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BASKETBALL: Delano is on to the state tournament

Matt Kane
Sports Editor
ST. CLOUD — With a dominant performance from tap to horn Thursday night in the Section AAA championship game against Willmar, Delano punched the program’s third ticket to the state tournament.

The Tigers’ career scoring leader, Calvin Wishart, was on fire at the start of the game, single-handedly giving Delano an 8-0 lead in the first two minutes, and, soon, his teammates began to pitch in, making the task of catching the Tigers (18-11) impossible for the top-seeded Cardinals (26-3), who were ranked No. 9 in the state.

Delano’s reserves finished off the final 45 seconds of the 75-54 rout, and, after celebrating at center court and receiving their medals and the team trophy, helped cut down the net that felt the final 34 points of the victory.

Calvin Wishart shows the Delano crowd the net after freeing it from the rim Thursday night following the Tigers' 75-54 win over Willmar in the Section 5AAA championship game at Halenbeck Hall. Photo by Matt Kane

Calvin Wishart shows the Delano crowd the net after freeing it from the rim Thursday night following the Tigers’ 75-54 win over Willmar in the Section 5AAA championship game at Halenbeck Hall.
Photo by Matt Kane

“That meant everything,” said Wishart shortly after freeing the net free from the rim, surrounded by his teammates and Tiger fans. “I’ve been playing with some of these guys since fourth grade and we always talked about going to the state tournament. I’m just glad we get the chance senior year. We played the number-one seed, Willmar, and I’m glad we get to prove everybody wrong and go to the state tournament.”

Delano coach Terry Techam stood off to the side of the court during the post-game celebrations. He couldn’t help but crack a smile, one of relief, while watching his players cut down the net.

“We’ve been here quite a bit, but the last two years we got a bad draw and ended up in the best section in the state,” the coach said, referring to Delano’s two-season stint in Section 6 with DeLaSalle, which, after Thursday night’s 80-78 win over Orono, will make a run at a seventh consecutive state title. “This is fun. It’s a lot more enjoyable to be on this side of it.”

At 6-foot-8, senior Keegan O’Neill held the trophy high and (unintentionally) out of the reach of his teammates after receiving it from Activities Director Mike Lindquist. A good 10 minutes later, after several photo-ops, he still clutched the rare piece of hardware, the emotion of his team’s feat visible in his eyes.

“It’s everything we’ve been working for with all these guys for so long. It’s finally paid off,” he said. “But, we’re not done yet; we’ve got three more. It wasn’t our main goal just to get [to state]. We want to win the thing.”

Senior Keegan O'Neill shows brother, Kallon, the Section 5AAA championship trophy Thursday night. Photo by Matt Kane

Senior Keegan O’Neill shows brother, Kallon, the Section 5AAA championship trophy Thursday night at St. Cloud State.
Photo by Matt Kane

Delano is going to state for the first time since 2013. The other appearance for the Tigers was in 1993.

Delano enters this year’s dance with an 18-11 record, a record that carries more substance than what is visible on the surface.

“Our non-conference schedule was by far the toughest non-conference schedule since I’ve been here, and we were hoping it would prepare us for this run,” said coach Techam. “We knew our record might not be as good as it had been in the past, but the goal was [to prepare] for this three-week time in the playoffs.”

The Class AAA state tournament begins Wednesday, March 21, at Williams Arena. The first-round match-ups are not known yet, as the Section 1 championship game between Austin and Northfield is Friday night.

The other section champions are Mankato East (Section 2), St. Thomas Academy (3), Columbia Heights (4), DeLaSalle (6), Hermantown (7), and Sauk Rapids-Rice (8).

Delano is familiar with two of the qualifiers from regular-season meetings. The Tigers defeated Hermantown and lost to Sauk Rapids-Rice.

Following a 46-point effort in the quarterfinal 89-68 win over Becker and a record 48 points in the 80-76 semifinal win over Monticello, Wishart finished with 32 points in title win over Willmar, which entered with only two losses. He shot 67 percent from the field (12-of-18).

