Q & A with ... Les Knutson
After coaching Southwest Star Concept to a fourth place finish at the Class A state girls' basketball tournament, head coach Les Knutson took a moment to sit down and reflect on this season's success.
With a 9-6 record at one point during the season, the Quasars went on 14-game winning streak before falling in their last two at the state tournament, leaving Knutson with 498 career coaching victories in 32 seasons.
SSC defeated Cedar Mountain/Comfrey in the first round of state, before losing a pair of tight games to Ada-Borup and New Life Academy to finish fourth.
Q: You won a state championship in the 1980-81 season, how did this year's trip differ from your state trip in 1981?
A: It was probably more meaningful because it's been so long since we've been there. I think in '81, we had high expectations that we should go. But there was a tremendous team in our way that year in East Chain. Their closest game all year long was a 26-point win, so they were tough. Somehow we beat them in the first round of the region. It was a dogfight to get there, like it was this year. This year, we were so close to losing that game against MCC, and I thought we played so well in the second half against Fulda. We played very well, beating Adrian that night, and probably better to beat R-T-R. To get there, I just couldn't believe it that we were finally going there again. We had some good teams in between times; it isn't like we were a lousy operation. It was really special because we lost six games during the regular season and we had to overcome that. We avenged four of those losses: we beat MCC, Fulda, Adrian and Cedar Mountain/Comfrey. We finally got there, and it was so fun playing there.
Q: After the Quasars struggled early in the season, what did you see as a turning point this season?
A: We actually got off and played pretty good, we were 7-1, but the one game we lost it was embarrassing how bad Blue Earth beat us. But then we lost five of seven games. I think what turned us around was that we had three straight days of practice before we played Southwest Christian. We led most of the game, and with about five minutes to go, they took a one-point lead. We responded and got the lead back, and then we really made some big time positive execution and won it by 10. That win was huge, and after that we had some easier games, and we won some of those big and had some fun with it. The other key game was winning against Red Rock Central. That game had huge bearing on the conference standings and the sub-section seedings. We led most of that game, and late in the game they hit three different 3s by three different people from different angles, so it was tough to defend. They took the lead, and we came down and (Breanna) Rients penetrated and dished it to (Adri) Rasche, and we got the lead right back. We got a defensive stop and won the game. Winning those two games seemed to give us a lot of confidence that we can win the close games.
Q: The Quasars played in three very close games at the state tournament. If you had to do it again with same personnel, would you do anything different?
A: If we had to do it all over again, we'd score more points against Ada-Borup, and we'd give up less points against New Life Academy.
Q: The Quasars were able to give eventual state champion Ada-Borup its closest game in the tournament. If you had to play Ada-Borup again, what changes would you make?
A: Our strategy was pretty good defensively. We switched defenses now and then, and I think you need to do that against them. We didn't execute in the first half on offense very well for whatever reason. I don't necessarily think it was wrong offensive sets or anything that we were trying to run, I just think that we weren't patient enough. We tried to force it too much and didn't get the ball reversed. I don't think we had too much trouble with their full court press, but in the half court we had way too many turnovers. They opened the door for us, and we couldn't capitalize on it. I was proud in that game how we stayed after it. Especially when we were down, and they went up a dozen or 13 points in the second half, and it never got beyond that. In fact, we closed it down to seven. I thought we kept on playing hard.
Q: How did you and your team face the challenge of playing in three difference venues at the state tournament?
A: That was kind of fun, I think we kind of liked it. The fact that it was three different sites was OK, it was a variety. We sure would have liked to play a second game at the Target Center and been on TV again, but there can only be one champion and Ada-Borup was very deserving. Their tournament experience really helped them. We actually got to play at six different courts in the tournament, Worthington, Luverne, Marshall, Williams Arena, Target Center and Concordia.
Q: You guys will graduate six seniors off this year's squad. How will this state tournament trip affect the graduating seniors?
A: I think it was a very positive experience. These kids played a lot of basketball together when they were young. I think as far as the experience itself, it will be really good for them.
Q: Where does this state appearance rank among your coaching memories?
A: It ranks real high. But for me, my greatest memory is really my 1992 cross country team. We just started from scratch the year before, and we had a bunch of guys that wanted to run. It was kind of controversial because it was a new sport and money was tight. In 1992 these guys kept getting better and better, and we won the section. We didn't know if we would, but we ran so well that we won by 26 points. At the state meet, we had a unique experience because we had 168 points, which is a lot. The ninth place team had 188, so I'm thinking that we'll be one of the next teams. It went 188 and another 188, and Fairmont with 184, and 180 was the next team. Then it was 175, and the next was Delano at 173. I've never seen anything like it, high school guys literally just sobbing because we got second in the state.
Q: After finishing the season at 498 career victories, do you see 500 career victories in your future?
A: Well, I hope so. I certainly think that next year we'll have a different team. We won't be very tall, but we will have one tall kid in Katey Granstra, and sometimes that's all you need. All the other kids are track kids, so we'll have some speed. We might be a pressing team next year and play a whole different style. I would hope that I can get 500 wins before Christmas.