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NLS boys open defense of state title

<b>Photo by T.J. Bartelt Jay Moten of New London-Spicer is one of the returning letterwinners from last year's state tournament team.

MINNEAPOLIS - New London-Spicer started the boys basketball season losing its first two games.

For a defending state Class AA champion, it can be a sobering reminder that success doesn't automatically carry over to the next year.

But what it did for the Wildcats, who lost all five starters from a 33-1 state title team, was give them some breathing room.

When asked by email whether his players felt pressure to live up to last year's team, coach Matt Cordes replied, "No, when we started out the season 0-2 the pressure was off."

The pressure to relive the 2007-08 season might be gone, but a new pressure remains. New London-Spicer has the weight of defending its state title when the Wildcats step on the court against unbeaten Pelican Rapids in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. today at Williams Arena.

Much like another area team in the state tournament - Montevideo - NLS has had to find out how the returning players fit into Cordes' system and how to make it all work as a team.

There have been some bumps on the long road back to state. The Wildcats suffered three 2-game losing streaks, accounting for six of their seven losses. But those failures came against five teams with winning records, including the Thunder Hawks, West Central North rival Albany (twice), Class AAA Willmar, a 26-3 Minnehaha Academy team, and Section 6AA runner-up Morris.

"Somewhere along the road they've figured out two things: how to play together and that hard work pays off," Cordes said.

Similar to last season's squad, this year's Wildcats don't have a superstar or go-to player. They depend on a mix of outside scoring and inside presence. Junior Erik Tengwall, a 6-1 guard, leads the team in scoring with 15.7 points-per-game. Senior Jay Moten, a 6-0 guard, adds 14.7 ppg. Aaron Johnon, a 6-6 junior center, gives NLS an inside threat with 12.9 points and seven rebounds a game.

Youth also fuels the Wildcats' charge with Jayme Moten, a 5-10 sophomore three-point threat with 32 treys this season, and Justin Zylstra, a 6-5 junior forward, who adds almost seven points and seven boards a game.

Pelican Rapids (30-0) is a senior-dominated team with only three underclassmen on the roster. Tydan Storrusten, a 6-2 senior guard, powers the Vikings with 26.1 points and 7.5 assists a game. Eric Shulstad and Matt Skow-Anderson provide the size in paint. Shulstad, a 6-6 senior forward, scores 19 points and grabs 9.6 rebounds a game. Skow-Anderson, a 6-5 senior forward, adds seven points and four rebounds a game. Jan Erik-Lindberg, a 6-1 senior guard, supplies 10 points a game.

"They are one the best teams in the state; they are big, strong, athletic and very skilled," Cordes noted. "We've got an incredibly tough draw in the first round so we'll have our work cut out for us."

Cordes also feels Pelican Rapids, St. Bernard's and his Wildcats are among the favorites to win the tournament.