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Boys Basketball: MACCRAY repeat in 3A will be tough task

Dawson-Boyd's Joey Lee, left, and MACCRAY's Riley Aeikens, right, are shown in a Jan. 13 file photo. The Blackjacks and Wolverines are Camden Conference rivals who have split to two games this season, will likely share the North Division championship. Tribune photo by Tom Larson.

By Tom Larson

Area basketball fans had quite a time last winter, following not one but two area teams in the Class A state basketball tournament.

They even got to watch a big state semifinals game between the teams, BBE and MACCRAY, which brought home second- and third-place trophies and finished with a combined 60-5 record.

It's very possible the same thing could happen this year, with BBE (21-0) advancing on with nary a hiccup in Section 6A, and MACCRAY at 17-5 is a Camden Conference co-leader and is again one of the top teams in Section 3A.

But if the Wolverines don't show up for a return trip to the state tournament, it very well could be because of the presence of a recharged and highly motivated Dawson-Boyd team.

The Camden Conference co-leaders have met twice this season, with MACCRAY winning 65-64 at home on Jan. 13, and the Blackjacks (18-2) winning 80-75 in overtime in Dawson on Feb. 3.

"The last couple of years they've gotten us," said Dawson-Boyd head coach Cory Larson. "They've had some really solid basketball teams and we were able to play with them for portions of games but we were never able to stop some of their runs. This year, I think we're more efficient offensively and we're better defensively."

Dawson-Boyd had a solid year in 2010-2011, finishing 19-6. But three of those losses came against MACCRAY and they weren't pretty: the Blackjacks lost to the Wolverines by 19 points to open the season, suffered a 20-point loss in the teams' second regular-season meeting, then bowed out against the Wolverines by 25 points in the section playoffs.

This year, D-B has proved to be an infinitely more resilient team. The Blackjacks' only other setback was an 11-point road loss to 17-4 Montevideo

one of Class AA's top teams this year -- and they have won 10 straight since the one-point loss at MACCRAY.

"We match up pretty well," said MACCRAY head coach Gary Nelson. "But this year they've got more bulk and every one of them can shoot."

And many of the Blackjacks are tournament-tested, with a number of their top basketball players also playing key roles on the football team that claimed the Class A state championship this fall.

"Football is not going to help the skills level, but what it does for some kids is (gives them) confidence," Larson said. "When you play in big games, like MACCRAY has the last couple of years, you're not worried about nerves. They understand the magnitude of the game and the situation and it doesn't bother them. Playing in packed gyms, part of being a competitor is that they love being in that environment."

It will make for compelling basketball drama down the stretch and into the sections.

MACCRAY had a rough time in holiday tournaments early in the season, losing in overtime to Class AA Morris/Chokio-Alberta in the finals of the Benson tournament on Dec. 17, then dropping two games to Ellsworth and Worthington in a tournament on Dec. 27-28. After that, the Wolverines won nine straight before losing at Monte and at Dawson-Boyd on successive nights earlier this month. After the D-B loss, they've won three straight by an average margin of 33 points.

"We lost three seniors from last year, and teams that were pretty good last year are all back," said Nelson, who said it's very possible MACCRAY and Dawson-Boyd will be the top two seeds in the 3A North subsection and would be expected to meet in the final. "This year, Dawson-Boyd has all its guys back. We won at home, they won at home, it's going to make it very exciting if we see each other again."

None of this speculation may amount to anything in a few weeks.

Despite its unblemished record and average margin of victory approaching 30 points per game, it's certainly not a given that BBE will waltz back to the Twin Cities in March.

Among its five remaining regular-season opponents, the Jaguars face a 16-5 Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted team that lost by 11 points in Brooten, a 16-5 Pierz team which BBE will play on the road, and a meeting with 6A rival Ashby, which is 17-1.

In the sections, BBE may eventually have to contend with Ashby, Battle Lake (20-0), Ulen-Hitterdal (20-3) or Ada-Borup (18-3).

And in Section 3A, nothing is guaranteed MACCRAY or Dawson-Boyd, regardless their status as the clear front-runners in the North subsection. Southwest Minnesota Christian (18-1) is currently ranked ahead of both the Wolverines and Blackjacks, and threats also loom from Ellsworth (15-7), Fulda (17-5) and Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (15-7).

But if fans want to dream of a MACCRAY-Dawson-Boyd rubber-match showdown at some point in the section tournament, or even a BBE-MACCRAY rematch at Williams Arena or Target Center in the state tournament, they should go ahead and dream. Three very talented teams are making those scenarios very plausible.