A decade ago, the Minnesota River was a pretty competitive conference. Jordan had some super teams with Brittany Chambers and Leah Dietel but Holy Family and Norwood Young America and LeSueur-Henderson were right there. But Holy Family left to go…
A decade ago, the Minnesota River was a pretty competitive conference. Jordan had some super teams with Brittany Chambers and Leah Dietel but Holy Family and Norwood Young America and LeSueur-Henderson were right there. But Holy Family left to go to the Wright County Conference in 2012 and Watertown-Mayer joined them in 2016 and Jordan had nowhere to go but down. LeSueur really hit bottom, dropping from 11 conference wins in 2010 to none in 2013. They haven’t won more than one since.
So, now, the Raiders of NYA have won 5 straight conference championships and has been to 2 state tournaments in the past 3 years. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not because of declining competition. This is because the Raiders have become a statewide Class AA powerhouse with deep, skilled talent and a solid coach in Gary Lembcke. And, because of declining competition. Over the course of a decade, only Mayer Lutheran has really improved its program—well, again, along with NYA. And, yes, Tri-City United, which merged LeCenter with Montgomery-Lonsdale in 2012, has gotten better as a result of the merger.
As a result, the 2018 Minnesota River championship is a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, NYA will graduate a huge senior class next spring, so the real action this year will be the jockeying for position going into 2019. Then again, almost everybody will be senior-oriented except for Sibley East, Belle Plaine and LeSueur-Henderson, who went a combined 6-30 last year. Still, the real action will be in positions 2 through 7.
1. Norwood Young America 12-0 (12-0, 1st last year, an average of 10 conference wins per year over the past 12 years)
NYA could compete for a Class AAA title this year. The onslaught begins with 6-2 post Bren Fox, who will be moving on to Minnesota-Crookston a year hence, and continues with sharp-shooter Kali Grimm, a 5-9 wing and New Hampshire recruit. The 2 of them scored 32.5 ppg between them last year, and Fox is a solid shot-blocker and all-around defensive force in the lane. Fox may be going D2 vs. Grimm’s D1, but Fox’s defense and rebounding is what really makes this team go.
Then there’s 5-11 power forward Sam Miller, who really picked up her offensive game last year and is now a power in the lane in her own right. She scored 10 per game and can do more if it’s needed. Then, guards Abby and Anna Mackenthun combined to score 18. Point guard Abby is the one junior among NYA’s top 8 contributors and once you get to state tournament-caliber opposition, her ability to protect and distribute the ball will tell how far this team can go. Seniors Jayden Fritz, Emma Klaustermeyer and Mary Wenisch provide depth.
This is a team with no weaknesses with the possible exception of protecting the ball against a really quick, aggressive defensive scheme. If you can harass the Raiders’ guards enough, maybe you can win, but even then, how are you going to score with Fox back there swatting away your shots. On the other hand, NYA lost a section final last year that they clearly should have won against NRHEG (thanks to reader for reminding us of that). So, yes, defend that ball against NYA and you've got a chance. Still, this team has the potential to be a top 3 team in Class AA if all hands are willing to help head-man the ball.
2. Mayer Lutheran 9-3 (9-3, 2nd last year, average 9 wins the past 12 years)
The Crusaders lost point guard Emilee Gustin and power forward Sophie Flucas, but return 4 solid, experienced contributors, all seniors. Maddy Hucky, 5-9, and Mya Chmielewski, 5-6, scored 32.5 ppg between them last year. Nicole Klaustermeier, 5-5, gets them the ball, while 5-11 Olivia Quiram, well, she gets them the ball, too, off the boards, that is. Most years, that’s title contender but, this year, NYA is just too big, too deep, too good.
3. Jordan 8-4 (8-4, 3rd last year, average 12 wins over 12 years)
Overall, as you can see, the Big 3 has flip-flopped a bit—that is, Jordan has flipped from #1 a few years ago to #3 somewhere along the way. On the one hand, the Big 3 is still the Big 3, and Jordan has the firepower to stay at #3 even after losing Ashley Freund and Brooke Sievers. On the other hand, if Jordan could only finish #3 with Freund and Sievers, they’re not going to move up now.
