Waconia. Waconia was the favorite of the event and they played like the favorite winning their opener vs K-M by 13, beating Mpls Henry by two scores, and beat Fridley in the final by five points. Waconia is one of these programs that every year you can count on them being good. If they lose three starters there is depth to replace the graduated talent. Joey Kortuem is the program flag bearer now and he showed that off with five treys in the championship game. Watch out for working wing sophomore Nick Fulford. Highly efficient versatile player that competes hard on both ends plus he had the score that put the Cats over the edge. Waconia has an excellent backcourt that goes three deep and that will be their identity but solid at forward too.
Fridley. I was really caught off guard by how gelled and confident as a team the Tigers were. They confidently handled both Mankato West and Delano who are programs with really good players. Fridley is deeper than I expected plus Tessy Pal played like “the big man on campus”. Everything about Tessy was confidence including the way he went head to head versus Jake Dale and won the match-up with a pair of late game sequences: steals ball in post and goes other way to face-up from 14-feet, attack and get And1, also scored with back to basket late and then secured the d-board in traffic sealing the victory. Tigers were down big to Waconia but battled back within a basket before running out of steam in the final.
Mpls Henry. This is a team that played a lot of basketball as a full roster all spring and summer and their performance showed that. The Patriots blew out Hill-Murray in an eye opening performance handling the Pioneers by 22 points. In the semi-final they lost to Waconia after leading most of the game. The Patriots were up a dozen at one point but couldn’t hold back the late game charge of the Cats. Then, with only five guys remaining from the earlier games, Henry beat Delano 50-42 to got 2-1 on the weekend and really earn a lot of respect.
Delano. Oh that coveted third place game loss. It’s like a slap in the face for doing well early. The Tigers had a really nice win over Mankato East by 13 points but then lost to both Henry and Fridley by eight points each. I think Delano is going to have a really nice year. They have one of the more committed and hardest working coaches in Class AAA in Terry Techam plus one of the top 2016 D2 recruits in Minnesota in Matt Kreklow. The Delano player everybody was raving about in Maple Grove was sophomore guard Calvin Wishart who dazzled the crowd with his playmaking abilities. With experienced size in Logan Pulis and Nick Cayler joining Kreklow up front and Wishart handling the ball this could be a very dangerous team come March.
Mankato East. This was a weekend the Cougars could go home smiling about. Sure they didn’t perform well against Delano but East outran their rivals Mankato West and then blew the doors off of Hill-Murray. Krisean Coffee is a name that all of the Big Nine and Class AAA should get to know. He moved to Mankato in April from Illinois and will be their top producer this year. Add in sophomore talent Damani Hayes and senior CJ Ayers on the wing spots along with Coffee and you have a group of three that is athletic, tough, physical, and versatile. There will be few schools on their schedule that can defend East well at the two, three, AND four spots with that group.
Hill-Murray. The Pioneers beat K-M by eight in the second game for their event highlight. That said, the losses to Minneapolis Henry and Mankato East were at times quite uncompetitive (losses by 22 and 26 respectively) and with guys like Simeon Davis and Chris Moore returning as the second and third leading scorers from last year they shouldn’t loss to teams like that by that big of a margin. They are better than their scores showed. The weekend was big for the Pioneers who learned what steps need to be taken.
Kasson-Mantorville. Braxton Raymond is their standout, that is known. His talent alone with keep them at .500 this year in their conference which is mostly Class AA teams. What will his teammates do? That is what is being developed. With so many new guys coming in this was a good experience for the Komets culminating in a win over Mankato West in the last game. They struggled with the scoring punch of Hill-Murray and the event champion Waconia simply had too much talent. Overall, this was a big learning experience for K-M.
Mankato West. The Scarlets going zero for three was really a surprise. An even bigger surprise was that they lost all games by double figures. This is a team on a short list (with JM, Red Wing, Northfield, now East) as potential Big Nine champions for 15-16 with JM being the clear favorite. NHR isn’t sure if West was without some depth but they had a tough weekend.