Arrows square off against Warriors in Class AA state opener
WORTHINGTON -- The Pipestone Area Arrows know that playing in the hotly contested Southwest Conference is not without its ups and downs. Marshall and Worthington are quality Class AAA teams, while Pipestone Area is a strong, capable Class A side....
WORTHINGTON -- The Pipestone Area Arrows know that playing in the hotly contested Southwest Conference is not without its ups and downs.
Marshall and Worthington are quality Class AAA teams, while Pipestone Area is a strong, capable Class A side. A conference title is something the Arrows would like to win each year, but a trip to the girls' Minnesota state high school basketball tournament tops their list of achievements.
"Winning the Southwest Conference would be great, but getting to the state tournament is what we really focus on," Pipestone Area head coach Jay Johnson said Tuesday as his team prepares for its opener Thursday afternoon. "We sputtered a bit in the middle of the season, losing to Marshall, Worthington and West Central (Hartford, S.D.), but the girls were quick to refocus and get back on track."
On track indeed, as Pipestone Area has won 13-of-14 games since the West Central loss on Jan. 22 and is running roughshod over its opponents during its fast-paced run toward a Class AA state title.
The first obstacle on the Arrows' march toward a championship is the Section 1AA winner Caledonia Warriors, with start time slated for 1 p.m. at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion.
The Warriors enter their third state tournament with a 27-3 record after having defeated Kingsland in the section title game -- which accounts for two of Caledonia's regular-season losses.
With that monkey off their backs, the Warriors -- ranked 10th in the final Associated Press poll -- hope to use 6-3 post Danielle Frank to give the Arrows fits in the paint. The senior is averaging 12.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game.
"She'll (Frank) be something different for us to defend," Johnson said. "We haven't faced that kind of height during the season. We'll have to be conscious of her at all times, especially on the boards. She gets a lot of points on putbacks."
Besides Frank, Johnson says the Warriors' guards are good at penetrating off the dribble and have good skills with the ball. The Warriors seem to score a lot of points at the foul line and force teams into early foul trouble.
Fortunately for the Arrows, they're an extremely deep and athletic team, which can combat a penetrating style well.
Quick on their feet at both ends of the court, the Arrows can coerce opponents into making poor decisions with and without the ball. As evidenced by the Arrows' 67-41 blowout of Lac qui Parle Valley in the Section 3AA championship game, Pipestone Area will make teams pay for those mistakes.
"We hope to fully utilize our pressure defensive schemes and athleticism to dictate the tempo and force turnovers," Johnson said. "The larger courts, which we'll see up in Minneapolis, should benefit our team and style of play."
A well-balanced team, the Arrows can score from anywhere on the court, be it in the paint, with short-range jumpers or from beyond the arc.
Senior guards Ashley Weatherly and Steph Kocourek offer a blend of scoring opportunities from inside as well as outside.
Weatherly, who controls most of the half-court passing, has a quick first step and can often beat her mark to the hoop for an easy layup. If the dribble drive isn't on, Weatherly will simply step back and fire an accurate 3-pointer.
Kocourek also has speed to get to the basket, usually losing her mark with an acute cut behind the defense. If the area is occupied, Kocourek will fake the dribble and pull up for a 12-foot jumper from the side.
Senior forward Kelsey Lorenzen and junior guard Faith Tinklenberg contribute with exact marksmanship from the perimeter. Tinklenberg, who scored the 1,000th point of her career against Lac qui Parle Valley, fired four 3-pointers in the section final -- finishing with a game-high 20 points.
Lorenzen has good knowledge of when to pull up for a shot. Her jumpers usually fall, but if they errantly bounce off the rim, Lorenzen is there for a putback.
In the paint, the Arrows have a trio of players to muscle up shots and box out on the glass -- Paige Pals, Kayla Rowden and Chelsey Evans. Pals can also do some damage with her perimeter shooting, while Rowden and Evans welcome the battle inside.
Off the bench, the Arrows don't skip a beat and boast several young players with ample talent. Sophomore Megan Vanderpoel and freshman Bailey Bouman are the first two Johnson looks for to come in and give the Arrows a spark, but Nichole Merrill, Kayla Nelson and Brooke Woelber have each made contributions throughout the year.
"Our depth has been one of our greatest assets throughout the season," Johnson said. "We don't lose anything when we put in players off the bench."
Also making their third appearance at the state tournament, the Arrows are hoping this is the year they go all the way.
"It's been a great season, and now we'll see if we can get to the title game," Johnson said. "We'll take them one game at a time and try to represent our section well."