WILLMAR — After Carly Wedel attempted just one field goal and went scoreless in Willmar's semifinal win over Albany in the Heritage Bank WildCard Tournament on Wednesday night, head coach Dustin Carlson pulled his junior forward aside and presented her with a challenge.
The Cardinals had just watched the frontcourt of Minnehaha Academy make its presence felt earlier in the night against New London-Spicer on both ends of the floor. Carlson wanted Wedel to prove her mettle against the long and athletic Redhawks bigs.
Wedel gave her coach a smile and accepted the challenge. On Thursday night in the title game, she completed it.
Wedel recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Cardinals to the WildCard title with a 56-47 win over the Redhawks at Willmar High School.
Willmar claimed its first WildCard title since the 2009 season and improved to 8-0 for the first time since that same year.
"One of our team goals coming into the season was to win the holiday tournament and to come out and win that was neat," Willmar head coach Dustin Carlson said. "The group of teams this year was especially strong, so it's nice to see the girls grind and accomplish that. I'm definitely proud of them."
The Class AAA No. 3 Cardinals led by as many as seven points in the first half, but the Class AA No. 6 Redhawks went on a 16-6 run to close out the period with a 27-24 lead.
Unlike the night before, when they had 13 consecutive scoreless possessions midway through the second half, the Cardinals played perhaps their best 18 minutes to the season to close out the game.
Willmar scored on each of its first four possessions after the break to open the half as Hannah Johnson scored six points to spark an 8-2 run.
Both sides traded baskets until a Jordyn Swoboda 3-pointer gave the Cardinals a 40-37 lead with 8:03 to play.
They wouldn't trail again.
The Cardinals scored 1.143 points per possession during the second half, taking a seven-point lead on a Sadie Raitz layup with 57 seconds remaining to extend the lead to 52-45.
Minnehaha responded with a basket of their own and nearly forced a turnover on the inbounds pass, but Johnson made a leaping pass to save the ball from going out of bounds. That led to a pair of Berskow free throws to ice the game with 29 seconds left.
Despite not having quite as much height, Willmar was the more aggressive team and shot 34 free throw attempts compared to just 17 for Minnehaha. The Cardinals also limited the Redhawks to just four blocks.
"They like blocking shots, but sometimes shot blockers will be aggressive and they can body you," Carlson said. "We wanted the girls to be aggressive and go right at them, and they did. They took it right at them. Shot blockers like space to reach out and use their length, but we tried to limit that and got them in foul trouble."
Leading the charge down low was Wedel, who went 5-for-8 from the field and hit five of six free throws.
It was quite the role reversal from 24 hours prior.
"Carly, for whatever reason, doesn't think she should shoot a lot of shots," Carlson said. "Everyone is yelling to shoot more and be more aggressive, but it doesn't always make her shoot more. When she gets aggressive, she's really good and can be really, really good. Tonight, she was fiery."
Despite the team shooting just 22 percent against Albany, Wedel only took one shot, often passing up open looks and deferring to teammates.
Her assertive performance in the title game earned her the honor of WildCard tournament Most Valuable Player.
"Last night, I said to get after their number two, Galloway, and block a shot and score down low," Carlson said. "She was ready for the challenge. She was excited to play someone long and athletic."
Playing against essentially a six-player rotation from the Redhawks, Willmar wore them down with a faster tempo on offense and forcing lengthy possessions on defense.
"That's when we're playing at our best, is when we're pushing the ball after every rebound,"
Carlson said. "It got us some easy buckets tonight. When we slow it down too much and let them set up, that's not us."
Galloway and forward Avery new combined for 15 points and were both in foul trouble throughout the game, keeping the Redhawks from every settling into a rhythm.
Minnehaha guard Mia Curtis, who averaged 20 points per game entering the day, hit her lone triple of the game with 5:56 to play to cut the deficit to 45-43, but the Cardinals bottled herr or the rest of the night. Curtis scored seven points and was guarded closely by a bevy of Willmar defenders.
"We put some length on her and bothered here," Carlson said. "Between Hannah and Abby Berskow and some other girls, we had more girls play defense on her to frustrate her. I think it worked not just on her, but on the whole team."
Johnson scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds, Jordyn Swoboda scored eight points and Madi Linbo added seven points of her own en route to an All-Tournament nod.
Willmar shot 35.6 percent from the field despite going just 2-for-14 on 3-pointers en route to .966 points per possession. Minnehaha scored .810 points per possession.
Willmar 56, MA 47
MA (6-4) 27 20 — 47
Willmar (8-0) 24 32 — 56
MINNEHAHA ACADEMY - Scoring: Taytum Rhoades 11, Tanna Gallo 2, Nevaeh Galloway 4, Mia Curtis 7, Terra Rhoades 12, Avery New 11 ... 3-point shots: Curtis 1, Terra Rhoades 1 ... Rebound leader: NA ... Assist leader: NA ... Steal leader: NA
WILLMAR - Scoring: Abby Berskow 4, Katelyn Murphy 2, Caitlin Ogdahl 1, Sadie Raitz 5, Jordyn Swoboda 8, Madi Linbo 7, Hannah Johnson 9, Cayle Hovland 6, Carly Wedel 14 ... 3-point shots: Swoboda 1, Linbo 1 ... Rebound leader: Wedel 10, Hovland 6, Johnson 6 ... Assist leader: Berskow 3, Johnson 3 ... Steal leader: Berskow 2
NLS 57, Albany 39
New London-Spicer bounced back after a tough loss in the opening game of the Heritage Bank WildCard Tournament with a commanding victory over Albany Thursday night in the third place match.
The Wildcats opened the game forcefully with a 29-2 run and the Huskies were never able to recover.
"They missed shots, we got rebounds and we made some buckets," said NLS head coach Mike Dreier. "The girls really rebounded well from the game against Minnehaha. When you lose a game you think you can win there's that chance for a letdown but they came back and fought hard tonight."
Shea Oman led with 14 points while Emma Hanson played a strong all-around game. She finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
New London-Spicer, now 6-3 on the year, will take on Montevideo Tuesday in New London.
NLS (6-3) 38 19 — 57
Albany (6-3) 15 24 — 39
NEW LONDON-SPICER - Scoring: Ashton Engelke 2, Shea Oman 14, Mackenzie Rich 2, Emma Hanson 12, Payton Mages 4, Grace DeSchepper 8, Ava Kraemer 3, Courtney Caskey 4, Erin Knisley 8 ... 3-point shots: Oman 1, Hanson 1 ... Rebound leader: Hanson 13, DeSchepper 10, Kramer 9 ... Assist leader: Mages 5, Oman 3 ... Steal leader: Oman 4, Mages 3
ALBANY - Scoring: Amanda Kollodge 8, Kathryn Sands 2, Paige Rueter 4, Molly Van Drehle 5, Paige Meyer 14, Emma Seiler 2, Breanna Mellesmoen 4 ... 3-point shots: Kollodge 1, van Drehle 1 ... Rebound leader: NA ... Assist leader: NA ... Steal leader: NA