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Here we go: Section girls basketball soon to begin in 3A and 3AA

Luverne looks strong in Section 3AA, and Southwest Minnesota Christian has history behind it in 3A. The high school girls basketball tournaments are about to start.

The Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagles bench (from left) Tyra Snyder (25), (43), Myah Vander Maten (21), Ana Veldkamp (15), Shaylee Van Essen (13), Kinsie Nelson and Makenzie Pap (11)cheers during a recent game with Worthington.
SouthWest Minnesota Christian Eagles Bench and fans cheer during a Friday night game with Worthington Trojans (from left) Tyra Snyder (25), (43), Myah Vander Maten (21), Ana Veldkamp (15), Shaylee Van Essen (13), Kinsie Nelson and Makenzie Pap (11).
Tim Middagh / The Globe

The Luverne girls basketball team has qualified for the state tournament only once in program history.

Could this be the season the Cardinals do it again?

Luverne’s excellent team will start its state-tourney quest Saturday night as the Section 3AA meet gets started. The Cardinals, 21-4 and top-seeded in the South part of the Section, play host to Redwood Valley in a first-round game.

Meanwhile, the Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagles have continued their winning ways this winter and enter Section 3A play as one of the favorites to advance. The Eagles, led this season by new coach Luke Drooger, are 19-6 and second-seeded in the 3A South.

SouthWest Minnesota Christian Eagles Bench and fans cheer during a Friday night game with Worthington Trojans (from left) Tyra Snyder (25), (43), Myah Vander Maten (21), Ana Veldkamp (15), Shaylee Van Essen (13), Kinsie Nelson and Makenzie Pap (11).
The Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagles bench (from left) Tyra Snyder (25), (43), Myah Vander Maten (21), Ana Veldkamp (15), Shaylee Van Essen (13), Kinsie Nelson and Makenzie Pap (11) cheers a good play during a recent game with Worthington .
Tim Middagh / The Globe

The 3A begins Thursday night in Adrian as Adrian-Ellsworth, eighth-seeded in the South, takes on No. 9 Murray County Central. The winner advances to meet top-seeded Tracy-Milroy-Balaton as the South’s quarterfinals take place Saturday in Worthington.

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There are four games on 3A’s “Super Saturday” at the Trojan Fieldhouse, with TMB taking on either Adrian or MCC at 11 a.m. At 12:30 p.m., it’s No. 4 Edgerton vs. No 5 Red Rock Central; at 2:30 it’s No. 2 Southwest Christian vs. No. 7 Westbrook-Walnut Grove; and at 4 it’s No. 3 Hills-Beaver Creek vs. No. 6 Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda.

Other 3AA first rounders on Saturday night include, in the South, fifth-seeded St. James Area at No. 4 Jackson County Central, sixth-seeded Windom Area at No. 3 Minnesota Valley Lutheran, and seventh-seeded Pipestone Area at No. 2 Fairmont.

“It’s fun and exciting to get into tournament play,” said Luverne coach TJ Newgard. “Our section has a lot of good teams. I’d say there are four or five teams from the North and the South that could potentially win it.”

The Cardinals have just two seniors, but have dominated the competition all season and enter tournament play riding an eight-game winning streak. Among the team’s impressive victories was a 47-45 triumph over highly regarded Montevideo on Feb. 12.

Luverne has several stars in its lineup, including senior Brooklyn Ver Steeg. The point guard suffered a season-ending knee injury last year early on and then tweaked it again last fall. She’s played through the pain and has provided inspiration and leadership throughout the winter.

“She’s really been playing well lately, which is great to see,” said Newgard. “She’s definitely the leader of the crew.”

Junior star Elizabeth Wagner averages about 21 ppg. There are several others capable of getting double digits, including Ver Steeg, Christina Wagner, Kira John and Emma Beyer.

“Our strength is our consistency,” said Newgard. “We haven’t really had any games where I thought we didn’t compete real well. We know what we’re going to get each night, which in high school athletics is a huge thing.”

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The Cardinals are solid defensively, yielding only about 40 points per game.

No Luverne girls basketball team has ever won 20 games in a season.

“Top to bottom, it’s the most talent we’ve had since I’ve been here, for sure,” said Newgard, in his eighth season.

The Cardinals aren’t the only Luverne team doing well this winter. The school’s girls hockey squad qualified for the state meet, and several boys teams have also enjoyed a lot of success.

“It makes it pretty fun at school to build each other up and cheer each other on,” Newgard said. “It’s fun to see.”

Jackson County Central is another top contender in Section 3AA. Senior Sadie Voss and junior Macie Farmer are two of the finest all-around female athletes in southwest Minnesota. Both have topped 1,000 career points.

“They’re two really dynamic girls who could score 40 on any given night,” Newgard said. “They’re a team that could definitely knock somebody off.”

Luverne’s girls won the Region 2A championship in 1975, qualifying for the state meet in the first year of Minnesota girls basketball play. It remains the only regional (now called sectional) title in Luverne girls hoop history.

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IN SECTION 3A, meanwhile, coach Drooger’s Eagles have performed up to program standards. And it’s a high standard, indeed. Southwest Christian girls teams have qualified for three state tourneys since 2010 and earned sectional (or regional) titles seven times overall.

“These girls are a lot of fun to be around,” said Drooger, a former star athlete at Edgerton High. “We try not to put much pressure on ourselves, but there’s pressure when you’re used to winning and fans and parents and everyone expects you to win. We just try not to focus on that. We just go out and play basketball.

“I just hope these girls are having half as much fun as I am.”

The Eagles have an aggressive defensive style and a balanced offensive attack that features junior forward Makenna Moss (about 13 ppg), senior guard Rylie Fey (11 ppg) and sophomore guard Ana Veldkamp (11 ppg). Senior Morgan Pap is a tremendous point guard who earlier this season had 11 assists in a game to tie the school record.

“We’re going to see zones, so we’ve got to shoot the ball well,” Drooger said. “We’ve got to continue to push the basketball, because our best offense is when we score in transition.”

There are many fine players in the 3A South, including Edgerton’s Reece Wassink and Alyda Vande Griend, H-BC’s Lanae Elbers and Kenadie Fick, Red Rock Central’s Lilly Stavnes and Karli Arkell, HLO/Fulda’s Chrissy Hermeling, MCC’s Emily Rohrer, and Westbrook-Walnut Grove’s Isabel Klumper.

“I think if we play well we can beat anybody, in both our sub-section and section,” Drooger said. “We have a good opportunity here in front of us.

Scott Mansch, who in a crowded Viking tavern has been known to say “Go Pack Go” at times in complete disregard for his health, can be reached at smansch5rockets@gmail.com
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