Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Austin's Fadness wins state title, leads Packers gymnasts at individuals

Worried and nervous entering competition at the University of Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion on Saturday, Austin gymnast Sela Fadness was able to breathe calmly and bask in post-performance glory afterward.

Fadness hauled in four medals at the Class A state individuals competition, including becoming the first Packers individual champion at state since 2002.

“I’m so excited, I don’t think it’s quite hit me yet,” Fadness said after collecting co-champion honors in floor exercise, scoring a 9.65. “I wanted to pull it off with the win (outright), but tying with Hailey Brinkman is such an honor. She is such a good gymnast.”

A Melrose Area senior, Brinkman dominated the entire competition today. But Fadness could take pride in her and teammate Abby Bickler’s performances Saturday, as well as the accomplishments she envisions the pair claiming next season.

“With it being [Brinkman’s] senior year, hopefully next year I can come back and me and Abby can do some more damage on the podium,” Fadness said

Bickler had reasons to be ecstatic about her performance as well. After tearing a ligament in her left ankle a week before state last year, she took advantage of having good health this year.

The Packers freshman also claimed a medal on Saturday.

“It’s amazing,” Bickler said of achieving fourth place in floor exercise. “To know where I was last year and that I can come to this point and make it back is just one of the most amazing feelings I could ever have.”

Fadness and Bickler buoyed Coach Mark Raymond’s Austin squad this weekend. Besides the five medals Saturday, the Packers finished fifth in team competition Friday.

Following the award ceremony after Saturday’s individual competition, the 15th-year head coach of the Packers proudly reflected on his gymnasts’ efforts.

“They did a great job,” Raymond said. “I’m really proud of the way they conducted themselves today. It was very business-like, they weren’t distracted, they did what they were supposed to do and it really paid off for them.”

Along with freshman Carolyn Hackel, Fadness and Bickler have developed a strong and youthful nucleus to the team, which excelled on Saturday and can only get better.

“The three of them together push each other real hard on all four events, and that little bit of internal competition has made them as good as they are,” Raymond said of his top three gymnasts. “They have to fight for first, second and third amongst each other every time we go to a dual meet, and without that I’m not sure we would’ve got those last couple tenths today in order to be considered in the top five at state.”

Bickler said she first met Fadness two years ago as a seventh-grader. The two formed a bond together, as well as a friendly rivalry. Fadness competed with a club team in Pine Island last year but the two have been back at it together again this year – something Bickler said she’s very pleased with.

“We’ve gotten pretty close and it’s always good for me to have her to keep myself going,” she said. “It’s awesome to have her back in the gym (at Austin), so we’ve had great experiences as friends as well as teammates.”

Austin’s gymnasts were represented by a large fan base this weekend. Approximately 200 friends, family and students made the more-than-100-mile trek to support their Packers.

Bickler said her school filled two fan buses. She said she’s never seen so much student fan support before and that having that aura this weekend was tremendous.

“The fan support from our school and our community is just amazing,” Bickler said. “To have them in the crowd and being loud, it always gets us pumped up and ready to go. It’s awesome to know that people are there for you.”

Fadness and Bickler were Austin’s lone medalists. Freshman Hackel and eighth-grader Logan Tischer also competed as individuals for the Packers on Saturday.

Complementing her first place floor performance, Fadness posted a third-place finish in vault (with a score of 9.575), came in fourth in uneven bars (9.5) and finished third in all-around competition with a 37.75.

Bickler’s fourth place score in floor was 9.45. She scored a 9.175 in the vault, 8.775 on bars and 8.475 on the beam - placing her at 16th in all-around.

Hackel placed 20th in floor with a 9.15 and 22nd in bars (8.6).

Tischer competed in just one event, floor, where she posted an 8.25.

Other Class A, section one competitors included Pine Island sophomore Siera McNallan, Stewartville junior Kelsi Matuska, Byron-Lourdes junior Jillian Krier and La Crescent junior Haley Traun.

