Saturday provides busy sports day

Three towns.

Three games.

One day.

It was a busy day in the life of the Daily Globe sports editor Saturday.

There are many perks to working sports for the Globe, and one of the biggest ones is being able to watch sports.

On Saturday, I had more than my share.

My day started at noon with a boys’ hockey game.

The Trojans were hosting Morris/Benson Area in Worthington’s final home game of the season.

For six seniors, it would be the last time they would skate in the Worthington Ice Arena.

Kyle Hain, Cody Reese, Taylor Wiener, Mitch Benson, Mitch Jensen and Jake VanGrouw each played well for WHS, but the Storm proved too much in a 7-3 victory.

But while the Trojans’ regular season is complete, their season is far from over. Just like last season, WHS is looking to play spoiler as the section tournament rolls around.

Following a quick break, it was time for me to catch the Trojan boys in Fulda.

The Raiders played well, hanging with the Trojans for most of the game. But in the end, Travis Meinders’ 33 points and the inside presence of Jalen Voss and Mitch Weg was too much for the smaller Raiders.

With the snow starting and the road conditions ever-worsening, KWOA sports director Jared Rademacher and I made the journey to Marshall to see the Trojan girls.

I’m glad we went.

The Tigers came out of the gates firing, connecting on six 3-pointers in the first half as they opened up a 44-34 lead at the break.

In true Trojan fashion, WHS didn’t fold. They didn’t panic.

Instead, they put on one of their best performances of the season in the second half.

Marshall made four field goals and scored nine points in the second half.

In part, the Tigers couldn’t make the few open shots they did get.

But mostly, the Trojans played stifling defense, causing turnovers and bad decisions on Marshall’s part.

After a slow start — and a 10-point deficit — WHS ran away with a 69-53 victory.

Then, it was time to again brave the roads and snow to retreat back to Worthington.

Leaving Marshall a little after 9:30 p.m., we arrived safe and sound 11:15. A hour trip turned into much, much longer, but my day was complete.

In all, I saw three different sports in three different towns all in a span of 11 hours.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

Friendly competition: Meinders, Bucholz combine to score 68 points

Everything was going right for Travis Meinders.

In the second day of the Daily Globe-Trojan Holiday Classic, Worthington’s senior guard was scoring in nearly every way possible.

“I didn’t even know how many I had throughout the whole game,” Meinders said. “I was just playing to win. All I wanted to do was win.”

But for Meinders, his opposition provided a little extra incentive.

Not only were the Trojans vying for their own tournament’s championship, but Meinders was facing a friend on the opposite team — Perham’s Ben Bucholz.

“Me and Ben just go at it,” Meinders said. “Ben is a really good friend of mine. We roomed together at (South Dakota State University), and we just like to go at it and talk back and forth. It was fun.”

And they didn’t disappoint.

The two matched each other shot-for-shot, point-for-point.

In the end of what proved to be epic performances between the two teams and players, Meinders scored more points. But Bucholz came away with the 65-60 victory.

It wasn’t until later when Meinders realized what he had accomplished.

“When I got home that night, I was sitting in the recliner and my mom told me,” Meinders said. “It wasn’t really an exciting reaction because it still hurt from the loss. It didn’t really hit me to the next day.”

When the final buzzer sounded, Meinders had scored 35 points — the third most in Worthington’s history.

“It feels good to be next to all the great athletes who came through Worthington,” Meinders said. “I was just playing the game. I let the game come to me. I did what I had to. But unfortunately, we ended up short.”

Bucholz nearly matched Meinders’ output, scoring 33 points. The two combined to score 68 points that night, more than 50 percent of the game’s scoring.

“He said, ‘I can’t believe you beat me in points, that was my goal,’” Meinders said. “I beat him last year, too.”

Last year, Meinders scored 28 points. Until his 35-point performance, that was his career high.

The all-time WHS mark was Troy Timmons’ 41 points in 1991 against Jackson.

Marty Jorgensen scored 38 against Marshall in 1966 and had two 35-point performances that same year.

Perhaps the only thing that stopped Meinders against Perham was foul trouble. Picking up his third foul in the first half, Meinders was sent to the bench.

