Coming into a new season, the goal for most basketball teams is to get to the top or stay on top. After getting two girls basketball teams to the state tournament last year, the Marshall area saw local teams produce another success-filled season in 2011-12.
Despite significant turnover in its roster, Minneota maintained a high level of play thanks to the leadership of its two seniors and the emergence of its younger players. The Vikings repeated as Section 3A champions and qualified for their second straight trip to the Class A state tournament, finishing the season with a 29-2 record after falling to Ada-Borup in the first round.
Although Marshall wasn't quite able to return to state, the Tigers did something in 2011-12 that they were unable to do last season. Priding itself on its defense throughout the year, Marshall went 12-0 in Southwest Conference play to claim its first conference title since the 2006-07 season.
While Minneota and Marshall maintained their high level of play, Wabasso was a team that vaulted into the upper tier of area teams. The young Rabbits joined the Vikings and Tigers as a conference champion, going 15-1 in Tomahawk Conference play.
Success isn't just measured by conference titles or state tournament appearances. A few area put together turnaround seasons this year, as Lakeview and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton each doubled their win totals from last season.
Great teams are usually comprised of great players, and the Marshall area had several standouts this season. For the third time in her high school career, Canby's Riley Nordgaard has been chosen as the Independent Player of the Year. In her final season as a Lancer, Nordgaard helped lead a young Canby team to a 19-7 overall record and a 12-3 record in the Camden Conference.
2011-12 Independent All-Area girls basketball team
- Riley Nordgaard, Canby (Player of the Year)
- Kenzie Beekman, Marshall
- Kelsey Hennen, Minneota
- Taylor Reiss, Minneota
- Angie Scheffler, YME
- Kelsey Saugstad, Marshall
- Kimberly Frank, Wabasso
- Chelsey Guetter, Wabasso
- Kate Johnston, TMB
- Emily Swenson, Lakeview
- Kelli VanLeeuwe, Marshall
- Ricki Kallhoff, Canby
- Courtney Hinz, YME
- Jenna Ness, MCC
- Katelyn Kack, Minneota
- Klarissa Larsen, RRC
- Mari Lee, Dawson-Boyd
- Kaylie Nielsen, RTR
Coach of the Year
- Chad Johnston, Minneota
Capable of impacting a game in a number of ways, Nordgaard was truly a complete player. The 5-foot-10 guard led the team in scoring (24.0 ppg), rebounding (10.5 rpg) and steals (5.0 spg). She was also second on the team with 94 total assists. Nordgaard, who will play basketball at Augustana next year, finished her illustrious career with more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, becoming the first player in program history to attain those marks.
Rounding out the starting five
- Marshall's tenacity on the defensive end was one of the main reasons the Tigers were able to post a 21-7 record and win their first Southwest Conference title since the 2006-07 season. With long, quick and athletic forward Kenzie Beekman at the front of team's full-court press, Marshall caused headaches for opposing coaches and teams that had the tough task of cracking the Tigers' stifling defense.
Beekman was a terror on defense, coming up with 3.4 steals and nearly six deflections per game. The sophomore's defense helped create a lot of her offense and she finished second on the team in scoring (12.1 ppg) and in field goal percentage (49.0 percent). She also led the team with 7.6 rebounds per game.
"I think she was really disruptive in what teams tried to do when they played us," said Marshall head coach Dan Westby. "She was able to generate so many things with what she did in our pressure.
"The other thing she did a nice job of was rebounding. She really became one of the better rebounders in the area. She did a nice job on the boards, especially offensively, and she turned a lot of those offensive rebounds into points."
- Taking over in the post for 2011 Independent Player of the Year Ashlynn Muhl, Minneota's Taylor Reiss more than held her own under the basket during her freshman season and played a key role in helping the Vikings return to state for the second straight season. Reiss, an All-State honorable mention selection, averaged 19.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, becoming one of three Marshall-area players to average a double-double through the 2011-12 season.
With length and leaping ability, the 5-10 Reiss used her physical tools to impact play on both ends of the floor. Along with her rebounding and scoring prowess, Reiss also averaged 1.4 blocks and 2.2 steals per game. In the Vikings' Class A state quarterfinals loss against Ada-Borup, Reiss posted game highs with 27 points and 17 rebounds (12 offensive).
"She did some phenomenal things for us as a freshman and that was one of the surprising things for our team this year," said Minneota head coach Chad Johnston. "She's an athlete, she's very quick and she jumps well. She's not a big person for a post player, but she did a lot of good things.
"She scored points in our half-court offense, points in transition, and on top of that, she was a key part of our press. She really came along in all aspects of the game this year."
- An All-Area second-teamer the past two years, Minneota point guard Kelsey Hennen broke into the first team in 2012 following an impressive senior campaign. One of two seniors on the team along with Katelyn Kack, Hennen was the engine that made the Vikings go by pushing the pace on offense and providing tenacious defense.
Hennen, an All-State honorable mention, averaged 9.6 points per game and led the area with 4.5 assists per game. She was also one of the most accurate three-point shooters in the area, connecting on 38.7 percent (41 of 106) of her shots from distance. On defense, Hennen averaged 3.6 steals per game, cracking 100 total steals for the season.