Being “In the “Zone” is a real thing, according to Wishart.

“I feel like I’m in the zone every game. Every time I touch the basketball, I feel like I can score,” he said, then talking about his fast start. “The “heat-up” is what I call it. You get going on that first shot. The first one went in, and the basket looked like an ocean.”

Wishart scored 24 of his 32 points in that white-hot first half. His intention was to start fast and quickly take Willmar out of the game.

Calvin Wishart strokes his second 3-pointer in the first two minutes of the game in the face of Willmar coach Matt Williams Thursday night. Wishart scored 32 points in the Tigers' 75-54 win. Photo by Matt Kane

Calvin Wishart strokes his second 3-pointer in the first two minutes of the game in the face of Willmar coach Matt Williams Thursday night. Wishart scored 32 points in the Tigers’ 75-54 win.
Photo by Matt Kane

“I tried to emphasize to the guys that we could come out and kill them,” he said. “I just wanted everybody to have that killer mindset, so I came out and tried to set the tone for everybody. Not to have a cocky mindset, but to have some arrogance about you and to get them to think that we can beat these guys.”

An eight-point second half may not seem like a strong showing from Wishart, but it didn’t have to be, as his teammates picked up on the scoring. The Tigers also slowed the pace down in the second half, burning up the clock and limiting Willmar’s scoring opportunities.

“Calvin started out incredibly in the first half,” said O’Neill. “We said at halftime, though, that you don’t get anything for just playing 18 minutes and that that half didn’t mean a thing if we didn’t finish. We kept it going the whole way, and got the win.”

The Tigers were able to keep it going in the second half because of the play of O’Neill, who was, quite simply, awesome.

O’Neill scored 21 points for the game in an 8-for-11 night from the field (73 percent). He was his usual self in the paint, and ran the floor as well as he has all season, slicing through the lane on fast breaks for easy transition buckets.

“He needed that after the Monticello game,” O’Neill’s mother, Cristi, said during the post-game celebration. O’Neill scored 9 points in the semifinal game against the Magic.

Following a Willmar timeout less than three minutes into the game, with Delano leading 10-0, the double teams on Wishart began. That’s when O’Neill went to work. His 10-point first half helped the Tigers carry a 17-point lead (41-24) into halftime. O’Neill poured in 11 more points in the second half before exiting the game in the final minute.

“I feel like I stepped up how I needed to,” he said. “Everybody stepped up, and we played a great game as a team.”

Junior guard Derek Techam didn’t get a lot of shots off, but he was on points when he did. His 12 points came on four 3-pointers in six attempts. He scored nine points in the second half.

“Calvin is our main guy, that’s pretty obvious, but everybody has their own role and everybody is pretty confident,” said coach Techam. “When they started double-teaming Calvin, those other guys were confident in their abilities.”

Also for Delano, freshman Trey Longstreet scored eight points on a pair of rain-drop runners and a layup, and Max Otto score two points from the inside.

Wishart, O’Neill and Otto all finished with six rebounds.

What Delano did at the offensive end of the court was strong, but the Tigers’ ability to smother the Cardinal scorers was equally impressive.

“That might have been one of the best defensive games we have played in a long time,” said coach Techam.

The Tigers held the Cardinals to the 24 points in the first half, and to 30 points in the second.

Wishart is known for his scoring prowess, but he can defend, as well, and showed that Thursday night when he held Willmar’s Noah Slagter to just 16 points. Slagter averaged more than 22 points per game this season.

Drey Dirksen scored 14 points for Willmar. No other Cardinal scored more than eight points.

Delano playing for a state berth tonight

Matt Kane
Sports Editor
DELANO — Delano is looking to earn a spot in the state tournament for a third time in its history tonight, when it battles Willmar for the Section 5AAA championship at Halenbeck Hall at St. Cloud State University.