“I got that third foul and I looked at (Coach Vorwald) and he was telling (Zach) Houselog or (Mike) Singsaath to come in,” Meinders said. “I was like, ‘No, I’m fine, I’m fine, I can stay in.’ He was like, ‘No, you’re not, you’re coming out.’ It was really frustrating.”

But once he got back in the game, Meinders picked up right where he left off.

“It wasn’t really too much different,” Meinders said. “I might have had a few more shots, but they were all falling. It just felt good. Everything felt good that night. The flow was there, the rhythm was there, it just came right off my hand really nice.”

On one occasion, Bucholz connected on a 3. Meinders then came down the floor and matched his friend with a 3 of his own.

“I told Ben that he better step it up a little bit more on defense if he was going to stop me,” Meinders said. “We were just jawing back and forth. But it was fun.

“Too bad he wasn’t a guard so we could actually guard each other. But he’s pretty good.”

Meinders first met Bucholz during AAU basketball. But then a South Dakota State basketball camp brought the two closer together. Since then, the two have kept up.

“We keep texting each other throughout the season,” Meinders said. “We text a lot and talk quite a bit, actually.”

But despite all the talking, the Daily Globe-Trojan Holiday Classic provides the two an opportunity to play against each other.

“I think its pretty fun,” Meinders said. “We get pretty competitive on the floor. We like to compete against each other.”

And compete they did. But scoring points isn’t something new for Meinders. So far this season, he has averaged 22 points per game, and is only 14 from scoring his 1,000th career point.

With colleges calling on both players, neither have made their decision yet.

“We only play against each other this one time, that’s it,” Meinders said. “We were talking about college. He hasn’t decided where he wants to go yet, either. He’s like, ‘We should go to the same school and play together.’ It could be a possibility.”

But before Meinders takes his game to the next level, he still has some unfinished business with the Trojans. Tasting defeat for the first time this season, WHS will now look to recover against conference foe Pipestone Area Tuesday.

“We definitely need that throughout the season,” Meinders said. “Last year when we played Mankato West, we got beat by 20. You need that. You need a measuring stick to see where you’re at. Then you need to improve from that game and that’s what we’re going to do.”

3 state tournaments make for a busy week

Three state tournaments. Six hundred and fifty-eight miles. Three different beds. Nineteen interviews totaling 54 minutes and 5 seconds. Seven hundred and twelve photos. Six articles totaling 5,687 words.

It was a long and busy week.

Three area teams earned state-tournament appearances in three different sports, providing an exciting and hectic experience for the players, coaches and fans affiliated with each squad — and the journalists who cover them.

Worthington participated in the Class A boys’ tennis tournament in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Jackson County Central participated in the Class AA girls’ golf tournament in Jordan on Wednesday and Thursday. Pipestone Area participated in the Class AA softball tournament in Mankato on Thursday and Friday. And I didn’t miss much of the action.

I could have totaled the amount of money I spent on my sports gorge, but I’d rather not think about it. It could have been worse: I could have spent at least $200 more on hotel stays. But, luckily for me (and the Globe) I have many friends and relatives who live near the Cities and allowed me to save money by staying with them.

On Monday, I stayed with my girlfriend, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, who lives in St. Paul. Her apartment is located just five minutes from the Xcel Energy Center (where I covered Windom Area in the state volleyball tournament and numerous wrestlers in the state wrestling tournament), about 20 minutes from the Metrodome (where I covered Luverne in the state football tournament), about 10 minutes from Williams Arena (where I covered both Adrian and Pipestone Area in the state girls’ basketball tournament) and about 25 minutes from Target Center (where I covered Ellsworth in the state boys’ basketball tournament).

The trip from her apartment to the Read-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis lasted about 10 minutes. Despite the gorgeous weather, the state tennis tournament was played indoors.

Playing inside was a relatively new and rare experience for the Trojans, but not for their second opponent. After losing 7-0 against Benson/Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg in the quarterfinals, the Trojans dropped a 7-0 decision against Blake, which has access to indoor facilities year-round.

