Who's hot heading into the new year?
Area winter sports teams strutted their stuff in December, but which ones can stay hot in January?
All the Christmas cookies have been consumed, and the sweater that’s two sizes too big has been returned to the store. And a new year, 2023, is just around the corner, meaning that high school sports teams will be moving forward with the rest of their winter schedules.
Lots of area teams have been hot during the cold pre-holiday season. Here’s how things stand heading into January:
The Worthington Trojans played good basketball before the holiday break, went 2-0 Wednesday and Thursday at the Fergus Falls Holiday Tournament. After losing their first game against a talented Southwest Minnesota Christian team 74-69, they responded with a stifling victory over long-time tormentor Marshall 67-40, and have continued to look sharp. All things considered, the Trojans are showing great life in a Big South Conference that is currently wide open.
Worthington hosts its next seven scheduled games out of the break, giving local fans an easy opportunity to follow their exploits.
On Jan. 13, WHS hosts the New Ulm Eagles, who started the year 4-0. The Eagles scored over 70 points in each of those four games, and feature 6-foot-9 junior Nathan Firle stopping traffic in the paint.
It is hard to find a better basketball program in southwest Minnesota than the one coached by Jamie Pap at Southwest Minnesota Christian. Death, taxes, and the Eagles’ stifling defense are simple facts of life. The Eagles’ only loss thus far has been to Pipestone Area, 67-64. But they’ve already beaten tough squads from Westbrook-Walnut Grove and Worthington.
Pipestone Area boys basketball appears to be a tough out in Section 3AA and in the Big South Conference.
Several tough games are ahead, however -- one, a trip to the Tigers den of Marshall on Jan. 5, and a home game with Worthington Feb. 7.
Luverne has been dominating the competition in southwest Minnesota girls basketball thus far. In five games the Cardinals have allowed opposing teams to score 39, 24, 42, 30 and 21 points while putting up 65, 60, 59, 74 and 79. That is a point differential of plus-181.
The Cardinals are loaded in talent which is highlighted in its star player senior guard Elizabeth Wagner, who recently scored her 1,000th varsity career point. The Cardinals also boast talent in Kira John, Emma Beyer and Sarah Stegenga.
Early January games against Marshall and Montevideo should help give a fuller picture of the Cards’ power.
The Luverne Cardinals boys hockey team went into the holiday break at 3-1-1 and is delivering on preseason expectations of being the team to beat in their section. The Cardinals tied Two Rivers 2-2, and lost 2-1 to New Ulm. The Cardinals will have a chance to rematch the New Ulm Eagles on Jan. 26.
How the Cards will match up against Albert Lea on Jan. 17th will be something to watch. A statement win for the Cardinals could be prophetic for its ability to compete at the state tournament.
The Luverne girls hockey program is clearly the team to emulate in this corner of the state. The Cardinals were 8-1 at the holiday break, their only pre-Christmas loss being in overtime to Mankato East 4-3. They also lost 2-0 to a strong River Lakes team in the Blaine Holiday Tournament.
Kamryn Van Batavia is one of the state’s most prolific girls hockey scorers, and she gets plenty of help for LHS.
A huge game for Luverne is coming up. On Jan. 14 the Cardinals host Warroad, the top ranked team in Class A. Warroad is a bonafide hockey town, and a matchup with the Warriors promises to be an exciting draw for a Luverne that hopes to later advance to its fourth straight state tournament.
Worthington gymnastics, with eight state tournament trips already in tow, is having another outstanding season.
The Trojans are getting healthy with the return of Hali Bullerman, who injured her hand at the conclusion of the volleyball season. Olivia Barber, Kelsey Soleta, Cristy Banegas and Addison Gerber are familiars on the varsity roster.
A regular season meet that should be highly entertaining is the upcoming home meet against Jackson County Central on Jan. 5. The Huskies at one time were the dominant power in the Big South Conference. Worthington is the top power now, but the Huskies are still able to score well.
Jackson County Central wrestling team is the top ranked team in Minnesota’s Class A. The Huskies are a fearsome team with highly touted wrestlers in nearly every weight class. Nolan Ambrose is ranked second in Class A at 132, Thomas Freking is ranked third at 138, Logan Butzon ranked second at 145, Dylan Withers ranked third at 170, Matthew Haley ranked third at 195, and Caleb Vancura ranked second at 220.
An exciting match up for the Huskies is on Jan. 20 when St. Michael-Albertville comes to Jackson for a meet. St. Michael-Albertville is the top ranked team in Minnesota’s Class AAA.