Diamonds and Ice

Linn-Mar’s Hutcheson wins Dickinson high jump




By Jeff Johnson

The Gazette

CEDAR FALLS — It’s not supposed to work this way.

A kid decides to go out for his high-school track and field team for the first time his senior season, practices all of twice, then has his first meet. He wins the darned thing.

Welcome to the high jump, Nate Hutcheson. You’re apparently a natural.

“I’ve never done it before, so there’s no pressure on me or anything,” the Linn-Mar senior said after winning Monday’s all-classes A.D. Dickinson indoor meet at the UNI-Dome. “It’s just a really fun thing to do.”

Yeah, things are fun when you’ve got a knack for them, and Hutcheson’s obviously got a knack for this. He said he high jumped “a little bit” when he was in middle school, but never pursued the activity until being persuaded by coaches to go out this spring.

Despite a form you’d expect from a novice, he managed to clear 6-feet, 6 inches Monday, just missing at 6-7. For a little comparison, the Mississippi Valley Conference held its indoor meet at the UNI-Dome last week and the winner went 6-feet.

The winning jumper at last year’s outdoor state meet in Class 4A cleared 6-10. Hutcheson’s jump would have placed him fourth.

And the dude has little idea about what he’s doing, yet.

“My goal was 6-7, and I didn’t quite get that,” Hutcheson said. “That’s my height, and I think you’re supposed to be able to jump your height.

“I think I can get it, though. I was looking at the tape, and my shoulders were over (the bar) pretty good. I just need to get my form down. I don’t have very good form.”

Hutcheson said after the competition had been completed, one of the judges (a UNI high jumper) stopped him and gave him some tips on his form and approach. He said he competed with sprinter’s spikes, as he’s waiting for a pair of high jumper’s shoes that are on order.

“When you play as much basketball as I do, I guess you’ll develop some ups, you know?” Hutcheson said. “My form is terrible. I’ve got to get my hips up and stuff, get my back arched. Right now, I’m just going on (pure leaping ability), I guess.”

As Hutcheson mentioned, he is a basketball player, a 6-7 all-state forward who is headed to Western Michigan University this fall. He’s also the guy everyone remembers for getting suspended for the state basketball tournament two weeks ago.

Marion police cited him for a disorderly house after a party at his family residence got out of hand. Drinking was involved, though Hutcheson tested negative for alcohol.

“It’s been pretty difficult,” he said. “I really wanted to play in the state tournament and everything. But I’ve learned a ton from what’s happened. Letting all of my teammates down has really pushed me to try and be a better person.

“Most of all, I learned who I should be associating myself with. Because in the end, that’s what got me in trouble — the guys I associated myself with. It’s a learning process, a really tough, hard learning process. But it’s going to help me. I’ve got to turn it into a positive, you know?”

Linn-Mar ended up finishing second in Class 4A, losing by 10 points to unbeaten Ames in the championship game. Hutcheson was asked if he thought the outcome would have been different had he played.

“That’s hard to say,” he said. “I’m not trying to say anything about my teammates, but I think I would have been a better matchup on (prep all-American) Harrison Barnes. Just because I’m his size and athletic. But I can’t say yes or no.”



Kirkwood women’s hoops win 3rd straight national title

EAST PEORIA, Ill. – Kim Muhl wants nothing to do with NJCAA Division I.

The Kirkwood women’s basketball coach is concerned about the extra travel that would be involved and the extra money it would require to give room and board to every player.

Then there’s this reason.

“Why ruin something that’s working?” Muhl said.

Yeah, there’s no need for a change when you’re dominating where you’re at. It’s no stretch to say Muhl has crafted NJCAA Division II’s best program.

Kirkwood became the first school to win three national championships in a row when it blasted Schoolcraft College of suburban Detroit, 62-38, in last night’s title game at Illinois Central Community College.

“I don’t want to say that,” Muhl said, when asked if Kirkwood has the preeminent women’s D-II JUCO program in the country. “We’re pretty damn good. But there’s a lot of good programs out there.”

Forgive the coach’s modesty. Let’s hear what his players think.

“Are you kidding? Yeah,” said sophomore center El Sara Greer, a former Waterloo East prep and the tournament MVP. “Everything (here) is great.”

“I believe we do,” said sophomore forward MyKenya Johnson, who led her team with 16 points. “We’ve got a great coach. The best coach ‘ve ever had.”

Kirkwood has won five championships in Muhl’s unbelievable 20-year tenure. The coach has a career record of 587-111, including 101-8 the past three seasons.

This year’s team finished 36-1, winning its final 30 games. Its only loss was to Division I Rend Lake (Ill.) by a single point.

The common bond between all of Muhl’s good teams is an unselfish offense, deep bench and stifling defense. This team obviously had those.

Eleven players scored last night, though Johnson was the only double-figure player. Only sophomore point guard McKensey Long (10.6) and sophomore forward Alicia Wright (10.1) averaged double figures during the season.
Yet 11 players averaged at least 4.6 points per game. And then there’s that defense.

The long-armed, 6-foot-2 Greer was an absolute beast on the interior defensively, pulling down 15 rebounds and blocking five shots. She also added eight points. She’s going to help out some NCAA Division I team next season.

“She’s unbelievable,” Muhl said.

Kirkwood limited opponents to 43 points per game coming into the tournament and held them to 41 points in three games here. Schoolcraft (32-3), an athletic team with only nine players, was stumped by Kirkwood’s 2-3 zone, shooting just 30 percent from the field, 25 percent in the second half.

“The game is 40 minutes and we hoped fatigue would set in on them,” Muhl said. “And I think it did.”

“Defense is the main part of what we do,” Johnson said. “It’s defense first, offense second.”

Kirkwood went on runs of 10-0 and 21-3 in the first half and took a 31-20 halftime lead. Schoolcraft went without a point for seven and a half minutes had only a 3-pointer from super-quick 5-foot point guard Brittany Collins in a span of nearly 13 minutes in the half.

Long hit a 3-pointer to start the second half, as did Wright. The Eagles lead continued to stretch from there.

“This team bought into what we wanted to do,” Muhl said. “This is an unbelievable feeling. They stuck together through a lot of injuries and did a hell of a job.”

Long and Johnson joined Greer on the all-tournament team. Muhl was named the coach of the year.


UNI best of mediocre lot?

Northern Iowa’s men’s basketball team winning a school-record 11 games in a row is a tremendous story. How many teams ever win 11 games in a row, let alone conference games? The Panthers look to have the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship under wraps.

But you can’t help wondering how much of all this is competition driven? Or lack of competition driven?

In the latest Collegiate Basketball News RPI (Rating Percentage Index), released Monday, Northern Iowa was 73rd, behind such luminaries as Buffalo, Tulsa, Northeastern and Northwestern.  Siena, which UNI (16-6) plays in the upcoming ESPN Bracket Busters, had an RPI of 20.

The Missouri Valley Conference ranked ninth among the 31 leagues, significantly down from its “heyday” of a couple years back. Illinois State actually was the MVC’s top RPI team at 59, and Evansville also ranked ahead of UNI at 70. Creighton was right behind the Panthers at 74.

For further comparison, Iowa came into the week at 89, Drake was 126 and Iowa State 134. Remember that Iowa clubbed UNI this season and Iowa State beat the Panthers as well.

What’s my point with all this? Not really sure.

What Northern Iowa has done this season to this point is terrific, but I think it may need to be put into a little perspective. The Missouri Valley Conference simply isn’t very good. 

Here’s a link to the latest RPI rankings: