Monday, February 28, 2011

Pine Island’s Schmidt gets beam surprise at State

When Pine Island gymnast Brittany Schmidt landed the final dismount of her gymnastics career, a slight grimace emerged upon her face.

“I just thought I could do better,” she said of her balance beam routine at the State Class A individual meet, Saturday at the University of Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion.

After sticking her beam finish, Schmidt was greeted and consoled by her coach, Chris Templeton. The two rejoined the other Panthers gymnasts as the remainder of 1A rotation of the beam competition resumed.

About an hour later, at the awards ceremony, Schmidt was seated with her teammates on the floor exercise mat as the winners were announced. Templeton stood nearby, unsuspecting any of his athletes earning medals - which would mean top six finishes in each gymnast’s respective events.

But then it came. Schmidt was announced as the fifth place medalist in balance beam.

“[It’s] nothing that I can explain, it was just overwhelming,” said the Pine Island senior, describing the moment her name was called.

“I was very surprised,” Schmidt said. “I just never thought I would place at state.”

Templeton was shocked as well, pumping his fist with pride. He described his pupil’s performance minutes before Schmidt had stepped atop the wooden platform adorned with a brown No. 5.

“Bars are her event,” Templeton said. “She took a fall on that, so she was very disappointed.”
When a gymnast falls, an automatic 0.5-point deduction is applied to her score. Schmidt’s uneven bars score was an 8.30, meriting an 18th place finish.

“In order for her to come back, re-gather herself and stick her beam the way that she did, it really speaks to the maturity that she has,” Templeton said. “Beam was her last event as a high school gymnast and she stuck it.”

Schmidt’s score on balance beam was 9.15.

Pine Island had three other gymnasts competing Saturday - Chelsie Glabe, Siera McNallan and Brenna Ruegg. McNallan and Ruegg each nabbed ninth-place finishes - McNallan in floor exercise (posting a 9.30), Ruegg in vault (9.425).

Schmidt’s medal was the first Pine Island captured at State since 2008, when Sarah Lerum earned three medals - placing third in floor, fourth in all-around and fifth in bars. Saturday was also the first time in Pine Island history that three gymnasts earned top ten finishes.

Other Rochester area Class A girls who competed were Austin’s Abby Bickler and Selena Hataye; Megan Lawson and Laura Mesenburg of Byron-Lourdes; Rochelle Thesing (LaCresent); and Hope Stremcha (Caledonia/Spring Grove/Houston).

Thesing earned a sixth-place medal in the all-around competition (with a score of 36.35), she also nearly earned a second (finishing seventh in bars, 9.0).

Pair of Mayo gymnasts compete in Class AA floor and vault
Hours after Class A concluded, a new crop of gymnasts stretched out and chalked up their hands in preparation for State AA individual competition.

Rochester Mayo seniors Leah Butterbaugh and Kayla Wiltrout competed in the floor exercise and vault events, respectively.

Butterbaugh performed first, as the fifth competitor in the first rotation (of eight) in floor. She executed her routine very well according to her Mayo coaches, Abby Siems and Dan Christy, among others.

Thus her score, a 9.2, befuddled them.

“The scores didn’t reflect what we thought she earned,” Siems said. “But that’s how gymnastics goes and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

A teary-eyed Butterbaugh also thought she deserved better. After accomplishing a career-high 9.65 at sections, her grade at State was tough to take.

“I think I did a good routine, except in my last [tumble] pass I piked out a little bit and that may have brought it down,” she said. “I felt I should have gotten a higher score, but that’s how it is.”

The suspect scoring aside, Butterbaugh’s coach approved her effort.

“Getting here [to State] is an accomplishment, she has a lot to be proud of even if it didn’t meet her expectations or what we had hoped for,” Siems said.

Approximately forty minutes after Butterbaugh’s floor exhibition, on the other side of the Pavilion was Wiltrout, who had her sights set on the vault.

Each vault competitor had two attempts. Christy explained there are three types of finishes a gymnast can attempt after she springs off the pommel horse - a tuck, pike and a layout, where the legs are either tucked in, slightly bent or straight out. Each having its own degree of difficulty.

