There’s not many sections across the state that can say they are as loaded as Section 5AA is for girls basketball this season. Section 5AA features five teams that been have been, or are, ranked in Class AA this season.
Along with five teams that have proven worthy of state recognition throughout the year, there’s another four to six teams that are capable of pulling off some upsets.
At the top of Section 5AA lies the Holy Family Fire. The Fire, the Section 5AA runner-ups last season, are back at the top once again, as they look for its second state tournament appearance in three years.
Joining Holy Family near the top are Maranatha Christian Academy and Watertown-Mayer.
Maranatha Christian is in its first season of making the jump to Class AA after dominating its competition in Class A. The Mustangs have reached the state tournament the last eight seasons at the Class A level, including two runner ups and two state titles. In its first year at the Class AA level, the Mustangs have the talent and chance to make it nine-straight trips to the state tournament.
Also looking to get back to state tournament once again are the Watertown-Mayer Royals. The Royals, the No. 3 seed and the defending Section 5AA champions, have surprised a lot of people with their success this season, despite losing several key players from last year’s team that took third place at the Class AA state tournament.
Other teams to keep an eye on that can surprise are Annandale, Minneapolis North, Maple Lake, Providence Academy, Rockford, and SW Christian. While those teams have the higher seeds, there’s still other teams in this section who have proven they can play with, and beat, some of the better teams in this section.
Below is an in-depth look at each of the teams in the Section 5AA tournament including key players and statistics. The Section 5AA tournament kicks off Thursday, March 1 with the high seeds hosting.
The Fire have been one of the most consistent teams in Section 5AA this season, and they’ve also played one of the toughest schedules in the state on top of that. On the schedule for the Fire this season have been Watertown-Mayer (No. 13 in Class AA), Rush City (No. 5 in Class AA), Annandale (currently unranked), Stewartville (No. 8 in Class AA), Maranatha Christian (No. 3 in Class AA), Norwood Young America (No. 7 in Class AA), Robbinsdale Cooper (No. 1 in Class AAA), and Hutchinson (No. 8 in Class AAA) twice. Of the eight losses for the Fire this season, six have came against those ranked teams.
A big reason for the success of the Fire has been their ability to defend. The Fire are allowing just 44.7 points a game this season, which ranks among the top in Section 5AA.
At times, the Fire can struggle on offense. They averaged just 48.2 points a game, but with the way they defend, the Fire always seem to be in games no matter the opponent.
The Fire boast a nice balance on the offensive end of the floor. Leigh Steiner leads the way averaging 13 points a game. Steiner isn’t the only player who can be relied on to score the for the Fire.
Shea Thompson (8.6 PPG), Julia Geurs (9.9 PPG), and Grace Conroy (8.3 PPG) all are proven scorers for the Fire. Thompson is capable of going off for the Fire like she did against Waconia with a season-high 23 points.
With the balance and experience the Fire bring to the floor, they’ll be a tough out in the Section 5AA tournament, and one of the favorites to claim the section title.
There might not be a scarier team to face than the Maranatha Christian Mustangs in the Section 5AA tournament. The Mustangs, a team that is not only deep, but also experienced, are the No. 3 ranked team in Class AA, and rightfully so. Led by an experienced group of seniors, the Mustangs are one of the most complete teams in Section 5AA.
The Mustangs (22-4) are led by a pair of seniors in Jaclyn Jarnot and Kyle Post. Both Jarnot and Post will be playing college basketball next season, and have plenty of experience and skill to lead the Mustangs to another state tournament appearance.
Jarnot, a Monmouth University commit, has been the leader for the Mustangs for some time. She’s a double-double machine, and has the ability to create mismatches for any team the Mustangs face. With Jarnot’s ability to post up inside, as well as knock down outside shots, she’s a tough guard for anyone. She’s averaging 17.8 points and 11.7 rebounds a game this season. Although she doesn’t shoot many, Jarnot is a threat from deep, connecting on 14 of her 17 attempts this season.
While Jarnot takes care of business inside and out, Post is a lot to deal with as well on the perimeter. Try and press Post and the Mustangs, and she’ll make you pay. Fall back into the half court, and Post will run the offense to perfection.
Post is averaging 14.2 points a game, 6.8 rebounds a game, and 3.6 assists a game, as she can do it all on the court. Post’s ability to see the court makes her dangerous all over, and just has a knack for making the right play.
Along with the two seniors leading the way, the Mustangs feature other key players such as Macy Smith, Breianna Smestad, and Kae Seana-Barth-Lofton. Smith, just a freshman, has proved she can handle her own at the varsity level. At 5-foot-8, Smith has the ability to overpower defenders with her height and speed.
Smestad and Seana-Barth-Lofton also add some depth to the scoring for the Mustangs. Both have made big plays when needed, as the Mustangs have lost just three times this season.
If you want to beat the Mustangs, it’s no secret that you need to get back on defense. The Mustangs are a team that lives on fast-break points and loves to get easy looks in transition. In a 93-78 win over Mayer Lutheran, the Mustangs got easy looks all game long and scored 84 points in the paint.