Being able to practice and play at any time, despite the weather, is a huge advantage. And it showed Tuesday. Worthington’s players are able to practice and play only on dry days in the spring, summer and fall. Blake can practice and play during all seasons, and very few of its players participate in other sports. As a result, it’s tough for schools like Worthington to compete with teams like Blake.

The same example can be drawn in hockey. Worthington tennis players who also play hockey, like Mitchell Benson, Taylor Wiener and Kyle Hain, don’t have access to ice in the summer, making it impossible for them to practice, stay sharp and compete against metro-area teams who have access to ice facilities year-round.

After submitting my tennis photos and stories from my girlfriend’s apartment Tuesday night, I drove to my parents’ house in Jordan. I had dinner with my family and spent the night in my old bedroom. In the morning, I made the one-minute trip to Ridges at Sand Creek Golf Course, where I worked for a summer when I was 15 years old, to cover Jackson County Central’s girls’ golf team.

Golf is one of the most difficult sports to cover. Roaming a golf course while trying to find specific golfers is hard enough, but it’s even more difficult to do so in a way that doesn’t distract anyone while they’re trying to hit. And I have to take pictures.

Luckily, I was incredibly familiar with the course — because the Minnesota State High School League refused to allow me access to a cart, saying they were only giving keys to “reporters who work for large metro papers.” Oh, well. I needed the workout. I was so busy throughout the week, I found myself getting fast food in order to save time and money.

It was a long workout.

I arrived at Ridges at about 1 p.m., just in time to see JCC freshman Kaylee Benson tee off. When all of the golfers were finished and the final scores were posted, it was 7:30 p.m.

I submitted my stories and photos from my parents’ house, had a few adult beverages with my brother and went to bed. I woke up at 8 a.m. and drove to Mankato.

I stayed at an apartment left empty for the summer by my cousin and his roommates, all students at Minnesota State University-Mankato. The Arrows played two games on Thursday, and after I submitted my stories and photos, I took to bed in an attempt to sleep.

But the apartment was hot; there was no air conditioning, and my cousin and his friends had taken home their fans. I opened two windows, allowing the cool air to enter, but some unwelcomed noises followed. It was an apartment complex occupied by college students, after all, and I had the displeasure of listening to their post-bar conversations.

On about four hours of sleep, I returned to Caswell Park to watch Pipestone Area secure third place. I wrote two stories, packed up my things and drove back to St. Paul, where I met with Daily Globe sports editor Aaron Hagen the next day. I gave him our camera battery and our battery charger so he could take photos at the state track meet at Hamline University (five minutes from my girlfriend’s place).

I returned to Jordan on Sunday and drove back to Worthington today, capping my long trip. This week, I’ll start another. Luverne advanced to the state baseball tournament in St. Cloud and will play two games Thursday.

Worthington to St. Cloud: 190 miles and 3 hours, 32 minutes.

Zero complaints.
 

Excelling against all odds

There hasn’t been a lot of feel-good news seeping from the world of sports recently.

News of steroids, outrageous ticket prices and empty seats have overshadowed the first two months of baseball season. And even NASCAR is dealing with a drug scandal.

Off-the-field arrests have dominated headlines in the NFL offseason. And who isn’t sick of the Brett Favre soap opera?

Rachel Alexandra became the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924, but she raced to the victory in front of a relatively small crowd. To restore civility and halt what had become an all-day party at the racetrack, Pimlico Race Course officials banned spectators from bringing their own alcoholic beverages. The result: 30 percent fewer spectators than last year.

Michael Phelps returned – from a drug suspension – to win his first race since the Beijing Olympics. And the NBA playoffs have been marred by suspensions, trash talk and a feud between a team’s owner, an opposing player, and the opposing player’s mother.

But…

For every Mark Cuban, there’s a Jeff Meyer.

For every Manny Ramirez, there’s a Riley Meester.

For every Bruce Smith, there’s an Emily Ebbers.

And whenever I find myself disgusted by the actions of professional athletes, questioning my love for sports and regretting that I’ve become so immersed in an aspect of American culture that breeds so much negativity, someone like Meghan Westendorf allows me to tell her story and helps me realize why I love my job and why I love sports.

A junior on Worthington’s girls’ golf team, Westendorf suffers from cystic fibrosis, a fatal genetic disorder that affects nearly 30,000 Americans.

