The Granite Ridge Conference, now entering its 7th season, is going to be one tough conference this year, possibly the toughest it has been since Princeton bolted back to the Mississippi 8 after the 2013 season. Everybody except, possibly, Albany…
The Granite Ridge Conference, now entering its 7th season, is going to be one tough conference this year, possibly the toughest it has been since Princeton bolted back to the Mississippi 8 after the 2013 season. Everybody except, possibly, Albany and Little Falls will be better this year. The big question mark is Zimmerman. They’ll win the championship, barring injuries, but will they be better than last year? Becker will be a bunch better, Foley will be better, Milaca will be a little better, Mora will be better, St. Cloud Cathedral will be a little better.
Mora won the 1st Granite Ridge title back in 2012 at 11-1, then has won just 5 conference games in the 5 years since but, like I said, they’ll be much better. Albany won 4 conference titles in a row, then dropped to 2nd at 12-2 last year, despite an amazing front line of Erin Navratil, Madison Schmitz and Emily Johnson. All 3 are now gone, so they’ll be fortunate to match last year’s record, but the cupboard is not empty. Finally, Zimmerman stormed to its 1st title at 13-1 last year, and it’s got everybody back except point guard Danielle Williams. But Alyssa Daugherty is a great, great combo guard. The only question is whether she can handle the ball and still score 20 a night.
1. Zimmerman 12-2 (13-1, 1st last year)
Zimmerman might be better than last year and they might not, but they also might not win as many games because the Granite Ridge overall will be vastly improved. And, don’t underestimate the loss of point guard Danielle Williams. Now departed, she scored just 6 ppg last year but added 5 assists and 7 steals.
But, Alyssa Daugherty returns. Still just a junior, Daugherty is a quick combo guard who really gets up and down the court, scores inside and out, in transition and the half-court, and is an impeccable ball-handler as well. She is our #29-rated 2019, rating just behind guards like Aja Wheeler, Joey Batt and Taytum Rhoades and ahead of guards like Anna Harvey and Kaylee Nelson. She added 5 assists and 4 steals a year ago.
Still, much also depends on the successful return of power forward Naomi Hagstrom, the Thunder’s tallest returning contributor at 5-10. Her knee injury probably cost Zim a state tournament trip last year. She averaged 16 points and 6 boards last year and gave Zimmerman an inside presence. She needs to be 100 percent for Zim to repeat in the conference and compete for that state tournament berth.
5-7 wings Ilea May and Mikayla Pool also return. The 2 seniors combined for 18 points and 15 boards a year ago, and 5-3 junior Demi Bond is also a player at 9 points, 2 assists and 2 steals.
The Thunder will be a little less flashy without Williams, and will probably have to score out of the half-court set more than they needed to a year ago. But this is a conference champion and a state tournament team if everybody is healthy.
2. Becker 11-3 (6-7, 5th last year)
Becker will be much improved this year. 6-2 post Claire Thorn is gone but everybody else returns, led by freshman point guard Julia Bengtson. Bengtson is not going to make people forget Kenzie Kramer, who transferred to St. Michael last year, but she is a major league 1 in her own right with 10 ppg as an 8th grader. And, she has lots of targets to pass the ball to—6-2 senior post Madi Kerzman (11 ppg last year), 5-9 senior forward Renee Tripp (9), 5-10 senior Haley Benda (7), junior guard Lexi Masog (7) and fellow freshman guard Courtney Nuest (7).
3. St. Cloud Cathedral 10-4 (11-4, 3rd last year)
Like Zim, the Crusaders also lose a great 2017 guard in Morgan Prom, and like Zimmerman also returns a great guard in 5-7 junior Megan Voit. Voit took over as the Crusaders’ top scorer and rebounder last year (16 ppg-8 reb) from 5-10 senior forward Kate Tomczik. Tomczik remained productive at 12-and-8, but Voit was just that good. Junior guards Abbey Medelberg and Morgan Van Erp also return. Like Zim, this is not a very big team, but there’s plenty of firepower.
