Boys Basketball: Most tenured Tiger gets his state shot
MINNEAPOLIS – Three seasons ago, Mitch Marien was a undersized, slightly-unsure freshman getting vaulted onto the Lake City varsity lineup for the first time.
“Freshman year I came in as a reserve and that's when Brady (Kuchinka) had an injury so I got a lot of playing time early in the season,” Marien said. “Then my sophomore year when I became a starter and had a bigger role. (That first game) was nerve-wracking.”
And over four years, Marien has been the constant of the Tigers' program, playing in more games than anyone else in school history. Finally, in his 102nd game in a Lake City uniform, Marien finally got his chance to play in the state tournament.
From a diminutive freshman to a still-undersized-but-feisty play-making 5-foot-8 senior, Marien finally got his team to state for the first time in 27 years.
“Our whole program philosophy has been, 'No deposit, no return,' and Mitch has put so much time into basketball,” said Tigers head coach Greg Berge. “It's very rewarding to have a kid like that have the fruits of his labor pay off with a trip to the state tournament.”
Averaging 12.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and dishing out a team-high 107 assists prior to the state tournament, Marien and the rest of the Lake City squad came into Wednesday's Class 2A quarterfinal against top-seeded Minnehaha Academy with something to prove.
“Just like all year, we were trying to prove everybody wrong,” Marien said. “We were going one game at a time. We definitely have the right players this year. I think we have a real balanced team and it's been a great time.”
Throughout the season, the Tigers had the motto of “Let 'em sleep,” because they weren't given much of a chance to win a third straight Hiawatha Valley League title. The Tigers did it.
The Section 1AA title? Caledonia was a lock. Instead, Lake City pulled the upset.
And in the same vein, Marien's varsity career has carried that same attitude: Bet against him and you'll pay.
“Competitive,” Berge said a split-second after being asked to describe Marien. “He's probably, if not the most competitive kid, one of the most competitive kids I've coached. He's had to be that way.
“When you're undersized, there's people your whole life saying you're not big enough to do something. He's got that internal drive and will. He really refuses to lose and he'll battle you to the very end. That rubs off on everyone in our program.”
In his first state game, Marien tallied 14 points on 3 of 7 shooting and 8 of 9 from the free-throw line in 31 minutes. Although the Tigers trailed by only two at halftime, Minnehaha Academy was able to pull away with a 77-63 victory.
But Marien wasn't hanging his head for too long. After 101 games away from the state tournament, he seemed appreciative that he got one on the state's biggest stage at Target Center.
“I'm just really enjoying it,” Marien said. “Don't have much time left. We got a couple games left so just soak it in.”