After last weekend's split with the Janesville Jets, the Wilderness stand in third place in the Central Division — and play all 16 of their remaining games against teams currently behind them in the standings. "We do control our own destiny," coach Tim Madsen said. "If the players decide they want to reach the goal (of making the playoffs), that's within them to do."
The Lumberjacks saw their season end with a heartbreaking 1-0 quadruple-overtime loss to Hibbing-Chisholm Thursday night in Cloquet, while the Rebels fell 3-1 in their quarterfinal game at International Falls.
"We came out as a team and played really well," Weber said, "We didn't try to do anything special. Sometimes, you just really work well together as a team. We played good defense and had multiple scorers, which hasn't always been the case with us." The game against Carlton was Cromwell's only game of the week, giving Gronner and his team a chance to rest, recuperate and get ready for the stretch run.
"We have done well on defense and Bridget has been a difference-maker in the post," Antonutti said. "We have good players on the base of our zone and it has shown."
Esko senior Tyler Northey won the overall boys' race, taking third place in the freestyle race and finishing second to teammate A.J. Maijala in the classic. Freshman Benjamin Bauer was third in the classic race as CEC completed a 1-2-3 sweep. Overall, Northey claimed the conference championship by four seconds over Maijala with Bauer taking fourth place and Josh Sanders seventh. That gave CEC four of the 10 all-conference spots in the boys' race. Blaine Bong, Spencer Hoeffling and Nicholas Litke barely missed all-conference status, taking 11th, 12th and 13th places, respectively.
CEC has two games remaining in its regular season — Thursday, Feb. 1, against Duluth Marshall and Saturday, Feb. 3, against Thief River Falls. The team is battling for third seed in its QRF-ranked section. "We were behind International Falls for third place entering the North Shore game," Olin said. "The last two games are big. Marshall is a section opponent and Thief River Falls is a common opponent with International Falls. I would expect us to be a third or fourth seed, but we need these games for momentum heading into playoffs. "All we were looking for against the bigger teams was work ethic and improvement," Olin said. "We got it. Our goal is to be competitive in playoffs. We're peaking now and it's the right time."
Esko led Minnesota Class AA teams in defense last year at 39 points per game playing Devney's preferred man-to-man style. But the Eskomos have had trouble defensively this year, which led to Devney's decision to switch to — gulp — a zone defense three games ago. It's worked. The Eskomos (13-4) held Denfeld, McGregor and Cloquet to 33, 38 and 29 points, respectively, in a modest three-game winning streak. "The way we were guarding people, it was time for a change," Devney said. "The kids have responded well." In most man-to-man situations, opposing teams have tried to pull Trapp away from the basket, especially in the so-called "positionless basketball" craze. Sometimes, that has worked.
"Kade Bender has been out for awhile and he's a big bull for us," Smalley said. "(Dru) Senich has been out for about six weeks with a broken jaw. We've lost guys for long periods, and now Gavin is out. But on the positive side, there have been kids who have stepped up."
> "Our numbers were smaller than usual," coach Ryan Zimny said. But there's an upside to the smaller numbers.
The CEC boys took third place in a loaded field that also featured section powers Grand Rapids and Ely. "If I had to pick, I would say Grand Rapids is the favorite," coach Glen Sorenson said. "But Ely is very good, too, and we aren't too bad." CEC took third place even while giving star skier Aiden Ripp what amounted to a day off.