BELGRADE — Abby Berge has gone from defensive stopper to unstoppable.
The Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa sophomore is tasked with defending the opposing team’s top scorer on a nightly basis for Class A’s best defense. And since the playoffs got underway, the 5-foot-10 guard’s offensive game has taken a leap as Berge has averaged 19.2 points (on 48.4% shooting), 6.0 rebounds and 5.2 steals in five postseason games.
Coinciding with Berge’s emergence as a two-way force, the Jaguars are in the Class A state semifinals and face undefeated Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Target Center.
“Abby definitely is playing like she’s not a sophomore,” said BBE head girls basketball coach Kristina Anderson. “She has the confidence of her teammates and the coaches.”
Not bad for a player that became a starter midway through the regular season.
“It’s good to know that I’m only a sophomore and that I can show what I can do at a young age,” Berge said. “It feels good to start early and show what I can do as a sophomore and, hopefully, continue down that panth in the future.”
Berge’s immediate future will be focused on slowing down one of the top offensive players in the state in the Knights’ Madison Mathiowetz. According to the MN Girls Basketball Hub, Mathiowetz, a 5-10 junior guard, is averaging 33.5 points per game on 68.6% shooting, including 43.0% from 3-point range (55 of 128). She also averages 11.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.6 steals per game.
With Mathiowetz leading the way, SESM (23-0) is Class A’s highest scoring offense at 78.3 points per game.
“She is the real deal, for sure,” Anderson said of Mathiowetz. “She crashes the boards so well. With how well she can shoot the three, I was surprised how well she can score on the interior. We have to keep her off the boards.”
Now, BBE knows it won’t hold Matiowetz to single digits. But with an advantage in the post with players like Alissa Knight and Karissa Jones, having Berge defending the perimeter gives the Jaguars two tough layers to try and score on.
“I know she’s a very good player and I’m ready to challenge myself more and challenge what she can do,” Berge said.
Conversely, thanks in part to Berge’s efforts on defense, the Jaguars (22-1) are the stingiest defense with 36.0 points allowed per contest.
Berge got her first start on Feb. 12 against Minnewaska, then became a full-fledged starter a few games later. And since then, the sophomore’s confidence has continued to grow.
“The combination of (her confidence) with her length and quickness, that’s made Abby kind of a lockdown defender,” Anderson said. “She has that factor, too, that she anticipates so well and that’s something that can’t be taught. The combination of all of that really makes Abby a great defender.”
And over time, Berge has seen her game elevate on the offensive end after averaging 11 points per game in the regular season.
Over the last three games, Berge has scored over 20 points, including a 27-point, seven-rebound, six-steal effort in the Class A state quarterfinals against West Central Area on March 30.
“I get what the other teams bring me,” Berge said. “It feels good to know that my teammates are pushing me to be my best. They’ll be yelling what I can do and it feels good to finally be able to do what I can and shoot both outside and inside.
“I can definitely feel that I’m off on my shot and when I’m on. And when I’m off, keep shooting. Kristina is good at being positive; it makes it very fun to have supportive coaches and teammates.”
As the season dragged on, Anderson admits she forgets that Berge is a sophomore that just so happens to be playing well beyond her years. And with Berge’s help, BBE hopes to make the state finals for the first time in just the school’s second state appearance.
“Abby proved that she definitely belongs in that starting lineup,” Anderson said. “Every game, she’s playing more confident. We knew she was a good defensive player and she’s expanded her offensive game. … Her teammates have given her that trust and she’s helped us get to this point. We’ve had different girls step up this year and she’s been a constant for us.”
State Class A
Mountain Iron-Buhl 50, Cass Lake-Bena 49
Minneota 67, Houston 34
Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 76, West Central Area 71
Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s 78, Mayer Lutheran 67
(At Target Center, Minneapolis)
1-N Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (21-1) vs. 3-S Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s, 10 a.m.
1-S Minneota (23-0) vs. N-2 Mountain Iron-Buhl (19-4), noon
(At Target Center, Minneapolis)
Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.