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Jon Zinniel commits to SMSU

NEW ULM — While the 2019-20 season ended with a lot of ‘what ifs’ for New Ulm Cathedral senior Jon Zinniel and his teammates, Zinniel managed to make a big decision regarding his future recently.

Zinniel, a first-team All-Journal boys’ basketball player and All-Tomahawk Conference player, decided that he wanted to continue his basketball career at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

Zinniel had his team on the brink of playing in their first state tournament since the 1998-99 season when they qualified for the Section 2A championship game earlier in March. However, the game against Springfield was never played because the COVID-19 virus ended all activities for the Minnesota State High School League.

Zinniel had played in a couple of camps at SMSU and he kept in touch with the coaching staff there. After the season ended, he received a call from the SMSU coaching staff and everything fell into place.

“I kept in touch with the coaching staff at SMSU for the better part of the season, right as the season was wrapping up, they kind of got a little bit more interest in me and I picked up some interest as well,” Zinniel said. “We started talking and last week, I got a call and coach [Brad] Bigler said I’ve got a spot and I couldn’t pass it up.”

Zinniel ended his career at New Ulm Cathedral as the Greyhounds’ all-time leading scorer, scoring 1,700 career points. He averaged 19.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks per game this season.

Zinniel’s 574 points this season was the third most for a single season in school history. He was a three-time All-Conference player, a one-time honorable mention in the conference and was an All-Journal player his sophomore and junior year. He had looked at possibly playing for the Division II University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, Division III St. John’s in St. Cloud and NAIA school Mayville State University in North Dakota.

Zinniel was coached in AAU ball by SMSU assistant and Sleepy Eye High school graduate Brandon Polesky, who played a big role in bringing Zinniel to SMSU.

“He coached my 16U AAU team and I kept in contact with him and he kept asking me what I’m thinking, I told him I wanted to go to SMSU and he helped me make a highlight and I sent it to Bigler and he offered me a spot,” Zinniel said. “That was helpful knowing people and knowing the people on campus, it was nice to have roots to where you’re going.”

He said that it helped that SMSU is close to home.

“It’s nice, it’s just an hour and 20-minute drive, I can come back and forth but it’s still kind of separate,” he said. 

The Mustangs finished the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference season with an 8-21 record overall and 5-17 record in the NSIC.

“I love the mentality and the family aspect of everything, it’s ‘Mustang for life’ is one of the first things that I heard and we’re working together towards goals and I love that.”

It also give him a chance to play with Minnesota Valley Lutheran’s Dunwa Omot, the 2019-20 All-Journal Player of the Year. The two have played AAU basketball together despite being competitors during the high school season.

“He texted me when he made the decision and I was super excited to play with him and practice with him,” Zinniel said. “We played some AAU together so we’re used to being teammates, at the same time it is a little different because in school ball we’re competitors. I can’t wait, it’s going to be awesome.”

The announcement was a highlight for Zinniel, who saw his season end prematurely because of the cancelation of the season. He’ll always wonder ‘what if’ because of that.

“It was really tough for sure, because it was a not concrete ending,” he said. “In years past, we’ve lost and the season’s over. But now there’s all those what ifs and of course we feel really confident with what we’ve done and what we were putting out there.”

While it’s uncertain, Zinniel thinks he’ll probably redshirt next year for the Mustangs.

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