With a bevy of talented players led by dedicated coaches and fueled by high expectations, championship pedigree showed through for multiple Marshall-area girls' basketball teams during the 2012-13 season.
Qualifying for the Class A state tournament the previous two years but being ousted in the first round both times, the Minneota Vikings refused to be denied on their third straight trip to Minneapolis. With a win over top-ranked Mountain Iron-Buhl in the quarterfinals at Williams Arena, Minneota carried the momentum through the next two rounds and hoisted the school's first-ever state championship trophy in basketball under the bright lights at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Minneota, which finished the season with a 30-2 record, was also one of three area teams that won conference championships this year. The Vikings rolled to a perfect Camden Conference record, beating a tough Dawson-Boyd squad three times to claim the crown.
Marshall was ranked among the Top 10 teams in Class AAA for much of the season before seeing an 11-game winning streak snapped in the Section 2AAA semifinals against Mankato East. The Tigers, however, completed a second straight perfect season in the Southwest Conference and finished the year with a 24-4 mark.
Wabasso joined Minneota and Marshall as repeat conference champions and strung together an 18-game winning streak on its way to a 26-3 record. The Rabbits finished 15-1 in the Tomahawk Conference for the second year in a row to win the conference title outright.
Whether members of a conference championship team or not, there were many standout performers on the court over the winter.
All-Area girls' basketball team
Kenzie Beekman - Marshall
Paige Erickson - WWG
Chelsey Guetter - Wabasso
Justine Lee - Dawson-Boyd
Taylor Reiss - Minneota
Kimberly Frank - Wabasso
Mari Lee - Dawson-Boyd
Cassie Hook - TMB
Kelsey Saugstad - Marshall
Emily Stienessen - Minneota
Hannah Bennett - Marshall
Molly Hennen - Minneota
Brianna Hoffman - Lakeview
Corbyn Wee - Lakeview
Ricki Kallhoff - Canby
Morgan Merritt - Canby
Jenna Ness - MCC
Kaylie Nielsen - RTR
Coach of the Year
Chad Johnston - Minneota
A member of the All-Area first team last year as a freshman, Minneota forward Taylor Reiss reaffirmed her place among the state's elite players while leading the Vikings to a state tournament title and has earned the honor of Independent Player of the Year for the first time in her career.
Reiss led the area in scoring at 22.1 points per game and was among the leaders in rebounding (8.8 per game) and steals (88). Her length and athleticism allowed her to dominate the boards, especially on the offensive end, and frustrate opposing players on defense.
ROUNDING OUT THE STARTING FIVE
- One of the area's most tenacious defenders, Marshall forward Kenzie Beekman returns to the All-Area first team after another stellar season. The 5-foot-11 junior led the Tigers in scoring at 13.9 points per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field. She was also one of the best in the area at getting to the foul line, where she made 68.4 percent of her 114 attempts.
Beekman's talents in other facets of the game were just as crucial to her team's success. She averaged a team-best 8.0 rebounds per game, with 104 of her 216 rebounds coming on the offensive end. Beekman also used her length and quickness to throw a wrench in opposing teams' offensive plans. The All-Southwest Conference honoree led the Tigers with 93 steals and 16 blocks. Marshall also keeps track of how many deflections its players have. Beekman finished with 247. The next-highest total on the team was 96.
- Stat sheet stuffer Paige Erickson capped off a strong career at Westbrook-Walnut Grove with her first appearance on the All-Area team. The 5-8 senior forward was one of two players in the area to finish the season averaging a double-double. She was second in the area in both scoring (19.5) and rebounding (10.6).
One of just two seniors on a roster dominated by freshmen and sophomores, Erickson did it all for the Chargers while helping them finish with an 8-8 record in the Red Rock Conference (11-13 overall). Along with her scoring and rebounding, she finished among the area leaders in assists (67), steals (79) and blocks (31). The All-Red Rock Conference forward was also the area's best free throw shooter, hitting 81.8 percent of her 148 attempts.
