It’s been just over a month since winter sports practice started up, six weeks later than usual. I’ve been able to see nine of the 12 area hoops teams so far and checked in with the others as the season has progressed. Today in the One-Month Rewind, we take a look at how all 12 are faring 30 days into the season.
HLWW boys (3-3, 1-3 WCC West)
The Lakers started off strong with a tight win over rival Lester Prairie (the Bulldogs’ only loss) and a takedown of former Central Minnesota Conference foe Maple Lake.
Then the Wright County West buzzsaw hit hard and fast — not that HLWW didn’t battle, though. Losses to Litchfield and Rockford, both top-20 level teams in Class AA, came by a total of seven points. A tough size matchup against Annandale sent them into a three-game losing streak before handling Dassel-Cokato pretty easily Monday.
James Carr has his team’s priority on the defensive end as usual, which will need to set the tone in the next three games especially; road trips to Glencoe-Silver Lake and Litchfield sandwich a home game against Watertown-Mayer who is getting on track at the right time. Spencer Lade and Drew Burau in the frontcourt have been bright spots scoring in double figures along with wing sharpshooter Bennett Anderson. Lade is shooting 55 percent from the field and adding seven rebounds and three assists to his statline this season.
The Lakers will need some extra punch from the guard spots with Carson Woolhouse and Noah Bush to balance things out, and they have their work cut out for them with a tough slate coming — W-M and Litch would be monster wins for Section 5AA implications as well as conference bragging rights.
HLWW girls (1-4, 1-2 WCC West)
The HLWW girls picked up their first win Tuesday against conference foe D-C, a grind-it-out victory that took all the effort they could muster. Coach Ryan Petersen said the energy the team has brought to each game just didn’t translate to a win yet — that changed this week, knocking off the Chargers 51-46 behind another stellar 21-point performance from sophomore point guard Ivy Fasching. She’s shooting the lights out and averaging nearly 24 a game accounting for about half of the HLWW offense.
Signs of life from the rest of the roster showed up too: 6-foot junior center Carolyn Remer is proving to be a two-way paint presence and is the team’s second-leading scorer. Brooke Baumann does a little bit of everything and might be their best wing defender. Erin Horn scored a huge eight points against D-C grabbing a couple offensive rebounds.
The Lakers still have to face the top of the conference twice but with a win finally under their belts the spirits are high and they know there’s plenty to still improve on.
Lester Prairie girls (6-1, 6-1 MCAA)
The Bulldogs faced their first true conference test Monday on the road at Heritage, falling 70-53. That was also without leading scorer and area player of the year candidate Marissa Radtke who has missed the last few games with a bone bruise in her knee and is likely out another couple weeks. The rematch with Heritage at home happens Saturday afternoon, a game Lester Prairie needs to stay above the Eagles in the section standings.
Lester Prairie’s Taylor Ebert has stepped up in the scoring column as of late. | Photo by Jared Martinson
Taylor Ebert stepped up for 29 points in the loss to Heritage Monday; she seems very capable of handling the shot creation load sans Radtke, and Lizzy Anderson has been steady in the paint all season averaging 12 points per game as well. The rest of the rotation will need to adjust on the fly to being more primary features in the offense. Kara Lee and eighth-grader Addison Hoof are sparkplug type defenders that can make life miserable for opposing point guards. That could be an important part of how the Bulldogs create their offense — forcing a few more turnovers per game and getting out on the fast break.
The MCAA slate isn’t all that challenging past Heritage. But the big game circled on the schedule is a March 2 faceoff against the best team in Section 4A, Mayer Lutheran. If Radtke’s available by that time, expect a doozy.
Lester Prairie boys (6-1, 5-0 MCAA)
Having a similarly dominant season are the Lester Prairie boys, 6-1 on the season, the only blemish in the season opener to Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted. Two gritty wins over Spectrum and two more against Heritage highlight the Bulldogs’ record so far.
The two-headed monster of Jack Behning and Zach Jackson has reared its head in almost every game. Both players are averaging 20 points per game and the rest of the MCAA has little to counter them. Not only have the two most experienced Bulldogs been excellent, senior Jack Niesen and freshman Trever Schauer are averaging double figures and grabbing every rebound in sight. Schauer has been particularly active on defense, consistently grabbing two steals and two blocks a contest.
Though the program’s numbers are down this season, the Bulldogs seem pretty deep with playable guys. Donovan Harrison and Tanner Scheevel are reliable wings that use their craft and strength to make winning plays. Zach Zebell and Layne Teubert excel in their roles as defensive guard stopper and three-point specialist, respectively.
Two big games against a good Legacy Christian team appear on next week’s schedule along with Mayer Lutheran Feb. 15. Can Lester Prairie stay undefeated in the MCAA and get a big section win?