A flawlessly executed tuck merits a 9.6, a perfect pike nets a 9.8, and an unblemished layout must be performed to achieve a 10.

In Wiltrout’s case, she went with her bread-and-butter, a pike, on her first attempt and a layout on the second. The results were 9.50 and 9.525, respectively. Christy said Wiltrout’s layout was something he and her had been working on all year but only used in competition in her last couple meets.

“I’ve been working on that Tsuk for a while,” said Wiltrout of her layout attempt, which included a Tsukahara (a midair move involving a half turn off the springboard onto the horse and a push backward into a flip). “It’s my last meet, so I went all out and hoped for the best.”

Wiltrout’s scores landed her in 15th place, which satisfied the Spartans senior. She said reaching State was something she had strived for since first entering high school.

“When you set a goal and say you want to make State and you make State, that’s a good year no matter how you look at it,” Christy said.

**This story was written for the Rochester Post-Bulletin. It's coverage of Rochester area high schools for Minnesota Class A and Class AA State gymnastics meet.
**Photos were taken by Post-Bulletin photographer, Jack Boder

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Eastview downs Apple Valley despite Jones’ career-high

Apple Valley freshman phenom Tyus Jones tied his career-high scoring mark last night, but it was rival Eastview who invaded his home court and claimed the victory.

“We’re very spoiled to have him here, he’s such a good point guard, he gets us organized and he had a great night,” said Zach Goring, Apple Valley’s head coach.

Goring’s floor general tallied 33 points and seven assists for the Eagles, but Eastview emerged the superior team, defeating Apple Valley 74-67.

Eastview’s win sealed the season sweep over Apple Valley - the Lightning defeated the Eagles 50-44 on Jan. 14.

Last night - much like the first game - it was the Eastview bigs that were the difference. Junior forward Joey King poured in 30 points and senior Frank Veldman pulled down a game-high eight rebounds.

“They’re strong post players,” Goring said of Eastview’s frontcourt. “I know over there (in the game at Easview) they had 18 offensive rebounds and tonight they were up 10 on the glass again. Against a team like that, that shoots that well, we need to secure those rebounds.”

Despite the rebounding disparity, Goring’s team had its chances tonight.

Forty-five seconds into the game, Tyus Jones had two baskets and it was 4-0 Eagles. But the Lightning immediately responded to Jones’ second hoop as forward Frank Veldman opened Eastview’s scoring with a thunderous dunk.

Oddly enough, nearly two hours later, Veldman finished Eastview’s scoring with another dunk.

In the game’s waning moments, three Eagles defenders had Eastview’s Ben Oberfeld pinned near the boundary line under his own basket, when Oberfeld somehow managed to squeak a pass through to a teammate, which quickly led to the game-sealing slam.

“He pitched it ahead, [another Eastview player] pitched it ahead, dunk,” Goring said, recalling how fast the play transpired.

“We’re not a great pressing team, we’re more of a half-court, get back and defend team,” he added. “When it gets to the end of the game, we’re taking chances, trying to make plays and we fouled guys.”

Goring was also speaking to the consecutive old-fashioned threes the Lightning accomplished prior to the dunk.

Apple Valley cut its deficit to four on a Jones’ lay-up with two minutes remaining; but King and Oberfeld both made hoops plus free throws, and suddenly Eastview’s lead balooned to 72-62 with 42 ticks to spare.

Tom Schalk, Apple Valley’s leading scorer - who had 18 points and six rebounds for the night - shared his postgame thoughts.

“It was just discouraging, really discouraging,” Schalk said. “They killed us on the boards down the stretch, made plays when they needed to and took over down the stretch.”

Jones acknowledged his high-scoring night and that he tried his best to help his team win, but also expressed his disappointment with the loss.

“I was just trying to get the team a W, whatever it took to get the win,” Jones said. “If I had to get scoring, I was going to score, if I had to get other people in position to score, I would to do that. I was just taking what was open, which [tonight] was scoring.”

“It was a tough battle, we played a tough Eastview team,” he added. “In the second half we just couldn’t buckle down and get the stops we needed, and they went on their run.”

Another key part of the game, which Goring was particular upset with, was toward the end of the first half. His team was up 10 points with less than a minute remaining, when suddenly that lead evaporated to five in an instant.

