Boys basketball: Cardinals looking Slagter-iffic
Willmar's Noah Slagter peers over his left shoulder and points to the spot—the exact spot—where he once played a game of H-O-R-S-E with former Cardinals great Taylor Filipek.
East side of the gymnasium, corner court.
Slagter speaks of Filipek and other Willmar players past, like Jordan Smith and Sam Sussenguth, with a tone of reverence, as if still a kid in awe of his local heroes.
He is reminded that, now, he is the Taylor Filipek to dozens of young Willmar basketball players who all lace up their shoes with hopes of becoming the next Noah Slagter.
"I never imagined I'd be in this position," Slagter said. "I'd watch Taylor Filipek and all those guys play. I would just go, 'Wow, those guys are amazing.' For those kids watching me, I hope they see something that makes them want to play on this court one day."
Soon to go down as one of the best prep players to ever step on the court in the area, Slagter tops this year's Tribune boys preseason All-Area Watchlist, which can be found in the regular section of today's paper.
Slagter isn't just the latest installment in the line of memorable Willmar hoops players. By the record books, at least, the senior guard has surpassed nearly every Cardinal to ever pick up the ball. And it won't be long before he's at the top of those books.
With a 31-point performance in the Cardinals' season opener, Slagter broke the all-time Willmar boys scoring record of 1,415 points, set by 1983 graduate and former University of Minnesota center Paul Van Den Einde. The overall school record for boys and girls—Laura Nielsen's 1,628 points set in 2006—is also well within reach.
"For me, when I break (the record) I'm probably going to get really emotional because I've watching so many Willmar teams and players for so long," Slagter said
Slagter finished second in the area with 21.2 points per game last season. If he is able to repeat those numbers over 25 games this season, he would move into eighth all-time in scoring among all area boys players.
That type of play has prompted high praise from his coach.
"Noah is not only the best player on our team, he is one of the best in the state," Cardinals head coach Matt Williams said.
For as much prowess Slagter has at lighting up the scoreboard, the area of his game in which he takes the most pride is, yes, rebounding.
"I want to average 20 points, I want to average six or seven assists and, it sounds high, but I want to average a double-double," Slagter said.
For a six-foot guard, Slagter can jump with the best of them. He led the team with 7.2 rebounds per game one year ago.
Adding over 15 lbs. to his frame since his sophomore season has allowed Slagter to excel in crashing the boards.
"I love rebounding—jumping as high as you can, I don't know. It's great," Slagter said. "I know I set the bar pretty high."
Colleges quickly took note of Slagter's versatility on the court, as he drew interest from multiple colleges, including a pair of Division II schools. In the end, though, Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, proved to be the best fit.
"Northwestern is a really good NAIA team, so I knew I would be on a competing team right away," Slagter said. "And then for D-2, I probably would have gotten a smaller scholarship. Some schools also said I wasn't expecting to play right away, and at Northwestern I have a chance. It all just felt like the right fit."
Slagter doesn't just have his eyes on the school's all-time scoring record and bringing down rebounds, but wants to add a 4.0 to his stat sheet—and not in assists per game, either.
"One of my biggest goals education-wise is I want to graduate with over a 4.0 grade point average," Slagter said "I know it will be tough. Right now I think I have a 3.97 or something like that, but I'm taking a couple of AP classes, which could help. So if I could do that, that would be really nice for me."
Following a standout football career in which he set the school record for receptions and receiving touchdowns, Slagter also earned Academic All-State honors for Class AAAA.
"It feels great knowing people see my in-class stats and that they also notice the ones on the field," Slagter said. "I take a lot of pride in that. I don't think I've ever missed an assignment. I just take a lot of pride in my school and my homework."
Slagter notes that he is leaning toward pursuing a degree in teaching at Northwestern, largely because of his mother, Stephanie.
"My mom's a teacher too and she's always having fun," he said. "I love working with kids. Seeing her and the people that she's developed friendships with, that seems super fun. And if I could come back (to Willmar) and teach and coach that would be great."
If Slagter isn't keeping his homework streak intact or practicing for one of his three sports—he also excels as a jumper in track and field—he is likely with teammates and best friends Cameron Murphy and Donald Jurek.
"We're best buddies, we've been that way since middle school," Slagter said. "In football, we're the center, quarterback and wide receiver. And in basketball, guard, guard, forward. We're super close, we know each other like the back of our hands."
The three have all been named to the Tribune's All-Area first team in either basketball or football, but if there is anything they excel at more than sports, it's eating Qdoba.
"We love going to 'Doba," Slagter said. "Last year, Donald won the Qdoba for a year prize in a raffle. He put in just one ticket and I put in five, so we had lots of that."
Slagter has made efforts to get Murphy, a forward for the Cardinals, and Jurek, a guard, to join him at Northwestern next year. Both, however, are receiving looks from multiple schools to play football.
Regardless of where each of the three players wind up, Slagter knows that the other two are just one text in their group chat, dubbed The Boys, away.
"I want to create lifelong friendships, and I know that I've already got some of those," Slagter said.