Well, we got a couple dozen conference previews done and about half of the sections. Not all the previews we would have liked. But we’ve got to squeeze in the grand finale of pre-season prognosticating, which is our statewide preview or previews of Class A, Class AA, Class AAA and Class AAAA. Right here, right now—Class A.
Class A has been the province of a few dominant teams in recent years, and that trend should continue in 2018. 2-time defending state champion is our pre-season #1. 2-time defending section champion SW MN Christian is the favorite in Section 3A. Ada is favored to repeat in Section 6. Cromwell and Mountain Iron-Buhl will battle it out in Section 7.
But Maranatha moves up to Class AA so for the 1st time in almost a decade, the Mustangs will not be Section 4A champions. And MIB faces probably its toughest challenge in at least 7-8 years in 7A. So, overall Class A will be a little more wide open than it’s been, but you could still end up with Ada, Goodhue and MIB in the semis.
Pre-Season Top 25
1. Goodhue projected Section 1A champion (28-4 last year, def. Mt. Iron-Buhl 73-51 for state title)
4. Hayfield (23-6, lost to Rochester Lourdes 65-49 in Section 1AA)
5. Lyle/Austin Pacelli (22-7 last year, lost to Goodhue 52-43 in section final)
Goodhue and Lyle/Pacelli have had a rip-snorting rivalry in Section 1AA these past couple of years, and both return top 5 talent again for 2017-2018. Then, add Hayfield to the mix after moving down from Class AA, and you’ve again got the toughest section in Class A.
Goodhue returns powerful combo guard Sydney Lodermeier and a stifling perimeter defense that doubles and disrupts and turns you over and renders offenses as good as Maranatha’s and MIB’s ineffectual in big games.
Lyle/Pacelli and Hayfield feature powerful, multi-faceted offenses. LP goes inside to 6-5 MS-Mankato recruit Kristi Fett, while 5-6 guard Brooke Walter drains ‘em from downtown. 5-6 junior Abi Bollingberg also averaged in double figures last year. 5-11 post Maggie Streightiff, 5-9 forward Olivia Matti, and point guard Carrie Rutledge did the same for Hayfield.
Lyle/Pacelli gave Goodhue its toughest game each of the past 2 post-seasons, but the Athletics also lost to Hayfield during the regular season. So it will be interesting and it is not a slam dunk.
2. Heritage Christian projected Section 4A champion (18-11 last year, lost to Maranatha 70-62 in section final
With nemesis Maranatha moving up to Class AA, Heritage Christian becomes a solid favorite in Section 4A. Point guard Taylie Scott has played and won at the highest levels of summer ball. 6-0 senior Annika Simonson is an incredibly versatile player, moving from power forward to play the point guard from time to time. 6-1 sophomore Jordyn Allen adds even more size.
3. Bigfork projected Section 7A champion (27-3, lost to MIB 71-54 in section final)
6. Mountain Iron-Buhl (31-2, lost to Goodhue 73-51 in state final)
10. Cherry (18-8, lost to Bigfork 67-48 in section QF)
MIB has 7 straight section titles and has been state runner-up twice. So you’d have to consider it going out on a limb to pick Bigfork as the Section 7A champion this year. But, the Huskies of Bigfork return all 5 starters and 6 contributors, 4 of whom scored in double figures. Junior point guard Kia Tower and senior wing Haley Grover lead the way.
MIB lost 5-year starting guards Mya Buffetta and Chelsea Mason, but returns bigs Mary Burke and Allie Negen and their 28 points and 18 boards between them. Much depends on the development of junior point guard Macy Savela. Coach Jeff Buffetta expresses great confidence that she can do the job.
Cherry returns a dynamic guard duo in sophomores Kaelynn Kudis and Karlee Grondahl, plus freshman post Jessalynn Schroetter. Their years might be 2018 and 2019, but I don’t see how you can rule them out now.
7. Ada-Borup/Norman County West projected Section 6A champion (28-3, lost to Maranatha 67-65 OT in state QF)
9. Wheaton-Herman-Norcross (29-1, lost to Ada 50-44 in section final)
Ada and Wheaton would appear to be headed for a Section 6A final showdown for the 3rd straight year. The underdog has won each time. Ada returns junior point guard Mariah McKeever, younger sister of Madison McKeever, who led Win-E-Mac to a state title in 2013. But, then, dad, an educator, got hired by the Ada district and the younger McKeever quickly became the Cougars leader and best player, certainly its quickest. Forwards Brooklyn Erickson and Kora Kritzberger also return.
Wheaton is also led by point guard Emma Schmidt, who is stronger and just as quick as McKeever. Post Brionna Edwards and guard Anna Rinke also return.
8. Southwest MN Christian projected Section 3A champion (27-4, lost to MIB 65-49, state QF)
11. Lac Qui Parle Valley (20-10, lost to SWC 64-53 in section final)
The Eagles look to make it a 3-peat in Section 3A, and should be able to pull it off, even though 5-time section champion Minneota (2011-2015) now bounces back down to 3A after 2 years in Class AA.
