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MACCRAY running on all cylinders

Not often does a coach admit his/her team is working to maximum efficiency for fear that the team might get complacent.

But Gary Nelson even encourages fans that might want to see a team working hard from the first minute to the last to attend a MACCRAY boys basketball game this season.

"We have nine guys that I could start and the play would be the same on defense," he insisted. "Not since the middle nineties have I had this many quick and athletic players. All of them know how to pass and run a fast-break."

The result so far? The Wolverines are 10-0 and outscoring opponents by a 69.3-43.5 average.

The Wolverines brought back three starters -- Tyler Dammann, Jay Hilbrands and Shaun Condon -- from last year's 11-13 team. All three were Camden all-conference picks.

"I could see that we were athletic and they have won games at every grade level," Nelson said. "This bunch has been more cohesive than I thought going into the season. In other words, it was a pleasant surprise how well they play together and get along."

MACCRAY, rated No. 8 in Class AA by Minnesota Basketball News, utilizes its speed to run the fast break and then get back quickly and suffocate its opponent on defense.

"Defensively, we have played as one unit far better than I thought we would," said Nelson. "We are very quick in every player that I play and don't play. There are probably some I should play more. And we have six players that on any given night can score in double figures."

Jay Hilbrands, a 6-4 senior forward, has been a stalwart defensively with his rebounding and shot-blocking abilities. He also averages 9.3 points-per-game.

"He is one of the best I have coached in that combo," said Nelson, who is in his 30th year coaching Raymond and MACCRAY.

Tyler Dammann, a 6-1 senior guard, has been steady all season. He and Hilbrands are the cop-captains. Dammann averages 6.7 ppg.

"Tyler's your typical coach on the floor as my point guard," said Nelson. "My other two seniors, Jordan Smith (3.4 ppg) and Seth Sparks (1.3 ppg), have given me and the team great leadership."

The Wolverines also have eight juniors and a sophomore who have provided the team with depth and play-making ability. Shaun Condon, a 6-2 junior guard, leads the team with a 21.3 average. Sophomore Seth Hinrichs, a 6-4 post, is second with an 11.0 average.

"The juniors that play have really played above the level I expected, said Nelson. "Shaun Condon is a great scorer. He has stepped up his game to another level. Dylan Aeikens (a 6-2 junior guard who averages 8.6 ppg) has really helped us offensively. Last year he wouldn't look for his shot and now has great confidence and is a factor. Darren Caspers (a 6-2 junior forward at 3.6 ppg) and Caleb Hanson (a 6-1 junior forward at 2.6 ppg) both stepped right in and can play any position except point guard. Also, the play of Seth Hinrichs has been more than I can ask of a sophomore."

Nelson also feels the success of the team can be attributed to their intelligence and understanding of the game.

"They get it," he remarked. "These fellows will give all they have and that's all I'm asking each time out."

MACCRAY will likely get a high seed in the Section 3AA playoffs with a chance to reach the state tournament for the first time since 1996. Redwood Valley, which also is in 3AA, is currently rated No. 6.