Willmar enters the game as the No. 1 seed in the section with a 26-2 record. Delano is the No. 2 seed with a 17-11 record.

The opening tap is at 7 p.m.

Delano got to the section title game with wins over Becker (89-68) and Monticello (80-76) in the first two rounds.

Willmar needed overtime to defeat Big Lake 57-52 in the section semifinal round. The Cardinals opened with a 99-80 win over Zimmerman in the quarterfinals.

Delano senior Calvin Wishart is coming off a record performance of 48 points in the semifinal win over Monticello. He also had 19 rebounds in that game.

A finalist for the McDonald Award as the top senior player in the state, Wishart averages 32.4 points per game for the season, and 46 points per game in the playoffs.

The inside presence of senior Keegan O’Neill and the outside shooting excellence from Derek Techam are two keys for the Tigers.

O’Neill averages 17.1 points per game for the season. Techam, who, with Wishart, is a member of Delano’s 1,000 points club, averages 13.3 points per game.

Wishart preceded his 48-point effort with 46 points in the first-round win over Becker. O’Neill scored 16 points against Becker and nine points against Monticello. Techam scored 15 points against Becker and nine points against Monticello.

For Willmar, guard Ty Roelofs (15 points, 13 rebounds) and Drey Dirksen (16 points, 10 rebounds) are both averaging a double-double in the playoffs.

Including Roelofs and Dirksen, five Cardinals are averaging double figures in points during the playoffs. The other three are Jake Evans (20.0), Ryan Slette (14.0) and Noah Slagter (13.5). Of the five, only Slagter scored below his season average in the first two rounds of the postseason. The other four scored well-above their season averages.

Slagter, a 6-foot guard, averaged a team best 22.9 points per game during the regular season.

Evans, a 6-2 forward, has caught fire in the playoffs. After averaging 6.6 points during the regular season, his 20 points per game leads the Cardinals in the postseason.

A 6-2 guard, Roelofs averaged 9.5 points per game this season.

Standing at 6-4, Dirkson and Slette are the biggest of the Cardinals’ top scorers. Dirksen averaged 11.5 points during the season, and Slette averaged 8.5 points.

Willmar’s two losses came in back-to-back games in back-to-back nights late in the season. Fergus Falls topped the Cardinals 83-82 Feb. 15, and Marshall bettered the Cardinals 76-62 Feb. 16.

The Cardinals opened the season with 21 straight wins, one of those wins being over Fergus Falls, before falling to the Otters in the second meeting. Willmar enters the section championship game against Delano on a  five-game winning streak.

Delano’s season has been a roller coaster ride in the tough Wright County Conference. It’s longest winning streak was four games (twice). Four games is also the length of the Tigers’ longest losing streak. That came with Wishart on the bench nursing an injury.

Fergus Falls is one of six like-opponents for the Tigers and Cardinals. Delano topped the Otters 85-58 in their only meeting.

Both teams have wins over Fergus Falls, Hutchinson, Big Lake, Becker and Rocori.

Willmar has two wins over, both, St. Cloud Apollo and Sauk Rapids-Rice, two teams that defeated Delano during the regular season.

The Cardinals dominated St. Cloud Apollo, 101-74, in the first meeting, and won 74-62 in the second meeting. St. Cloud Apollo defeated Delano 69-56. Willmar defeated Sauk Rapids-Rice 89-83 and 82-65. Sauk Rapids-Rice defeated Delano 72-54.

This is the first time in five seasons Willmar has advanced past the first round of the section playoffs, and the first time in eight seasons that the Cardinals will play for a section title. They lost 77-59 to Hutchinson in the Section 2AAA title game in 2010.

Willmar is looking to get to state for the first time in 10 seasons. The Cardinals last played at state in 2008, when they won the consolation bracket.

If Delano wins, it will appear in the state tournament for a third time. It’s previous two appearances came in 2013 and 1993.


