Friday, January 20, 2012

The Biewens

I first met the Biewens back in 2007. I was watching that incredible St. Paul Central girls team beat the living daylights out of the Edina Hornets in the state AAAA semi-finals. The final score was Central 79 Edina 41. Well, EC Biewen played for that Edina team and, like her teammates, she had a pretty tough go of it. She came off the bench to play 15 minutes and failed to score, though she corralled 2 rebounds, but also turned the ball over twice.

Now, keep in mind, I was never much of an Edina fan. I grew up in the 1960s when Edina just had too much success and it was quite fashionable to hate Edina and call them the "Cake-Eaters." In fact, it was the very 3 years when I lettered on my high school team that the Hornets boys became the 1st team ever to 3-peat at the Minnesota State High School Basketball Tournament. So, anyway, I had no reason to sympathize with Edina that night.

But the fact is that the Edina girls on the court and the parents and other fans in the stands, with whom I happened to be sitting, handled their thumping with such class that I couldn't help but admire them. I also recognized the Biewen name--Gene Biewen had coached Mankato Wilson in the fabulous boys Class A final in 1976, when Wilson pushed a great Mpls. Marshall-U team into OT before losing 64-59. Paul Biewen scored 21 points in that game.

So, as it happened, I asked some Edina fans if the Biewens were in the crowd and could they point them out to me. They could and they did. And I not only met Paul Biewen, who turned out to be EC's dad, but also his dad, Gene, and being interested in the good old days of Minnesota high school basketball as I am, I had a nice chat with Gene for maybe 30 minutes or so.

Well, a week later I was at probably the most exciting day of high school basketball I've seen since the MSHSL went to 4 classes in 1997. Ellsworth beat Cass Lake-Bena in a classic in Class A and after a couple more excellent games, Buffalo knocked off Armstrong on a last-second shot in Class AAAA. Well, shortly after the start of that game I saw that none other than Gene Biewen sitting across the aisle from me. His grand-son Carter, son of John Biewen, played for Armstrong and scored 11 points with 10 boards in that game. Carter played at Carleton, where he completed his eligibility last spring. That is his cousin Ben, son of Paul, who is now a senior at Gustavus.

What a basketball family. And now, 5 years later, Mitch Biewen, son of John, is a junior guard for Armstrong and Katybeth Biewen, daughter of Paul, is a senior guard for the Edina Hornets.

And unlike that Armstrong team of 5 years ago, the Falcons are struggling this year at 2-9. I'd like to say they're getting better but the fact is they're 0-5 in the new year, though in fairness one would have to note that they've played 5 teams with winning records, 2 of whom are top 10 and 1 of whom is Hopkins, nuff sed. But in those 5 games Mitch has scored 71 points for a team-leading average of 14.2, up from an average of 4 ppg last year as a sophomore.

Meanwhile, Katybeth is trying to close out an illustrious career with her 1st trip to the state tournament and the team's 1st since that fateful year of 2007. I remember the 1st time I saw Katybeth. She was a freshman, and her team was getting hammered (again) this time by Richfield in the 2009 sectional playoffs. Katybeth came off the bench and immediately exerted very strong leadership on her older teammates, got 'em organized, got 'em focused, got 'em competing. They lost, but they were so much a better team with this skinny little 9th grader on the court than without that I raved to anybody that would listen about her and her future potential.

Well, the Hornets improved from 12-13 in 2009 to 26-2 in 2010, not entirely due to Katybeth's play, to be sure. This team had Taylor Young, in her senior year, Grace Veker, also in her senior year, and Jamie Bresnahan as a junior, along with Katybeth, then a sophomore. They lost to Chaska in a memorable section final 45-43, only because Young, now starring at unbeaten (in MIAC play) St. Thomas University, tweaked her knee early in that game and hobbled around throughout. Still, Edina led most of the way before Brooke Brown took over for Chaska. The truth is she overpowered Katybeth (outscoring her 20-7) and the entire Edina team down the stretch and willed her team to the win. Still--and no disrespect to Brown and Ellen Degler and Brianna Tisch--but if Young can go 100 percent, Edina wins. And even then, Chaska only won when Katybeth's 3-point shot from half-court at the final buzzer got halfway down the bucket before spinning out.