But the Eagles main threat is last year’s sectional finalist Lac Qui Parle with point guard extraordinaire Kelsea Lund and 6 of their top 7 players back. All told, they’ve got 74 ppg returning, the most of any Class A team in the state. Which raises the question of how in the world this team lost 10 games last year.
But the Eagles return some talent, too, including point guard Emily Nerem, one of the top ball defenders around; shootings Brooklyn DeKam and Jazlyn Prinz; and post Hannah Nerem.
12. Menahga projected Section 5A champion (23-6, lost to Cromwell 78-40 in sectional final)
17. Walker-Hackensack (21-6, lost to Verndale in section 1st round)
Menahga is good enough to win in a section weakened by the return of 2-time champion Cromwell to Section 7A. The Braves return an amazing junior class of guards, at least 5 of them, led by Alyssa Peterson. If any of them was bigger than 5-8, they’d be top 10 material.
Walker-Hack returns, well, everybody. There were no seniors on last year’s roster. Post Katie Benjamin leads the way.
13. Sleepy Eye projected Section 2A champion (21-8, lost to Cedar Mt.-Comfrey 53-39 in section SF)
18. BOLD (15-13, lost to Sleepy Eye 69-44 in section QF)
Sleepy Eye returns senior guards Madi Heiderscheidt, Sarah Ibarra and Brianna Polesky, plus forwards Mya Ibberson and McKenzie Czelovski. BOLD is building around 5-11 junior Makenna Steffel and 5-10 sophomore Makayla Snow.
14. Cromwell (27-5, lost to Goodhue 70-48 in state SF)
15. Floodwood (19-10, lost to Bigfork 58-47 in section SF)
After losing in the state final last year, MIB coach Jeff Buffetta praised his senior guards Mya Buffetta and Chelsea Mason and said, “There’s little girls all over Mountain Iron and Buhl who want to be like Mya Buffetta and Chelsea Mason.” Truth is, there’s little girls all over the Iron Range who want to be like Mya Buffetta and Chelsea Mason. It makes his life a little more difficult, sure, but coach Buffetta couldn’t be happier.
In Cromwell, you’ve got guards Taya, Teeana and Shailey Hakamaki all returning with double digit scoring averages, and yet the 2-time state tournament participant is just #4 in the section this year? Yikes. In Floodwood they’ve got Mikayla and Ryann Koivisto, Imijyn and C.J. Thompson and they’re #5? Well, they are all guards.
16. Mayer Lutheran (18-10, lost to Heritage 60-45 in section QF)
The Crusaders have guards Mya Chmielewski and Maddy Hucky back.
19. Minneota (22-7, lost to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 62-55 in Section 3AA SF)
21. Red Rock Cenral (25-4, lost to SWC 97-67 in section SF)
25. Wabasso (14-14, lost to Lac Qui Parle 64-51 in section QF)
The #3, 4 and 5 contenders in Section 3A and Minneota and Red Rock, at least, are bona fide. Minneota got to the 3AA semi-final last year. 5-9 post Lydia Sussner may be small for her position but she dominates out there on Minnesota’s west coast. Red Rock is led by junior forward Vanessa Kedl, and Wabasso features juniors, post Maddy Guetter and forward Jenna Frank.
20. Stephen Argyle projected Section 8A champion (21-6, lost to Northern Freeze 53-39 in section QF)
There does not appear to be a powerhouse up on the frozen tundra of Section 8A. The top individual is Stephen-Argyle guard Autumn Thompson, so we’ll go with her team.
22. Underwood (18-7, lost to Hancock 51-41 in section 1st round)
23. Grand Meadow (19-9, lost to Lyle/Pacelli 57-22 in section QF)
24. Pine River-Backus (22-6, lost to Menahga 58-43 in section QF)
Dark horses in Sections 6, 1 and 5, respectively. Underwood features seniors Sydney Hovland and Brenna Tinjum. Grand Meadow features junior guard Jordyn Glynn. Pine River features juniors Alyssa Semmler and Bailey Wynn.
Possible State Tournament Matchups
#1 Goodhue vs. Menahga
#4 Ada-Borup/NCE vs. SW MN Christian
#2 Heritage vs. Sleepy Eye
#3 Bigfork vs. Stephen-Argyle
This field lacks the glamour of past Class A fields, but it would be competitive. #4 vs. #5 should be competitive. SW Christian would have the speed to disrupt Ada a bit. And the upper bracket might be wide open because Sleepy Eye and Stephen have tournament experience, Heritage and Bigfork do not.
Still, I’d go with Goodhue vs. Ada and Heritage vs. Bigfork in the semis. And, hey, these are my seeds, so I gotta go with Goodhue and Heritage in the final. Goodhue will be too strong for any Class A opponent in the final.