MARSHALL - With seven seniors on the MACCRAY girls' basketball team, Minneota head coach Chad Johnston did not want to give the Wolverines a chance to breathe in the Section 3A-North finals.
Typically, the Vikings come out in a zone defense. But from the opening tipoff on Monday, Minneota threw out its full-court press and never relented.
"I challenged our team," Johnston said. "MACCRAY's got seven seniors, and we've been there before, and seven seniors don't want to go out. They're going to give you everything they got, and that was the challenge tonight.
Photo by Joe Brown
Minneota’s Katelyn?Kack (12) races around MACCRAY’s Paige Schwitters during the second half of Monday’s Section 3A-North championship game at the R/A Facility in Marshall. Kack finished with seven points in the Vikings’ 63-39 victory.
"You have to out-hustle them, you have to do everything because they are going to try and do that to you."
And for the first 10 minutes, the Wolverines hung with the top-seeded Vikings, trailing by a score of 16-12 midway through the half.
MACCRAY would not score another field goal until there was six minutes, 45 seconds left in the game.
Taylor Reiss 7 6-6 20, Kelsey Hennen 6 5-7 19, Molly Hennen 2 1-2 5, Katelyn Kack 3 1-2 7, Megan Larson 2 0-0 5, Emily Steinessen 1 1-2 3, Shelby Corbin 1 1-2 4. Totals 22 16-23 63. Three-Pointers 3 Rebounds 30 (Reiss 11) Assists 12 (K. Hennen 3, M. Hennen 3) Steals 15 (Reiss 4) Blocks 2 (Reiss 2) Turnovers 20.
Teagan Molden 2 9-10 14, Paige Schwitters 1 8-12 10, Baillee Hauser 1 0-0 3, Hailey Goeman 1 2-2 5, Paige Ammerman 2 0-1 4, Abbey Thissen 1 1-2 3. Totals 8 20-28 39. Three-Pointers 3 Rebounds 21 (Thissen 7) Assists 7 (Molden 3) Steals 8 (Ammerman 4) Blocks 4 (Molden 3) Turnovers 21.
Halftime Score: Minneota 29, MACCRAY 12.
"Coach was telling us to keep the intensity up and we wanted to get after them right away," said Vikings senior guard Katelyn Kack. "That's what we did with our man-to-man full court and that worked really well for us."
With its high-tempo pressure, Minneota held the Wolverines to eight field goals, cruising to the section title game for the second-straight year with a 63-39 victory at the R/A Facility at Southwest Minnesota State.
"We're really getting excited, and we keep pushing and going as hard as we can so we can get the big 'W,'" Kack said.
It didn't take long for Minneota's defense to make an impact as the team jumped out to a 6-1 lead. Point guard Kelsey Hennen set the tone with a steal that led to a fastbreak layup, putting the score at 4-1. The Vikings finished with 15 steals, with freshman post Taylor Reiss snatching a game-high four steals.
"We knew we had to get after their guards because they're bigger than us in the front court," Kelsey Hennen said. "We figured if we tired them in the beginning, that would help in the long run, and that showed in the second half."
After Paige Ammerman hit a long two-pointer for MACCRAY, the Vikings exploded on offense, going on a 13-0 run to end the first half. Up 29-12 at half, Reiss had 10 of her game-high 20 points, while Kelsey Hennen had nine in the first 18 minutes.
In Minneota and MACCRAY's last showdown in the Camden Conference championship game, Johnston admitted that the Wolverines got too many blocks for his liking. On Monday, the Vikings got a better effort in the inside, despite the Wolverines' height advantage with players like 6-foot-2 Teagan Molden and 6-1 Abbey Thissen.
"I was happy with the fact we were able to get to the basket," Johnston said. "We just played aggressive. The girls did a good job never letting up."
Minneota led 47-22 before MACCRAY got its first bucket of the second half, a layup by Molden with 6:45 remaining. Molden, who averaged 16.6 points per game before Monday, finished with a team-high 14, with nine points coming from the free-throw line.
"She can drive to the basket, and she's tall and can post up and she has an outside shot," Kelsey Hennen said of Molden. "Give credit to Megan (Larson) and Molly (Hennen), who both played some good defense on her."
Winners of 26 straight, Minneota looks for its second straight trip to the Class A state tournament, taking on Southwest Minnesota Christian on Friday in Marshall. The Eagles defeated Fulda 65-59 Monday in Marshall.
"Our philosophy right now is 'Believe,'" Johnston said. "Believe in what we have done to get here, and we're going to stick with our philosophy."