Sans Young and Veker, Edina slumped to 18-10 last year but Biewen was joined in the starting lineup by another tiny but oh-so-savvy young guard (then a sophomore) Mary Claire (MC) McGrory. But now, returning Biewen and McGrory and junior Vivian Engen at guard along with forward Lindsey Johnson, the Hornets are a powerhouse again, running up a 14-0 record even as McGrory has missed the last several games, presumably due to an injury.

In the last 2 games of 2011, Edina swept a pair of games at the St. Michael-Albertville holiday tournament as McGrory scored 20 ppg and Biewen 17.5. In the 1st game of the new year, Katybeth scored 18 and McGrory 9. I don't know if that's in the full game or whether she went down sometime during this game. But she hasn't played since. Yet, Edina is 3-0 as Biewen has picked up the slack, scoring 21 ppg, including 26 points (57 percent of the team total) in a 45-35 win over Duluth East.

Obviously the Hornets success in the fiendishly difficult Lake Conference and the equally tough section 2AAAA will depend on McGrory's return to 100 percent. The Lake of course includes #1 Hopkins, #4 Wayzata, #5 Eden Prairie and #8 Minnetonka as well as #2 Edina. Section 2AAAA includes #4 Bloomington Kennedy and #5 Eden Prairie as well as the Hornets. The prospects for a conference title are not good as long as Hopkins is in the mix. The prospects for a sectional title are better, but even then they'll be facing at least 3 high-D1 recruits--Jackie Johnson and Shayne Mullaney of EP, and Jade Martin of Kennedy.

Edina by comparison at present boasts no D1 recruits, which of course begs the question of what Katybeth Biewen will be doing with the next phase of her basketball career.

Historically she's not been highly regarded in the most oft-cited player rating around at I remember her rated in the high teens among her class a couple years ago, though it's true that Mullaney and Johnson were rated in that same neighborhood at the time. Johnson and Mullaney have climbed up to #1 and #7, respectively, while Hill-Murray guard Tessa Cichy has dropped from #1 to #9 and Whitney Tinjum of Chisago Lakes from #3-4 to #10. Katybeth has moved only up to #14 at the present time. I've always had her in my top 10 and currently I'd have her on my 2nd all-state 5. But never has there been any word of a D1 scholarship offer, and maybe that's right. She's still challenged in the size department. But her court IQ and her ability to take charge of her team on the court and navigate the whole enterprise toward the goal is right up there with Mullaney's. Her mental toughness and intensity is 2nd to none. Her scoring ability, those 26 points against Duluth East nothwithstanding, is not as good as Mullaney's or Tinjum's or Marissa Janning's. She's not somebody who is defined by her quickness or leaping ability or athleticism generally. She's defined by her basketball IQ and mental toughness. And that, in my experience, very often beats pure athleticism. And, so, with the possible exception of Mullaney, if I have to play an elite opponent with a tough pressure defense, I'm pretty sure I want Katybeth to handle the ball for me.

To me, in other words, the 2012 guards--and they are a terrific group--rate like this:

1. Mullaney (Minnesota)--has the same attributes at Biewen, plus she's physically stronger and a better shooter
2. Janning (Creighton)--great all-around skills, a little quicker, maybe--42 points last night!
3. Tinjum (Washington State)--a great scorer
4. Biewen--another 25 points last night, outscoring Jessica January 25-18 on the road
5. Cichy--more athletic, a great defender, nowhere as solid offensively
6. Mariah Adanane--a great scorer

7. Kali Peschel (Iowa)--a good scorer, good size, currently injured
8. Alexis Foley (Illinois State)--excellent all-around offensive player
9. Brittney Scherber (Bradley)--does it all

10. Mikayla Bailey (Minnesota)--a great competitor, a great defender, up and down offensively
11. Whitney Olson (Wayne State)--a very good scorer
12. Lexi Long--great court IQ, moves and moves the ball

I see Sydney Coffey as a forward, by the way, which is why she's not on this list.

So, anyway, that's what I know about the Biewens. Well, except I haven't even told you about grandpa Gene, who played his ball at Austin St. Augustine (yep, a long time ago) and St. Mary's in Winona before getting into the coaching racket. I learned just the other day from Orris Jirele that Jirele succeeded Biewen when he came to Rochester Lourdes in 1966. That'll have to wait for another day, I guess.

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