Willmar's Nielsen, BLH's Ashburn honored for the third straight year

In arguably the strongest collection of overall individual girls' basketball talent the area has had in many years, evidenced by a record seven 1,000-point scorers and four more with over 900 points, 15 players emerged to make up this year's All-...

In arguably the strongest collection of overall individual girls' basketball talent the area has had in many years, evidenced by a record seven 1,000-point scorers and four more with over 900 points, 15 players emerged to make up this year's All-Area Girls' Basketball Team.

The team is led by Willmar senior center Laura Nielsen and Buffalo Lake-Hector senior guard/forward Leah Ashburn, each a three-time selection. They are joined on the first team by New London-Spicer sophomore post Renae Henjum, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa junior post April Hansen and Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg junior post Esther Peterson.

Second-team selections are: Benson senior guard Emily Jensen, Litchfield senior forward Becky Smith, Dawson-Boyd senior post Chelsie Kurtenbach, MACCRAY senior post Hilary Groothuis and Yellow Medicine East senior forward Audrey Formo.

On the third team is: Willmar senior guard Andrea Brown, Dawson-Boyd junior guard Nikki Swenson, Lac qui Parle Valley junior guard Mindy Clark, Montevideo junior forward Brook Moseng and Hancock junior guard Tara Thielke.

The All-Area team is selected by the sports editor after consulting with coaches and several players, who were asked to rank their top opposing players, officials, college coaches and staff members.


The All-Area team is selected by the sports editor after consulting with coaches, several players, officials, college coaches and Tribune staff members.


Laura Nielsen

Willmar senior post

A talented and strong inside presence for Willmar, Nielsen helped the Cardinals win over 100 games in her four years on the varsity. She is the school-record holder with 1,628 points and 1,029 rebounds. This season, she averaged 16.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots per game as Willmar reached the state tournament for the second time in four seasons with her in the middle. Nielsen has also been All-Area in volleyball and softball.

Leah Ashburn

BLH senior guard/forward

Playing on teams that won only 36 games in her four years on the varsity. Ashburn often was double- and triple-teamed, yet still managed 1,798 points and over 1,000 rebounds in her career. A natural athlete who is explosive with excellent leaping ability, Ashburn averaged an area-best 21 points-per-game to go along with 11.2 re-bounds, 2.9 assists, 3.1 steals and 1.1 blocked shots per game. She was a two-time first team and three-time overall All-Area volleyball selection.


April Hansen

BBE junior post

Hansen was a second-team pick last season and joins the first team this year after averaging 16.0 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game for the Jaguars. Agile and aggressive inside, Han-sen amassed 160 offensive rebounds while shooting 47 percent from the field. In her career, She has 1,217 points and 701 rebounds. She was also an All-Area first team pick in volleyball this past fall.

Esther Peterson

KMS junior post

One of the most well-rounded inside players the area has seen in many years, according to many observers. Peterson could force defenses to step out on her because of her smooth jump shot or to battle inside with her strength and baseline moves. She was named the Most Valuable Player in the Camden North Conference. For the season, she averaged 18.7 points and 9.7 rebounds, while shooting 51 percent from the field and 73 percent from the free-throw line. She has 1,068 career points.

Renae Henjum

NLS sophomore post


Henjum impressed the West Central North Conference coaches so much in her first season as a starter that they selected her the co-Most Valuable Player even though Albany won the conference by two games. An imposing threat inside with her shot-blocking and rebounding ability, Henjum helped the Wildcats hold every opponent but one under 43 points in a game. She blocked 106 shots, while averaging 15.2 points and 8.2 rebounds as the Wildcats went 20-8.


Emily Jensen

Benson senior guard

Jensen was a second-team All-Area pick last season and had another strong campaign, leading the Braves in several categories, including scoring (14.4 ppg), assists (4.9 apg) and steals (3.3 spg). Aggressive and quick, Jensen was third on the team in rebounds (4.8 rpg) despite being a guard. She is the school's all-time scoring leader with 1,134 points. Jensen was also a second team All-Area pick in volleyball this past fall.

Audrey Formo

YME senior forward

Solid on both sides of the ball, Formo has the ability to score inside or out and can also find the open shooter. She led the Sting with a 17.2 points-per-game scoring av-erage and was named the West Central South Conference Most Valuable Player. Formo also averaged 7.6 rebounds and 4.0 steals per game this season. Defensively, she held two 1,000-point scorers to three combined baskets in three games this year. She finished her career with 904 points.


Hilary Groothuis

MACCRAY senior forward

Groothuis, a repeat selection, was strong inside with excellent post moves for the Wolverines, helping the team earn a berth in the Class AA state tournament. She led the team in scoring (16.3 ppg) and rebounding (10.7 rpg), breaking the school's single-season mark for rebounds with 289 as MACCRAY went 21-7. She was also an All-Area pick in volleyball. Groothuis finished her career with 928 points.

Chelsie Kurtenbach

Dawson-Boyd senior post

Kurtenbach earned All-Area honors in her third sport after also being named in volleyball this past fall and softball last spring. Agile and powerful, Kurtenbach averaged a double-double this season with 15.4 points and 12.2 rebounds despite playing on a painful knee. She also averaged 2.5 blocks per game as the Blackjacks went 18-7. Kurtenbach had 912 points in her career.

Becky Smith

Litchfield senior forward


Utilizing her quickness and strength, Smith was one of the top defensive players in the area, averaging over five steals-per-game for the Dragons. On offense, Smith used an explosive first step to drive to the basket and averaged 15 points-per-game. She also led the team in assists (3.0 apg) and rebounding (6.1 rpg). She finished her career with 942 points.


Brook Moseng

Montevideo junior forward

Moseng is honored on the All-Area team for the second straight year and was also an All-Area softball selection last spring. She was the Thunder Hawks' leading scorer at 15.2 points-per-game, while shooting an impressive 42 percent from the field and 87 percent from the free-throw line. Moseng also averaged 5.3 rebounds and led the team in steals. She has 889 points in her career.

Mindy Clark

LQPV junior guard

Clark was an all-around threat for the Eagles with her ability to attack the basket off the dribble or to hit beyond the three-point arc. She averaged 15.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.1 steals per game this season. She also sank 36 3-pointers. On defense, Clark's quickness and relentless work ethic led to her holding most of her opponents below their season scoring average. She currently has 865 career points.


Nikki Swenson

Dawson-Boyd junior guard

Swenson, a cross country and track state champion, utilized her seemingly endless stamina to wear down opponents. She had the ability to make everyone around her better as evidenced by her 159 assists and 89 steals, while averaging 13.3 points-per-game. She also made 41 percent of her shots from the field and 71 percent from the three-throw line. Swenson has 631 career points.

Andrea Brown

Willmar senior guard

The smallest player on the court most nights often came up with the biggest plays. Twice she hit a three-point shot at the buzzer to tie the game and send it into overtime, where the Cardinals went on to win each time. After she returned from an injury, the Cardinals won 15 straight games before losing in the Class AAA state quarterfinals. Also an All-Area softball player and state tennis entrant, Brown averaged 10.2 points on a defensive-minded team, to go along with 2.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game. She had 578 career points.

Tara Thielke

Hancock junior guard

Already a 1,000-point scorer as a junior for the Owls, Thielke can score from anywhere on the court as evidenced by 53 three-pointers. She shot 48 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free-throw line, leading to a 19.3 scoring average. Thielke, who has 1,034 career points, also averaged 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.3 steals per game.

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