- With a 26-3 overall record, the Wabasso Rabbits proved to be the top team in the Section 3A-South for the 2012-13 season and the continued improvement of forward Chelsey Guetter was a big reason why. Like Erickson, the 6-foot junior forward also averaged a double-double. Guetter led the Rabbits in scoring at 15.6 points per game, the third-best total in the area, and also led the area with 11.2 rebounds per game. She managed to step up her play even more in the postseason, where she averaged 20.3 points and 13.5 rebounds per game.
An All-Tomahawk Conference selection, Guetter finished third in the area in blocked shots with 35. She also was among the area's leaders in steals with 51. On offense, she was able to bang bodies down low to score under the basket or step behind the arc and knock down 3-pointers. She hit her first three 3-point attempts on her way to a game-high 26 points in a 76-65 win over Southwest Minnesota Christian in the sub-section championship.
- Joining Reiss as another Camden Conference sophomore sensation, Dawson-Boyd point guard Justine Lee flirted with posting triple-doubles on multiple occasions this season while helping lead the Blackjacks to a 23-4 overall record. Lee was both Dawson-Boyd's top scorer and best facilitator. She finished tied for fourth in the area at 14.6 points per game and led the area with 187 assists, which was 64 more than the next-highest total.
With 39 made 3-pointers, Lee was a threat to drill a shot from the outside but was also adept at getting to the rim and scoring in the paint. Not just a one-way player, Lee also proved herself to be one of the Camden Conference's best defenders. She finished with an area-best 144 steals, and at 5-9, was able to block 16 shots.
- Wabasso's floor general the past two seasons, guard Kimberly Frank closed out her career with her fourth straight All-Tomahawk Conference selection while leading the Rabbits to one of their best seasons in school history. Frank averaged 14.6 points per game and finished fourth in the area in total assists with 110.
On a team that likes to pressure its opponents on defense, Frank used her quickness and athleticism to come up with 3.8 steals per game, and her 126 total steals ranked her second in the area. Frank also averaged 4.0 rebounds per game.
- A young guard on a young team, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton's Cassie Hook took on more of a leadership role during her sophomore season and led the Panthers to a 12-13 overall record, including a 7-7 mark in Camden Conference play. Hook was seventh in the area in scoring at 13.8 points per game.
An All-Camden Conference selection, Hook finished the year with 60 assists and 60 steals. She hit 36.9 percent of her shots from 3-point range, ranking third in the area with 45 3-pointers.
- Complementing Justine Lee in the post, Dawson-Boyd senior forward Mari Lee also played an integral role in leading the Blackjacks to a second-place finish in the Camden Conference. Mari Lee averaged 13.4 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the field. Her shots didn't all come from under the basket, either, as she was comfortable shooting mid-range jumpers or even stepping behind the 3-point line, where she hit 43 percent of her shots.
Lee was much more than a scorer. She also averaged 5.2 rebounds per game and dished out 52 assists. On defense, the All-Camden Conference performer posted 61 steals and 19 blocked shots.
- Marshall guard Kelsey Saugstad was one of the best shooters in the area her senior season, especially from long distance. The senior finished second in the area in total 3-pointers made with 53 and shot at a 42.4 percent clip from distance. She provided consistent offense for the Tigers during their Southwest Conference title run, scoring 12.4 points per game.
Saugstad developed into a well-rounded player during her career and contributed in multiple categories this season. She averaged 4.4 rebounds per game and led the Tigers with 83 assists. Saugstad was also a strong defender, recording 66 steals and 89 deflections.
- The Minneota Vikings needed some young players to step up this season to replace a pair of vetarans in the backcourt, and sophomore Emily Stienessen was clearly up to the challenge. The 5-7 guard provided the Vikings with an outside shooting threat that prevented opponents from packing all their defenders in the paint to stop Reiss. She shot 41 percent from long range, hitting an area-best 58 3-pointers.
Stienessen averaged 12.5 points per game and also had 70 assists, 79 steals and a team-high 23 blocks. She earned All-Tournament team honors for her efforts during the Vikings' Class A title run.