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Prep girls basketball: Southwest Minnesota Christian, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton eye state tournament

In whatever year, in whatever sport, it pays to have exceptional athletes.Athleticism has paved the way to success for Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Southwest Minnesota Christian girls team sports for years, and the legacy continues in 2015-16. Both t...

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ZACH HACKER/DAILY GLOBE Evy Dolan (23) puts in two of her 18 points for Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Friday in Windom during the Section 3AA south title game.

In whatever year, in whatever sport, it pays to have exceptional athletes.
Athleticism has paved the way to success for Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Southwest Minnesota Christian girls team sports for years, and the legacy continues in 2015-16. Both teams achieved outstanding success on the volleyball court last fall, with the Panthers qualifying for the Minnesota State Class A Tournament. Both teams brought several quality players to the girls basketball campaign, and it’s paying off in more success.
On Thursday at 5 p.m. at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, a 25-3 Tracy-Milroy-Balaton team will take on New London-Spicer (22-6) for the Section 3AA championship and a berth in the 2016 state tourney. Also on Thursday at 8 p.m. at SMSU, Southwest Christian (26-1) and Wabasso (20-6) vie for the Section 3A crown.
Here’s a look at the matchups:
SWC vs. Wabasso
These two teams know each other well. Over each of the last three seasons, the Rabbits have beaten the Eagles in tightly-contested subsection finales.
“It’s time. Fourth time’s the charm, right?” said SWC head coach Denise Nerem on Tuesday.
The Rabbits and Eagles have not met on the court this season. But they’ve both played a strong Red Rock Central team, with the Rabbits losing to the Falcons 79-73 on Dec. 18 and the Eagles beating the Falcons in two close games - most recently 55-51 in the Section 3A South title contest.
Wabasso has a strong inside player in senior forward Morgan Frank. The Eagles, whose only loss this year was to Pipestone Area, are a quick team with a lot of offensive balance.
“I think we match up very well,” Nerem said. “We have a lot of strength inside and we have good post play. So I think that matches up very well with what they have.”
Graduation losses were significant on Southwest Christian’s 2014-15 team, but early-on in the new season Nerem knew she had a faster, more athletic outfit to build around. Forwards Chantel Groen and Ann Pater are Southwest’s “one-two punch,” but sophomore Brooklyn DeKam also averages in double figures. On a squad where eight or nine players contribute regularly, there are six who score eight points or more per game.

Defensively, the Eagles use man-to-man pressure effectively and also play zone defense well. Their full-court press has given opponents trouble. Nerem hopes the Eagles’ size will make Frank work for every basket she makes.
T-M-B vs. New London-Spicer
New London-Spicer, led by 6-foot senior Megan Thorson, who averages about 10 points per game, will have a height advantage against Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. But 38-year veteran head coach Mike Dreier describes his Wildcats as a balanced team that relies on no one person - a team that tries to take advantage of whatever the defense gives it.
“We haven’t been able to beat the best teams on our schedule,” Dreier said.
That may be true, but the Wildcats have won 22 games so far. They lost in their section finals last year, and only lost one contributor from that team to graduation. They played in the state tournament the year before.
“They’re a really good program with a really good coach - a coach and a program that’s had a really good tradition,” said T-M-B mentor Derek Ashbaugh, who admits New London-Spicer will probably out-rebound his squad but hopes his athletic lineup can counter that.
“Realistically, I think we’re going to have to try to get up and down the floor, to make it a fast-tempo game. And hopefully we can get a few turnovers, too,” Ashbaugh said.
T-M-B point guard Kaylee Kirk, a sophomore, sets the tone for the Panthers. That’s no surprise to Dreier.
“We’ll try to come out and play our game. Obviously, you can’t let the guard go crazy, and she can score and set her teammates up really well,” he said.

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TIM MIDDAGH/DAILY GLOBE Southwest Minnesota Christian’s Emily Nerem (15) gets through the Edgerton defense for two of her 12 points during the Eagles’ 71-61 Section 3A quarterfinal win.

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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