Posted On: 10/1/18 4:00 PM
The HVL is one of the top small-school leagues in the state with several teams that could make appearances in the Class A or AA polls at varying points in this upcoming season. Here’s what you need to know:
Top Ten In State: Lake City
The Tigers were one of the best teams in Class AA last season, winning 22 games and a share of the HVL Title — though Byron played for the official conference championship game due to league rules — while earning the No. 2 seed in Section 2AA. Lake City lost to Byron before getting a chance to face Caledonia again for a trip to the state tournament but the Tigers will certainly have a team capable of getting there again this year.
Nate Heise and Reid Gastner head into their third years as starters and while they’ve been very good players as underclassmen, their upperclass years should be a headache to deal with for the rest of the league. Heise is an elite shooter and averaged 17 points per game as a sophomore while Gastner (12 points per game in 17-18) is a physical presence with a budding perimeter skillset. Jake Wohlers returns after averaging six points per game as a sophomore and he could very well join them to form quite the Big 3. Josh Matanich is back as well and there is always talent waiting in the wings in the Lake City program.
Lake City will start the year ranked somewhere in the 7-12 range depending on the poll. Expect 20-plus wins and another extended postseason run for this group.
Conference Contenders: Rochester Lourdes, Stewartville
Rochester Lourdes won 13 games last year in what was viewed as something of a retooling season. The Eagles will go into this year with much higher expectations and contending for a conference title and top-four seed in their section looks achievable. The starting backcourt of Matthew Hayford and Antewan Webber is back after averaging nearly a combined 30 points per game and Colin Meade (15.5 points per game as a sophomore) is a player to watch inside. Oliver Dahlberg and Pat Leary both return as well to give the Eagles a lot of size, depth and experience.
Want evidence to the notion that Section 1AA was the best in the state last year? Stewartville won 17 games and was the No. 7 seed. The Tigers look formidable again heading into this season as two of their top players are back. Will Tschetter led the team in scoring as a freshman and looks like one of the elite prospects in the 2021 class after a very strong showing on the AAU circuit over the summer. At 6-foot-8, his inside-outside ability makes him a potential player of the year guy in the conference. Hunter Voigt averaged 10 points a night a year ago and returns as well.
Competing with Most: Pine Island, Goodhue, Zumbrota-Mazeppa, Kasson-Mantorville, Cannon Falls
Pine Island won just nine games last season but after having its own ‘best season in school history’ the year prior, it faced a number of schools that had their own bests last winter. Jacob Weber heads into his third year as a starter for the Panthers after averaging 16 points per game last season. He’s one of the best wing players in the conference and a solid college prospect. Josh Navratil and Carter O’Reilly join him as a returning starters. Navratil averaged better than 10 points a night last winter.
Goodhue underwent wholesale roster changes after consecutive state tournament trips and the Wildcats did not go without growing pains. They lost eight games by eight points or less and with the way they control pace, execute and defend, it’s hard to see them having another bad season. Sam Opsahl is one of the best players in the conference and enters his third year as a starter. Dawson Evenson and Carson Benda are back as well.
Cannon Falls brings back big man Isaac Illa who averaged 11 points per game as a junior and a potentially dynamic junior backcourt pairing in Felix Agyeman and Drew Otte.
Kasson-Mantorville and Zumbrota-Mazeppa both won state title in wrestling last year and are two of the most established programs in those sports. Z-M had one of its best seasons in school history on the hardwood as well but the Cougars graduate a massive senior class. Zach Hutton returns after averaging about nine points per game as a sophomore and Nathan Mensink was a rotation guy a year ago. K-M might have a very nice looking backcourt in Easton Knoll and Jace Bigelow, but there’s a lot of unknown with both clubs.
Rebuilding: Hayfield, Triton, Byron, Kenyon-Wanamingo
Hayfield has a chance to be much improved after winning five games a year ago. The Vikings have a solid duo back in senior guard Mason Tapp and junior forward Lucas Dudycha who both averaged better than 12 points per game. Patrick Towey averaged nine points per game as a sophomore and Ethan Slaathaug is a guy to watch going forward after playing well as a freshman.
Byron had one of its best seasons in school history but will have to overcome wholesale personnel changes with a massive senior class gone to graduation. Caleb Christenson is back but he’s the only regular with varsity experience.
Triton brings back Drew Kelly, who averaged 13.5 points per game as a junior but the Cobras won 10 games and graduated quite a few seniors. Kenyon-Wanamingo lost a big number of seniors as well, and won just one game a year ago.
18-19 Conference Predictions
HVL All Conference
Nathan Heise, Jr., Lake City (POY)
Sam Opsahl, Jr. Goodhue
Reid Gastner, Jr., Lake City
Colin Meade, Jr., Rochester Lourdes
Jacob Weber, Sr., Pine Island
Will Tschetter, Soph., Stewartville
Mason Tapp, Sr., Hayfield
Matthew Hayford, Sr., Rochester Lourdes
Antewan Webber, Sr., Rochester Lourdes
Jace Bigelow, Soph., Kasson-Mantorville
Lucas Dudycha, Jr., Hayfield
Drew Kelly, Sr., Triton
Isaac Illa, Sr., Cannon Falls
Hunter Voigt, Sr., Stewartville
Jake Wohlers, Jr., Lake City