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Prep girls basketball: New look for lots of area teams

Les Knutson

Daily Globe

EDGERTON — Despite graduating its entire starting lineup from last season’s Red Rock Conference championship team, Southwest Minnesota Christian is again expected to be among the top girls’ basketball teams in the area.

The Eagles ran the table in the always-competitive league last winter, going a perfect 16-0 in conference games while finishing 22-5 overall.

A loss to Wabasso in the Section 3A South championship game ended SWC’s remarkable ’12-’13 campaign.

Meanwhile, perennial power Marshall claimed another Southwest Conference crown, also posting an undefeated (12-0) league schedule.

A special look at the Worthington Trojans is coming in the near future, so WHS is not mentioned in this story — which condenses the rest of the Southwest and Red Rock as those teams prepare for another season.

The area has been rich in post-season success, claiming a total of 12 state championships in 17 state-title game appearances.

Not counting Minneota’s 2013 Class A state championship and St. James’ 1995 Class A runner-up (both beyond the Daily Globe coverage area), here’s the list of state champions (from the Red Rock, Southwest or the south half of Section 3):

Heron Lake-Okabena, represented the Southern Star Conference (in its final year of existence) when the Scarlet Knights capped an undefeated 26-0 season in 1981 with a Class A state championship. The Knights joined the Red Rock the following season.

Later, Storden-Jeffers did the same in 1989 as the undefeated (27-0) Chiefs were in the middle of playing in three state championship games. S-J combined with Sanborn-Lamberton in ‘93-94, becoming Red Rock Central.

Fulda won back-to-back state title in 2006 and 2007, giving Red Rock Conference teams four state girls’ basketball champions. The Raiders were 56-7 over those two seasons, capping an incredible six-year run, which ended four times with games at the state tournament.

The Southwest Conference also has four state titles, as Redwood Falls won the first-ever Class A title in 1976, Marshall won back-to-back Class AAA championships in 2001 and 2002 (undefeated, 29-0 in ‘02) and Pipestone Area claimed the 2007 Class AA state crown.

Tracy-Milroy won a trio of Class A championships, each four years apart (1988, 1992 and 1996) and Wabasso was the Class A state champion in 2004.

S-J (1988 and 1990) and RRC (1999) gave those communities three state runner-up trophies, while Redwood Falls (1978) and Marshall (2006) each placed second, giving the Southwest Conference six trips to the state finals.

Nine area teams will play in Section 3A

The post-season section alignments are similar to recent years, with nine of the smaller-school Red Rock Conference teams again playing in Section 3A, while both Southwestern United —- Southwest Star Concept (Heron Lake-Okabena)/Round Lake-Brewster —- and Mountain Lake Area (Mountain Lake Public and Mountain Lake Christian) will compete to the east in Section 2A.

PA, Luverne, Jackson County Central and Windom will all be in Section 3AA South, while Redwood Valley competes in 3AA North. Both Worthington and Marshall are members of Section 2AAA.

Red Rock Central’s shift back to 3A (from 2A) is the only switch from last season.

Southwest Christian’s B-squad was 17-2 last season and the Eagles will again have some mobile height, including juniors Tianna Top (6-2) and Savannah Tinklenberg (5-10) to lead this year’s varsity.

Adrian was last year’s Red Rock runner-up (19-7, 14-2). But the Dragons were also hit hard by graduation and the AHS B-squad was just 9-14. All-around athlete Jordin Kopplow —- who led the conference in rebounding, steals and assists —- is a huge graduation loss for Adrian.

Junior point guard Elizabeth Thier (5-7) returns to the starting lineup after averaging nearly nine points per game last season and finishing third in the league in three-point field shooting percentage (38.5 on 25-of-65).

Fulda (19-9, 12-4) was third in the league last year and brings back a quartet of experienced players in seniors Melissa Gehl (5-8) and Dani Hermeling (5-5), along with juniors Sariah Cheadle (5-8) and Courtney Tiesler (5-6). Gehl, a strong post player, averaged 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season, while playing much of the campaign injured.

Fulda head coach Gregg Slaathaug has compiled an amazing 252-79 (.761) win-loss record during his 12 seasons in charge of the Raiders.

Westbrook-Walnut Grove (11-13 overall) and Murray County Central (9-12) tied for fourth last year with identical 8-8 conference records.

