Jaguars enjoy pressure of being lone unbeaten
It didn't take Nostradamus to predict the rise of the Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa boys basketball team.
The current group of Jaguars has been steadily climbing the success ladder and is three steps from the top rung. BBE (30-0), the only unbeaten team in the state in any of the four classes, will open the Class A state quarterfinals at 11 a.m. today against Goodhue (24-7) at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
"I've had several groups over the years that I've been excited about early on, and this is one of them," said BBE coach Dave Montbriand. "As far back as third grade you could see that they might be special. I certainly wasn't sure I'd still be coaching when they grew up, however."
BBE returns six of its top seven players from a year ago when the Jaguars went 25-4, but were ousted in the Section 6A championship by Hillcrest Lutheran Academy. That made the current team even more determined to reach the top this season.
The team has three sets of brothers that all are seeing significant playing time; Brady and Brent Koehler, Kevin and James Kuefler, and Connor and Brian Goodwin. The Goodwins are twins. But the family ties don't end there. Kirby Montbriand is the son of the coach and the Goodwin brothers are the sons of assistant coach Brad Goodwin. The Montbriand and Goodwin families are neighbors in Brooten.
The key to BBE's run this season has been its depth. Montbriand is able to give his starters time to catch their breath with his reserves performing admirably.
"Our bench is better than most teams we've played," he remarked. "Especially, defensively, where we don't lose a thing."
The Jaguars, rated No. 1 in the state, seem to be a mission of late, rolling over four Section 6A opponents, including a 66-39 rout of Norman County East in the championship. For the season, BBE averages 77 points per game and allows 51. Goodhue, which plays in the Hiawatha Valley Conference, is averaging 61 points and allowing 44.
Kevin Kuefler, a 6-foot-4 senior guard, leads BBE in scoring this season at 19 points per game and also averages 8.3 rebounds. He feels the team has handled pressure well all season.
"You just have to relax and try to enjoy the whole experience," he said. "But like coach Montbriand says 'Welcome the pressure and enjoy it because once the ball goes up it is the same game we've been playing all our lives."
Kuefler and his teammates had set their sights on this opportunity ever since they were little kids barely able to toss the ball in the hoop.
"Playing in the state tournament has been a dream of mine and my teammates for a long time," said Kuefler. "Now that we made it, we feel honored to be a part of it and also feel confident in our abilities to compete on the big stage."
Connor Goodwin, a 6-6 junior center, averages 13.2 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds for the Jaguars. Brady Koehler, a 6-5 senior forward, averages 12.7 points and 5.6 rebounds. Kirby Montbriand (8.8 points, 3.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game), a 6-3 junior guard; Brian Goodwin (7.7 ppg, 3.7 apg, 2.3 spg), a 6-1 freshman guard; Brent Koehler (6.1 ppg. 2.0 apg), a 6-4 senior forward; Brandon DeKok (3.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg), a 6-3 senior center; and James Kuefler (2.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg), a 6-3 freshman forward, are all key contributors for the Jaguars.
"We are a bunch of players who worked very hard and kept getting better and better throughout the course of the season," said Kevin Kuefler. "We all did a great job of staying humble and hungry. I believe that's what got us to where we are and made us a special team."
And, as the coach points out, the team understands what lies ahead.
"They have a great ability to focus on the task at hand," Montbriand explained. "They are unselfish; always looking to make the extra pass. They all have a deep love for the game."
Goodhue is led by Ashton Erie, a 6-4 senior guard who averages 22.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He has been on the varsity for four years and is the school's all-time scoring leader. Michael McNamara, a 6-5 junior forward, averages 10.2 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Mustangs. Derek McNamara, a 5-9 senior guard, is at 9.8 points and 5.8 assists per contest.