ROCHESTER -- The future of the Big Nine Conference is a competitive one.
But, in the here and now, there are a lot of underclassmen in need of some seasoning. And that comes with playing time, minutes that are accumulating as this season rolls on.
Take Saturday’s seventh-place in the Rochester Rotary Tournament. Red Wing, at times, had zero seniors on the floor. Rochester Mayo, who won 47-39, had a freshman shooting game-deciding free throws in the final minutes.
Younger players tend to be more inconsistent, as evidenced by the Wingers failing to score a field goal for minutes at a time in the second half. The Spartans were forced into late-game turnovers from a full-court press. So while the present leaves a bit to be desired, both teams will reap the rewards down the road.
“There were times where we didn’t have a senior on the floor,” said Red Wing head coach Dave Muelken. “We had an eighth-grader and two ninth-graders, a sophomore (and a junior) all on the floor together tonight. We’re young. And take Thursday night aside, we got better this week. (There were) a lot of positives the last two days.”
The good things started Friday against Rochester Century when the Wingers rebounded from a poor effort against Rochester Lourdes with a competitive game against the Panthers. That continued Saturday as Red Wing did everything in its power to overcome a hot start from Mayo.
“Effort,” Muelken said, “was not the problem.”
The issue, as was apparent the entire tournament, was the Wingers’ inability to knock down the open shot. Red Wing, who trailed 29-21 at halftime, failed to score at all for the first 4 minutes, 52 seconds of the second half. The Spartans, who hit six 3-pointers in the first half, opened their lead to 12 points before Red Wing could hit a field goal.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Red Wing junior, and daughter of the coach, McKenzie Muelken. “Like my dad says, he knows (sister McKayla) Bubba (Muelken) and I will be at the Y tomorrow … But he hopes to see 12 girls there. We have to shoot our way out of the zones. All teams have been playing zones against us, and we’ve got to shoot out of them so we can run motion. That’s our strength.”
McKenzie scored early and often, accounting for the first six of Red Wing’s points, and 11 of the Wingers’ first 20 points.
But the Spartans started to collapse on McKenzie, forcing the outside shooters to hit open shots. And that has become a problem for Red Wing.
“Like I said (Friday), we don’t have much for a margin of error,” coach Muelken said. “And offensively, it’s even smaller.”
McKenzie led the Wingers with 17 points and six rebounds while McKenzie Cota closed with 11 points and two steals. Kara Norvet, who had just one point, also had two steals and a team-high eight assists.
Red Wing (4-5) will take more than a week off before visiting Byron on Jan. 6.