The Four-Point Play: Holiday hoops haven
The NBA owns the sports world on Christmas day with its loaded lineup of games. College football stakes its claim on New Year's Day.
But as for the time in between those two holidays?
You may want to feast your eyes on some of the hoops action at Willmar High School over the next four days.
The Heritage Bank WildCard Tournament, with games Wednesday and Thursday, and the Bremer Bank Holiday Classic on Friday and Saturday will feature plenty of top-tier talent from both the area and around the state. Here are some of the storylines to keep an eye on during the action.
New London-Spicer girls head coach Mike Dreier has already achieved so much in his career: 39 years at the helm, 26 conference titles, 17 state tournament appearances, 2 state titles, 13 top-four state finishes.
And at the WildCard Tournament, the winningest coach in Minnesota girls basketball history has a chance to reach 900 wins and add to that resume. Dreier currently sits at 898 wins, with a pair of games coming up at the Heritage Tournament.
Given the competition at hand, however, winning those two contests will be no walk in the park.
The Wildcats, ranked No. 9 in Class AA in the Dec. 24 version of the Follow the Rock poll, open with No. 6 Minnehaha Academy in what will be another tough early-season test. NLS suffered its only two losses of the year to No. 1 Sauk Centre and No. 5 Watertown-Mayer, and handed an Eden Valley-Watkins team that is receiving votes in the poll its only loss of the season.
The Redhawks come into the tournament at 5-3, but don't let the record fool you. Two of those losses have come to Holy Angels and Robbinsdale-Cooper—ranked first and fourth, respectively, in Class AAA.
If the Wildcats come away victorious in Wednesday's 6 p.m. tournament opener, they will take on the winner of the other game between Albany and Willmar. The Huskies are ranked No. 8 according to QRF in Class AA and are riding a six-game winning streak into the tournament.
And as for the host Cardinals ...
One big opportunity
... the WildCard provides them with another chance to prove they belong among the elite teams in Class AAA.
There may have never been more outside attention this early in the season given to a Willmar girls basketball team (my lawyers say to include that this statement is not legally binding). The Cardinals moved on up to the No. 3 ranking in their class after a 6-0 start. If the FTR poll isn't enough evidence for you, then check QRF, which also has the Lady Redbirds at the third spot.
For Willmar, or any team for that matter, to win the WildCard it will have to come over a pair of Top 10 teams in their respective classes.
The Cardinals doing so would certainly send a statement.
Making a point
The weekend of hoops will conclude fittingly, with the Willmar boys taking on New London-Spicer in the annual rivalry meet-up.
If recent history is any indication, Saturday night's matchup should be a good one.
Over the last nine contests between the teams dating back to a 2007 overtime thriller, the Cardinals have won six times, but the combined scores over those games are separated by just nine points: Willmar 573, NLS 564.
You'll want to watch the point guard matchup in this year's Battle for Kandiyohi County. (Sidenote: We need to get a trophy involved in this battle. I suggest a life-sized ice sculpture of a turkey; shoutout to Jennie-O. Or cake, because everybody likes cake).
Willmar senior Noah Slagter already owns the boys school scoring record and is on a tear this season, averaging over 20 points a game to go along with nearly 10 rebounds. Slagter is the true definition of an all-around guard. He can beat you from both the inside and perimeter, creates chances for teammates with his ability to drive the lane, defends for the length of the floor and isn't afraid to use his athleticism on the boards.
And all of what I just said about Slagter? Yeah, you can apply that to Wildcats junior Brandon Adelman, as well.
Add in a great atmosphere and the Big Red Gym and, yeah, Saturday should be a doozy.
Pair of stocking stuffers
There's another pair of up-and-coming, intriguing area teams that I'm looking forward to watching over the weekend at the Bremer Classic.
First is BOLD, and I can summarize why that is for you very easily. Gavin Vosika, the Warriors point guard, runs wild and is always a triple-double threat. Carter Henry, their power forward, is very good at dunking.
The Warriors open up against MACCRAY on Friday at 3:45 p.m. and take on Lac qui Parle Valley on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
That game against LQPV is another one to highlight, as the Eagles are the other squad I'll be interested to watch.
Head coach Barry Besonen's team has already won more games this year (five) than it did one season ago (four). Between Isaac Gerdes, Caden Bjornjeld, Braiden Kittelson and company, LQPV has a balanced offensive attack and has already shown a knack for playing dramatic games.
Twice the Eagles have gone to double overtime and they also played a tight contest with Dawson-Boyd last Thursday.