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Girls Basketball: Benrud a battler for defending champs

Goodhue junior Emily Benrud (top) has averaged 5.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game for the Wildcats, who open the Class 1A state tournament against Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman/Martin Luther at 3 p.m. Thursday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. (RE file photo)

When Goodhue needed a spark during last year’s state championship run, Emily Benrud was ready to go.

The Wildcats needed a fresh body to swarm teams on the press? Benrud was there. Need some inside scoring, go to Benrud. Who can come down with a key rebound? That’s Benrud’s bread and butter.

“She was such a luxury because when she came off the bench, we would get faster, more tenacious and more aggressive,” said Goodhue head coach Josh Wieme. “She brings so many of those little things to the table. … We can have her in the front, we can have her playing the wing, the back and around the hoop. Just all over the place. She can do anything.”

In a starting role this season, Benrud’s tenacity around the court has continued to help the Wildcats as they look to defend their Class 1A title, starting with Thursday’s state quarterfinal at 3 p.m. against Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman/Martin Luther at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.

Benrud has the skills to push Goodhue. But it has been her teammates pushing her throughout the year that brings that ability out.

“I definitely have great teammates and I could not be here without them. They push me and everyone else on the team every day in practice,” said Benrud, who’s averaging 5.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. “It’s always, ‘Run a little faster, work a little harder.’ Throughout the summer, we would come into the gym and shoot and play hard in league all the time.

“It’s been a little different (as a starter), but everyone else on the team has made it easy and a lot of fun.”

Where Benrud has really shined is on the glass, where she is second on the Wildcats in rebounding. During the second half of the season, it was commonplace to see the 5-foot-6 junior haul in double-digit rebounds.

“It’s attitude and mindset, and she has it,” Wieme said of Benrud’s rebounding ability. “Her frame is not very large and she’s pretty skinny. But the mindset is there that I’m going to be a tough player, I’m not afraid of anyone and I can rebound with anyone. She gets up off the floor, she gets after the ball with two hands. A lot of these things are coachable, the techniques are, but the mindset and attitude, that’s all Emily.”

The keys to rebounding — watching the shooter, knowing where the ball is going — all seems to come to Benrud naturally.

“Rebounding is about 10 percent skill and 90 percent desire of ‘I’m going to go up there and get that rebound,’” Benrud said.

Benrud’s rise corresponded with the team after early losses to top-ranked Mountain Iron-Buhl and Hiawatha Valley League foe Hayfield lit a fire under Goodhue.

“The beginning of the season was a wake-up call that this year is not the same as last year and we’re going to have to work even harder this year than we did last year to be successful,” Benrud said. “Everyone on the team locked in a little more.”

And going into state, Benrud knows the Wildcats will still need that fire to defend their title compared to last year’s run.

“Last year it was all new and exciting and everything fell into place,” Benrud said. “This year, everyone is going to be out to get us so we’re definitely going to have to show up and work super hard and put together some good games. We’ll get what we work for and we’ll be happy with whatever happens.”

First, that starts with the Jaguars on Thursday. GHECTML sports a big lineup with 6-foot senior Hanna Geistfeld (17.0 points, 8.9 rebounds per game) and 6-1 Kenlie Pytleski (13.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg) patrolling the post.

Working around the Jaguars’ size will need plenty of determination and toughness. And Benrud is able to supply plenty of that.

“They have a lot of size so we’re going to need Emily’s strength, her rebounding, her aggressiveness and her defense in order to negate the size advantage they’re going to have,” Wieme said. “We’re going to need Emily to do all of her Emily things in order to do our Wildcat things.”

Class 1A Girls' Basketball At A Glance

1.Mountain Iron-Buhl Rangers

Record: 29-1

Rank: 1

vs. the field: 5-0 (Def. Goodhue, 78-34; Def. Maranatha 97-82; Def. Cromwell-Wright, 66-61, and 65-57; Def. Red Lake, 81-64)

PPG: 79.4 PAPG: 42.9

Leading scorers: Chelsea Mason 21.8, Mary Burke 17.8, Mya Buffetta 11.9

State appearances: 8 (No state championships)

2. Goodhue Wildcats

Record: 25-4

Rank: 2

vs. the field: 0-1 (Lost to MIB, 78-34)

PPG: 63.8 PAPG: 44.5

Leading scorers: Sydney Lodermeier 14.7, Maddy Miller 14.5, McKenzie Ryan 11.0

State appearances: 7 (2016 state champions)

3. Cromwell-Wright Cardinals

Record: 25-4

Rank: 7

vs. the field: 0-2 (Lost to MIB, 66-61, and 65-57)

PPG: 80.2 PAPG: 43.6

Leading scorers: Chelsea Swatek 20.5, Taya Hakamaki 14.2, Bailey Gronner 13.4

State appearances: 2 (No state championships)

4. Ada-Borup Cougars

Record: 28-1

Rank: 5

vs. the field: 0-0

PPG: 68.5 PAPG: 34.2

Leading scorers: Elizabeth Birkmeyer 12.7, Mariah McKeever 12.0, Kora Kritzberger 8.2

State appearances: 9 (2008, 2009 and 2015 state champions)

5. Maranatha Christian Mustangs

Record: 23-7

Rank: 6

vs. the field: 0-2 (Lost to MIB, 97-82; Lost to Red Lake, 66-64)

PPG: 75.5 PAPG: 59.8

Leading scorers: Jaclyn Jarnot 15.5, Sami Payne 12.4, Kylie Post 10.4

State appearances: 8 (2011 and 2012 state champions)

Red Lake Warriors

Record: 24-2

Rank: 8

vs. the field: 0-1 (Lost to MIB, 81-64)

PPG: 82.8 PAPG: 42.0

Leading scorers: N/A

State appearances: 1 (No state championships)

GHECTML Jaguars

Record: 26-4

Rank: 10

vs. the field: 0-0

PPG: 64.7 PAPG: 49.1

Leading scorers: Hanna Geistfield 16.9, Kenlie Pytleski 13.1, Alexis Brummond 9.6

State appearances: 1 (No state championships)

SW Minnesota Christian Eagles

Record: 25-3

Rank: 9

vs. the field: 0-0

PPG: 80.6 PAPG: 52.0

Leading scorers: Chantel Groen 19.6, Brooklyn DeKam 15.5, Jazlynn Prins 11.5

State appearances: 7 (No state championships)

Class 1A schedule

Thursday’s games

Quarterfinals

At Mariucci Arena

Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. SW Minn. Christian, 11 a.m.

Ada-Borup vs. Maranatha Christian, 1 p.m.

Goodhue vs. GHECTML, 3 p.m.

Cromwell-Wright vs. Red Lake, 5 p.m.

Friday’s games

Consolation semifinals

At Concordia University

Top quarterfinal losers, 10 a.m.

Bottom quarterfinal losers, noon

Semifinals

At Williams Arena

Top quarterfinal winners, noon

Bottom quarterfinal winners, 2 p.m.

Saturday’s games

At Concordia University

Consolation final

Consolation semifinal winners, 9 a.m.

Third-place game

Semifinal losers, 11 a.m.

State championship

At Williams Arena

Semifinal winners, noon

- Class 1A briefs compiled by Kyle Stevens, sports reporter

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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