4. Albany 9-5 (12-2, 2nd last year)
The Huskies are 68-4 with 4 conference titles in 6 years since coming over from the West Central Conference in 2103. Now, they lose an incredible front line of 6-footers Erin Navratil, Madison Schmitz and Emily Johnson. But, don’t cry for Albany. Freshman guard Paige Meyer now takes over. She scored just 5 ppg a year ago, but she may be one of the top half-dozen 1s in the class of 2021. She will score in double figures, and so might juniors Paige Reuter and Amanda Kollodge. Don’t cry for Albany, though we figure there will be a 1-year transition, then back to the top.
5. Milaca 7-7 (8-6, 4th a year ago)
Milaca will be better, yet the Wolves won’t win any more games and will drop one slot in the conference standings. But, they have size in 5-11 senior Ellie Banks (8 ppg last year) and 5-10 junior Erika Maalis (7), while sophomore Miranda Broberg (7), junior Jessica Ploegen (8) and senior Kendall Rosenbrink (7) can all score from the perimeter.
6. Foley 4-10 (4-10, 6th a year ago)
There’s a big gap between 5th and 6th. Foley continues to rebuild after the loss of 6-5 post Tara Ducharm 3 years ago. Now, the junior class, the 2019s lead the way. They are Isabelle Legatt (11 ppg last year), Casey Teff (7) and Madison Peschl (5). They have some size, but will try to keep scores low. With all of the firepower among the top 5 teams in the Granite Ridge, that will be a tall order.
7. Little Falls 2-12 (1-12, 7th last year)
The Flyers boast one of the Granite Ridge’s top players in 5-11 senior post Sophie Sowada, who scored 16 ppg with 8 boards a year ago, despite which the Flyers dropped from 11-3 in the conference to 1-12. They should be better but 7th place still looks like home. Sowada is active inside and up and down the court. She’s always around the ball, always making something happen. But, junior forward Kali Mammenga is the next highest scorer returning with just 4 ppg.
8. Mora 1-13 (0-13, 8th a year ago)
Incredibly, Mora won the inaugural Granite Ridge title at 11-1, then the Mustangs managed just 5 conference wins against 65 losses the next 5 years. Now, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but it just might be Albany and Becker coming at ‘em. Still, longer term, freshmen guards Payton Oslin (7.5 ppg as an 8th grader) and Morgan Mann (5 ppg and 4 assists) will achieve respectability. Just not this year.
For now, they’ll also rely on a big senior class—Hailey Theilen, Faith Nielsen, Adaline Ness and Lindsay Boge—who combined for 20 ppg last year, but haven’t had much team success.
Center—Sophie Sowada, Little Falls, 5-11, senior, 16 ppg-8 reb last year
Power Forward—Naomi Hagstrom, Zimmerman, 5-10, senior, 16 ppg-6 reb
Point Guard—Paige Meyer, Albany, freshman, 5 ppg last year
Combo Guard—Alyssa Daugherty, Zimmerman, 5-7, junior, 20 ppg-5 assists-4 steals
Combo Guard—Megan Voit, St. Cloud Cathedral, 5-7, junior, 15 ppg-8 boards-2.5 assists
Center—Madi Kerzman, Becker, 6-1 senior, 11 ppg last year
Power Forward—Ellie Banks, Milaca, 5-11, senior, 8 ppg
Small Forward—Kate Tomczik, St. Cloud Cathedral, 5-10, senior, 12 ppg-8 boards-2 assists
Point Guard—Julia Bengtson, Becker, freshman, 10 ppg
Shooting Guard—Ilea May, Zimmerman, 5-7, senior, 11 ppg-9 boards
The two best point guards in the league are freshmen Paige Meyer and Julia Bengtson, so they're listed above. Here are 3 more freshman among 5 more players who are expected to raise their profiles this year.
Center—Hallie Hupf, St. Cloud Cathedral, 5-10, junior, 7 ppg last year
Power Forward—Miranda Broberg, Milaca, sophomore, 7 ppg
Point Guard—Morgan Mann, Mora, freshman, 5 ppg-4 assists
Shooting Guard—Payton Oslin, Mora, freshman, 7.5 ppg
Shooting Guard—Courtney Nuest, Becker, freshman, 7 ppg