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Posted On: 11/21/18 10:00 AM
It’s going to be a fun year in Class A as there are as many state-tournament caliber teams and high-end individual players as there have been in a long time. Here are some storylines I’m particularly intrigued to see play out over the course of the winter.
Section 1: Can Spring Grove take it to the next level?
Spring Grove has been one of the top teams in Class A for what feels like a decade now but there’s one feather still missing from the program’s proverbial cap: a state tournament berth. The Lions don’t have an dominant individual player on the level of Chase Grinde, but they’ve got a terrific core of returners and if there’s a team that can get exorcise the Rushford-Peterson demon, it’s this version of Spring Grove. Ethan Matzke is a year further removed from knee surgery and should be in for a dominant senior season while Alex Folz heads into his fourth year as a starting point guard. Throw in a number of talented complementary guys and the Lions will win 25 or so games and their league. Can they win four section games?
Section 2: Is Section 2 the best in the state again?
Section 2 didn’t produce a state champion last year, but it undoubtedly had two of the three or four best teams in Class A, plus a handful more top-15 caliber clubs. Mayer Lutheran, last year’s section champ, heads into something of a retooling year though the Crusaders will still be strong because of Baden Noennig. The frontrunners this time around are Springfield (again) and BOLD. The Tigers looked like a legitimate state title contender a year ago and will be among the favorites again as Isaac Fink and Decker Sheffler form a lethal 1-2 punch. BOLD won 22 games last year and nearly knocked off Mayer Lutheran in the section semifinals and returns an extremely talented core led by Gavin Vosika and Carter Henry. Both those teams figure to contend for a state title if they can get to the tournament. The road there won’t be easy though as Minnesota Valley Lutheran, New Ulm Cathedral and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown all figure to be strong.
Section 3: If Section 2 isn’t the best, Section 3 is
Section 3 seems to fly under the radar a bit throughout the season and I suspect some of that is even by outstate standards, those teams are really out there. They are worth paying attention to though because there’s a whole bunch of really good clubs. Last year, 10 teams won at least 15 games. Russell-Tyler-Ruthton won 33 including the state championship. RTR will be really good again this winter though the team to beat in that section might be Minneota as Jacob and Thomas Hennen are both back to lead the Vikings. Dawon-Boyd’s got an excellent group back after winning 20 games. Southwest Christian is going to be really good too.
Section 4: Who are the contenders?
Section 4 was wild last year with the top two seeds – CHOF and Prairie Seeds Academy – both losing in the second round of the section tournament. Heritage Christian struggled throughout the year, winning just nine games in the regular season before rattling off four straight to get to state. There’s a lot of of turnover in that section this year but CHOF looks like the most likely frontrunner at this stage.
Section 5: How good is Cromwell-Wright?
Cromwell won 23 games and reached the section final last year. Even better, the Cardinals return a majority of that core including the dynamic guards Micah and Marcus Pocernich. Cromwell will win 20-plus games again but are the Cards good enough to win a section title and potentially do damage at state? Last year, they beat up on weaker competition and lost by an average of 16 points in their seven losses. They’ll win a bunch of games throughout the season. Can they beat teams that have size or athleticism advantages like Nevis and Hickley-Finlayson?
Section 6: After a surprise state tourney berth last year, will Mahnomen be even better this year?
Section 6 was a bit of a minefield last year with Mahnomen/Waubun pulling several upsets on the way to a state tournament berth. The Thunderbirds went 14-11 in the regular season which certainly isn’t bad. But they could be much better this winter as key starters Jayden Heisler, Parker Syverson, Treston Spalla and Jon Starkey are all back.
Section 7: Can anybody make North Woods sweat?
North Woods has won the last two section titles with an average margin of victory of 47.2 points per game. The Grizzlies beat Ely by 32 in the section championship last year. North Woods isn’t tested often during the season as it is, and this version of the Grizzlies figures to be incredibly good once again. But there are some teams with quality returning talent like Wrenshall and Ely. North Woods will be the heavy favorite to win the section agan. Can someone make give them a game?
Section 8: Will someone other than Ada-Borup or Cass Lake-Bena contend?
Ada and Cass Lake met in the section final last year and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if those two teams were the final two standing in Section 8 again this season. The Cougars return a solid core with Mason Miller, Tommy Stewart and Jared Brainard off a 23-win campaign while Cass Lake-Bena brings back two key guys in Jarell Jacobs and Ethan Brown off a 30-win season that culminated in a state tourney berth. Win-E-Mac won 17 games and returns one of the best bigs in the section in Brekken Lindberg. The Patriots might the team best equipped to take down one of the favorites. Sacred Heart won 23 games last year and returns several key guys. Blackduck could be improved as well.