The Chargers graduated all-around player Paige Erickson, the league’s second-highest scorer (20.3 ppg) in ‘12-13, but return senior forward Dayna Comnick (5-10) and junior guard Elizabeth Woelber (5-5) with plenty of experience. Woelber was seventh in the conference in three-point shooting percentage (34.4 on 21-of-61) last season.

MCC graduated four starters, but junior guard Jade Giese (5-3) and junior forward Morgan Behrends (5-9) made major contributions last season. Giese averaged 12.1 points per game in conference action, while Behrends blocked 27 shots (second best) and averaged 9.9 rebounds per league game, which was sixth highest in the conference.

Ellsworth (12-14) and Southwestern United (9-16) tied for sixth in ‘12-13, both with 7-9 records in league games.

The Panthers return 5-10 senior forward Alexa Huisman (13.9 points per conference game in ’12-13) from last year’s starting lineup and have three other seniors —- Alissa Walters (5-5), Heidi Nolte (5-4) and Hannah Mulder (5-8) ready to contribute more this year.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats bring back five of their top seven players from a season ago, including 6-2 junior guard Courtney Place, who topped the conference in scoring last year (22.1) and is considered one of the best five 3-point shooters in all of Class A.

Seniors Autumn Hinkeldey (5-5) and Sonja Peters (5-6), along with junior Kailey Wendland (5-9) and sophomore Andrea Hinkeldey (5-10) are the other Wildcats with lots of varsity experience.

Mountain Lake Area (12-14, 6-10) had a 17-4 B-squad last winter, featuring lots of speed. The Wolverines graduated a pair of top post players (Janessa Peters and Paige Brown) and will likely play more of an up-tempo style this year. Senior guards Whitney Klassen, Mikayla Falk and Rachel Dukes combined for more than 16 points per game in league action in ‘12-13 and did the bulk of MLA’s ball-handling.

Edgerton (4-20, 4-12) will be led by one of the league’s strongest players in 6-0 junior center Tanner Gunnink, who averaged 12.7 ppg and finished third in the conference in rebounding (11.0) last season.

Hills-Beaver Creek (6-17, 3-13) graduated all-conference guard Paige Leuthold and the Patriots have just two seniors —- guard Megan Westrum (5-5) and forward Taylor Wingert (5-10) —- on this year’s roster.

Red Rock Central (5-20, 3-13) will look to seniors Cassandra Erickson, Brooke Rasmussen and Melanie Kedl for leadership on what could become a very balanced and deep squad in ‘13-14. The Falcons did not have a player average in double figures in conference games last year, but Kedl (8.0) and Rasmussen (7.2) are capable scorers and Erickson runs the floor well.

Rasmussen is the daughter of the former Vicki Stalls, who was an outstanding 3-point shooter on S-J’s tremendous teams in the late 1980s.

Marshall favored again in Southwest Conference

Marshall (24-4, 12-0) has 13 players returning, including leading scorer and rebounder Kenzie Beekman, a 5-10 senior forward, who is coming off an All-State volleyball campaign. The Tigers are loaded again.

Windom (15-12, 8-4) finished third in the conference last year (behind Marshall and Worthington) and the Eagles have a bundle of experience returning, including seniors Kelsey Hanefeld (5-8), Rachel Sorenson (5-7) and Maitland Vollan (5-7), along with junior point guard Jasmine Carlson (5-6). Hanefeld is a tremendous leaper, who averaged more than 10 points and six rebounds per game last season.

Luverne (14-12, 7-5) brings back senior forwards Amanda Barnhart (5-10) and Tara Sudenga (5-8), a couple of very versatile performers for the Cardinals last season.

Senior guard Nikki Severson (5-6) and junior all-around athletes Tayla Peterson (5-10) and Lexi Rust (5-7) —- along with a good group of sophomores —- will give LHS good balance this winter.

Jackson County Central (8-18, 2-10) doesn’t have a senior of its roster. The Huskies do have seven juniors, including 5-8 scoring leader Kaylee Burmeister and 5-3 point guard Julia Schumann who were both key contributors for JCC last year. David Wrightson, a veteran of 27 seasons of coaching various sports in Arizona and Minnesota, is the new Huskies’ head coach.

Redwood Valley (10-15, 3-9) has a deep squad with three seniors and seven juniors, along with a trio of sophomores. Steph Jensen, an honorable mention all-conference guard, graduated and the Cardinals will need to replace her passing and scoring skills.

Most girls’ teams swing into action next week.