Five different players from five different teams. Through the differences, all five All-Area first teamers had one goal in common: reaching uncharted territory.
A first-team staple, Makenna Steffel pushed BOLD back into the state playoffs for the first time in six years to help cement her place in the school record book.
For Lac qui Parle Valley's Haley Wollschlager and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa's Macie Kirckof, it was about that hope of getting their respective teams from good to state worthy. Both teams missed out on state, but continued their recent string of 20-win seasons.
In Carly Wedel's case, it was about stepping up when the team could have faltered around one of their fallen stars. Instead of giving up, she helped Willmar get fired up to the point where the Cardinals beat the top-ranked team in Class AAA twice in a week while also making it to the Section 5AAA championship once again.
As for the youngest member of the first team, Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart's Sara Kottke, the idea of reaching new heights is helping the Mustangs find success the program has been lacking for much of the decade.
Introducing the West Central Tribune's All-Area Girls Basketball Teams:
Macie Kirckof, sr. F, BBE
An All-Area honorable mention a year ago, the Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa senior forward was the driving force for the Jaguars' push back to the Section 5A finals.
Helming a BBE squad that finished 24-6 and appeared in the final Class A state poll, Kirckof averaged 13.7 points per game with a 51 percent shooting percentage while hauling in 6.3 rebounds per game (as of Feb. 27).
In Kirckof's junior and senior years, the Jaguars put together a 46-14 record.
"Macie is a very athletic post who runs the floor well, rebounds extremely well and finishes efficiently," said BBE head coach Kristina Anderson. "Macie is a great leader both on the defensive and offensive side of the floor. She plays with a lot of energy and heart that translates to the rest of her team."
Sara Kottke, jr. G, BLHS
Already established as one of the area's top scorers, Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart's Sara Kottke continued to excel at putting the ball through the hoop. More importantly, Kottke's junior season saw the Mustangs make an eight-game improvement from last year and earn double-digit wins for the first time since 2011-12.
Avering 24.2 points on 46.6 percent shooting, 11.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.9 steals (as of Feb. 24), the 5-foot-9 junior guard broke both the 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds mark in her career. On Jan. 17, Kottke broke a school record with 50 points against Cedar Mountain. According to head coach Dustin Wright, Kottke is already the school's all-time leader in rebounds and is on pace to be the Mustangs' all-time leader in career points, assists and steals.
BLHS finished the year with a 10-16 record.
"Sara is a great kid on and off the court. She is very dedicated and puts in the time to make sure she is always improving," Wright said. "Sara is an excellent leader for our team. SHe brings positive energy to our program every day and does a great job setting the tone for everyone else with her work ethic. ... Sara's work ethic and positive attitude are a big part of the turnaround that is happening within the BLHS girls basketball program."
Makenna Steffel, sr. F, BOLD
It's back to familiar territory for BOLD senior Makenna Steffel. She was an All-Area first teamer both as a junior and a sophomore.
But this year, she helped vault the Warriors into some unfamiliar ground by making state for the first time in six years.
The All-West Central Conference MVP and a Class A All-State honorable mention, Steffel battled through turf toe that cost her eight-and-a-half games to average 18.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, both team highs. The 6-0 forward was efficient in her scoring, shooting 61 percent from the field and 72 percent from the free-throw line.
Heading into the state tournament, Steffel is already BOLD's all-time leader in career points (2,162), rebounds (1,025), steals (444) and blocks (138).
The Warriors have a 22-5 record and will begin the state tournament at 5 p.m. Thursday at Maturi Pavilion against third-seeded Menahga.
"Makenna has been a force for us for five years now," said BOLD head coach Brian Kingery." She has great physical skills and has developed into a basketball player. She has battled through (injury) to help lead us to the state tournament."
Carly Wedel, sr. F, Willmar
When faced with adversity this winter, Willmar leaned on senior Carly Wedel. And with her leadership, the Cardinals won 20 games and reached the section finals for the third straight year.
A two-time All-Area honorable mention, the six-foot Wedel led the Cardinals with 13 points, 7.8 rebounds and a pair of blocks per game (as of Feb. 27), Wedel was twice named Central Lakes Conference player of the week this season. While she could use her size and athleticism in the paint, Wedel also had excellent range, hitting 37 percent from 3-point distance.
Though she excelled on the basketball court, Wedel's future will be on the volleyball court where she signed a Letter of Intent to play at South Dakota State University.
Willmar had a 21-5 record this season.
"Carly is such an athletic forward who can score with ease and block shots out of nowhere," said Cardinals head coach Dustin Carlson. "She has to be one of the most talented kids in the area being six feet tall, going inside to score as well as being tied as our leading 3-point shooter percentage wise. Carly is an exciting player that has grown into one of our leaders this year but working harder than ever before. We would not be having the success we have this year without her performing at the level she has."
Haley Wollschlager, sr. G, LQPV
After losing all-time leading scorer Kelsey Lund to graduation, it wouldn't have been surprising if Lac qui Parle Valley had slid this season.
Haley Wollschlager wasn't about to let that happen. And the Eagles won 20-plus games for the third straight year and won the Camden Conference North division.
Standing at just 5-3, Wollschlager was the classic example of someone playing well above her height by averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game (as of Feb. 12). A two-time, All-Area honorable mention, Wollschlager scored her 1,000th career point on Dec. 4, 2018 in a win over Central Minnesota Christian.
LQPV finished 23-4 and reached the Section 3A-North championship game.
