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<b>T.J. Bartelt</b> Brett Bergeson, left, of Montevideo is one of three seniors playing significant roles on the team this season.

Montevideo boys back at state

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sports Willmar,Minnesota 56201 http://www.wctrib.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/1130/032409-monte-preview1.jpg?itok=q_4wGPNm
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Montevideo boys back at state
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

MINNEAPOLIS -- Montevideo isn't a tough boys basketball team to figure out.

At least now it's not.

But entering the season, projecting that one starter, two reserves from last year's state Class AA tournament team and a bunch of untested underclassmen would be in the exact same spot this season would have been wishful thinking at best.

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Pinch yourselves if you must, but the Thunder Hawks have evolved from a bunch of question marks to state title contenders. The two-time Section 3AA champs will take on Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted in the quarterfinals at 8 p.m. today at Williams Arena.

There were no thoughts of postseason or state tournaments when Dan Douglas took control of the program for this season.

"At the beginning of the season, we really didn't think about our focus on what would happen at the end of the year," Douglas wrote in an email. "We needed to figure out who we are and how we are going to play first. It took us some time."

A lot pressure fell on seniors Eric Brandon, a 6-1 guard, Brock Ackerman, a 5-10 guard, and Jeff Jerve, a 6-5 center, to work hard and set good examples for a team that otherwise consisted of untested underclassmen.

"Our team started with our three seniors. Eric, Brock, and Jeff have been exceptional leaders all year long. They have accepted their roles on the team and helped our younger players understand what they have to do to be successful," Douglas explained. "They have been supportive when the players have doubted themselves. Leadership is best when it comes from the seniors and our seniors have enabled the rest of the team to be successful."

Wins over New London-Spicer (69-67 on Jan. 10), Redwood Valley (83-73 on Jan. 27) and Willmar (61-59 on Feb. 7) showed Douglas and his players they were heading in the right direction.

"Those three teams are as good as anyone in our area so when we beat them it gave us the confidence we needed to get to the next level," he said.

The Montevideo players started to fall into their roles. Brandon assumed the point-guard duties and leads the team in points (18.8 per game), assists and steals. Jerve, who will play on the North Dakota State offensive line next year, pulls down rebounds and scores (16.0) in the paint. Sophomore Ryan Boike, a 6-1 forward, and freshman Brett Bergeson, a 6-0 guard, are the sharpshooters with 51 and 40 three-pointers made, respectively.

Like the Thunder Hawks, the Lakers aren't a team that will run its opponents out of the gym. HLWW averages about 67 points scored per game and is led by 6-2 senior guard Nash Faulk's 20.7-point average. Jeff Hammer, a 6-7 senior center, and Zach Grangroth, a 6-3 senior center, average 10.3 points and about 6.8 rebounds each per game. Eddie Wessling, a 6-3 senior forward, scores just under nine points a game and is second in the team in three-pointers made with 47 to Faulk's 48. Keith Diers runs the offense from the point and dishes out about four assists a game.

"They are a solid team that is patient on offense and plays a tough man-to-man defense," Douglas said. "It will be a good matchup for us and should be an excellent basketball game."

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