McNallan finished 13th in all-around competition – scoring a 9.35 on vault, 9.25 on floor, 9.025 in bars and 8.65 on the beam.

Matuska placed 25th in the all-around, her top score being a 9.25 on floor.

Melrose Area’s Brinkman was the day’s overall champion, claiming top honors in floor, beam and uneven bars. Her all-around score of 38.15 topped second place Jessica Stelter (of Detroit Lakes) by .175 points. Fadness finished .225 points behind Stelter. Both Brinkman and Stelter are seniors.

**I wrote this story for the Rochester Post-Bulletin and Austin Post-Bulletin. It's coverage of the 2012 Class A state individual competition on Saturday, Feb. 22 2012 at the University of Minnesota's Sports Pavilion.

**The photos were shot and submitted by Post-Bulletin photographer Joe Michaud-Scorza. Descriptions of the photos (from top-to-bottom) are as follows: Austin sophomore Sela Fadness performing her floor routine, Austin freshman Carolyn Hackel competing in uneven bars, Hackel executing her vault dismount. Please visit Joe's photo blog at joescorza.blogspot.com.

Austin Packers gymnastics take fifth place at state in Class A team competition

The section 1A champion Austin Packers gymnastics team finished in fifth place at the Class A State Meet today in Minneapolis, at the University of Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion.

Austin topped the competition in its first event, the floor exercise, and was in second place at the meet’s halfway point. The team did not fare as well in the other events, but team captain Abigayle Snater was satisfied with her team’s performance overall.

“We definitely didn’t have our best day as a team, but some of the girls individually went out there and hit it,” Snater said. “I think we’re just proud of the team’s effort.”

One of those individuals who “hit it” was Austin’s Sela Fadness.

Despite earning the top scores fo
r her team in both the floor and vault, the sophomore said she could’ve done better with each of them. However, she was able to feel a strong sense of accomplishment with her uneven bars routine.

“Bars is my favorite event, but it’s not always my best event and this season it’s proven to be my lowest-scoring event,” Fadness said. “So after hitting that bar routine and hitting that score I was really happy.”

Fadness’ score in the uneven bars was 8.575, the best score of her career in this event. Her scores on the floor and vault were 9.55 and 9.40, respectively.

As a team, Austin scored a 37.35 in the floor exercise. The team’s scores on the other events were not as strong – the Packers posted a 36.10 in vault, 34.35 in uneven bars and 34.225 on balance beam.

The team’s overall score was 142.025 – good for fifth out of eight teams.

“It shows where our program’s strengths are, and our team’s weakness,” Coach Mark Raymond said. “Unfortunately the other three events aren’t pulling their own weight.”

Overall, considering Austin’s average team score entering state was 142, Raymond was happy with his team’s effort today.

“You get to the state meet and the scores get a little bit tighter, so usually you see your score go down just a little bit,” he said. “Ours probably stayed about where we’re at. So I was pretty happy with the girls’ performance today.”

Fadness’ effort on the uneven bars was definitely a highlight of the day.

In her performance, Austin’s standout gymnast executed two releases – a move where the gymnast releases her hands off one bar and catches the other bar – a feat rarely attempted and accomplished in one routine.

“She’s worked really hard at bringing her bar set up,” Raymond said of his pupil. “It’s a great set, it’s kind of unique; not a lot of other girls use two release skills and she separates herself with [that].”

Raymond – who’s in his 15th year as Austin’s head coach – was pleased with his team today but also knows it can improve next year.

Besides senior Marissa Bartels, Austin will return its entire team. With a fifth place finish under its belt, the expectations have been raised for next year.

When asked about his team’s goals at state for 2013, Raymond didn’t want to put his team behind the eight ball but admitted that it has to be a championship.

“I think if you can’t say [you can win a championship], you definitely can’t do it; so I guess I have to go on the record and say that,” Raymond said.

