1. Goodhue 28-4 last year, #1, favorite to repeat in Section 1A, favorite to win a 3-peat as state champion
OK, here’s the funny thing. Goodhue brings back a little more than 30 ppg from last year’s scoring averages. Just in Section 1A, Lyle/Pacelli returns 67 ppg and Hayfield 53. And, yet, here they are, the Goodhue Tigers, ranked #1 and favored to repeat all the way along the 2018 post-season. How can this be? Well, because Sydney Lodermeier and Emily Benrud are the best pair of defensive guards in the state.
Find the best pair of offensive guards in the state in Class A. Maybe that’s Taya and Teanna Hakamaki of Cromwell. Or, K’Lynn Lewis and Adiya Sandifer of St. Agnes. Or, Emma Schmidt and Anna Rinke. Or, Kelsea and Maci Lund. Or, whomever. If it’s a big enough game, I guarantee you that Lodermeier and Benrud will outscore them. Not over the course of the year. But in a head-to-head matchup in a big game. Section final. State tournament. Lodermeier and Benrud outplay anybody, and Goodhue wins.
2. Hayfield 23-6, #19 in Class AA
3. Lyle/Austin Pacelli 22-7, #10 in Class A
This can’t happen, really. The top 3 teams all from one section? What are the odds? But, on paper, that’s the way it is. Hayfield returns 3 double figure scorers—guard Carrie Rutledge, forward Olivia Matti, and post Maggie Streightiff. They hammered Goodhue early in the year and started 12-1. Their only losses were to Goodhue, Waseca, Kasson-Mantorville and Plainview-EM, until losing to Rochester Lourdes in the sections.
Hayfield defeated Lyle/Pacelli 45-38, but L/AP also only lost to gooood teams like Goodhue, Maranatha, GHEC, PEM and Cedar Mt. They return 6-4 Kristi Fett in the middle and veteran point guard Brooke Walter who, you might recall, guided them in their near-miss at state 3 years ago. So neither of these teams has far to go. If anybody can beat Goodhue, these are the teams with the best shot.
4. Heritage Christian 18-11, #18, favorite to win Section 4A
Free at last! From the oppressive yoke of Maranatha domination, that is. In case you haven’t heard, Maranatha is moving to AA, and Heritage is poised to move up. They return 6-1 Jordyn Allen, 5-11 Annika Simonson and point guard Taylie Scott. I think their spirit will soar all the way to a state final.
5. Bigfork 27-3, #4, favorite to win Section 7A
OK, out on a limb. Way out on a limb. Here’s another school that has been oppressed by Mountain Iron-Buhl’s excellence. But, like great teams everywhere, they’ve accepted the challenge to get better and they’ve gotten better. Now, there are 4 double-figure scoring starters returning, led by guard Kia Tower and forward Emma Rauzi. This might be their year.
6. Mountain Iron-Buhl 31-2, #2
9. Floodwood 14-8, unranked
14. Cromwell 27-5, #3
15. Cherry 18-8, unranked
24. Deer River 18-10, unranked
Could MIB’s 7-year run of state tournament appearances be over? Could be. But, with Mary Burke, Allie Negen and Macy Savela returning, won't go down without a fight. And, as coach Jeff Buffetta said at Williams Arena two Saturday afternoons ago, “There’s lots of little girls (in Mountain Iron and Buhl) who want to be like (Mya Buffetta and Chelsea Mason).”
But, somewhere along the way, Section 7A became the deepest section in the state. It turns out there’s lots of little girls in Bigfork, Cherry, Cromwell, Deer River, Floodwood, etc., who want to be like Mya Buffetta and Chelsea Mason, too.
Everybody’s back for Floodwood, led by freshmen (last year) Imijyn Thompson and Kennedi Johnson, who scored 25 ppg between them, while Mikayla and Ryann Koivisto provide a little more experience and 14 ppg. If you can’t compete with MIB, that’s your problem, right? Get better, they said! Well, the quality of girls hoops in the Arrowhead is only getting better and better. Cromwell. Bigfork. Floodwood. And, who can say it’s not due to MIB?
Maybe #18 is too low for Cromwell but the loss of Bailey Gronner and Chelsea Swatek is a big blow for the 2-time defending Section 5 champ. They’re back in Section 7A, too, where they’ll find a more competitive bunch than before. Still, Shailey, Taya and Teanna Hakamaki can and will bury a lot of 3s and win a lot of games. Just not as many as the past few seasons.
