High school sports: Area teams take breather before New Year
WORTHINGTON — The so-called “Christmas break” is here for area high school athletes, but the break is brief. Holiday tournaments have proliferated throughout the region, so many winter teams need to watch their Christmas cookie intake lest they find themselves back in action feeling sluggish and out-of-shape.
Still, Christmas is here and it’s time to take inventory. Here’s a brief look at the sports — where the area’s teams are at and where they might be headed:
One of the biggest pre-Christmas games was played Friday as two unbeaten teams in the Red Rock Conference, Mountain Lake Area and Southwest Minnesota Christian met at Mountain Lake. The host Wolverines won the game, 63-52, feeling as if they’d taken a giant leap forward against the defending Class A state champions.
MLA and Southwest both possess outstanding big men, and both of them — Carter Kirk from MLA and Leighton Sampson from Southwest — put up big numbers. Surprisingly, Southwest Christian converted just four of 24 three-point shots.
That coldness isn’t going to happen often. Expect the Eagles to have plenty more productive shooting nights later in the season.
Mountain Lake Area head coach Shawn Naas said Monday that it’s unfortunate that, because of the schedule, the same two teams won’t meet again during the regular season. Regardless, he knows what Friday’s victory means for his club.
“It puts a target on our back. Just because we’re the front-runner right now.”
Today, the Wolverines stand 7-0 overall and 6-0 in Red Rock Conference play. Ellsworth is 8-2 and 5-1, with Southwest Christian at 5-1 and 4-1.
The next big test at the top: Jan. 25 when Ellsworth travels to play Mountain Lake Area.
In the Southwest Conference, Marshall is 4-0 while Redwood Valley and Pipestone Area are both 3-1. Jackson County Central and Worthington are 2-2, Luverne 0-3 and Windom Area 0-5.
At this point, it’s a fight to see who can climb up to Marshall’s level. Worthington, which has already lost to Marshall and Pipestone Area (Collin Moeller scored 44 points on the Trojans Thursday) is 3-3 overall and is still trying to find itself.
First-year WHS head coach Jared Keaveny, who preaches a high-tempo aggressive brand of basketball, says his team needs to find “more consistency, more trust in the system.” But he adds, “I’m happy with where we’re headed.”
Keaveny said that within the Southwest Conference WHS may wind up in the middle of the pack or get into one of the top three spots. “It’s just a matter of when we’re going to find our stride.”
A little farther south, in Iowa, West Lyon is 6-0 in the Siouxland Conference. MOC-Floyd Valley is 6-1, Rock Valley 5-1 and Sioux Center 4-1. Sheldon is 3-3. Sibley-Ocheyedan (0-5 in the conference) and George-Little Rock (2-5 overall after a 75-52 loss Friday to West Lyon) are fighting to keep up.
In a highly-anticipated pre-Christmas showdown between two of the better Southwest Conference teams, Marshall eased to victory over Worthington 75-55. There’s no doubt who commands the conferfence today. Marshall is 7-0 overall and 4-0 in league play. The Trojans are 5-1 and 3-1 and clearly appear to be the Tigers’ most serious challenger despite their 20-point setback on Dec. 12.
Luverne and Redwood Valley are both 2-1 in the conference.
On Feb. 8, Worthington and Marshall meet for the rematch in Marshall.
In the Red Rock Conference, Fulda is 3-0 and Red Rock Central is 2-0. Southwest Christian, Southwest United and Murray County Central are 2-1. None of the conference teams are unbeaten and all have at least two losses except RRC, which is 4-1 following Friday’s 56-41 loss to unbeaten Wabasso.
Coming up is a Jan. 7 matchup between Fulda and Red Rock Central in Lamberton.
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton is another area squad to watch out for. The Panthers, coming off an impressive volleyball season that ended one victory short of a state berth, are 6-1.
In northwest Iowa, MOC-Floyd Valley leads the Siouxland Conference at 8-0. Okoboji is 7-1, Sibley-Ocheyedan 6-2, Sioux Center 5-3, Sheldon 4-4, Rock Valley 3-4, West Lyon 3-6, George-Little Rock 2-5, Central Lyon 2-6 and Boyden-Hull 0-6.
Sibley-Ocheyedan defeated defending state champ Central Lyon 43-41 Friday.
Harris-Lake Park moved to 6-4 overall Friday with a 48-39 win over North Union, as Noreen Morrow scored 28 points with 16 rebounds.
Southwest Minnesota is blessed with several solid mat squads, first among them Jackson County Central. The Huskies, who are the defending state champions from Class A, returned from Rochester last weekend feeling good about themselves. Head coach Randy Baker is a master at preparing his team for the biggest tests that come in February and the Huskies (4-0 in dual meets) seem to be right where they want to be at this point.
Another Southwest Conference team, Windom/Mountain Lake, has four wrestlers ranked among the top 10 in Minnesota Class A. Worthington has four ranked in the top 10 in Class AA, including Anthony Luft at 126 pounds.
Luft, a defending state champ, is 12-0 so far.
The Trojans are 1-3 overall. But Worthington is a team with some promising young wrestlers who should get better as the season progresses.
Adrian is hoping for more big things this year and has started out well. The Dragons, who have three athletes ranked among the top 10 in the state, qualified for state last year in Class AA and hope to make a return trip this year in Class A.
The Dragons (6-1 in dual competition) and JCC are both state-ranked. JCC is No. 1 and Adrian is No. 6. Adrian will have to go through Windom/Mountain Lake and a good Pipestone Area team to win Section 3A. JCC is in Section 2A.
Wabasso-Red Rock Central has already won seven duals this year, including victories 44-28 over Worthington and 43-24 over Pipestone Area.
On Jan. 9, JCC will host Marshall and Worthington. On Jan. 24, Adrian is at JCC. On Jan. 31, JCC is at Windom/Mountain Lake.
The Southwest Conference boys hockey standings are like this: Luverne 5-0, Marshall 3-1, Windom Area 3-2, Worthington 1-3, Morris/Benson Area 0-2, Redwood Valley 0-4.
Who can catch the Cardinals? Maybe no one near here. LHS is 10-0 overall and looking forward to competing Thursday in the Schwan Cup Tournament in Blaine. It’s a good opportunity for the Cardinals to test their strength against some strong teams from outside the southwest Minnesota area.
Thus far, no one in the immediate area has been able to throw a scare into coach Derrick Brown’s Cardinals. They’ve beaten Marshall 6-0, Fairmont 13-0, Windom Area 9-0 and Worthington 11-1.
Luverne is also the measure of excellence in area girls hockey. Coach Tony Sandbulte’s team is 12-2 on the season and 5-0 in the conference. No other team in the Southwest has a winning record. Marshall is 4-7-1, Morris/Benson Area 1-7, Windom Area 1-7-1 and Worthington 0-7.
Traditionally, you’ve got to look first to Jackson County Central to find the class of southwest Minnesota, and this year is no different. The Huskies, who placed sixth at the state Class A meet last season, are coming off a score of 134.535 in a Thursday victory over Blue Earth Area where sophomore Haley Bass scored a first-place 34.75 in the all-around.
The Worthington Trojans, however, are not to be overlooked. On Thursday, the Trojans scored 136.375 points in a victory over Hendricks and the team’s lone senior, Paige Kinley, won the all-around with a 36.325 score. Thursday’s result clearly energized Worthington’s head coach, Joni Reitmeier, and rightfully so. With Kinley providing senior leadership the younger Trojans are coming right along.
On Jan. 18, Worthington travels to Jackson for a heads-up dual with the Huskies.