Rebels upended by Virginia in finals

DULUTH - This winter, Neil Dickenson had yet to coach his big, burly Moose Lake-Willow River boys basketball team in game where they failed to hit a 3-pointer.

Taylor Mattison
Moose Lake-Willow River's Taylor Mattison battles for a rebound against Virginia in the 7AA section final at UMD on Saturday. Mattison scored 12 points in the 51-46 loss to the Blue Devils. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

DULUTH - This winter, Neil Dickenson had yet to coach his big, burly Moose Lake-Willow River boys basketball team in game where they failed to hit a 3-pointer.

"We like to play inside," he said. "But we'll usually hit two or three of them."

That wasn't the case in their biggest contest of the year. The Rebels were stagnant from beyond the arc Saturday evening, missing all of their attempts in a hard-fought 51-46 loss to Virginia in the Section 7AA championship game at Romano Gymnasium at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Using their match-up, zone defense, Virginia stymied ML-WR and forced a team that likes to play in the paint to compete from behind the stripe. The Rebels were close at times but, according to Dickenson, never got one to fall.

"We just missed some outside shots," Dickenson said. "I think if we could have hit a couple of them, it would have been a different ball game. But we didn't."


On the other hand, the Blue

Devils did.

Virginia hit a quintet of long bombs, as they turned a back-and-forth slugfest into their favor. Up 19-17 at halftime, the Blue Devils never trailed in the second. According to Dickenson, Cavan Stackpool's bank shot from a distance with 4:20 left, to increase Virginia's lead, hurt most.

"That's the one that sticks out in my mind most," said Dickenson of Stackpool's falling away 3-pointer from the right side. "We knew coming in that Stackpool was the one to stop. He doesn't need much time. He shoots well. And he proved it Saturday."

Stackpool finished the game with a contest-leading 22 points, as the guard nailed four of the Blue Devils' five 3-pointers. Although Stackpool didn't have his best showing in an earlier season loss to ML-WR this winter, he and his teammates were the ones cutting down the nets Saturday, heading to just their second state tournament in 46 years.

"I give Virginia a lot of credit," said Dickenson. "We knew it was going to be a tough game. Both teams played hard. But we'll be rooting for Virginia. We hope they go as far as they can down there."

Virginia currently has an 18-game winning streak as they head to Minneapolis this week. But the Blue Devils broke an even lengthier streak held by the Rebels, who won 22 straight and were looking for their second state appearance since their debut in 2005.

Moose Lake-Willow River just came up a few shots short.


"We came out ready to go and were really close," Dickenson said. "The kids were really disappointed afterward, but we told them that they should be proud of their efforts. They played hard all year and did some really big things."

Well said. Not only did ML-WR head to the section final, but they won the Polar League for the fourth consecutive winter and their 27 wins this season was, according to Dickenson, a school best.

The Rebels were guided Saturday by Trevor Nummela's 13 points, while Taylor Mattison added 12. Ryan Adamczak also scored seven, while both Adam Johnsen and Jake Disterhaupt poured in half a dozen each. ML-WR finished the year at


Caleb Koecher went down with a knee injury in the second half, limiting the 6-foot-4 slashing forward to just a bucket - well under his nearly 10-point-per-night average.

"That hurt us," said Dickenson, "but Saturday we just stumbled a bit. We're going to lose 10 seniors from this group and I feel for those guys. They're definitely going to be hard to replace."

But Dickenson, just in his second year at ML-WR, knows basketball is thriving. And nothing is set to change anytime soon for his Rebels.

"This loss was definitely a difficult one, but I think that our program is heading in the right direction," Dickenson said confidently. "We're going to have a lot of goals next year. We want to get back here."

What To Read Next
Get Local