Posted On: 11/14/17 10:06 AM
The Northland Conference has long-been a very competitive Class A conference that has seen a number of teams make State Tournament appearances in recent years, and last year was no different, with two teams from the conference reaching the State Tournament.
Nevis and Red Lake had stellar seasons, both losing in the state quarterfinals, with Red Lake’s loss coming to eventual State Champion, Minneapolis North.
Despite those two teams each losing a star to graduation and collegiate basketball, Griffin Chase of Nevis is now at Bemidji State and Rob McClain of Red Lake is now at United Tribes Technical College, both teams look to be contenders for the conference title again this year.
A mix of proven, returning players, and newcomers looking to have big years for various other teams will make the upcoming season very interesting in the Northland Conference.
Favorites: Nevis, Cass Lake-Bena
After a very successful season that ended with a 73-65 loss to Springfield in the State Quarterfinals, the Nevis Tigers have the bar set high for the upcoming season. With 6 of their top 8 players returning from a year ago, coach Scott Kramer says “we want to make another run at conference and section titles.”
The Tigers graduated 2016-2017 Conference MVP, 2,000+ point scorer, Griffin Chase, who is now a freshman at Bemidji State University. Scoring punch and three-point shooting could be a concern this season according to Kramer, but with the returning group led by Michael Landquist, the cupboard is not bare.
Other names to watch for Nevis this season are Jack Landquist, Tom Wormley, and Zach Henry. If this group can stay healthy and produce, look for Nevis to make a run at another State Tournament trip.
A season ago, the Cass Lake-Bena Panthers were once again on the doorstep of the State Tournament, losing in the section finals and finishing with a 24-5 record. They bring back seven contributors from last season, and their sights are set high. Head coach Alvin Wind says the expectations are State Championship or bust.
There is a core of five players that will lead the Panthers this season. Noah Delapaz and Arnold Kingbird each averaged around 15 PPG, Jared Brown and Ethan Brown scored 12 PPG, and Jerell Jacobs chipped in 9 PPG and 7 REB last season.
Just for good measure, their JV squad has only lost 1 game over the last two seasons, their bench players are eager and capable of contributing as well. The expectations of Coach Wind seem like they could be within reach for this squad.
Contenders: Red Lake, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley
Red Lake graduated a star from a season ago, All-Tournament Team selection, Rob McClain. Fellow Red Lake graduate, Robert Beaulieu, joins McClain on the roster of United Tribes Technical College this season. Pair that with the graduation of Jamie Cook, and Red Lake lost a large chunk of production from last season.
Returning for Red Lake this season will be Kendall Whitefeather, who will be looked to for more production, and is capable of providing it. Fellow senior, Brady Cook, will also be another name to watch for Red Lake this winter.
After a solid 2016-2017 season was ended by eventual Section Champion, the Nevis Tigers, the WHA Wolves are looking to compete for the Northland Conference and Section Titles.
They return a pair of 2016-2017 All-Conference selections, and quality leaders in seniors Nathaniel Armstrong and Edgar Anderson. Armstrong is one of the better all-around athletes that you will see in the conference, and is a two-time All-Conference pick.
Lack of experience is a concern for the Wolves, and they will look to a pair of juniors, Cole Nelson and Seth Djernes, and sophomore Cole Rasmussen to provide depth.
If the Wolves can get a breakout season from one or two of those three, paired with the proven seniors Armstrong and Anderson, look for them to potentially compete for a conference title.
The Rest: Pine River-Backus, Northome-Kelliher, Blackduck, Laporte
The Pine River-Backus Tigers have high hopes for an improved 2017-2018 season. They return three players with considerable varsity experience, led by senior guard Nick Ackerman. Ackerman had a solid all-around year last season, averaging 13.3 PPG and 6.9 REB. Says coach John Riewer “Nick is our leader, all-around solid high school basketball player, nothing flashy, just gets the job done.”
Other key returning players are junior Torry Hirschey (10.1 PPG) and Brady Raph (8.7 PPG). Their offensive development this year will key. “Torry has the potential to a great offensive scorer, a great slasher and driver to the basket” says Riewer. Regarding Raph, coach Riewer says “Brady is one of the best 3-point shooters in the area, we expect him to have a big year offensively.”
The key to success will be the Tigers’ ability to stay healthy this season. They will not be a very deep team, and will need solid contributions from varsity newcomers.
Last season, Northome-Kelliher improved their record to 15-12 in their second year under head coach David Olson. Now in his third season, Coach Olson says the team is now really grasping the offense, their defense will be their strong-suit, and a lot of their success will hinge on their ability to consistently shoot the ball from deep.
They graduated three starters from last season, but return two solid players to build around this season. Junior point guard, Adnew Steuven, is a speedy playmaker who averaged 12.4 PPG, 4 AST, and 3.3 STL last season. He will be joined by senior big-man, Clyde Jensen, who averaged 5.2 PPG and 5.6 REB.
A season ago, the Blackduck Drakes were a young team, with only two seniors on the roster. Injuries to key players never allowed them to get into a rhythm throughout the year, and they struggled to a 6-21 finish.
They may have been young last year, but will be even younger this year. There will not be a senior on the roster this year, and returning juniors Kobe Arp, Mark Kingbird, Brody Savich, and Zach Rowe all gained valuable experience last season.
Keep an eye on sophomore, Dylan Moen, as big things are expected from him going forward in his career. With the experience gained from last season, and the addition of a few talented underclassmen, the Drakes hope to be a tough out come playoff time.
The Laporte Wildcats finished below their expectations last year, and graduated their leading rebounder. This season they look to make their way out of the bottom of the conference, led by Riley Kline.
With the deeper, explosive rosters of Cass Lake, Nevis, at the top of the conference, it will be a struggle once again for the Wildcats this season.
- Cass Lake-Bena
- Red Lake
- Pine River-Backus
Noah Delapaz – Cass Lake-Bena – Sr.
Michael Landquist – Nevis – Jr.
Arnold Kingbird – Cass Lake-Bena – Sr.
Kendall Whitefeather – Red Lake – Sr.
Nathaniel Armstrong – Walker-Hackensack-Akeley – Sr.
Nick Ackerman – Pine River-Backus – Sr.
Adnew Steuven – Northome-Kelliher – Jr.
Torry Hirschey – Pine River-Backus – Jr.
Jared Brown – Cass Lake-Bena – Jr.
Tom Wormley – Nevis – Sr.
***Photo Credit: The Bemidji Pioneer***