As the Vikings' primary ball-handler the past three seasons, Hennen has helped Minneota to a combined record of 75-8 during those years, including a 29-2 record and Camden Conference championship in 2011-12.
"She provided a little bit of everything for us," Johnston said. "Her leadership was key, but she was just a very good all-around player.
"Offensively, everything we did ran through her. The last couple of years she was content with running the show and letting others do the scoring. This year she definitely looked to score more."
- It was a slow start for Yellow Medicine East this season, as the Sting opened the year 6-7, but with the help of Angie Scheffler and a strong senior core, YME regrouped and powered its way to 10 wins in its final 13 games. A 5-11 senior forward, Scheffler led the Sting in scoring this season at 14.3 points per game, shooting a team-best 47.3 percent from the field. In YME's final game of the year, a 54-50 loss to Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial in the Section 3AA semifinals, Scheffler scored 19 points to finish her career with 1,003 total points.
Scheffler, an Independent first-teamer last season, did more than just score for the Sting. She was also second on the team with 7.1 rebounds per game and 2.8 assists per game. Defensively, Scheffler helped YME hold opponents to just 43.3 points per game, which ranked in the top 20 in Class AA this season. Scheffler averaged 2.5 steals per contest.
"She just continued to a very versatile for us this year," said YME head coach Scott Jans. "She brought up the ball for us against the press, played wing, played on the block when we needed more toughness down low. She was our go-to girl on offense, especially when we needed baskets at the end of the game."
- While Marshall earned many of its points off turnovers and in transition, junior guard Kelsey Saugstad was the Tigers' biggest offensive threat in their half-court offense. She led the Tigers in scoring for the second straight year, putting up 14.1 points per game. Standing 5-7, Saugstad wasn't afraid to penetrate the defense and score in traffic or stay on the perimeter and pull up for a three-pointer. She averaged two made three-pointers per game, shooting at a 38.1 percent clip from long range.
Saugstad, an All-Southwest Conference selection, contributed to the team in several other areas as well. She led the Tigers with 2.9 assists per game and was second on the team with 2.1 steals per contest. Saugstad also did well on the boards for a guard, hauling in nearly four rebounds per game.
"I think when Morgan (McKittrick) went down early with her injury, Kelsey was asked to do a lot more for us, especially on the offensive end," Westby said. "We relied on her do a lot of scoring for us."
- The Wabasso girls basketball team had one of the most successful seasons in the program's history in 2011-12, and it was junior guard Kimberly Frank who took over as a leader for the young Rabbits squad. A 5-foot-7 floor general for Wabasso, Frank helped the Rabbits to a 22-5 overall record and a Tomahawk Conference title with a 15-1 mark in conference play.
Frank surpassed 1,000 career points this season and averaged a team-high 15.7 points per game. An athletic team that likes to play up-tempo, Wabasso used its full-court pressure defense to create offense this season. Frank thrived in the system, coming up with 2.9 steals per game.
"Kimberly is definitely our floor leader," said Wabasso head coach Neil Dolan. "We rely on her a lot for taking care of the basketball and setting things up for us on offense, but certainly, she's a scorer. That's her niche. She can do a little of everything, whether it was driving to the basket or shooting the three."
- A solid contributor for Wabasso a year ago as a freshman, Rabbits post player Chelsey Guetter took her game to another level this season and has developed into one of the area's top post players. At 5-11, Guetter used her tall frame to lead the area with 12.9 rebounds per game.
Guetter more than doubled her offensive output from a year ago, scoring an average of 15.3 points per contest, which ranked fifth in the Marshall area. She also was an intimidating presence in the paint on defense, averaging close to two blocks per game.
"She was extremely important to our success this season. She was the player who made the biggest jump in improvement on our team," Dolan said. "She's just a consistent hard worker. I'd say she was one of the best rebounders in the area and she just has a great attitude."
- Underclassmen like Guetter and Reiss emerged as some of the top post players in the area this season, but Lakeview's Emily Swenson made sure the posts from Class of 2012 would also be represented on the All-Area list. A 6-foot senior center, Swenson led the Lakers in scoring this season and helped Lakeview to a 13-15 overall record, which was a seven-win improvement from a season ago.
Swenson was just shy of averaging a double-double for the year, putting up 15.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. On a team that struggled with shooting accuracy, Swenson was by far the most efficient scorer, shooting 51.4 percent from the floor. On the defensive end, Swenson averaged 1.8 blocks and 1.6 steals per game.
"She was a huge reason for our turnaround," said Lakeview head coach Mike Imes. "Just her presence in the paint, she was such a dominant force for us and a big factor in how we played.
"She also displayed a lot of leadership for us. She was one of our captains this year and not only led by example, but was a vocal leader for us this year whereas she was more quiet in the past."
- Like Lakeview, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton also made a big turnaround in the 2011-12 season. One of three seniors on the Panthers' roster, Kate Johnston showed her leadership by doing a little bit of everything for TMB this season.
A 5-6 guard, Johnston led the Panthers in scoring (11.6), was third in rebounding (4.4) and was second on the team with 42 steals.
The Panthers scuffled to a 6-19 record in 2010-11, but doubled their win total this season, finishing 12-13 overall and 7-7 in the Camden Conference.