Les Knutson: From Granite Falls to New Richland watching high school basketball
Les Knutson Daily Globe HERON LAKE -- During the balmy weather we enjoyed most of this February, I tagged along on several trips with my sons as they ventured to high school gymnasiums -- some near and some not so near -- as they continued their ...
HERON LAKE -- During the balmy weather we enjoyed most of this February, I tagged along on several trips with my sons as they ventured to high school gymnasiums -- some near and some not so near -- as they continued their saga of watching an assortment of high school varsity boys basketball games.
Starting in December, Chad and Logan have been on countless trips together going to games. First, there were the two Breakdown Classics in Hopkins, featuring a bundle of quality teams, including five-time Class AAA state champion De La Salle of Minneapolis, coached by the fiery Dave Thorson.
In late January, they were Twin Cities bound again, taking in the Border Battle -- games between high-caliber Wisconsin teams and top-notch Minnesota squads -- at Apple Valley. Chad and Logan were joined by their brother, Lucas, at the Border Battle and the three of them took a break from those games and ventured to Minneapolis North High School and watched the defending Class A champions Polars tangle with perennial Class AA power Caledonia.
North, ranked # 1 in Class A at the time, defeated the Warriors, the state’s second-ranked Class AA squad on January 28, in a classic battle by a final score of 74-70.
They also traveled to the Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan and watched the Tri Hawks host the Pumas of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, based in Minneapolis. The Pumas, led by 6-9 senior forward Jericho Sims and 6-2 freshman guard James Sommer, earned a 76-63 victory.
Sims is an outstanding all-around player who is headed south to play for the University of Texas Longhorns next winter. A talented prospect, Sommer is the grandson of Jack Kelly, who coached so many great teams at Windom during the 1970s and 1980s. Jack’s daughter, Kim, is Sommer’s mother and has been the assistant cross country coach at Trinity Ridge through several highly-successful seasons, including a dominating Class A girls’ state championship in 2014. A 1981 graduate of Windom High School, Kim was the point guard on a fine Eagles’ squad which finished 17-4 her senior year and nearly defeated eventual state champion Heron Lake-Okabena in a very close game in the District 7 finals.
The Pumas are 17-6 and were in the midst of a 10-game winning streak when my sons saw them play. Cristo Rey Jesuit, however, is in the same section (4A) as Minneapolis North.
In early January (the 9th), Chad made a trip southeast of Albert Lea and watched the Glenville-Emmons boys tangle with the high-powered Cleveland Clippers. Eleven days later, Chad and I were back in the Glenville gym where I’ve seen many girls games over the past four seasons as Lucas -- after two years as the assistant -- is now the head girls basketball coach for the Wolverines. G-E played Lanesboro that night and three nights later (January 23), I made a little shorter drive, alone, to Alden and watched the G-E girls battle Alden-Conger.
Nine days after that, I saw the Wolverines girls play for the third time in a 12-day span when I drove to Glenville and rode the team bus down to LeRoy as the Wolverines played pretty well in a loss to the LeRoy-Ostrander Cardinals. The L-O High School was kind of unique with the principal’s office overlooking the cafeteria, which was adjacent to the gymnasium.
The trip to LeRoy (February 1) began a busy month of going to basketball games for the Knutsons. After Heron Lake-Okabena High School games at Fulda and at home versus Madelia the next two nights, I rode with Jack Kelly to the basketball-rich RA Facility on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall and watched a girl-boy doubleheader between Lakeview and Red Rock Central -- two teams which the Wildcats would play in the coming week. Yes, that was a scouting trip!
Joining us at Marshall were Chad and Logan who had first ventured all the way to Prinsburg (near Willmar) and watched a pair of Class A powers -- Minneapolis North and Central Minnesota Christian -- clash in what could be a prelude to this year’s state championship game at the Target Center on March 25. In a low-scoring, defensive-oriented game, the Polars defeated the Bluejays by a final score of 55-48.