Dassel-Cokato boys (1-5, 0-3 WCC West)
It’s a new style of play and some new faces on the varsity roster for D-C this season. The adjustment period is ongoing but the flashes of everything falling into place are visible. The Chargers, led by head coach Tony Dehler in his first season, play a super uptempo style with a lot of pressing on defense. The outside shots haven’t been falling so it’s up to the defense to create turnovers and fast break points. Athlete Eli Gillman is a key cog in that strategy along with physical specimen Collin Asplin. In the win against Hope Academy, D-C forced 31 turnovers.
They’re going to have a chance in every game they play; two losses have come by a total of five points and the Chargers almost got back in the game against HLWW Monday despite being down 30 in the second half.
Four of their next five games are on the road, while all are against tough conference opponents like Rockford, Watertown-Mayer and Annandale. Gillman and Asplin usually are the leading scorers at around 10 points a game while Gaige Webb is a steady hand at point guard. They’ll need some extra punch from rotation players three through five to stay in these games.
Dassel-Cokato girls (0-6, 0-3 WCC West)
The Chargers girls squad has had trouble playing a consistent two halves most of the season, especially early on. Losses to Rocori and Litchfield were within striking distance for a half before things got out of hand.
Another struggle has been finding a go-to scorer when the offense is stalling out. There’s a recent development in that respect with junior guard Bailey Quern, who scored 18 in a close loss to HLWW Tuesday. and is the team’s leading bucket-getter. Her improvement as the season goes on could get her some attention as a senior.
Kezia Lee’s defense and rebounding have been bright spots for Dassel-Cokato. | Photo by Jared Martinson
In terms of the game against HLWW, both teams were looking for their first win of the season. HLWW got up by 11 quickly but a nice run to end the half got D-C within 26-22. They added to that with eight straight to open the second half and were up 37-32 at one point as well. Closing out the game while having the lead hasn’t happened enough yet this season for the Chargers to capitalize. Now that they’ve been in that late-game situation (as well as in a close loss to Delano in January), my guess is they’ll snatch a couple wins from the teams right above them in the standings.
Senior Kezia Lee, a Winona State track and field commit, has ramped up her defensive effort as of late as well. Her length and speed bothers opposing wing players and she made some big deflections against HLWW. Amelia Travis is an undersized post player but she is tough and works hard to box out and defend bigger centers.
Delano boys (5-2, 1-2 WCC East)
A hot 4-0 start for the Tigers has quickly simmered with two losses in conference play — a not-quite-enough comeback against Jordan came up short and then a setback at Mound-Westonka Tuesday. But those first four games, everything seemed to be clicking — St. Croix Lutheran, Princeton and St. Thomas Academy are all very respectable teams in Class AAA, and Terry Techam’s squad handled the pressure with aplomb.
All Delano basketball roads cross at Trey Longstreet. The Northern State-committed senior is averaging 26 points a game, with a season-high 35 coming in the barn burner against Princeton; he needed 33 to reach the 1,000 milestone and that he did. Playing point guard, rim protector and earning a top defensive assignment are just a few of the roles he’s taken on with an otherwise entirely new varsity crew.
Let’s not coast past those new faces that have stepped up. Freshman guard Will Strandemo has lived all over the world and finds himself back at Delano to begin his high school basketball career, coming off the bench to score 11.4 points per game. His lefty elbow pullup jumper is automatic.
Delano senior Trey Longstreet has led the Tigers to a 5-2 start. | Photo by Jared Martinson
Senior forward Carter Tool is another trusted ballhandler; at 6-foot-6, he has vision to see what other guards can’t, and he pairs with Longstreet as two of the only players to not come out of the game every night. Carter posted a near triple-double of 11 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in a win over Waconia Friday.
Ty Weiman, Trent Techam and Colin Tolkkinen all play vital roles as defenders and open shot-makers too. The bummer of the season so far is junior center Levi Farniok being lost for the season with a torn ACL. Sophomore Jackson Stewart will have to continue his strong play on the glass in replacement.
Delano girls (2-5, 1-2 WCC East)
There’s a lot of promise to the Delano girls basketball team; they just need to get some games in their back pocket. Two losses to strong Wright County West teams in Annandale and Watertown-Mayer were followed by a grind-it-out victory over Dassel-Cokato, 45-41. The Tigers are 2-5 coming off a one-point win against Mound-Westonka. Like the Chargers of D-C, this young team seems to be learning how to capitalize in tight games. The next step is staying in the games that aren’t so tight.
Freshman pair Taylor Tool and Norah Danielson seem to be a foundation to build on as the team’s top two leading scorers. Tool is a post presence with some smooth footwork and passing ability, rare for a freshman. She can also step out and shoot the three.
Danielson is more of a ballhandler, taking some expected lumps with turnovers but also flashing some craft with her game. She has the team’s season-high for points in a game with 22 against Jordan. The tandem of these two young players gives coach Seth Potter really nice building blocks along with what he’s got in the upper classes, like Macki Deters, Maddie Elstad and Sidney Schmit on the wings. Louisa Stowman and Kendall Dreger lead the way on defense, racking up steals with their hand quickness and speed.
