Boys Basketball: Was this year’s team the best ever at BBE?
MINNEAPOLIS — Before the Class A championship game, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa head boys basketball coach Dave Montbriand was asked a tough question: Is this your best team?
It’s almost like asking a parent to choose their favorite child, especially for the coach of a program that on Saturday defeated Rushford-Peterson 52-40 to win its second Class A State Boys Basketball Tournament championship in three years, in its third appearance in the title game in four years.
During those years, BBE has a 121-4 record. One loss came in the 2011 championship game. Another was a regularseason setback against Melrose, which then was the state’s No. 1 team in Class AA. Another came against then-defending Class AAAA champ Apple Valley, and last year’s 25-2 team had its state tournament run derailed in an upset loss to Wheaton/Herman-Norcross in the subsection tournament.
That’s it. When the baseline is 25-2, how can a coach choose among a 32-1 state runner-up, a 33-0 state champion and a 31-1 state champ?
But Montbriand didn’t hesitate after Saturday’s victory. This year’s team, he said, was the one.
"They’ve been so motivated," Montbriand said, the blue ribbon and gold medallion hanging around his neck. "Getting knocked out early last year — that keeps getting repeated a lot — but if they needed any extra motivation, that was it."
Particularly in small-school programs, each iteration of a team has connective tissue.
James Kuefler’s brother, Kevin, was a senior on the 2011 team that lost to Springfield.
That team also started the Goodwins — Connor and Brian — and twin brothers Brady and Brent Koehler were seniors that year. Billy Borgerding, a senior this year, also saw time with the 2011 team.
In 2012, Connor Goodwin and Montbriand’s son, Kirby, closed out their prep careers with an undefeated season and a championship, thanks in large part to Brian Goodwin’s 29 points in the title game. James Kuefler was a regular as a sophomore, as was Borgerding.
The Goodwin-Borgerding-Kuefler core was together again as juniors last season, and Trey Heinsius — who, curiously, does not wear uniform No. 3 — was on his way into the starting lineup, along with brother Tanner. Regulars David Rodgers and Nick Benton also were earning minutes.
The fact that last years’ nucleus was essentially the same as this year’s may have been what tipped it for Montbriand.
Wheaton/HC exposed a shaky inside game in its 66-59 win. The 17-win Trojans outrebounded the Jaguars and forced them to commit 26 fouls, which turned into a 13-point difference at the free throw line. After the subsection loss, BBE players had no trouble dedicating time to practice and the weight room.
"They got stronger and they got a year of maturity and a year of experience," Montbriand said. "I think we were a little overrated last year because we didn’t have many seniors; our team was mostly underclassmen. You need senior leadership to win state championships, or to even get to the state tournament. We didn’t have that as an excuse this year. We had all kinds of senior leadership."
This year’s team won their sixth straight Central Minnesota Conference championship — they’ve won 55 consecutive CMC games — and they pushed their home winning streak to within one game of a staterecord 72 consecutive games.
But current BBE players are hesitant to crown themselves kings of the Jaguars, probably because many have older brothers who would work them over should they get a little too full of themselves.
"They were a post team (in 2011) and we’re more of a guard-oriented team," Kuefler said. "They’re different teams."
"All four years, I’ve had great teammates," Brian Goodwin said. "We’ve had great teams. It’s special."
Borgerding took an equally diplomatic tack but admitted there’s something special about when success comes.
"Being a senior, winning the state championship in front of thousands of fans, it’s a great feeling," Borgerding said. "Even when we won it two years ago, it was great. But knowing you’re going out on your career with a win, that’s just amazing."
It’s the lasting effects of such success that coaches like Montbriand and Rushford-Peterson’s Tom Vix find most positive.
BBE and Rushford-Peterson could have had their state championship throw-down two years ago had the Trojans not lost to Southwest Minnesota Christian in a semifinals game. The Trojans have played in 14 state tournaments since 1989, including nine in the last 14 years, and Vix is closing in on 600 career victories. He and James Kuefler said Saturday that they’ve noticed the same thing when it comes to youth players watching older players.
"I’ve noticed a lot of little kids coming out for basketball the last few years," Kuefler said. "It’s nice to see, and we have a lot of talent coming back. Hopefully, we can keep it going."
"These (current) players have really motivated a lot of kids to keep dribbling a basketball and they want to be like them," Vix said of his Trojans team. "They’re just good people, you know? Great student-athletes who made my job easier because they’re just great people."
Montbriand, who will enter his 22nd season as head coach with a shot at 400 career wins, isn’t sure how to predict what comes next. For example, even before a singular talent like Brian Goodwin broke into the lineup, BBE were a combined 49-9 record in 2009 and 2010. But in the three years before that (2006-2008), the Jaguars were a combined 25-55.
There is one constant, however.
"You’ve got to earn it," Montbriand said. "This just doesn’t happen by accident. Just to get to the finals three times is probably more than any player or coach deserves. I’ve been extremely grateful and extremely lucky."