What makes the Mustangs so tough is that head coach Chris Buerman isn’t afraid to go the bench. It’s not uncommon for the Mustangs to have 10 or more girls see the court. Even if you stop or contain some of MCA’s biggest threats, there’s multiple girls ready to come off the bench and contribute anyway they can.
There’s no bigger surprise than the Watertown-Mayer girls basketball team this season and the success they’ve had. After losing Claire Killian and Kirstin Klitzke, who are both career 2,000-point scorers, the Royals are once again looking to get back to the state tournament.
While it may be a surprise to some of the success the Royals have had, it really shouldn’t be, knowing the Royals have senior Monika Czinano on the roster this year. Czinano has been having a monster season this year for the Royals, and is a walking double-double.
The University of Iowa commit has been fantastic all season long for Watertown-Mayer. Czinano has scored 20 or more points 12 times this season, including scoring 36 in a game twice this season.
While Czinano leading the way is no surprise, it’s been the play of W-M’s guards that helped them win another Wright County West Conference title this season. Emma Ragner, Grace Knutson, Emma Maas, and Maggie Czinano have all stepped their games up big-time this year for the Royals. While Ragner gets the offense rolling by running the point for the most part. Mass and Maggie Czinano have taken big steps forward in the scoring column this season.
Maggie Czinano (9.2 PPG) saw some time as an eighth-grader at the state tournament for the Royals last season, and has only gotten better as the season has gone on. She’s become a legitimate threat to score, and a tough matchup, as well, with her size and quickness.
Maas (7.3 PPG) and Ragner (5.4 PPG) have also stepped up their games, as well. Maas has become one of the better shooters from deep on the team, while Ragner’s overall ability to get the offense going has been a key for the Royals all season. The Royals also rely a lot on Knutson for all sorts of things. She’s one of the best rebounders on the team, and has also vastly improved her offensive game.
Along with those players who have been the leaders all season, the Royals have got great production from their bench throughout the season. Libby Heilmann, Shelby Mueller, and Jena Barden have all made their contributions for the Royals this season.
With Monika Czinano leading the charge inside, W-M coach John Rosholt has got to like the direction his team is headed, as they look to make it back-to-back state tournament appearances. The Royals have battled ranked teams all season long, and should be ready to handle the battle that’s ahead of them in Section 5AA.
The Polars of Minneapolis North are another team making the jump to Class AA this season. Like the Mustangs, the Polars have been a Class A team for the past few seasons, and are in its first year of competing at the Class AA level.
The Polars are 17-8 this season overall, and are the No. 4 seed in the Section 5AA tournament.
Monique Wooten is the player to watch for the Polars. She’s averaging better than 17 points per a game this season, and is a tough matchup to deal with. Her ability to drive and finish at the rim makes her a tough guard, as she is shooting 56 percent (118-for-210) from the field this season.
Tiffany McNeil (14 PPG) and Alexandria McNeil (10.4 PPG) are two other players to keep an eye on for the Polars.
The Polars are coming into the Section 5AA tournament after an impressive 53-47 win against the fourth-ranked team in Class AAA DeLaSalle. The Polars will look to keep things rolling the Section 5AA tournament as they are a top-four seed.
While not ranked currently in the top-20 in Class AA, the Cardinals are a tough team to matchup against when you need a win. Despite losing four of its last six games to close out the season, the Cardinals are a deep and an experienced team.
The Cardinals hold wins against Watertown-Mayer and New London-Spicer this season, who are both ranked in Class AA. A tough conference schedule also has the Cardinals prepared for what’s headed its way in the postseason.
Hannah Purcell and Allie Spaulding give the Cardinals an edge against most teams they face. Purcell (6-foot-1) and Spaulding (6-foot-2) present a lot of matchup problems for both teams. Both Purcell and Spaulding can bang inside and score, while also stepping on the perimeter and stretching out the defense.
Purcell is averaging almost 15 points a game this season, and can do it all. She can post up, shoot the three, and drive to the basket, which makes her a tough matchup with her size. Spaulding is averaging just under 10 points a game, but has the ability to take over a game,
Other key players for the Cardinals to keep an eye on are Taylor Medvec, Grace Atkinson, and Briana Canesi. Like the Royals, playing in the WCC West will have the Cardinals ready for the physicality and competition they’ll see in the Section 5AA tournament.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a team that’s playing better heading into the postseason than Maple Lake. The Irish are 18-7 on the season, and won their last seven games to roll into the postseason on a good note. In that seven-game winning streak, the Irish have knocked off good teams, such as Watertown-Mayer, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, and Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity.
While the Irish are playing well lately, senior Linsey Rachel has been a big reason why. She’s playing some of her best ball of the season, including when she scored 29 points to knock off Watertown-Mayer.
Rachel is a player who simply does it all for the Irish. She can score, rebound, defend, and get her teammates involved, as she is one of the most important players on the team.
