Viking girls back in state
A year-long quest with the ranking of No. 1 attached to their backs the entire way, has finally led the Minneota Girls' Basketball Team to the promised land — the Minnesota State Class A playoffs.
Using a style mixed with guile, savvy and old-fashioned dogged desire, Minneota turned a 27-21 halftime lead into a 65-47 victory over Southwest Minnesota Christian and staked a claim to the Section 3A title.
“They definitely knew Lydia (Sussner) was our big scorer — they were aware of that,” said senior Lizzy Gillingham. So she, like her teammates, used what the Eagles gave them. Gillingham gathered in six rebounds, scored five points and when it was over, typified the Vikings season by saying, “I like to hustle and do everything I can — even if I’m not scoring a lot.”
The Vikings left the scoring up to the Hennen girls with Morgan pumping in 21 points and her sister Abby hitting for 17. The two typified Minneota’s desire to return to the state, where they finished third last year.
Morgan added seven rebounds to her team-leading scoring effort and Abby gathered in five more.
Sussner, who was put in a vice grip all night by Southwest Minnesota Christians sister combination, Hannah and Maren Nerem, still came up with 12 points and five rebounds.
“Lydia did a nice job of making the defense go to her and we just worked the ball around and took the open shots,” said Morgan Hennen. Sister Abby mirrored that observation. “They were double teaming her (Sussner) so we decided to move it around. She did a good job of drawing attention and keeping it opened up for us,” said Abby Hennen.
In the first half, the Eagles rode the strong outside shooting of junior Jazlynn Prins. She hit three, three-pointers and scored 15 of her team’s 21 halftime points.
“They hit the outside threes. That first half we tried to take away the lane (inside) — but at halftime we made some adjustments,” said Minneota Coach Chad Johnston.
Prins cooled off some in the second half but still ended with 24 points.
In the second half, the Hennen girls were nearly unstoppable, driving the lane, retrieving rebounds and generally creating havoc under the basket.
“That’s what I like. No matter what I say to them or what’s happened, they (Hennen sisters) have short-term memories. I like that. They just file it and keep going,” said Coach Johnston.
Minneota built a 45-31 lead and by this time were trapping the Eagles defensively as they tried to catch up.
Despite point guard Morgan Kockelman picking up her fourth foul, the full-court, pressing effort continued. Abby Rost came in to relieve Kockelman and slammed in an off-balance shot to push the Viking lead to 50-35.
“I wasn’t worried because Abby Rost came in there and she played real well tonight,” said Morgan Kockelman. “She’s going to get some fouls,” Coach Johnston said about Kockelman, adding, “She’s always on the girl with the ball in her hands and gives us a good overall effort.”
The Viking press seemed to disrupt the Eagles, who scored just 10 points the final six minutes.
Meanwhile, Minneota kept the pressure on and Sussner found a little more open area and scored a couple of late buckets. A precise bullet-type pass from Sussner to Abby Hennen for a score made it 61-45 and the outcome was decided.
“We’ve felt like we’ve had good balanced scoring all season long,” said Coach Johnston. “They (Eagles) definitely went after Lydia,” he said, adding, “So we took what they gave us.”
At halftime, Minneota had no three-pointers, but when they got one at 10:31 in the second half from Morgan Hennen that seemed to ignite the Vikings. “Morgan’s three was a key for us,” said Coach Johnston. “I wanted to get one,” Morgan Hennen smiled.
Sister Abby converted the only other Viking three. “We didn’t make a lot of outside shots,” Coach Johnston added. They didn’t have to!
Minneota won the rebound battle, 31-19 with five players each getting five or more rebounds.
Coach Johnston praised the rebounding effort by singling out Gillingham’s effort. “She was blocking out and getting position for those rebounds,” he said.
Minneota will now wait and see where they are ranked and who they will play in the state playoffs.
MINNEOTA (2’S, 3’S, FT, F, TP) Morgan Kockelman 2 0 0-0 4 4; Lizzy Gillingham 1 0 3-6 1 5; Morgan Hennen 8 1 2-3 2 21; Natalee Rolbiecki 1 0 0-0 0 2; Abby Hennen 7 1 0-0 2 17; Abby Rost 1 0 0-0 0 2; Lydia Sussner 5 0 2-3 2 12; Jeren Rost 0 0 2-2 0 2. Totals 25 2 9-12 11 65.
SOUTHWEST MN CHRISTIAN (2’s, 3’s, FT, F, TP) Cybil VanderTop 0 1 2-2 1 5; Jazlynn Prins 5 4 2-3 2 24; Holly Vis 0 0 0-0 2 0; Hannah Nerem 5 0 0-0 1 10; Maren Nerem 1 0 0-2 4 2; Hallie Snyder 0 0 0-0 0 0; Ella Veldkamp 3 0 0-2 1 6; Hannah Pap 0 0 0-0 1 0. Totals 14 5 4-9 12 47.
Score by Halves
SWMC 21 26 — 47
Minneota 27 38 — 65
SHOOTING: Minneota (27 of 61 for 43 percent); SWMC 19 of 54 for 35 percent).
FREE THROWS: Minneota 9 of 12 for 75 percent; SWMC 4 of 9 for 44 percent.
REBOUNDING: Minneota 31 (M. Hennen 7; Gillingham 6; Sussner, A. Hennen, Kockelman 5 each, J. Rost 2, A. Rost 1); SWMC 19 (Veldkamp 6, H. Nerem 5, M. Nerem 4, Snyder 2, VanderTop, Prins 1 each).
TURNOVERS: Minneota 12; SWMC 13.
STEALS: Minneota 7 (M. Hennen, A. Hennen 2 each, Rolbiecki, Gillingham, Kockelman 1 each); SWMC 7 (H. Nerem 3, VanderTop, Prins, Snyder, Veldkamp 1 each).
BLOCKS: Minneota 2 (Sussner 2).