State Girls Basketball: Wingers ready to run with DeLaSalleRed Wing looks to win its first state title against the two-time defending state champions at 6 p.m. today at Target Center
By: Joe Brown, The Republican Eagle
Red Wing head girls basketball coach Dave Muelken was a man of his word on Friday.
As the Wingers prepared for the Class 3A state tournament, he made a promise to his team, hoping to inspire them in some small way to make it to a Saturday game after two straight losses in the first round at state.
“We do (a dribbling drill) to open most practices and they kind of got sick of it. I told them, since they were whining about it, if we’re playing Saturday night I would lead it on Friday,” Dave Muelken said.
Then, Red Wing knocked off New Prague in the quarterfinals and upset top-seeded Richfield in the semifinals. Right after the Wingers punched their ticket into the state finals, the girls didn’t take long to remind Muelken that he had to pay up.
So as the team opened practice, Dave Muelken was leading the team with crossovers, spin moves and behind-the-back dribbles, harkening back to his playing days at Bemidji State.
While the coach’s penance offered a chuckle in the warm-up, the tone quickly switched, and the Wingers were working up and down the court, preparing for a DeLaSalle team that looks to make today’s championship game a track meet mixed with a basketball game.
“We’re going to have to keep up and know where everybody is at all times,” said Red Wing senior post Macy Kelly. “They don’t have a bad player, so we’ll have to match up and defend.”
The Class 3A championship game is set to tip off at 6 p.m. at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
The two-time defending state champion Islanders boast not only one of the most athletic teams in the state, but also feature two of the top talents in Minnesota with two Division I recruits in Allina Starr (Auburn) and Tyseanna Johnson (Iowa State). Starr averages 18.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while also dishing out 109 assists, while Johnson averages a double-double with 21.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest.
“Even (Joi) Jones and Claire Thomas, they’re really good,” Dave Muelken added. “They’re definitely going to be playing in college.”
But if there’s anyone who understands Johnson’s game, it’s Red Wing’s Tesha Buck. Also a Division I recruit for Wisconsin-Green Bay, Buck has played with Johnson on the North Tartan AAU basketball team for the last two years. Buck said the two are best friends and are in contact every day.
“We trash talk a little bit, saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to hold you to zero points and zero rebounds,’ stuff like that,” Buck said. “We know that once we get on the court, our friendship is gone; we’re players, we’re competitors. … But no matter how it goes, we’re going to shake each other’s hand and congratulate each other.
“Ending your high-school career, playing your last game against your best friend for the state championship, it’s a fairy tale. You couldn’t ask for anything better than that.”
With their fast-paced style, DeLaSalle (27-4) led all of Class 3A in points per game (72.3) and have cruised in the state tournament, winning by an average of 24.5 points per game in wins over Chisago Lakes and Monticello. Dave Muelken said once the Islanders sense a change of possession, it’s off to the races.
“As soon as they see a tip or think they have a rebound, they fly,” he said. “They don’t even make sure; they’re just going. We’re going to have to get back and we’re going to have to convert on our half-court offense.”
If the Wingers can keep it close, the team likes its chances, especially after a tightly-contested 61-59 victory over Richfield on Thursday as the team’s three seniors (Buck, Kelly, and McKenna Schaffer) fouled out.
“We want to see how they react in a close ball game,” Dave Muelken said. “In our conference, those are the games you play every night. It if’s like (Thursday), we feel confident, with the competition we’ve played.”