The Wright County East schedule does no favors any year. Delano has a couple wins in the bag now and can rally around that confidence to move up in the standings. The next three Tiger opponents all have winning records. How will they respond?
Mayer Lutheran girls (5-1, 5-0 MN River)
I haven’t had the gift of seeing them live yet, but Kris Gustin’s squad is once again dominating the Minnesota River slate. Just one of their five conference wins has been by less than 19 points. The three-headed offensive attack of Emma Lade (17.2 PPG), Morgan Chmielewski (15.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and Madeline Guetzkow (13.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG) is as fearsome as any in the area and the section. Julia Carns is a stellar paint presence averaging eight points and seven rebounds.
The Crusaders haven’t played a team in their section yet — that changes when United Christian comes to town Friday. They’ll also face Lester Prairie and Heritage Christian in March, the two other most likely contenders for the 4A crown. Heritage knocked them off in sections last season. Regardless, the buzzsaw that is the Crusader defense leading to offense is scary.
Mayer Lutheran also hits the road to play Minnehaha Academy in an exciting non-conference matchup late in the regular season.
Mayer Lutheran boys (7-0, 6-0 MN River)
The Crusaders now sit atop the Minnesota River standings after defeating Southwest Christian 80-76 Thursday night. The second round of league play begins against Norwood-Young America Tuesday. Only Tri-City United and Southwest Christian stayed within 10 points of Mayer Lutheran.
There are a lot of football players on this team, but they also play like basketball players on the court. Teigan Martin is a bona fide star in the paint but is skilled enough to step out and shoot it too. He’s putting up 24 points and seven rebounds per game to lead the offense that puts up 75 points a night. Sharpshooting Tyler Neitzel and point guard Ty Hoese are in double figures so far this year and were key in the win over Southwest Christian.
Remind yourself like I had to: this team is all juniors and one sophomore! Plenty of time left for the Crusaders to rise up the Class A ladder under new coach Keith Traska. He’s said how much he loves coaching the effort these guys show. It’s already paying off nearly halfway through the season.
Section rivals Lester Prairie and New Ulm Cathedral are still on the slate along with the rest of the Minnesota River. An undefeated record going into the section tournament isn’t out of the question.
Watertown-Mayer boys (3-2, 1-2 WCC West)
The Royals have had their share of frustrating moments and games so far. Two nice wins over Southwest Christian and Holy Family to start the year were quickly deflated by a blowout loss to Glencoe-Silver Lake and a too little, too late game at Rockford. It seems that the momentum has shifted back above the red with a trademark gritty win over Litchfield 42-31 Tuesday.
Litch is a top-15 or 20 team in Class AA, notorious for playing slow and physical. That’s the kind of game Watertown-Mayer wants to be in — and it worked. The Royals held the Dragons to 13 second-half points and pulled away.
It’ll be the more uptempo games that give them trouble unless the offense starts clicking a little faster. Coach Kent Janikula has said the pecking order of scoring and creating will need to play itself out so each player has a distinct role. Sophomore forward John Mueller is the team’s leader on offense at 18.8 points per game while classmates Albert Rundell and Wyatt McCabe average 8.8 and 8.4 respectively. Rundell has been very versatile, just recently moved to the starting lineup as a secondary ballhandler and main perimeter defender.
Wyatt McCabe slices into the paint against Rockford Jan. 29. | Photo by Jared Martinson
The Royals are tough and they’ll fight back. Whether they can weather bigger teams like Annandale, more offensively potent teams like Glencoe or just plain elite teams like Rockford will be the question moving forward. And where does that consistent outside shooting come from down the stretch, when offense in the playoffs is at a premium?
I’ll personally look forward to their matchup with Lester Prairie March 11.
Watertown-Mayer girls (6-1, 2-1 WCC West)
Off to a start that most expected of them, John Rosholt’s group of Royals have taken care of business, all six wins by at least 10 points and the lone loss coming to strong program Glencoe-Silver Lake. Maggie Czinano is cementing herself as one of the best scorers in W-M history, not to mention the entire area, at 27 points per game. As we’ve written before, she’s doing that in all new ways as defenses try to find creative strategies to slow her down — it hasn’t really mattered.
Carly Killian and Mercedes Burmeister are both in double figures too, reliable options when Czinano is being doubled or zoned.
The Section 5AA contenders are just as tough, though. Minneapolis North, Maranatha Christian and Providence Academy all sit just a little higher than the Royals in QRF rankings (though I’d say W-M’s conference is on the whole just as if not more competitive than the Minneapolis City, Skyline and IMAC).
The Royals score plenty but also only give up 49 points per game. That’s a great starting point to carry over into playoff time, when neutral gyms, nerves and stronger scouting all can come into play and affect the flow of a game.
W-M faces their biggest test yet Friday against the number one team in AA, New London-Spicer, on the road. They also notably still have Annandale twice and a rematch with the Panthers of Glencoe-Silver Lake.