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Girls basketball: Stakes are higher as Trojans host Willmar for section opener

WORTHINGTON —Worthington’s boys basketball team tried its hand at the Willmar Cardinals in section tournament play recently and succeeded. Now the girls basketball squad has the same opportunity.

Willmar — Section 2AAA’s sixth-seeded club — comes to Worthington High School tonight for a 7 p.m. Section 2AAA girls basketball quarterfinal. The winner of the contest goes on for a Saturday night game in St. Peter at Gustavus Adolphus College against either second-seeded Hutchinson or seventh-seeded Mankato West in the semifinals.

The Trojans (21-2) enter the tournament as the third seed behind top-place Marshall and second-seeded Hutchinson. If there’s anything Worthington head coach Eric Lindner wants his team to buy into right now it is that this is the time to focus. Nothing but every player’s best effort will afford another game at this time of year.

The Trojans bested Willmar (13-13) in the regular season, 66-50, on Feb. 21, but Lindner doesn’t read too much into that contest.

“As far as I’m concerned, the tournament is a different atmosphere and a different level of pressure for the kids because it’s one and done,” the coach said. “The only thing that regular season game means is that we beat them in the regular season.

“You do kind of have to look at some of their players’ tendencies and what we can do to stop their tendencies,” Lindner added.

Willmar was led in the game against Worthington with junior guard Courtney Magnuson’s 15 points. The Cardinals had 22 turnovers in that game but were still the aggressors through much of the first half before the Trojans claimed the lead and kept it later on.

“(Willmar is) very much a penetrating team and they love to drive and kick out. They love the baseline shot, so we’ll have to do a good job of rotating out and taking those things away,” Lindner said. “If we don’t do that there will be a lot of trouble for us. We also know Magnuson is capable of going at any time she wants.”

A weapon for the Trojans this winter has been their versatility that allows them to score in multiple ways in multiple situations. When an opponent’s defense jams the lane, Worthington has proven its ability to shoot from the outside. When a team comes out and guards the perimeter well, the Trojans have the players they can push the ball to on the inside.

With a good view of it all from the point guard position, Trojans senior Abbie Landgaard has been pleased with what her team has accomplished thus far and could possibly do moving forward.

“Every game means something and we have to improve every game. I think we’ve been improving each game,” Landgaard said after her team practiced Monday. “We have to focus on what we’re doing well and focus on that. Playing Willmar was a good test to see how we do against bigger and stronger teams. I thought we performed really well and we’ll have to do that again this time. “

At the end of the regular season, junior Ana Boever leads the Trojans with 4.5 rebounds per game and junior Apiew Alwal has collected four per game. On the scoring end, Boever (19.5), Brooke Henning (15.5) and Paige Gravenhof (13.5) have each averaged over 10 points per game.

Tournament play is an exciting time of year and the team’s five seniors don’t want the season to end.

“Throughout the season we’ve tried to learn how to execute things so that when it comes to this time we can focus more on preparing for teams,” Henning said. “It will be nice to have home court advantage and know that we’ll have people coming out, watching and supporting us like they have been throughout the whole season.

“This will be our last game on this floor,” Henning said. “It’s an exciting (time of year) and it’s kind of nerve-racking to know that if we lose we’re done. Everybody has to come out and perform their best.”

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson is the Daily Globe sports writer. He hails from southwest Iowa and served as sports editor at the Audubon County Advocate Journal there for 2 ½ years before moving to Worthington in October 2013. Caleb trys to enjoy life and everybody that he meets. He enjoys music, playing guitar and drums, and is an avid sports fan. 
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