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NLS has experience advantage in opener

MINNEAPOLIS -- A senior-dominated team against a team with no senior starters.

A team with expectations of state tournament glory and a Class AA title in 2008 to live up to against a team that hasn't been to a boys basketball state tournament in 30 years.

There are so many contrasts heading into the New London-Spicer vs. Windom state quarterfinal game today that listing more would take up too much space.

Here is a similarity: Both teams had to make a buzzer-beating shot to win their section championship. The Wildcats (29-2) beat Staples-Motley on a just-past-half-court shot in overtime by Jayme Moten for the 6AA crown and the Eagles (19-7) tipped Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop on a three-pointer by Levi Gotto for the 3AA title.

The teams meet at 8 p.m. today at Williams Arena.

Windom could be the mid-major that destroys everyone's bracket. The Eagles have a habit of winning close games -- the last three section games were won by a total of 15 points -- despite not having an overwhelming offense, averaging about 58 points per game.

"One word (to describe Windom's squad) would be team," said first-year Windom coach Tony Taylor. "I stressed that early and the bench plays hard every day and works the starters, and the starters share the ball."

Three of the Eagles' starters average at least 10 points, led by 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Jake Holt at 14 ppg. Gotto, a 5-9 junior guard, adds 10.3 and Spenser Kipfer, a 6-0 junior guard, chips in 10.2. Jake Holt and his 6-3 twin brother, Lee, combine to pull down more than 15 rebounds a game, with Jake grabbing nine per contest.

"Levi is our passionate leader and Jake is a solid inside presence for us," said Taylor.

But after the front five, the Eagles' cupboard looks a little bare; only two bench players average more than two points per game.

New London-Spicer is on the opposite side of that spectrum. The Wildcats have all five starters turning in at least 11 points per game, led by 6-1 senior guard Erik Tengwall at 15.5. Aaron Johnson, a 6-6 senior center, scores at a 15.0 clip, followed by 6-2 senior guard Aaron Jenny (13.4), 6-5 senior forward Justin Zylstra (12.0) and 5-10 junior guard Moten (11.3).

NLS has been to four of the last five state tournaments, plus has been the No. 1 team in the state polls most of the season.

"On one hand (the expectations) are good because it means that you must be doing something right, but no doubt the pressure is always there," said NLS coach Matt Cordes. "Each night we know that we will get the other team's best stuff."

The Wildcats road to the state tournament got off to a quick start. The football team won the Class AAA title and the players jumped right into basketball practice the following Monday. NLS had three days of practice before its first game.

"We made it about 10 minutes through our first practice before Joe Sisser blew out his knee and we lost him for the season," Cordes said.

NLS also dealt with a broken hand, a collapsed lung, a broken elbow and mononucleosis. "This team has overcome a great deal and continues to figure out ways to win," Cordes added. "They are a special group of young men and it's a privilege to be a part of it."