The defending champion Vikings celebrate a return to the state tournament.

Minneota girls heading back to state

Who says a sequel isn't as good as the original?

"This feels just as good, if not even better," said a smiling Natalee Rolbiecki, when asked how it feels to be heading to the state tournament for the second straight year after blowing out Southwest Minnesota Christian 78-50 in the Section 3A championship Friday at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

The Class A defending state champion Vikings will likely be the top seed in the state tournament and will take on a yet-to-be-determined opponent at 11 a.m. on Thursday at the University of Minnesota's Maturi Pavilion.

Morgan Hennen poured in a game-high 24 points and had three steals for the Vikings. Abby Hennen added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Abby Rost chipped in with 11 points and nine rebounds.

Minneota came out sluggish to start the game and fell behind 16-0. That's when it was as if Coach Chad Johnston was playing a video game and hit "turbo charge".

"We weren't finishing well on offense, and (SWMC) was beating us back when we were on defense," said Rolbiecki, who had nine points, five steals and four rebounds.

"Coach called for us to go '20' (man-to-man full-court press). Things turned around for after that."

Utilizing its quickness and efficient passing skills to go on an incredible 19-0 run for a 29-16 lead in just over a seven-minute stretch, the Vikings never looked back. "We knew (SWMC) would come out with a lot of energy," said Abby Rost.

"And that's just what they did. We were letting them get too many open looks and we aimed not to let that happen. So we went to the man press and forced a lot of turnovers."

In fact, over that seven-minute 19-0 run, Minneota made five of its 11 steals. "One thing that I think made the press more effective is we didn't call a timeout before we made the switch," said Johnston.

"We made the switch during the game which maybe caught them by surprise and it took them awhile to adjust to it."

Unable to mount the same attack it started out the game with, SWMC tried to work the ball inside to utilize a height advantage.

"They started trying to go over the top of our defense and force the ball inside to (Maren) Nerem," said Johnston, referring to the Eagles; 6-foot-1 junior post.

"And we had Jeren (Rost) on her and she did a great job defending her inside. It was very pleasing to see the girls run the press the way they did."

Nerem finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. Jazlynn Prins led the Eagles with 19 points, although she got into early foul trouble.

No one else had more than five points. Ireland Stassen contributed seven points and a team-high four assists for the Vikings. Jeren Rost finished with five points and six rebounds.

Kennedi Jurrens and Mackenzie Yost had two points each.

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