The Hogg Run: The Four-Point Play
This is the first installment of the Four-Point Play, a weekly look into four of the top storylines in area prep basketball, written by sports reporter Curt Hogg.
Willmar girls basketball playing tough defense.
It may be an entirely new season of high school basketball, but some things remain completely unchanged.
Following a year in which a suffocating defensive unit helped carry them to the Class AAA state tournament allowing 47.7 points per game, that very same blueprint appears to be in place for the 2017-18 season. Over its first two games of the season during the past weekend—both wins—Willmar has allowed just 33.5 points per game on 33.5 percent shooting.
"It's not too bad for the first couple of games here," head coach Dustin Carlson said. "We're not where we need to be by any means, but we played a lot of girls and didn't have any drop off on either end of the floor."
There must be fewer things for teams of the Central Lakes Conference and Section 5AAA than having to try and score on the Cardinals—and that's the deliberate objective for Willmar.
"Our girls work really hard and buy into defense, which is what's going to win us games," Carlson said. "That's a credit to them, completely."
Carlson preaches relentless hustle to his team, which his players don't take lightly.
"Their attitude and effort, you can just tell when they crank up the intensity that they're just really good," Carlson said. "I like to just step back and watch them play."
The Cardinals certainly have a defensive system in place, one that emphasizes packing the pain and being quick to assist in help defense, but Carlson gives all the credit to his athletes.
"We've changed a bit in philosophy and that's certainly in place, but it's all on the girls," Carlson said. " I like to brag about them because they're great kids. They're talented and work hard. They get after it in practice and really crank up intensity."
Willmar's Noah Slagter (more on him later) set the Cardinals boys scoring record on Saturday with a 31-point performance, but there's another player by the same first name that is also record-chasing.
Hancock's Noah Kannegiesser entered his senior season needing 735 points to set the area's all-time scoring record for boys, which is certainly a tall task. But if there's anyone that can pull such a feat, it's Kannegiesser—and he proved just that on Friday.
Kannegiesser, a preseason Class A first-team all-state honoree, scored 40 points and dished out seven assists in the Owls' season-opening win over Parkers Prairie. If that isn't the way to kick off a season, then I don't know what is.
Entering the season, Willmar boys head coach Matt Williams told me that he was implementing a faster-paced offense to better accommodate a team full of athletes.
The early returns? How about Willmar casually dropping its first 80-point game in 1,073 days, dating back to December 27, 2014 in a 81-65 win over New London-Spicer.
Leading the charge, of course, was Slagter as he etched his name atop the record books, but there appears to be some secondary help behind him this year. Drey Dirksen added 11 points, while Adam Roux and Ty Roelofs each scored in double figures with 10 points apiece.
Between the Cardinals girls defense and the boys' fast-paced offensive attack, there will be some shows put on at Willmar High this season, and not just in the auditorium.
I've already started buttering my popcorn.
Transfer of power
There's no free agency in high school sports—sorry, Kevin Durant—which makes athlete transfers all the more unique. And two area teams have already seen the benefit of those types of additions this year.
BOLD forward Carter Henry, one of the area's most intriguing prospects at 6-foot-7, had his eligibility approved by the Minnesota State High School League on Wednesday. Two days later, Henry nearly posted a double-double with 12 points and eight rebounds in a win over MACCRAY.
In New London, while it was Brandon Adelman stealing the show with 28 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, transfer guard Ryan Wyganowski scored 14 points and hit four 3-pointers in the Wildcats' 94-point offensive explosion against Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City. Wyganowski, who transferred from Braham, could prove to be a big threat to opposing teams with his ability to stretch defenses and create space because of his shooting ability.