MINNEOTA - After capturing their first Class A state championship in girls basketball last season, the Vikings are headed back to Minneapolis as the No. 1 seed and tout a 30-1 record after beating Wabasso for the Section 3 Tournament championship.
The Vikings, who were ranked No. 1 in Class A by Minnesota Basketball News for much of the regular season, will be taking on Browerville, who is making its second tournament appearance and its first since 2006.
Minneota's margins of victory have gotten smaller-and-smaller as the season has progressed and coach Chad Johnston feels that his opponent's have stepped it up.
Photo by David Merrill
Minneota’s Kalley Kloos passes the ball teammate Krista Maeyart during practice Tuesday at Minneota High School. Vikings head coach Chad Johnston looks on at right.
"We should give more credit to some of the other teams than we do," Johnston said. "When you play some of those close games, like we did the other night against Wabasso, you're a little disappointed. At the same time, Wabasso is a state-ranked team. They dropped two games that they shouldn't have dropped."
The unseeded Tigers enter with a record of 23-5 and Johnston knows they like to shoot the 3-point shot.
Not looking past Browerville, mentally, and making sure Minneota closes out on the Tigers' shooters are something that Johnston feels are key.
"There's no reason to look past anybody," Johnston said. "They won their section tournament and are in the state tournament for a reason. It sounds like they like to shoot a lot of the 3-point ball. So, we have to make sure we don't lose anybody in transition."
Johnston, whose Vikings played their section tournament at Southwest Minnesota State's R/A Facility, will try and use that to the Vikings advantage. Browerville played its postseason games on a standard high school-sized court.
Minneota enters the tournament with a strong group of junior leaders that include Taylor Reiss and Emily Steinessen.
Reiss has produced a lot of the Vikings offense this season, averaging a double-double at 24 points and 10 rebounds per game. She is the Vikings all-time leading scorer for both boys and girls basketball. Steinessen provides an outside jumper and, if she gets going, she can be tough to stop. Steinessen averages 14 points per contest.
Minneota has been a formidable opponent in Class A for a long time and the bullseye on its back has gotten bigger after the Vikings captured the state tournament title last season.
While the team may be used to that bullseye, it isn't making it any easier.
"I think it's getting harder to have that target," Reiss said. "I think we're doing fine with having it and we have been doing fine the whole year. I think we've learned how to play through it."
Motivation is another big key for the Vikings as they have to play like they haven't won it before. Staying hungry is something that the team is going to focus on.
"The first two years we went up there, we lost in the first round and we knew how that felt," Reiss said. "We didn't want that to happen again. We were really motivated to get past the first round. Once we got past the first round to the championship, we just really wanted to win it."
Minneota is a team with five seniors, seven juniors and two freshman. The Vikings were labeled a young team last year when they won the title, but they are now a veteran team.
Senior Shelby Corbin didn't think having an older team would make much of a difference.
"Most of it will be getting over our nerves and getting our confidence back," Corbin said. "We have all been there. So, it's not that new of an experience, but its always different every time you go. Age is nothing but a number. We have been playing together long enough for age to not really matter."
The Vikings will take on Browerville at 11 a.m. Thursday at Mariucci Arena.