MARSHALL - Coming into the Section 3A championship game, the Minneota girls basketball team had one plan.
To play their game.
"I told the girls it's been a great season for us and we are not changing a thing," said Minneota head coach Chad Johnston. "I don't want them second-guessing what they did to get here, so our focus was on making sure we had a quick start."
Minneota senior guard Kelsey Hennen (14) Photo by Alex Oey
goes up for a layup against a Southwest
Minnesota Christian defender during Friday night’s Section 3A championship game at the R/A Facility at Southwest Minnesota State University.
And the Vikings did just that.
Minneota jumped out to a 7-0 lead and never looked back on its way to a 58-41 win over Southwest Minnesota Christian for the right to advance to the Class A state basketball tournament.
"We knew we had to play tough, believe in ourselves and play tough as a team," said Minneota senior Katelyn Kack.
Hannah Van Dyke 2 0-1 4, Megan De Ruyter 3 6-6 13, Michaela Zeinstra 0 2-2 2, Julie Bobb 0 2-2 2, Deidra Vander Woude 2 0-0 4, Amber Pater 4 3-4 11, Morgan Van Hulzen 1 0-0 2, Jennifer Schmidt 0 1-2 1, Kelly Tinklenberg 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 14-17 41. Three-Pointers 1 (De Ruyter). Rebounds 32 (Zeinstra 6). Assists 8 (Vander Woude 2). Steals 8 (De Ruyter 6). Blocks 5. Turnovers 20.
Molly Hennen 2 3-5 8, Shelby Corbin 1 0-0 2, Katelyn Kack 5 4-4 14, Kelsey Hennen 1 1-2 4, Emily Stienessen 4 0-0 10, Taylor Reiss 7 3-7 17, Megan Larson 1 0-0 3. Totals 21 11-18 58. Three-Pointers 5 (Stienessen 2, M. Hennen 1, K. Hennen 1, Larson 1.) Rebounds 21 (Reiss 8, K. Hennen 4, M. Hennen 4). Assists 20 (K. Hennen 7). Steals 14 (Kack 7). Blocks 4 (Reiss 3). Turnovers 9.
Halftime Score: Minneota 30, SWC 18.
The Vikings (29-1 overall) got things going with a three-pointer from Molly Hennen, quickly followed by a layup from Taylor Reiss and a shot from Kack to go up 7-0. It was nearly two minutes into the game before Amber Pater got the Eagles (20-6) on the board, but Minneota was building momentum.
"It gives you a lot of confidence getting those first few points," Reiss said.
SWC cut the lead to 7-4, but that was as close as the Eagles would get the rest of the night.
Minneota used four and five-point runs in the first half to build a 19-10 lead when Reiss scored another pair down low.
Emily Stienessen helped give the Vikings their first double-digit lead, 25-14, with four of her 10 points, followed by a basket from Kack.
"We came out with a lot of fire and were ready to go," Stienessen said.
Neither team was able to find the basket in the final 93 seconds of the half and Minneota took a 30-18 lead into the locker room.
"We were talking that we can't give up," Kack said. "We said they are going to come back with everything they have in the second half, so we have to play our game with no letups."
The Vikings had no letups in the second half, scoring eight of the first 10 points. Molly Hennen hit a pair of free throws before SWC's Hannah Van Dyke hit a shot. Kelsey Hennen buried a three-pointer and Reiss followed with an old-fashioned three, finishing her basket with a free throw.
Defensively, Minneota continued to stymie the Eagles, forcing 20 turnovers in the game.
"I thought we did a nice job executing," Johnston said. "Offensively, we were getting good looks, we made some good shots. Defensively, we were doing a nice job of taking away their rhythm a bit."
With just over 11 minutes left in the game, Kack got a steal off the full-court press and made the easy layup to give Minneota a 19-point lead, but SWC wasn't done yet.
The Eagles put together an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 10 when Megan De Ruyter hit a pair of free throws with 7:10 left in the game.
"We were so tentative, we didn't want to go to the hoop," said SWC head coach Denise Nerem. "I kept telling them, go to the hoop."
Minneota turned around and locked down the Eagle offense, going on an 11-2 run in a four-minute stretch to reclaim a 56-37 lead with 98 seconds left in the game.
"It's a game of runs. You try to withstand some people's runs and get your own, but credit to the girls," Johnston said. "When we needed a couple of key steals and key baskets, we got them, which allowed us to break that momentum. Our girls did a great job."
In the final minute and a half, SWC outscored Minneota 4-3, but the Vikings were able to celebrate a return trip to state when the final buzzer sounded.
"It's a great feeling. I hope our girls enjoy this," Johnston said. "It's great to go back-to-back. We are excited to play some more basketball."
Minneota will face Ada-Borup, the Section 6A champion, at 1 p.m. on Thursday at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.