“Looking at what we did this year and what we’re bringing back next year, we have to say we want to be at the top of the podium at the end of the year next year,” he added.

Melrose Area High School won the Class A team competition today with a cumulative score of 147.5, unseating defending eight-time champion Perham in the process.

Does this mean other teams will have a better chance of winning the championship now?

“All it does is make a lot more teams hungry,” Raymond said. “Melrose is bringing back a great team next year, so they’ll be the defending champ and the team to beat.”

Although Austin’s team competition is over with, the Packers have four gymnasts participating in Class A individual competition tomorrow.

Fadness and Bickler are two of these individuals. Joining them will be freshman Carolyn Hackel and eighth-grader Logan Tischer.

**I wrote this story for the Rochester Post-Bulletin and Austin Post-Bulletin. It's coverage on the Austin Packers gymnastics team in the Class A State Meet team competition on Friday, Feb. 24 2012 at the University of Minnesota's Sports Pavilion.

**The photos were shot and contributed by Post-Bulletin photographer Joe Michaud-Scorza. Descriptions of the photos (from top-to-bottom) are as follows: Austin sophomore Sela Fadness performing her uneven bars routine, Austin junior Abigayle Snater competing in vault. Please visit Joe's photo blog at joescorza.blogspot.com

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tonight's game: Wolves vs. Rockets

Tonight, at Houston's Toyota Center, the Rockets host the Timberwolves with hopes of evening its season series with Minnesota and drawing another step toward playoff entry.

The Wolves, meanwhile, are trying to make its recent four-game history a tiny blip on an otherwise successful season.

One thing's for sure. There will not be another testy Kevin Love - Luis Scola confrontation.

The Wolves star and Rockets forward exchanged blows twice this season - Scola in-bounding a ball deftly into Love's lower extremities in a Jan. 30 game at Houston and Love nonchalantly stepping on Scola's chest and head after hacking the ball away from him in Minnesota five days later.

Love served a two-game suspension, the opposing forwards made amends and tonight's game will provide no ill aftereffects.

No, tonight's game will be more about the Wolves ability to contain Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry.

Minnesota held Houston's top scorer (Martin) in check last time the teams met. However, in that same game - a 100-91 Minnesota win - Lowry lit up the Wolves for 24 points and 11 assists. Skola, by the way, scored 24 points in that game as well.

Martin posted an abysmal 2 points on 1-of-10 shooting in his team's Feb. 4 loss at Minnesota. This coming after the sharpshooter dropped 29 on the Wolves in Houston five days prior.

A prediction?

Love and Nikola Pekovic continue improving on a blossoming chemistry, as each player records double-figures in both points and rebounds. The Wolves also play quality defense and find a way to sink a few three-pointers.

After an impressive defeat over the Western conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, Houston comes down from its high tonight.

Final score ... Wolves 103, ROCKETS 95

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wolves fall to Magic; drop fourth straight

The Timberwolves lost their fourth straight game tonight in Orlando, falling to the Magic 102-89 to drop its record to 13-16 for the season.

Orlando’s superstar, Dwight Howard, produced just
11 points and seven rebounds – his season averages are 20.6 and 15.5, respectively. But that didn’t matter. Orlando found other ways to beat the Wolves, and, for the third straight game, the Wolves found ways to beat themselves.

The turnover count has continued to mount for
Minnesota. Tonight, the team’s 19 TOs doubled Orlando’s total of nine. And that’s actually (gulp) an improvement from Minnesota’s previous two games in this season-worst skid – 27, Friday vs. Dallas, 22, Saturday vs. New York.

With the turnovers (Minnesota now ranks 28th in the league) and the lack of
a solid outside shooter, the Wolves’ struggles have been ugly - to say the least. A bright spot from tonight, however, is the continued emergence of Nikola Pekovic.

