Girls basketball teams commence race for stateSo just how tough is Section 7A in girls basketball? Tough enough that North Woods, Minnesota’s last remaining unbeaten small-school team, is seeded second in its subsection.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
So just how tough is Section 7A in girls basketball?
Tough enough that North Woods, Minnesota’s last remaining unbeaten small-school team, is seeded second in its subsection.
Included among the Grizzlies’ victims was Mountain Iron-Buhl, which was given the No. 1 seed under a seeding format used for the first time this season.
The Quality Results Formula, calculated by the Minnesota-scores.com website, is the system favored by the Minnesota State High School League, which gave sections the option to either use that formula or allow coaches to seed teams.
“We had a good system going in the past, but we weren’t allowed to use that system anymore,” MIB coach Jeff Buffetta said of a system that doled out points for subsection victories. “It was never an issue for the three or four years we did that — it was the perfect system.”
North Woods (23-0) defeated MIB 56-48 in the regular season and played only two games decided by fewer points all season. The Grizzlies outscored opponents 74-40 on average compared to the Rangers’ 65-38 advantage.
“Obviously there are issues with us being one and them being two … but we just have to play it out now,” Buffetta said. “Regardless of seedings, North Woods is the team to beat.”
North Woods coach Ashlee Zupancich doesn’t believe it’s an issue.
“We talked to the girls about it since the brackets came out and told them, ‘Either way you have to beat everybody for that trip down to the (Twin) Cities,’ ” said Zupancich, who is in her fourth year as varsity coach. “It’s a little disappointing to not get the one seed, but in the end I don’t think it makes much of a difference.”
Section coaches voted to use the QRF system, perhaps making a statement about not trusting their own judgment.
“Coaches voting is always an interesting way of doing it, too,” Buffetta said. “Then it usually ends up where coaches are seeding based on who they want to play.”
Nobody wants to play North Woods or defending champion MIB (25-1) right now, and the other subsection’s top seeds, Barnum (21-5) and Cook County (16-8) aren’t pushovers, either.
“I think 7A is definitely a strong section and will be for quite a few years to come,” Zupancich said.
Esko looking to restore confidence
After giving defending state champion Braham fits in a 56-54 loss in January, Esko players were sky-high emotionally.
“At the time, that was a good confidence-boost for us,” Eskomos coach Scott Antonutti said.
Thirteen victories in a row, including a Polar League title-clinching win over rival Barnum, kept the confidence level high. But after losing two of their final four regular-season games and being held to 28 points by Crosby-Ironton and 35 by Duluth East, the Eskomos (23-3) need another morale boost entering the Section 7AA playoffs.
“We just have to regain some confidence,” Antonutti said.
That should come early when the co-No. 1 seeds face Duluth Marshall in Wednesday’s first round, but Mora (20-3) and Braham (25-1) pose huge hurdles to earning the school’s 10th state tournament berth. Braham junior guard Rebekah Dahlman, who scored 40 against Esko, is second all-time among state career scorers with 3,733 points and still could threaten Tayler Hill’s record of 3,888 this year.
One thing in the Eskomos’ favor is that, whether it’s in volleyball, soccer, cross country or track and field, most of their players have been at state tournaments before.
“A number of those kids are seasoned athletes,” Antonutti said. “It’s not like they aren’t familiar with pressure-packed situations.”
Esko’s 6-foot-9 junior center Savanna Trapp, one of the few who have not been to a state tournament in another sport, leads the team with a 21.5 point-per-game average, grabs 10 rebounds a game and shoots 66.3 percent from the field.
East hopes to avoid upsets
After what’s happened in recent section tournaments, Duluth East coach Bill Kunze knows not to take anything for granted.
Even though the Greyhounds (19-5) are the top seed in Section 7AAAA and defeated the other two section teams with winning records — Cambridge-Isanti (18-8) and Forest Lake (15-11) — by 10 and nine points, respectively, Kunze has seen things go against his team in recent years.
East blew a 27-point lead against Blaine in the 2009 playoffs, lost by two points the next season to Blaine and then collapsed last year against an eighth-seeded Anoka team that went 2-24 in the regular season before charging to the state tournament.
“We weren’t ready to play and didn’t have a team that was together,” Kunze said. “This year we have a close-knit bunch of kids.”
The Greyhounds received a bye into next Tuesday’s semifinals and only have to win twice to return to the state tournament for the first time since finishing as runners-up in 2003.
Veteran guards Alex Freeman (16.1 ppg) and Shamika Hopkins (14.0 ppg) have led East to 12 wins in its past 13 games. But they also were around for the previous playoff upsets.
“Each year you learn from your setbacks; they stick in your mind and you think about what you can do to prevent that,” Kunze said. “That’s a key with our kids. I think they are mentally tougher players. We have confidence with our play and we’ve stepped up our defense really well. I feel confident, but you still have to go out there and get the job the done.”
Hermantown seeks turnaround
Hermantown enters the Section 7AAA playoffs on a four-game losing streak — ranging from 10 to 30 points — including losses to the section’s top two seeds.
“We struggled toward the end of the season, but we played tough competition,” Hawks coach Beth Clark said. “I don’t feel concerned; I feel confident that our kids are going to be ready to play.”
Top-seeded Chisago Lakes Area (21-5) started Hermantown (16-10) off on its losing skein with a 67-57 victory and No. 2 Grand Rapids (11-14) kept it going in a 50-34 win that avenged a loss in the regular-season opener.
Those teams appear to have bright outlooks with their top players ready to go.
Chisago Lakes senior guard Whitney Tinjum, one of the leading scorers in the state with a 25.7 ppg, is headed to Washington State. The Wildcats beat the Nos. 2-4 seeds each by double digits.
“She’s the real deal, a good outside shooter who is really smooth,” Clark said. “They are the team to beat and the rest of us are going to have to duke it out just to get a chance to play them.”
Defending champion Grand Rapids, which struggled with a pair of three-game losing streaks and one of four games, returned Kenzie Kane and Jessa Sondergaard from injury and enter the playoffs having won three straight.
Hermantown opens at home Wednesday against Hibbing, a team it split two games with this season, and is relying on three-year letterwinners Carmen Bergstedt, Rachael Hoium and Nicole Kucza to advance.