The disease causes mucus to build up and clog the lungs and airways, making breathing difficult. The excess mucus also can block the pancreas, stopping digestive enzymes from getting to the intestines, where they break down food and provide important nutrients that help people grow, gain weight and stay healthy.

As a result of her affliction, Westendorf had "six or seven" surgeries before she turned 4 years old. She goes to the doctor at least 10 times per year, and she winds up in the hospital once or twice every year.
Meghan Westendorf
Her lungs typically function at approximately 60 percent of their full potential. And, right now, with the grueling golf season coming to an end, her lungs are working at about 47 to 49 percent.

She’s had blood drawn from her forearms so many times that a portacath was surgically inserted below her shoulder blades so doctors could more easily attach an IV feed and rest the veins in her forearms.

She takes 10 pills in the morning, six at lunch and 12 before bed. She takes aerosolized medication, a process that works much like an asthma inhaler, up to four times per day for 20 minutes at a time. She also undergoes "vest therapy," in which she wears a life-vest-like contraption that is connected to a machine by two hoses, which fill with air and vibrate the vest to loosen mucus in her chest so it can more easily be coughed out.

She coughs about 650 times per day, and she eats nearly as much – those suffering from cystic fibrosis find it very difficult to gain weight, and they often are advised to consume at least 3,000 calories per day. Meghan downs ice cream before she goes to bed and wakes up hoping that she’s added some weight to her 110-pound frame.

But there are two things Meghan never does:

She never complains.

She never quits.

Meghan truly is an inspiration; a light as bright as her smile in a sports world that sometimes is darker than the future of cystic fibrosis patients.

There is no cure for cystic fibrosis, and the average life expectancy is 38 years.

But Meghan doesn’t think about that; instead, she tries to live her life one day at time – just like the rest of us.

She doesn’t want anybody to know that she’s different, hiding her treatments, medication and diagnoses from others.

A starter on Worthington’s golf team since her ninth-grade year, Meghan refused to use a motorized cart – she didn’t want to stand out, to receive curious stares from her opponents, who must carry their bags.

She finally decided to file for an exemption and start using a cart after she had to quit a meet in Worthington last season because of soreness, fatigue and shortness of breath. Two days later, she was in the hospital. Later in the season, however, she was back on the course.

Meghan doesn’t dwell on the negatives; instead, she focuses on the positives.

I think I can learn something from her.

Meghan plans to go to college, earn a degree in business, and start a family. She said she doesn’t even think about the uncertain future that faces those with cystic fibrosis. She doesn’t let it affect her.

Meghan and her parents, Pam and Ty Westendorf, hope and pray that a cure will be found.
Scientists are getting closer. The current average age of survival is five years longer than the average in 2000.

"It’s very tough," Pam said. "My husband always says, ‘If you can’t change it, don’t worry about it; just do what you have to do.’

"They’ve made a lot of strides; since she was born with it, things have gotten a lot better and (doctors) have gotten a lot closer (to a cure). So there’s always hope that in 10 more years they’ll have made better strides or have been able to do more work to make it so (those with CF) can live longer and do better.

"They told us that, hopefully, by the time Meghan graduates from high school, the research would be where they would be closer to a cure than they were when she was born. So I keep hoping, ‘OK, that’s next year.’"

The rest of us also can hope. But we can do so much more to help.

If Meghan’s story has touched you, like it has touched me, please visit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website and do what you can to help.

You can make a donation – “Money buys science and science buys life” – or even join a clinical trial.

If that isn’t feasible, you can contact your local Cystic Fibrosis Foundation chapter, volun-teer and "learn about the many special events that raise money to keep the science moving ahead." The nearest CFF chapter is located in St. Paul.

You also can become an advocate to help raise awareness and educate yourself and others, including elected officials, about cystic fibrosis.

Meghan wants to live a normal life. She doesn’t want any special attention. She doesn’t want to be treated any differently than "normal" girls her age. She doesn’t want any help.

But she needs help. And so do all the others suffering from cystic fibrosis.

Meghan doesn’t want or need assistance with her day-to-day life, but we can help to make sure she keeps that mindset for much, much longer.