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Les Knutson: Final Four impresses Heckenlaible, Kjorness

Les KnutsonDaily Globe sports columnist HOUSTON, Texas -- It's been 10 days already since Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono flipped a pass to teammate Kris Jenkins for his historic buzzer-beating three-pointer which gave the Wildcats the 201...

Les Knutson
Daily Globe sports columnist 

HOUSTON, Texas - It’s been 10 days already since Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono flipped a pass to teammate Kris Jenkins for his historic buzzer-beating three-pointer which gave the Wildcats the 2016 NCAA Championship with their dramatic 77-74 victory over North Carolina at sold-out NRG Stadium.
Among those 78,000 fans jammed into NRG were Worthington’s Justin Heckenlaible and Dave Walker, who have been to several Final Fours together. Retired Westbrook-Walnut Grove superintendent Steve Kjorness, who spends his winters farther south in Mission, Texas, was there, too. Steve and his wife, Cathy, were joined by son Mark at the big event in Houston.
While it was the first Final Four for Kjorness, it was the 10th trip to the NCAA finals for Heckenlaible, who said this one was certainly among the best.
“The whole atmosphere at NRG was tremendous,” Heckenlaible said. “The semifinal games were not that great, as Villanova blew out Oklahoma and the North Carolina vs. Syracuse game didn’t have best flow either. But the championship game sure made up for what those two lacked. I’d have to say that game was among the best title games I’ve ever seen.”
Heckenlaible, like many others, expected a North Carolina victory and was ready for overtime after Marcus Paige’s incredible three-pointer tied the score with less than five seconds left.
“Talk about an exciting finish,” exclaimed Heckenlaible. “It’s a great game all the way through and then Paige hits that double-clutch shot to tie the score and it looks like it’s going to overtime. Villanova, which played so well through the whole tournament, comes down the court and executes a shot which beats the buzzer and wins the championship. It was just an incredible finish to a fantastic game.”
Heckenlaible compared Jenkins’ shot to Keith Smart’s 1987 buzzer beater which gave Indiana the title over Syracuse or the last-second shot drained by North Carolina freshman Michael Jordan in the 1982 title game against Georgetown.
“I wasn’t there for those two,” Heckenlaible said. “I watched them both on television. This was better because Dave and I were part of the crowd and saw it live. The guy that pushed the button on the fireworks, streamers and confetti may have been a bit early as they (the officials) still had to review it to see if the shot was off in time. But there was doubt about it. The ball was in the air when the buzzer sounded.”
Kjorness, who said he had a great seat about 30 rows up, had an enjoyable time at the Final Four, getting to meet college coaches like Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith and Long Beach State’s Dan Monson, along with CBS analyst Charles Barkley and spending some time with former Purdue coach Gene Keady.
“It was an amazing experience,” the long-time former Westbrook and W-WG boys’ basketball coach said. “Everyone we met was so gracious and that final game was unbelievable.”
While the Kjornesses went to Saturday’s semifinal games and to Monday’s championship contest, they were also able to go to Sunday’s banquet where Augustana star Dan Janssen was honored as the National NCAA Division II Player of the Year.
Janssen, from Orange City, Iowa, capped a brilliant career as Augustana’s all-time leading scorer by helping the Vikings secure the national championship in Frisco, Texas a week earlier (March 25), with a 90-81 victory over Tennessee’s Lincoln Memorial in the title game.
While in high school, Janssen played on an AAU team with Paige, who is from Marion, Iowa.
“I didn’t see Augustana play in person this year,” said Kjorness. “But I have followed them a lot in the past, especially back in the 1990s when two our players from our 1991 team - Jason Bakke and Troy Steen - were playing for the Vikings.”
Aaron Theisen provides a common link for Kjorness
While Kjorness had not met Janssen before, he and Mark - a colonel in the United States Army stationed in England - shared a common link with the Augustana ace.
“We told him that your student trainer, Aaron Theisen, is from the same high school as we are,” Steve said.
That’s true.
The son of Leo and Janet Theisen of Walnut Grove, Aaron is a senior at Augie, majoring in athletic training. He worked with the basketball team all season long, including making the trip to Elite Eight Tournament at Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco.
“Aaron really enjoyed being involved with the Augie team - a great group - from behind the scenes,” said Leo, W-WG’s activities director. “When he was in high school here, playing basketball for W-WG, Aaron played against Casey Schilling (Ellsworth) and Zach Huisken (Southwest Christian). So the Red Rock Conference was well-represented down in Texas.”
While the Theisens did not make the trip to the Elite Eight, they did watch Schilling and Huisken play in the Vikings’ victory over Northwest Missouri State in the Central Regional championship game at the Pentagon in Sioux Falls on March 15.
“That game was classic,” summed up Leo. “Basketball doesn’t get much better than that.”
So, with Augustana’s championship in late March and the fantastic finish to this year’s NCAA Division I tournament, known as “March Madness” in early April, the collegiate basketball season is over.
Now, the only basketball left is the NBA playoffs - which start, I believe, this weekend.
1991 W-WG team was one of the best
Kjorness gave me a bundle of information about the amazing 1990-91 season generated by the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers in their first year of pairing. That team finished 27-2, losing only to Windom in the finals of the Eagles’ Holiday Tournament and to Chisholm in the 1991 Class A state championship game.
I have some phone numbers and will be calling several of those W-WG players in the coming weeks. Some day this spring, when all of the local sporting events are postponed due to nasty weather, we will “flash you back in time” to the winter of ’90-91 and recall some of those memorable victories from that season a quarter of a century ago.

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