Still, guards Kat Brown-Erdal and Sidney Bendzick are the best pair of juniors in the conference, and so next year at this time, the Jaguars might be favorites once again. Not only that, but a third guard, Paige Johnson, returns for her senior season. The 3 of them scored 26 ppg last year. The question is who’s going to play inside?
4. Tri-City United 6-6 (7-5, 4th last year, average 5 wins per year)
So, you’ve got 3 haves and 3 have nots here in the Minnesota River, and firmly ensconced between them is Tri-City. Tri-City will slip back this year due to the loss of Joslyn Vargo and her 20 ppg, but they’ll still grab 4th place. A big senior class will make some noise. There’s Gabby Robinson, 5-5 guard, who scored 14 ppg last year and is a solid ball defender as well. There’s Maddie Dull, who averaged 9 ppg on a lot of mid-range jumpers. There’s forward Caitlin Jindra (5.5 ppg) and 5-4 guard Cami Vargo (4 ppg), and Maggie Trnka provides a little bit of size. That’s a bunch of weapons, but in this conference it gets you middle of the pack.
5. Belle Plaine 5-7 (2-10, 6th last year, average 4 wins)
BP may be the most improved team in the conference and the only team to move up from a year ago. 5-9 junior Paige Narveson is solid at the shooting guard at 13 ppg last year. Her supporting cast is young and hungry, including sophomore Jaylan Struck-Schmitz and freshman Sarah Lenz at the guards, and another freshman, Lauren Johnson, at a forward. Aside from Narveson, forward Lily Vinkmeier is the tallest returning contributor at 5-8, so Narveson is going to have to play inside on defense. Luckily, as tough as the Minnesota River is, you’re only giving up a lot of size to NYA, and you’re not going to beat them anyway.
6. Sibley East 3-9 (4-8, 5th last year, average 4 wins)
Sibley East, located in Arlington and coached by Jim DeSart, played .500 ball in the conference in 2009, and that’s the one and only time that’s happened over at least the past dozen years. Seniors Morgan Stearns (5-8, 10 ppg), Taylor Brinkman (5-6, 6 ppg, 3 assists) and Alex Stock (5-7) will compete, but the future is defined by Rachel Rettman, a junior forward who scored 6 a year ago, and sophomore guard Lexy Stock, and a supporting cast that is yet to be identified.
7. LeSueur-Henderson 1-11 (0-12, 7th last year, average 5 wins over 12 years but 1.5 per year over the past 7 years)
It is hard to believe that Henderson won a state championship but it is not hard to believe that it was a long, long time ago—1983, to be exact, with a great, great undefeated team. LS went 9-5, 9-5, 9-5 and 11-3 in the conference from 2007 to 2010 but then the wheels fell off. They’re 2-64 the past 5 years, and the top returning scorer is Acy Adamczak at 6 ppg. Micahya Samora averaged 5 ppg, Emily Wilke and Gabby Staub 4, Jessie Schwartz 3.5 and Kia Samora 3. Adamczak and Schwartz are seniors. All the rest will be back in 2019. Hopefully, one or more of them has a breakout in 2018.
Center—Bren Fox, NYA, 6-2, senior, 15.5 ppg last year
Forward—Kali Grimm, NYA, 5-9, senior, 17 ppg
Point Guard—Mya Chmielewski, Mayer Lutheran, 5-5, senior, 17 ppg
Combo Guard—Gabby Robinson, Tri-City, 5-5, 14 ppg
Shooting Guard— Maddy Hucky, Mayer Lutheran, 5-9, senior, 15.5 ppg
Center—Rachel Rettman, Sibley East, 5-11, junior, 6 ppg-8 reb
Forward—Sam Miller, NYA, 6-1, senior, 10 ppg
Point Guard—Abby Mackenthun, NYA, 5-9, junior, 10 ppg
Shooting Guard— Paige Johnson, Jordan, 5-7 senior, 12 ppg
Shooting Guard—Paige Narveson, Belle Plaine, 5-7, junior, 13 ppg
Center—Maggie Trnka, Tri-City, junior, 4 ppg
Forward—Lauren Johnson, Belle Plaine, freshman, 4 ppg
Point Guard—Kat Brown-Erdal, Jordan, junior, 6 ppg
Shooting Guard—Lexy Stock, Sibley East, sophomore
Shooting Guard—Sarah Lenz, Belle Plaine, freshman, 5 ppg