Pekovic, or “Pek,” for short, is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Minnesota. Tonight, he outplayed Howard statistically; if not physically, too. The Wolves’ big man amassed 16 points and 13 rebounds against the Magic, giving him his sixth double-double of the season (all of which have occurred in his past 11 games).

With Darko Milicic’s struggles with injuries and illnesses, Pekovic has not merely stepped in; he's ascended. At 6’11”, 290 pounds, Pekovic has provided the Wolves a strong,
intimidating presence at the center position many times in recent weeks. Jostling with Howard tonight was yet another example.

Paired with Kevin Love in front court, along with Ricky Rubio engineering the team's offense, Pekovic gives
Minnesota a great chance to win. But it’s not happening lately. There’s just been too many costly turnovers, namely from Rubio (5) and J.J. Barea (7) in tonight’s loss. Of course, shooting 6-for-21 from three-point range tonight didn’t help either.

Minnesota (13-16) hopes to put a jarring halt to its losing streak Wednesday night, when the team hosts Charlotte. It should be as golden of an opportunity as it can get for the Wolves. The Bobcats trot into Target Center losers of 15 straight with a league-worst 3-25 record.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Prediction

I’m feeling it, and I’m calling it.

Today, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, football fans will bear witness to the first ever Super Bowl overtime.

In a battle between the AFC champion New England Patriots and the NFC champion New York Giants, today is the day NFL history happens.

It just makes sense. Overtime in the Super Bowl is long overdue.

In regular season NFL games, on average, there is at least one overtime game per week. That’s one or more games out of 14-16 games that head into a fifth frame.

Thus, it’s a bit befuddling how there’s been 45 Super Bowls played without overtime.

Besides the odds of overtime within a regular NFL weekly slate, there’s also the factor that these title games typically feature two teams that are of nearly equal strength.

Moreover, c'mon, it’s the Super Bowl. Each of these matchups should be a highly competitive fight to the bitter end.

There’s simply no a better time to make NFL history in this year’s game.

On one side, you have two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady leading a Patriots team that’s enters today on a 10-game winning streak. On the other side, you have one-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning leading a Giants squad that’s only won five straight, but has arguably been the hottest team in the NFL.

Other factors:

Today’s game is a rematch of the Big Game four years ago, when the Giants accomplished the greatest Super Bowl upset in NFL history by knocking off the then-18-0 Patriots. Sure, the rosters have changed. But several of the key players have not … You think Brady, Coach Belichek and Wes Welker have forgot about that game? Not a chance.

Today's game features one of the NFL’s all-time greatest quarterback, New England’s Brady, against one of the fiercest pass rush attacks in recent history.

Today’s game features the second-worst pass defense in the league against arguably the hottest passing attack – Manning has thrown for 923 yards and eight touchdowns in three post-season games, he’ll face a Patriots defense that’s allowed an AFC-worst 4,703 passing yards this season.

Then there’s Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The second-year player out of Arizona caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns this season (an NFL record for TDs by a TE). Yes, he’s been nursing an injury this week (and he may not play as many snaps as he’s accustomed to), but Gronk will play and will have an impact. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound beast has been a matchup nightmare for opponents all season - this will be no different against the Giants today.

Meanwhile, New York has some dangerous passing options of its own. There’s newcomer Victor Cruz – who set a Giants’ single-season record with 1,536 reception yards this year. And on Eli’s other wing, there’s Hakeem Nicks – who’s torched NFC secondary’s this postseason to the tune of 18 catches for 335 yards and four touchdowns. Both Cruz and Nicks have big play capability that’s vastly superior to the Patriots’ downfield threats.

New England has the better record, at 15-3 including postseason. The Giants salvaged a once 6-6 record to its current 12-7 mark.

Oddsmakers have the Patriots favored by three points; yet most national pundits appear to be picking the Giants.

This game is an intriguing battle, to say the least. I’ve already proclaimed overtime ... So who comes out on top?

I’m going with the Giants … 27, 24.