Other key players to watch for on the Irish squad are Mackenna Brown, Gracey Heying, Calli Maki, and Mollie Scheiber.
Providence Academy comes into the Section 5AA tournament as the No. 7 seed. The Lion, who are 15-10 this season overall, have had its ups and downs this season. Despite all that, they are coming into the postseason playing well as they have won six of their last seven games, including wins over Delano, Breck, and Orono. It’s only loss in that stretch came to Minnehaha Academy.
Anna Counts is the player to watch for the Lions. The 6-foot-2 senior leads the Lions in scoring, and is averaging 18.5 points per game this season. Against Minnehaha Academy, one of the top-ranked teams in Class AA, Counts poured in a season-high 35 points.
Maggie Murphy and Hailey Hohenecker are two other players to keep an eye on for the Lions, as they look to continue to play well and make a run in the Section 5AA tournament.
Like the Lions, the SW Christian Stars are another sleeper team to keep an eye one. At 15-11 on the season, the Stars have won several games against good competition, as well as giving other teams all they could handle and more.
Against the No. 1 seed Holy Family, the Stars gave the Fire all they could handle in a 41-37 loss. The Stars have also played well against good teams like Mayer Lutheran, Maranatha Christian, and Minnehaha Academy.
For the Stars, guards Grace Schmidt and Sydney Beard have big keys to the success this season. Both Beard (10.3 PPG) and Schmidt (10.1 PPG) can knock down the three, as well as get in the lane. They can both score in bunches as both have posted season-highs of 23 points.
Another play to watch for is Brenna Krommendyk, who gives the Stars some size inside, and also has a nice touch to be able to finish in traffic.
The Rockford Rockets (13-13) may not have the record of a great team, but they are a team you can’t overlook. Playing in the WCC West, the Rockets faced off against tough competition all season long. The Rockets have losses to Annandale twice, Watertown-Mayer, Holy Family, all by a combined 32 points.
Sydney Manthana is the girl that leads the way for the Rockets. She’s averaging better than 12 points per game, and is the leading scorer on the team this season. Other players on the radar for the Rockets that will be relied upon are Samantha Fitzsimmons, Neely Griffin, and Logan Heinrich.
Rockford will take on SW Christian in the always entertaining No. 8 vs. No. 9 game.
The Blake Bears start the list of teams under .500 entering the Section 5AA tournament. At 12-14 this season, the Bears have had the definition of a back-and-forth season. The Bears have not won more than two games in a row. They also have not lost more than two games in a row this season.
Cate Moe leads the attack for the 10th-seeded Bears. Moe is averaging 15.6 points a game this season. She’s not only the player on the roster who can score, though.
Robbie Grace (10.3 PPG) and Rachel Winkley (10.2 PGG) are also proven scorers for the Bears. Winkley is a threat to watch from deep, as she leads the team in 3-pointers with 41.
After a nice start to the season, the Breck Mustangs had its struggles. The Mustangs won four of its first five games this season, before ending the season with a 9-11 record overall, and the No. 11 seed in the Section 5AA tournament.
The Mustangs have struggled to score all season long, averaging just 43 points a game. With the struggles on offense all season, Allie Murphy has carried the load for the Mustangs. She’s the team’s leading scorer, and will be relied on once again in the postseason if the Mustangs want to make a run and pull of some upsets.
The Lakers are one of the most improved teams in Section 5AA this season. Although an 11-15 record doesn’t sound like much, it’s a big step forward for the Lakers, who won just three games a season ago.
The elevated play of CJ Decker and Alexa Schumann has been a big reason for the success of the Lakers this season. Schumann was one of the top-scorers in the Central MN Conference this season, while Decker has the ability to make big plays in the clutch, and be able to get her teammates involved.
Schumann (15 PPG) and Decker (13 PPG) will need to carry the load for the Lakers in this tournament, but the Lakers also have other players who can step up and help carry the load.
Senior Lily DeBoer has been a steady presence for the Lakers on both ends of the floor. She’s averaging 7.8 points per game, 8 rebounds per game, and 2.4 assists per game.
Other key players that the Lakers will need to contribute are Jenna Benson, Courtney Long, and Erin Luchsinger.
The Brooklyn Center Centaurs enter the Section 5AA tournament as the No. 13 seed, with a record of 16-5 this season.
The Centaurs are led by a balanced attack from Shamia Hudson, Maleah Confair, and Rachel Sulonteh.
The Patriots come in with just three wins on the season, and have lost its last 13 games entering the Section 5AA Tournament.
They’ve had their struggles all season long, averaging just 35.3 points a game.
Ashantae Braxton and Cynthia Robinson are the two players to keep an eye on for the Patriots.
The Lions from PACT Charter are another team who has had struggles this season. They come into the Section 5AA tournament with a record of 4-21.
Players to watch for the Panthers are Lauren Erickson and Sophie Willems.
To stay updated on everything that has to do with the Section 5AA tournament, stay connected with Herald Journal. Also, follow Kip Kovar on Twitter for news, scores, in-game updates and more all tournament long.