Posted On: 03/7/18 6:12 PM
Eight months ago, when news hit that former Austin star wing Both Gach would be transferring, the general thought was that the Packers were going to take a step back. The section felt potentially open again as teams like Northfield and Winona might be primed to take the next step.
Fast forward to now and it feels like Austin’s status as the top team in the section only strengthened. The Packers went 24-2 in the regular season, beating the likes of Totino-Grace, Forest Lake, Lakeville North and losing just twice in Big 9 play.
This one is obvious. The Packers are one of just two teams with a winning record in the section and beat Northfield, the other winning team in the section, in both meetings this season.
Austin is just different. The 1-2-2 press the Packers use is hard to prepare for and they come at teams in waves with their length and athleticism. They’ve got a terrific head coach in Kris Fadness and a great deal of experience. They can win playing uptempo or in grind-it-out fashion.
Duoth Gach is one of the most exciting players in the state and he’s been good as a senior, averaging better than 16 points per game. Tate Hebrink (10.5 points, 5.7 assists) is one of the best point guards in the state and the development of Moses Issa (12.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Medi Obang (13.3 ppg) gives the Packers even more firepower.
The Raiders might be the only team that has the talent and discipline to beat Austin. They’ve got a lot of experience in the backcourt — a key against a team that thrives on havoc as much as Austin does — and enough grinder-mentality kids that if they get into a slow-it-down, physical game, they can be a problem.
Alex Rasmussen is one of the best players in the section and Mason Zick is a junior forward to remember now and going forward. Throw in Mitchell Stanchina, Carter Hodapp and Blake Christensen and the Raiders have a fair amount of depth.
Chip and a Chair: Simley
The Spartans won just 10 games on the season yet earned the No. 3 seed. That shows how top-heavy this section is. It’s hard to imagine a team other than Austin and Northfield playing in the section final game but if something weird happens, Simley might be the team that makes it happen. Jake Binley and Isaiah Robinson form a lethal one-two punch and if those two can both get it going, they are capable of putting a scare into someone.
Austin has been better than anybody could have expected. Both Gach transferring out was supposed to hurt the Packers more than it did. There’s a lot more talent in that program’s pipeline than people know and it’s shown this season. Hebrink and Gach in the backcourt means the Packers will always have a chance to win and I trust those two along with the Packers’ overall athleticism to get them through the section tournament. Northfield has the athletes to make a potential section final game interesting as those two teams seem to always play good games against. But ultimately I think Austin just has a little more juice.