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Doug Wolter: T-M-B, Pipestone Area girls geared for excellence

Tracy-Milroy-Balaton girls basketball coach Derek Ashbaugh cautions fans against making assumptions after Saturday's 54-42 victory over Pipestone Area.

Tracy-Milroy-Balaton girls basketball coach Derek Ashbaugh cautions fans against making assumptions after Saturday’s 54-42 victory over Pipestone Area.

“It was a grind. Both teams played the night before. I think there were some moments where it got kind of sloppy. I still think we’re two evenly-matched teams,” he said.

T-M-B and Pipestone Area are southwest Minnesota’s two dominant Class AA teams. The Panthers advanced to 21-1 with their win over the Arrows, and for the Arrows it was their first loss against 21 victories.

Though both teams may have been a little tired from the night before, Ashbaugh said, both teams played good defense.

That, of course, is typical.

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Once again -- as always, it seems -- T-M-B possesses an abundance of athletic girls. Pipestone Area is just plain tough. “Physical” is how Ashbaugh describes them.

For Worthington area fans to understand, all they need to do is think back to a Jan. 27 game when the Arrows rolled over the Trojans, 70-34. The Trojans pride themselves on physicality and toughness; yet they were steamrolled by the Arrows on that night.

It is ironic that, as of Monday, the Panthers were not ranked in Minnesota Class AA. They were one of the best high school teams in Minnesota last season, when they narrowly missed a state tournament berth. They’re obviously one of the top teams in 2016-17. Their only loss was to Canby early in the current campaign, and they avenged that loss on Friday with a 60-44 victory as junior Evelyn Dolan scored her 1,000th point. After beating fifth-ranked Pipestone Area on Saturday (as Kaylee Kirk scored 21 points with 10 assists and seven rebounds), it’s time the state took notice of Ashbaugh’s outfit.

Ashbaugh will always be wary of the Arrows. He knows first-hand how good they are. But in one way, at least, he thinks his current crop of Panthers may be improved from last year. Versatility is the key.

Juniors Sidney Karbo and Sydney Lanoue are two important elements. Both of them perform admirably both inside and outside. Karbo has become quite a shot-blocker. And Lanoue is asked to guard several different players on the floor during a game.

“I think we’re actually a bit more balanced than we were last year,” Ashbaugh said on Monday. “That’s really kind of changed what we try to do during games.”

Tracy-Milroy-Balaton defeated Pipestone Area 54-47 for the Section 3AA South championship in 2016. But New London-Spicer beat T-M-B 72-55 for the section title.

This year, again, T-M-B, Pipestone Area and New London-Spicer are the teams to beat in the section tournament. New London-Spicer is ranked No. 7 in Class AA.

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Slaathaug gets 300th Before Fulda High School girls basketball coach Gregg Slaathaug secured his 300th career victory on Saturday -- with a 60-51 win over Adrian -- he said he was the only person in Fulda “to the best of my knowledge” who knew what was about to happen.

Slaathaug, himself, in fact, almost didn’t know. Before the game, he got a phone call from a rival coach who reminded him.

Gregg, who coached his first Fulda girls basketball team in the 2001-2002 season, led the Raiders to state championships in 2006 and 2007. On Monday, I asked him what he remembers most about those championship years, and he responded in a way that reminds me why he is such an outstanding coach.

“Those were good years like all the others have been. It’s not always about the ending, it’s about the adventure,” he said.

He is quick to point out that he was handed a solid program by successors Rick Haberman and Loren Carlson, and he describes his coaching philosophy in three succinct terms: teaching life lessons, instructing players to approach the game so that they have no regrets, and encouraging them to always give their best effort.

Slaathaug likes to place the emphasis off of himself and onto his players.

“This is the girls’ accomplishment,” he maintains. “It’s a very humbling thing as you sit back and reflect.”

He plans to continue coaching for a few more years, at least. He has a daughter in the program who is a sophomore.

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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