CLASS A GIRLS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT: Balanced scoring among keys to victory

MINNEAPOLIS –The top-ranked Minneota girls basketball team found their backs against the wall early in their state tournament opener. Despite a slow start on offense and a hungry Red Lake opponent looking for the upset, the Vikings were able to stay the course and continue to do what they’ve done all season: battle back. Minneota did just that, and in a variety of ways, too.

From facing the continuous pressure of the Warriors to a balanced scoring attack and quality rebounding, the Vikings fended off multiple attacks en route to an opening win Wednesday.

Minneota coach Chad Johnston said they weren’t able to get a good chance to play against the type of pressure Red Lake presented throughout the season, but knew they just had to stay collected and stick to their game.

“When you face a team that’s used to that playing style of defense, it’s really hard to duplicate that in practice, so you get out there and you don’t see it for the first time until you literally experience it,” Johnston said. “I think they definitely had us on our heels early, we settled in a little bit, started taking care of the ball, realizing that all the dribbling on the press breaker was probably going to cause more damage than do us good and we started making better passes. We just had to settle in and start playing our game that we normally play.”

Minneota guard Abby Hennen added they had to also make sure they were moving without the ball well to help out their teammates to handle the Red Lake press.

“They were trying to get their hands on every ball and they were coming to trap the second you had the ball. If we threw it to Morgan Kockelman or anybody else, I just tried to cut and get open right away before the trap got there,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to pass through a trap than to dribble, so we just had to catch the ball quickly and move it fast and get it up the court before they could trap us.”

Another area the Vikings made a significant impact on the game was their rebounding. Minneota outrebounded Red Lake 67-36 on the afternoon, including 22 offensive boards. Lydia Sussner led the way with 17 rebounds while Abby Hennen added 13 and Lizzy Gillingham and Morgan Hennen each had nine.

Gillingham said they just had to all crash the lane and make sure they had multiple players down there to secure the rebound.

“I knew they were going to crash the boards hard so I had to crash the boards hard too and they were always going to have an extra person on Lydia so I was able to find the gaps sometimes on the rebounds and grab it,” Gillingham said.

Something the Vikings have done a good job of doing this season is having multiple players stepping up on offense and providing some balance. That continued to show on Thursday, with three Minneota players scoring at least 16 points in the win.

Johnston said they knew as long as they handled the pressure from Red Lake that they would be able to find the open teammate and get quality looks at the basket.

“We feel like we’ve had that balance all year long but the way they wanted to spread their defense and the style they were playing, we knew that if we could handle the pressure and the traps we’re going to get some good looks and some within five feet of the basket,” Johnston said. “We got them and we said that some of those are going to be layups against that zone because they’re coming all over the place, they’re so aggressive that they’ll leave spots in their zone open, we just have to recognize when they’re there. Sometimes we did and had some people wide open and I think that balance on offense we just got the kids to do it and play together as a team.”