“At one point, we were up 41-31 with a minute left” Goring said. “[Then], ten to five in the snap of a finger.”

Despite the disappointment, Goring said he told his team to stay positive and “hopefully we’ll see those guys a third time.”

The Eagles will hope to have get that chance as both teams prepare for sections and state, which start in less than three weeks.

**This was written for Sun Newspapers, to be posted as online content for the paper's website. There were some difficulties with my camera and taking game photos, thus not many of them did not turn out and the ones that did aren't nearly as satisfactory as I hoped. The first Tyus Jones picture was shot after the game. Descriptions of the photos in the story - from top to bottom - are as follows: Tyus Jones (post-game), Jones (21) in the Apple Valley huddle, Tom Schalk (30) preparing for an in-bounds play, Apple Valley Eagles basketball team (pre-game)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tribute to Griffey: An Epitaph for My Cat

It was approximately 12:15 on the afternoon of Saturday, February 12 2011 when my beloved cat - Griffin Kenneth “Griffey” Barthel - looked at me with despair.

His right eyeball almost entirely above the upper ridge of his eye frame, Griffey appeared dazed and confused as he meowed for my attention. Peering downward from my computer chair, I noticed his nearly all-white eye and my heart immediately saddened for my poor pet’s problem.

The past few weeks, my 20-year-old cat seemed in decent health - especially for his age. But the revelation of this latest impairment to my fair Griffey instantly led me to a gravely imminent decision - it’s time. It’s time for Griffey to be eternally rested.

As difficult it is for me to see this happen, I’ve already been preparing myself for several weeks and months for the death of another dear spirit - my grandma, Ceil Barthel. My precious 94-year-old grandmother’s rapidly declining health aside, Griffey still appeared in good health and spirits.

At the fragile stage of 20 years’ age, Griffey’s had the natural propensities of weaker legs, increased lethargy and general slowness. But he has also been enjoying life’s two most essential needs - food and love.

Despite spending countless hours - perhaps 21 or 22 a day - sleeping near the heat register of my bedroom, Griffey portrayed vigorous excitement when presented with a fresh bowl of food beneath his eagerly awaiting mouth. Also, he has continued to show his appreciation for affection, releasing a smooth purr when receiving soft hugs or gentle touches of my hand on daily occurrences.

Thoughts of Griffey living another six months or one-to-two years crossed my mind, until that fateful Saturday - yesterday. It’s time for him to go, time for him to ascend upward to the holy pet haven in the sky.

Besides a brief time with one other kitten, Griffey has been the sole pet and soul part of my life. The warmth, the joy, the calm, the care, Griffey has been a constant companion over my ever evolving existence.

My heart, my care, my love ... they all run deep with the joy you’ve bestowed upon me, Griffey. Yes, my dear friend, you can rest assured that you will never be forgotten.

Love always and forever,

**Written Sunday, Feb. 13 (in preparation of my dear cat's passing)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl XLV: Green Bay v. Pittsburgh

Picture one hundred and six athletes donning golden polyester pants. Now picture these players wearing pads and helmets, butting heads with one another.

Such will be the scene tomorrow night in Arlington, Texas, as the Packers and Steelers compete in the NFL’s 45th Super Bowl.

Pairing up its gold with green will be Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay club, while Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh team supplements its Steelers gold with black.

But colors - much to dismay of superstitious fans - will not determine the game’s victor. No, the spoils shall go to the team that puts for the best effort and (in most cases) benefits from a little more luck.

So who will take home this year’s Lombardi Trophy?

I'm predicting the Packers to win by four.

Naturally the two cold-weather teams face off in a uncharacteristically cold and icy in Dallas / Fort Worth area. However, the climate-controlled Cowboy Stadium should negate that factor.

So why choose Green Bay as opposed to Pittsburgh?

Two primary reasons, (1) Aaron Rodgers has been the hottest quarterback in football over the past couple of months and (2) Green Bay’s speed - in particular its receiving corps, secondary and lead linebacker.

Sure, at 28 years of age, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger eyes a third championship ring while Rodgers completes his third full season. But Rodgers - despite unrelenting disdain from Vikings and Bears fans - is the better choice for this title game.

