What do Ellsworth and Winona State have in common?
Answer: A three-year streak of outstanding basketball, highlighted by consecutive trips to the Elite Eight.
In high school terms, it means reaching the state tournament.
Ellsworth High School has done it back-to-back-to-back with respective records of 28-5, 32-1 and 28-2. That translates into 88-8.
Winona State has duplicated that feat in the NCAA Division II national men’s basketball tournament.
The Warriors have reached the final eight three straight times, having compiled an unheard of 92-2 record since mid-January 2006.
The Warriors, who are great representatives of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC), have suffered losses to Barton College (N.C.) in the ‘07 national finals and to St. Thomas this past December.
n Ellsworth and Winona State have more similarities: Reaching the championship game the last two years.
Their respective finishes are flip-flopped, however.
In 2006, Ellsworth lost to Rushford-Peterson (55-52).
In 2007, Ellsworth beat Cass Lake-Bena (74-73).
In 2006, Winona State defeated Virginia Union for the national championship.
In 2007, Winona State blew a seven-point lead in the waning 45 seconds and finished runner-up to Barton, whose one player scored the game’s final 10 points.
That collapse was listed among ESPN’s Top 10 Sports Blunders last year.
n Both teams are back in this year’s tournaments with the schedule stacked more against them.
Ellsworth opens Class A play next week — at the U of M’s Mariucci Arena, of all places — against Granada-Huntley-East Chain.
Ellsworth was rated No. 4 in the final Associated Press poll, while GHEC was rated No. 3.
Winona State opens the national tournament next week in Springfield, Mass., against Grand Valley State (Mich.).
The Warriors (35-1) are rated No. 3 in the country, while Grand Valley State (36-0) is No. 1 along with Bentley (33-0).
If Winona State wins in the quarterfinals, it’s task doesn’t get any easier in the semis with a good possibility of meeting Bentley (Mass.).
If Ellsworth and Winona State reach the title game and bring home a championship this season, they definitely will have earned it.
n Both teams have achieved unbelievable success at their respective levels thanks to prime-time players.
Ellsworth has Cody Schilling, an All-State senior guard who is closing in on the Minnesota all-time record for points scored.
He’s just 23 points from surpassing Braham’s Isaiah Dahlman, who scored 3,366 career points before graduating in 2006.
Winona State has two of the greatest players to ever put on a uniform in Division II: John Smith and Jonte Flowers.
Smith, a 6-foot-9 post player, was last year’s D-II Player of the Year.
Flowers is the all-time steals leader in Division II. He’s a lightning-quick guard at 6-foot-5.
n One last comparison: Can both teams achieve the same success next season after heavy graduation losses?
Ellsworth loses Cody Schilling, Weston DeBerg, Brandon Gruis and Jordan Hinrichs, All but Hinrichs are in the starting lineup.
Winona State loses three starters — John Smith, Jonte Flowers and Quincy Henderson.
It’s a great success story for former SMSU guard, Shannon Daly.
She transferred from the Mustangs’ program following a year of turmoil (2005) and went to the University of South Dakota.
Monday, Daly, a senior, was named the MVP as the Coyotes (33-1) won the North Central Region title with a 61-49 nod over Minnesota State, Mankato. She scored 21 points in the finals.
Dawson-Boyd’s Tyler Flattum has pretty much been known as a rebounder.
Tuesday, in the Section 3A finals, the 6-foot-3 senior forward proved he could also score while being defended by a 6-foot-8 player.
Carrying an 11.7 scoring average, Flattum had 20 points and eight rebounds in the Blackjacks’ 56-51 loss to Ellsworth.
Congratulations, to coach Cory Larson and D-B, which was one of the most improved teams this season. The Blackjacks were around .500 last year.