Last year Cherry started 3 9th graders and an 8th grader. Still another program on the rise on the Range. Meanwhile, almost everybody is back at Deer River led by juniors-to-be Hope Schjenken and Lucy Kadzor.
7. Ada-Borup 28-3, #7, favorite to win Section 6A
Here the oppressors win again! This will be their 10th state tournament appearance in 12 years, with state titles in 2008, 2009 and 2015. Guard Mariah McKeever, formerly of Win-E-Mac, and coach’s daughter Maddie Smart lead the way.
8. Southwest Christian 27-4, #5, favorite to win Section 3A
This would be their 3rd straight tournament appearance. Is a 1st round win finally in order? 4 double-digit scorers say, Yes! They are point guard Emily Nerem, also a defensive wiz; post Hannah Nerem; 3-point shooter Brooklyn DeKam; and guard Shayla Prins.
10. Wheaton 29-1, #8
25. Underwood 18-8, unranked
Unbeaten until the Section 6A final where Ada denied them a return trip to state. Point guard Emma Schmidt leads the way, along with guard Anna Rinke and center Brionna Edwards, all stars of that state tourney team of 2016. But, there’s not much depth after that, and Ada bars the way again.
Seniors-to-be Sydney Hovland and Breanna Tinjum lead the way at Underwood.
11. Menahga 21-6, unranked, favorite to win Section 5A
With Cromwell moving back to Section 7A, Menahga seems poised to succeed them in Section 5A. Juniors-to-be, guards Alyssa Peterson and Carrie Ahlf lead the way with 22 and 13 ppg.
12. Minneota 22-7, unranked
13. Lac Qui Parle Valley 19-9, unranked
19. BOLD 15-12, unranked
20. Wabasso 14-14, unranked
Section 3A is loaded. Minneota knocked off once-beaten, #1 seed Pipestone in fiendishly deep Section 3AA, then lost to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. But, now, they return to Class A where they made 5 straight state tournament appearances from 2011 to 2015, and won a state title with the great Taylor Reiss in 2013. And, not only that, but they have another great post, Lydia Sussner, a junior-to-be, who averaged 19 ppg-6 reb-2 blk-2 stl last year. They lost to SW Christian 82-77 last year. They can and will challenge SWC for the section title in 2018.
Section 3A is loaded with contenders. LQPV is a young team (starting an 8th, 3 10th and an 11th grader last year) that got better and eventually got to the Section 3A final vs. SW Christian. Point guard Kelsea Lund (the junior/senior-to-be) averaged 20 ppg-5 reb-4 ast-6 stl. 3 others averaged in double digits.
Junior-to-be Makenna Steffel leads the way for BOLD at 19 ppg, and Taylor Sagedahl added 12 ppg last year.
At Wabasso, junior-to-be center Maddy Guetter (17 ppg) is back in Wabasso. Only Ally Benz (14 ppg) is graduating.
16. Sleepy Eye 20-7, unranked, favorite Section 2A
Starters McKenzie Czelovski, Madi Heiderscheidt, Sarah Ibarra and Brianna Polesky, all seniors-to-be, return, and hope to return to state after an absence of one year.
17. Walker-Hackensack-Akeley 21-5, unranked
23. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 21-9, unranked
Everybody’s back for Walker-HA, beginning with sophomore-to-be point guard Bri Raddatz (17 ppg), Kate Benjamin (15 ppg) and Shelby Berg (11 ppg). At BBE, Hailey Braegelman (14 ppg-4 reb) is gone but everybody else is back from a team that surprised with a trip to the section final vs. Cromwell.
18. Mayer Lutheran 18-10, #20
Mya Chmielewski and Maddy Hucky return with their 17 and 13 ppg averages.
21. Grand Meadow 20-8, unranked
Lose just 1 senior who scored 5 ppg. Return junior-to-be guard Jordyn Glynn (15 ppg), sophomores-to-be, also guards, Riley Queensland and Isabelle Olson (12 and 7 ppg), and 2more juniors-to-be in guard Tyler Cotton (9 ppg) and Kaitlyn Hilton, who is, thank goodness, a forward (7 ppg). That’s a lot of points coming back.
22. Stephen-Argyle 21-6, unranked, favorite in Section 8A
Senior-to-be Autumn Thompson is one of the top guards in Class A with an average of 25 ppg and a high of 45. Sophomores-to-be Abi McGlynn and Savannah Riopelle are also back.
Possible State Tournament Matchups
#1 Goodhue vs. Menahga
#4 Ada vs. #5 SWC
#2 Heritage vs. Sleepy Eye
#3 Bigfork vs. Stephen-Argyle