Yes, Big Ben seems to have that special knack - despite lackluster numbers - to make the big play and win the big game, but tomorrow is Rodgers’ time to shine.

The 27-year-old led the NFC with a 101.2 passer rating this year and played a near-flawless gem in his last indoor contest - a 48-21 win over the top-seeded Falcons Jan. 15 in Atlanta. By game’s end tomorrow, expect Rodgers to fully vanquish any lingering stigma of his legendary Packers predecessor, Brett Favre.

But enough about Rodgers and Roethlisberger. Signal-callers aside the Pack has other reasons its better equipped for tomorrow’s tilt than Pittsburgh.

Receivers and overall team speed.

The Steelers have arguably the fastest wide receiver in football in Mike Wallace (with Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson being right there with him). However, while Wallace has been impressive - 60 catches, a 21.0 yards-per-catch average and 10 TDs in his second NFL season - his team’s other top wide-out is a slowly fading, 34-year-old Hines Ward.

Green Bay, on the other hand, has Wallace’s superior in 27-year-old WR Greg Jennings; not to mention wily veteran Donald Driver and young guns James Jones and Jordy Nelson.

On a team that spreads its passes to several targets, Jennings totaled team-highs and ranked among league leaders in catches (76), receiving yards (1,265) and touchdowns (12). The fifth-year player is healthy and in his prime, and he’s consistently displayed the capability of both making the key third-down catch and hauling in the homerun.

Driver, Green Bay’s eldest receiver, is older than Ward but still caught 51 balls this year and has been instrumental in the mentorship of Rodgers, Jennings, Jones and Nelson.

Lastly, in terms of the Packers advantage in team speed, is the team's edge at the quarterback position.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Roethlisberger can be very crafty as a runner (with his ability to shake off opposing sackmasters), but Rodgers has proven to have the faster set of feet. He used his quickness to tally 356 rushing yards this season, which trailed only two other NFL quarterbacks - Philadelphia’s Michael Vick and Tampa’s Josh Freeman.

Defensively, the Packers also have the advantage in speed.

In the team's backfield, on one side stands 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and 7-time Pro Bowler Charles Woodson; on the other side is Green Bay’s postseason standout Tramon Williams - who has three interceptions, including one for a 70-yard touchdown, in three games. The Woodson and Williams tandem trumps a respectable Steelers duo of Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden.

The Packers also have the faster linebacker in rising star Clay Matthews.

Pittsburgh’s James Harrison may be the tougher and more accomplished LB - as evidenced by his four Pro Bowl selections - but the veteran was out-sacked by Matthews this season (13.5 to 10.5). The second-year Matthews has excelled in the playoffs as well, using his instincts and quickness to corral a team-high 3.5 sacks this postseason.

While Green Bay may have the edge in quarterback and speed, Pittsburgh definitely has the upper hand in Super Bowl experience.

Roethlisberger (as mentioned above) has two titles under his belt - leading his Steelers to Super Bowl wins over Seattle in 2005 and Arizona in 2008. Moreover, veteran teammates Harrison, Ward and 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu were also present and played key roles in those championships.

Then there’s coaching, where Pittsburgh's Coach Tomlin holds the experience edge over Green Bay's McCarthy.

Tomlin has captained the Steelers to its 2008 title, his teams are a combined 5-1 in postseason play and if the Steelers defeat the Packers tomorrow, Tomlin will become the youngest coach ever to have won two Super Bowls. McCarthy is in his fifth season as head coach and will be making his Super Bowl debut.

For me, all this adds up to a 24-20 Green Bay victory.

It’s a tough game to call, but I’m taking Rodgers over Roethlisberger and youth over experience in this contest.

One thing’s for sure, it should be an entertaining extravaganza. Dallas GM Jerry Jones’ 2010 Cowboys team may not have panned out like he hoped it would, but his billion dollar, 110,000 capacity stadium surely will.

NFL fans: Get your popcorn ready, because a record-setting crowd and an exceptionally electrifying atmosphere awaits you as Super Bowl XLV kicks off tomorrow night in the heart of Texas.