"Haley is a special player who has unparalleled quickness," said Eagles head coach John Nolte. "She is often able to shut down our opponents' best player, handles the ball well and is able to score. She is a difficult player to defend off the dribble and she can hit the outside shot."
Malory Anderson, jr. P, Morris/CA
An honorable mention selection a year ago, Malory Anderson set the tone for Morris/Chokio-Alberta this year by averaging a double-double with 12.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per game (as of Feb. 25) while setting the Tigers' single-season record record for the second straight year. She also came up with 4.7 steals, 1.7 assists and 1.1 blocks per game while pushing Morris/CA to a 15-9 record.
"Malory is a very hard-working athlete," said Tigers head coach Dale Henrich. "Malory has many strong points for her game. She scores well around the basket, she rebounds well and she has the ability to cover a lot of area and anticipate where the ball is going."
Piper Asche, sr. C, MACCRAY
Wrapping up her final season at MACCRAY, 6-1 center Piper Asche finished her high school career third in school history in points (1,099), second in rebounds (632) and first in blocks (223).
Recording seven double-doubles this year, Asche, twice an All-Area honorable mention, had season averages of 16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 3.5 blocks.
"Piper was one of the most dominant players in the area. Her ability to score in the paint and step outside and knock down perimeter jump shots made her a matchup nightmare," said Wolverines head coach Shaun Condon. "She was a phenomenal defender in the paint as well, including nine games with at least five or more blocks. She really improved her inside scoring her senior year and that helped her immensely."
Coco Duininck, fr. G, CMCS
As a freshman, Coco Duininck found a way to enter the Central Minnesota Christian record books.
An All-Camden Conference selection, Duininck averaged 17.9 points per game. With 465 points, she broke the school's single-season points record of 418 set by Janey Mulder, Duininck's mother, set in 1993-94. Duininck also averaged 3.2 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.1 assists per game.
"Coco is a freshman in school but plays with the poise and determination of an upperclassman," said Bluejays head coach Mike Mulder. "She is effective on both ends of the court. Coco plays tough, scrappy defense and offensively, she can take the ball to the basket, hit the mid-range shot or shoot the three with consistency. Coco is constantly seeking out ways to improve her game. Coco pushes herself in practice and has the same competitive spirit in practice as well as the games."
Emma Hanson, so. F, New London-Spicer
A unanimous Wright County West All-Conference selection, Hanson had averages of 11.6 points and 6.0 rebounds to go with 1.8 steals and 1.5 assists per game. Led by Hanson's efforts, NLS won 20-plus games for the seventh straight season.
"(Emma was) a major factor in our late-season push to the Wright County West Conference championship," said Wildcats assistant coach Joey Dreier. "Strong all-around player that plays bigger than her height (5-8). Our best defensive player."
Makayla Snow, jr. G, BOLD So-HM
Helming the backcourt for the state-bound Warriors, Snow was second on the team with 14.4 points (50 percent shooting, 40 percent 3-pointers) and 7.9 rebounds per game. She also was second on the team with 3.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game en route to All-West Central Conference honors.
"Makayla is a very good all-around basketball player," said BOLD head coach Brian Kingery. "On offense she has turned into our point guard and has a good perimeter game to go along with a nice post presence. Makayla is also our top defender who is asked to guard the other team's best player regardless of position."
Grace Hegland, sr. F, LQPV
11.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2. Spg, 1.0 bpg (as of Feb. 12)
From Eagles head coach John Nolte: "Grace is a high IQ basketball player with a great passion for the game. She has a knack around the basket for grabbing rebounds and finishing as well as figuring out how to stop opposing offenses. Her length and athletic ability have made her a difficult matchup for many of our opponents and she has stepped up in big moments this season."
Laney Huhner, sr. G, Litchfield
9.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.5 spg, Academic All-State (as of Feb. 26)
From Dragons head coach Shannon Walters: "Laney is a great leader and teammate. She is always competing and working hard to make her teammates better. She has a knack for scoring inside and out and does a great job of rebounding the basketball. She has developed an outside shot over the summer, which has made it harder for teams to guard her this year."
Hannah Johnson, sr. G, Willmar
9.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.9 apg, 3.4 spg
From Cardinals head coach Dustin Carlson: "HJ is a super athletic point guard. She truly is a point guard as she looks to set others up before taking the shot herself. When she decides to create for herself, no one is able to stop her. Defensively, HJ brings long arms, strength and a special knack for anticipating where the ball is going. She reads opponents' passes better than anyone else we have had over the last six years. Obviously, she didn't have the senior year we all had hoped with suffering a knee injury but she is still such a deserving player. One of, if not, the best athlete in the area in all three sports she plays."
Katie Krieger, sr. G, KMS
17.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, 4.3 spg
From Fighting Saints head coach Justin Johnson: "Katie is relentless on both ends of the floor. She has a motor that never stops. Her quickness and athleticism allows her to get a lot of steals defensively and blow by defenders on the offensive end. Her aggressiveness allows her to get to the line often where she is a great free-throw shooter. She also has the ability to step out and hit from three. We relied on her heavily to carry us on the offensive end this season."
Madison Rohner, jr. C, KMS
11.9 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 1.3 spg, 1.1 bpg. Team defensive MVP
From Fighting Saints head coach Justin Johnson: "Most nights Maddy is an undersized post player but that has not stopped her from averaging a double-double. She has worked hard on developing her post moves this season, which has helped her go around bigger defenders. She has a knack for knowing exactly where the rebounds are going to come off."