Posted On: 03/18/18 3:01 PM
The state tournament field is set. Here’s a quick breakdown on each team in the field:
(1) Mayer Lutheran
The top seed in the tournament, the Crusaders beat Springfield courtesy of a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Cole Hagen in the section final game. Mayer Lutheran went into the year as a fringe top-5 team and racked up good wins over clubs like Cass Lake-Bena, Heritage Christian, Jordan, Maranatha and BOLD on its way to a 23-3 regular season record.
The Crusaders have all the ingredients of a state title winning club with an upperclassman-laden lineup, size up front, shooting and athleticism that few teams in the field can match.
Baden Noennig is one of the top juniors in the state and a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-6 while possessing guard skill. He averaged nearly 20 points in the section tournament after averaging just less than 18 points per game in the regular season.
He’s joined up front by 6-foot-7 senior Garrett Tjernagel who averaged 19.5 points per game in the section tournament after 11 in the regular season. Tjernagel is an active interior presence on both ends and helps key a strong defensive group.
Kobey Woolhouse is a solid perimeter scorer who averaged 14 points per game this season after averaging more than 17 as a junior. He’s taken on more of a facilitator role as a senior but is still more than capable of putting up big point totals as well.
The hero of the section final game, Cole Hagen, missed a big chunk of the season with an injury but when healthy, is one of the top shooters in the state.
The Crusaders will take on Mahnomen/Waubun in the first round of the tournament Thursday.
(2) North Woods
The 2017 state tournament runner-up and only returning state tournament team in Class A, North Woods earned the No. 2 seed thanks to a 25-1 regular season campaign and a dominant run through Section 7A. The Grizzlies won 28 games by double figures and 24 by more than 20. Their only loss was to Virginia — a fringe top-10 team in Class AA — and eclipsed 90 points 13 times.
Junior guard Cade Goggleye is their go-to guy and he’s proven throughout the year that he’s capable of piling up points in a hurry with his 3-point shooting and creativity. He’s averaging 22 points and 7.9 assists while knocking down 47 percent of his triples. He’s also arguably the team’s best perimeter defender and averaged more than five steals per game.
Tate Olson led the Grizzlies in scoring during last year’s state tournament run and he’s been excellent in his senior season too. He’s a strong guard who can create his own offense and fill it up from beyond the arc. He’s averaging nearly 15 points per game and shooting better than 41 percent from 3-point range.
Brendon Parson is another dead-eye shooter — as evidenced by his five made triples in the section final win — and sophomore forward Trevor Morrison provides an interior presence. He’s got a lot of room to work inside thanks to the abundance of shooting at the other four positions on the floor.
North Woods will take on Heritage Christian Academy to open the tournament Thursday.
(3) Cass Lake-Bena
The Panthers were an emerging team to watch heading into the season and have they ever emerged, going 25-1 in the regular season before cruising through the Section 8A tournament.
Cass Lake’s only loss on the year was a 54-52 loss to Mayer Lutheran in January on a neutral site. The Panthers also picked up good wins over the likes of Nevis (twice), Mahnomen/Waubun (twice by 29 points each time), Fosston and Ada-Borup.
Arnold Kingbird leads an offense that averaged better than 80 points per game. He averaged nearly 20 points per game in the section tournament and led the team in scoring during the season. He’s joined in the backcourt by fellow senior Noah DeLapaz who averaged about 18 points per game in sections.
Sophomore guard Jarell Jacobs is a young player to watch as he provides a third-head in their scoring attack.
Cass Lake-Bena will play Rushford-Peterson in the first round of the tournament Thursday.
RTR went 26-1 in the regular season and edged Minneota in the section 3A final on the way to state. The Knights knocked off defending section champs Central Minnesota Christian in the semifinals as well.
The best defensive team in the field, RTR allowed less than 45 points per game during the season and held opponents to 40 points or less 16 times. The Knights may not be explosive offensively but their pace and ability to execute efficiently means they are capable of wearing people down and grinding out wins.
Four guys average double figures led by senior forward Westin Kirk. Kirk averages 18 points and 8.2 rebounds. Junior forward Cooper Hansen is a player to watch as he routinely stuffs the stat sheet. He’s averaging 11 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. Garrett Kern adds 15 points per game and is the team’s top perimeter shooter (64 made 3-pointers in the regular season) while junior guard Carter Hansen averaged 11 points, five rebounds and four assists.
All four of those guys convert on more than 50 percent of their shots but none are particularly good 3-point shooters by the percentages. The Knights don’t pump up a lot of triples though either, rather they opt to jam the paint and get to the free throw line nearly 20 times per game.
The Knights take on No. 5 Hinckley-Finlayson to open the state tournament Thursday.
Hinckley-Finlayson was a top 10-15 team in Class AA a year ago, losing to eventual runner-up Crosby-Ironton in the section quarterfinals. Travis Visser is one of the top scorers in Class A and averaged roughly 20 points per game during the season. He’s a physical player inside and can score on sheer motor but also has the skills to take advantage of slow-footed bigs on the perimeter or in the mid-post area.
Anders Prater is another player to watch for the Jaguars as he was the team’s second leading scorer during the season.
The Jaguars lost just four games during the regular season — Esko, Virginia and Pine City were the only MN teams to beat them — and crushed every team in their section, winning by at least 18 in all four games.
Hinckley-Finlayson will take on No. 4 Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in the first round of state Thursday.
It took a little while for the Trojans to gain their collective footing, starting the year 3-3 with a couple weird losses. But since their host holiday tournament, they’ve gone 20-4 with just two losses to in-state competition. In that time, R-P picked up wins over teams like Caledonia, St. Charles and Spring Grove. The Trojans proceeded to roll through the section tournament, beating Spring Grove by 36 in the section final game.
R-P won’t wow anyone with offensive firepower or flair, but the Trojans will run efficient offense and incredibly tough defense. They’ve got great balance offensively with six guys capable of scoring double-figures routinely. Senior big man Ben Ansell is the closest thing to a go-to guy if they’ve got one and he was terrific in the section final game, scoring 29 points. Jacob Paulson and Landon Skalet both average double figures as well and Payton Hahn provides production without needing a lot of shots.
The Trojans will take on Cass Lake-Bena in the first round of state Thursday.
Heritage Christian Academy
The surprise team in the field, Heritage Christian went just 9-17 in the regular season before rattling off four straight wins to emerge the Section 4A champs. The Eagles knocked out top-seeded CHOF in the semifinals before beating Mounds Park Academy in the section final.
Senior guard Seth Halvorson saved his best for last, averaging 22.5 points per game in the section tournament and scoring 26 in the win over MPA. Halvorson averaged 18 points per game during the season.
Ben Allen’s upped his scoring average in the postseason as well, averaging 16 points in the four wins after putting up 10.5 points per game during the season. He scored 23 in the win over CHOF, knocking down three 3-pointers.
HCA takes on second-seeded North Woods to open the state tournament Thursday.
Mahnomen/Waubun was the No. 4 seed in the north subsection of Section 6A, yet top-seeded Norman County East and top-seeded Hancock on its way to the state tournament.
The Thunderbirds went 14-11 in the regular season, losing to state tournament teams like Cass Lake-Bena twice, Breckenridge and quality teams like Ada-Borup and Fosston.
Senior guard Dion Bower and junior guard Parker Syverson lead an offensive attack that is predicated on spreading people out, getting to gaps and kickout 3-pointers.
The Thunderbirds will face top-seeded Mayer Lutheran in the first round of state Thursday.