Lake feature. Well, briefly, here is the “rest” of the ‘79 story.
Behind 18 points from Steve Comnick and 14 each from the trio of Scott Uhlenhopp, Doug Worden and Dave Weis, Westbrook claimed a 66-60 win over Jackson in the other semifinal game, setting up a championship match between the Scarlet Knight and Wildcats.
HL-O, in its first-year of consolidation, had defeated Westbrook (66-59) at Okabena on Feb. 2, but on Worthington’s neutral court, it was the Wildcats — coached by Steve Kjorness and Gary DeBates — that prevailed in 58-56 thriller, giving Westbrook its first District 7 title since 1965.
Uhlenhopp, who upped his varsity career point total of 990 that night, scored 24 points to lead Westbrook, while Weis (11), Comnick (11) and Worden (10) also scored in double figures.
Steve Olson ripped the nets for 22 points for HL-O, while Ken Stenzel scored 10 for the Scarlet Knights, who finished their inaugural season with a 13-7 record, including three wins over Round Lake.
Westbrook advanced to the Region 2 tournament at Mankato State’s Highland Arena.
The District 6 champion Mapleton Scots ended Westbrook’s season at 17-5 with a 60-43 victory, while District 8 champion Luverne edged District 5 champion Wells, 39-38, in a low-scoring, defensive-oriented game.
Luverne had earlier won a 69-67 thriller over Hills-Beaver Creek in the District 8 championship game at Worthington.
Randy Kuechenmeister led a balanced Cardinal attack with 19 points, while Howard Van Wyhe scored a game-high 34 points for the Patriots.
Having won close battles over H-BC and Wells, the Cardinals were back in the Region 2 title game for the first time since 1971. Luverne had played in five regional title games in an eight-year span (1964, 1965, 1967, 1968 and 1971), winning four times (all but ‘68), so red-and-white clad Cardinal fans were used to Highland Arena.
But after earning a four-point halftime lead (27-23), the Cardinals never could shake the Scots and Mapleton rallied late — after Luverne’s Kuechenmeister (who probably averaged 20 points per game) fouled out (with just four points) with five minutes left.
Mapleton eventually won a 57-55 overtime decision, sending the Scots to the state tournament.
Greg Watts and Cliff Raak were Luverne’s leading scorers that night, netting 18 and 14 points, respectively.
Jeff Annis, who is now Maple River’s (Mapleton, Amboy, Good Thunder and Minnesota Lake) athletic director, was a starting guard for the Scots. He scored 19 points in Mapleton’s win over Westbrook and had eight in the championship win over Luverne.
“Jeff has thanked me more than once,” says Doug Boyer, the Round Lake guard who scored 34 points, including the game-winning shot against Windom. “I live in Mapleton now and Jeff has told me that they (Mapleton’s ‘79 team) didn’t think they could have beaten Windom. But after our upset, the tournament was wide-open and so Jeff is thankful that they had a chance after that.”
So, there is a bit more on that 1979 high school boys’ basketball tournament that was played about three weeks earlier than usual.
Cleaning the cuff
As this “blast” is a collection of several “past” events, rather than a feature on a specific team, I will do a bit of rambling here.
First of all, there were other exciting games the night of the Round Lake vs. Windom match-up, including a District 8 quarterfinal battle between rivals Fulda and Slayton at Edgerton. Jerry Fury, who now announces the starting line-ups for games at Minnesota West and at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, was a junior guard for the Raiders and remembers well blowing snow the day before the game.
“We had to plow out a half-mile of our driveway to get out and get to that game,” Fury recalls. “It’s something that I will never forget.”
For the record, Slayton won that game, but I have not been able to research the details. Joey Konkel was likely playing for the Wildcats. The next season, Konkel had a 54-point game.
Speaking of the Slayton vs. Fulda rivalry, Daily Globe sports editor Aaron Hagen has instructed me to find out “where’s the goat?” “Find out who ‘has the goat,’” Aaron told me after I mentioned the traditional symbol of victory between the two schools that, perhaps, ended when Slayton joined with Chandler-Lake Wilson and became Murray County Central?
Anyway, anyone with more knowledge about the “Mr. Goat” tradition, please contact Aaron or me at the Globe, email@example.com.
Classic games Saturday, is it in the genes?
I saw some terrific games Saturday, including two that were not decided until the final buzzer.
At Windom, Eagle sophomore Travis Mattson — the grandson of former Heron Lake all-around athlete Ray Diemer — sank the winning shot in a classic 62-60 victory over Jackson. Diemer, who twice scored 27 points, while leading the Heron Lake Falcons to a 16-3 record in ‘59-60, was in his usual spot in the Windom rooting section when Travis (who earlier this season, netted 32 points in an 82-64 win over Martin County West) sank the buzzer-beating “Jimmy Chitwood” type of shot.
Windom’s freshman twin towers — Lee Holt and Jake Holt — grandfather Zeke Holt, the 1952 state champion in the 440-yard dash (51.6), was one of the many Eagle fans that congratulated Mattson after his heroics Saturday night.
Steve Comnick and Howard Van Wyhe were both mentioned earlier in this column.
Steve’s nephew Mason Comnick blistered the nets for 39 points Saturday in an awesome individual performance for Westbrook-Walnut Grove in a 60-57 loss to Southwest Christian.
Mason is the son of Steve’s younger brother Randall Comnick, who made a game-winning shot to send the Wildcats to the state tournament in 1982. Mason’s mother (Jann Dibble) starred for the Westbrook girls in the early ‘80s. Her father (and Mason’s granddad) is Jim Dibble, who was a top-notch Westbrook athlete in the 1950’s before becoming an amateur baseball player-manager in the ‘60s.
Howard Van Wyhe’s sons — Halden and Heath — helped H-BC advance with a 72-61 win over SSC. Halden, a senior, led the Red Rock Conference in scoring this winter, averaging more than 22 points per game over 17 league games.
Has it been 20 years ago since Storden-Jeffers capped an undefeated season with the 1989 Class A state girls’ championship? Look for that story next week!