Girls Basketball: Toivonen takes controlRed Wing senior finds new passion on the basketball court to help guide Wingers to state tourney and is the 2011-12 Republican Eagle All-Area girls basketball Player of the Year.
By: Chris Harrell, The Republican Eagle
Marisa Toivonen played her best at the biggest moments.
She helped put the Red Wing girls basketball team into the Class 3A girls state basketball tournament with 27 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks in a 75-61 win against Kasson-Mantorville in the Section 1AAA finals.
She tallied 19 points and eight rebounds against state runner-up Richfield during the first round of the state tournament.
She snagged 21 rebounds in a game against Holy Family in December — a game the Wingers played without juniors Tesha Buck and Macy Kelly — and followed that with a 27-point, 15-rebound performance against Hastings the next game.
If you ask Red Wing head coach Dave Muelken, Toivonen getting left off the first and second all-state teams was a joke, but for her consistency and ability to lead the Wingers at crucial moments, the 5-foot-9 inch senior is the 2011-12 Republican Eagle All-Area girls basketball Player of the Year.
“We played 30 games and a lot of those against 4A schools. Marisa was the best player on the floor,” Muelken said. “There were just times she said, ‘We’re not losing and I’m going to take care of things.’ She was capable of just carrying us on a given night.”
This season, Toivonen led Red Wing (19-11) with 513 points (17.1 points per game) and 9.6 rebounds per game. She also averaged a team-leading 2.1 blocks per game and got to the free-throw line 225 times, 97 more attempts than the next closest Wingers player. She shot 72 percent from the free-throw line and was named to the Missota All-Conference team and the all-state honorable mention team.
“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Muelken said. “There were times she put us on her back … she showed up against the best teams, there’s no doubt about it. There’s no validity to the all-state team without her on it. What a snub for Marisa.”
It was surprising to outshine her teammates at times, Toivonen said. Buck, for instance, has verbally committed to play Division I basketball for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
But Toivonen acknowledged the impact her teammates had on her performance. She said she fell in love with the game this year and her relationships with the other players were the main reason. As one of the captains, she said it felt easy to lead this team and she was happy with how well Red Wing played after losing three productive seniors a season ago.
“It makes you proud to see all your teammates working hard and be a part of that,” Toivonen said. “Everything was just natural and it was a blast this year. … I think that Tesha and I had a really good connection this year. She always has great vision on the court and that’s been nice to have her. I think that’s why I had a lot of success because my teammates were able to find me.”
Athletics comes easily for the Toivonen family so it wasn’t a shock when she added a third sport — others being tennis and golf — in which she was all-conference. Both her parents played varsity athletics for Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., and brother Isaac, a sophomore at Red Wing High School, is a three-sport varsity athlete. Her dad, Doug, is the Wingers head boys basketball coach and was inducted into Concordia’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
“I think it’s really good for our competitiveness,” Toivonen said. “My whole family’s played sports. I like it because it’s one of the things we have in common.”
As good as Toivonen was for the Wingers this season, she was an even better student and person, Muelken said. Toivonen was selected to the Academic All-State team and has a great sense of humor, he said. If there’s a better kid, Muelken said he’d like to see it.
“She’s so coachable,” Muelken said. “She just did what we asked her to do. She makes everyone around her better. She’s a great student, she’s very confident in what she does; makes great decisions. She’s just a dream kid.”
Toivonen said it did take her some time to recover from the season-ending loss to Richfield. She didn’t want her basketball career to be over but she knew it was a successful season. Hard work always pays off she said, and it certainly did this season for the Wingers’ hardest worker.
“I’m super competitive,” Toivonen said. “I always want to win. I always want to go that extra mile, that extra step to get better. If you put in that extra effort you’ll find success.”
Her coaches and teammates noticed her drive every day. Muelken said Toivonen made his job easier and as she moves on to play golf next year for Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., her coaches will be lucky to have her, he said.
“Marisa’s going to go down as one of Red Wing’s all-time greats,” Muelken said. “Whoever gets to coach her is fortunate. She’s a coach’s dream. She’ll be that example kid for our program for years to come.”