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AlBrook Falcons are turning the corner

Seemingly since the beginning of time, AlBrook and Cotton have been rivals on the basketball court. When the schools first combined last fall, Damien Paulson faced a challenging task: Coach the mixed boys basketball team and win games.

Bryce Karppinen
AlBrook senior Bryce Karppinen hurries into position and keeps a sharp eye on the basket before Brian Thielen of Mountain Iron-Buhl can stop him. The Falcons tripped up the Rangers 69-55 behind the 20-point effort of Kory Saver, 19 from Dan Wood and 12 from Karppinen. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

Seemingly since the beginning of time, AlBrook and Cotton have been rivals on the basketball court. When the schools first combined last fall, Damien Paulson faced a challenging task: Coach the mixed boys basketball team and win games.

So far, so good.

Although it took a little time to get used to, the new-look Falcons have been soaring high lately. AlBrook-Cotton lost their opening two games, but Tuesday night's 69-55 win over visiting Mountain Iron-Buhl was their fifth victory in six affairs. According to Paulson, the merged schools have resulted in a successful bunch of basketball players.

"They've been a huge help to us, no doubt about it," said Paulson about the Cotton players this winter. "It's been a real good combination. We've got a lot of new kids. It's been great."

A year ago, AlBrook ran its way to the section championship game, while Cotton went winless. Following the graduation of four starters for the Falcons, AlBrook was in rebuilding mode.

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Cotton's Kory Saver and Dan Wood came over and filled that void.

The pair of lengthy 6-foot-2 forwards has made an instant impact for the newly-assembled club. Tuesday, Saver had a team-best 20 points, while Wood followed with 19 in the hard-earned victory.

The duo combined for all six of their 3-point bombs.

"It's a whole new learning process for us, but it's been real good," continued Paulson. "It's going to take time, but we're playing well."

Falcons senior Ryan Smith had 12 points Tuesday, while longtime starter and senior point guard Bryce Karppinen also chipped in a dozen.

Karppinen's leadership is second-to-none for AlBrook-Cotton (5-3).

"He's our floor general," said Paulson of the ball-carrying wizard. "I can't really explain how important he is for us. Like they say, 'Everything is run through your point guard.' To us, that's Bryce."

Paulson has watched Karppinen play since his freshman year as a starter and said his growth has been instrumental in guiding the Falcons' scheme.

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"He's really improved and matured as a basketball player," continued Paulson of the 5-foot-9 Karppinen. "We can trust him with the ball."

As Karppinen, Saver and Wood play key roles for the Falcons, freshman forward Dominic Janke also logs minutes for AlBrook-Cotton, polishing up a roster set to make some noise in the St. Louis County Conference.

Though on a recent roll, Paulson knows it's a dog-eat-dog league.

"Conference games are always tough - Orr, Cook, Tower, they're all good," he said. "I think we're starting to get it, but we'll see how we do in the next month. A few losses here and there don't matter, really. I want us to be playing our best at the end of the year come March. We'll see what happens here."

AlBrook and Cotton will both close at the end of this school year and debut a new school next fall to be called the South Ridge Panthers located in nearby Independence. The school colors will be black, silver and royal blue.

AlBrook-Cotton will travel to winless Carlton Monday, before busing to up north to one-loss Orr Tuesday.

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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