Coming into the season, Hancock head coach Cory Bedel heard the talk that his Owls might have a down year after pulling through for an 18-win campaign the previous season
They had lost four starters. A new offensive system had to implemented. There was little varsity experience to go around.
But while all of those things were being said, Hancock's ultimate counterpoint was shooting in the gym while his entire town of 746 people was asleep.
The result: One of the best seasons of any player in state history for Owls senior guard Noah Kannegiesser and a shot at the school's first boys state tournament appearance since 2003.
"He's one of those kids, that if you doubt him, he'll go prove you wrong," Bedel said.
Doubters don't serve as Kannegiesser's primary fuel; he's motivated by a desire for greatness on the court that trumps all else.
Doubt him, though, and it's just added fuel to the fire.
"I just want to be great," Kannegiesser said. "I want to be the best player that I can be and maximize everything that I can. I know that if I put the work in, the results tend to show."
It's safe to say the results are showing.
Kannegiesser is the state's leading scorer at 36.3 points per game, but what may be even more eye-popping than Minnesota's top offensive player coming from a school with 82 students is the efficiency with which it's being done.
Despite defenses keying in on him at all times, Kannegiesser is shooting 70.3 percent on 2-point attempts (201-286) and 46 percent from 3-point range (115-250)—good for a 69.7 percent effective field goal percentage. Add in a 91.8 percent performance at the free throw line, and the senior has a 73.1 true shooting percentage.
Talent and a high basketball IQ are what keep Kannegiesser so efficient on offense while also maintaining a high usage rate of 36.9 percent (by comparison, James Harden leads the NBA this season at 36.0 percent).
"Part of it running a good offense is if you get a good look, put it up," Kannegisser said. "But you also have to know the scenarios too. Sometimes for me it's maybe not the best shot to put one up with no passes. So we'll work it around, get some passes going in the flow of the offense and things like that. It's a balance. We've got guys that can score, so I don't need to put up a shot every time."
Indeed, the Owls do have help surrounding Kannegiesser.
Junior forward Bennett Nienhaus is chief among those players, second on the team in scoring with 14.6 points per game while shooting 44 percent on 3-point attempts. While Nienhaus and Kannegiesser account for just over two-thirds of the Owls' scoring, they shoot a clip over 40 percent on triples as a team.
"If they double Noah, we have Nienhaus, the Reese boys (Connor and Cole), other guys that can hit from the perimeter," Bedel said. "That has helped our whole team, not just Noah."
Hancock capped off its regular season with a 22-2 record, Pheasant Conference title, a Class A state ranking and the No. 1 seed in the Section 6A tournament.
But it hasn't always been that easy for Kannegiesser and the Owls.
As an eighth grader playing on the varsity squad, Kannegiesser saw Hancock, which had not had a winning season since 2010, win just four games.
Still, Kannegiesser grasped for greatness.
"A lot of kids will say that they want to be great, but the effort doesn't match that," Bedel said. "I've never seen anyone with the same work ethic as Noah. It's incredible."
Owls senior forward Kaleb Koehl, a classmate of Kannegiesser's since childhood and the signal-caller in the All-Area first-team quarterback/wide receiver tandem, has seen that dedication firsthand for years.
"It's crazy. It still amazes me and I've played with him since I was little in both football and now basketball," Koehl said. "His work ethic is crazy. His drive and workouts, I've never seen anything like it. He'll shoot until midnight, be at the gym working out late. Playing with him is awesome."
In 2014-15, the Owls improved to 12-13 as Kannegiesser averaged 17 points per game. The next two years, Hancock went a combined 35-14 with Kannegiesser averaging 21.8 and 25.6 points per game.
Still, though, Hancock couldn't get past the sub-section semifinals.
Before this season began, Bedel had his players fill out team evaluations with their goals for the upcoming year. On each ballot: winning the conference for the first time in 15 years and win the section.
"As a team, the guys had high goals for the year," Bedel said. "We're still literally taking it game-by-game though. If we have one bad shooting night, we could be out of the playoffs."
Now that their goals are right in front of them as the Section 6A tournament begins on Thursday, the Owls say they don't feel any added pressure.
"Everybody says the pressure's on us, but we just go into the game saying the pressure's on them," Koehl said. "They have to be better than us to beat us. It's a loose bunch."
It probably helps when you have Noah Kannegiesser on your team.