KOVAR: Plenty of things to watch for over the final months of prep basketball season

The holidays are finally over and it’s time to get back to work. 2020 is officially here, and just like 2019, the year looks to be filled with fun and exciting moments from the world of prep sports.

We are just about at the halfway point of the winter sports season as we get January rolling at full speed. It’s been a fun start to the winter sports season, and the end should be just as exciting if not more.

I found myself looking ahead this week to what is in store to come for the rest of the basketball season. There’s plenty to get excited about. I decided to share some of the games, conference races, and headlines I will be looking forward to, and keeping an eye on for the rest of the basketball season. Let’s get started.

HLWW girls battling for CMC title

The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted girls basketball team has taken a big step forward this season in Ryan Petersen’s first year as head coach. The Lakers currently sit in a good spot in the Central MN Conference race, as things will begin to heat up soon.

Senior guard CJ Decker is playing at an unreal level right now for the Lakers. There’s no doubt she makes everyone else on the floor better, and is playing herself into the conversation for HJ Player of the Year.

Against Holdingford, the top team in the CMC so far, Decker had a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists. She followed that up with a double-double (25 points and 11 assists) in a win over Southwest Christian the following day.

The Lakers also have a legitimate threat inside in Alexa Schumann. She’s taken huge strides in her overall game in the post, and combined with Decker, give HLWW a great one-two punch on the inside and outside.

Schumann is a walking double-double for the Lakers, as she’s improved her ability to finish and grab rebounds. If the Lakers do make a run for the CMC title, Schumann will be a big reason why.

If the Lakers are serious about contending for a conference title, they’ll need more consistent scoring from other players not named Decker or Schumann. Luckily, HLWW has they players who have that potential. Ellie Horn, Ivy Fasching, Abby Niesen, and Mariah Anderson have all shown flashes throughout the season. They can continue to build confidence and become legitimate weapons on offense, a conference title for the Lakers can be had.

With Tuesday’s loss to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, the Lakers sit at 2-2 in conference play. HLWW hosts Royalton Friday night in almost a must-win game if the Lakers are serious about contending for a conference title.

Is this the year Mayer Lutheran girls break through?

It’s no secret the Mayer Lutheran girls’ basketball team has been one of the best and most consistent girls basketball teams in the area the past few seasons. Over the last four seasons, the Crusaders have averaged almost 20 wins a season. In the past two seasons, the Crusaders have made it to the Section 4A semifinals both times, and lost in the title game once in the 2017-18 season.

Although the Crusaders have been one of the most consistent teams in the area, one team has had their number – Heritage Christian Academy. The Eagles have ended the Crusaders’ season each of the past three seasons.

The most surprising defeat of those three came in the Section 4A title game in 2018. Mayer Lutheran defeated the Eagles 82-56 in the regular season on their way to be the No. 1 seed that season. In the Section 4A title game, it was Heritage Christian who got the last laugh with a convincing 71-58 victory in the title game to advance to the state tournament.

If Mayer Lutheran wants to break through this season, the road will once again go through Heritage Christian, as they are once again one of the top teams in the section. Although the Eagles might be a bit down from the last two seasons (6-3 overall so far), they are still a well-coached team that can play well in big games.

I’m sure Mayer Lutheran head coach Kris Gustin is thrilled to no longer have to go up against HCA’s Taylie Scott anymore. She was one of the best players in the section, and always seemed to give the Crusaders fits in big games.

The Crusaders are off to a nice start this season in their quest to get over the hill. They sit at 10-1 overall, with some pretty impressive wins on their resumé already.

With a deep and balanced team all through the lineup, this could be the season the Crusaders break through. They haven’t been to the state tournament since 2001, and it will be exciting to see if they can get it done this season.

LP/HT boys in line for close to 20 wins this season

It’s been a rather odd start to the season for the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity boys basketball team. They are just 5-4 on the season thus far, but have the capability of getting hot and having a great season.

I fully expect the Bulldogs to make a run here in the second half of the season. With 15 games left on the schedule, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them rattle off 12 to 13 more wins in those games. The two games to watch will be against Mayer Lutheran and Watertown-Mayer.

I expect the Bulldogs to play their best basketball of the season coming up and take advantage of a soft conference schedule to rack up some wins. That could help them pick up a good seed for the postseason.

The Mayer Lutheran game will be a huge Section 2A matchup, and could determine a home game for the two teams depending on how the seeding process goes. The Crusaders and Bulldogs will meet Feb. 8 in Mayer.

Can Mayer Lutheran boys get healthy and back to dominance?

One of the strangest stories of the winter sports season so far has been the Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team. Coming into this week, the Crusaders are just 3-7 overall on the year.

If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that through the first 10 games of the season the Crusaders would have just three wins, I would call you crazy.

Injuries have killed the Crusaders so far. They’ve yet to play a game this year with their full lineup. Seniors Jacob Pallas has yet to play a game. Zander Flucas just returned this week in a limited role. Teigan Martin, their top scorer, has also missed a few games.

What’s weird about the Crusaders this season is that they are young. The past two seasons where we’ve seen them ranked in or near the Top 10 in Class A, they’ve had experience. Not this season.

It’s been fun to see young guys step in and gain experience. It will be interesting to see if they can get healthy at the right time, develop some chemistry together, and make another run in one of the toughest sections in Class A, if not the state.

Talking with coach Pat Buchanan after games this season, he’s alright with the losses early on. He wants his team to be healthy and ready come March. Wins should come for the Crusaders as they get healthy and come together. They’ll get a good look at where they are at when the No. 1-ranked team in Class A and undefeated BOLD comes to town Jan. 14 for a big Section 2A matchup. A win there could be huge for the Crusaders in so many ways.

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