A week later, wife Cheryl joined Chad, Logan and I for another trip to Watertown, S.D. Cheryl has a pair of nephews -- brothers Jeff and Richard Schmidt -- who were each three-sport Windom High School athletes back in the 1980s. Jeff’s son, Jed, was the starting point guard for the visiting Mitchell Kernels and Rich’s son, Trey, started as a wing for the Watertown Arrows. Both Jed and Trey are seniors. Earlier, we watched Rich’s second son, Parker, a sophomore, play for the Arrows in both the JV and B-Squad games. Watertown won all three games, although the varsity game was closely-contested until the final minutes.
The following Saturday, Cheryl and I made another trip to Glenville where the Wolverine girls played their best game of the season and came so close to earning a win over the Madelia Blackhawks. But, Madelia held off several strong G-E rallies and ended up on top of a 60-47 final score. But, it was sure fun cheering for the home team!
On Tuesday the 14th, Valentine’s Night, I made my second trip to Luverne to scout the Cardinals as they matched up against Windom. Jack Kelly and I had been in Luverne five nights earlier when Pipestone was in town. Solo scouting trips to Granada (January 6) and Madelia (January 31) were also among my time traveling to watch basketball games this winter.
Within the past eight days, I was able to visit a couple of nice “old style” gyms for the first time.
On Friday, the 17th, I traveled with Chad and Logan to Granite Falls to watch the Yellow Medicine East Sting host the MACCRAY Wolverines. Logan had played spring basketball with a Southwest Slam team out of Marshall after his freshman season in 2014, with three players from YME and one from MACCRAY. It was fun watching all four of those guys in action on the same court and it was neat soaking in the atmosphere of the big gym in Granite Falls -- which had back-to-back state tournament teams back in 1959 and 1960, the “heyday” of the one-class system.
I also noticed the name of Hills-Beaver Creek teacher and coach Dan Ellingson on the Class C state championship football trophy claimed by Granite Falls in the fall of 1977 when Ellingson was a key player for the Kilowatts.
We left the game at Granite Falls at halftime and traveled a bit farther northwest to Montevideo and caught the end of undefeated Melrose’s victory over the host Thunderhawks.
Then, the past Monday (the 20th), I talked Chad out of driving all the way to Spring Grove (the Lions are 22-3 and are ranked highly in Class A) and he settled for a trip to New Richland. This was a neat gym, the place where Gopher women’s ace Carlie Wagner starred for the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva Panthers, leading them to back-to-back Class AA state championships in 2013 and 2014.
We took in a Gopher Conference boys’ game between visiting Maple River and a very good NR-H-E-G squad, which improved to 23-2 with an impressive -- and well-balanced --- 72-43 victory.
That’s a lot of basketball in one month, but I was sure glad that I went along on those trips to Granite Falls and New Richland, experiencing the atmosphere of high school basketball in different locations around the state.
K-W’s Savannah Bleess reaches 1,000-point milestone
Riding home from Montevideo on the 17th, I wasn’t able to see Kenyon-Wanimingo girls star Savannah Bleess score 16 points in a game against Triton, but I received a phone from her proud grandpa -- Okabena’s Ray Bleess -- letting me know that Savannah had done it. She needed 11 points to reach the 1,000-point milestone for her illustrious varsity career with the Class AA Knights, which included helping K-W to a runner-up finish in the 2014 state tournament when she was a freshman.
Ray, a two-time one-class state wrestling champion at 120 pounds for Blue Earth in 1959 and 1960, told me before he made the trip to Kenyon with his wife Bernie that Savannah, the daughter of their oldest son Brian (HL-O Class of 1989) was close and he wanted to see it happen. I’m glad that you both got to be there, Ray and Bernie. Congratulations to Savannah and best of luck to the Knights (17-9) as they tangle with Pine Island at the Rochester Civic Center in the second-round of the Section 1AA tournament.