State girls basketball: Wildcats set for battle
In the first quarterfinal of the Class 1A girls basketball tournament last year, Bethlehem Academy beat Upsala. The game may not have a spot in the memory of many fans outside of those schools as BA was soon relegated to the third-place game after a semifinal loss to eventual champion Minneota.
But those two teams are the only squads not returning to the field in 2014. Goodhue, who bounced Bethlehem Academy in the 1A-West sub-section quarterfinals, is taking one spot while Browerville will represent Section 5A after Upsala lost in the section quarterfinals.
Top-seeded Minneota will defend its title as No. 2 seed Maranatha Christian, No. 3 seed Mountain Iron-Buhl, Mankato Loyola and Win-E-Mac look to improve on 2013 runs that ended outside the finals.
Fourth-seeded Ada-Borup is also hoping to improve on a second-place showing in 2013, and it is fifth-seeded Goodhue who stands in the way.
The Wildcats are no strangers to state, but it’s been three years since Goodhue last played in the tournament.
As the No. 1-ranked team in the final poll, the Wildcats anticipated a seed. Goodhue head coach Josh Wieme said as much, though who the Wildcats ultimately were matched up against was kind of irrelevant.
“The one thing about this tournament is this group of teams, there were no surprises in the sections; the favorite won out every time,” Wieme said. “It’s the strongest of each section, and six of these teams were here last year – I thought we would get seeded, that’s what my answer was before. I thought we could have been seeded higher, but, overall, I don’t think there’s anyone we could duck. This is a deep, deep tournament field with eight very good teams.”
For its quarterfinal against Ada-Borup, Goodhue will face a team that likes to push the pace, which suits the Wildcats just fine. In fact, Wieme said he might even call off the press that the team uses to try and force the Cougars to up the tempo.
And unlike the Wildcats, Ada-Borup does not feature a main-scoring option. Monica Vega averages 11.6 points per game, and is the only Cougar in double digits. But scoring is not much of an issue for Ada-Borup as Shaina Stevenson, Heidi Eggen, Haley Gehrtz, Haley Poehler, Miki Lee and Lexi Merkens all average between 6.3 and 8.7 points per game.
That can make playing defense against the Cougars a bit easier as there is no worry about a game-changing talent. But the opposite is also true, with so many options, it could be hard for Goodhue to stop everyone.
“It’s nice (when there is one scorer), because Kali Ryan (is) our go-to girl to put on their stud and shut her down,” said Goodhue senior Mikayla Miller. “But I think all of our defenders are very capable of stopping the scoring. It should be to our advantage, I think.”
Miller is that kind of game-changing talent that forces other teams to pay close attention. Yet Miller, who averages 24.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.0 steals per game, can also go quiet at times. And it’s not because she’s not trying. Rather, as the season has gone on, other Wildcats have stepped up, highlighted by junior Shelby Hinsch (10.4 points per game), Ryan’s 7.3 as a senior, sophomore Michelle Hadler’s 6.1, and the 15 point-per-game combination of Megan Ryan, Sydney Lodermeier, Meredith Watson and Rachel Watson.
So if, on paper, the offenses cancel each other out, what could turn the tide of the game? Oddly, it could be the fact that it’s been a few years since the Wildcats played in the state tournament. There will be no recollection of what it was like to shoot at a basket inside Williams Arena.
When the two teams take the floor at 1 p.m. Thursday, it will be in a hockey building. Mariucci Arena was called into action this year due to college hockey taking time at Target Center this weekend.
And that might help the Wildcats.
“More than anything, I think you have to handle the stage, the big game, the nerves,” Wieme said. “I don’t know if the building will be a neutralizer at all. But I know that a couple of the girls mentioned they were glad that was the case since we’re new to the tournament. And anything that gives our girls confidence, I’m happy with.”