Delano Squirts teams meet for District 3 championship

Matt Kane
Sports Editor

DELANO — It was all Delano when it came to deciding the District 3 Squirt B2 champion March 8 at the Plymouth Ice Arena — literally.

The championship game featured two Tiger teams — Delano Orange against Delano Black. In the end, Delano Orange, which ironically wore black jerseys, pulled bragging rites over Delano Black, which wore white jerseys, 4-2.

“Both teams played hard and had a lot of fun battling each other,” said coach Ryan Greenberg. “It was great that both teams were able to win their divisions and able to play each other for the district championship. An amazing season for both the Delano Squirt B2 teams.”

Black took a 2-0 lead midway through the first period on goals by Keagan Schmatz and Bryce Martin, but Orange ruled the final two periods, scoring four unanswered goals to take the game and the District 3 crown.

Alex Merdan and Andrew Bruett both scored two goals for Orange.

Grayden Greenberg was the winning goaltender for Orange.

Grady Wood played well for Black in the loss.

The Orange team finished with a 16-2 record for the season.

Black was 14-2-2.

BOYS BASKETBALL: Wishart’s 48 points carries Delano to section final game

Matt Kane
Sports Editor

In a battle between two of the state’s best guards, Delano’s Calvin Wishart stood head-and-shoulders above Monticello’s Matt Todd Saturday afternoon in the Section 5AAA semifinal game at Halenbeck Hall on the campus of St. Cloud State University.

Wishart scored 48 points, and, in doing so, led the Tigers to an 80-76 win over Todd and the Magic.

Todd led Monticello with 24 points in the loss.

Wishart and Todd are both McDonald Award nominees.

The win put Delano in the section championship game, which is Thursday, March 15, at St. Cloud State, against Wilmar.

The section title game will be a battle between the top two seeds. Wilmar (24-2) is the No. 1 seed. Delano (17-11) is the No. 2 seed.

Before getting past Monticello, Delano sat and watched Willmar defeat Big Lake 57-52 in the early game at Halenbeck Hall.

SWIMMING: Kenison earns state medal

Matt Kane
Sports Editor

MINNEAPOLIS — In his second state swimming meet as a competitor, John Kenison picked up his first state medal.

The Delano junior found his way to the medal podium in the 500-yard freestyle March 3 at the Class A State Swimming and Diving Championships at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center, where he swam in the finals heat and finished seventh.

His time was  4:55.81.

Kenison’s medal-winning swim in the 500 was one of his three swims at the state meet. He also dove in for the 200 freestyle and the 400 freestyle relay on both days.

Kenison’s final event of the state meet included swimming with three teammates in the 400.

Kenison, senior Jack Heun, eighth-grader Nick Black and freshman Colby Kern combined to swim the 400 freestyle relay in 3:24.62 Saturday in the consolation heat. That gave the quartet 16th place overall.

In the 200 freestyle, Kenison finished 12th overall.

Read more about the WMD swimmers at state in Friday’s Delano Herald Journal.

WRESTLING: Hajas, Kroells, Sjomeling all claim state medals

Matt Kane
Sports Editor
ST. PAUL — Delano’s three wrestlers all battled their ways to championship Saturday night March 3 at the state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center, all coming away with medals from the Class AA tournament.

Senior Steven Hajas placed second at 220 pounds. junior Tanner Kroells was fourth at 138 pounds. And junior Reier Sjomeling was fifth at 113 pounds.

Hajas battled for a state championship at 220 pounds, but could not do anything against Simley’s Daniel Kerkvliet except hold on and avoid being pinned.

Kerkvliet won a technical fall over Hajas in the third period to claim his third state championship.

Hajas earned the second-place medal.

Surviving until the third period was quite a feat for Hajas, considering Kerkvliet pinned his first three opponents in a combined 95 seconds over the two days.

Read about the Delano wrestler’s in Friday’s Delano Herald Journal.