The 2011 Class AA girls basketball tourney is stacking up to be full-bore blast. All eight teams finished in the top 10 in the final rankings, with four teams returning from the 2010 field including defending champ Minnehaha Academy.
Here’s a look at the March 16 quarterfinal pairings held both at Williams Arena and the Target Center, with breakdowns of each squad. The State semifinals will be played at 6 and 8 p.m. at the Target Center Friday, March 18. The championship will be 2 p.m. Saturday, March 19 back at the Target Center, with the 3rd-place game held 12 p.m. at Concordia University in St. Paul.
Braham (28-2) vs. Pequot Lakes (28-1): The Bombers went tape-to-tape ranked No. 1 this season with their core of players making their third-straight State tourney which included a runner-up finish last year. Sophomore Becca Dahlman leads the team with 887 points (29.6 ppg), is the top rebounder (9.1 rpg) and leads in steals (144). Junior Kelsey Sorenson-Giffrow is next in scoring with 13.9 ppg and hit a team-high 50 three-pointers. Senior Hannah Dahlman averaged 11.6 ppg, dished 136 assists and adds 100 steals. Back at point guard is senior Liz Anderson who led with 190 assists, was second with 125 steals and averaged 8.2 ppg. Filling out the starters is senior center Katie Nickles who was second with 5.0 rpg, added 104 steals and is averaging 5.0 ppg. Coming off the bench are junior Austyn Eng (43 steals, 1.5 ppg) and soph Kayla Nickles (34 three-pointers, 47 steals).
“It’s awesome to see our experience come together. At State, we’re going to be pretty mature about things. It’s our third time going, so we’re pretty used to it,” said Anderson.
7th-ranked Pequot Lakes is led by the Lueck sisters– senior Emily has over 2,000 career points, and 5’11 junior Mattie is over 1,000 points for her career. Solid point guard senior Kylie Beltz is a smart all-around player. The Patriots knocked off East Grand Forks 65-43 in the Section 8AA finals.
“They play a lot like us, and we’re similar in size. They like to get up-and-down the court, they like to press and they will play multiple defenses,” scouted Braham Coach Tim Malone.
Katie Nickles has the added excitement of celebrating her 18th birthday during the Bombers’ State opener on the 16th. “It’s going to be so fun– the best 18th birthday present I could ever ask for. It’s so lucky to have my birthday during the playoffs, so hopefully we’ll be successful on that day!”
Providence Academy (25-4) vs. St. Peter (24-3): In Braham’s half of the brackets is 3rd-ranked Providence, a fairly-new private school in Plymouth who the Bombers tipped 46-45 in their third game this season. The Lions held down Eden Valley-Watkins 35-19 in the 5AA finals.
“The Lions are a very defensive-minded team, allowing just 33.9 ppg this season,” said Coach Malone. “They are definitely taller than us (four players 6’ or taller), and I would say both they and we improved quite a bit through this season.”
St. Peter, ranked 10th, endured the loss of Wisconsin-recruit AnnaMarie Brown (torn ACL) to win the Section 2AA title 55-38 over Blue Earth, returning to State its second straight year. Senior guard Alyssa Kerkhoff set a team record with 146 steals and leads the Saints with 16.6 ppg. Junior guard Katy Kuiper averaged 13.9 ppg and led with 86 assists. The Saints held opponents to 41.7 ppg in 2011.
Caledonia (26-3) vs. Sauk Centre (29-1): 6th-ranked Caledonia has two starters still playing from its 2009 State champion team– Amber Sorenson and Bobbi Jo Schuttemeier. 6’1” Sorenson averages 18.3 ppg, adding 187 rebounds, 80 blocked shots and a team-record 88 three-pointers this season. Schuttemeier contributed 6.0 ppg, 100 assists and 64 steals. The Warriors have three sophomores starting including 6’3” center Emma Lange (14.6 ppg, 191 reb.) who placed 4th in the State High Jump last spring. Filling out the starters are weigh-lifter Mariah Fruechte (7.6 ppg, 137 reb.) and Taylor Winjum (6.5 ppg, 77 reb.). The Warriors reached State four of the last five years by beating Stewartville 51-44 in the 1AA championship.
Sauk Centre comes in as the No. 2 ranked team in AA while rolling on a 28-game win streak after topping Staples-Motley 78-58 in the 6AA finals. The Mainstreeters’ lone loss was 52-45 to 20-8 Bloomington Jefferson. Leading the way on the return trip to State is all-time leading scorer 6’1” junior Kali Peschel who averages 20.4 ppg and 7.6 rpg. Senior Maren Greenwaldt adds 12.2 ppg and a team-high 96 three-pointers. Soph forward Macy Weller is second on the team with 7.2 rpg (8.6 ppg).
Minnehaha Academy (21-6) vs. Jackson Co. Central (26-2): The 5th-ranked Redhawks enter the tourney with the biggest targets on their backs after their championship run last season and reaching State for four straight seasons. Back patrolling the middle of the defense is 6’5” senior center Katelyn Adams (13.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 98 blocks). Senior 5’10” forward Sarina Baker is a new pick-up this season who leads the offense with 20.3 ppg (7.2 rpg). Senior returning guard Jana Halstengard and junior guard Gabbi Stienstra led the team with 68 assists each. The Redhawks defeated St. Croix Lutheran 57-41 in the 4AA finals.
9th-ranked Jackson Co. Central advanced to State by defeating Yellow Medicine East 55-38 for the 3AA crown. The balanced Huskies have four players averaging double-digit scoring: junior Whitney Burmeister (17.5 ppg, 11.9 rpg), senior Courtney Kruse (11.5 ppg), soph Leslie Handzus (11.5 ppg, 42 three-pointers) and junior Kaylee Benson (11.4 ppg).
• Braham aims to make a repeat appearance in the Class AA championship Saturday afternoon. Their lone two losses this season came by a total of four points to Class 4A schools Mounds View (21-6) and Minnetonka (21-7, section runners-up to Hopkins).
Becca Dahlman emphasized the Bombers’ drive after their section championship game with Esko. She said, “At halftime, we were like, ‘We are not backing down. This is our chance to win State.’ This is our year. And we came out in the second half, and we all stepped up. We’re not going to quit. We had great fans make the trip up here, and a big ‘Thanks!’ to everyone for showing up.”
Hopefully, the Bombers can treat their loyal fan base to three great games this week.