NEW LONDON —Imagine allowing the single-game state record for points scored by a single player and still coming away with a win.
It almost sounds like a riddle, but that’s what Providence Academy accomplished last Tuesday.
The Lions were on the wrong end of a record showing from Duluth Marshall senior forward Gianna Kneepkens. The Utah recruit put up 67 points in a scintillating performance, but Providence Academy came away with a 94-91 victory in the Class AA state tournament quarterfinals.
The squad’s reward is a date with a tougher challenge: the top team in the state in New London-Spicer. The two squads play at 5 p.m. Tuesday from the Target Center in Minneapolis.
“After watching their quarterfinal game, (NLS) can shoot the heck out of the ball and they also got some size, too,” Lions head coach Connor Goetz said. “They’re big and can shoot. They are kind of the perfect kind of basketball team you would ever want to create.”
Unbeaten NLS is the top seed in the South end of the bracket while Providence Academy is the North’s second seed. Each squad is making their second consecutive state appearance.
The Lions have returned to this stage ripping through the regular season with just one loss — a 44-38 defeat to Concordia Academy. They rolled through the Section 5AA tournament, capturing three wins by an average of 21 points. Providence Academy has only played three games decided by 10 points or less. Two were wins against Minnehaha Academy, which is in the state Class AA tournament.
Leader of the pack
The team from Plymouth enters with a 21-1 record. And the player that has carried it is only 13 years old.
Seventh-grader Maddyn Greenway continued her stellar debut season with a PA-best 32 point performance in the Lions’ state quarterfinal win. According to the Minnesota Basketball Hub, she averages 21.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.5 steals per game this season.
The 5-foot-6 guard is the daughter of former Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl linebacker Chad Greenway.
“Being the daughter of a former Vikings linebacker comes with a little bit of a pedigree, but I didn’t think she was going to be as good as she was when she came in,” Goetz said. “I knew that she would run the show for us. But being that she can score 20 points a game has been really big for us. She’s stepped up in big games against big players and has been huge for us.”
Alongside Greenway in the backcourt is Brooke Hohenecker. Putting up 12 points a contest, the ninth-grader is the team’s sharp shooter, leading the Lions with 46 3-pointers.
Goetz also considers Hohnecker as a “defensive specialist” who applies full-court pressure..
Elsewhere, sisters Grace Counts and Maria Counts are forces in the frontcourt.
Grace Counts (14.0 ppg, 11.4 rbg, 2.5 spg, 2.3 apg) had a season-best 25 points in the state quarterfinal. The 6-0 sophomore is more of a traditional post player who’s responsible for controlling the interior and cleaning up the glass. She paces the team with 1.9 blocks per game.
Maria Counts (11.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 5.1 apg, 3.4 spg, 1.8 bpg) has produced similar numbers but has a different game. The 5-11 junior is a point forward and is the Lions’ secondary ball-handling option behind Greenway. Much of her offense is initiated 10-14 feet from the rim, but each Counts sister is capable of shooting from distance.
In their state quarterfinal win against Lake City, the Wildcats faced an opponent that matched its size. Providence Academy offers a different set of concerns.
“We know that they’re as much of a tall team, but they have a lot of quick guards and they are really aggressive,” NLS senior forward Ava Kraemer said.
The Lions are fourth in the state in points allowed (36.4 ppg). They run primarily a man-to-man defense, but mix in zone on roughly 40% of their possessions, according to Goetz.
Providence Academy is 13th in scoring at 66.1 ppg. The group has scored more than 70 points in their last three contests.
There’s no secret as to how NLS head coach Mike Dreier intends to stop the Section 5AA champs. NLS has given opponents fits for decades thanks to its 2-3 zone. Most recently, the Wildcats held Lake City 20 points under its season average.
“Their zone is tough and I know Mike has been running that zone for a long time,” Goetz said. “Those girls are disciplined and know exactly what to do, so they can limit your scoring. I don’t think any team is going to score above their average when they go against New London-Spicer.”
The Wildcats have not relinquished more than 55 points to an opponent this season. However, one interesting variable for this game is the venue.
The court at the Target Center is longer and wider than your typical high school gymnasium. The difference may seem subtle, but with the Lions possibly being the quicker team on the floor, they have the advantage of bigger driving lanes and more space to run in transition.
“We have to slow them down, offensively,” Dreier said. “There’s no doubt that if we let them roll up and down the court, we’re going to have a long night.”
Wildcats senior post Erin Knisley added: “We know that the courts will be longer, so we have to keep that in mind as we’re making passes. Obviously, running up and down is going to be tougher, but once you get into the game, you get into the (mental) zone and play normally.”
State tournament pairings
(at Target Center, Minneapolis)
Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (22-1) vs. Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s (23-0), 10 a.m.
Minneota (23-0) vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl (19-4), noon
Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.
Albany (22-1) vs. Glencoe-Silver Lake (19-4), 2 p.m.
New London-Spicer (22-0) vs. Providence Academy (21-1), 5 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 3 p.m.
Richfield Holy Angels (20-2) vs. Marshall (21-0), 7 p.m.
Hill-Murray (20-1) vs. Becker (17-3), 9 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 6 p.m.
Hopkins (16-0) vs. Chaska (16-0), 7 p.m.
Rosemount (19-3) vs. Centennial (21-1), 9 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 9 p.m.