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Posted On: 10/3/18 12:00 PM
The Gopher Conference houses some of the most consistent small-school programs in the state. It’s lost a number of extremely talented, all-time program type players in recent years. But with quality coaches and a steady influx of solid talent, the conference has remained competitive. The regular suspects figure to be at the top of the league again this year as Maple River, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown have dominated the league in recent years.
Favorite: Maple River
Maple River is one of the most consistent programs in Class AA and even when in a down year, the Eagles are no pushover. Maple River went 17-9 in the regular season but won three games in the section tournament before losing to Jordan in the Section 2AA final game. They’ll have a new crop of frontcourt players as Ethan Sindelir and Sam Bennett are gone to graduation but they return perhaps the best group of guards in the conference. Mason Sohre is a player-of-the-year candidate after averaging 14 points as a junior. Justin Caven gives them a second consistent scoring threat on the perimeter. Andrew Hoppe is back as well. The Eagles always have good players, they always have smart players and they always run good stuff.
In the Mix: New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown
WEM had to overcome massive personnel losses to graduation the year prior which meant the Buccaneers were extremely young and inexperienced last year. They finished the year on a solid note though, winning six of their final seven regular season games and nabbing a section win before bowing out to Springfield in the second round. Grant McBroom and Cole Cokoschke give the Bucs a very good duo on the wings as both guys were double-figure scorers as sophomores. Tanner Ranslow enters his third year as a starter and he’s a top-notch defender and solid shooter. And Bladyn Bartelt is in his third year on varsity and should be a steady presence on the perimeter too.
NRHEG will have to overcome the loss to star guar Benji Lundberg. But the Panthers had to overcome the loss of Oakley Baker the year before. There’s always talent in that program. Brady Agrimson is the key returner as he averaged 12 points and 5.5 rebounds a year ago in the ‘Robin’ role. Jacob Schuller will join him in the backcourt. Watch for Jake Stork and John Hoelscher as well. The Panthers won 24 games last year and while that might be a tough mark this winter, they’ll contend in the conference and their section.
Should Compete: Bethlehem Academy, Blooming Prairie
The Awesome Blossoms have a really nice looking junior class with three guys going into their third years as starters. Gabe Hagen was the team’s leading scorer a year ago and continues to expand his game playing on the AAU circuit. Karson Vigeland averaged 12 points per game last year. Kaden Thomas is an intriguing prospect on the wing. He averaged double figures last year as well and could put up big numbers this year.
Bethlehem Academy heads into the year with a senior backcourt with a combined eight years worth of starting experience in Jack Clark and Damon Trump. Neither has developed into a dominant player to this player but Trump does a little bit of everything well and Clark has the strength and athleticism to be a nightmare for opposing guards in the conference when he’s right. Zac VanThomme is back to provide some interior juice and Ethan Nutter was a solid perimeter player a year ago. The Cardinals will have a new coach on the sideline as Melissa Hager takes over for Eric Hildebrandt who was hired to the Faribault High School position.
Rebuilding: United South Central, Medford
The Rebels have a really good duo back in senior guard Colby Klocek and junior forward AJ Kloos which could lead to some improvement. Klocek averaged 16 points per game and is one of the most dynamic guards in the conference while Kloos is a big, strong, skilled forward who averaged 14.5 points and seven rebounds as a sophomore.
Medford won three games a year ago which was an improvement over the previous season. But the Tigers graduated just about every regular player. Noah Pirkl is back but the Tigers could be looking at another long winter.
18-19 Conference Predictions
Gopher All Conference
Mason Sohre, Sr, Maple River (POY)
Damon Trump, Sr, Bethlehem Academy
Grant McBroom, Jr., WEM
Brady Agrimson, Sr, NRHEG
Colby Klocek, Sr. USC
Cole Kokoscke, Jr., WEM
Gabe Hagen, Jr., Blooming Prairie
AJ Kloos, Jr., USC
Jack Clark, Sr., Bethlehem Academy
Justin Caven, Sr., Maple River
Tanner Ranslow, Sr., WEM
Kaden Thomas, Jr., Blooming Prairie
Jacob Schuller, Sr., NRHEG
Andrew Hoppe, Sr., Maple River
Bladyn Bartelt, Sr., WEM